Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Come Together

Magnet # 330:  Trinidad & Tobago Map and Symbols

Material:  Wood, Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

While yesterday's post may not have been exactly concerning an independence day, this one definitely is. Yep, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean is celebrating its independence from British rule.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island of Trinidad in 1498 during his third voyage to the New World.  He claimed it for Spain and by 1592, the nation had established a permanent settlement on the island. Yet the population there didn't greatly increase until 1783, when Spain offered land grants of 32 acres per person on the island to any Roman Catholics who would swear allegiance to the Spanish king and help build up the economy of the settlement.  It was settlers of French ancestry that responded the most to their invitation, often coming from nearby islands such as Haiti.  Even Protestants from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and England were able to take advantage of the offer thanks to a loose enforcement of the law.  Before long, the island had a thriving sugar cane industry.  Its prosperity caught the attention of the British, who sent a squadron to the area with the intention of taking the area over, but the Spanish governor surrendered without a fight.  In 1802, Britain officially took control of the island and would have it for about 150 years.  Tobago, on the other had, went unnoticed by the western world until a British sea captain spotted it in 1596.  The Dutch settled the area in 1632 but their claims were challenged by the British and the French.  It passed through many hands until the British finally established control in 1814.  In 1888, Britain joined the two islands together as one colony, forming a union that has lasted to modern times.  After the economic hardship of the Great Depression, the people of the colony demanded a greater amount of participation in their government and Britain obliged, eventually making them a part of the West Indies Federation before making them an independent nation in 1962.

The first Independence Day held in Trinidad and Tobago occurred on August 31st of 1962.  At midnight, the British flag was taken down and the flag of Trinidad and Tobago was proudly raised for the first time.  Across the islands, bells tolled and sirens rang to celebrate the creation of the new country.  And the festivities spread out for more than a week - from August 28 to September 5 of that year, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago reveled in their newfound freedom.  Nowadays, the celebration doesn't last quite so long and is marked by military style parades held across the nation.  Once these are finished at the parade grounds, the participants often continue into the streets of the cities, where they are joined by live music played by the bands of official forces, such as the police and firefighters.  Eager onlookers help give the performances an atmosphere similar to Carnival.  By evening, however, they have calmed down a bit and at the President's House, a presentation of National Awards is held.  These have been awarded ever since 1969 and recognize the outstanding accomplishments of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago in various fields.  To end the festivities, fireworks displays are held, the most notable ones at Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain, and the Port Authority Compound, Scarborough Tobago.  The festivities may be similar to those held in independence celebrations all over the world, but I'm sure that Trinidad and Tobago puts its own unique touches on it. 

Not many nations have division and unity that Trinidad and Tobago enjoy, but not all of its citizens are pleased with their union.  There are some in the smaller Tobago who have wished to free themselves from their ties with Trinidad since the early 1970s.  I, for one, hope that they can overcome these sentiments and stay together.  When combined, these two Caribbean islands have done very well working together and might not fare so well when divided and I hope this Independence Day renews their sense of camaraderie and  unity.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Is Better Than One

Magnet # 329:  Map, Flags of Turkey

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Dad

Once again, they're celebrating over in Turkey, only this time, it's in honor of Victory Day, when they won the final battle for their independence in 1922.  The nation's fight to free themselves from their oppressors wasn't very long when compared to that of other countries - less than a brief four years in all.  And yet, the Turk's pride in overcoming those who would have kept them down and forming their own country is evident by the fact that they are still celebrating their victory 88 years later.

The Republic of Turkey is descended from the remnants of the once-powerful Ottoman Empire, but they fell into a state of decline for centuries. Their final mistake was to enter World War I on the side of the Central Powers, which ultimately lost. After this, control of the area was assumed by the Allied Powers, which were given the right to take over forts throughout the land.  Of course, they claimed that they had no interest in dividing up the former Ottoman Empire or placing it under military control, but many realized that this had been a goal of the allied nations from the very beginning of the war.  France was the first nation to occupy the land when they sent a brigade to Istanbul in 1918 and they were very soon followed by Britain, Italy, and Greece.  Before long, the Straits and Izmir were also under occupation and many areas would follow.  But even as the occupations increased, trouble broke out among Greece and Italy, both of whom wanted the same land.  Meanwhile, resistance was growing amongst the Turks and had been ever since they lost the war.  Ottoman officials were forming secret Outpost Societies in the hopes of both actively and passively standing against the Allies.  Their munitions and efforts were mainly located in Central Anatolia, which had little Allied presence.  But when the Greeks ventured into Western Anatolia in 1919, the Turks finally struck back, firing at the Greek standard bearer at the front of their troops.  The Greeks struck back, killing and wounding unarmed Turkish soldiers and citizens alike.  In the aftermath, a Turkish military hero named Mustafa Kemal rose up to lead the rebels.  And when in 1920, their sultan signed the Treaty of Sevres which gave some parts of the empire independence, but put others in the hands of various Allied powers, it only boosted Kemal's popularity.  The fighting continued, with the Turks rising up against the Armenians, the French, and the Greeks.  It lasted until the final Turkish victory over the Greeks at the Battle of Dumlupinar on August 30 of 1922.  By October of that year, the Armistice of Mudanya formally ended the conflict.  The Sultanate was done away with and Mustafa Kemal founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and also served as its president, helping bring the las remnants of the Ottoman Empire into modern times.

You may remember I've mentioned another Turkish holiday, Republic Day, on here before. That particular celebration is held to commemorate the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.  So these two observances certainly have their similarities.  I'm not sure which is more popular, but Victory Day is marked with parades and marches by the armed forces, the most important of which is held in Ankara.  And I suppose, if you're really proud of your nation, why not celebrate not only its foundation, but also the day of its final victory over its oppressors.  In fact, that might be worth following here in the United States.  After all, who wouldn't like another justifiable holiday added to our calendar - I know I would!  Sounds to me like the Turks have the right idea with their two very important patriotic holidays.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Witchy Ways

Magnet # 328:  Salem Witch on Moon with Black Cat

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Massachusetts is one of the most historic places in our nation, filled with places that were important in the birth of it, like Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation, others that helped bring freedom to it, such as Paul Revere's home, the Bunker Hill Monument, the USS Constitution, as well as the homes of presidents from both our distant and recent past. So did I visit any of these noteworthy attractions when I headed up to the Bay State during my New England trip earlier this month? Of course not - my stops there were at locations that dealt with two of the most notorious moments in Massachusetts history - Fall River and Salem. Combining the two locales certainly made for an interesting journey through the history of the state.

Many people may not be familiar with Fall River by name alone, but they've likely heard of its most famous, or infamous, resident - Lizzie Borden. Back in 1892, she was accused of a brutal crime indeed - taking a hatchet to both her stepmother and father's skulls. The resulting trial was a national sensation. Some have even compared it to the grip the more modern O.J. Simpson trial had over the United States. Even though Borden was acquitted of the crime, her life as she knew it was over as many still held her accountable for the grisly act. And the home where it all started still stands in Fall River. Yes, both her stepmother and her father were found dead there and what's even more unsettling, both of their autopsies were performed on the premises. Borden moved to another home in Fall River after the trial and the notorious locale was eventually purchased by an entrepreneurial individual who turned it into the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. During the days, it's open for tours and I made a special trip to Fall River just to take one. It was worth stopping by just to see the place and hear about the trial - I got a very in-depth summary from a guide who was very into his work. Unfortunately, that was about all I had time for in the city. It might have been fun to stop by the Fall River Historical Society, which houses memorabilia from the crime, or the Oak Grove Cemetery, a Registered Historic Place where she is buried under the name of Lizbeth Andrew Borden. It's even possible to tour Maplecroft, the home she bought in Fall River after the trial, though on a very limited basis. And the city also has some noteworthy sites that aren't associated with Borden at all, like Battleship Cove, which features a very impressive collection of 20th century naval ships. But, as I like to see so many places on my trips, it was time to move on to my next destination.

Getting to Salem was a little hairy, as I had to drive though the crowded Boston interstate on my way there, but at least I was able to avoid the rush hour traffic. As the hotel rates in Salem itself were pretty high, I opted to stay in nearby Peabody at a recently renovated Homestead Studio Suites Hotel. It was a good move - even though the free breakfast was a little lacking, the premises were very impressive and I had my own suite for about half the price I would have paid to stay in Salem. It was also a little secluded, and I loved the quiet. The trip to Salem from there was pretty short, and once there, I parked at the garage across from the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center, which proved to be not as expensive as I'd thought. The first place I checked out in Salem was the Peabody Essex Museum, possibly one of the few places in town with no ties to the Salem Witch Trials. It was a huge structure with art from all over New England and the rest of the world, especially Asia. Much of it focused on maritime subjects.  Perhaps most impressive was its Yin Yu Tang House, a 200 year-old Chinese house that was rebuilt on the grounds of the museum. I only had an hour to check it out all it had to offer and while that wasn't really enough, I still enjoyed myself there.  After it closed, I headed to the Salem Witch Museum, which tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, a terrible series of events that left twenty innocent people dead and many more imprisoned between 1692 and 1693.  Then, I did some shopping at the Essex St. Pedestrian Mall, where I also had dinner at a Japanese restaurant before heading back to my hotel for the night.  The next day, I started off in another part of town where I was able to tour the historic House of Seven Gables, which inspired Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name, and walk over to see the nearby Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which includes a replica of the ship Friendship.  I wrapped up my time in the city by walking though the Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park, a site honoring those who died that was finally dedicated in 1992, the 300 anniversary of the beginning of the madness.  It's next to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, which is the second oldest known graveyard in the nation, dating all the way back to 1637.  The headstones there are of a completely different style than the ones used today, and were very interesting to see.  After that, it was time to head off to the next stop on my trip.

Seeing Fall River and Salem alone certainly made for an unusual trip to Massachusetts, but considering how much the stories surrounding these places have intrigued me over the years, it was nice to finally check them out in person.  Heck, I've been into the Salem Witch Trials since junior high.  And while both places have had their dark moments, they've managed to move past them without denying their existence, making the cities both relevant in the modern times and a great place to travel to and connect with some of our nation's dubious past.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Of Heroes and Hereros

Magnet # 327:  Sights of Namibia

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

The people of Namibia are celebrating their Heroes' Day today, which commemorates the beginning of the Namibian War of Independence in 1966.  It would continue for another 22 years as mostly guerrilla forces tried to free themselves of the apartheid South African government that was ruling their territory.  Prior to then, they had been a colony of Germany and when they rose up against that nation, they had responded with genocide.  By World War I, South Africa was able to occupy the territory and gain control of it, but the people there were no more pleased with their new rulers than they had been with the previous ones, eventually rising up once again.  The United Nations had actually taken their side in 1946, asking South Africa to surrender Namibia to a trusteeship it would establish, so the rebels had the sympathy of other nations around the world.  And in 1988, South Africa finally agreed to relinquish the area.  By the 21st of March in 1990, Namibia had been established as an independent nation.

Heroes' Day isn't actually the only celebration going on in Namibia on August 26th.  There's also Herero Day, in which the Herero people of the nation gather to celebrate their deceased chieftains, most notably Samuel Maharero, a chieftain in the area of Okahandja.  He lived during the times of German occupation.  Although he was able to maintain peace with them initially, soon attacks by German farmers, seizure of the lands, and economic difficulties compelled him to plan a secret revolt with his fellow chiefs.  In early 1904, they began their attack and met with initial success.  But soon, the Germans began sending thousands of troops to the area and offered a bounty on Maharero's head.  By August of 1904, the Herero forces were soundly defeated.  Even then, Maharero was still able to flee, leading some of his followers to land controlled by the British.  They remained there in relative safety until his death in March of 1923.  On August 26 of that year, his body was brought back to his homeland of Okahandja and given a hero's burial.  And even now, this day remains important to Herero people.  But as it is also a national holiday for all of Namibia, its festivities are often postponed so that government leaders of Herero ancestry are able to attend events from both holidays.  I suppose that's a nice way of streching out the festivities. 

I was tempted into getting this magnet, along with several others by the same company, when I was traveling through the Mid-Atlantic last year. I thought they were really attractive, but limited myself to a small amount, mainly from countries I don't imagine anyone I know - or I - will make it to. So yes, I think it unlikely that I'll ever be in Namibia but at least I was able to get a feel for it from one of my favorite globe-trotting Travel Channel hosts, Anthony Bourdain. He visited the country back in 2006 and his time there was pretty varied. On the positive side, he was able to try some of the best oysters he had ever eaten anywhere in the world, he snowboarded on sand and managed to stay up, and he had a very tasty meal of grilled meats purchased from a market.  However, he also was unfortunate enough to have one of the worst meals of his life when he visited the Kalahari Bushmen, a somewhat primitive people.  First, he was served an ostrich egg omelet, which doesn't sound too bad until it was prepared in the sand, and covered with wood that baked the ash and dirt right into the egg.  Yep, I can't imagine that tasted very good.  But I'm sure it was better than his next offering - an unwashed warthog rectum, cooked right in the dirt.  Apparently, it's one of the choicest parts of the animal.  Poor guy - it took me ages to not leave the room when it aired, and when I finally saw it, Bourdain really tried to remain pleasant as he choked it down.  The act later made him horribly ill.  Lesson learned - when in Namibia, stick to the more densely populated areas.  And if you do venture out to see the Bushmen, don't hang around until dinnertime.  Overall, however, Bourdain seemed to enjoy his time in the nation, giving us all a glimpse of the exotic locale that so few of us will ever be able to see in person.  Perhaps it's worth giving it a try ourselves, it we ever get the chance.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Taste of Freedom

Magnet # 326:  Uruguayan Flag with Mate Gourd and Thermos

Material:  Ceramic

Purchased By:  Dad

Down in the South American coastal nation of Uruguay, they're celebrating their independence today.  And they have plenty of reason to be happy - the quest for independence there was a long one. I've already mentioned their national hero on here, Jose Gervasio Artigas, and how helped start and lead the initial fights for freedom. But even after his defeat and exile in 1820, the battle still continued.  By then, the Portuguese had managed to take Uruguay from Spain but they annexed the territory, then known as the Eastern Province, to Brazil in 1821 when that nation won its independence.  By 1825, they were fed up with Brazilian rule and a group of patriots called the Immortal Thirty-Three declared their independence on August 25.  With what would become Argentina on their side, they fought hard in a 500 day war, but neither side emerged victorious.  Finally, tired of blockades interfering with their trade, the British intervened, negotiating the Treaty of Montevideo in 1828.  Uruguay was recognized as an independent republic and adopted its first constitution in 1830.  It was on its way to becoming one most prosperous nations in South America.

Not only does this really nice Uruguayan magnet my Dad picked up for me on a business recent trip to the country feature the flag, it also depicts mate, which is a very popular drink down there. In fact, it's the national drink of Uruguay and can be found in many other South American countries. It's made from steeping dried leaves of the yerba mate, a plant from the holly family, in hot water - sounds a little like tea. The drink is both prepared and served usually in a gourd, most often a calabash gourd. These are often decorated with stylish cuttings on the surface, bright colors painted on, and having silver added on parts of the gourd, particularly the opening and the bottom, where legs may allow it to stand on surfaces. Mate is also drunk with a straw and the most popular variety is a silver one with holes at the bottom to filter out the yerba leaves. Lots of people down there like to take their mate to go, so they carry along a thermos filled with hot water so they can continue to make more throughout the day. In fact, the thermos is almost as important as the gourd itself, as evidenced by its inclusion on this magnet. But there are some limitations as to where Uruguayans can drink their mate - because the high rate of accidents caused by scaldings from hot water, they are no longer allowed to drink it while driving. There is also a long-standing tradition where a group gathers together, perhaps in a home, to drink mate, all from the same gourd, and all from the same straw. The preparer of the brew always drinks the first serving to ensure it isn't too cold or too strong. When satisfied, he or she will pass the gourd to whomever is seated to his or her right who will drink all of the liquid in the gourd without thanking the server. The mate continues to go to the right of each participant, until all have had their fill. It is not until the drinkers finish the mate and want no more that they thank the preparer of the brew. And they must also not drink too slowly, or others will politely urge them on. Sounds like a pretty long occasion, but it would be a nice way of uniting a group, if not entirely sanitary. And I'm sure there are friends and family gathering on this day in Uruguay to celebrate and drink mate together. For the most part, Independence Day there is like many others around the world, with schools and businesses closed and parades and firework shows being held. Some community organizations take place in fundraising events.  But it's always a great excuse for Uruguayans to get together and take pleasure in each other's company and pride in their nation.  This country has come a long way since its early colonial days and it seems to have a bright future ahead.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Independent Woman

Magnet # 325:  Downtown Providence, Rhode Island Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

After I was done getting my rental care in Hartford, I headed off toward Providence, Rhode Island on my own. It was late in the day, but I managed to make it to Ocean State Souvenirs in Warwick before they closed and got a few magnets. Warwick is the second largest city in the state, just outside of Providence, and I spent the night there at the Best Western Airport Inn. They had a great staff and when I asked them for dinner recommendations, they told me about a nearby restaurant, Chelo's Hometown Bar & Grill, a local chain of restaurants similar to TGI Friday's and even gave me a coupon for a free dessert there. It was very busy, even though it was a weeknight and I ordered one of their seasonal specials - Lobster Macaroni n' Cheese. It was a delicious mix of penne and cheeses covered in lobster pieces and baked with cracker crumbs on top. Even though I couldn't finish it all off, I managed to eat all of the lobster. And for my free dessert, I chose a slice of cheesecake, topped with butterscotch and caramel sauces - again, it was wonderful. That was one of the better meals on my trip. If you're ever able to try this New England chain out, definitely give stop by, especially if you can snag a free coupon for dessert.

The next day, I headed up to Providence, where I had made a reservation to tour the State House.  It was a very attractive building and was very interesting to see, even if the Senate Chambers were closed for a meeting.  I had thought they had a gift shop, but our guide told me that wasn't the case and suggested I try the Roger Williams National Memorial, which was just down the hill.  I had actually already planned on going, so I headed over to take a look at the grounds and watch a program about Williams, the founder of Providence, himself.  In fact, a statue based on him stands atop the dome of the State House and is called the Independent Man.  The memorial was a nice place with a very friendly staff, but they didn't have much in the way of Providence souvenirs, so a ranger suggested I try an Amtrack station that was between there and the State House.  That was a great recommendation - they had a nice selection of magnets, including this one.  After I finished up there, I walked over to the Providence River to have a look at the Waterplace Park, which is supposed to be incredible when Water Fire events are going on there at nights.  By then, it was time for me to head on my way to my next stop .  I may have only had a morning to spend in Providence, but I was fortunately able to check out some of its highlights and also enjoy my time in its neighbor, Warwick.  They're both great places and perhaps some day I'll be there again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rhode Trip

Magnet # 324:  Newport Sailboat

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

After Catherine and I finished up in Mystic, we headed over to Newport, Rhode Island for the rest of the day. The drive over was about an hour and we passed some charming New England scenes once we got off of I-95. Unfortunately, the weekend we were there just happened to be one of the busiest weekends of the year in Newport, its Jazz Festival, so the place was packed. We parked at the Visitor Center on the western side of the town and were planning on moving closer to the shops, but when we found out how difficult getting a spot there might be, we just left the car there after getting tickets to the mansions. We walked over to Thames Street, which seemed to be the best locale for buying souvenirs and spent around an hour there, just shopping around at the many stores in the area. I got plenty of magnets, of course, and Catherine did a little buying as well - she even got an item she'd seen before, hadn't bought, but had wanted ever since. After we were done shopping around Thames Street, we hopped back in the car and headed over to the east side of Newport, where its nicest historic mansions are gathered. Luckily, it was also much further away from the Jazz Festival so once we got away from the throngs gathering for that event, it was much quieter. Of course, there were still plenty of tourists who, like us, were there to see some of the most impressive Gilded Age homes in the country.

Catherine and I had bought tickets for Marble House and we were able to have a look at some of the nearby mansions as we drove down Bellevue Avenue and they were, of course, stunning. But Marble House was commissioned by William Kissam Vanderbilt is one of the most visited of all the mansions (technically, they're summer cottages).  It's also considered to be the most opulent - some might say over the top - of all of the mansions, with more than 500,000 cubic feet of marble and plenty of other expensive trimmings.  It really was incredible to see and I can't imagine actually living there.  Once we were done there, we headed over to the only house open past six in the evening, as it was getting late - the Breakers.  It's another of the most visited historic mansions in Newport and it was also built for a Vanderbilt - this time, for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the brother of William Kissam Vanderbilt.  Incidentally, their younger brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II created the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.  The Breakers was named for the waves it stands near and it truly is one of the most incredible mansions Newport has to offer.  Again, we were amazed as we took in all it had to offer.  After the mansions closed for the evening I'd thought we'd travel along the Cliff Walk, which runs behind many of the mansions and is one of Newport's top attractions, but I was pretty tired and we just couldn't find the entrance to it.  Instead, we ended up driving all around the area, getting to see some of the newer mansions that have been built there, as well as its high school.  For dinner, we crossed over the bridge on Memorial Boulevard and ate at the Atlantic Beach Club, which my Dad had recommended.  I had a lobster salad that was great, but Catherine ordered the most interesting dish of the night - an ice cream treat served in a dish made out of caramel - it was delicious.  By then, it was getting pretty late, so we headed back to Connecticut, and we weren't alone - Catherine was amazed by how much traffic was on I-95.

I had heard plenty about just how incredible Newport is, and I wasn't disappointed.  I can see why so many people with so much money wanted to live there - and still do.  Unfortunately, as it has so much to offer, it's impossible to take it all in with less than a day.  Perhaps someday I'll have another chance to see this lovely town again and tour another mansion or two, but I'm thrilled that I at least got to see the Breakers and Marble House - and check out the shops, of course!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where Have All the Bees Gone

Magnet # 323:  Beehive State, Utah

Material:  Agate, Plastic

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

This marks the second annual National Honey Bee Awareness Day.  Yep, it debuted just last year to help bring together beekeepers, bee associations and clubs, and everyone else interested in the subject to help promote the honey bee.  Their most important goals are to celebrate and encourage advancements in beekeeping, make the public more aware of honey bees and those who look after them, and focus on the environmental concerns that are threatening the survival of the species.  During last year's event, 16 states joined in and 42 programs such as honey tastings, tours of apiaries (places where beehives are kept), and educational seminars were held around the country.  For this year, the theme is "Local Honey - Good for Bees, You, and the Environment!"  And there are nearly 20 states featuring events this time - oddly enough, the Beehive State, Utah, is not among them - perhaps they should try to join in next year, if for nothing else than to keep that title relevant.  Unfortunately, there are no activities going on here in Savannah, but in Columbus, Georgia the Chattahoochee Valley Beekeepers Association is joining in.  The states with the most involved associations are Florida, with four joining in and Pennsylvania, with a whopping nine groups in all.  If you want to find out if any are available near you, check out http://www.nhbad.com/.  But even if you can't make it to anything on this National Honey Bee Awareness day, there are still ways you can help the bees and those who look after them.  First of all, buy local honey and other bee products - they're said to be much tastier than the manufactured version and might even help with any allergy problems you're having.  Also, be careful about using pesticides and chemicals around and outside your home - they could end up hurting any local bees.  You can likewise consider planting a garden filled with native and nectar producing flowers and perhaps not killing off some plants that are considered to be weeds, like dandelions and clover, but are actually important to bees.  And if you're really committed, you might consider allowing a beekeeper to keep beehives on your land or even become one yourself, perhaps as a hobby.  But whatever you can do to help out the bees, give it a try - they help make the world a much better place.

Back in late 2006, the world first became aware of a very disturbing fact - in North America, the honey bees, most notably the worker bees, were beginning to disappear.  In some cases, between 30 and 70 percent of colonies were dying out.  Often, the bees have flown away and not returned or not eaten the food sources, such as sugar water, that their keepers have provided for them.  Some are also engaging in odd behavior.  These numbers are alarming, as they are the highest we have had in recent history.  And it's not just limited to North America.  There are reports of it happening in European countries such as France, Belgium, and Greece and to a lesser degree in Germany and Switzerland.  There are even reports that it may be occurring as far away as Taiwan.  This phenomenon has come to be known as Colony collapse disorder, or CCD and we have yet to discover what is causing it.  Theories abound, however, and they range from malnutrition to diseases and pathogens to pesticides.  Some organic beekeepers have even claimed that their colonies are unaffected by CCD.  But the problem isn't getting any better - in 2007, 30 percent of colonies were lost, in 2008, that number increased to 36 percent and in 2009, 29 percent were lost.  Fifteen to twenty percent decline is usually the average and it looks as though 2010 won't be any better.  And the decline in the honey bee population is troubling worldwide as they play a critical role in our ecosystem.  They pollinate as much as a third of all of the vegetables and fruits we eat, making them possible or just much better than they'd otherwise be.  Bees can be responsible for as much as half of what we consume every day and their pollen also has other applications, such as treating burn victims and helping those who suffer from arthritis. Looking after them is definitely in our own best interests.

The recent trouble with bees has undoubtedly helped bring about National Honey Bee Awareness Day and that's good to know.  By raising awareness of the importance of the honey bee and the dangerous threat they now face, it has been easier for beekeepers to get help from Congress and the scientific community.  And now it's your turn to help these important creatures in their struggle to stay alive.  If nothing else, just try to purchase a bottle of local honey to help them out - you'll be helping yourself out as well, plus it should taste great.  Our bees have been there for us over the years and now it's our turn to be there for them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mystic Connections

Magnet # 322:  Mystic Humpback Whale and Calf

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

The first full day of my trip, Catherine and I drove over to Mystic, Connecticut. As we were on our way to Newport, we didn't have a huge amount of time to spend there, but we still had fun checking out what we were able to cram in.

Our first stop in Mystic was at Kitchen Little, where we had breakfast. It's a place Catherine had been wanting to try out ever since she saw Rachael Ray go there on her $40 Dollar a Day show on the Food Network. They certainly got the name right - it was a tiny little house just off the water. Luckily, the wait wasn't long and we ended up eating inside rather than on the back porch with picnic tables. But I was fine with that, as there would have been others sitting at the table with us outside, and we were close enough to other customers inside the eatery. Catherine had mentioned one of their specialties, the Mystic Melt, before we got there and I ended up ordering it. It was scrambled eggs with cream cheese and lump crabmeat with a side of raisin bread toast and was very tasty. Catherine ordered almost the same dish, just minus the crab meat. We had a good meal and ate nearly everything on our plates. We we so full, we didn't need to eat again until dinner that day. And they're certainly generous - they even give away the recipe for the Mystic Melt at their website, http://www.kitchenlittle.org/. If you're curious, give it a try. On the other hand, the restaurant was very crowded and it doesn't take credit cards. But overall, I'd probably go back if I'm ever in the area again. Kitchen Little's menu is very unique and it would be fun to try more of their offerings.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Olde Mistick Village, a collection of shops and restaurants all dolled up to look like an Colonial New England village. There were gardens, gazebos, a duck pond, and a water wheel scattered among the grounds. They even have an old style church that offers services on Sundays. It looked really cute and I thought it would be a great place to buy Mystic souvenirs. Turned out, I was right - I was able to find plenty of local magnets there, and even some from Scandinavian countries. I bought this great one from Clay Critters, along with several others, at Penguins, Otters, & Others. They had a really nice selection and a very pleasant staff who thanked me for coming back to buy more magnets. We really saw just about all that the Olde Mistick Village had to offer in around an hour, but we didn't have much more time to spend at Mystic. We headed down toward the shoreline and I hopped out to take some photos of people kayaking in the water, but we didn't really see the famous Mystic Seaport or its aquarium, two of its top attractions. Still, both were a little pricey to visit and given my choice, I'll go where the souvenirs are. Maybe sometime I'll get a chance to see more of Mystic, but I still had a great time there - I guess all in all, you need at least a full day to take advantage of it. But at least I got a taste of the area during my morning there, and it was definitely a good one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Start Your Engines

Magnet # 321:  Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Centennial Era Logo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Dad

Today marks the anniversary of the day when the first auto race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909.  It's worth noting that the first motorsports event held at the track actually took place on August 14 of that year, and was run by motorcycles.  This subsequent event lasted three days and consisted of 18 races.  It was hardly a great weekend - the road was in terrible condition, made of tar and crushed stone, and there were no shortages of car accidents, with five people dying.  The tragedy inspired Indianan Carl Graham Fisher, a former race car driver himself who had invested heavily in the track, to make extensive changes to the track, paving it with over three million bricks, an act that gave it its nickname of "The Brickyard."  It took 63 days to lay them all down and the final brick was a pretty big deal - it was made of brass and covered with gold plating and placed by the Indiana Governor himself.  Fisher went on to become the first President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and helped develop highways all over the nation, including the Lincoln Highway.  Thanks to his efforts, the track was able to overcome its faulty start and go on to become the largest sporting facility in the world.

The timing on this magnet is a bit unusual - as you may have noticed, it singles out 2009 and 2011.  Usually, my magnets are posted after the date on them and perhaps before on occasion, but this one is being posted smack dab in the center of the two years.  So why are these two particular years so important to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?  Well, obviously the track opened in 1909 and held its first races then, so that was important.  But Memorial Day of 1911 was when the first 500 mile race was held at the track, an event that was dubbed the "International Sweepstakes" but would later become the Indianapolis 500, the premier automobile racing event.  Ever since that time, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has had its own distinct identity and has risen to the top of motor tracks the world over.  So we're in the midst of a very important time of anniversaries for Indianapolis and its most famous landmark.

In a funny coincidence, an episode of Man V. Food where host Adam Richman visited Indianapolis debuted just last night on the Travel Channel. And to prep for his food challenge, Richman visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, got some racing tips from pro driver Tony Kanaan, and came in first during a mock run of the Indy 500. Unfortunately, he didn't fare as well with his Indianapolis food challenge - the Big Ugly Burger Challenge at Bub's Burgers and Ice Cream.  Adam was hoping to polish off four one-and-a-half pound burgers, but like all of the previous 42,000 challengers, he fell short.  But he did at least down a couple of them.  Apparently, they even filmed the episode during the Memorial Day weekend, when the Indy 500 was held - yet another interesting parallel!  I guess both of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway-themed magnets I've posted on here have coincided with Man V. Food related activities.  What're the odds? 

Unlike Richman (and my Dad), I've never made it out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to take in a race - or just see all it has to offer.  But it might be worth stopping by sometime.  As I mentioned before, it is the largest sporting facility worldwide and it can also seat more than any other.  And even though they've improved the track many times over, some of its original bricks are still visible in a strip three feet wide at the start/finish line.  I wonder if the "gold brick" is among them?  But it's certainly nice to see that the track still has ties to its past.  And even if I can't make it for the Indy 500, other racing events are held there throughout the year.  I admit, I'm not a huge fan of automobile racing, but maybe I could enjoy it if I took it in at this venue.  Perhaps I'll give it a try one day!

A Great Beginning

Magnet # 320: Downtown Hartford Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

I kicked off my trip to New England by flying into Hartford, Connecticut where my friend Catherine picked me up at the airport. We drove into the town on that first day so we could check out the Mark Twain House and Museum and then we headed over to the State Capitol Building. It was closed, but I was still able to take pictures of it from the outside - what a lovely building! Catherine lives in a small community about an hour outside of Hartford and I stayed there with her and her family for the first two nights of my trip. They have a very nice home in a somewhat rural place they've been in for ages and Catherine was able to tell me about when many of the homes around hers were built. I got to meet her two chihuahuas, Petunia and Chet, and they were incredibly cute. She'd gotten both of them from rescue shelters and they adore her and follow her everywhere. For dinner that night, we traveled to a seafood restaurant about an hour away and I tried full bellied-clams for the first time - they're kind of like clam strips, only they have the bellies attached and taste a little different. I guess they're a New England specialty - I have never heard of them before, but I liked them. The next morning, she took me to the Main Street in her town, which reminded me a little of Stars Hollow from the television show Gilmore Girls. It was charming with all sorts of local shops and restaurants. Catherine showed me the elementary school she attended when she was growing up and it was in a seemingly remote location, surrounded by trees, even though it was just off and important street. And when we drove by the homes along the shore, I was really impressed - they obviously cost quite a bit and most of them were very attractive. It was also nice to see so many people out jogging around, often with their dogs. We headed off and spent some time in Mystic, Connecticut and Newport, Rhode Island later that day.

The next day, we headed back into Hartford after having a nice breakfast at a local restaurant that had an extensive choice of crepes. I had one that was a little more traditional, with fresh blueberries and maple syrup, but maybe I should have tried out what Catherine had - it was one with Nutella and bananas and it looked pretty good. Once in Hartford, we were able to tour the Connecticut State Capitol - it was very impressive and I have to say it's both one of the most stunning and the most laidback capitols I've toured this far. Unfortunately, as it was a Monday, we were out of luck with the next two locales we wanted to see that day, the Old State House right in the middle of downtown Hartford and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center next to the Mark Twain House and Museum. Even though they were listed as being open in my AAA Guide Book, they turned out to be closed. But we were able to run into the Connecticut Science Center, which is a new attraction in downtown Hartford. Even though we didn't have enough time to see it, I was at least able to get a couple of magnets there and this one at a nearby hotel. As Catherine pointed out, Hartford really isn't a big tourist destination, so finding magnets there proved to be a little tough, especially with venues closed because it was Monday. Plus, there were no souvenir shops that we could find. But we had a really good time, if for nothing else just because we were able to hang out together, which we hardly ever get to do. I headed out of Hartford that day on my own, heading off on the next leg of the trip in a rental car. But I'm sure I'll head back to see Catherine someday or she'll come visit me here in Savannah. I'm certainly looking forward to spending time together again!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reunited For a Night

Magnet # 319: Chinese Girl with Fan

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

This little lady looks like she's all dressed up for the Qixi Festival, which is going on today in China. It's basically their version of Valentine's Day and it's being celebrated in Asian communities the world over right now.

The Qixi Festival is derived from a legend about a young cowherd named Niulang and a fairy weaver named Zhinu. One day, he and his ox came upon Zhinu and his sisters while they were bathing in a lake. Niulang's ox goaded him into stealing the girls' clothes and when they realized their predicament, they sent Zhinu to fetch their clothes, as she was the youngest. But as the cowherd saw her naked, the pair agreed to marry and they lived in contentment for a time, having two children. Unfortunately, the Goddess of Heaven, or perhaps Zhinu's mother, discovered the union and took her back into Heaven to continue weaving colorful clouds. When Niulang realized his wife was gone, he was devastated but his ox helped him once again, telling his master to kill him and use his hide to travel into Heaven and find his wife. Niulang did so, taking his children along to find their mother. But when the Goddess of Heaven realized they were coming, she scratched a wide river in the sky- which came to be known as the Milky Way - with her hairpen to keep the couple apart. They seemed doomed to spend all of eternity apart, but the magpies of the world took pity on them and began to fly into Heaven once a year on the seventh night of the seventh moon to form a bridge that the lovers could cross so they could spend the night together. And this has come to be known as the Qixi Festival in the couple's honor. It's funny, as the celebration has gained more attention, three villages in China have begun waging a war as to which one was the setting for the fairytale - Heshun in Shanxi province, Yiyuan in Shandong province, and Lushan in Henan province all claim that honor is theirs. Some even say that they have landmarks that are featured in the story. It's been pointed out that the argument is a little silly and it's impossible to prove just where this tale originated, but the ages old debate has raised awareness for each of the locales, bringing in more tourists and businesses. And I guess a trip to any of them would be a great way to celebrate the Qixi Festival.

This particular event has undergone some changes in the many years it has been observed. When it first began, it was a special day for young Chinese girls like the one on this magnet. Back then, it was known as the "Daughter's Festival" and the single or newly married participants would offer gifts of fruits, flowers, tea, facial powder and pastries in the hopes of gaining a clever mind, an important part of being a good wife and mother in ancient times. They also wish for a good husband. Once the offering was finished, half of the facial powder would be thrown on the roof and the rest would be shared by the young women of the household in the hopes that they would share in Zhinu's beauty. Also, as Zhinu was a weaver, they engaged in needlework and weaving competitions and carved melons. And one more unusual tradition was for the girls to throw needles in a bowl of water. Most would sink, but if one floated, it meant the girl who threw it was a skilled embroideress. Unfortunately, as Valentine's Day has spread across the globe, it has had an effect on the Qixi Festival, changing it into yet another holiday for lovers. In fact, many now call it Chinese Valentine's Day. And some in China choose to celebrate Valentine's Day over the Qixi Festival. And Asian transplants in Ireland celebrate it by having the women take their men out for the night. But Asian experts agree that they would like to see this observance return to its roots and become less commercialized. And it would be nice if it were able to become more popular once again. Regardless, the Qixi Festival will go on today in China and around the world, albeit in its new form. I hope in the years to come it will be able to revert more to its original traditions. It's a shame to loose this holiday that had its own unique and special traditions, and perhaps by becoming closer to what it once was, it can regain some of its popularity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Take It Easy

Magnet # 318: Orange Beach Sandal

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Lie back and take a break, everyone! Considering it's National Relaxation Day, you're just keeping in line with the nature of the day. I thought I'd post this tranquil and somewhat idyllic magnet, as so many people find the beach to be a great place to relax. If you have one nearby and want an excuse to take advantage of it, here's your chance. I must confess, however, that I have never really been a big fan of the beach. I'm not sure just why, though. Maybe it's just too relaxing for me. I guess if I venture out, I'd rather head to a museum or historical site of some kind. I tend to like to be intellectually engaged and I guess the beach isn't the best place to do that. Growing up, when I went to the beach with my family, my Dad usually sat at the concession stand reading a book and I envied him as I swam in the waves or sat on the sand. And as an adult, I really don't venture out to the beach unless I'm with someone who wants to go. I suppose if I want to relax, I tend to stay home and watch a movie. So there you have it, a couple of ways to take it easy today, and I'm sure there are plenty more.

I have to admit, I have not had the most relaxing time for the past week, but it's certainly been fun. I flew up to New England for a nine day vacation and managed to hit six states in all while I was there. I flew into Hartford, Connecticut where I met up with my friend Catherine and we traveled around together before I rented a car to head north and east on my own. I ended up in Portland, Maine where I flew out of earlier today. And no, spending the day at airports has not been very relaxing - particularly given I spent part of it at La Guardia in New York, which is infamous for its crowded terminals and bus rides out to some of the planes. But I guess that's a small price to pay for all of the fun I've had over the past week. I have seen so many places, tried so many great foods, met so many nice people, and bought so many magnets that it almost makes my head spin. And yes, I'll be sure to give more in-depth recaps of my trip in the future. Even if it wasn't relaxing and I'm pretty exhausted now, I don't think there's any better way I could have spent the week.

Who knows, maybe someday when I'm older I'll mellow out and veg on the beach when I take a vacation. But for now, I guess I just want to soak in everything I can possibly manage - and get lots of magnets while I'm at it. And while I've visited Alabama's Orange Beach, which is featured on this magnet, over the years, the majority of the time I've spent there has been at the nearby outlet malls in Foley. I guess for much of my life, when I've ventured out, I've wanted to be on the move. And I'm sure I'll head out on another trip sometime soon, but I think for the weeks to come, I'm going to follow in the spirit of this day and take it easy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Bloody End

Magnet # 317: Costa Maya Aztec Calendar

Material: Fish Bone

Purchased By: Mary

Once again, it's Friday the 13th, but if you think this might be an unfortunate day for yourself, just be glad you're not an Aztec. Yep, it was on this day in 1531 that they surrendered to Spanish conquistador Hernan Cotes and his followers after the Fall of Tenochtitlan, effectively ending their empire.

The origins of the Aztecs are somewhat murky, and we often have to rely on their own legends as to how they came to be. They believed their ancestors once lived in a place to the north of their home called Aztlan, but that they wandered for many years, traveling south. Around the mid-1200s, they reached Chapultepec, a large hill that is currently just on the outskirts of Mexico City. They were expelled by the local there, but given permission to settle nearby. But they finally found what was to be their permanent home in 1323, when they saw a vision that has become famous worldwide - that of an eagle eating a snake, perched on a prickly pear cactus. They began to build Tenochtitlan on that spot an by the 1400's, it had developed into the dominant city in its region, controlling other settlements around it. But the Tepanecs were threatened by them and had their leader assassinated. In response, his successor formed the Aztec Triple Alliance with the Texcoco and Tlacopan, an act which allowed them to wipe out their mutual enemy. But it would be the people of Tenochtitlan who grew the most powerful and when Montezuma I came to the throne in 1440, he consolidated and expanded the empire. His half brother, Tlacaelel, aided him and set about destroying many ancient Aztec books and rewrote his people's history. For about the next century, the empire continued to grow, stretching all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and from Central Mexico to what would become Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It's believed Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world at that time. And then, the Spanish arrived in 1519. Montezuma II was on the throne and he actually let Hernando Cortes and his men into the city, believing the conquistador to be a representative of one of the Aztec gods, and even gave him gifts of gold and silver. He was soon imprisoned and was killed in 1520, although the details of his death are not known. The Spanish set about bringing down Montezuma's people, aided by the many nearby natives who hated them. Finally, they were able to take down Tenochtitlan. For a time, Cortes seemed satisfied assuming leadership of the Aztecs himself and there was hope the empire would survive, but it was not to be. The Spanish soldiers who had fought under Cortes were rewarded with large parcels of land and they soon turned to using the natives to maintain them. These individuals were not supposed to be enslaved, but they were treated horribly nonetheless, particularly when silver was discovered elsewhere in the New World. And the Aztec language, religion, and culture was eventually done away with when the Spanish outlawed their practice. Finally, the age of the Aztecs came to an end.

Remnants of the Aztec Empire still exist in the modern world. Many Mexicans are descendants of the Aztecs, often with other cultures mixed in. And the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by some of the Aztecs, is used by over a million Mexicans today. And their cuisine has been highly influential on traditional Mexican dishes. Of course, there are also ruins that the Aztecs left behind that we can still tour nowadays. Perhaps the best known are at Teotihuacan, which is about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. It has pyramids along with murals, residential areas, and an Avenue of the Dead. Of course, Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan and is considered to be one of the oldest living cities on the continent. So even though the Aztecs are gone, parts of their culture are still alive in their descendants and their homeland. They were a proud, powerful, if sometimes vicious, people and the mark they left on the New World cannot be denied.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slowing Down For the Fast

Magnet # 316:  Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

All around the world today, Ramadan is beginning. This is the time of the year when followers of Islam fast all day, refraining from eating, drinking, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. This observance does not have a fixed date and it tends to vary from year to year. Often, it moves forward in the calendar year, which must be difficult for Muslims, as it gets into times with more and more daylight. And yet, they continue on, determined to purify themselves from past sins and receive guidance for their futures.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Arabian calendar, actually predates Islam. According to legend, the first verses of the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month.  Since those times, it has become the most important event in the Islamic calendar, overshadowing the Day of Ashura, when the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad perished in battle.  Not only do Muslims fast during Ramadan, they often also read the entire Qur'an and pray more often than usual.  The fasting finally comes to an end at Eid ul-Fitr, when the participants dress in their best clothes and join together at a feast in celebration of their accomplishment.

The structure featured on this magnet, Istanbul's Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, is perhaps one of the busiest mosques worldwide on this day.  It was built in the early 1600s and is Turkey's largest.  There are six minarets, or tall spires, featured on the structure, more than any other in Turkish mosque save the Sabanci Merkez Camii in Adana.  The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1619 under the leadership of Sultan Ahmed I.  With its beauty and majesty, it's become one of Turkey's most popular tourist destinations.  My parents were fortunate enough to visit it, and were very impressed by what they saw there.

While I've never participated in Ramadan, as I'm not Muslim, I did tutor a young Muslim girl who was living in Montgomery, Alabama with her family years ago - at that time, Ramadan was still in the fall. Her name was Fatima and she was from the United Arab Emirates. Although she was a child and didn't have to join in the fasting yet, she decided to try her best to do so anyway. She was the youngest daughter in her family, so they were proud of her decision. I noticed during that time that it was harder for her to think as quickly as usual when we studied and she wasn't as full of energy as she tended to be. But she kept on, doing her best and was happy to join in the festivities when they finally reached Eid ul-Fitr. Her actions inspired me so much that I later centered an art project around them. I know it wasn't easy on Fatima to fast for that entire month, but she didn't give up, even though it would have been okay for her to do so.

For those who are beginning their monthlong fasting today, I wish you all the best.  I can't imagine how difficult it must be at times, and I greatly admire your perseverance.  Take care in the coming month, and I hope Eid is here before you know it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Show Me the Missouri

Magnet # 315:  Missouri State Symbols

Material:  Brass

Purchased By:  Mom

The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to join the Union on this day in 1821, making it the 24th state. Earlier on, the first Europeans to reach what would become Missouri were French Canadians traveling south. Around 1750, they established Ste. Genevieve and later they developed a fur trading post at St. Louis. It became an important economic center of the region, while Ste. Genevieve grew into a bountiful agricultural center. The area eventually became part of the United States when the Louisiana Purchase was made. As more and more Americans set out to explore the western areas of the country, the newly-formed Missouri Territory came to be known as "The Gateway to the West" as many explorers both began and ended their journeys in the St. Louis area, most notably Louis and Clark. And yes, it was the Missouri Compromise that finally made it possible for the territory to become a state.  As it wanted to be a slave state, factions in Congress demanded that the balance between slave states and free states not be upset.  To solve the matter, Maine was admitted in 1820 as a free state, allowing Missouri to join the Union the next year.  This arrangement would set a pattern for the future admissions of Arkansas and Michigan in the late 1830s.  When the Civil War broke out, tensions ran deep in the state, resulting in battles being fought between the two sides who favored secession and staying in the Union.  Missouri never officially joined the Confederacy, but they claimed the area nonetheless.  During and after the War, Missouri continued to draw in more people, developing into an important transportation center and developing nearly all of its frontiers.  In 1904, a great deal of attention was brought to the state when it hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World's Fair.  It was held to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase and brought in crowds of visitors from all over the globe.  And the Summer Olympics were also held in the city that year, bringing it even more importance.  Over the past century, the state has developed into an important center of industry and agriculture and remains a gateway between the east and the west.

I have never been to Missouri, and it's pretty much is on the outskirts of the block of states I have yet to visit. While I have been to its neighbors Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois, I have not seen Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, to its north and west. So perhaps a trip to the Show Me State that extends to those directions is in order someday. As it borders eight states, it's tied with Tennessee for bordering the most of any state in the Union.  I guess that makes it a pretty obvious choice for a road trip of Mid-America.  And there are plenty of places to check out in the Show Me State.  First off is the Gateway Arch, which at 630 feet is the country's largest monument and perhaps the state's most famous landmark.  Visitors can travel in a tram to almost the top of the structure and take in the incredible views, which can be as far as 30 miles - sounds like fun to me.  There's also Kansas City, headquarters of Hallmark Cards, Inc.  If you're like me, and can't get enough of Hallmark, you can tour the Hallmark Visitors Center there, which details the history of the company and its many facets.  You might even get to see employees at work.  Best of all, it's free to tour.  So is Kaleidoscope, right next door, an art studio for children created by Hallmark.  There, families can engage in all sorts of projects and all of the craft materials are provided.  And, of course, there's Missouri's most colorful destination - Branson.  With its many shows and shops, it's like a Midwestern combination of Broadway and the Las Vegas Strip.  It's also worth visiting nearby Silver Dollar City, a reconstructed amusement park based on an 1880's mining town.  This state clearly has a wide variety of destinations to show off and I hope to get to check them out for myself - hopefully as a gateway to areas further west.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Second Life

Magnet # 314:  Chicago Nighttime Skyline

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Eric

Here's to Chicago, which celebrates the anniversary of its incorporation by the state of Illinois in 1833 tomorrow. Back then, it was a village of just about 200 people, and boy, has it grown! The city is now home to about 2.8 million residents, making it the third most populous in the nation, behind New York City and Los Angeles.

In the 1770s, John Baptiste Point du Sable, who had been born in Haiti, became the first non-indigenous person to live in what would become Chicago when he established a fur trading post there. Before long, the United States was acquiring land there and set up Fort Dearborn in 1803, although it wouldn't last long. Within a decade of its 1833 incorporation, it had grown to over 4,000 residents and it was incorporated again as the City of Chicago on March 4, 1837. Just a year later, the creation of railroads and the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal helped to bring more commerce and people to the area, particularly immigrants from overseas. The city grew rapidly as a manufacturing and retail center, but hard times hit when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 broke out and destroyed nearly a third of it. Undaunted, Chicago began to rebuild, and its first skyscraper was created. By 1893, it was able to host the World's Colombian Exposition, an event that brought in nearly 30 million attendants and proved to be the most influential world's fair ever. But in the 1920's, the character of the city began to be tarnished as a rise of gangsters, most notably Al Capone and John Dillinger, fought each other and the police for control of the city. With its big banks and large population, it was an attractive place to commit crimes before heading off to nearby remote locations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana to hide out. And even though the authorities eventually brought down these mobsters, they left a stain of crime that has continued to haunt the city, even as modern-day scandals break out there. The perceived machine politics of the city are what now bring it corruption, and some might argue that these elected officials aren't much better than the gangsters. Regardless, Chicago has risen to become one of its nations greatest cities, yet one of its nicknames is the unfortunate Second City. This began in part because the city was second in population rank to New York City for decades, but when a New Yorker writer used the term for the title of a book about the city he published in 1952, it stuck on permanently. This has helped create a bit of a rivalry between Chicago and New York City, which is only compounded when pizza is added to the mix - these two metropolises like their pizza, and they like it their way!

I know I've mentioned on here before that I've been to the Chicago area a couple of times when I was growing up. My Dad's sister and her family lived there at that time, in the suburbs of Homewood, but we ventured into the city to see all it has to offer. I remember one of the first activities we did was travel in a tourboat on Chicago Harbor. We also headed to the top of the Sears (yes, Sears) Tower, where the view was pretty amazing. My aunt took us to Chicago Institute of Science and Technology specifically so I could see Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle there. She was a silent film star with a passion for creating dollhouses and this was her masterpiece. It's eight feet tall, three stories in all, features murals painted by artists such as Walt Disney, houses her collection of antique miniatures, including tiny bearskin rugs, and even has electricity and running water. There's also a garden with Cinderella's silver coach and a weeping willow that, well, weeps. This is a great exhibit for children of all ages and it's placed in a dark room with the castle lit up to make it even more impressive. Unfortunately, I don't remember much of what we had to eat on my trips to the Windy City, so I guess if I ever go back, I'd make a point to try the local deep dish pizza, perhaps at Pizzeria Uno. And I've also mentioned my desire to try a gourmet sausage at Hot Doug's on here. I think I'd have a fun time revisiting Chicago as an adult - hope I get the chance sometime.

Some have said that the Second City title actually refers to the new Chicago that was built after the fire in 1871 destroyed so much of the city, and it's an explanation that makes sense. It's hard to know where the city would be if that disaster had never occurred, but it transformed a city built mostly by wood to one of steel. Clearly, Chicago is doing very well these days and is poised for a prosperous future, even if it doesn't beat the population size of New York City.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Put a Smile On Your Face

Magnet # 313:  Happy Tooth Advertisement

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By: N/A - given to me, free

The second week of August is known as National Smile Week, so I thought I'd post this cheerful magnet to kick it off. As the saying goes, smiling is infectious, so this is a great time to start sharing your smile with others. Regardless of whether you come across friends or strangers this week, flashing them your pearly whites can help brighten their day and you'll likely get a grin in return. Sure, you might run across a curmudgeon every so often, but I think you'll find more people will be receptive to your friendly gesture. There are also some smile-related activities you can join in, such as having a contest with friends and family to see who can grin the longest. Or you can send them a funny ecard to encourage a laugh. If you have younger kids, you can help them make a mask with a smile or draw a picture with lots of happy, beaming figures in it. And if you haven't watched one of your favorite comedies that makes you laugh out loud in awhile, this might be a great time to pull it out for another viewing.

National Smile Week is not only a great time to show off your grin, it's also an important reminder to take some steps to continue to keep it healthy, if you need to. I know personally how nerve-wracking it can be to go for years without a dentist - it happened to me when I moved to Savannah. I just couldn't figure out which one to see and after awhile, I was sure that if I did go the dentist, I'd find out I had a mouth full of cavities. Finally, I scheduled an appointment with a dentist that a friend of mine worked for. Before the dreaded day, I agonized, imagining that I had tons of cavities, but when I had my x-rays taken and my teeth inspected, it turned out everything was fine with my mouth. I had been worried over nothing! Okay, that might not happen for everyone who has been dodging the dentist for years now, but if you're among them, you might want to consider trying out one in your area. You'll get peace of mind by going and if you do have any dental problems, at least this way they won't get worse. Sure, tooth decay is bad, but I think gum disease is even worse - while there are all sorts of replacement teeth and veneers you can get, there is no way to replace your gums when they erode away. So take the initiative and see a specialist about your dental health. And if you have a dentist that you haven't seen in awhile or just don't care for, this is also a great opportunity to schedule an appointment or look for a better practitioner. Also, don't forget to take care of your mouth at home by brushing and flossing daily - it's easy to become lazy in that area, and I know I'm guilty.

Our smiles are one of the features we're the most proud of and it's sad to see people who don't smile as much because they're ashamed of their teeth. I hope they can manage to get some help so that they can be more pleased with their mouths. I realize I'm very fortunate to have a nice set of teeth, with only one filling, and plenty of dental professionals have commented on how attractive they are. I think I owe a lot of that to my parents paying for me to have braces when I was a teenager. And I still have to wear my retainer to keep my teeth in place, but it's worth it. All in all, I have no excuse not to smile. And I hope you don't either! There's an old saying that it only takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown. While I'm not sure if that's true, I know arranging my face in a grin feels better than a frown. Plus, smile lines look much better than frown lines. So show off your smile this week and spread the happiness, one passerby at a time!