Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Maine Event

Magnet # 355:  Maine Fishing Boat, Lobsters

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

The final state I visited during my Mid-Atlantic trip this year was Maine, which I had been looking forward to seeing again ever since I visited it about a decade earlier.  Apparently, I wasn't alone.  It was packed there - with the exception of Boston and the ride home from Newport, I hadn't seen any roads that were so crowded during the rest of my trip.  Of course, it was Friday when I got there, so I guess many throughout the region were headed on a weekend getaway.

After a brief stop in Kittery to see the Tanger Outlet Malls and the Kittery Trading Post, I headed up to Kennebunkport.  I had planned on getting out and shopping around, but there were so many people there that I just quickly parked to run in a souvenir shop I'd seen on the Internet plenty of times before.  I was able to pick up a few magnets and rush out of town.  I was staying in Maine's largest city, Portland.  That was the toughest place to book on my trip - the hotel rates were the highest, and even though I wasn't crazy about the one I stayed at, it was completely sold out.  For my first night there, I ventured downtown for dinner at Di'Millo's Floating Restaurant, which is one of the most famous eateries in the state and serves seafood onboard a converted car ferry docked at Portland's Long Wharf.  There, I had a delicious salad that came with two of the State's most beloved exports - lobster and blueberries.  It was a great meal and I had a fun time there, taking in the views of the wharf.

Early the next morning, I headed back down toward Kennebunkport, but stopped at the nearby town of Wells, where I was able to pick up some magnets at the Lighthouse Depot, which is said to be the largest lighthouse merchandise store in the world.  They had plenty of items, including some pretty large lighthouses outside, and I was able to pick up some nice magnets there.  I also checked out a couple of nearby souvenir shops before I returned to Portland.  I spent the rest of the day in the downtown area, first checking out all of the souvenir stores to have a look at the price and selection of magnets they had.  About midday, I walked over to a place I had found out about on the Roadside America website, the International Cryptozoology Museum.  This was perhaps the most unusual place I saw on my entire trip and it was really cool.  Cryptozoology is the study of animals that are legendary and have not yet been seen by the mainstream.  This includes creatures like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, and Chupacabra.  There were all sorts of items featuring these creatures and some that were said to have come from them.  If you like unusual, memorable attractions and are in Portland, check this site out.  On the way back to the shops, I visited a more traditional venue, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.  Not only is it the oldest structure on the Portland peninsula, it was also the childhood home of the famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  After the tour there, I went on a magnet buying spree, picking up the ones I had decided upon - including this one - before the stores closed.  I also had dinner in downtown, at a Japanese locale called Fuji Restaurant.  I was able to have my last meal of lobster on the trip, this time in a sushi roll.  While I might have had time to take one last trip to downtown Portland the next morning, I decided to play it safe and get to the Portland International Jetport early to head back home.

So there you have it, all the details of my New England trip.  I must admit, it's a great region to travel in - the distances between locations are hardly any time because it's such a small area in space.  In fact, it's about the size of Idaho.  So it's spoiled me a bit - in planning other trips, I'm a bit amazed as to how long the travel time can take.  Of course it's also a lovely area, filled with both beaches and mountains.  And it doesn't hurt that cheap lobster can be found all over it.  All in all, I think it's just a matter of time before I head back there again to check out some of the spots I couldn't hit on this trip.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Green Mountain Majesty

Magnet # 354:  Sites of Montpelier Photo Montage

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

I entered Vermont north of its capitol city, Montpelier, and headed down toward it.  For most of the trip, I was off the Interstate and it was nice to take in all of the scenery just off the highway, especially the farm buildings and silos that the state is known for.  I arrived at where I was staying, a bed and breakfast not far from the downtown area of Montpelier.  While the location was good, I was not pleased with other parts of my stay there, particularly safety concerns.  I'd rather not mention the establishment by name, but I will say that if I'm ever in the area again, I'll opt for a chain hotel.  It's too bad - that was the place I was the most excited about staying at during my entire trip.  But I still had fun in the rest of the Green Mountain State.  The first attraction I visited in Vermont is also it's most popular - the Ben & Jerry's factory tour in nearby Waterbury.  It was one of the busiest spots I visited on my trip and the lines for ice cream at the Scoop Shop were very long.  The tour was brief, but it was also only three bucks and included a free sample of ice cream.  I think it's a great place to stop by, especially if you have kids.  For dinner that night, I ate at the Main Street Grill and Bar, which is operated by students of the New England Culinary Institute.  While the food was very tasty, it also came in rather small portions - ten bucks for half an entree got me one scallop and a few items with it.  I guess that's gourmet cooking for you!

After breakfast, which was pretty good, I headed over to Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks just on the outskirts of downtown.  There, I was able to sample several varieties of maple sugar and learn about the process by which it's made.  It's a charming, rustic place that's been run by the Morse family for years and it's free to tour.  Of course, they also had a very nice collection of souvenirs, so I was able to get some magnets there as well.  And after buying a couple more in stores off of Main Street, I headed over to the Vermont State Capitol.  It's run by the Friends of the Vermont State House, a group of dedicated volunteers who appeared to be mostly retirees, and very knowledgeable ones at that.  Their enthusiasm for their state and its capitol building are very obvious and I was impressed with the tour I received there.  The capitol itself may be a little small when compared to others, but it's very attractive and has easily got one of the most devoted groups of caretakers of any in the country.  It's too bad more states can't follow in their example.  After I was done there, I hit Interstate 89 and headed out of the state.  But before I was done, I drove over to Woodstock, near the New Hampshire border, to see the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Vermont's only attraction run by the National Park Service.  It's also the only location in the Park Service that is concerned with the history of land conservation.  While I wasn't able to see much of it, I was able to tour the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion and with its detailed woodwork and Tiffany stained-glass windows, it was stunning.  I also dropped by the Billings Farm and Museum, but by then, all I really had time to do was buy a magnet.  After a scenic trip back to the interstate, I was headed off to New Hampshire, and toward the final destination in my trip.  While I didn't get to spend much time in Vermont, I was still pleased with it - it's a very natural and lovely state and I wouldn't mind returning there to get another shot at seeing more of the great attractions they have to offer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Saintly King

Magnet # 353:  Prague Waterfront

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

In Prague and throughout the rest of the Czech Republic, they're celebrating St. Wenceslas Day.  This is held every year on September 28, and honors Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia.  You've most likely heard of him before - he's the title character in the old Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas."  This day is also called Czech Statehood Day and is a public holiday throughout the nation.

Wenceslas was born in near Prague around the year 907.  By 915, his father Vratislaus I, had become ruler over Bohemia and Wenceslas was being raised by his maternal grandmother, a devout Christian who raised him in her faith.  While he lived with her, he came to love spending time outside, helping with the harvest and learning to prepare wine and bread.  But when his father died, trouble began for Wenceslas, who was only thirteen at the time.  His mother, Drahomira, a pagan who had converted to Christianity, became regent and set about restoring her faith and pressuring her son to follow her.  Conflict broke out between the Christians and pagans in the land and priests were persecuted and it's believed that Drahomira even had Wencelas' grandmother murdered out of jealousy.  Throughout this turmoil, he continued to worship in secret and sided with Christian nobles.  Together, they were able to take down Drahomira and send her into a short-lived exile.  At the age of eighteen, Wenceslas took the throne.  He restored the Christian faith to the land and became known for his acts of kindness to the poor, providing them with food, clothing, and shelter.  But the pagan nobles were not pleased with his rule, particularly when he swore allegiance to a Christian German monarch in the hopes of preventing a conquest.  They felt that Bohemia should have sovereignty and his pagan younger brother, Boleslav, turned this anger to his advantage, siding with those who had murdered his grandmother.  And when Wenceslas had a son, his brother became convinced he would never reign and plotted to kill the sovereign.  He invited him to a feast at his castle and although Wenceslas was warned that his live might be in danger, he trusted God to keep him safe.  Not only did he attend the feast, he also spent the night at Boleslav's castle.  When he awoke in the morning, he went to say his prayers at the chapel, only to be stabbed to death by his Boleslav's conspirators on the steps of the chapel.  Although he had only reigned for five years, he would remain beloved by the people of Bohemia for centuries.

Despite his violent, untimely death - or likely because of it - Wenceslas I has gone on to achieve almost a mythical status to his people not unlike that of King Arthur in England.  As he died a martyr, and there were miracles attributed to him, he soon was canonised as St. Wenceslas and went on to become the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.  And his feast day of September 28 has taken on a special meaning with the Czech people.  There are even legends told in his homeland that in the time of the Czech people's greatest need, he will come to lead an army against their enemies.  Some claim that he will come to life in the statue of him that is located in Prague's Wenceslas Square.  There are statues dedicated to him all over the Czech Republic, but the most unusual has got to be one that is located in Prague.  He's riding an upside down, dead horse that's hanging from the ceiling of a shopping complex.  The work is meant to be a parody, but it's odd that it's found in a country that so respects St. Wenceslas.  Interestingly, his grandmother who raised him in the Christian faith was also canonized not long after her murder and is known as St. Ludmilla and her feast day is September 16, just days before her grandson's. Both she and Wenceslas lived in tumultuous times, but they remained true to their faith, helping others and showing charity.  And all these years after their deaths, the pair are venerated in their homeland, and will likely be for many more to come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Free Life

Magnet # 352:  Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire Motto


Material:  Plastic


Purchased By:  Me

I've been so busy with current events and anniversaries that I've neglected to finish up recapping my recent trip to New England.  So, with one exception, I'll spend the rest of this month wrapping that up.  I want to be all finished by the time October gets here (and you may already know why).

After finishing up in Salem, I headed up to Concord, New Hampshire.  There, I stayed at the Best Western Concord Inn & Suites, a place I would book again.  I headed downtown to have a look at the Museum of New Hampshire History.  It was fairly simple, but it did have a replica of a forest ranger station that visitors could climb up to.  The views from it were pretty impressive.  When I was done there, I went on the hunt for magnets on Main Street.  There, I was surprised to find three pretty good places for souvenirs - two drugstores, and one gift shop.  All of the prices were very reasonable - I don't think I paid above three bucks at any of them.  Later, the clerk at my hotel recommended I try the nearby Beefside for dinner, which despite its name, has plenty of seafood on its menu.  He even told me that they'd give me ten percent off if I showed them my room key, and it was nice to get the discount.  I tried their lobster roll, and it was very good.  The restaurant itself was laidback, decorated with an aged wood look, and had reasonable prices.  It appeared to me that mostly locals go there, and it's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area. 

The next day, I headed back to Main Street to have a look at the New Hampshire State House.  There weren't any organized tours available, but I was able to do a self-guided tour and add another capitol building to the list of ones I've visited.  From there, I drove around Concord a little and stopped by the McAuliffe-Shephard Discovery Center just for a moment.  Heading north from the city, I also dropped by the idyllic Canterbury Shaker Village and the Tanger Outlet Mall just off the road in Laconia.  I continued north, driving into the White Mountains for which the state is known.  In the town of Lincoln, I checked out Clark's Trading Post, a roadside attraction filled with performing bears, Chinese acrobats, and plenty of souvenirs.  And just up the road, I stopped by Franconia Notch State Park, where the state's most famous landmark, the Old Man of the Mountain, was located until its collapse in 2003.  I traveled to the top of Cannon Mountain via its Aerial Tramway and was treated to some pretty spectacular views.  Once on the ground, I headed off toward Vermont, having made the most of my time in New Hampshire.  And though I cut through the state once more before my trip was over, I didn't really have time to visit anymore of it.  But I certainly good a good taste of it while I was there.

New Hampshire's motto "Live Free or Die" is certainly one of the most memorable of any state.  It dates back to a toast written by General John Stark, a Revolutionary War hero who was born in New Hampshire.  As he was not well enough to read it himself, he sent it in 1809 to be read at an anniversary reunion of the victory he helped achieve at the Battle of Bennington.  The striking words have been embraced by the state ever since.  Nowadays, New Hampshire continues to embrace living free - it's one of only four states in the Union that are completely sales tax free.  And that made shopping there a pretty fun experience - I love it when what I see is what I pay!  All in all, I enjoyed the free time I spent there, and could see myself returning there in the future.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still Storming the Castle

Magnet # 351:  The Princess Bride Still, Plot


Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell


Purchased By:  Me

Okay, so this magnet may be a bit of a spoiler, but if you haven't seen this film yet, you have no excuse. You see, today marks the 23rd anniversary of the release of The Princess Bride, perhaps the greatest fantasy film of all time. And if you haven't seen this modern day classic by now, that's simply inconceivable. What are you thinking? Jump on Hulu, Netflix, You Tube, or any site of your choosing to view it right now or just head over to the nearest rental store. I'll wait.

Now that we're all caught up on the plot of this delightful film and how it centers around a grandfather reading his sick grandson the story of fairy tale lovers Wesley and Buttercup and their triumphs against adversity, I'll go on.  Yep, The Princess Bride is easily a favorite of mine.  I still remember seeing it for the first time in a theater in 1985 and loving it.  The characters in this film are very original, highly amusing, and rather memorable.  But it's kind of odd - the only character I don't really like is the title character of the Princess Bride, better known as Buttercup.  I could forgive her the somewhat silly name if she weren't so unrespectable herself.  She's a drawback to the damsels-in-distress of old days who can't really fend for themselves.  Sure, she might try on occasion, but she never manages to save herself and when Wesley steps in to do so, she usually hangs back, helpless as he fights.  Geez, she could at least grab his sword or hurl a rock at his adversaries.  I'm not asking that she channel Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, but Buttercup is just too much of a weakling for my tastes.  Personally, I like the supporting character of Inigo Montoya best.  This Spaniard has trained for twenty years to avenge his father's murder at the hands of the six-fingered man, and it's easy to sympathize with his cause.  And when he overcomes all odds and finally defeats the insidious six-fingered man, better known as the vile Count Rugen, I was pretty happy for Inigo.  With great characters like him added to a plot filled with action, romance, and a good dose of humor, this is one film that's tough to top.

The Princess Bride is actually based on a novel written by William Goldman that was published back in 1973.  If you like the film, but haven't read it, I recommend it.  While it started out a little slow, I found that it added plenty to the film.  For years, Goldman tried to get his work turned into a film, only to buy back the rights with his own money when nobody else seemed capable of developing.  Luckily, director Rob Reiner, a longtime fan of the book, was able to come on board, and the film was finally made.  It fared reasonably well at theaters, making back twice more than twice its production costs and getting good reviews, particularly from Siskel and Ebert, who gave it two thumbs up.  But with time, it's become even more beloved as more viewers have come across it on television and future generations have been introduced to it.  And while some fantasy films, like Stardust, have come close to capturing The Princess Bride's magic, it remains at the pinnacle of all fantasy films.  There's been talk of a sequel titled Buttercup's Baby, but I hope none ever comes.  This is one story that's more or less perfect, and there's no point in messing with perfection.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Return of the Natives

Magnet # 350:  Cherokee Indian Museum Pictograph


Material:  Resin


Purchased By:  Kim

On this day, part of the United States observes Native American Day.  It's a time where we honor and celebrate the earliest inhabitants of the Americas and our country.  The tradition of holding the observance on the fourth Friday in September goes back to 1968, when then California Governor Ronald Regan signed it into law.  And other state governments, like Montana, have followed California's example.  In San Bernardino, they are celebrating by holding the 12th annual California Native American Day celebration and around a thousand are expected to attend.  It's held at the end of a weeklong observance known as the California Cultural Awareness Conference, where the history and culture of California Indians are promoted.  Tonight's main event, which is free to the public, will include storytelling, music, dancing, and participants dressed in traditional Native American attire.  You can find out more about this celebration at http://www.nativeamericanday.com/.  Montana State University is also holding a Native American Heritage  Day, where their performers will also don traditional outfits, but they will play music not usually associated with their culture, like rap.  By doing so, they are hoping to teach onlookers that they are a diverse group that has assimilated elements of modern society into their culture.  And, on the other side of the nation, the Choctaw Indians are celebrating Native American Day with a three day Cultural Arts Festival, complete with crafts and speeches, in Choctaw, Mississippi.  Clearly, although this observance is still somewhat new, it's gaining popularity around the nation.

I'm not sure if the Cherokee Indians of the Southeastern United States are join in today's festivities, but I thought this would be a great time to post this magnet from their museum nonetheless.  Awhile back, I had mentioned on here that I had passed through Cherokee with my folks on a vacation, but that I didn't have enough time to do any shopping there, not even at the Cherokee Indian Museum, who had some attractive magnets on their website.  And Kim must have been reading those words, as she bought this very cool magnet for me when she was able to visit.  Thanks, Kim, for the magnet and following my blog!  As for the Cherokee, they are an ancient people who may have reached the South Appalachians as early as prehistoric times.  They kept mainly to the Great Smoky Mountains and at first they simply traded goods with the European settlers in Virginia, including Indian slaves.  They later joined with the British to expel the French from their territory.  They also continued fighting with other tribes and smallpox wiped out a great deal of the Cherokee, almost half of their population.  But, unlike many other Native Americans, the Cherokee did not wage a full-scale battle against the United States, even joining in to help Andrew Jackson's forces to win the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.  However, their land was still encroached upon, and many left the area voluntarily before their removal was ordered.  Along with the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Seminoles, the Cherokee were forced to move to present-day Oklahoma as part of the Trail of Tears. While many have heard of this horrible, forced migration, the details are often glossed over.  The government provided hardly any food for these people, who were often barefoot and lacked adequate clothing for the winter weather they traveled in.  They were forced to personally pay exorbitant travel fees, were herded away from towns, given blankets used by smallpox victims, and, on occasion, were murdered by the locals.  Some were even lost by incompetent guides.  Thousands died before making it to their final destination.  Regardless, they carried on until he Civil Rights Movement helped restore some of their rights.  Some even helped by serving as code talkers during World War II, helping to keep information from being decoded by the enemy.  And many Cherokee have been able to return to the Great Smoky Mountains, where they have their own land set aside at Cherokee, North Carolina, the headquarters for the Eastern Band of their tribe.  Today, the Cherokee are the largest group of American Indians in the United States.  They have come a long way and it's worth celebrating them on this day.  Hopefully, state governments across the nation will continue to follow California's lead by observing Native American Day and celebrating the culture and traditions of the earliest settlers of our land.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bama and the Bard

Magnet # 349:  Alabama Shakespeare Festival Photo


Material:  Acrylic


Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Years ago, some might have claimed that the Deep South was not a place where William Shakespeare was very popular, but that's clearly not the case. 2010 marks the 25th season of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, located in my hometown of Montgomery. This theatre has enjoyed great success over the years and tomorrow its season will open with the premiere of the play The Nacrima Society featuring Jasmine Guy, who did a great job starring on the television show A Different World back in the late eighties and early nineties.  This will be the world premiere of the play - it sounds like the anniversary season is off to a great start.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, or ASF, actually began north of Montgomery in Anniston, Alabama back in 1972.  It was created as a summer-stock theatre and when a critic took in its first performance, he disparaged it and predicted that the ASF would fail.  And he was almost right - by the early 1980s, it was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Fortunately, they had a very important board member, Carolyn Blount, who approached her wealthy husband, Wynton, who agreed to provide for the ASF if it would move to Montgomery.  Blount donated 250 acres from his own estate on which to build the complex, along with over twenty million dollars to construct it, the largest single donation in the history of American theater.  Because of his generosity, the ASF has remained financially sound throughout the years, a feat few American theaters can claim.  In December of 1985, the ASF reopened in its massive new home. The complex consists of two stages - the Carolyn Blount Theatre, which seats 750 and the smaller Octagon Theatre, which as its name suggests, consists of eight sides and can accommodate 225.  With time, Shakespeare's Garden has been added on the grounds, complete with a stage where outside performances can be given.  The ASF has gone on to become the seventh largest Shakespeare Festival in the world, drawing in over 300,000 visitors each year from all over the country and the world.

Given that the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is located where I grew up, I've had nearly a lifelong relationship with it. I still remember when it first opened and I'm pretty sure the first play I saw there was A Christmas Carol. When I was still in grade school, I attended Camp Shakespeare, a two-week summer day camp held there, for two summers in a row. There, we learned all the different aspects of putting on plays - acting, singing, set design, costume design, dance, and even more. It was pretty fun and my favorite part was creating models of sets. I used it as an excuse to make a dollhouse both years. I also saw quite a few performances there over the years. My parents had season tickets for a long time, and sometimes I would join them there. I remember seeing some of Shakespeare's greatest works, like Hamlet, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer's Night Dream, as well as plays by writers from the South. I also attended a performance of Huckleberry Finn, a musical, with the Girl Scouts, and that was pretty fun. I also went there with my school, but that didn't always go so well. During a performance of Romeo and Juliet, I seem to remember something flying onstage between acts, but I don't think I paid much attention until an employee came on and somewhat angrily lectured us on not endangering the safety of the performers. Later, I learned one of my classmates had thrown a golfball on the stage. It certainly wasn't one of my school's proudest moments. And I don't know if it was just the power of suggestion or not, but I still think I may have seen it fly up there. Sometimes, I'd also see the ASF pop up on national television. On The E! True Hollywood Story episode that talked about where the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 was now, they mentioned actor Mark David Espinoza, who had once played the husband of one of the show's main characters. At that time, he was acting at ASF and I'm not sure if they mentioned it by name, but I do remember they included exterior shots of the lovely building. Also, when former Dharma & Greg actor Thomas Gibson was being interviewed by Jay Leno, he mentioned having interned at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Of course, that was back in 1980, before the Carolyn Blount Theatre had even been built. Still, Jay seemed to think it was pretty funny that there was a Shakespeare Festival in Alabama. Too bad he's never seen it - I think he'd stop laughing then. I imagine there are plenty more out there who, like Jay, would find the concept amusing but would change their minds if they ever saw this incredible venue. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival has no doubt impressed millions during the quarter century it's been open. And while I'm not able to visit it as much as I once did, it remains dear to me and I hope to take in more plays there in the future - here's to the first twenty-five years, and to many more!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Legends of the Fall

Magnet # 348: Toronto Gold Leaf

Material: Wood

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

The season of Fall officially kicks off tommorow with Autumnal Equinox. On this day, the Sun is directly above the Earth at a position called subsolar point. Along with Vernal, or spring, Equinox, it's one of two days in the calendar year that has an equal amount of day and night. Although Autumnal Equinox is not as popular or well-known as either Solstice, it has still had its share of celebrations over time, including Mabon, Winter Finding, Harvest Home, and Second Harvest. Perhaps the best known, Mabon, is a Wiccan festival where celebrants give thanks to the dwindling sunlight and prepare for the approaching darkness. It was named after a Welsh deity, Mabon ap Modron, by academic Aidan Kelly in the 1970s. I guess if you want an excuse to celebrate tomorrow, Mabon and its fellow holidays ought to work.

This season may be a favorite of many, but I think I'd like Fall much better if I didn't know its arrival meant Winter was not far behind. It's temperatures are similar to Spring, and saving money on my electric bills by not having to run the air conditioning or heating is great, but I always know that much colder times are on their way. Plus, I tend to like bright Spring flowers much more than colorful Autumn leaves. I know there are plenty out there who adore Fall aesthetics, but I'm not really one of them. Of course, there are some positive aspects to Autumn. I've already mentioned how many of my favorite television shows return at this point of the year with all new episodes. I certainly appreciate getting to watch that. And, if you don't have children in a traditional school schedule, before Memorial Day and after Labor Day can be a great time to travel. Considering it's not part of the high tourist season, it can be much easier and cheaper to get good hotel rooms. Plus, the crowds have often died down at major attractions, meaning you can have an easier time talking to guides and getting a true appreciation of all these places have to offer. And, of course, it can also be nice to not have so many kids around - great as they my be, they can also make traveling a bit more stressful when they're acting up. Last year, I did the majority of my travels in the Fall when I went to the Mid-Atlantic in October and the Great Smoky Mountains in November. And I was very pleased at the good rates I got on my lodgings and by the fact that I didn't have to deal with large crowds. Still, I haven't really scheduled my travels in the Fall this year, opting for Spring and Summer journeys instead. Considering how sweltering my trip to Louisiana was, perhaps I should have pushed it back to this time of the year. And my second trip of the year to New England was deliberately scheduled to avoid the Fall. That's when the color change in the leaves brings in droves of tourists to admire the colors. It's also a big tourist destination in Canada and Eastern Asia, particularly China, Japan, and Korea. As I'm not a big fan of the fall change and I've heard all of the visitors can bring traffic to a standstill, I thought Summer would be a better time to visit. I was hoping the travel rates would be lower as well, but that didn't always prove to be the case, as there were still lots of travelers around the region. I guess I'm still trying to figure out a good, quiet time to visit New England when it's not also covered with snow. Perhaps it doesn't exist. But based on my experiences from this year and the previous one, I think I'll try to schedule more Fall ventures in the future. Between the moderate temperatures and the smaller number of tourists, it really is a good time to hit the road. Of course, it's also best to go before Daylight Savings Time ends and there's less light to drive in if you prefer not to travel at night. I know I'm much less comfortable driving in unfamiliar territory in the dark. Plus, you can't really enjoy any scenic spots you're passing by. Still, if you're looking for a good time to travel, this upcoming season may be it. Perhaps I'll take advantage of it myself - I've got a few more vacation days left to burn, and I'm always ready to hit the road again!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Living Free By the Sea

Magnet # 347: Belize Fish

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Mary

We've reached another Independence Day, and this time, it's the Central American nation of Belize that's celebrating. Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Belize Act of 1981, which granted the nation its independence. It had been a long time coming, and the people of the land were so thankful for their freedom that their national anthem became "Land of the Free." It's evidence of just how much importance finally attaining independence from Europe and its Central American neighbors meant to the small, coastal nation.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Maya Indians controlled what is now Belize for thousands of years. By the 1520's, Spaniards had reached the area and claimed it, adding it to their Captaincy General of Guatemala. However, they did little in establishing their control over the land. It wasn't until 1638 that the first known European settlement was established there by a group of shipwrecked Englishmen. Over the next 150 years, the British population continued to grow in the area with the Spanish nearby, despite the natives' objections. By 1840, the area had been incorporated to form the Colony of British Honduras. Just over two decades later, it became a crown colony. And even when the British finally decided in 1961 to grant British Honduras its independence, the fight wasn't over. Guatemala had considered the area as belonging to it for some time, and had even threatened to use force to take it back. Unfortunately, when the two nations met to discuss what would be done with British Honduras, no officials from the actual territory were included in the talks. An offer was made to turn the area into an associated state of Guatemala, but the people there held onto their goal of independence. Diplomatic talk eventually broke down, but in 1964, British Honduras was made into a self-governing territory. Britain still provided its defense and controlled its foreign affairs and internal security, but the people there knew more freedom than ever before. In June of 1973, British Honduras was finally renamed Belize in preparation for its independence. For the rest of the decade, it worked on receiving support from Cuba, Mexico, Panama, and Nicaragua, but an agreement was still impossible to reach with Guatemala. Nonetheless, in September of 1981, Belize at last attained their freedom from the British, after well over three centuries of occupation. However, even now, they have yet to resolve their issues with Guatemala.

Tourism is a critical part of Belize's economy, providing over a quarter of all the jobs there, and it's easy to see why so many tourists find the nation appealing. Many come into the area on cruise ships. On the shore, they can engage in activities such as fishing, boating, scuba diving, and snorkeling. In fact, Belize is home to the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest series of coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere and the nation's top tourist attraction. Further inland, visitors can tour the ruins of ancient Mayan Indian sites and the jungles that surround them. And they can also get a feel for what lies beneath the surface, if they're interested. Belize boasts Central America's largest cave system, and some even contain remnants of Mayan culture. In a previous post, I mentioned the "Cave of the Crystal Maiden," where human sacrifices were performed and one young victim's remains have fused with the cave floor, giving them a crystal sheen. It sounds like a pretty interesting, if a little creepy, spot to visit. With all of these great options to tour, Belize continues to draw visitors in, helping ensure the future of this young nation that waited so long for its freedom.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Stop Believin'

Magnet # 346: Dianna Agron and Lea Michele as Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry Photo

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Tomorrow, one of the best-received new shows of last year returns for its second season - Glee, the Fox hit about an Ohio high school show choir. It features a cast full of misfits and underdogs joining together and singing as they deal with life's troubles. There's a good amount of humor on the show, and it has an overall positive feeling that makes watching it pretty enjoyable.

Glee is another show I hadn't planned discussing on here, but then I found a set of eight magnets from the show earlier this month. They had originally started at eight bucks, which I would have never paid, but had been reduced to only two. Better yet, they rang up at just under a dollar at the register! Really, I couldn't pass up on a deal that good. When I first heard about the show, I wasn't very interested. With a few exceptions, I don't tend to like musicals. I don't know what it is - maybe when everyone starts singing and dancing in unison, it's hard for me to suspend my disbelief. I guess it's easier for me to enjoy musicals without big dance number involving lots of characters. Nonetheless, when comedienne Jane Lynch was added to the cast, the producers piqued my interest. She's proven in films like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin that, with her dry wit and sarcastic humor, she's one of the best character actors around. Still, I didn't catch the show when it premiered and ended up stumbling upon it while channel surfing. I found out that it's a pretty fun show to watch. There's plenty of colorful characters, intrigue, and over-the-top scenarios to keep it interesting. And, yes, on occasion, I'll get tired with the musical numbers and change channels, but I tend to come back. Unfortunately, this habit and my late start with the show mean that I really haven't seen all of it, but I manage anyway. And some of the songs they've sung have been really great - in particular, I've liked seeing their take on '80s songs, like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" which was performed at two critical moments in the show's development. They have also featured some fantastic guests stars. My favorite was the adorable Kristen Chenoweth, who appeared for a couple of episodes as a former glee club member returning to finish high school after ruining her life. I loved her here, I loved her on the now-canceled Pushing Daisies, for which she won an Emmy, and I hope to see her back on Glee sometime. Neil Patrick Harris also did a great job playing an old rival of the glee club's director, as did Olivia Newton-John when she appeared as a somewhat twisted version of herself. Overall, this first season has been a fun ride, and I'm hoping the next one will be even better.

One of the most interesting twists that's promised this year is two former rivals, Jane Lynch's cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester and glee club director Will Schuester, joining forces against a new threat, the head football coach. They've been great hurling insults at each other and I'm curious to see how their dynamics will change when they become allies. Unfortunately, I also have heard there will be less '80s songs this time. That's a shame - I really like the fast-paced, upbeat music of that decade. But I can always keep channel surfing during musical numbers. Still, I'll be dropping in to see just what the Glee kids and their teachers are up to this season - with its entertaining characters and their complicated lives, it's definitely worth tuning into!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Scurvy Dogs, Unite

Magnet # 345: Pirates of the Atlantic Coast

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Me

Avast ye maties! Once again, it's Talk Like a Pirate Day. Last year, I discussed how this celebration came about, so I thought that this time I'd talk about some of its token figures - the Pirates of the Atlantic Coast!

Going from top to bottom, left to right, Henry Every is the first pirate featured on this magnet, which I bought about 11 months ago, with this particular date in mind. Every was born in England and is believed to have started off sailing as a slave trader. He was, however, a dedicated family man who sent most of his money to his wife and children. In 1964, when he was serving as a first mate, he and the rest of his crew mutinied, and he assumed control of the ship. As a captain, Every only made one voyage, but it was enough to provide him for the rest of his life. It lasted for two years and he was able to take down a Mughal ship that contained an incredible fortune. It was the single richest known act in the history of piracy and Every became wealthier than he'd probably ever dreamed of. Then, he did what few major pirate captains ever managed to accomplish - he retired, evading imprisonment and death in battle. His men weren't all so lucky - about a dozen were captured and six were executed. But despite being one of the most wanted men in the world, Every was never heard from again and thus became a pirate legend.

The second pirate featured here, Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts, was not one of the best known pirates, but he did have a number of successful ventures, more than Blackbeard or Captain Kidd. In fact, he was the most successful pirate in the Golden Age of Piracy. A Welshman, he was a very stylish seaman and the fine clothes and jewelry he donned helped form the stereotypical image of the pirate that's seen today. He was also more enlightened than many of his fellow captains, being one of the first who is known to have created a code of honor that if violated by his crew, was punishable by death. He was killed during a battle, but his men were able to keep his body from being dishonored by weighing it down and throwing it into the sea, where it was never found. His death stunned pirates everywhere and signaled the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. It's still marked by an event known as the Blackest Day.

Next, there's John Rackham. You might call him a progressive pirate, as he had two females in his crew, which was pretty unusual at the time. One was the famous Anne Bonny, a red-haired Irish beauty who helped him achieve some success and gave birth to his child. The Jolly Roger flag he flew became one of the most popular, inspiring other pirates to create their own. It was even used by Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, who also allowed women to join his crew. But Rackham didn't meet with a happy ending like Sparrow. He was captured, hung for his crimes, and his body was posted as a warning to other pirates - interestingly enough, his skeleton appeared in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film with a sign reading "Pirates Ye Be Warned."

No listing of Pirates of the Atlantic Coast would be complete without Edward Teach, who under the nickname of Blackbeard became one of the most feared men of his time. Early on, he showed aptitude in piracy and secured his own ship. But even though was pardoned, Blackbeard continued on with his life of crime. He grew his hair into braids to appear fearsome and would sometimes even light fuses under his hat to scare his enemies. But his bark was worse than his bite - because he was able to subdue many with his frightening behavior, he never harmed or murdered his captives. Still, Blackbeard caused plenty of trouble, creating an alliance with other pirates and blockading Charleston. Finally, the governor of Virginia sent out a force to take him down. They caught up with him at Oracoke Island and a fierce battle erupted. Blackbeard was shot at least five times, cut about twenty, and his decapitated head was hung from the ship of those who brought him down. Legend has it his treasure is still buried on Oracoke.

Moving on, there's Stede Bonnet, who was actually born to a wealthy English family living in Barbados. He inherited his father's estate and married, seemingly settling into a normal life. But when trouble broke out in his marriage, he decided to become a pirate. Breaking with tradition, he bought a ship rather than stole it, hired a crew, giving them wages, and set sail despite the fact that he had no understanding of sailing. Because of this, his men didn't respect him, and he lost control of his ship. He managed to get it back, having some successes. But word got out that he was hiding out at Cape Fear River. And when he was captured, Bonnet came to rue the day he decided to become a pirate, begging for mercy, but it was too late. He was hung in Charleston in 1718.

And, finally, there's Thomas Tew. He was an Englishman who started off as a privateer before turning pirate. It's said that when he asked his crew if they would join him in his life of crime, they responded by shouting "A gold chain or a wooden leg, we'll stand with you!" He had only two major voyages, but he developed the Pirate Round, a route that became popular with later pirates. While he was able to take a ship headed to the Ottoman Empire without incident, taking in a great deal of riches, he wasn't always so lucky. He died in battle trying to take a Mughal convoy and his crew surrendered. But they were soon freed when Henry Every overtook them, the act which made him rich beyond measure. In an odd twist of fate, King William III, not knowing Tew was dead, hired Captain William Kidd to capture him. Kidd, of course, would later become a pirate himself.

So there you have it - six instances of piracy, and only one happy ending. I guess these men prove piracy doesn't pay - at least, not usually in the long run. So, today, rather than act like a pirate, just follow in the spirit of the celebration and talk like one. Now be off with ye, maties - it's time for me rum raisin!

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's Stein Time

Magnet # 344: Helen 2009 Oktoberfest

Material: Acrylic, Metal

Purchased By: Lindsay

Even though it's still September, the town of Helen, Georgia is currently holding the second weekend of its annual Oktoberfest. This is it's biggest event of the year, and it runs for eight weeks until October 31. Each week, the fun starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday. This is the 40th year that Oktoberfest has been held in Helen, but its origins go back much further than that.

This year actually marks the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. It dates all the way back to 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria wed Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12. To commemorate the event, a great horse race was held in Munich on the 17th of the month, followed by an Oktoberfest celebration with dancing and dining the next day, so it's debatable as to which day Oktoberfest began. Regardless, Bavarians came to love the event, holding it in honor of the couple's anniversary each year beginning in 1812. With time, all sorts of changes and additions have been made to the celebrations - it has been lengthened, pushed forward, included a parade and an opening festival, been decorated with the Bavaria statue, and seen the end of horse races. It has also become an event that is known and celebrated worldwide and is perhaps Munich's most famous attraction. And this year's anniversary Oktoberfest kicks off tomorrow and runs through October 3. Even though it's incredibly popular, it's still free to attend. Given that this is its bicentennial, record numbers of revelers are expected flood Munich.

Can't make it out to Munich or Helen for their Oktoberfests? Well, that shouldn't be a problem, as variations of the event are held all over the world. The largest in the United States is Ohio's Oktoberfest-Zinzinatti and it draws in a crowd of as many as 700,000 each year, giving Munich a run for its money. Of course, few places in our nation can compete with the faux-Bavarian atmosphere in Helen, or the authenticity of Munich. Still, here in Savannah, we have our own Oktoberfest coming up on the first weekend of October. One of its highlights is the Wiener Dog Races on Saturday morning. Even though I've never been, a friend of mine took her dachshund, Rufus, to participate last year. She said they put the dogs in boxes, just like racing horses, then open up the gate. And when Rufus came out of his box, he was startled by all of the commotion and tried to get back in. But he finally caught on to what some of the other dogs were doing in running to the finish line and followed. Apparently, plenty of the wiener dogs just aren't sure what's going on. Still, it sounds like fun and my friend is considering entering Rufus again this year. Who knows, maybe I'll make it out to see him race. I'm pretty sure, however, I won't be joining in the rest of the Oktoberfest activities. I know I've mentioned I don't like crowds and I don't drink alcohol, so it's not a great place for me. Of course, they may sell German-themed items that aren't food, even possibly magnets - maybe checking it out isn't a bad idea after all. Well, if any of you are planning on attending an Oktoberfest, around the country or the world, I hope you have a great time with a stein in one hand, wurst in the other!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pilgrim's Progress

Magnet # 343: Plymouth Mayflower

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Me

This is Mayflower Day, the anniversary of the day in 1620 when 102 men, women, and children sailed from Plymouth, England to make a home for themselves in the New World. It wouldn't be for about another 200 years that this group of individuals seeking religious freedom would be known as the Pilgrims, but for the sake of this post, I'll refer to them as such. They actually called themselves saints. The group had begun to form in the late 1500s when they were dissatisfied with the Church of England and consisted of many Separatists who disagreed with its teachings and practices. Of course, it was illegal to dissent from the church and some were jailed before most of the Pilgrims fled to Holland. There, they had more freedom, but some had difficulty finding work and there was concern that their children were becoming more like the Dutch. And when war broke out in Europe, they decided to move to America, even though some were still concerned about the hardships they would face there. But they were finally able to secure a land patent from the London Company. Originally, the Pilgrims intended to take two ships over to the New World - the Mayflower and the Speedwell. However, the Speedwell was having trouble with leaks, so it was left behind. Eventually, it was discovered that the crew was sabotaging it to get out of their year-long contracts. The Mayflower sailed alone, meeting with some trouble late in the nearly two-month voyage. Only one crew member and one passenger died, while one child was born at sea and named Oceanus. The truly hard times wouldn't come until the Pilgrims first winter at the home they built in Plymouth Colony. Over half of them died before March of 1621. But the Pilgrims who survived continued on, eventually establishing their place in America and its history.

It's hard to believe we're just a decade shy of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's departure. Too bad the ship no longer exists - it certainly would be fun to tour it, or even just have a look at it. It stayed with the Pilgrims during the first winter they spent in the New World, even though half its crew died. It then sailed for home in April of 1621, reaching Britain within a couple of months. Interestingly enough, a second ship named Mayflower brought more Pilgrims over to the Plymouth Colony in 1629. By then, the first Mayflower was probably no longer in existence. Its captain passed away in 1622 and by 1624, the ship had fallen into ruin. It was most likely sold for scrap after being torn apart. There are claims that parts of the Mayflower were used to build a barn in Jordans, England. And though it seems that it was constructed from the remains of a 17th century ship, it's impossible to tell if that ship was the Mayflower. And even though the first Mayflower has been lost, a final version was built in the 1950s, which was an accurate replica of the original. It sailed from Devon, England to Plymouth Harbor, where it was met on June 13, 1957 by an enthusiastic crowd. Nowadays, Mayflower II is moored in Plymouth, Massachusetts and visitors can have a look at it, led by costumed guides. In fact, the entire town of Plymouth is a great destination for tourists wanting to explore the lives of the Pilgrims. It's also home to the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which houses many artifacts that belonged to the settles and the Plimoth Plantation, a recreated 1627 English Village consisting of homes, gardens, barns, and a fort. It also had a site based on Wampanoag Indian culture. and, of course, the town is also home to Plymouth Rock, the site where the Pilgrims are said to have landed in December of 1620. There is an actual rock there, protected from visitors by a neoclassical monument created in honor of the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival. Although I've never been to Plymouth, it certainly seems as though it is still steeped in history. I'm not sure if they're having any celebrations in honor of Mayflower Day, but it still might be a nice place to visit on future anniversaries. And I imagine it will have some pretty big festivities in just a decade. It's good to see how important the Pilgrims still are in modern times, that the risk they took and the hardships they suffered have not been forgotten.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cry Freedom

Magnet # 342: Mexican Burro

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mary

Mexico's big day is coming up tomorrow. This, not Cinco de Mayo, is when they celebrate their independence from Spain. The festivities will kick off tonight. Traditionally, it's when the Mexican President rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City. Below him, in the Plaza de la Constitucion, one of the largest public plazas worldwide, a crowd of as many as half a million will gather to join in. And mayors and governors all over the nation follow his example with other bells in front of other crowds. But, as this is the 200th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and Independence, it has been named the "Ano de Patria" or "Year of the Nation" and the festivities will be more exciting than usual. When the President reaches his final year in office, he usually travels to Dolores Hidalgo, where the call to arms was first given, to begin the celebration rather than stay at the National Palace. And this year, in honor of the bicentennial, Dolores Hidalgo will once again be the location where the bell is first rung, despite the fact that the current President still has a couple of years left in his term. There are also other special preparations in place, such as "Ruta 2010" signs appearing on roadways to denote routes linking monuments pertaining to Mexico's independence and two clocks in the Plaza de la Constitucion counting down to September 16th and November 20th, two of the nation's most important dates.

I've mentioned on here before how the Spanish under Hernando Cortes came to what would become Mexico in 1519, and how he and his men ended up pretty much wiping out the native population there. Well, by 1521 the Colonial Period had begun there and it would last for about three centuries. During this time, Spain continued to complete their conquest of the land and put down rebellions. Spanish men traveled into the area, marrying native women and changing the population. But no Mexican natives were permitted to hold administrative offices and few were educated. Their economic system was based upon what benefited Spain. Given these terrible conditions, there were plenty of uprisings against the Spanish, but it wasn't until Napoleon invaded the nation, occupying it in 1807 that Mexico had much of a chance against them. And on September 16 of 1810, a Roman Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led the call to arms in Dolores Hidalgo, a small town in central Mexico. He had the church bells rung to gather his followers and gave a stirring speech calling for them to rise up and destroy bad government. Even nowadays, the call he gave is echoed by a Mexican Grito, a cry that resembles a cowboy's "yee-haw," except there are trills at its end. Many revelers at Mexican Independence Day utter this cry. And by November 20 of that same year, fighters under "Pancho" Villa and Pascual Orozco were leading the first attack against the Spanish government. Almost a decade of fighting would continue until Mexico won its independence on September 27 of 1821. And although Hidalgo was put to death for his actions many years before then, the nation he helped create has never forgotten his sacrifice, making the day of his call to arms one of the most important in its calendar. This, not the 5th of May, is the day most dear in Mexican hearts and their current celebration of 200 years of rebellion and independence from their former masters should be an event to remember.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Heading Uptown

Magnet # 341: Upper East Side Subway Sign

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Okay, I might not be so fond of the end perhaps my favorite season, Summer, but the return of Fall does have at least one benefit - new episodes of my favorite scripted shows! Yes, I know there's short summer television seasons, but I tend to like these shows much better, if only because I get 22 episodes out of them. And, for me, it all kicks off tonight, with the premiere of Gossip Girl on the CW. Yeah, I know, you're probably wondering why on Earth I'd like a show with such a silly title. Well, it is a guilty pleasure for me, and I hadn't intended to talk about it here. But then, my folks called me during a recent trip to New York City from a souvenir shop. They'd found subway destination magnets, and the only one I could really imagine using on here was this one with the Upper East Side. It's the most expensive part of the city, with real estate that ranks among the highest in the world, and it's also where the show is set and filmed. So, given that this is a pretty appropriate magnet, here goes my explanation on why Gossip Girl is worth checking out.

Gossip Girl is based on characters and plots from a best-selling young adult book series of the same name. Gossip Girl is also the alias for an unseen, unknown web blogger who exposes the private lives and secrets of a group of privileged Manhattan teens. On the show, she's the narrator and is voiced by actress Kristen Bell. And the teens whose activities she follows are, of course, very attractive and engage in all sorts of scandalous behavior. Admittedly, this kind of show isn't usually what I go for - I tend to prefer ones that mix the supernatural, spy games, or solving crimes in with the human drama, like Medium, Chuck, and Bones. But I ended up getting hooked by Gossip Girl nonetheless. Part of why I gave it a try is that Josh Schwartz is one of the executive producers of the series. Not only has he done a great job making Chuck one of the most enjoyable shows on television, he also made another teen drama, The O.C., really great - at least for the first couple seasons. He has quite the talent for combining great characters, interesting storylines, humor, and drama. I have yet to be disappointed by his work, so I'll give whatever he comes out with a try. Also, the show wasn't just about the teen Manhattan elite. It also introduced the character of Dan Humphrey, an intelligent Brooklyn outsider who has a certain amount of scorn for them, but also ends up falling for one of their most privileged members, Serena van der Woodsen. Their initial romance really got me interested in the show, and the rest of the characters and storylines kept me coming back.

Even though Gossip Girl is not among my favorite television shows, it's still fun to tune in and see what sort of trouble these teens have gotten themselves into. I'm not sure if I'd recommend it, but if my recap of the series has piqued your interest, you might like it, too. But be warned - this show pushes the envelope, and it's proud of it. Even though it's intended for teens, I'm not sure I'd let one watch it. This season, the fourth so far, kicks off in Paris and it looks like there's hope for Dan and Serena again, who've been broken up for awhile. And given that it films on location, I might consider doing a tour of where it's shot if I'm ever in New York City again - plenty of entrepreneurial individuals now offer those to tourists. But I'm betting, fitting as this magnet may be, the New York subway system is not among the destinations - most of these characters are way too rich to be caught dead on it!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting Bogged Down

Magnet # 340: Symbols of Bandon

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Me

"The Cranberry Capitol of Oregon," Bandon, wraps up its 64th Annual Cranberry Festival today. The festivities kicked off on Friday and have included the Cranberry Festival Parade, the Cranberry Bowl football game, and the Cranberry Food Fair. The event draws in visitors from all over Oregon as well as neighboring states California and Washington. It dates back all the way to 1946, when it was begun to honor the area's cranberry industry.

I'd never heard of Bandon before I bought this very nice magnet of the city as part of a magnet lot. And having never been to the state of Oregon, I've not really been anywhere near it. From what I can tell, it's a relatively small community of just under 3,000 residents on the southern part of that state's coastline. It was founded in 1873 by Irishmen from Bandon, Ireland, which is now the city's only sister city. I guess I don't tend to think that major cranberry producing areas are located in the western parts of the United States, but Bandon certainly proves me wrong. In 1885, they were first grown there by Charles McFarlin, who traveled there from Massachusetts. Originally, he had intended to strike it rich panning for gold, but when that didn't work out, he used vines imported from Cape Cod to develop the first cranberry bog in the state, which would last for over eighty years. The hybrid he introduced did a great job of adapting to conditions on the West Coast, and was named McFarlin in his honor. For many years, it was the preferred variety of cranberry in the region. Over the years, more than 100 growers have settled in Bandon, producing about 5% of the cranberries grown domestically. It's one of only four locales on the West Coast that grow the fruit. They harvest in the fall, from mid-September to around Thanksgiving. Ocean Spray buys many of the crop, processing them at their plant in nearby in Prosser, Washington. Bandon has also made important advancements in cranberry production, most notably when bogs there were the first to wet harvest, which involves building dikes around the bogs and flooding them.

Even if you can't make it out to this year's Annual Cranberry Festival, that's no excuse not to indulge in a handfull of cranberries. They contain vitamin C, manganese, antioxidants, and dietary fibers. Eating them can help prevent the formation of kidney stones, prevent and cure urinary tract infections, can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, and even protect you from breast cancer. Thanks to all over their beneficial traits, they've been labeled superfruits. Just be careful not to have too many - given the tart taste of this fruit, many manufacturers will add lots of sugar to sweeten them up, making them pretty high in calories. But if you don't mind them unsweetened, you can really chow down and gain some important nutritional benefits from cranberries. And you don't have to eat them on their own - they can be added into all sorts of dishes, from baked goods to main dishes and salads, and even alcoholic beverages. For an assortment of cranberry recipes, check out http://www.bandoncranberryfest.com/2010/. And while you're there, you can consider heading to Bandon for next year's Annual Cranberry Festival - it certainly sounds like lots of fun!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

All Spice, No Bull

Magnet # 339: Spanish Paella

Material: Resin, Pewter

Purchased By: Me

Break out the paella, because today, Spain celebrates! Yep, in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Catalonia, September 11 is a big deal. It dates back to 1714, when on that day, the city of Barcelona was forced to surrender to French and Castilian soldiers following a 13-month siege. The conflict had broken out between the powers as part of the War of Spanish Succession. After Charles II, the final Spanish monarch of the House of Habsburg, passed in 1700 without fathering a child, he left control of his kingdom in the hands of Philip, the grandson of his-half sister and Louis XIV of France. This connection between the two powers of France and Spain proved to be too much for both citizens of Spain and other European nations, who feared a shift in the balance of power. And when Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, asserted an Austrian Habsburg claim over the Spanish throne, tensions evolved into a full-scale war. England, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic were the major nations that united to keep French expansion in check, while parts of Spain split in civil war. Early on, the capitol city of Catalonia, Barcelona, fell to forces supporting Habsburg Archduke Charles, and they therefore backed his claim to the throne. This brought the Franco-Spanish forces to their door, but they were not strong enough initially to take the city down. But when reinforcements of more than 20,000 soldiers arrived, it was over for Barcelona. After forces entered the city, they surrendered. And when Philip V took the throne, Catalonia was punished by having their autonomy and rights stripped for over two centuries. In 1980, they were finally restored, and the first public act of the new government was to proclaim September 11 National Day of Catalonia, in remembrance of their loss so many years ago.

Many consider the dish paella, which is featured on this magnet, to be the national dish of Spain. That's not completely true - to the Spanish, it's more limited to the Autonomous Community of Valencia, which borders Catalonia. But it is certainly popular in Catalonia, whose language gave the mixture its name. In Catalan, paella means pan and since the mixture is cooked in a pan, the name stuck. There all sorts of varieties of paella, but the three most popular are Valencia paella, seafood paella, and mixed paella. Nearly all kinds of the dish feature rice, saffron, and olive oil. The meat that's added can vary from chicken, rabbit, and duck to shrimp, mussels, and lobster - sometimes, beans may be added in place of meat. And all sorts of vegetables can be included - tomatoes, peas, bell peppers, you name it. It's a dish that both the poor and the rich can dine on, and its popularity has persisted for centuries. My mom loves paella, but I wasn't too fond of it when I tried it years ago. It's weird, I'm not a big fan of rice (except in sushi), so that might be it. Or maybe it was the saffron. But I think next time I come across paella, I'll give it a try nonetheless. You never know, maybe my tastes have changed over the years and I'll like it next time. After all, millions of Spanish can't be wrong, can they? And even though paella is more a dish of Valencia, plenty in Catalonia will still enjoy it as part of their revelries today, like in the municipality of Cornudella de Montsant, where they prepare a giant dish of seafood paella, big enough for the entire community. Sounds like a pretty fun time. But I do know there will be at least one Spanish activity left out of the celebration today - bullfighting. Catalonia was the first major region in Spain to ban the sport earlier this year, and some have claimed this has more to do with wanting to put themselves apart from the rest of the nation than animal rights. Okay, there might still be some fights in the area - the ban doesn't take effect until 2012. But I guess this recent change will have some effect on this year's National Day of Catalonia festivities.

And yes, I do realize that today in the United States, we remember those who perished on September 11 of 2001. I had a magnet ready to post, but realized I simply didn't have much else to say other than what I'd said last year. I wish the families of those who perished the best and I hope better times are in store for our country and the rest of the world.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Beary Best

Magnet # 338: London Figures Teddy Bears

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Debbie

This has to be one of my favorite magnets - it's just so adorable! I had seen others like it on the web before, and when my friend brought it back after a trip, I was thrilled to get it. And considering this is National Teddy Bear Day, there's no better time to post it. This started off as a celebration limited to the United States, but just as the teddy bear itself, its popularity has spread worldwide. So, teddy bear lovers of the world unite - this is your day!

As ubiquitous as teddy bears seem to be nowadays, it's almost hard to imagine that there was a time when every child didn't have one. But teddy bears really didn't exist before the early 1900s. And oddly enough, they sprang up in two different parts of the world at almost the exact time. The teddy bear was introduced in the United States thanks in part to President Theodore Roosevelt. He had traveled down to Mississippi to resolve a border dispute between that state and Louisiana. While there, the Mississippi Governor invited him to a bear shooting competition. Most of the other competitors had already managed to shoot a bear, so Roosevelt was not having much luck finding one. Eventually, some of his attendants cornered a American Black Bear, clubbed it, and tied it to a tree, offering it up for the President to shoot. A true sportsman, he couldn't bring himself to do it. The incident circulated around the nation, inspiring a political cartoonist to create an image that was featured in The Washington Post. A Brooklyn candy shop owned who created stuffed animals named Morris Michtom saw it and created the stuffed bear. He secured permission to name it Teddy in the President's honor - oddly a nickname Roosevelt didn't care for much - and introduced his creation to the public. Meanwhile, over in Germany, the Steiff firm was debuting its own stuffed bear, created by Richard Steiff, with no knowledge of Michtom's bear. The bears became immensely popular, inspiring other companies to produce them. They were carried around by fashionable ladies, children had their photographs taken with them, and Roosevelt even used one as his mascot. Teddy bears may have changed since their early days, but they have never fallen out of popularity and are now a billion dollar industry. It's hard to imagine that any child in the United States, or even some countries around the world, doesn't own a teddy bear.

So what special activities can you do to celebrate National Teddy Bear Day? You could take your bear out on the town and show it off, or perhaps throw a teddy bear picnic. You could also buy a gift for your bear, perhaps an accessory. And if you have friends with bears, you could all get together with your stuffed friends for a party. Or if you're in a charitable mood, you could consider collecting teddy bears to donate to to underprivileged children. Of course, going to a place where you can create you own teddy bear is a great idea, like the Build-a-Bear-Workshop. But if you're really lucky, stop by the Vermont Teddy Bear Company in Shelburne, Vermont. For only two bucks, you can tour their factory, where they create some of the nicest teddy bears around. And if you want to design and create your own, try out their Make a Friend for Life factory. While I wasn't able to make it by there on my recent trip to New England, I'd like to see it someday. I've gotten quite a few teddy bears of my own over the years, and it might be fun to make one myself. If nothing else, grab one of your teddy bears, and give it a hug. We're lucky to have grown up in times where we all can have teddy bears - speaking personally, it's tough to imagine my childhood without one!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Kingfish's Last Gasp

Magnet # 337: Louisiana State Capitol Building

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

This is the day that put the Louisiana State Capitol on the map, albeit it a rather unflattering manner. It was when, back in 1935, former Louisiana Governor Huey Long was gunned down there. Two days later, he died from his wounds. And though he is gone, Long has hardly been forgotten. Even now, he remains both one of the most despised, corrupt, and ruthless politicians in United States history and also one of the most beloved historical figures in Louisiana, credited with bringing the struggling state into more modernized, affluent times.

Huey Long was born into a middle-class family in rural Winnfield, Louisiana in 1893. He had eight brothers and sisters and as he grew, he proved to be very intelligent and excelled at school, where he was said to have a photographic memory. As a young adult, Long worked as a traveling salesman, trained to be a preacher, but finally ended up becoming a lawyer after he conned his way into taking the bar exam having only studied one year at the Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. Before long, he was taking on the Standard Oil Company, suing them for unfair business practices. The move gave him a certain amount of fame and Long turned his attention to public service. His first bid to become Governor of Louisiana in 1924 failed, but he managed to gain support from the rural poor of the state, a base which had gone ignored in the past, by campaigning in rural areas. In 1928, he ran again under the slogan "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown." He split the vote and was able to win. Long was quick to reward his supporters and punish others by firing state employees from the very top to the very bottom and hiring on those who had supported him. Of course, they were expected to donate part of their salaries into Long's campaign funds. He set out creating roads, schools, hospitals, and bridges. Those who opposed his efforts were often bullied into submission. Eventually, Long's enemies tried to have him impeached, but after that failed, he was only more ruthless. The Kingfish, as Long came to be known, went on to become a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, where he butted heads with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Long had once supported. Oddly enough, he was able to maintain more control in his home state than he was able to exert in Congress. His bullying tactics failed to impress his fellow members of Congress, and not one of the measures he introduced in three years passed, despite the fact that the Democrats, his own party, had a firm hold on Congress. But he continued his fight, becoming more devoted to his concept of Share Our Wealth, or the redistribution of wealth. In Louisiana, he continued to exert his control, having his allies pass bills on his behalf. He continued to enrage his enemies, a fact which finally caught up with him on September 8 of 1953. On that day, he was in the new Louisiana State Capitol, a building which he had been greatly influential in creating, when he was confronted by Dr. Carl Austin Weiss. Long was in the process of destroying the career of Weiss' father-in-law, a judge who opposed Long's policies. Shots were fired and Long himself was struck. But no one was certain who shot him, and Weiss certainly couldn't say - Long's bodyguards and the police shot him 32 times. Many believe that one of his bodyguard's bullets is what hit Long, and that Weiss had only punched him in the mouth. After the Kingfish passed, tens of thousands came to pay their respects to Long's body when it lay in state at the rotunda of the Louisiana State Capitol.

After Long's death, his second and final novel, My First Days in the White House, was published. It spoke of the changes he would enact when he was elected President - no one could ever accuse him of modesty. And though he was dead, the Long political machine and family controlled Louisiana state politics for decades to come. Even now, the state seems to have a love hate relationship with him. He is buried on the grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol, with a statue of the man himself over the tomb, looking at the building he helped create. And yet, not far away, in the Old Louisiana State Capital, there is a locked box on display that is believed to have held the money Long forced his employees to contribute to his campaign. Thanks to Long, Louisiana gained some of the most advanced roads in all the nation and 100,000 adults learned to read. But he nearly bankrupted the state, and corrupted politics to a point that many had never seen before in the United States, with many calling him a dictator. Even Franklin Roosevelt compared Long's rapid rise in popularity to that of Hilter's and Mussolini's. It's hard to know just what to make of the Kingfish all these years after his death, but it seems that he will continue to be debated, particularly in Louisiana, for many years to come.