Thursday 28 February 2013

Great 20th Century American Essays

According to Joyce Carol Oates, here are some of the greatest American essays of the 20th Century:

1.  "Core Pone Opinions" by Mark Twain, 1901.

This essay voices the opinions of Mark Twain's childhood friend who was also a slave.

2.  ""Coatesville", by John Jay Chapman, 1912.

This essay is an address that was delivered on the one year anniversary of the lynching of a black man for a white man's murder in Pennsylvania.

3.  "How it Feels to be Colored Me", by Zora Neal Hurston, 1928.

Hurston's reflections on living in the United States under Jim Crow laws.

4.  "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow", by Richard Wright, 1930.

A black American authors reflections on living in segregated America.  As a child, he longed to read, but his mother could not afford to buy him books.  Being black, he was denied a library card.  Later, he worked for a white man who let him borrow books using his card.

5.  "Harlan:  Working under the Gun", John Dos Passos", 1931.

This essay is based on the coal miners' struggles in the United States.

6.  "School for Bums", by Mary Heaton Vorse, 1931.

This essay tells the plight of the unemployed in New York City.

7.  "The Old Stone House" by Edmund Wilson, 1933.

Mr. Wilson describes his upstate New York house.

8.  "Dubious Battle in California", by John Steinbeck, 1936.

Author Steinbeck portrays the life of apple orchards workers during the Great Depression.  This essay was later turned into a book called In Dubious Battle.

9.  "Letter from Birmingham Jail", by Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.

The Black Civil Rights' advocates' letter to fellow preachers from jail.

10.  "Way to Rainy Mountain", by N. Scott Monaday, 1969.

Traces the tale of the Pueblo Indians displacement to Rainy Mountain, Oklahoma.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Winter's World Travellers

Today is International Polar Bear Day.  Here are ten things you may not know about the furry creature.

1.  Polar bears and penguins do not live together.  The former live in the Arctic while the latter live in the Antarctic.

2.  Polar bears are the largest land dwelling carnivore and can reach 10 feet tall on their hind legs.

3.  Males may weigh up to 1200 pounds while females only weigh up to 650 pounds.

4.  Polar bears are so well insulated they are almost invisible when photographed against the white snow.

5.  While a polar bear's fur is white, the skin underneath is black.

6.  Males have long hair on their forelegs to attract females.

7.  Polar bears travel far and wide covering an area anywhere from 20 to 100,000 square miles.  One bear was tracked from Alaska to Greenland to Canada and back to Alaska.

8.  Polar bears have a strong sense of smell, detecting seals over half a mile away.

9.   Polar bears like "junk food" including styrofoam, plastic, car batteries and motor oil.  Churchill, Manitoba residents started carting their garbage out of town to get rid of the furry invaders.

10.  Polar bears are hunted by the Inuit.  They eat most of the animal but not the liver which is so Vitamin A rich it could make humans sick.


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Tuesday 26 February 2013

A Nice Cup of Tea

I was raised by a tea granny.  Both of my Mom's grandmothers were English and their tastes must have influenced her.  When I was growing up, I always remember my Mom drinking tea.  As soon as she came home, she would plug in the kettle.  But she wouldn't make just any tea.  It had to be orange pekoe.  And she wouldn't make it just any way.  The kettle had to come to a rolling boil (not half-boiled).  The teabag had to steep in the teapot for about 5 minutes.  Any more would make the tea too strong; any less would make the tea too weak.  Once the tea was poured, my Mom would add milk, just enough to cool it off, but not so much that it was "the au lait".  Tea was to be enjoyed with a Digestive cookie or a piece of toast.  Tea was a beverage for dinner.  And tea was a good bedtime beverage.

My sisters and I used to make fun of my Mom for being such a tea granny.  However, as I reached my 30's, I found myself drinking tea.  First at dinnertime.  Then with every meal.  And now at bedtime as well (although I drink Sleepytime tea at bedtime rather than orange pekoe).  I, too, have become a tea granny, or at least a tea mommy.  I find it so soothing.  I also find it helps with digestion.

If you are a tea granny, you might be interested in George Orwell's essay "A Nice Cup of Tea" from the 1940's.  It will come as no surprise that, like my great-grandmas, Orwell was English.  Well, its tea time so I'd better go.

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Monday 25 February 2013

2000 Marks for a Loaf of Bread

When I looked up This Day in History, I discovered the headline "A loaf of bread 2000 marks".  Such was the case in Germany's Weimar Republic in 1923 when the country was experiencing hyperinflation.  After World War I, the German government was forced to pay reparations to the Allies.  They went into serious debt and started making more paper money which soon became worthless.  Here are ten facts about the time period.

1.  Germans used the devalued marks as fuel to heat their homes.

2.  German children played with paper money in the streets.

3.  German workers brought suitcases to work to collect their pay.  One individual left his money-laden suitcase unattended; a thief grabbed the suitcase but left the money.

4.  Restaurants did not print menus because in the time it took for food to be cooked and reach the table, the price had gone up.

5.  Shoppers brought wheelbarrows full of money to the store.

6.  Long lines formed outside soup kitchens.

7.  Germans used the devalued marks to wallpaper their walls.

8.  Bartering became commonplace; for instance, a cinema ticket could be purchased for a lump of coal or a bottle of paraffin for a silk shirt.

9.  Thousands of people waited outside banks.

10.  Stores were often empty because storekeepers could not obtain goods to sell.

Another example of how worthless the Mark had become under the Weimar Republic, here children can be seen playing with stacks of the German currency.

Sunday 24 February 2013

And the Oscar Goes To...

Long before the statuette was called Oscar, the first Academy Award was handed out at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood in 1929.  Two hundred and seventy people paid $5 each to dine at banquet tables and then applaud the winners.  Douglas Fairbanks was the host of the ceremony which lasted a mere 15 minutes in which 15 statuettes were handed out.  The event was not telecast on television nor on radio.  There wasn't even a red carpet.  Emil Jannings received the Best Actor award for "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh".  Janet Gaynor received the Best Actress award for "Seventh Heaven", "Street Angel" and "Sunrise:  A song of Two Humans".  The Best Film award went to "Wings".  Warner Brothers received an award for the first talking film, "The Jazz Singer".  Some historians estimate as many as three quarters of Americans watched a movie, at 25 cents a crack, each week.

The 1st Academy Awards held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

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Some say that the award was named after actress Bette Davis' first husband Harmon Oscar Nelson.  Others say it was named after the executive secretary Margaret Herrick's Uncle Oscar.  Walt Disney thanked the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932.  However, the statuette was not officially called an Oscar until 1939.

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Best actors of note are :  Jimmy Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939; Charlton Heston for Ben Hur in 1951 and Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.  Best actresses of note are:
Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind in 1939; Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight in 1944 ; and Grace Kelly for Country Girl in 1954.  Best films of note are:  Gone with the Wind in 1939; Casablanca in 1943; An American in Paris in 1951.

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This year, hundreds of actors and actresses graced the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.  Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor award for Lincoln (yeah!); Jennifer Lawrence won the best actress award for Silver Linings Playbook ; and Argo won the Best Film award.  Over 42 million viewers watched on TV.  To date, over 2800 statuettes have been handed out...until next year.

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Saturday 23 February 2013

Counting Sheep

A good night's sleep is worth its weight in gold.  Here are ten tips to getting a restful slumber each night.

1.  Set a regular bedtime.  Wake at the same time each morning.

2.  Increase your light exposure during the day, especially natural light.  Avoid bright lights before bedtime.

3.  Turn off the TV and computer, two stimulating devices.

4.  Listen to soft music or a book on tape.

5.  Make your bedroom as dark as possible.

6.  Keep the noise down.  Drown out barking dogs or heavy traffic with a fan or soothing recordings.

7.  Keep your bedroom cool (65 degrees Fahrenheit).

8.  Take a warm bath at bedtime.

9.  Drink herbal tea (I drink Sleepytime Tea) or a glass of water (prevents dehydration).

10.  Practise deep breathing techniques and visualize yourself having a restful sleep.

Friday 22 February 2013

Florida Facts

It was on this day in 1819 that Spain ceded Florida, meaning "Feast of Flowers", to the United States.  Here are ten facts you may not know about the Sunshine State.

1.  Clearwater, Florida has the highest rate of lightning strikes in the United States due to the sea breezes colliding between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  The strikes result in 10 deaths and 30 injuries per year on average.

2.  St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America, founded by the Spaniards in 1565.

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3.  Lake Okeechobee, one of over 30,000 lakes in the state, is the largest freshwater lake in the United States.  Its size is 700 square miles, but its depth is only 9 feet.

4.  Florida has the most golf courses in the United States.

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5.  Gatorade was invented to counteract the Florida heat and was named after the University of Florida Gators.

6.  Ray Charles launched his music career in Florida.

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7.  Fort Lauderdale, with its 185 miles of local waterways, is nicknamed "the Venice of America".

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8.  The Everglades are full of swamps which are essential to the environment:  they act as a filter to clean the water, serve as a habitat for plants and wildlife and prevent flooding by slowing down the flow of water.

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9.  Cape Canaveral is America's launch pad for space flights.

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10.  The Benwood, on the French Reef in the Florida Keys, is known as one of the most dived shipwrecks in the world.

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Thursday 21 February 2013

The New Yorker

Today is the anniversary of the first publication of the New Yorker magazine in 1925.  Here are ten famous covers to celebrate the occasion.

1.  September 24, 2001 -- Honouring the victims of the terrorists who hijacked two planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

2.  July 5, 2010 -- Canada geese.

3.  November 12, 2008 -- Lincoln Monument, Washington, DC?

4.  Unknown date

5.  March 20, 2011 -- Spring Blossoms.

6.  March 21, 1925 -- New York City Skyline.

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7.  May 3, 1925 -- Columbus Circle outside Central Park, New York City.

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8.  June 22, 1929 --  Going to the Chapel.

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9.  August 8, 1931 -- The Horse Race by Theodore G. Haupt.

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10.  June 6, 1931 -- Brooklyn Bridge.

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Wednesday 20 February 2013

The History Fair

We walked along the icy sidewalk past dozens of cars.  We entered Brantford Christian School where several parents chatted in the lobby.  We opened the gym door where we stepped back into history.  From the ceiling hung the maple leaf, Quebec's fleur de lis, Ontario's trillium, British Columbia's rising sun with a Union Jack -- all of the provincial flags.

In the middle sat tri-fold display boards filled with history projects:  an Emily Carr display, a history of the sturgeon complete with a net, a Vimy Ridge tribute replete with toy soldiers climbing a ridge painted green and a German flag at the top.  Hanging from one wall was a pioneer quilt, filled with pioneer stories.  On a table sat Teddy bears and the history of Winnie the Pooh.  A peace display included maple leaf boxes with pledges inside.  Against the back wall hung a giant map of Canada surrounded by profiles of North American explorers, including Henry Hudson, completed by Jacqueline and her friend Natalie.

Another display featured musicians including Gordon Lightfoot, highlighting his song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".  One student studied Stompin' Tom Connors, including a photo of potatoes, paying homage to his "Ketchup Song".  Guests were treated to artwork from The Group of Seven in varying shades of the rainbow.  It's hard to believe that one of the group, Lawren Harris, was born right here in Brantford.  In one corner stood a woman dressed as a pioneer in front of a table with artifacts from Myrtleville House.

A professor from Laurier-Brantford, one of the students' parents, delivered a talk and a power point presentation about Vimy Ridge, geared toward the children.  The highlight was when the professor picked a student from the group to pick up a heavy backpack which the primary students couldn't even lift, to emphasize how much gear a soldier had to carry on the battlefield.

In another corner sat my display about the British Home Children.  One photo simply showed a Victorian chair.  It's hard to believe that my great-grandma, Daisy Blay, was so poor that her mother owned nothing but a chair, having sold every other piece of furniture to pay the rent.  No wonder she sent Daisy, at the tender age of 8, to Canada to work -- she felt it was her only chance at survival.

Although I wanted to browse some more in the gym,  it was getting late.  As we closed the gym door, we closed the door to history.  I look forward to the next history fair in four years.  We walked down the icy street, now with lots of empty parking spaces, our breath hanging in the air.  Thank you, BCS, for the trip down memory lane.

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Tuesday 19 February 2013

"That's Crackerjack!"

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Tagged as "Candied popcorn and peanuts", Cracker Jacks first included a prize on this day in 1912.  Excited children reached into the box and pulled out a plastic ring or a temporary tattoo or a fold and tear comic.  Some historians consider Cracker Jacks to be the first junk food.

Frederick Rueckheim and his brother Louis first sold an early version of the treat at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  Their first official lot of Cracker Jacks was made in 1896, the name coming from a saying "That's crackerjack!" meaning something of excellent quality.  By 1902, Mr. Eckstein joined the Rueckheim brothers and the company became Rueckhkeim Bros. & Eckstein.

A song was written in 1908 called "Take me out to the Ball Game" which included the line:  "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack", providing free publicity to the new company.  By 1912, Cracker Jack's company adopted the slogan "Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize".  It was a propos then that Cracker Jack boxes started including baseball cards as prizes two years later.

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Mascots Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced in 1918.  Sailor Jack was based on the Rueckheim brothers' nephew, Robert, and Bingo was based on a stray dog adopted by Mr. Eckstrein named Russell.

The Cracker Jack Company was bought by Borden in 1964.  In 1993, on the occasion of the snack's 100th birthday, the company offered free boxes of the molasses flavoured treat to visitors to Wrigley's Field.  Frito-Lay bought the company in 1997.


Monday 18 February 2013

Volkswagens, Vaccines & Volstead Act

In honour of my Dad's 80th birthday today, here are ten things that happened in the year 1933.

1.  Adolf Hitler announced the production of a state sponsored people's car in Germany.  By 1972, the Volkswagen surpassed the Model T in sales.

Introduction of VW38s

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2.  The average house price was $5750.  A battery powered radio was $52.00.  A gallon of gas was 10 cents.  A loaf of bread cost 7 cents.

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3.  The Volstead Act was repealed, ending Prohibition.

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4.  Civil War erupted in Cuba, forcing American businesses to close up shop.

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5.  One-third to one-quarter of all Americans were unemployed, making it the worst year of the Great Depression.

Men waiting in line during The Great Depression.

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6.  Diptheria vaccine was first introduced in the Western World.

Advertisement, Vapo-Cresolene - 1906 (Trail End Collection)

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7.  Wiley Post flied solo around the world only six years after Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight.

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8.  The Inverness Courier reported a sighting of a monster in Loch Ness for the first time in Scotland.

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9.  Charles Darrow, an unemployed steam radiator repairman, invented the board game Monopoly.  It sold just over 2 million copies in its first two years on store shelves.

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10.  China's Yellow River overflowed its banks, damaging crops and leading to mass starvation.

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Sunday 17 February 2013

False Teeth, Poker Games & Skinny Dips

In honour of President's Day tomorrow, here are ten things you may not know about the American Presidents.

1.  George Washington's teeth were not wooden, but rather were made of gold, ivory, lead and animal teeth.

2.  Liberia's capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe, a staunch supporter of the country's colonization.

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3.  John Quincy Adams used to skinny dip early in the morning in the Potomac River.

4.  Martin Van Buren  popularized the saying "O.K.".  He hailed from Kinderhook, New York, also called Old Kinderhook.  His support groups were called O.K. Clubs, which was shortened to O.K., meaning all right.

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5.  Millard Fillmore married his teacher who was only two years his senior.

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6.  Ulysses S. Grant got a speeding ticket while riding a horse down a Washington street.

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7.  Warren G. Harding lost the White House china in a poker game.

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8.  Calvin Coolidge used to have someone rub Vaseline on his head while he ate breakfast in bed.

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9.  Dwight D. Eisenhower sustained a leg injury in high school which led to a nasty infection.  Doctors wanted to amputate his leg, but he refused to let them, and his leg miraculously healed.

10.  Gerald R. Ford, and his wife Betty, were both fashion models earlier in life.  The future president graced the cover of "Cosmopolitan" in 1942.

Bonus:  Barack Obama is a comic book nerd.

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