Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

With Halloween only a little over a month away, I thought I'd start a series of blogs representing the spirit of the holiday.

According to Chinese legend, hungry and restless ghosts roam the world to visit their living descendants.

Traditional Chinese belief has the seventh month of the lunar year reserved for the Hungry Ghost festival (Yu Lan). For 2016, that's August 3 – August 31. This is a boisterous celebration of feasts and music. According to Chinese folklore, the ghosts who wander the physical world are ravenous and envious after dying without descendants or because they are not honored by relatives who are still alive.
Because the hungry spirits need to be appeased, prayers and incense are offered to deceased relatives. Fake currency, known as hell money, along with paper copies of material wealth are burned. The ghosts then use them when they return to the underworld.

Neighborhoods hold nightly shows of Chinese operas and pop concerts. The front row of seats remain empty because they are reserved for the ghosts. These shows are accompanied by extravagant feasts. On the 15th day of the lunar month, families offer cooked food to the ghosts with the hope that the spirits will help them find good jobs, get good grades, or even win the lottery.

Because of the theme of this festival, it has been referred to as the Chinese Halloween.

Next week I'll be posting my blog of America's Haunted Hotels.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

12 Top Secret Sites From Around The World

Just the words Top Secret conjure up images of intrigue, conspiracies, and clandestine operations.  These off-limits sites exist all over the world with the various governments keeping activities hidden from public knowledge…safely ensconced behind those closed doors and security fences.  It's a given that most of the secrets probably have to do with research for new weapons and defense systems.

A while back, I came across an article listing 12 top secret locations, certainly not the total number of these sites…not even close…but an interesting list.

Cheyenne Mountain Complex
This bunker near Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a relic from the days of the Cold War.  Located literally inside Cheyenne Mountain, it was originally designed as a combat operations center with its own water, electricity supply, air filtration system and built to withstand a nuclear blast [a 1960s size nuclear blast].  This facility has been given new vitality as a result of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  It currently participates guarding against ballistic attack, supports space operations, and assists in keeping American and Canadian airspace safe.  The U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Space Command, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Missile Defense Agency all maintain a presence at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex…and that's a lot of organizations devoted to secrecy.  But the secrecy of the location?  Well…there is a picture of it on NORAD's website and I recall seeing a kind of mini-tour several years ago on a television documentary.  But, with that many secrecy organizations involved, there's probably a lot more going on there than meets the eye.

Area 51
Undoubtedly the most famous…or infamous…secret facility in the world.  Even though its location in the Nevada desert was known far and wide and a topic of much speculation, the government refused to even acknowledge its existence until 1995.  And anything that secret is ripe for all kinds of conspiracy theories, some going back to Roswell, New Mexico, 1947 and the alleged alien spacecraft crash with the alien bodies supposedly taken to Area 51.  With many of the stealth technology aircraft tested there in secret, it must have looked like strange alien craft flying overhead.  And now you can see Area 51 via Google Earth.  Sort of takes away some of that mystique.

Site R
It's official name is Raven Rock Mountain Complex and it's an underground relocation facility for the Department of Defense, sometimes referred to as the underground Pentagon.  It's located in Pennsylvania about 6 miles from the Camp David presidential retreat.  There's speculation that a tunnel connects Camp David and Site R.  Like Cheyenne Mountain, this was a cold war era bunker given new purpose and life following 9-11.

The Capitol Visitor Center
Located on the east side of the Capitol, as the name implies its purpose is to welcome visitors to Washington, D.C.  But there is a theory that within or beneath the 580,000 square-foot building is a top-secret area for Congress to use in emergencies.  Giving credence to this theory are 4 bomb-proof skylights, a tunnel system large enough for vehicles to move around and a sophisticated IT infrastructure with thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable.

National Security Agency/Stellar Wind
According to Wired Magazine, the NSA is building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah.  This is where the NSA will intercept and inspect billions of calls, email, Google searches, travel itineraries, book purchases, and other miscellaneous digital information.  Stellar Wind is the codename for this surveillance program.  The NSA created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes.  While the CIA is better known as an intelligence gathering agency, the NSA is three times its size and costs more.  The NSA is considered the most powerful intelligence agency in the world today.

This program resulted in public disclosure by whistle blower William Binney in 2002 and most recently Edward Snowden in 2013.

Pine Gap, Australia
This is considered by many to be the Australian Area 51, the ground station for a network that intercepts telephone, radio, and data links from around the world.

Camp Peary
Located near Williamsburg, Virginia, Camp Peary (known as The Farm) is an area of 10,000 acres said to be where CIA agents receive covert training.

Mount Yamantau
Located in the Ural Mountains, the U.S. suspects this Russian site of being a large secret nuclear facility.  It's near one of Russia's last remaining nuclear labs and is part of their Dead Hand nuclear retaliatory command structure.

Liberty Crossing
Based in a complex in McLean, Virginia, this is home to the National Counterterrorism Center.  It utilizes experts from the CIA, FBI, Pentagon, and other agencies, to avoid large scale terror plots.  Each office is essentially a vault.

RAF Menwith Hill
This Royal Air Force station located near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, is said to be the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.  It is operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office and is part of ECHELON, created during the Cold War.

Negev Nuclear Research Center
Located in Israel's Negev Desert, the facility was built in 1958 and is widely assumed to be a manufacturing site for nuclear weapons.

Porton Down
This is a government and military science park located near Wiltshire, England.  Although the term science park makes it sound more like a children's learning-can-be-fun type of place, that's not even close.  In World War I, it studied chemical warfare.  With the passing decades, studies changed from mustard gas to nerve agents in the 1940s.  It continued to study biological warfare.

Planet Earth might be a global society out of necessity, but we obviously are not a harmonious global society.  And if the headlines on the daily news are any indication, we're a long way from achieving that goal.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

September's Bizarre And Unique Holidays

Every month seems to have at least one holiday for each day, some well-known and celebrated and others wrapped in varying stages of obscurity.  And in addition to the daily holidays, there are also month long celebrations devoted to various endeavors.

In the year 2016, the following month-long observations for September include:  Classical Music Month, National Piano Month, International Square Dancing Month, National Courtesy Month [shouldn't this be a year long observation, every year?], National Chicken Month, National Honey Month, National Rice Month, National Papaya Month, Self-Improvement Month, Be Kind To Editors and Writers Month, Cable TV Month, National Bed Check Month, and National Mind Mapping Month.

Here's a list of the daily holidays (some dates having multiple celebrations scheduled for the same date). I've even included an explanation for a few of them.

Sept. 1       Emma M. Nutt Day—in celebration of the first woman telephone operator.
Sept. 2       National Beheading Day—every once in a while there's a holiday that has no obvious reason for being. Why would someone declare something as gruesome as beheading to be an activity that warrants a special holiday celebration? Beheadings have been a method of execution for both commoners and royalty throughout history and in today's society the practice includes the activities of terrorist groups. Probably the most famous royal beheadings were Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793 during the French Revolution. There isn't any factual information about the origin of this holiday.
Sept. 3       Skyscraper Day—a celebration of tall buildings?
Sept. 4       Newspaper Carrier Day—to honor those who deliver the newspaper to our homes.
Sept. 5       Labor Day—since Labor Day is the first Monday in September, the date changes from year to year. This is the only legal holiday in September, one honoring the nation's workers, where government offices are closed along with the banks, schools, and the post office which means no mail delivery. This is the unofficial close of the summer season, as Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning. Canada also celebrates their Labor Day holiday on the first Monday in September.
Sept. 5       Be Late For Something Day—if you are among the millions who can't seem to stay on schedule, then this is a holiday for you. Being late is a common occurrence and can be caused by any number of things from it being a conscious desire to it being caused by circumstances beyond your control. There is no factual information about this holiday, but it leads us to the September 6th holiday which is…
Sept. 6       Fight Procrastination Day—for those of you mired down in Be Late For Something Day, this is a day to get things done. Many people consider procrastination as a way of life. There are even clubs dedicated to procrastination. Today is the day to make a decision…to take action. Fight those procrastination urges. There is no factual information about the origin of this holiday.
Sept. 6       This is also Read A Book Day—self-explanatory and important for those of us who write. Goes along with this being Be Kind To Editors and Writers Month.
Sept. 7       Neither Rain Nor Snow Day—this sounds like a tribute to those who deliver our mail.
Sept. 8       International Literacy Day—another holiday pertinent to those of us who write. Something we should all support with the goal of wiping out illiteracy in all countries.
Sept. 9       Teddy Bear Day—a day to honor our teddy bears, those past and those present.
Sept. 10     Swap Ideas Day—a day to share information, plans, ideas, and maybe even dreams.
Sept. 11     911 Remembrance—while not a legal holiday in the manner of Labor Day, it's certainly far removed from the frivolous and fun nature of the other holidays that fall into the bizarre and unusual category. This is the day in 2001 when 4 commercial airliners were high-jacked by terrorists; 2 flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, 1 flown into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and 1 brought down by the passengers in a field in Pennsylvania thus preventing it from reaching its target in Washington D.C. To quote FDR (when speaking of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that officially brought the U.S. into World War II): "A date which will live in infamy."
Sept. 11     National Pet Memorial Day—this falls on the second Sunday in September, so the specific date changes from year to year. A day to honor the pets we've lost to time.
Sept. 12     Chocolate Milk Shake Day—all I can say is yummy!
Sept. 13     Defy Superstation Day—this is the day for you to defy all those superstitious beliefs that surround us. And the defiance starts by celebrating on the 13th. This holiday was created to help you eliminate all those superstitions from your daily life. There isn't any group who claims responsibility for this holiday, but it dates back at least to 1999 in origin.
Sept. 14     National Cream-Filled Donut Day—again, all I can say to this holiday is yummy!
Sept. 15     Make A Hat Day—I can only assume it's a holiday dedicated to making hats of all type for all occasions.
Sept. 16     Collect Rocks Day—for all you rock hounds out there, this is your day of celebration.
Sept. 17     National Apple Dumpling Day—and once again, all I can say about this holiday is yummy!
Sept. 18     National Women's Friendship Day—this is celebrated on the third Sunday in September.  It's nice to have a holiday dedicated to friendship.
Sept. 18     National Cheeseburger Day—and even more yummies! Have you noticed how many holidays celebrate food and drink?
Sept. 19     International Talk Like A Pirate Day—a day to let out the pirate in each of us. You need to brush up on your pirate-speak in anticipation of this holiday. You're not required to dress like a pirate on this date, only to talk like one. This holiday was created by John Baur and Mark Summers in 1995 while they were playing racquetball and started talking to each other in pirate-speak as a fun thing to do.
Sept. 20     National Punch Day—I'm assuming (or choosing to believe) this relates to the beverage rather than hitting someone. So, I have to give it a yummy!
Sept. 21     World Gratitude Day—we all have things for which we need to express our gratitude. This is the day to do it.
Sept. 22     Elephant Appreciation Day—you can show your appreciation for all the elephants in the world.
Sept. 23     Dog In Politics Day—it seems that every year and every month and for that matter, every day in this election year, is filled with politics.
Sept. 24     National Cherries Jubilee Day—oh, yes…and another yummy!
Sept. 24     International Rabbit Day—this is celebrated on the 4th Saturday in September, for those of you who love your pet rabbits or are fans of Bugs Bunny.
Sept. 25     National Comic Book Day—for those who enjoy reading, writing, drawing, and collecting.
Sept. 26     Johnny Appleseed Day—in honor of the young man named John Chapman who planted apple trees across the country.
Sept. 27     Crush A Can Day—the beer can (hopefully empty) on the forehead? All I can say about this is ouch!
Sept. 28     Ask A Stupid Question Day—this is a chance for you to get all those stupid questions out of your system, all those questions you've been saving up because you thought they were too stupid to ask. And for this day, we have a special quote:  "Stupid is as stupid does." (Forrest Gump). The origins of this holiday goes back to the 1980s when there was a movement by teachers to try to get kids to ask more questions in the classroom.
Sept. 29     Confucius Day—this is the day to get a fortune cookie and check your fortune.
Sept. 30     National Mud Pack Day—and another yummy!  Oops, wait a minute…that's wrong. Mud packs, not mud pie…I've never understood how smearing mud on your face is suppose to be good for the skin.

And that's a listing of the bizarre and unique holidays for September of this year. Do any stand out as a favorite for you?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

History Of Labor Day Holiday

The Labor Day holiday is celebrated on the first Monday in September.  This is the same day that Canada celebrates their Labor Day holiday.  This year, that date is September 5, 2016.

The history of Labor Day in the U.S. goes back to the labor movement of the late 1800s and became an official federal holiday in 1894, celebrated with parties, parades and athletic events.  Prior to 1894, workers who wanted to participate in Labor Day parades would forfeit a day's pay.

Over the ensuing decades, Labor has come to symbolize something else, too.  In defiance of the Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox signaling the beginning and ending of the summer season, Labor Day has become the unofficial end of the summer season that unofficially started on Memorial Day weekend (the fourth Monday in May in the U.S.).

What led up to the creation of a holiday specifically designated to honor and celebrate the workers and their accomplishments?  The seeds were planted in the 1880s at the height of America's Industrial Revolution when the average American worked 12 hour days/7 days a week in order to manage a basic living.  Although some states had restrictions, these workers included children as young as 5 years old who labored in the mills, factories and mines earning a fraction of the money paid to the adults in the same workplace.  Workers of all ages were subjected to extremely unsafe working conditions in addition to insufficient access to fresh air and sanitary facilities.

Labor Unions had first appeared in the late 1700s.  As America changed from an agrarian society into an industrial one, these labor unions became more vocal and began to organize rallies and strikes in protest of poor working conditions and low wages.  Many of these events turned violent.  One prominent such incident was the Haymarket Riot of 1886 where several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Other rallies were of a more positive nature such as September 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off from their jobs and held the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history when they marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.

It was another 12 years before Congress legalized the holiday.  This was primarily brought about on May 11, 1894, when employees at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.  Then on June 26, the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars thus crippling railroad traffic nationwide.  To break the strike, the government sent troops to Chicago.  The resulting riots resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.  As a result, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in all states, the District of Columbia and the territories (many of which later became states).

And now, more than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day still hasn't been identified.

So, for everyone enjoying this 3 day holiday weekend, now you know why you have that additional day.  And why the banks are closed and you don't have any mail delivery.  :)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Weird August Holidays

Every month has its collection of strange, weird, and obscure holidays—at least one per day—many of which are unknown to the general public.  And, needless to say, holidays that are not recognized as days when we would have a paid holiday at work, days that the schools and banks and government offices are closed and where there is no mail delivery. But still holidays to be celebrated and enjoyed in their own quirky fashion.

I realize we're already half way through the month, but here's a collection of obscure and unusual August celebrations.

Let's start with month long celebrations.  For August you have:  Admit You're Happy Month, Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Golf Month (I'd better make sure my brother knows about this one), Peach Month, Romance Awareness Month, Water Quality Month, National Picnic Month.

And then there are the week long celebrations.  The first week of August is National Simplify Your Life Week.  The second week of the month is National Smile Week.  The third week is Friendship Week.  And the fourth week is Be Kind To Humankind Week.

And the daily celebrations:  I found it interesting that 10 of the 31 days in August had holidays connected to food (are we seeing an ongoing theme here?). Some of the dates had more than one holiday attached to them.

August 1)  National Raspberry Cream Pie Day
August 2)  National Ice Cream Sandwich Day
August 3)  National Watermelon Day
August 4)  U.S. Coast Guard Day
August 5)  Work Like A Dog Day
August 6)  National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August)
August 6)  Wiggle Your Toes Day
August 7)  Sisters Day (first Sunday in August)
August 7)  International Forgiveness Day (first Sunday in August)
August 7)  Friendship Day (the first Sunday in August)
August 7)  National Lighthouse Day
August 8)  Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day
          Apparently zucchini is one of the most prolific plants with a single plant producing what seems to be an endless supply of zucchini. By the time August arrives, gardeners have far more zucchini than they can possibly use. After giving away as much as they can to family and friends, desperate growers seek desperate measures to rid themselves of the overflow. And that gives us the name of the holiday…sneak some zucchini onto your neighbor's porch day.
August 9)  Book Lover's Day
          Book Lover's Day encourages you to find a comfortable place, relax, and enjoy a good book. If you happen to fall asleep in that gently swaying hammock while reading, that's perfectly okay. There is some disagreement about when this holiday is celebrated. August 9th is the most widely accepted date. Some celebrate it on the first Saturday in November. My suggestion? Celebrate both days.
August 10)  Lazy Day
August 10)  National S'mores Day
August 11)  Presidential Joke Day
August 12)  Middle Child's Day
August 13)  Left Hander's Day
August 14)  National Creamsicle Day
August 14/15)  V-J Day (end of World War II)
August 15)  Relaxation Day
          For people with a hectic lifestyle, this is the day to kick back and do nothing…just relax. Take a break from your busy work and personal schedule. If something stresses you out, this is the day to ignore it.
August 16)  National Tell A Joke Day
August 17)  National Thrift Shop Day
August 18)  Bad Poetry Day
August 19)  Aviation Day
August 20)  National Radio Day
August 21)  Senior Citizen's Day
August 22)  Be An Angel Day
August 22)  National Tooth Fairy Day (and/or February 28)
August 23)  Ride The Wind Day
          This is a carefree day, a time to soar above the earth. Catch a ride on the breeze or float like a cloud. Summer will soon be over. Take advantage of this day to relax and leave your worries behind. Fly a kite. Enjoy the final days of summer.
August 24)  Vesuvius Day
August 25)  Kiss And Make Up Day
August 26)  National Dog Day
August 26)  Women's Equality Day
August 27)  Global Forgiveness Day
August 27)  Just Because Day
August 28)  Race Your Mouse Day (but in today's society are we talking rodent or computer?)
August 29)  More Herbs, Less Salt Day
August 30)  Frankenstein Day
          There are 3 versions of this day. This one is in honor of author Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, who was born August 30, 1797. There is also Frankenstein Friday and National Frankenstein Day, both celebrated in October. Confused? Celebrate all 3 days.
August 30)  Toasted Marshmallow Day
August 31)  National Trail Mix Day

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Skeleton In A Tree


I came across this news story about an incident that happened in County Sligo, Ireland, in September 2015 and decided to share it on my blog.

A storm knocked down a 215 year old tree in northwestern Ireland and archeologists discovered a human skeleton tangled in its roots. The skeleton of a young man between the ages of 17 and 20 was determined to be approximately 1000 years old. Numerous injuries were found on his ribs and hand indicating he "suffered a violent death."

The lower leg bones remained in the grave, but the upper part of the body had become tangled in the tree roots, thus being exposed when the tree blew over in a storm. Radiocarbon dating indicated the remains go back to early medieval times, between 1030 and 1200 AD. It was assumed he came from a local Gaelic family and had been killed in a local conflict/battle or personal dispute rather than an incident connected to the Anglo-Norman invasion which occurred in 1169.

The original position of the skeleton indicated he had received a formal Christian burial, but nothing else was found with the remains. The skeleton is still being studied to see what other information it will yield. It was the only skeleton found in the excavation.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

America's Least Favorite Foods

I just came across a list I printed out that had been originally posted by AOL a few years ago—the results of a poll where members were asked about their least favorite foods.  Over 78,000 people participated in this survey.  The top twenty disliked foods were determined not only by the number of people who mentioned it, but also the vitriolic content of their comments.  I'm listing the top twenty foods from that poll along with the comments of those responding.

How many of these are on your list of least favorite foods?

20)  Blueberries – "Blueberries taste a little like aluminum to me."

19)  Maple Syrup – "Just a whiff of maple syrup and I get nauseous."

18)  Cilantro – "Just the smell and taste make me ill."

17)  Onions – "Raw onions.  Yuck.  Yuck.  Yuck.,"

16)  Cooked Carrots – "Raw is fine, but cooked should be illegal."

15)  Raisins – "Raisins cooked into a dish remind me of roaches from my old apartment."

14)  Peas – "They smell like somebody who hasn't had a bath for a week."

13)  Oysters – "Anything chewy that never breaks down like clams or oysters, yuck!"

12)  Pea Soup – "Blechh!  Split pea soup makes me gag."

11)  Sour Cream – "It's like expired chunky milk, I have to hold my nose and look away."

10)  Gelatin – "I can't stand to eat Jell-O with the way it wiggles around in my mouth."

09)  Tuna – "The smell of it makes me sick."

08)  Brussels Sprouts – "Nasty tasting things, but when you eat them cold after having been overcooked, they're even worse."

07)  Beets – "They look like they'd be good, but the taste is just vile."

06)  Okra – "Okra releases a funky slime when not fried, smells like a gym locker, too."

05)  Eggs – "I can't get a hard boiled egg down.  The yolk is no problem, but the consistency of the white part makes me turn green."

04)  Mushrooms – "Mushrooms taste like dirt."

03)  Mayonnaise – "Mayo is the most disgusting substance on the face of this earth.  It reeks."

02)  Lima Beans – "Lima beans are evil."

01)  Liver – "Just the smell of fried liver can make me have an autonomous near-hurl."

Some of the items on this list of twenty least favorite foods came as a surprise to me while others were expected.  The one thing I found very interesting was how many times a poll participant gave smell as the reason for the food choice (eight of the top twenty).  Smell does directly impact our sense of taste.  If we hold our breath (or hold our noses) when putting a bite of food in our mouths, it doesn't have much of a taste without the smell.  When you're sick or have a bad cold and your nose is stuffed up, you might try to eat but you find that the food doesn't have a taste.

I do want to point out that not even a hint of chocolate appeared on the list.  And for that matter, wine wasn't on the list either.  That means my favorite foods are safe!  :) 

What are your least favorite foods?