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?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

America's Greatest Train Rides

It's summer vacation time. This year you might want to consider a train trip.

Train travel in Europe is very commonplace. Whenever I travel to the UK, I always buy a Brit Rail pass before I go and use it for traveling all over Britain—day trips out of London to such places as Windsor, Oxford, Bath, Stratford-Upon-Anon and longer trips such as travel to Northern England and Scotland.

And in the U.S., with more and more restrictions and inconveniences put on airplane passengers and airlines constantly adding fees and surcharges on top of the ticket price, train travel has had quite a resurgence. And even though gasoline prices are down, not surprisingly the last few years have been the best in Amtrak's history. With the suggested arrival time at the airport now being two hours prior to your flight departure and you still have to contend with long security lines, the reduced number of flights which creates longer wait times when you need to change planes for a connection, and even a short flight now takes a lot more of your time than it used to.

The Travel Channel on cable television has a couple of shows about scenic train travel in America.

One of the nation's best rides is Amtrak's Southwest Chief that goes from Chicago to Los Angeles and gives the traveler a way to relive America's 1800s expansion west. The train trip lasts a little over forty hours, traveling through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and the famous wild west town of Dodge City, setting for the long-running television series Gunsmoke. From there it continues into Colorado and New Mexico. Then across northern Arizona with the availability of a side trip to the Grand Canyon on a historic old steam train. And finally into Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

With only a few exceptions, this ride is on the same tracks that were once the Santa Fe Railway which was built along the old Santa Fe wagon train trail, a route that also inspired the highway of the days before Interstates crisscrossed the country—the famous Route 66.

Here are five more great long-rail journeys to consider.

The West Coast's Coast Starlight is considered by most travelers to be Amtrak's most scenic route.  It runs along the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, traveling through some truly spectacular scenery.

From California, the classic route east is the California Zephyr, following the path of the first transcontinental railway between San Francisco and Chicago. It visits such places as Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City, across the Rockies to Denver, through Nebraska and Iowa to Chicago.

By taking the Southwest Chief in one direction and returning on the California Zephyr, you are traveling what the Gilded Age tourists in the 1880s and 1890s called the Grand Tour of America.

If you want a ride that goes through the heart of the country, try the Texas Eagle starting in Chicago. It crosses the Mississippi River at St. Louis, travels down through the Ozarks, across Arkansas into eastern Texas, and continues through Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and on to San Antonio where it connects with the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles.

The East Coast relies much more on rail service than the rest of the country, especially the heavily used tracks in the high traffic corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

One of the country's first scenic rail routes is the Empire Service from New York City up through the Hudson River Valley where Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane encountered the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hallow.

And if you're on the East Coast and are heading to Florida, you can take the Auto Train where your car travels with you. Passengers board just south of Washington, D.C., and their vehicles are loaded on the train. The trip terminates just outside Orlando, Florida.

Maybe you're not planning a vacation by train, but would like the train experience. There are lots of day trips in various parts of the country, including vintage steam and narrow gauge railroads.  My personal favorite is the Napa Valley Wine Train in California, which includes winery stops. Alaska Railway's White Pass & Yukon Route offers a three hour tour through some truly dramatic scenery.

Have any of you taken a train vacation? A day trip train tour?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fourth Of July Holiday—Some Trivia And A Fireworks Safety Quiz

July 4, Independence Day—on this date in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. The U.S. Constitution, the document that emerged from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, is the oldest national constitution in the world.

As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues. Fireworks displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations. Fireworks were invented in ancient China to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.

With 4th of July fireworks comes the concern for safety. A reality for the holiday is that fireworks cause thousands of injuries, and even some deaths, in addition to enough fires to make July 4 the day with the most reported fires across the United States according to the National Fire Protection Association.

So…how much do you know about fireworks safety? Here's a 9 question quiz to test your knowledge. Correct answers are at the end.

1)  How hot does a sparkler burn?
          a:  212 degrees
          b:  600 degrees
          c:  950 degrees
          d:  1200 degrees

2)  What portion of 4th of July fires are caused by fireworks?
          a:  10 percent
          b:  35 percent
          c:  50 percent
          d:  90 percent

3)  Which age group has the most injuries reported from fireworks?
          a:  under 20
          b:  20 – 40
          c:  40 – 60
          d:  60+

4)  You should skip buying fireworks in brown paper packaging as that could be a sign that they're made for professionals, not consumers.
          a:  true
          b:  false

5)  If a pack of fireworks has not fully functioned, you should cautiously relight it.
          a:  true
          b:  false

6)  What's the best way to dispose of used fireworks?
          a:  throw in trash
          b:  use hose or bucket of water to soak them then throw away
          c:  bury them

7)  Last year what was the most common fireworks injury?
          a:  fractures and sprains
          b:  contusions and lacerations
          c:  ear injuries
          d:  burns
          e:  eye injuries

8)  According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, which of these were common reasons for fireworks injuries?
          a:  holding fireworks in the hand
          b:  mischief
          c:  debris or smoke from a malfunction
          d:  errant flight path from a malfunction
          e:  early or late ignition from a malfunction
          f:   all of the above

9)  Never light more than how many fireworks at a time?
          a:  1
          b:  2
          c:  3

And now, for those of you who want to see how well you did on the quiz—

1)       the correct answer is d…1200 degrees F, hot enough to burn certain metals and ignite clothing.

2)       the correct answer is c…50 percent, when shooting fireworks keep a bucket of water or sand available.

3)       the correct answer is a…under 20, children 10 – 14 are more than twice as much at risk for fireworks injuries.

4)       the correct answer is a…true.

5)       the correct answer is b…false, any malfunctioning fireworks should be soaked in water and then thrown away

6)       the correct answer is b…use hose or bucket of water to soak them and then throw them away

7)       the correct answer is d…burns

8)       the correct answer is f…all of the above

9)       the correct answer is a…light just 1 at a time.

Happy…and safe…holiday to everyone.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Things I've Learned From Teaching A Fiction Writing Class

I taught a beginning fiction writing class at the state university in the adult continuing education non-credit department.  It was two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks.  I taught this class twice a year for sixteen years.

The eight weeks were broken up into the basics of fiction writing.  The first week was about plot, second week developing characters, and so on.  I covered things like point of view, pacing, dialogue, active vs. passive, show don't tell, and other basics of fiction writing.  I used examples from various genres without concentrating on a specific one.  The class culminated with information about publishing which included synopsis, query letter, contests, critique groups, submitting to publishers, editing, and related areas.

I give you that information as a prologue to what's on my mind about my fiction writing class.

It always amazed me each time I taught the class…I learned things, too.  Well, more accurately, I RE-learned them.  There are things I'd forgotten that came to mind again when I was going over the lesson for that week's class.  And then there was information I haven't thought about until someone asked me a question that required me to pull the answer up from the back of my mind and convey it in a manner that made sense to someone taking a beginning writing class…fiction writing technique information I hadn't consciously considered for a while.

A technique I talked about as part of the first week covering plot was the Action-Reaction-Decision combination.  This was one of those things I used when writing without really thinking about it as a technique.  Each time I taught this class and defined the Action-Reaction-Decision combination, it seemed to hit me as a surprise as if I had never heard of it before. :)   One character's action elicited a reaction from the other character, then one of those characters made a decision concerning the situation.  It was that decision that propelled the story forward and led to the next situation.

As we know, each scene needed to do something to move the over all story forward whether it was an action scene, dialogue, or narrative internalization dealing with character development.  And this was one of those techniques that did just that.

An example:  Dressed in a scrap of slinky black, Mary strutted into the club (action).  Mark took one look and his blood pressure skyrocketed (reaction).  He had to get her out of there before she got arrested (decision).  It was that decision that moved the story forward and lead to the next action.  Example: Mark grabbed her arm (action).  But Mary refused to budge (reaction).  She was going to have a drink and dance until dawn (decision).

This fed directly into and helped support the basic structure of story movement which was cause and effect.  Something happened and that caused something else to happen which resulted in moving the story forward toward its conclusion—cause and effect.

Each week I had something (at least one thing, usually more) that teaching the class brought to mind, techniques that I had forgotten, things that I did without thinking about them.

The second week of the class was developing characters.  One exercise I gave the class had them use secondary characters to maneuver the main characters in the direction the story needed. (see last week's blog, June 18, about using secondary characters) Your hero/heroine still did the work and resolved the story's conflict, but those secondary characters made a valuable contribution to moving the story forward.

And secondary characters were fun to work with.  They didn't have the restrictions that apply to your hero/heroine.  A secondary character didn't need to be in any way honorable or heroic.  He could have had lots of bad habits, been a compulsive liar, or any number of things the hero and heroine couldn't.

I enjoyed teaching a class about the basics of beginning fiction writing.  And, of course, I enjoyed getting paid for it. :)  But in addition to that, I liked being reminded a couple of times a year about some of the specifics that tended to slip my mind…things I did, but hadn't consciously thought about.

Do you have any special writing techniques you'd like to share?