Monday, May 4, 2009

What's Special About This Week--May 4-8

May 4, 1715--First folding umbrella debuts. One of my father's favorite riddles goes like this: "What goes up the chimney down but can't go up the chimney up?" You can add in more confusing statements like "down the chimney up" if you want to complicate the thought process further. The answer, of course, is an umbrella. Not just any umbrella, but a folding one. A Frenchman named Jean Marius previewed the first folding umbrella on this date in 1715. The metal structure of that umbrella was almost exactly like an umbrella you would buy today. This remarkable invention was not cheap. The first folding umbrellas cost between $750 and $1,100. Thank goodness that price has dropped so we don't get wet when it is rain that drops. Read more about the history of the umbrella here.

May 4--Dreamer's Day Frankly, I have no idea where I got information on this day. The World Wide Web doesn't seem to know much about it so it probably does not really exist. Nevertheless, that does not mean we are not allowed to dream. Dream on. Dream well.

May 5--Cinco de Mayo On May 5, 1862, French troops number over 6000 tried to capture two forts in Puebla de Los Angeles, Mexico. Two thousand Mexicans under the leadership of General Zaragoza fought back and managed to hold onto the forts. The French eventually won the war and briefly ruled Mexico. Even under French rule the people of Mexico celebrated the fifth of May victory, changing the name of the town to Puebla de Zaragoza. To this day, Mexicans celebrate this day with fiestas. If you were in Los Angeles, California, you would see hundreds of people dressed in the red, white and green of the Mexican flag outside the city hall. There are bands, dancing, and political speeches as well as sports competitions and, of course, lots of good food. Read all about it here.

May 5--Children's Day or Boy's Day in Japan Children's day became a Japanese national holiday in 1948 but it has been a part of Japanese culture since ancient times. The fifth day of the fifth month is designated as Boy's Day. Girls get the third day of the third month as their day. Traditionally on May 5, families with a boy fly a big kite shaped like a carp fish outside of their home. Inside the house there are special displays of warriors and other heroes. Kid's Web Japan has a lot more information on Children's Day. It also has links to games, history, language, and other interesting and enjoyable topics.

May 6--Gillikins of Oz Day Have you read The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum yet? It is a classic and worth reading even if you have seen the movie a million times. The Gillikins appear in a later book in the series. They live in the northern corner of the country. The inhabitants of this area all wear purple. Most of the countryside is purple as well. If you would like to read a fascinating biography of L. Frank Baum, check out The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull. This picture book style biography for grades 3 to 6 portrays Baum will all of his troubles as well as his enthusiasm for life. Baum failed at many vocations including actor, breeder of prize chickens, and a store manager in the wild west before acknowledging his love of telling stories. Kathleen Krull always writes with humor and joy. This biography, the first time that Baum's story has been told for children, is easy to enjoy and should lead many people to travel to the Land of Oz.

May 6, 1994--The Chunnel opened The idea of a tunnel under the English Channel to connect England and France was first proposed in 1802 but the Chunnel (Channel tunnel) was not completed until almost 200 years later. The Chunnel which is utilized by high speed trains, freight trains, and the Eurotunnel Roll-on/Roll-off vehicle transport (like a ferry for passenger cars) has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It is a major engineering feat. The tunnel is a 31.4 mile undersea tunnel that travels to a low point of 250 feet below the sea as it travels from Folkestone, Kent in England to Coquilles near Calais, France. It was officially opened on this date in 1994 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England and the then President Mitterand of France. It appears that all kinds of people document their trips into the Chunnel and post them on the Internet. This video didn't really make me want to travel to the Chunnel, but you might enjoy watching it anyway.

May 7--Beaufort Scale Day When I was in school we learned all about the Beaufort Scale. I still look at a flag flapping in the wind and try to remember--rarely too successfully--what the Scale would tell is the probably wind speed. In 1805 Sir Francis Beaufort developed a scale of wind speed for use by men at sea to determine the dangers that the wind posed for them. This scale based on looking at the water's surface was surprisingly accurate. Since I did not grow up at sea, we used the flag as our scale. Take a look at a description of what the Beaufort Scale says. There is a fascinating book with great pictures and bites of information about storms, nautical history, and life on a ship called Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone. The illustrations of Beaufort's ship the Zephyr at sea give a real feel of what the wind is doing. Insets offer more information.

May 7, 1941--Glenn Miller records his hit song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" Just last week I told a couple of young girls the story about Roy Rogers getting new, blue shoes. He was very proud of them and wore them as he walked around town all afternoon. Alas, by the time Roy got home, his feet were tired. After he showed off his shoes to his wife Dale, Roy went out to relax on the front porch of his ranch home. He took of his shoes, placing them carefully in a a place of honor near his rocking chair. Then he fell asleep, only to be woken up a few minutes later to see a cougar sneaking off of the porch with the lovely, blue shoes in its mouth. Roy whistled for Trigger and hopped on his faithful horse's back. Dale ran out of the house as they rushed off. An hour or so later, Roy returned with the cougar slung over the back of his horse. Seeing him ride in, Dale sang out, "Pardon me, Roy, is that cat who chewed your blue shoes?" Adults walking by laughed and even joined in the singing, but the girls just shook their heads, wondering what in the world I was thinking. To hear the Andrews Sisters sing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and hear the real words, click here.

May 8--No Socks Day It should be warm enough. Kick of your socks. Put on your summer sandals. Let your toes wiggle. Enjoy.

May 8, 1877--First Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show I don't really know why I liked watching dog shows on TV. I am a veteran dog lover, but dog shows are not like petting a real dog. Still, I am fascinated by watching the dogs perform and the trainers show them off so elegantly. It fascinates, and some repels, me to think of how the dogs are bred and trained to be champions. The only American sporting event that is older than the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the Kentucky Derby so I guess there are a lot of other people who are fascinated by the show. Read more about it on "the poop" which includes links to pictures from dog shows.

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