Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Does Astronomy and Peony Seeds Have In Common?

(Taken from "Uppity Women of Medieval Times" by Vicki Leon)
The seventh century was a tumultuous time in history especially in Korea - Full of battles, fights and blood - but there was a bright shining star that was equal to the task of ruling a great country wisely. Back then Korea was made up of several kingdoms and the kingdom of Silla was blessed with a woman of remarkable talents Queen Sonduk.
Legend has it that at the age of seven, her intelligence was revealed when her father, the King received a gift of peony seeds with an accompanying painting of a peony from China - little princess Sonduck said"Too bad the flower doesn't smell pretty". When her father asked how she know that, she said "If the flower smelled pretty there would be butterflies and bees around the flower in the painting". Her Dad was so impressed that he made her his heir to the kingdom of Silla.
Queen Sonduk ruled her kingdom for 14 years managing to keep it running smoothly and also encouraging intellectual pursuits and broadening the exchange of ideas with neighboring countries. In fact Sonduk built the first observatory in the Far East, known today as the Tower of the Moon and Stars. The tower still stands in Kyongju, South Korea, the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Silla.

Friday, September 2, 2011

5 Steps To Catch A Pig

We recently went to a small local country fair - the kind of country fair that you think your grandparents might have attended years ago - full of farmers and animals and nostalgia.
What Fun we had!!! We watched horse pulling, oxen pulling, cow judging, etc. We looked at giant pumpkins, newly hatched chicks, quilts and jams. We ate all sorts of good, gooey, fattening stuff. But the highlight had to be the Pig Scramble. "What is that" you ask?? Well, it begins by lots and lots of moms, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents gathered around an enclosed corral ( we had to really elbow our way up to the fence to watch). Then you gather a group of 8 year old children in the center of the corral. Each one is given a burlap bag. At the sound of a bell - a box in the middle of the corral is opened and out runs a bunch of little piglets. The children begin chasing the piglets, the audience begins to shout and cheer and the squeals from the piglets only matches the squeals from the kids. Pandemonium!!!!!!
What was amazing was that some of the kids actually were able to catch some of the little pink wiggly creatures - but the prize is that they get to keep the pig and come next Easter - guess what's for dinner!
So what are the 5 steps to catch a pig?
1) Get an 8 year old child
2) Get a pink squealing baby pig
3) Hand the child a burlap bag
4) Get out of the way and finally
5) Go to the grocery store and buy a ham.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Many Concubators Is One Too Many?

(From "Uppity Women of Medieval Times" by Vicki Leon)

Back in the 1600's, Nzinga Mbande apparently was not troubled with such petty thoughts - she had at least 50. Oh - a concubator was the male equivalent of the more familiar concubine or palace mistress.

You see, Nzinga was the kings's sister and in charge of top level negotiations between her country of Ndongo (known today as Angola) and Portugal. They wanted slaves and she had plenty of them. Once, the Portuguese brought Nzinga to where their governor was seated but neglected to put out a chair for her (hoping to humiliate her). Not to be outdone - she ordered one of her slaves to get on her hands and knees ; sitting on the back of her "chair" she conducted business all day.

When her brother the king died, Nzinga became queen. Not wanting to deal with women, Portugal broke the peace treaty between their two countries. So Nzinga called up an army of women and men to fight against their enemy. She and her two sisters were to lead their army while dressed in matching animal skins. They fought the Portuguese until the late 1650's.

A great African Queen until the end, Nzinga lived well into her 80's and her expoits are still told in the history books of Angolan school children.

My question to you gentle readers - How many concubators is one too many?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can a Color Follow You?

Have you ever found a place that just seems "right" to you - a place that you know you belong even though you have never been there before?

That is how I felt when we were looking for a place to settle in Maine and we stopped in this little town. I was standing in the parking lot of the town library located in an old house - it was gently snowing. I felt at home and secretly said to myself - "This is where I want to live".

Well, we did indeed settle in that little town. It felt so right. One day while driving out of town we passed a big farmers field at the top of a hill - I turned to look at it and see a sign posted on the fence . .. it said "Burgundy Hill Farm". A chill went down my spine and it confirmed what I already knew - that I was home. You see, when I was growing up in a new suburb in Virginia, we children would walk through the woods in the winter time dragging our sleds. We were going to a big hill on the other side of the woods to go sledding. The hill was part of a big old farm, you guessed it, called Burgundy Hill Farm. Our new subdivision was called Burgundy Village since it was built on land that used to belong to the farm. Such wonderful memories of going sledding at night on that hill with a big bonfire at the top to warm ourselves and have hot chocolate.

So I had come full circle from a memory far away to a small town in Maine back to Burgundy Hill Farm.

Gentle reader - have you ever had a similar experience?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Spray of Pearls" saves the day!

(taken from "Uppity Women of Medieval Times" by Vicki Leon)

When the Crusader armies from France were headed to Egypt in 1249 - things looked bad for the Egyptians - not the least of which was that the Sultan had just died in his wife's tent. What to do? What to do?

Well, Shajar al Durr (Spray of Pearls), the wife came up with an ingenious idea. She told only 2 close advisers about her husband's untimely death and instead began issuing bulletins and orders "signed" by the Sultan each day. The Egyptians rose to the occasion, thinking their fearless leader was still in charge, and the Crusaders were sent packing.

After killing off the heir apparent to her husband - sweet little Shajar al Durr became the Sultana and ruled for 7 years. She was later forced to marry and step aside from her office. Not one to take retirement easily, she had her husband killed but unfortunately by this time the tide had turned against her and she met the same fate.

Oh, but what a woman!! Beautiful, intelligent and ambitious in a culture and at a time in history when women were hidden from view.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Odd Hobbies - Flaming Toilet Projectiles

(taken from "The 176 Stupidest Things Ever Done" by Ross and Kathryn Petras)

Two men in England during the year 1988, invented a machine that threw gasoline soaked toilets at country fairs. The local paper ran an article about the ingenious contraptions with the headline "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN AND THEIR FLAMING LATRINES".

The cousin of these enterprising men, thought that if his cousins could make money flinging toilets - then why not build something bigger that could fling even larger things! So a 60 foot tall medieval siege engine was constructed and the flinging began. Dead pigs, dead horses, even pianos were thrown. It was found that dead pigs went the farthest - 175 yards. But the novelty quickly wore off - fortunately before the inventor was to put his next idea into practice - that of flinging live human beings.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who Is The Black Man In The Boat?

Born about 1750 in Amabou, Africa to wealthy parents, Prince Whipple was sent to America with his brother Coffe (or cousin) to get a good education. Unfortunately, the sea captain was a scoundrel and sold the two boys in the slave market at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They were bought by two brothers, Prince (the older of the two slaves) went with General William Whipple. Prince grew into a trusted and articulate servant for Gen. Whipple. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he followed his master into battle - fighting for liberty which he did not have. It is believed by many that Prince was in the boat with General George Washington when he made his daring crossing of the Delaware River to surprise the British army.

In 1851, Emanuel Leutze painted the famous painting of that fateful crossing and just behind George Washington - can be seen the face of a black man. Prince Whipple, faithful servant, was finally given his freedom and went on to live out his days as a valuable member of society. He was not buried in the segregated black burying ground but in the North Cemetery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His grandson gave him a gravestone befitting this Revolutionary War hero.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Godmother of the Cosa Nostra?

Godmother of the Cosa Nostra?
(taken from "Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon)

In 1194 a forty year old woman gave birth to an audience of 200 in an Italian marketplace. Why would she do such a thing, you ask. Well, she just happened to be Constance,queen of Sicily and the wife of Henry VI. The audience of bishops wanted to make sure that what ever sprang from her womb actually came from her body (and not a slight of hand switch). The baby would become Frederick II and at three inherited Sicily and Germany. He would later become Holy Roman Emperor and was called "stupor mundi" or wonder of the world. Constance and her husband died when little Freddie was quite young and when foreign rulers began to exploit poor Constance's Sicilian holdings, she just may have given birth to something more sinister. Freedom fighters emerged in Sicily that fought the foreign rulers encroachment and they may have morphed into the Mafia - which would of course make Constance the Godmother of the Cosa Nostra!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Love, Life and Loss - on Waving Good Bye

Gentle Readers -
I found out something last week that really knocked me to my knees.
I finally connected with an old friend who was very kind to me years ago. Many times over the last few years, I had searched for her on the Internet, but could not find her - but finally she opened a Facebook account and Voila! there she was. It was so good to hear from her again. She mentioned that she still had the portrait of her daughter that I had done years ago and she treasured it now that her daughter was taken from her. When I enquired about her daughter, I was told that she had been killed 4 years ago in a murder/suicide. Just typing these words brings tears to my eyes and I can't even imagine the pain she must go through each and every day.
It really depressed me to think of it but as I was thinking last week, I started counting all the people that I knew personally who had been murdered or people that I know who had a relative or friend murdered. I had never thought of that before. But as I began to remember and count them, I came up with the number 7. Yes, seven.
Does that seem excessive to you? It does to me. Is this normal? It doesn't seem so to me. Seven precious souls whose life was cut short at the hands of someone else. Seven people who were loved by family and friends. As my mind tried to take all of this in - just the scope of it - was something I just could not get my mind around. I still can't.
My family laughs at me because I always wave goodbye to them as they drive away from the house - I keep waving until I can no longer see them. I have always wanted that to be last image of me they have - should I never see them again. When I tell them my reason for waving so long - they laugh again. I think I will keep doing it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Losing Mum and Pup"

"Losing Mum and Pup" by Christopher Buckley

I have just finished reading a book that was poignant, sad, bittersweet, hilariously funny and relevant to just about everyone I know. It is about becoming an orphan.
Christopher Buckley is the only child of William F. Buckley Jr. and his wife Pat. They both died within a year of each other, and this book was written by their son as sort of a means to say goodbye. In telling about that final year in their lives, he has frequent flashbacks to wonderful episodes that bring resentment but also laughter to the surface. It is a wonderful heartwarming insight into a national persona that offers private glimpses into their behind the scenes lives.

Like most of my friends, I am at that age when I too will probably soon be an orphan. That age when our parents slowly die off leaving us all alone with only memories - an orphan, yes, but an old one. I am dreading that day. My mother passed away 7 years ago and I miss her terribly. My father is quite old now and not in the best health. For all his curmudgeonly ways, I still want to cling to him desperately to keep him here with me. I can't imagine being without both of them. But losing "Mum and Pup" comes to all of us, if we live long enough.

I highly recommend this book - it is not long and although the subject sounds quite depressing - it is actually a very funny book. Christopher Buckley presents his loss (and by inference our own) in a wonderful heartwarming and easy to swallow pill.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Father, will God Forgive me? I am La Goulue."

(taken from by Eric Johnson and Chris Whitten)

Shameless and outrageous,Louise Weber earned her nickname La Goulue (The Glutton) through her habit of out drinking anyone in the bar. Working in a laundry at age 16, she began dancing in dance halls when she "borrowed" dresses that customers had left for cleaning. She quickly drew attention to herself by dancing on tables, displaying her heart embroidered underwear and kicking men's hats off by her high kicks. One of the men La Goulue attracted was Auguste Renoir, the painter. He introduced her to nude modeling and through these connections she found her way into the fashionable dance clubs of Montmartre.

At the Moulin Rouge, she danced with her wiry partner, Jacques Renaudin, whose skeletal frame and rubbery contortions brought him the nickname "The Boneless Wonder". Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized her in his most famous poster "Moulin Rouge - La Goulue"
But Louise was a glutton for more and she left the Moulin Rouge to start her own dance hall, when that failed she tried going on the road at fairgrounds - but people were no longer interested in her.

She ended up, alcholic and grossly overweight, selling peanuts and cigarettes on the streets of Paris. On her deathbed in 1929, Louise asked a priest, "Father, will God forgive me? I am La Goulue".

Gentle Reader - Can you answer her question?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shiver me Timbers! You call Yourself a Lady?

(taken from Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon)

One spring night in 1582, a German ship laden with silver coin lay anchored in Falmouth Harbor on the south Cornwall coast. Silently an English ship drew alongside -
With cutlass and pistol in had, the captain and crew of the English ship overran the treasure ship and killed the crew. What daring and swashbuckling pirate could do such a dastardly deed? It was none other the Lady Killigrew the wife of England's vice admiral of Cornwall!!
Queen Elizabeth I took a dim view of such goings on and brought the bold lady to trial where she was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Horrors! But the good queen later relented and reduced the sentence to a very long stay in jail.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Conundrum in Fourth Century B.C. - Gynecologically Speaking!

(Taken from "Uppity Women of Ancient Times" by Vicki Leon)

Athens was a bore for well bred ladies in the fourth century B.C. Only women who were foreigners, courtesans, or oddball aristocrats who didn't care about convention got to mingle. But Agnodice figured out a way to buck convention - she put on men's clothing to become a doctor, attending medical lectures and specializing in gynecology. She understood women's qualms about being examined by a male doctor and figured she could corner the business when she became a doctor. Sure enough, it worked - but it made the other doctors jealous of her popularity with their clients. So they dragged her into court on a morals charge. To prove she wasn't a man, Agnodice had to expose herself to the judges - not to be thwarted, the jealous doctors then charged her with practicing a profession limited to men. Agnodice had to plead guilty to that charge but she was acquitted. Athenians finally changed the law, opening the door to other female physicians.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gentically Modified Chickens - Oh MY!!

As a former Laboratory Technician, I receive updates from the American Society for Clinical Pathology. A few days ago, the ASCP informed me that scientists have successfully found a way to stop the Bird Flu from spreading, thereby creating a way to stop a type of influenza that could cause a pandemic.
This feat is accomplished by adding a gene to the embryo while it is still in the egg and it will produce a decoy RNA which interferes with the machinery that viruses use to make copies of themselves - thus spreading the virus. So although the chicken will eventually die from the flu - it cannot pass it on to other birds or people.
I was thinking "Wow! This is Great News- what a great service to mankind!" but then I kept reading. Further down into the article was this statement - "However, lots of additional research would be needed to see if the resulting chickens and their eggs would be safe to eat". Uh-Oh.
So on the one hand, you can stop the spread of a harmful virus thus saving millions of dollars spent on doctors, hospitals and medicine and save the lives of numerous children and elderly people who are susceptible. BUT it might make the food supply harmful at the same time. What a conundrum!!

Gentle Reader - my question to you is - Is it worth it? Is a genetically modified chicken worth it?