Sunday, December 30, 2018

History of New Year's Celebrations

Welcome to 2019.  This has become a traditional time of celebration.  We party on New Year's Eve and celebrate the moment the clock strikes midnight signaling the beginning of a new year.

And, of course, when the year 2000 arrived we celebrated for twenty-four hours as each time zone around the world welcomed the new millennium on live television broadcasts.

But why and how did the New Year's celebrations become part of our annual routine?  The earliest recorded account of a celebration in honor of the new year dates back four thousand years to ancient Babylon.  For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox announced the arrival of the new year.  They celebrated this spring time event with a massive eleven day religious festival called Akitu.  It was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's mandate renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed more sophisticated calendars with the first day of the year associated with an agricultural or astronomical event.  For example, in Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.  In China, the new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice…a day they still celebrate.

The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox.  Tradition holds that it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C.  Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius.  Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman calendar grew out of sync with the sun.  In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar used today by most countries.

As part of his reform, Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year and Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and attending raucous parties.  In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 as the anniversary of Christ's birth and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation.  It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on New Year's Eve and continue into the early hours of January 1st.  These celebrations often include specific foods that are said to bring good luck for the coming year—grapes in Spain, round fruits in the Philippines, suckling pig in Austria, soba noodles in Japan, rice pudding in Norway, and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.  Other customs that are common worldwide include making new year resolutions (a practice started by the Babylonians) and watching fireworks displays.

In the United States, the most famous New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square.  This event, first instituted in 1906, occurs at the stroke of midnight.  The original giant ball was made of iron and wood weighing 400 pounds.  A total of 7 versions of the Ball have been designed over the more than a century since the first drop of the ball occurred.
New York City New Year's Ball--lit and unlit 
Today's giant ball is a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds.  Each year, the 2688 intricate Waterford crystals that make up the skin of the huge orb are replaced with new ones.  This year, 192 Waterford Crystal triangles introduce the new Gift of Harmony design of small rosette cuts flowing into each other in a beautiful harmony. 192 are last year's Gift of Serenity design of butterflies flying peacefully above a crystal meadow capturing the spirit of serenity. 192 are the Gift of Kindness design consisting of a circle of rosettes symbolizing unity with the fronds reaching out in an expression of kindness. 192 are the Gift of Wonder design composed by a faceted starburst inspiring our sense of wonder. 192 are the Gift of Fortitude design of diamond cuts on either side of a crystal pillar to represent the finer attributes of resolve, courage, and spirit necessary to triumph over adversity. The remaining 1728 triangles are the Gift of Imagination design with a series of intricate wedge cuts that are mirrored reflections of each other inspiring our imagination.
Waterford Crystal triangles
The 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the aluminum frame of the ball.  The ball is capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns that create a spectacular kaleidoscope effect as the ball drops down a flagpole at the stroke of midnight Eastern Standard Time.

In addition to the New Year's Ball drop in New York City, the numerals introducing the new year come to life high above Times Square. The giant "2-0-1-9" stands seven feet high. The four numerals use a total of 516 9-watt LED bulbs. The "2" contains 145 bulbs, the "0" contains 164 bulbs, the "1" contains 72 bulbs, and the "9" contains 135 bulbs.

So, however you celebrate the arrival of the new year…whether you go out to a party, have family or a few friends to your home, or simply curl up by a cozy fire and watch the festivities in Times Square…I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2019.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Tree—A Brief History

As with many Christmas traditions, the history of the Christmas tree as we know it today goes back to pagan times. Some Northern Europeans believed the sun was a god and annually went through a period of ill health in winter. On the Winter Solstice, they displayed evergreen boughs to remind them of the greenery that would grow again when the sun god regained his strength and spring arrived. The ancient Egyptians participated in a similar ritual using palm fronds to mark the return of Ra, a god who wore the sun as a crown. Ancient Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples during Saturnalia.

Exactly when the Christmas tree came into existence is an ongoing debate. The Eastern European cities of Tallinn and Riga both claim the first Christmas tree—Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510 (now modern Estonia and Latvia). Each city claims they erected a tree in the town square over Christmas and danced around it then set it on fire. Around the same time, medieval Germans were incorporating evergreens into their Christmas rituals in the form of the Paradise Tree, an apple adorned fir that represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But Christmas trees didn't appear in the home until Martin Luther experienced a yuletide vision in 1536 where he saw thousands of sparkling stars in the night sky twinkling through the tree branches in a pine forest. He rushed home to create the vision inside his house.

The Christmas tree was brought to the colonies (specifically what is now Pennsylvania) by German settlers and may have played a part in the Revolutionary War. Legend says that as George Washington was crossing the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British were busy decorating trees and getting drunk. They were in no condition to fight the ensuing battle and lost.
Christmas trees did not become commonly acceptable among fashionable society until 1848 when the Illustrated London News published a sketch of Queen Victoria's Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle. The image was reprinted in Philadelphia's Godey's Lady's Book with the queen' crown and Prince Albert's moustache removed to make it look more American.

Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, was the person responsible for creating electric Christmas tree lights in 1882. On December 24, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge lit the National Christmas Tree, a 48 ft. balsam fir decorated with 2,500 colored bulbs.
I found a Christmas tree in Hawaii made up of poinsettia plants. In Japan, you'll find origami swans, paper fans, and wind chimes hanging from branches. In Spain, a tree trunk is filled with goodies such as candy, nuts, and dates with children taking turns hitting it with a stick to dislodge the treats. In Brazil, December 25/Christmas is in summer where some people cover pine trees with little pieces of white cotton representing falling snow. Traditions vary, but around the world Christmas trees are a universal symbol of joy. 

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and 
PEACE ON EARTH.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter.  They rejoiced during the winter solstice, the time when the worst of winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January.  In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire.  The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday.  Germans were terrified of Odin.  They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month.  It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink.  For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city.  Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.  In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday.  The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth.  Pope Julius I chose December 25.  The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.  By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion.  Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe.  In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence.  As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas.  When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell.  As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America.  In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston.  In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't officially a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles).  Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany.  Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree.  Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season.  Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol.  Today's tinsel is made of PVC.  Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.
A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. British legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker

It's a little over three weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a Christmas romance eBook available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an erotic Christmas romance novella published by The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedules.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting just like every year—prior to Thanksgiving.  I gave him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names, and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced several months earlier, the previous April to be exact, and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Besides, he had never done or said anything improper that would indicate his marriage was in trouble or that he had any interest in me beyond our professional relationship.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, to possibly jeopardize an excellent working relationship for what could end up being nothing more than a short-lived fling—a momentary mistake.

Parker:  My marriage had actually fallen apart a year earlier, before the previous Christmas. Then last Spring I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment to another relationship was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…was very leery about trying it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from a priority position to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.
BLURB:
As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."

OPEN IN PRIVATE an erotic Christmas romance by Samantha Gentry from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press) http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/wildcatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=182&products_id=955
Also available at Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook as well as other online vendors of eBooks.

Be sure to check out my website for more excerpts from OPEN IN PRIVATE and information about my other books.  www.samanthagentry.com

Sunday, November 25, 2018

9 LOST INVENTIONS

I discovered this list and thought it would make an interesting blog. Some of these could come in handy in today's society

1)  FLEXIBLE GLASS
Lots of stories from ancient times describe incredible inventions, some purported to be real and others attributed to magic and wizards.  It's fair to say that most of them are nothing more than fanciful tales with no relationship to reality.  However…when three separate historians describe something, it wouldn't hurt to take a closer look.  One such story comes from the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar and tells of a glassmaker who came to his court with a drinking bowl. The Emperor threw it on the stone floor where it merely bent rather than shattering. He had the man beheaded because he feared the flexible glass would undermine the value of gold. Some speculate that this tale presages the development of tempered glass, but even that doesn’t bend, leaving the truth lost to the ages.

2)  STARLITE
Some truly great inventions came from unlikely sources which is how you’d explain Starlite. Jane's International Defense Review contained the first announcement of Starlite, a revolutionary insulation created by hobbyist Maurice Ward in the 1980s. Live TV tests showed the material keeping an egg completely raw after 5 minutes of a blow torch. Several noted scientists vouched for its incredible ability to resist heat and impact. Unfortunately, Ward died in 2011 before sharing the secret of Starlite to anyone and the material hasn't been seen since.

3)  THE OGLE CARBURETOR
Ever since the invention of the automobile people have been looking for ways to improve fuel efficiency. Most of them are worthless or scams (i.e., the dozens of "gasoline pills"), but every so often one comes along that's more believable. In the 1970s, a man named Tom Ogle developed a new type of carburetor that pressurized gasoline into a vapor and injected it into the firing chambers. After installing it in his Ford Galaxie, the car got a verified 113 miles per gallon. Unfortunately, Ogle died in 1981 before revealing the design of his carburetor.

4) SLOOT DIGITAL CODING SYSTEM
Here's a lost invention that's very modern, one that fascinates data storage experts. In the late 1990s Romke Jan Berhnard Sloot, a Dutch electronics technician, announced the development of the Sloot Digital Coding System. He described it as a revolutionary advance in data transmission that could reduce a feature-length movie down to a file size of just 8KB. Sloot demonstrated this by playing 16 movies at the same time from a 64KB chip. After getting a bunch of investors, he mysteriously died on September 11, 1999, two days before he was scheduled to hand over the source code.

5)  WIRELESS POWER TRANSMISSION
An entire book could have been written about the inventions that Nikola Tesla took to the grave with him. One such invention was the ability to distribute power wirelessly on a global scale. Tesla had dazzled crowds with demonstrations of short-range wireless power through the air, using coils to light the bulbs as far as 100 feet away with no physical connection between the coil and the light bulbs. Tesla claimed he had a significant upgrade on that technique that allowed for electricity to be transmitted through the Earth’s atmosphere, using high-altitude receiving stations. He began constructing a prototype in 1901 but funding fell through and it was never completed.

6)  GREEK FIRE
Warfare has always been a driving force for the development of technology. Apparently we humans never tire of coming up with faster and more painful ways to kill each other. In the 7th century, eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors were purported to have deployed an incendiary weapon exceptionally effective in naval warfare, as it could be shot from siphon-like devices and continued to burn even when it came in contact with water. The substance has come to be known as Greek fire, and although we've certainly invented other similar weapons, the composition and manufacture of this one was such a closely-guarded military secret that no records remain.

7)  INCA STONEWORK
Some lost technologies don't seem all that impressive on the surface, but modern man still can't figure them out. A good case in point is the stonemasonry of the ancient Inca people of Peru. Working with huge, rough-hewn stones is extremely difficult especially without modern machinery. But the fit of the blocks in Inca structures in Macchu Picchu is so tight and precise that it's been said you couldn't fit a razor blade between them. It's still unknown how the Incas of the time were able to transport the massive stones—some weighing as much as 300,000 pounds—and place them with such precision.

8)  SILPHIUM
This item is a plant rather than an actual invention.  It's what the ancient Romans did with it that makes it notable. This member of the fennel family grew wild in North Africa and was used as a primitive contraceptive, with its leaves ground into a resin and used as a spermicide. The settlers of the area quickly began exporting silphium in large quantities resulting in the plant quickly being rendered extinct. To this day, we don’t know what in silphium's biological makeup allowed it to serve as birth control.

9)  TESLA DEATH RAY
Another Nikola Tesla creation. This one never saw the light of day. In the late 1930s, Tesla approached the U.S. military with a proposal.  He would create a new style of weapon for them that could be fired great distances. The exact blueprints for this weapon have never been revealed, but there are a number of speculations. Some believe it might have been a primitive laser, while others think it was an electrostatic generator that blasted microscopic pellets of tungsten at intense force a distance of over 300 miles. Tesla’s death device has since been lost forever.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Those Naughty Pilgrims part 2 of 2

Welcome to part two of my two-part Thanksgiving blog.

With Thanksgiving comes stories of the Pilgrims taking up residence in the new world, landing at Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  The pious Pilgrims certainly have a reputation for being a rigid, hard-working, and humorless group.  But there are a few surprises to be found.  Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink for men, women, and also children.  The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual.  It took 66 days for them to sail from England to their landing place of Plymouth Rock.  Hmmm…66 days times 1 gallon per person times the number of people on the ship.  It seems that a lot of room on board the ship was devoted to storing the beer ration.

Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances.  They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple.  It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the Pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions.  Studies also discovered that in 11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was already pregnant.  The same study estimates that as many as 50% of the Pilgrims engaged in premarital sex.  Definitely not an image that fits the stereotype of the staid Pilgrims.

But what about the actions and activities of those naughty Pilgrims?  As with so much in life, there's the fa├žade then there's the underlying reality.

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the Pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe and apparently not as uptight as their cousins, the Puritans.  Both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were English Protestants who believed that the Church of England was in need of reform.  Although both groups were strict Calvinists, they differed in their approach to how the Church of England should be reformed.  The Pilgrims were more inclined to separate from the church (therefore known as separatists), while the Puritans wanted to reform the church from within.  The Pilgrims were the first group of Puritans to seek religious freedom in the New World (thus separating from the church).  As strict Calvinists, members of both groups believed in original sin, predestination, and the literal interpretation of the Bible as God’s word.

The Pilgrims tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time in history.  As time passed, however, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws and clearly demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.  Innocent people were convicted and put to death on evidence that later even the Pilgrims declared to be inadmissible—I saw it in a dream, the spirit of my dead grandmother came to me and said…

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith."  The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws, a biblical source that definitely predated the New Testament and Christianity's teachings of love and forgiveness rather than reflecting those Old Testament teachings.  Adultery?  Death.  A man has sex with his daughter-in-law?  Death.  Sodomy?  Death.  Bestiality?  Death.  Are you beginning to see a pattern?  :)

But interestingly, the Pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses.  There is only one known case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes.  It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the peak of his raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…those sources being the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony.  The prim women weren't always so pious either.  Women were often caught since the evidence of their dalliances were babies.  The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another.  Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing.  Pre-marital sex was severely punished.  Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a lascivious carriage in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines.  If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing.  The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch.  Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell.  Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man.  Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the Pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations.  In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery.  William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment.  Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress.  (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!)  However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished.  Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage.  The Pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations."  Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a Pilgrim.  :)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thanksgiving Myths and Facts part 1 of 2

This week is part one of a two part blog about Thanksgiving.

We all know the often told story of how the Pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom and finally settled in the New World, stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  And how in 1621 they invited the local natives to share a feast with them in order to give thanks for a successful harvest and surviving their first year.

From those humble beginnings have come many facts and just as many myths about the Pilgrims and our Thanksgiving holiday.

I have some Mayflower myths to share with you, followed by some Thanksgiving facts.  And next week in part two—Those Naughty Pilgrims.

Myth:  The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the Pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact:  The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition.  In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the Pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday when they would fast rather than feast.  That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth:  The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact:  The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals.  In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the official date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November, a decision fraught with controversy.  The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth:  The Pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact:  Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century.  Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.

Here's a list of trivia that could be called Thanksgiving-by-the-numbers.

3,000—the number of calories eaten during an average Thanksgiving meal.

12,000,000—the number of whole turkeys Butterball sells for Thanksgiving.

2,000 - 3,000—the number of people used to guide the balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

214—the average number of miles driven for the family get together at Thanksgiving.

1939—the date the Great Thanksgiving Day calendar controversy began (when FDR declared the fourth Thursday of November to be the official date of Thanksgiving).

40,000,000—the number of green bean casseroles made for Thanksgiving dinner.

72,000,000—the number of cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce sold for Thanksgiving dinner.

Next week I'll contradict the belief that the Pilgrims embodied the very soul of purity and piety.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Halloween Candy Nightmares

 
I'd like to offer one last Halloween fright before we turn our attention to the next of the holiday season holidays—Thanksgiving.  And what is that one last fright?  It's all that Halloween candy!

Halloween aftermath usually means two things—putting the witch and goblin decorations away and fighting the battle of all that candy in the house.  First, there's the leftover candy from what you bought to hand out to trick-or-treaters.  There's two schools of thought about what type of candy to buy.  One theory says buy what you like so you can enjoy the leftovers.  The other theory says buy what you don't like so you won't be tempted.  And the second thing is all the candy the kids collected on their trick or treat rounds.  Sacks full of candy.  Enough potential sugar overdose and tooth decay material to last until next Halloween.

And what kind of candy is it that we now have in abundance?  It seems that all the candy manufacturers, in addition to their regular size candy bars, make the little fun size candy—the mini candy bars or individual pieces.  Those little bite size morsels that give us just a taste.  Unfortunately, it's usually a taste for more.  :)

These little tidbits aren't as harmless as you'd like to believe.  Many of the small treats are worse for you than eating a normal size candy bar.  But that can't be, you tell yourself, because you're only going to eat one of those little things and that's certainly not the same as a regular size candy bar.  What's that you said?  Eat just one?  Well, you and I both know that's a lie!  :) Remember that old Lay's Potato Chip commercial from many years ago? Bet you can't eat just one. That applies to those tasty little bite size morsels of candy as well.

 I recently saw a list of the ten worse choices of these mini candy snacks and I'd like to share it with you.

1)  Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins (1 piece):  You convince yourself that you're getting lots of protein from the peanut butter.  Think again.  One pumpkin has 180 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 17 grams of sugar.

2)  Dove Milk Chocolate Promises (5 pieces):  Chocolate is marvelous stuff, full of antioxidants that help decrease the risk of heart disease.  Think again.  It's DARK chocolate that has the antioxidants, not milk chocolate.  You're eating 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 22 grams of sugar.

3)  Twix Miniatures (3 pieces):  Like the Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins, another choice that might not seem so bad for you.  This gooey caramel and cookie crunch treat has 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 15 grams of sugar.

4)  Almond Joy Snack-Size Bars (3 pieces):  Coconut milk and coconut water might be popular in healthy eating circles, but that doesn't mean it's ok to cover it with chocolate and still consider it healthy.  With these, you're eating 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

5)  Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Miniature (5 pieces):  Remember the comments about Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins?  Well, the same rules apply here only this time it's 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 23 grams of sugar.

6)  Hershey's Miniatures (5 pieces):  These are staples every year at Halloween time.  The mixed bag of treats begs you to try at least one of each kind.  You'll be consuming 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

7)  Hershey's Kisses Caramel-Filled (9 pieces): These seem safe, but don't be fooled.  You're looking at 190 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

8)  York Dark Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Patties (3 pieces):  The cool minty chocolate that melts in your mouth gives you 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 27 grams of sugar.

9)  Snickers Fun Size (2 bars):  The commercials say, "Hungry?  Grab a Snickers."  If you do, you'll be grabbing 144 calories, 7.4 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar.

10)  Kit Kat Snack Size (3 bars, 2 pieces each):  These little beauties are worth 210 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is the number of calories, grams of fat, and grams of sugar we consume under the guise of it's little, it won't hurt me.

And strictly for adults…having a glass of wine with our Halloween candy.  What type of wine could possibly go with Candy Corn?

Master Sommelier and Director of Wines at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has put together some pairings of Halloween candy and wine for your pleasure.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars go nicely with a fruity, low-alcohol wine like Brachetto d'Aqui from Northern Italy.  It's bright pink and tastes like raspberries and roses.

Hot Tamales candy are intensely spicy and sweet.  That demands a high acid wine with low alcohol to cut the spice and high sugar content, something like a German Riesling.

Tootsie Rolls go very well with a Tawny Port.  A twenty year old Tawny Port will taste like nuts and orange peel.

Reese's Pieces go perfectly with Vin Santo from Italy.  This wine has a nutty flavor, a great match with the peanut buttery candy.

And finally…what wine goes with Candy Corn?  According to the expert, this super sugary candy pairs well with a very floral wine like Muscat de Beaumes de Venise which is a fortified Muscat from the South of France with a rich orange blossom flavor.

So…sort out your candy and don't over do it.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Halloween's Ancient Origins

 
Halloween Is Almost Here. Since early September the stores have been filled with candy packaged in special Halloween wrapping, spooky witch and ghost decorations, pumpkins waiting to be carved into Jack O'Lanterns, and costumes for both children and adults. These have now been picked over with what remains having been put on sale at drastically reduced prices. Retailers have already moved on to Christmas.

I've collected several bits and pieces about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night that I'd like to share with you—starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday then a bit of Jack O'Lantern trivia.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-Hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 as All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic, and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are commonly depicted as much scarier and our emphasis on customs and superstitions more horror related.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from?  British author Harry Oliver wrote a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explored the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world.  Here are a few of his observations.
Black Cats Bring Bad Luck:  black cats have been linked to black magic and the ancient concept of witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky.  If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky.  However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight:  although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision.  Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables.  There is another belief that it started during World War II.  It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark.  The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out:  when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better.  No one is sure where this one came from, but it sounds like the result of a wild college fraternity party.

And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.