Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coolest New Tool: Google Ngram - Research and Graph Trends

This is nifty! The graph above tracks mentions of the following phrases in books published between 1950 and 2008: Childhood Obesity, Nutrition Program, Soy Protein. I started by wondering if there is a correlation between increased school meals (like breakfast) and children's weight. It looks like one culprit may be the increased use of Soy in nearly every processed food. It's not science, but is an easy way to start developing & testing a hypothesis.

The tool is the Google Books Ngram Viewer (also now linked from my sidebar). It takes a bit of tweaking (the search tool is case sensitive, and has rules for handling punctuation, and doesn't account for the quaints used by early printers eg "Congrefs"), so keep those in mind when testing phrases.

It's a hoot to use! I may be here all night!

My Christmas Present

I don't have all my presents yet, but it will be hard to top this one. When Paul gave me Sarah Palin's new book "America By Heart", he said "When she becomes our first woman President, you'll have her autograph." To which I replied "You betcha!"

I don't read political books (time is limited and one must draw the line somewhere), so I have not read "Going Rogue", despite Mama's great review and my admiration for Sarah as an ordinary American woman in an extraordinary time and place. So this one I wanted to read, and now I have a copy to keep. :-) Review to follow....

PS The bookmarks are examples of letterpress printing from Printers around the country. If you are interested in printing (of words or art) or desktop publishing, or writing, or editing, check out the AAPA (American Amateur Press Association) and see if it is something you might like to get involved with - and request a sample bundle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Texican Christmas Tree

We are slowly changing over the decor in our house to be a little more SouthWestern / Old West / Texican Ranch style (YAY! some of our cute things can come out of storage!), and this year we used items from my collections to decorate the Christmas tree.

Some things are on our tree every year - like the Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria ships in bottles and old world explorers globes. We carried these in our gift shop when we lived on the coast. Down there, they were "beachy". And I saw pics of a great steam punk Christmas tree the other day that used similar ones of steam ships (done by Steampunk Awareness on Facebook).

Paul had the brilliant idea of putting hangers on my redware salt & pepper shakers (they are in the Tlaquepaque style). He also me brought the tiny Native American baskets.

The DeGrazia bells are miniature versions of the traditional wind bells so common in Arizona and New Mexico. I have some large ones hanging on the porch. Their deep and sonorous toll is a low, occasional sound on the wind. Because of their weight, it takes a strong wind to move them at all, so high or constant winds are not a problem for them.

Here's a bona-fide mexican pottery ornament. This type of ware is called "burnished", and it is characteristic of some Tonala pottery. The piece is rubbed - or burnished - with a smooth stick before firing. This gives it a nice matte finish compared to glazed pottery. My heart still belongs to the old lead-glazed redware, though.

This box reminds me I need to show off my Mexican lacquerware sometime. That is a stylized rabbit figure in case you can't tell. This kind of work used to be done by painting on layers and carving down to the different colors. Now, it is often done as a sort of decopage, by pasting on cut-out paper shapes and then painting and glazing over them. Mexico is the only other culture to have developed genuine lacquer work as a decorative art.

The little Madonna was originally part of a creche set.

What is a tree without toys? This pottery whistle and pyrography (wood burned) gourd rattle are worlds apart but both are owls! :-)

Feliz Navidad to one and all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse TONIGHT (Early Tuesday AM 12/21/10)

There's a total eclipse tonight (Thanks Mandy for reminding me!). The eclipse is caused by the shadow of Earth moving across the face of the Man in the Moon. Instead of hiding it, the moon will turn a beautiful amber red color and cast a fiery glow. For those of us in Central Time, it will start right after Midnight at 12:32 am, reach totality between 1:40 am and 2:53 am, and wrap up at 4:01 in the morning. So there's a long time available to see it. :-)

Check out the University of Texas' (Magazine of the McDonald Observatory) for more details. Thanks to Stardate for the photo shown here!

If you are reading from elsewhere in the world, NASA has a great graphic at this link that shows the range of visibility for this eclipse.

Coincidentally, it's also the winter solstice. There's a lot of great information about the moon and stars on the Farmers Almanac website (good for gardening and weather info too).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas for a Sharecropper's Orphan: The Salvation Army, Then and Now

The 1920's - "the Roaring Twenties" - was a boom time, much like the 1980's or the 2000's, the communications and manufacturing revolution was going on, prohibition stoked a powerful illicit economy, lots of people had money and the stock market saw massive inputs from young, inexperienced traders. Many fortunes were being made - in theory. Mostly, the money was available for people engaged in emerging industries or occupations, or who were dishonest enough to be smugglers or distillers. Those in traditional occupations continued to live much as they had for the prior 50 years.

My grandfather's family were poor during this time. There were 8 children in the family, and Nandy was in the middle. Nandy's father was a share-cropper in East Texas and Southern Oklahoma.

At that time - around 1900 through until 1940 - seventy per cent of all farmers in the whole region were share croppers. Race had nothing to do with it - then as now, money, effort, ingenuity and plain luck were the deciding factors between poverty and wealth. People who could not afford to buy land worked for those who did. Everyone I have ever known who was born before 1935 picked cotton at some time in their lives.

This is Nandy's story of Christmas when he was 8 years old in 1922, and the part The Salvation Army played in it. While other "charities" have forgotten their mission, only The Salvation Army still focuses on precisely the same people & needs they always did.

From "Precious Memories" by Sidney Gilstrap:

"We finally arrived in East Texas [in 1921] and stayed at Grandma and Pappy Bruton's until Papa could find a "share-crop" farm for us to live on. A Share-crop farm is one that the owner furnishes the farming tools and buys all the seed to plant a crop with. A share-crop farmer is one who works the farm, planting, plowing, and harvesting the crop. He also takes care of the farm, such as clearing land, building fences and things like this. All profits are shared half to the owner and the other half to the farmer. This and a house to live in is the farmer's pay. The better the crop, the better the pay.

"Papa had to clear nearly all the land of trees and underbrush. Most of this was done with an ax and crosscut saw. There were no such things as chain saws. It was all done the hard way, by hand. The larger trees were cut for firewood for cooking and heating. There was no such thing as natural gas, propane or electricity, especially in the country.

"Our new home was a three room house (almost new), with a porch all across the front... Our house was located on the West side of East Mountain, right at the foot of it. There was a small creek about 200 feet between our house and the mountain. It had little waterfalls and was spring fed. This was our water supply as there was no well at the house.

[After about a year in East Texas, the family moved back to Cornish (near Ringling) Oklahoma, and Papa found another farm to share crop.]

"In the Spring, Papa was plowing and getting the ground ready for planting. Back then, it was done with horses pulling a plow and the farmer walking behind the plow and guiding it. Nothing but old hard work for a farmer in those days. One morning the weather was cold and misty and Papa worked until about noon. He came to the house with chills and fever that developed into pneumonia. Old Dr. Dorsey came (by horse and buggy) but he couldn't help Papa. This was on April 13, 1922. ...

"I remember Papa as kind, gentle, pleasant, and a hard worker. He would kid with us and we always had a good time when he was around. We missed him for a long time....

[His mom then took the children and moved to Denison, where she had family.]

"Mom got a job at a peanut factory and Lester [older brother] and I got us a job selling papers in the afternoons. [In the summer when school was out] we would also go down to the Farmers Market and get vegetables and cantalopes to carry up and down the streets to sell. We had to carry them in tow sacks. We would get a percentage of what we sold. Sometimes we sold some and sometimes we didn't.

"Mom's job didn't last long, so she got another one at the cotton mill. They made cloth out of cotton. We moved to the other side of town [close to] the factory and close to school too.

"We spent our first Christmas without Papa there and it looked like it would be just another day. We were just barely getting by and nothing to spend for Christmas. We all knew that. On Christmas morning, I went out on the front porch. I couldn't believe what I saw. There were two large boxes with all kinds of goodies, toys, clothing and food in them. No one could have made me believe that there was no Santa Claus.

"I found out, later, it was the Salvation Army that brought our Christmas to us. I still have a very warm spot in my heart for them. They are still helping families like we were. In those days [1922], there was no such thing as welfare, food stamps, Social Security, WIC, AFDC, or any kind of government assistance for the needy."

And today, 90 years later, the Salvation Army stills puts its first interest into sheltering people no one else will help, and giving needy people a real Christmas. The Salvation Army is the only organization all over the country that provides transient men a safe and warm place to sleep for a couple of days. They also help with disaster aid, work therapy, locator services to reunite families with loved ones, meals, and many many other essential daily needs.

They don't pay their administrators outrageous salaries and they don't do it for publicity.

When we went through Hurricane Claudette, the Salvation Army helped us and our neighbors. The hurricane was stronger than expected, and by the time it was over on Monday the area looked like a war zone. Power was out everywhere, many were without water too, and several of our neighbors' homes had been destroyed.

The Salvation Army showed up in our tiny beach community on Wednesday morning and fed hot, cooked meals three times a day for the rest of the week until power was restored and everyone had decent living arrangements.

They refused to take a single dime for the food, made no test of need, and would not even accept donations. They were the only outside group to help our community. None of the "famous" organizations or agencies came, not even to look around.

So we put money in every bell ringer's pot, going in and coming out. They've been there for us, and we want to be there for them.

God Bless the Salvation Army.

*Photo: "Papa, Mom, and Rosalie" (Thomas Lester Gilstrap, Minnie Lee Bruton Gilstrap, and youngest daughter Rosalie).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Look Up! Shooting Stars in the Western Sky in the Wee Hours

Nick called and reminded me tonight> Set the alarm for the Geminid Meteor Shower: the article says the shower will peak about 5 am Central time tomorrow morning (Tuesday December 14) with up to 100 shooting stars per hour.

If you are a night owl, best viewing will be after moon-set (midnight or after).

Thanks to University of Texas' Stardate Magazine for the photo and information. We visited the McDonald Observatory once and it was a wonderful trip. Located in the Davis Mountains, with nothing to do but wander through the beautiful countryside. Devin was not even two at the time and he talked about looking through the telescope for years after.

According to Peter Freuchen, the Eskimos of Greenland used iron from a meteorite to make knives with - they had no other access to metals before trade was established. A sharp edge is essential for life in any wild environment, and the Greenlanders depended, like all arctic peoples, on animals for survival. Permafrost prevented mining so the meteorite was literally as well as truly a gift from Heaven that improved their lives.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Time For Gingerbread Cookies!

This Gingerbread cookie recipe is tasty to eat and very easy to work with to make fine Gingerbread Boys. It's not quite sturdy enough to make large houses, but you can make very small ones with it. The cookies stay soft so cannot be hung on a tree.

Molasses is really a "must have" for Gingerbread. Pure cane syrup (pressed from Sugar Cane and cooked down) will substitute if necessary, but no other syrup will suffice.

Nauvoo Gingerbread Cookies

1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Lard or Shortening
1/2 Cup Hot Water
2 Eggs
6 Cups of Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon (can increase to 3 teaspoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons Ginger (can increase to 3 teaspoons)

Mix sugar, molasses and lard. Measure hot water in the same measuring cup as the molasses (thus rinsing out the molasses) and add to bowl. Stir in eggs.
Combine dry ingredients and stir into the batter. Add more flour if needed to make a smooth, soft dough.

Refrigerate dough until firm: at least one hour, and overnight is best.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough 1/4" thick on a floured surface. Cut into shapes and decorate with red hots or raisins if desired.

Bake on ungreased baking sheets 10 minutes or until cookies look dry in center.

It's a little mild for my taste, so when we plan to eat the cookies, I double up on our favorite spices (no need to waste them if it is going to be made into houses). Spices are costly, and this recipe is easily adaptable to whatever you might already have in the cupboard. You can also add or substitute cardamom, nutmeg, allspice or even a twist of black pepper.

If buying the spices, be sure to price check or watch for coupons. Fiesta Brand is a local Texas brand of seasonings that is often found in a separate display, near the produce department or with bulk Mexican foods. The packaging is simple (most are in simple celophane bags) and quality is high without being pretentious.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Was Only the First of Many

Hawaii, and the United States, were attacked on Dec 7th, 1941, but were saved from occupation. Japan's attack was repulsed, and the Japanese Military was unable to gain a foothold on US soil. Other nations, including our ally The Netherlands, were not so lucky.

Three months later, in March, 1942, the Japanese made their push into the Dutch East Indies when they landed on Java. By June, the Dutch were defeated, and their horrific ordeal began.

From "The Netherlands Indies in WWII" Website: "Of the approximately 350,000 Dutch the Japanese first interned the men and later on the women and children.... Cruelty and violence were often typical for the behaviour of the Japanese guards. ... the internees in the overcrowded and insanitary camps suffered from chronic malnutrition, hunger oedema, dysentery and malaria. Many thousands... died as a result of these diseases."

The poem below was written by a survivor of those civilian prison camps:

Men of ten years and older

The heiho flogged with well aimed lashes
Ten year old boys behind an army truck.
By incomprehensible decree they were
declared a man - and men
don't belong with their mother anymore.
He was in line with in his one hand his teddybear
clenched around the one paw left
In the other hand a bag with in it
The final bit of sugar and some malaria pills.
His mother put it in at last
He forced back his tears
After all, he was a man now.
His mother prayed and intensily hoped
To once see him again.
At his birth she had
thought of such a nice name for him.
She, she died of malnutrition and malaria
Lacked the pills that saved his life.
He ended up in a Dutch contract pension
Cold, wet, uncomfortable and not so nice either
The hunger winter was more important in conversations
Than his story of his – cruel - departure.
About good and evil he always thought differently
All his relations broke down
Booze and drugs sometimes helped, for a moment avoiding reality.
His career failed over and over
The only thing he missed was his old, one-armed, soft teddybear.

'Fragments, memories of a camp boy', by Govert Huyser (2005) General b.d. G.L.J. Huyser (Surabaya 1931) stayed during the war in the Japanese internment camps 'Darmo' in Surabaya, 'Karangpanas' in Semarang and in the boys camp 'Bangkong' in Semarang.


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