Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holidays for December 28th 2013

National Card Playing Day

Pull up a chair and get ready to shuffle, friends! National Card Playing Day, a day dedicated to playing card games, is December 28th.

Card games, around since the ninth century – the first playing cards were invented in China during the Tang Dynasty – have survived for centuries as a form of entertainment. In today’s technology-saturated climate, however, it’s easy to forget this old tradition.

National Card Playing Day is an effort to ensure this doesn’t happen. The benefits of playing card games along with other strategy and board games are many, and they qualify as brain fitness exercises.

According to the National Institute on Aging, engaging in these types of activities helps seniors maintain brainpower as they age.

A 2012 study conducted by Rush University Medical Center and the Illinois Institute of Technology also found that playing cards may contribute to a healthier brain and fight brain aging.

The best card games for maintaining mental health are ones that incorporate memory, concentration, strategy and problem solving, so skip those endless games of solitaire in favor of bridge, gin rummy or poker.

Card games such as these require paying careful attention to what cards have been played as well as the subtle body language signs of other players.

Short-term memory games have also been shown to improve long-term memory functions, as well as other cognitive skills.

Children also benefit from playing card games, as they provide a fun way to mentally stimulate their brains. Many card games for children are also educational, helping them detect patterns, predict the outcome of alternative moves, and learn basic mathematical skills.

Along with boosting mental health, playing card games with adults or older children can teach kids other valuable skills such as how to win and lose with grace and how to interact with others in competitive situations.

When choosing a card games, pick one that is challenging, and make an effort to switch games or learn a new one every so often. This stimulates the brain and keeps neural pathways functioning.

National Chocolate Candy Day

It's National Chocolate Candy Day! Chocolate candy is one of the most popular sweets in the world. It can be combined with everything from nuts and caramel to raisins and pretzels to make some of our favorite chocolate treats!

The story of chocolate, as far back as we know it, begins more than 2000 years ago in equatorial Central America where the Mayan Indians held cocoa beans in high regard. Images of cocoa pods were carved into the walls of their elaborate stone temples, and Mayan writings refer to cacao as "food of the gods." It was the Mayans who first created a beverage from crushed cocoa beans which was enjoyed by royalty and shared at sacred ceremonies.

Chocolate's importance in the Aztec Empire also is clearly recorded. The Aztecs called the prized drink they made from cocoa beans "chocolate," which means "warm liquid." Like the earlier Mayans, the Aztecs drank the unsweetened beverage during special ceremonies. Montezuma II, a royal monarch of the Aztecs, maintained great storehouses filled with cocoa beans and reportedly consumed 50 or more portions of chocolatl daily from a golden goblet.

Cocoa Beans and Coins Cocoa beans, however, weren't only consumed. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. According to a 16th century Spanish chronicle, a rabbit was worth 4 - 10 cocoa beans and a mule cost 50 beans.

Europe was first introduced to the principal ingredient of chocolate when Christopher Columbus brought a handful of the dark, almond-shaped beans back to Spain from his last voyage to the Caribbean islands in 1502. He presented many strange and wonderful objects from the lands he explored to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Included among them were cocoa beans, placed before royalty as little more than a curiosity. They appeared most unpromising. The King and Queen of Spain never dreamed how important cocoa beans would become.

It remained for Hernando Cortes, the Spanish explorer, to grasp the commercial possibilities of cocoa beans.

When Cortes arrived in what is now known as Mexico in 1519, the Aztecs mistakenly believed that he was the reincarnation of a former god-king who had been exiled from the land. They did not realize that Cortes was seeking Aztec gold which was rumored to exist. Montezuma greeted the Spanish explorers with a large banquet which included cups of a bitter chocolate drink. By the time the Aztecs realized their mistake, the Spanish had begun to overpower them. Within three years, Cortes and his followers brought about the fall of the Aztec empire.

During this time, Cortes realized the economic potential for cocoa beans. He experimented with chocolate, adding cane sugar to make it more agreeable to Spanish tastes. He also established additional cacao plantings in the Caribbean region before returning to Spain.

Back in Spain, the new version of chocolate found favor with the wealthy, and continued to undergo flavor refinements. Newly imported spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla, were added to the drink. Ultimately, someone decided the drink would taste better if served steaming hot, creating the first hot chocolate, which quickly won followers among the Spanish aristocracy. Spain proceeded to plant more cacao trees in its overseas colonies in Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Jamaica to ensure an ample supply of cocoa beans. Remarkably, the Spanish were able to keep their ventures in cocoa cultivation and their creation of early cocoa drinks a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly one hundred years.

Spanish monks were assigned the task of processing the cocoa beans. It may have been these monks who let out the secret by discussing cocoa with their French counterparts. Then, in 1580, the first cocoa processing plant was established in Spain. It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, health-giving drink. For a while it reigned as the chosen beverage at the fashionable Court of France. Chocolate drinking spread across the English Channel to Great Britain, and in 1657 the first of many famous English Chocolate Houses appeared.

Mass production of cocoa became possible with the introduction of a perfected steam engine, which mechanized the cocoa grinding process. By 1730, cocoa had dropped in price from three dollars or more per pound to within financial reach of all.

The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 was another major breakthrough in cocoa production. This not only helped reduce prices even further, but more importantly, improved the quality of the beverage by squeezing out about half of the cocoa butter (the fat that occurs naturally in cocoa beans) from the ground-up beans, leaving behind a cake-like residue that could be further processed into a fine powder. From then on, chocolate drinks had more of the smooth consistency and the recognizable flavor of those enjoyed today.

The 19th Century witnessed two more revolutionary developments in the history of chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid eating chocolate made by combining melted cocoa butter with sugar and cocoa powder. This chocolate had a smooth, velvety texture and quickly replaced the old coarse-grained chocolate which formerly dominated the world market. The second development occurred in 1876 in Vevey, Switzerland, when Daniel Peter devised a way of adding milk to chocolate, creating the product we enjoy today known as milk chocolate.

In the United States of America, the production of chocolate proceeded at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. It was in pre-revolutionary New England - 1765, to be exact - that the first chocolate factory was established in this country. During World War II, the U.S. government recognized chocolate's role in the nourishment and group spirit of the Allied Armed Forces, so much so that it allocated valuable shipping space for the importation of cocoa beans. Many soldiers were thankful for the chocolate bars, which gave them the energy to carry on until more food rations could be obtained. Today, the U.S. Army's Meals Ready to Eat contain chocolate bars and chocolate candies, and chocolate has been taken into space as part of the diet of U.S. astronauts.

Did you know that during the Second World War, the U.S. Government commissioned Milton Hershey to create a candy bar to include in the soldiers' rations? The recipe his company created is now the famous Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar.

Today, chocolate is still clearly an American favorite treat. Over 2.8 billion pounds are consumed annually. On average that means each person consumes over eleven pounds per year! To celebrate National Chocolate Candy Day, enjoy some of your favorite types of chocolate candy.

Pledge of Allegiance Day

On this day in 1945, U.S. Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance as an American flag salute. The original pledge was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy half a century before, for a public school program. Bellamy apparently never considered putting in a line about God (the words “under God” were added to the pledge in the 1950s), but he did want to include the word “equality.” Because Bellamy knew that powerful people who would see the program were against equality for women and for black people, he backed off from his good idea and simply wrote:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Did you know that in Bellamy's day (late 1800s and early 1900s), children saluted the flag with a straight, upraised arm? Can you guess why that was changed to another quite different salute?

In the 1920s, the National Flag Conference changed Bellamy's words “my Flag” to the phrase “the Flag of the United States of America.” Bellamy disliked the change and protested it. Bellamy's granddaughter has said that he would also have resented the addition of the words “under God.” Apparently he had been pressured into leaving his job of minister because of his socialist ideas; eventually he left the Baptist church altogether.

Some people want to change the pledge to a version close to Bellamy's original concept:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty, and justice for all.”
By the way, did you know that the Supreme Court ruled that nobody can require others to salute the flag or say the pledge? In 1940, the court ruled by an eight to one vote that the government could make people show respect for the flag because it was the central symbol of national unity. But just three years later, by a six to three vote, it reversed its ruling, saying that the right to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment meant that people did not have to salute the flag or say the pledge.

(These court decisions were in response to children whose families were Jehovah's Witness. The kids felt that reciting the pledge would go against the teachings of their religion—but they were expelled from school for their refusal to participate. Some school kids today who don't participate in reciting the pledge say that their refusal is due to the fact that they do not believe in God, and don't want to pledge with the words “under God.”)

“They're Always Changing the Map!” Day

Geography is the study of the earth's features, including land and oceans and human-created features.

The earth is always changing. Over the course of the billions of years of its existence, the continents and oceans have changed positions and shapes as tectonic plates slowly moved around, pulled apart, and slammed into each other. Mountains have been pushed up and worn down, islands have risen and sunk, land bridges have connected and later disappeared—earth's an active world, and things are always changing.

But by and large, these natural features change reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllly slowly.

Human features such as roads, cities, and nations are much quicker to change. In historical times (mere thousands of years), people have migrated from one area to another, settled cities and abandoned others, sworn allegiance to a particular ruler or rebelled against another, declared independence, taken over neighboring countries, or united to make a larger, stronger nation.

Today is the anniversary of two events that required changes in maps:

On this day in 1836, the city of Adelaide was founded in South Australia.

And on this day ten years later, in 1846, the state of Iowa joined the United States of America, becoming its 29th state.

More on Adelaide...
South Australia was settled as a new British province with the founding of Adelaide. The Surveyor-General of the new province, Colonel William Light, planned the site and basic layout of the city, with wide streets oriented in north-south or east-west directions and park lands surrounding the city center like a green belt. Because of his plan, the city did not have to undergo modification as it grew and as technology advanced, as most old cities do.

More on Iowa...
This state got its name for one of the many groups of Native Americans that lived there, the Ioway, a name that was also given to one of the rivers that flows through that area.

Actually, the tribal name was “Ayuxwa,” which means “one who puts to sleep.” The French spelled the name “Ayoua,” and the English spelled it “Ioway.”

The state's nickname is the Hawkeye State. Apparently this is to honor the memory of Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk Indians. It is very interesting to me that Black Hawk has the stature of a hero, with statues of him on display, roads and schools and other features named after him, and a biography that became a best-seller in his own time—although he could have been seen as an enemy of the state. Black Hawk led Sauk warriors against the United States, alongside the British and many other groups of Native Americans, during the War of 1812, and he fought against the U.S. again in the Black Hawk War of 1832. After Black Hawk and his warriors were defeated, he was taken into custody and sent around the U.S. with other Indian leaders. Although they were prisoners, these leaders were met with huge crowds of mostly positive onlookers. They were painted by portrait artists and interviewed for biographies. Near the locations where he had actually fought, Black Hawk's reception was less positive—crowds there were more likely to jeer and burn or hang effigies than to cheer.