Sunday, August 17, 2014

Holidays and Observances for August 17 2014

Meaning of "Is" Day

On this day in 1998, former President Clinton dabbled in semantics during the Grand Jury hearings to clarify his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”  Well, someone made this day one of those national silly holidays.  What we are supposed to do on this day, I don’t know, but it got me thinking about how difficult it is to describe certain words.  How do we define the word is?

Wait, don't use the word itself in the definition! That would be like saying, “The meaning of dance is to dance,” or “A miniature horse is a horse that is miniature.”

It's not all that easy to define “is,” and it is especially challenging to define it without using the word! Since it is the seventh most commonly used word in English, we often hardly notice that we are even saying it!

If we ARE allowed to use the word “is” in the definition, we could say that “is” is a form of the word “to be.” It means “exists,” and it refers to a state of being.

It is hard to explain. But it is easy to use in a sentence, for English speakers. See? I used it in both sentences at the beginning of this paragraph, without meaning to!

Two forms of “is”...

It think it is interesting to note that there are two different kinds of “is” and “to be” in the Spanish language. One (es, and ser) is usually used for permanent “states of being” – like “The doctor is a woman.” In this example, the doctor is always a woman, not just some of the time. The other form of “is” (está, and estar) is used for temporary or changed “states of being” – like “The doctor is tired.” In this example, the doctor wasn't tired before her shift, but she is tired right now; after a rest or a good night's sleep, she will be fine again.

I think it would be great to have two different forms of “is” in the English language, too—but since we don't have that, we have to really careful with the way we use our words.

Here's just one tiny example: If you thought your brother was being lazy one Saturday afternoon (but not usually), and you really wanted him to pick up after himself right then and there, which of these sentences would get your message across? And which would be more likely to feel like a general insult?
“Mom, he is so lazy! He should pick up his stuff!”
“Mom, he is being a lazybones today. I'd really like it if he would pick up his stuff!”
I read the the main verb used by Russians for existence (to be) has a past tense and a future tense, but no present tense. Instead of saying something like, “He is a student,” a Russian would say, “He student.”

Another Russian verb that talks about existence is pretty much a translation of “there is” or “there are.” This same verb means “to eat.” Interesting connection, huh? It reminds me of the saying, “You are what you eat.”

In Chinese, there is a verb “is” that is used when describing characteristics of someone or something (such as “she is smart”) and a verb “is” that is used when talking about the location of that person or thing (such as “she is at home”).

In the Japanese language, the different forms of “is” have to do with the subject of the sentence. If you are talking about a plant or an inanimate thing (something that isn't alive, such as a backpack or a pair of jeans), you use one word; if you are talking about an animal or a human, you use the other.

By the way...

The letters “IS” can be used to stand for InterState, Internal Security, Intermediate School, Immune System, or International Sign language. It is short for Isabel, island, and Isaiah (a book of the Bible). In the country code portion of a URL, “is” stands for Iceland. (You may wonder why, since Iceland has no “S”! In Icelandic, the name of the nation is “Island.”)

National Thrift Shop Day

Though thrift shops have been generally replaced with discount department stores in modern times, the intent behind Thrift Shop Day still applies – save money and be economical by purchasing second-hand, repaired or simply cheaper products. Clothing, furniture and household goods are great examples of products which you may be able to find and purchase cheaply from thrift shops or discount stores.

A thrift shop, thrift store, hospice shop (U.S., Canada), resale shop (unless meaning consignment shop [U.S.]), op shop (Australia/N.Z.) or opportunity shop is a retail establishment run by a charitable organization to raise money.

Charity shops are a type of social enterprise. They usually sell mainly used goods donated by members of the public, and are often staffed by volunteers. Because the items for sale were obtained for free, and business costs are low, the items can be sold at competitive prices. After costs are paid, all remaining income from the sales is used in accord with the organization's stated charitable purpose. Costs include purchase and/or depreciation of fixtures (clothing racks, bookshelves, counters, etc.), operating costs (maintenance, municipal service fees, electricity, telephone, limited advertising) and the building lease or mortgage.

One of the earliest charity shops was set up by the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind (now called the Beacon Centre for the Blind) in 1899 to sell goods made by blind people to raise money for the Society. During World War I, various fund-raising activities occurred, such as a bazaar in Shepherd Market, London, which made £50,000 for the Red Cross.

However, it was during the Second World War that the charity shop became widespread. The Red Cross opened up its first charity shop at 17 Old Bond Street, London in 1941. For the duration of the war, over two hundred “permanent” Red Cross gift shops and about 150 temporary Red Cross shops were opened. A condition of the shop licence issued by the Board of Trade was that all goods offered for sale were gifts. Purchase for re-sale was forbidden. The entire proceeds from sales had to be passed to the Duke of Gloucester’s Red Cross or the St John Fund. Most premises were lent free of rent and in some cases owners also met the costs of heating and lighting.

The first Oxfam charity shop in the United Kingdom was established in Broad Street, Oxford, and began trading in December 1947 (although the shop itself did not open until February 1948).

National Vanilla Custard Day

Today is National Vanilla Custard Day! Vanilla custard is a sweet pudding-like dish made with vanilla, eggs, sugar, and milk. It can be enjoyed on its own or as a topping for other desserts.

The history of custard is long and complicated. Ancient Roman cooks were the first to recognize the binding properties of eggs. They were experts at creating several egg-based dishes, most notably patinae, crustades and omlettes. These foods were either savory (made with cheese, meat, pepper etc.) or sweet (flavored with honey, nuts, cinnamon etc.).

Food historians generally agree that custard, the sweet almost pudding-like substance we Americans know today, dates to the Middle ages. At that time custard was eaten alone or used as fillings for pies, tarts, pastry, etc. Flan is probably the the most famous and widely adapted custard dessert in the world. It is important to note that custard was not unique to Europe. Similar recipes flourished in Asia.

Classic recipes for sweet custards were introduced to America by European cooks. Culinary evidence confirms American cooks readily embraced these recipes. Europeans also brought with them pudding recipes, which were a very different kind of food at that time. 18th century European puddings were typically boiled compositions of legumes, sometimes infused with meat products.

The distinction between European custard and American pudding got muddled sometime in the 1840s. At that time in America, traditional boiled puddings were no longer necessary to feed the average family. There was plenty of food. This also happened to be the same time when Alfred Bird, an English chemist, introduced custard powder as an alternative to egg thickeners. It wasn't long before Americans began using custard powder and other cornstarch derivatives as thickeners for custard-type desserts. This proved quite useful for overlander (conestoga wagon) cooks who did not have ready access to a reliable supply of fresh eggs.

In the last decades of the 19th century some American social reformers and food companies endeavored to tranform custard/pudding from dessert to health food. American custards and puddings were thusly marketed for their nutritional benevolence with special respect to invalids and children. Yes, this means chocolate pudding was perceived by some as a health food. Late 19th century cookbooks and company brochures (Jell-0, Royal) were replete with "quick" custard and pudding recipes, often touting arrowroot and tapicoca as the healthy ingredients. By the 1930s instant custard & pudding mixes were readily available to the American public.

To celebrate National Vanilla Custard Day, whip up your favorite homemade custard dessert to share with friends and family. Enjoy!

Black Cat Appreciation Day

Today is designated as National Black Cat Appreciation Day. It is a tribute—if you will—to any “solid black” domestic cat of pure or mixed breed pedigree, and, perhaps, some of their wild feline cousins.

The “awareness” and “appreciation” day is, in part, intended to help dispel age-old superstitions concerning black cats. Hopes are that the celebration will popularize these single-colored felids among the demographic of cat owners, potential owners, and “foster parents” in the United States. This is all in light of legendary myths that have lead to the demise of black cats for centuries.

Although some cultures consider the black cat to be good luck, as is the case in the UK, most US residents fear these boldly colored feline companion animals—doing everything they can to avoid crossing the path of a black cat. Presumably, they are also less inclined to take one of these dark colored creatures home.

For staff and volunteers at animal shelters nationwide, it is hoped that black cats, which are usually the last to be adopted, if at all, benefit from this day of heightened black cat awareness.

Despite the reluctance of many to keep black cats, solid black is a permitted color option in 22 cat breeds registered by the US-based Cat Fanciers’ Association.

Melanism, which is also seen in 11 of the 36 wild felid species, produces yellow irises as a result of high levels of melanin in the pigment of these carnivorans. In addition, melanism, the opposite of albinism, is most prevalent in male cats.

Incidentally, the “black panther” refers to any melanistic jaguar, leopard or jaguarundi.  To date, no record of melanism has been reported in cougars (Puma concolor), including the Florida panther—an endangered subspecies of cougar (aka mountain lion, catamount, puma).

Phenotype transmission analyses suggests that melanism, which is hypothesized to be adaptive in some felid species for ambushing prey, arose independently several times in the cat family (Felidae). More recently, melanism has been suspected of confering some immunological benefit to cats with regard to pathogen resistance.

Remember that keeping large cats is illegal in many states and private ownership is highly frowned upon due to the dangers of working with exotic felids and their challenging welfare needs in captivity.

If you choose to rescue a black cat or any other domestic felid in need, please remember to keep the cats inside or construct an outdoor “catio” enclosure for them.

I also encourage you to read The Cat Whisperer (Random House) by cat behaviorist Mieshelle Nagelschneider. The science-based book is especially recommended if you need to address behavioral issues in multi-cat households or are contemplating relinquishing an animal or rescuing another feline friend.

In my review of the book, I said “The reason people are so mesmerized by house cats is because they are truly miniature versions of lions, tigers, and leopards. Mieshelle explains in an unprecedented and a most accessible way, the behavior of the house cat, with her unique insight into the often misunderstood companion animal that is as wild as we have become civilized.”

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