To The Moon, Alice!

Man first stepped on the surface of the moon fifty years ago this month. To my knowledge, women have never set foot there, although Ralph Kramden famously wanted to send his wife Alice to the moon on occasion. This Alice has never had a desire to travel to the moon, but Earth’s satellite has always fascinated me. Learning more about the moon just increases my interest in this heavenly body.

While I may not be able to pick out specific stars in the night sky, the moon is a snap to spot. It’s the second brightest object in the sky after the sun. Since the sun isn’t shining at night, that makes spotting the moon a no-brainer. Moonlight is romantic here on Earth, but it’s AWOL on the moon. The surface of the moon is actually dark even though it looks bright against the night sky.

And if the moon looks familiar when you spot it, well it should. The moon always shows the same side to the Earth, the near side. How does this happen? Apparently the moon rotates on its axis in about the same time it takes to orbit the Earth; as a result, the same side is always turned toward the Earth. The side of the moon not facing Earth is the far side. (No, not the cartoon strip.) This opposite side is often called the dark side in error. Sorry, Pink Floyd; you may know music, but you are astronomically ignorant.

We Earthlings are so self-centered. We think everything revolves around us. That’s only true, though, when it comes to the moon. Yes, it actually orbits our planet. The moon makes a complete orbit around Earth every 27.3 days. During those days, our planet’s satellite’s regular phases are useful for keeping track of time.

One reason I’ll probably never go to the moon is the distance involved. From Earth to the moon is between 221,500 at the moon’s closest orbit point to 252,700 miles at its farthest orbit point. I groaned at traveling 14 hours to visit my daughter when she lived out of state, so I know I’m not up to a voyage many times longer than that.

And what’s there to do on the moon once I get there? I’ve heard it doesn’t have much atmosphere. Yes, that’s literally and figuratively. Why would I want to go to all the time, trouble, and expense to travel to the moon when there’s not much to do upon arrival? It’s just a rocky planet with no liquid water. Craters, formed from asteroids and comets colliding with the lunar surface, cover the moon like freckles on my face. Yawn! If you’ve seen one crater, you’ve probably seen them all.

If you are into cleaning, the moon is the spot for you. A permanent  dust cloud, created by small particles from comets, exists around the moon. If I want to dust and vacuum, I can save myself the trip and stay home.

Although I have a valid passport, I wouldn’t have to use it to gain access to the lunar surface. There are no entry restrictions because no nation claims ownership of any part of the moon’s surface–at least so far. Russia, China, and the United states are parties to the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, which refers to the moon and all outer space as the “province of all mankind.” Guess Santa won’t be able to stake out a claim on the moon’s north pole. (Yes, the moon has a north and south pole just like Earth does.)

As a result of our country’s Apollo program, it has been confirmed the moon is not made of blue cheese. It is instead a rocky and inedible body. Why in heaven’s name would anyone link a heavenly body with tangy cheese? The explanation offered is that the moon is round and yellow like a cheese. Shadows of the moon’s craters look the holes in or texture of certain cheese. And, of course, cheese often comes in big round wheels similar to what a full moon looks like.

And why wouldn’t someone come up with the crazy idea that the moon is made of cheese? The moon is, after all, associated with insanity. Words like lunacy, lunatic, and loony come from the word “Luna,” the Latin name for the moon.

So they say, people’s behavior becomes crazy when it is a full moon. Take the concept of a werewolf for example. Things get hairy when the full moon is out. Aristotle theorized a full moon caused insanity because the brain was mostly water; thus, it was affected by the moon and its influence over the tides. Because of the moon’s gravitational attraction, the Earth’s oceans experience various tides–two high and two low in a 24 hour period.

To me what’s crazy about the moon is how its size appears to change as it rises. It looks bigger when it is close to the horizon but smaller when it is overhead. According to scientists, the moon remains the same size; the changing sizes we observe are merely a psychological effect known as the moon illusion.

And speaking of illusions, how about the man in the moon? Some claim to see the image of a human in the full moon. Personally, I’ve never been able to pick him out. Facial features are found in the dark areas of the lunar surface and the contrasting lighter areas of highlands. Think the man in the moon has had his full of blue cheese? Did too much cheese result in lunar lunacy?

Some lunacy here on Earth is moon related. Take the practice of mooning, for instance. For hundreds of years the moon has been a common metaphor for buttocks. When someone “moons” another, he displays his naked bottom either to express scorn or protest or simply for fun. Back in January of 2005 Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings pretended to moon Green Bay Packer fans following a touchdown he scored. I don’t know if the Cheeseheads were amused, but the NFL was not. It fined Moss $10,000 for this behavior.

Facts, figures, and science aside, one can simply enjoy the moon for its beauty in the night sky. I love to gaze up and see this lighted satellite during the dark hours. To quote the smash 1975 Starbuck song, I must say, “Moonlight feels right.”

JUST WONDER-ing:

Would you travel to the moon if given the opportunity? If you were alive back then, do you remember the “giant step for mankind” made by Neil Armstrong on the moon’s surface? Is craziness in connection with a full moon fact or folklore?

 

 

 

The Summertime Blues

Everyone should have the summertime blues. No, I’m not referring to feeling down in the mouth; I’m talking about what you put IN your mouth–blueberries. Trust me; if you pop a delicious and nutritious blueberry in your mouth, you’ll probably hear the bluebird of happiness singing. July is National Blueberry Month, so what better time to learn about and enjoy this blue fruit?

So, where do blueberries come from? Sure you can buy them at the store, but let’s back up to the point of origin. Blueberries grow on a bush which is a flowering plant in the heath family. Blueberry bushes are related to the azalea and the rhododendron. While these relatives are known for their flowers, blueberry bushes are known for their fruit. Although some flowers are edible, I personally prefer to eat fruits; blueberries are a top choice for me.

Picking up an (expensive) basket of fruit is convenient, but picking your own blueberries at a u-pick-’em farm is way more fun.  Blueberries, which are native to North America, are typically ready for picking between June and August. Therefore, blueberry picking is something to add to your summertime fun “to do” list.

A great blueberry picking outfit involves wearing a hat. There are a couple of reasons why a hat is essential. First, you are picking berries in the summer when the sun is hot and beating down. A hat provides some protection and shade. Second, a hat will protect your head from bird bombs. Blueberries are a favorite snack of birds. Once birds have filled up their bellies with berries, you know what comes next. On the bright side, if you are into bird watching, you can kill two birds with one stone while picking blueberries.

Common sense tells you if blueberries are blue, you shouldn’t pick them if they are another color. But, of course, common sense isn’t all that common. Some pickers add berries that are partially green or red to their baskets. Nope. A ripe berry is one that is completely blue.

Don’t be taken aback if the berries have a white powdery substance on them. That’s a good sign. This white substance is called a bloom and indicates the berries are fresh. You wouldn’t want to make the effort to drive all the way out to the country to pick stale blueberries, would you? That would bloomin’ be ridiculous.

It’s also helpful to know your bushes. Wild blueberry bushes are called lowbush blueberries. Cultivated blueberry bushes are referred to as highbush blueberries. Rabbiteye blueberry bushes are grown in the Southeast U.S. This southern bush is found from the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast states, y’all.

Blueberries abound here in the good ole USA. The United States accounted for 40% of the world’s production in 2018. Oregon took top honor for being the state producing the most cultivated blueberries that year. Blueberries are big in New Jersey as well. Hammonton, NJ claims to be the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” and the blueberry is New Jersey’s official state berry. (Who says state legislators don’t conduct important business? Having to determine the official state berry is a weighty job…..)

So, how much should you pick if you go blueberry picking? One consideration, naturally, is the cost. Blueberries from the farm are way cheaper than from your local store, but you will still have to fork over some type of payment. Don’t pick more than you can pay for. A pound of blueberries is equal to about 2-3 cups. Depending on what you want to make with the blueberries (cobbler? ice cream? muffins?), consider how much is needed for the recipe.

It’s perfectly fine to pick more than you intend to eat in the next few days. Blueberries can be frozen for later use. Place the berries on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Put the cookie sheet in your freezer until the berries are frozen; once frozen, the berries can then be transferred to freezer bags. If you can’t follow these easy instructions, you have no business being in a kitchen.

For cooking-challenged folks, berries are the fruit for you. Why? There’s no need to cut them because they are small to begin with. Blueberries range in size from a small pea to a marble. They also do not need to be pitted or peeled. No knife-wielding skills are required.

Even if you don’t pick blueberries yourself, you definitely need to eat them. For one thing, blueberries are low calorie; there are only about 80 calories in a cup of blueberries. In fact, this fruit is 84% water. Who isn’t concerned about weight in the summer when (GASP!) it may be necessary to wear a bathing suit in public? Second, blueberries are especially high in fiber. You have to be living under a rock not to know it is important to have fiber in your diet. Additionally, blueberries have no cholesterol. And they actually taste sweet and delicious, so you can get fiber, low fat, and no cholesterol without sacrificing taste.

Blueberries are one of the most nutritious, antioxidant-rich types of fruit. Antioxidants prevent cell damage and protect against chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Hey, a blueberry might be seen as a little blue pill for everyone. Even Native Americans recognized blueberries for their medicinal value. Only they didn’t call them blueberries; they called them “star berries” because the five points of a blueberry blossom make a star.

Nevertheless, blueberries are not perfect. The fruit can leave blue stains on hands and clothing. But when life gives you lemons…The Shakers used blueberry juice to make paint for houses and furniture. If you want a natural Easter egg dye, boil some blueberries in water for about 20 minutes and then strain.

Clearly blueberries are berry good for you to eat, and picking them can provide a berry entertaining summer activity. Get on board during National Blueberry Month and enjoy this American fruit. You and your doctor will be be berry glad you did.

JUST WONDER-ING:

Have you ever been berry picking? Were you aware of the health benefits of eating blueberries? How do you like to eat blueberries? In muffins (the most popular muffin flavor according to the National Blueberry Council)? Added to yogurt?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Lose Your Head Celebrating Bastille Day!

 

Are you ready for it? The holiday with parades and fireworks, and everyone is sporting the colors red, white, and blue? No, it isn’t the Fourth of July. It’s le 14 Juillet; in English it’s the 14th of July, more familiarly known as Bastille Day. This Sunday the French will storm the streets to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the birth of their republic. Let’s celebrate with them!

First of all, we should know exactly what we are celebrating. Le 14 Juillet is the French equivalent of America’s Fourth of July. It is France’s national day, formally called la Fete Nationale. For those who have forgotten their world history, July 14th is the anniversary of a mob (no, not the godfather’s mob, a peasant mob) assault on the Bastille back in 1789. The taking of the Bastille marked the start of the French Revolution leading to a new form of government for France. Out with the monarchy!  And off with the king’s head in the process.

So what exactly is the Bastille? “Bastille” originates from the French word for stronghold. The Bastille of Bastille Day fame was a prison in Paris originally built as a medieval fortress. The structure, which had eight towers and was surrounded by a moat, had enough space to hold 50 prisoners. In 1789, the Bastille was known for holding political prisoners on the outs with the royal government headed by King Louis XVI. The prison became the symbol for the Bourbon monarchy’s harsh and oppressive rule of French citizens.

The regular (not royal) French citizens were suffering from severe food shortages at the time. Seemingly oblivious to his subjects’ difficulties, Louis XVI lived a lavish lifestyle in Versailles. His wife, Marie Antoinette, was not too popular either. She was seen as arrogant and uncaring. If she didn’t utter the famous words attributed to her, “Let them eat cake,” she was thinking thoughts along those lines. Personally, I don’t believe Marie Antoinette was quoted correctly. She spoke French after all; she would have said something like “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” according to historians.

So what’s a ticked off group of hungry, angry French citizens to do? A flash mob! No, not the modern flash mob. A mob of them went marching over to the Bastille to hunt for gunpowder, which causes a flash when a gun is fired. Serendipitously for the seven prisoners being held at the time, the attack on the prison allowed for them to be set free. The governor of the prison was also set free–of his head–by the menacing mob.

King Louis XVI was informed that a revolution was underway. He probably shook his head at the audacity of these peasants. Well, they were audacious all right. A mere week later, on July 21, 1789, the king was beheaded by guillotine in front of a Parisian crowd. The revolutionaries were acting like animals and could have been singing “Louie Louie” for all we know. Louis’ wife, mean old Marie, lasted a bit longer. She was spared for almost three months but was ultimately beheaded by guillotine in the same location that her husband lost both his head and his life.

Bastille Day was not declared a French national holiday until July 6, 1880. Today Bastille Day is a French national holiday; schools and businesses are closed in honor of the big day. Although the holiday is French in origin, observances of the day are not just held in France. French territories such as French Polynesia, Martinique (in the Caribbean), French Guiana (in South America), and Wallis and Futuna (an island group in the South Pacific) celebrate Bastille Day as well.

Even Americans take note of Bastille Day with a number of cities, such as New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Milwaukee among others, conducting Bastille Day celebrations. In St. Louis, the Chatillion-DeMenil Mansion holds an annual Bastille Day festival complete with a reenactment of the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Hopefully dummy figures and not real actors are placed in the guillotine….

Bastille Day celebrations in France typically begin on Bastille Day Eve with dances. A giant dance party, the Bal du 14 Juillet, is traditionally held in Paris on the evening of July 13th at the location where the Bastille once stood and was stormed. The dance has a different theme each year, and attendees wear costumes and enjoy live music. Nothing like remembering mayhem and bloodshed to put you in a mood for a party, huh?

A huge military parade starts in Paris at 10:00 a.m. on the morning of July 14th. Broadcast on French TV, the parade is led by the French president (currently Emmanuel Macron) and features French jets flying overhead. The French Foreign Legion brings up the rear. Proceeding down the Champs-Elysee, the parade wends its way from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the French capital. Fittingly, this square, covering 21 acres situated along the Seine River, was the site of many public beheadings during the French Revolution, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

The Bastille Day military parade has been conducted annually since 1880 and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. Since World War I, the Champs-Elysees has been the venue for the parade. Nevertheless, during the German occupation (1940-1944) General Charles de Gaulle headed the celebration in London.

Apparently Bastille Day has no traditional food associated with it, but the French do enjoy partaking of food on this holiday. Afternoon picnics outdoors are a popular way to celebrate. The French can indulge in wine and cheese indoors or out. It wouldn’t hurt to serve cake just to stick it to the memory of Marie Antoinette, right mes amis?

Bastille Day ends with a bang–literally. Actually, there are lots of bangs heard. These sounds are produced by the huge fireworks show put on by the City of Paris.

I somehow doubt the revelers on France’s national day are thinking  about the rabblerousers storming the Bastille when they see fireworks bursting above them. Maybe the French aren’t so different from Americans. Confess. You weren’t really think about American history while watching bombs bursting in air on July 4th, were you? Let’s not lose our heads, figuratively, when it comes to celebrating a national day. Use that brain in your head to remember what the holiday signifies.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the historical significance of Bastille Day? Would you attend a Bastille Day celebration if one were held in your area? What’s the proper way to celebrate a country’s national day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Smarter Than An Applicant For U.S. Citizenship?

Happy Independence Day! It’s the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate our country’s birth. Most Americans are too busy grilling or setting up fireworks displays to stop and think about the real meaning behind the holiday. Some citizens, however, are fully aware of the day’s meaning and rejoice that they can celebrate it as a citizen. In this category are newly naturalized citizens who may just be smarter than a native born citizen because they have had to pass a test to become a citizen.

Naturalization, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), is a way a person who was not born in the U.S. voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen.If you are born in this country, you don’t have a choice in the matter; you are automatically a U.S. citizen even if you don’t know squat about your home country. Naturalization extends to the new citizen the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as native born citizens have, including the right to vote. Unfortunately, for many citizens, having the right to vote and actually exercising that right are two different things.

Each year USCIS, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, welcomes approximately 680,000 citizens through naturalization. To no one’s surprise, Mexico is the country from which most new U.S. citizens come. And nearly half of all  new citizens live in three states–California, Florida, and New York. But these new citizens didn’t simply fill out some paperwork, pay a fee, and become citizens. Oh, no! The process is way more complicated than that.

In order to be naturalized, an individual has to meet certain basic requirements. He must, among other requirements, be 18 years or older, be a permanent resident of the U.S. (think green card) for five years, and be able to read, write, and speak basic English. In addition, and the kicker, the applicant must pass a test on U.S. history and government.

The civics test administered by USCIS isn’t a pop quiz and is not multiple choice. From a list of 100 set questions, an USCIS officer will randomly select ten questions which are read to the applicant in English. Six of the ten questions must be verbally answered correctly  in order to pass the test. Applicants are  aided in exam preparation by being given access to the list of the 100 questions (and answers!) for the exam. Apparently most applicants do study because in 2016, the overall pass rate for the civics test was 91%.

While applicants fare well on the test, native born citizens would likely fail if they took the test. In fact, a poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies found that 64% of American citizens would not pass this test. Yikes! How hard can the test be? Well, let’s take a look at some of the questions, and you can determine for yourself.

Of course applicants are expected to know something about the physical makeup of the country to which they desire to swear allegiance. Therefore, several geography questions are asked. Can you answer these select questions?

Name one of the two longest rivers in the United. [One answer is pretty  obvious, but I’ll bet not too many of us can name BOTH.] ANSWER: Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States? [You have to know your east from your west to answer this question.] ANSWER: Atlantic Ocean

Name one of the 13 states which border Canada. [Hint: If you are directionally challenged, Canada is our NORTHERN neighbor.] ANSWER: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Alaska

Name one of the 4 states which borders Mexico.  [A border wall may be coming to one of these locations…..] ANSWER: California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico

OK, geography may not be that difficult. How much American history do you remember? Try your hand at answering these questions.

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? [I love questions about authors!] ANSWER: Thomas Jefferson

Name three of the original 13 states. [I took Georgia History in the 8th grade and I am therefore positive of one of the answers.] ANSWER: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina

When was the Declaration of Independence signed? [If you miss this, you need to be hitting the history books rather than the beach or pool today.] ANSWER: July 4, 1776

Who was the U.S. President during World War I? [Remember, there were TWO world wars. World War I came first.] ANSWER: Woodrow Wilson

What countries did the U.S. fight in World War II? [Think of a World War II movie like “Tora, Tora, Tora” if you get stumped.] ANSWER: Germany, Italy, and Japan

In my opinion, the most difficult section of the citizenship test is the questions about the U.S government itself. Unless you live under a boulder (forget a rock), you should know who the country’s current president is and with which political party he is affiliated. Beyond that, the sample questions below might be a bit more challenging.

How many voting members are there of the House of Representatives? [It isn’t a math test, but you do need to know some numbers.] ANSWER: 435

Who is the current Speaker of the House? [HINT: She’s a she.] ANSWER: Nancy Pelosi

For how long do we elect senators to serve? [HINT: It isn’t lucky seven.] ANSWER: 6 years

How many Supreme Court justices are there? [HINT: If you read a recent blog of mine, you’d know the answer.] ANSWER: 9

Who becomes president if the president and the vice president cannot serve? [This is the person who’ll be running the country if Donald Trump and Mike Pence are both taken out.] ANSWER: The Speaker of the House (who, as we saw above, is currently Nancy Pelosi)

Who is now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? [You have one of nine justices from which to choose] ANSWER: John Roberts

How many amendments are there to the U.S. Constitution? [HINT: It has to be more than one since “amendments” is a plural word.] ANSWER: 27

How’d you do? Are you smarter than an applicant for U.S. citizenship? All 100 questions (with the correct answers) on the U.S. citizenship test can be found online. A fun thing to do on the Fourth would be to look at these 100 questions and see how much you know-or maybe don’t know. Be a responsible citizen on Independence Day and every other day of the year by being in the know about our country and how it is run. Light up the sky with fireworks today to celebrate the USA and light up your brain with knowledge about our country.

JUST WONDER-ING:

Do you think you have a good working knowledge of how our country’s government operates? If naturalized citizens must have the knowledge tested on the civics test, shouldn’t a natural born citizen know this information as well? Based on the questions above, is the civics test too hard? too easy?