Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Around the World


Just after our own Thanksgiving let us look at how other regions of the world celebrate the harvest season. We are using information from Wikipedia and The Holiday Spot.

Thanksgiving (Canada):

Thanksgiving in Canada occurs on the second Monday in October and Canadians give thanks at the close of the harvest season. Although some people thank God for this bounty, the holiday is mainly considered secular.

Chusok:

In Korea, the harvest festival is called Chusok or Chuseok. Chuseok is a major three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar Korean calendar. In modern South Korea, on Chuseok there is a mass exodus of Koreans returning to their ancestral hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of one's ancestors providing them with rice and fruits and sharing a feast of Korean traditional food.

Succoth:

In Israel, the harvest festival is called Succoth or Sukkot. The celebration lasts for seven days. Succoth is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (late September to late October). The festival is also known as the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, as Jewish families build outdoor booths in the tradition of the ancient Hebrews wandering in the wilderness. During Succoth, a special ceremony is held each day to remember Hebrew ancestors and to thank God for the harvest.

Baisakhi:

Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi, is a long established harvest festival in Northern India and has religious significance for both Sikhs and Hindus. It falls on the first day of the Vaisakh month in the solar Nanakshahi calendar, which corresponds to April 13 in the Gregorian calendar, except every thirty-sixth year when it falls on April 14.

Pongal:

Pongal is a popular harvest festival in South India. It is also known as the “Rice Harvest Festival”. Families take this time to thank all those who have contributed to a successful harvest -- including the gods, the sun and the cattle. Named after a sweet rice dish, Pongal starts on January 14 of each year. The celebration lasts for three days.

Yam:

The Yam Festival is usually held in the beginning of August at the end of the rainy season. A popular holiday in Ghana and Nigeria, the Yam Festival is named after the most common food that goes by the same name in many African countries.

Moon Festival:

In the Far East, Thanksgiving comes a bit earlier. The Moon Festival also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is a popular East Asian celebration of abundance and togetherness, dating back over 3,000 years to China's Zhou Dynasty. It is named after the mooncake, made of a sweet bean-paste filling with golden brown flaky skin.

In Malaysia and Singapore, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or "Mooncake Festival." The Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar (usually around mid- or late-September in the Gregorian calendar), a date that parallels the Autumn Equinox of the solar calendar.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Alaska Adventure, Part 2 …


Our last stop heading northwest was Seward. This stop offered a side trip to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, but we did not partake.

Our morning excursion was a visit to Ididaride, word play on the Iditarod trail sled dog race. The grueling race covers over 1,150 miles of extreme and beautiful terrain: across mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra and windswept coastline.

Ididaride shows many sled dogs, in various stages of development. We were going on a sled ride, and the chained dogs were yelping for the privilege of being called for the team to pull us. You needed a little imagination, because we were basically in a golf cart over gravel trails with snow nowhere in sight.

On the way back south east, we stopped in Haines. There we went to a wilderness park run by Steve (pictured, with a friend), a guy called the Dr. Doolittle of Alaska. He takes in wounded and abandoned animals and all the ones we saw were healthy and active. We saw, among others, a grizzly cub, moose, caribou, and various forms of weasel. Once they are raised in captivity they don’t have the skills to return to the wild. Steve funds the operation by creating video clips of the wilderness and one or more of the animals to order for movie and tv shows.

Our last expedition was a ride on a crab-fishing boat. The work of catching seafood is harder than we imagined, and dangerous.

Meals on the ship were outstanding. There was a nice fitness room on the ship, which we used frequently. We enjoyed the company of our friends and met some nice people on the ship and on excursions.

Overall the trip was great, though some things were not so great. Nobody told us that Alaska is chilly and rainy all the time. We had a few too many days at sea. On-board entertainment was mediocre.

Still, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and are glad that we made the trip.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Alaska Adventure, Part 1 …


The embarkation point for our cruise to Alaska was Vancouver. We met there with some good friends from Florida, Steve and Janice, and enjoyed a couple of days there before boarding the ship. One of the highlights of Vancouver was the Anthropology Museum; pictured is one of their pieces by Bill Reid, a favored artist in the area. On the news, the big story was John Edwards admitting to an affair.

After a day at sea, we visited Ketchikan. We took a best (?) of Ketchikan tour through a totem park and an old cannery. The show on board that evening was a comedic musician, who specializes in banjo but played other “instruments” such as a saw and a turkey baster.

The next day we visited Juneau, the state capitol. Sarah Palin had not yet been announced as McCain’s running mate or we might have tried to visit her.

Our excursion off the ship that day was a whale-watching expedition, soon to be dubbed the “Whale Encounter.” A pod of whales encircled our small boat and one even bumped it. We exchanged pictures by email with the group on board and some of them are on my MySpace page.

We also did some salmon-watching that day. Male salmon begin dying when they go from salt water to fresh water, where they spawn. By the time they spawn they have lost all color and look like barely more then carcasses. They die immediately after the spawn.

Next cruise stop was Skagway. We had a beautifully scenic ride an antique train. Back on bord the evening’s show was a comedian, who did a good job.

This was followed by two days of cruising. The first was in Glacier Bay, and the scenery was gorgeous. We also spotted a group of seals resting on a buoy.

The second day we toured the College Fjords area. Each fjord is named after a college, but I don’t know why. We also did a 5k walk for the Susan Komen Foundation.

More to come …

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ohio Congressional District 2 ...


News flash! Obama wins the presidential race. I suspect you have access to enough news on that topic, so we’ll move on to a more local race.

From WKRC-TV, Cincinnati:

Jean Schmidt Reclaims Ohio 2nd Congressional Seat

Video clip: Election 2008:
Schmidt Holds On To Ohio Congressional Seat

The first part of the clip is about the race; feel free to skip the local news thereafter.

From “Roll Call:”

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) bears the distinction of winning her seat with the lowest percentage. The occasionally controversial Congresswoman took 45 percent, although it should be noted that Schmidt faced conservative businessman David Krikorian, who ran as an Independent, as well as physician Victoria Wulsin (D, pictured) on Tuesday. Wulsin took 37 percent in the race while Krikorian garnered 18 percent. Last cycle, Schmidt beat Wulsin by a single point in a district President Bush carried with 64 percent in 2004.

Personal Observations:

Several times I drove Dr. “Vic” Wulsin to various events on the campaign trail. She is terrific as a “retail” campaigner, at stops that the campaign called “shake hands, kiss babies,” she won over just about every person to whom she spoke.

As her driver I got to know her fairly well. I was most taken with Vic’s character, love of family and commitment to public service. She leaves soon for Kenya to minister to people who have little access to medical care. On top of it all she is great company, with high energy and a charming wit.

On Election Day, we drove to visit at least one polling place in every county in her district. The district spans much of southern Ohio, from urban Cincinnati to Appalachia. This took 12+ hours, but she kept her cool throughout.

It was a great experience volunteering for Vic. She is easily of congressional caliber, and I am still puzzled over her loss. She came so close in 2006, and “Mean Jean” has not distinguished herself in office since. Vic did everything one can expect as a campaigner.

I think I’ll sit out political volunteering for a while.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

How the Saints saved New Orleans ...

From an article by Martin Fletcher, timesonline.

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, help for the people of New Orleans came from a surprising source: the city's football team.

Slender young cheerleaders skimpily dressed in black and gold are dancing on the sidelines. A man revs up a Harley-Davidson before leading the New Orleans Saints on to the field through clouds of dry ice. The noise from the huge crowd in the Superdome is deafening. Amid the bedlam, three middle-aged nuns stand serenely in their long white habits singing the praises of their beloved football team.

“You can't imagine their devotion to this city,” beams Sister Joan Marie. Sister Mary George enthuses: “Each player goes out into the community and does good things.” Sister Mary Andrew declares: “They couldn't be more appropriately named.”

The Saints have worked a minor miracle. They have contributed as much to the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as any political leader, government agency or corporate entity. The way they came marching home 13 months after Katrina wreaked such destruction brought hope and inspiration where there was only misery and despair.

“They saved the city, big time,” says Humble Levar, 31, a limousine driver. Keith Joiner, 46, a paramedic, agrees: “That's what brought the city back to life, the Saints coming home. They gave everyone hope.” Mary Beth Romig, of the New Orleans convention and visitors bureau, says: “The Saints saved the city - emotionally, spiritually and, to an extent, economically.”

“For me and other guys who came here we saw it as an opportunity to help to rebuild. I felt truly like it was a calling,” says quarterback Drew Brees, a staunch Christian who bought a storm-damaged New Orleans house as a gesture of solidarity. “No question it was an attraction to help rebuild the city and start something from the ground up. A lot of people thought I was crazy,” says Scott Fujita, a linebacker who joined from the Dallas Cowboys.

Since June of last year Brees, 29, has raised $1.6 million for a dozen such projects to help schools and children. About $500,000 of that money has come from marketing and sponsorship fees he has donated. He has made gifts from his own pocket, such as $50,000 he gave to Lusher School when told that its fledgling football team had no weights room. He also spends time at the schools chatting to or playing with the children. “He's been inspirational to the students and the teachers. He's a hero,” says Kathy Reidlinger, who runs the Lusher school.

“I do it because I care about the city,” says Brees, who has a $60 million six-year contract with the Saints. “I am very blessed. I feel I've been put in this position for a reason.”

Other Saints players are giving freely of their time and money to help the city. A dozen have set up charitable foundations. They go out as a team to rebuild people's homes; organize charity golf tournaments; buy a bus for the city's Children's Hospital and bikes for hundreds of needy children and take them out on fishing trips. Reggie Bush, the star running back, gave $86,000 to resurface a high school football stadium. Payton, the coach, organized a fundraising dinner at the Superdome for 1,000 guests this month.

All this is good PR, of course, and the NFL encourages every American football player to help the sport's image by doing work in their communities. But the things that the Saints have done more privately suggest that it is sincere.

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