Virtual Tour: How Candy is Made

Way back when in grade school, we used to take tours of local factories; it was one of the highlights of the year for me, because I’ve always had a curious mind, wanting to know the hows and whys. Have you ever wondered how candy is made? Let’s go on a virtual factory tour today! Just click the image below to watch a fascinating guided tour as they make candy canes and other hard candies. What I especially enjoy about this tour is the obvious love of the craft and the philosophical perspective of the candymaker himself. Passion for what you do is an essential ingredient, no matter what your occupation is.

3 Comments

Filed under Articles, Virtual Tours, YouTube Link

History Undusted: Bessie Coleman, Aviation Pioneer

I like to highlight, or “undust” figures or circumstances from history that few may have ever heard about, but that deserve to be remembered. Bessie Coleman is one such figure from history: In her life that was cut short, she made a difference by going against the norms and following her dreams, regardless of the limitations put on her by society because of her race and gender.

Bessie Coleman, 1923 – Photo Credit: George Rinhart, Corbis via Getty Images

Born in January 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, as the tenth of thirteen children in a sharecropper family, she worked in the cotton fields and attended a small, segregated school. She was not only African American but also had Cherokee heritage through her mixed-race father. Despite her humble beginnings, by 18 she’d managed to save enough money to attend one term of college at Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Oklahoma, which was probably the closest university that would take a young black woman in the early 1900s. With no funds left, she moved back home, working and saving her money. At 23, she moved in with her brothers in Chicago, Illinois, and worked as a manicurist in a barbershop; there, she heard the tales of World War I pilots, and her dream was born.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot, Photo, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame

At the time, American aviation schools had no place for either African Americans or for women, but she was encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, to study abroad. He publicized her story in his newspaper, and she received the financial support to pursue her dream from a prominent African American banker, Jesse Binga, and from the Defender.

Jesse Binga, Credit: Wikipedia, John Schmidt

She took a French language course in Chicago, and in November 1920, she travelled to Paris to earn her pilot licence. On June 15, 1921, Coleman became the first African American woman as well as the first Native American to earn a pilot license and an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She then spent the next two months learning more from a French veteran pilot near Paris. In September 1921, she sailed back to America and became a media sensation.

With civilian commercial flights still a thing of the future, she would have to earn her money as a “barnstorming” stunt pilot. The skills needed to fly dangerous stunts were beyond her scope, and still out of her reach in America, so she again returned to Europe, where she trained in France. From there she went to the Netherlands to meet Anthony Fokker, one of the world’s most distinguished aircraft designers. At his company in Germany, she received further training from one of the company’s chief pilots. Returning once again to the US, she finally launched her career in exhibition flying.

“Queen Bess” was a popular draw for the next five years. She used public attention to engage audiences in promoting aviation and battling racism; she refused to take part in any aviation exhibitions that barred African Americans from attending. At one point, she was offered a role in a film, “Shadow and Sunshine.” She accepted, hoping that it would help her raise enough money to open her own aviation school. But when she learned that the first scene would portray her in ragged clothes, she walked off the set – her principles would not allow her to spread the disparaging image most whites had of most blacks.

Her goal was not just flying, but to make a difference in history; unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see just what a great influence she would have: On 30 April 1926, a faulty plane went into a dive and spin at 3,000 feet above ground; on the way down, Bess was thrown from the plane and killed on impact. Later, it was found that a wrench used to service the plane had been forgotten inside and had jammed the controls.

Posthumously, her name is honoured through the renaming of streets (including three in France), of roads near airports (including one at Frankfurt Germany’s international airport), a public library in Chicago, schools, aviation-related companies and wings of airports, scholarships, a US postage stamp (in 1995), a cartoon character, and she has been inducted into several halls of fame for both women as well as aviation; and last but certainly not least, she has a geological feature on the southern hemisphere of Pluto named in her honour, Coleman Mons.

William J. Powell, Pioneer aviator and civil rights activist

Lieutenant William J. Powell dedicated his book, Black Wings, to her. His sentiment is summed up well in a quote: “We have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”  Powell founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in 1929. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut in space, carried a photo of Bessie Coleman with her on her first mission.

Mae Jemison, Photo credit: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

What I find most inspiring about her story is not only her unwavering determination to reach her goals, but that throughout her life, she found people willing and able to support her in accomplishing it: Without the idea encouraged by a publisher to look beyond the borders of America and promoted in his newspaper to raise support, without the teachers in Europe investing in her skills (how many inter-war pilots could say they’d been trained by top war ace pilots?), and without the financial support given at a time she needed it, her dreams might have remained unfulfilled, or too long in the making – those parameters needed to make her into a pilot who inspired future generations shifted drastically with the outbreak of the Second World War.

In Esther 4:14, Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, tells her, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” In the brief window of time that Bessie reached for the heavens, she may not have lived to see her legacy, but her life and death were not in vain.

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, History, History Undusted, Military History, Space, Astronomy

Virtual Tour: Money Museum

Let’s go on a virtual outing! This time, to a Swiss museum located on my doorstep, in Zürich. I can’t imagine a better place to have a museum on that topic.

Have you ever wondered where coins started, or what the history of money is? Look no further. Have you ever wondered what blockchain technology is, or what cryptocurrencies are (and there are over 8 thousand so far!)?

Included in the tour are 5-minute podcasts exploring the topic of money, as well as visual tours of coins throughout time and regions.

Besides the online presence, this museum is also a library and a forum, where people can gather for lectures and discussion groups around the topic of money, finances, markets, etc.

Coins are just one form of payment, but throughout the centuries, different people have put a value on different objects, and trading them became a type of currency: When the Russian currency nosedived in value, vodka became a currency because, in that culture, vodka was the most stable commodity! In other cultures, beads, shells, water gourds, and many other objects have been currency; in another article, I’ve talked about hack silver – jewellery worn with scoring to allow easy division into pieces to trade for goods.

Here’s a quick question for you: Do you know what your money really looks like? We may have handled it dozens of times in a week, but have we ever really stopped to examine it? I remember back when shillings were still valid coinage in Britain – they were used in lieu of 5p pieces; when the new coins came into circulation, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what they’d looked like before! The same goes for banknotes here in Switzerland, which changed to the current design back in 1995. Once a new coin or banknote comes into use, it’s hard to remember what the old ones looked like. Interestingly, some Swiss coins have not changed; I once found a 10-rappen coin in my purse from 1899! It went straight into my coin collection. Since then, I always check my loose change. As a matter of fact, the 10-rappen coin holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest original currency in circulation.

The history and scope of money is a fascinating one, once you scratch below the surface. Click here to take the virtual tour through the world of money, and enjoy!

The Swiss 10-rappen coin, the oldest original currency in circulation today.

2 Comments

Filed under History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Virtual Tours

A New Year

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to leave 2021 behind me! On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I sit down and review the last year, and talk about what we’d like to see or do in the following; this year, when we reviewed the last 12 months, we had to say, “what did we experience unrelated to health issues?” and we were hard-pressed to come up with anything substantial: Holidays were a non-topic, as my husband was in and out of the hospital, sometimes emergency, with complications that delayed his chemotherapy; finally, that got started – which meant that either he had little energy for taking day trips, or we couldn’t go because he had appointments. If anyone has had it themselves or has a family member who’s had cancer, you’ll know the “routine” – if you can even call it that.

In the midst of all that, with my energy and focus on him, or on communicating with friends and family, everything else seemed to fall to the back burner, including regular blog posts. In the past few months, if I wrote at all, I worked on my next novel; I finished the final draft in mid-December! Then I immediately did a straight read-through and began the work of fine-tuning and editing. I have Beta readers for feedback, but because I’m an Indie publisher, I do all of the nitty-gritty myself, the work of graphics, formatting, editing, and a long list of to-dos that could fill a book by themselves. Those are what I’m tackling next – after the feedback is in and incorporated where needed.

Now that chemotherapy is behind us (his last ended on Christmas Day!), we’re still not out of the woods but at least we can see the skies through the thinning trees. Also in December, I had my 2nd Covid vaccination and have noticed a marked drop in the long-term symptoms that had been slowing me way down, some days stopping me altogether, since March 2020. The end of those two issues gives me more hope for the coming year! It also means that we can look forward. Last year, it was impossible to plan; at the worst times, we couldn’t even plan an hour ahead. Of course, Covid complicates things, with travel restrictions or threats of lockdowns, but I think we’re all used to that by now.

Have you made any holiday plans for the coming year? If we could fly anywhere, without Covid complications at the airport or crossing borders, ideally we would love to go back to Scotland, where I used to live and where we met back in the day! But we live in one of the other most beautiful patches on Earth, so we’re hoping to take the Grand Tour route of Switzerland this year instead. In the past, we’ve often rented a motorhome for holidays, whether in New Zealand, Norway or Scotland, so perhaps we’ll do that here, too. Every plan is qualified these days with a maybe, perhaps, or we’ll see.

My hope for this blog in the coming year is that I can take control of time and energy once again and begin posting regularly. I have a few ideas, so keep an eye on this space!

8 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

Just for Fun: Off the Mark Advent

Leave a comment

December 3, 2021 · 6:34 PM

History Undusted: Advent Calendars

This month has flown by! Last weekend was our church’s annual advent market, and I was present with tables full of crafts, as well as marble-iced cookies, Spitzbuben, cheese cookies & apple chips (dehydrated). Before it took off, I was preparing, baking, labelling, and doing all the little bits and bobs to get ready; it went off well, considering the limitations of Covid. I also got our own Advent calendar completed – I talk about that more in a previous post. But the whole topic of the market got me wondering where Advent calendars started, so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve discovered: As you probably know, advent calendars today can take any form you choose; the only common factor is that they usually cover 24 days and begin on 1 December (as opposed to following the 4 Advent Sundays – this year, the first Sunday fell on 28 November). The first calendars weren’t: In the early 1800s, German protestants began marking chalk lines on a wall or lighting a candle each day of the Advent season; they sometimes accompanied the act with a devotional reading or with an image centered around the advent, or coming, of Jesus (traditionally celebrated on 25 December, though that was hardly his birthday – but that’s another topic). The first actual calendars were made of cardboard in Germany, and appeared in the early 1900s; they often had either a poem or a picture behind each door, and were produced until World War 2, when the Nazis banned their use on the excuse that cardboard was scarce – and then, in 1943, they promptly sent out advent booklets to every mother in the land – but they seem to have missed the point: their versions had images of German soldiers blowing up Russian tanks and sinking allied ships!
The Nazi’s idea of Advent celebrations… the less said, the better!
After the war, Richard Sellmer, of Stuttgart, was able to get permission from the allied officials to begin printing cardboard Advent calendars once again, and his company still produces them today – click here to visit their website. After the war was over, the American soldiers took the idea back to the States; their popularity took off in the 1950s after a photo appeared in a newspaper of President Eisenhower’s grandchildren with a Sellmer calendar.
Image from the Sellmer website, showing President Eisenhower’s grandchildren opening a Sellmer calendar
I guess you could say that the rest is history! With Advent beginning, I hope yours is ready for Wednesday! And Christmas is coming soon! If you’re interested in knowing the history behind Santa’s red suit, just click here!

2 Comments

Filed under Articles, History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Military History

Project TeamSeas

If you don’t follow certain vloggers on YouTube, you might not have heard of #TeamSeas yet; if you do and have, then join the team!

First, a bit of history on this campaign: Back in 2019, YouTuber MrBeast hit 20 million followers, and a fan suggested that he celebrate it by planting 20 million trees (as one does). Fellow YouTuber and engineer/inventor Mark Rober, formerly of Nasa’s JPL Mars Curiosity rover team, joined the effort to launch the collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation; YouTubers would raise the money through raising awareness, and for each dollar donated, a tree seedling would be planted by volunteers somewhere it was most needed, based on the assessments of the foundation’s research. The goal was reached before the end of 2020, reaching over $23,166,000 and counting.

Now fast forward to 29 October 2021: The same YouTubers have teamed up once again to launch TeamSeas, the aim of which is to clean up plastic marine debris.

Plastics, in the broader sense of the word, have been around for thousands of years, though the original products were made of natural rubbers or animals horns, both of which would break down and be reabsorbed into the environment with little impact. What we think of as plastics really began to boom after World War 2. The tragedy, or travesty, of it is that, from the beginning, manufacturers had no solution for recycling their product waste, but that didn’t slow down production. Every piece of plastic that has ever been made is in the environment somewhere.

In the oceans specifically, there are five natural gyres, or large circular ocean currents, and these corral floating debris into what are now known as “garbage patches”. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas, and that’s just what’s floating on the surface.

The topic is a fascinating one to me, because I’ve collected garbage from beaches when we’ve gone on holidays to coastal areas, and I’ve seen the problem growing. About ten years ago, a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat, was diving while on holiday in Greece. The garbage outnumbered the fish, and he decided to do something about it. He has invented robotic boats that are “great at catching plastic and terrible at catching fish,” as the catchments only go down a few meters, and move slow enough for fish and marine animals to simply swim down and away. He plans to release a fleet of these ships not only to the garbage gyres but also to the sources of the problems – rivers that wash garbage into the ocean from upstream.

The goal is for TeamSeas to raise $30 million before the end of this year; as of the moment of writing this, they have reached over $12,720,000. Half of the money raised will be going to Boyan Slat’s nonprofit organization to build and launch garbage-eating ships, and the other half of the money will go toward ocean conservation – this will be in the form of providing volunteers with the equipment necessary to clean up the beaches and waterways, and getting out onto the ocean to join the Ocean Cleanup’s work.

To find out more, please take the time to follow the links below:

Mark Rober’s informative video about what it’s all about

Boyan Slat’s The Ocean Cleanup nonprofit organization

TeamSea’s website – here, you can get up to date with what’s happening, and donate!

Watch some of the activity that takes place aboard an Ocean Cleanup vessel when a load comes in.

The Ocean Cleanup begins to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and closes the loop by recycling the collected garbage into pellets, which can be turned into useable products, such as sunglasses.

Please consider getting involved in any way you can! If you can’t get out there and collect rubbish from a beach, a few dollars will go a long way to helping others reach the goal of cleaning up the oceans. The biggest thing you can do is to become aware of your own environmental impact: Recycle; use products wisely and dispose of them properly; upcycle where possible; check with your local government agencies about ways to improve collection and reuse of rubbish in your area; buy products that are not wrapped in plastic (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables bought loose rather than in a plastic-wrapped convenience pack). Like the butterfly effect, every little step makes a huge difference in the long run.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, History, Links to External Articles, Nature, Research, Science & Technology

Seasonal Changes: Advent’s Coming!

Life and all that jazz have been happening at a full stop here this past month: My husband, whose immune system is weakened by chemotherapy at the moment, caught the flu at work, and was down for nearly 2 weeks; though I managed to avoid it a week, it finally caught up with me and within a few days had dropped into my lungs (it’s not Covid-19 – I already know what that feels like!). So this month, I’ve been out of action except for coughing and sleepless nights. Ergo, no blogging. I haven’t had enough brainpower to think about any topic for more than a few minutes. I’m now on the mend, with a vaccination cure for bronchitis on the go. Now that I slowly have more energy returning, I’ve come out of that “zone” – that tunnel vision that focuses only on the most elemental priorities, like health – and realized that October is nearly over. Advent is on the way! [I know that, for Americans at least, Thanksgiving is in focus before Advent, though we don’t have that as a traditional festive day here.]

The last few days have been Indian summer here, so we’ve been getting ready for winter and seasonal changes. I’m taking advantage of the sunny balcony to spray paint crafts. I’m starting to think about advent calendars, stocking stuffers, and Samichlaussäckli. I’ve gone through my crafts inventory for the annual Christmas market, where I sell things, and I’ve planned the annual baking day with a friend to make things for our families as well as for selling at the market.

I’ve talked about how minimalistic most Swiss households are decorated, so I won’t have much preparation where that’s concerned. But one thing I do begin to prepare now is the advent calendar. Our advent calendar the past few years has been a decorative ribbon strung along a wall, with small Christmas stockings hung with numbered wooden clothes pegs. I’ve made the stockings (pictured below), and they can double as silverware holders on a decorative table at Christmas – that’s assuming we can have guests around that time, Covid notwithstanding. I’ve also made matching wine slip-coasters (shown) and matching wine charms to go with each glass’s stocking.

It’s getting harder to find good advent gifts; we have everything we need. Larger gifts go under the tree or in a larger stocking, but what are small gifts – about the size of a lip balm? Somehow, every year, I manage to find 12 each that are practical or fun: mini toiletry items, erasers, pens, fun magnets or post-its, small liqueurs for my husband (though this year, that’s a no-go due to chemo), rings or earrings, sampler perfumes or aftershaves and, of course, one individually-wrapped chocolate in each (something like Ferrero Rocher or Raffaello– something that won’t leak, like Mon Cheri).

In the midst of all that, as my energy returns, I’ve been sculpting the ending of my current manuscript (science fiction). That takes a level of mental focus that has been fleeting this month, so I try to catch it when I can and have the grace with my health situation not to stress when I can’t. When I can’t write, I at least have the energy to do something crafty.

While writing this, my curiosity has been building, so now come the questions to you!

Do you have an Advent calendar? If so, what’s it like? Do you have gifts, or simply opening doors with an image hiding behind them? If you have one with gifts, did you make it yourself or buy a store-bought themed calendar? Did you grow up with a culture of Advent calendars where you live/lived as a child? I did not, so I’ve thoroughly embraced the Swiss tradition, adding my own twist of stockings (which are not common here, though the idea is catching on slowly).

I’d love to read your answers in the comments below!

Happy preparation for the coming seasons!

10 Comments

Filed under Articles, Cartoon, Family History, Musings

Imagination is a Superpower

I’ve taught English as a foreign language for adults for years, from the age of 13 up until Covid put such gatherings on hold. I would often use some kind of exercise that allowed students to think outside of their normal lives, to stretch their vocabulary and to practice speaking and forming sentences outside of their comfort zone. I once had a nursing student, meeting as a semi-private student with another fellow nurse, who categorically refused to do any exercises requiring a make-believe scenario; she called herself a “realist”. Despite reasoning with her, or her friend asking her to participate so that she could learn more, she refused. I found it frustrating as a teacher, but I found it tragic as a writer and creative thinker.

Thinking outside of the box and thinking creatively stretches our brains in extraordinary ways; it promotes creative problem solving, allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment, and can help us view a situation from several different angles. By thinking into fictitious scenarios, we learn something about ourselves along the way – those things that make us tick, our strengths, or our weaknesses.

For years, I’ve collected interesting writing prompts whenever I’ve come across them; it’s going down the proverbial rabbit hole to follow leads on the internet, but because I’ve collected them willy-nilly, I can’t tell you exactly where they originated – it’s a common problem with online research, and as often as I can, I try to give proper credit to images that I use if they’re not my own; the people out there who offer their creative perspectives, photography talents, or Photoshop skills deserve credit where credit’s due. But it’s one reason that I don’t often share such prompts here, for those of you following who are also writers. Another reason is that there are enough sites out there stuffed to the gills with prompts. What I would like to do today is share an exercise in imagination.

Albert Einstein quotes run rampant on the internet; without a reference book to know what he actually said, I feel that many of them fall into this category:

Having said that, sometimes you can gather the essence of what he probably said by reading “diagonally” through the supposed quotes, and one such sentiment is that Einstein said something like, “Imagination is more important that knowledge; knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.” Mark Twain once wrote*, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” [* Excerpt from his Complete Works] (By the by, if you’d like more Mark Twain wit, I wrote an article about his views on Switzerland, and the German language – just click here.)

So here’s something to exercise your imagination with:

You have the choice between flight and invisibility; which do you choose and why? What will you do with this superpower?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below!

13 Comments

Filed under Articles, Humor, Images, Musings, Quotes, Research, Writing Exercise, Writing Prompt

Famous Last Words: Major General John Sedgwick

Killed in the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania by a sharpshooter, his ironic last words were:

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

Major General John Sedgwick; source, Wikipedia

3 Comments

Filed under History, History Undusted, Quotes, Snapshots in History