Yesterday was National Button Day, so here are some beans for you to brew while you unbutton your sweater and enjoy this very delightful sunny day.

Buttons - Flower, Shell, Black

1. What is a button? I like to think that it’s a conjunction—a small fastener and connector of various things. For the most part, it holds together two pieces of fabric as part of an article of clothing (think: cardigans, pants, jackets), but it’s much more versatile than that.

2. Buttons are usually made of plastic, but they can also be made of metal, wood, bone, or seashell. While we think of buttons primarily as clothes helpers, they can definitely function in so many other places, including various bags, specialty notebooks, and fabric-covered buttons.

3. From an archaeological perspective, buttons can be great sources of information. They can, for example, reveal the craftsmanship of people during a particular time; they can also identify materials present in a time period and practices of a society. What did people in Ancient Greece use buttons for?  How were buttons in China made a few thousand years ago?

4. From an artist’s point of view, buttons are great sources of creativity and skill. They can be used to create crafts and sculptures, among other things. [Aside: I found them to be great OUTLETS of creativity in high school. We wore uniforms, which I didn’t mind at all, but I did find a loophole in our school rules that allowed me a tiny bit of rebellious creativity: there was nothing in our agendas (where the uniform rules were posted) about the buttons on our cardigans.  Our shirts, kilts, pants, socks, and even undershirts had to be a particular colour, but there was nothing in the rulebook about buttons.  I was very proud of my flower buttons, in case you were wondering.]

5. The very first use of buttons weren’t even as fasteners at all. Buttons were primarily decorations for clothing (specifically) and cloth (more generally). The holes on most buttons stem from them being used to secure the button in place on the fabric.  The earliest button found from the Indus Valley Civilization (only about, oh, 5000 years ago) were made of shells and had a nice pearly colour/texture.  Of course, even people at this time would have appreciated creativity, which is why many ancient buttons are found in various geometric shapes.

6. Later on, buttons were used as seals. The patterns on them, like this one and this one from a dig in Harappa Town (part of the Indus Valley Civilization), would have communicated an idea, identified a household, or recognized a family.

7. It’s only much, much later, in the 1100s, that buttons became used as fasteners of clothing. They eventually became prevalent as fashions moved towards more tightly fitted clothes.

8. As small and innocuous as buttons seem to be, you need only use your imagination to think about what MIGHT be hidden in them. Well-fashioned buttons (that is, purposefully designed, though not necessarily aesthetically appealing) would be very convenient to transport important items without having to declare them, which would definitely benefit anyone, from drug aficionados to military strategists, and regular folk in between.

9. There are three ways of designating buttons based on how they attach fabric to fabric. When you think of a button, what do you see? Yes, a piece of plastic with (usually) four holes in the middle through which thread is passed to sew the button to the fabric.  These are called flat or sew-through buttons.  Very creative, I know.

10. Shank buttons are the ones that have no holes on the front portion but have a small protruding piece on the back through which the thread can pass. These types can be made of metal but are also often found covered in the same material as the fabric they are joining. These are great because you have this itty bitty bit of canvas that you can use to help visually enhance whatever it is you’re fastening.

11. Stud buttons are very cute (hahaha), but they are also called pressure buttons, so be careful (hahaha again). They are made of metal and push through the fabric to be caught on the other side by a rivet. Because they become “at one” with the fabric, they are much more secure than the other two types.  This means, too, that they are difficult to remove without damaging the fabric to which they are joined in holy craftsmanship.  You’ve probably got these on your jeans.  Go look.

12. There are so many other types of buttons, some of which are really beautiful. Mandarin buttons and Dorset buttons are two of my favourites. Slate has a great article on the history of the button that you might want to read; it has some awesome pictures, too.  Did you know that George Washington was the first person to politicize buttons?  In the 1770s, it was easy to determine a person’s political slant just by looking down at his pants.  By the way, did you know there’s a National Button Society?  Yup.

[From the mixed-up files of: “Harappa.com”, “Campaign Button”, “The Button: A Visual History of the World’s Sexiest Fastening”, and “National Button Society”.]

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day

Every year, we observe and celebrate Remembrance Day, but what else do you know about this important day?  Here are some beans for you to brew about November 11.

1. Remembrance Day was first celebrated in 1919 by King George V.  It is observed by Commonwealth nations—countries that were mostly territories of the former British Empire that are united by language, culture, and, of course, history—though non-Commonwealth countries also have their own observances and traditions.  Canada, Australia, and many other nations join England in remembering fallen soldiers of World War I and wars thereafter.

2. The number of significance is 11.  At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we hold a moment of silence, and we remember the men and women who have died in the line of duty.  This date and time is significant because it was when hostilities between the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance formally stopped.  November 11 used to be called Armistice Day to mark the agreement between the Allies and Germany to end WWI.

3. World War One officially ended on 28 June 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France.

4. The poppy became associated with Remembrance Day thanks to “In Flanders Fields“, a poem by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.  He wrote it on 3 May 1915 after the funeral of his friend and fellow soldier.  The poem was first published in December of the same year.  Red poppies grew in Flanders Fields, but because of their striking colour against the landscape, they also became symbolic of the blood of fallen soldiers.

5. Canadians have been wearing poppies since 1921.  Poppies should be worn on the left lapel, which is closest to the heart.  The pins they come with should not be replaced by safety pins or earrings, but a Canadian flag pin is welcome.  Ultimately, it is better to wear a poppy with a substitute pin than to not wear one at all.  You can wear however many poppies you want, but they should be taken off and placed at a grave or memorial site after November 11.  This was the original intent of the Royal Canadian Legion when they began their Poppy Campaign.

6. Donations in exchange for poppies help the Legion provide financial assistance to the Canadian Armed Forces (both active and former members and their families).  This assistance can be in the form of food, clothing, prescription medication, medical equipment, emergency shelter and assistance, housing and care facilities, and transportation.  The Poppy Campaign raises $14 000 000 each year from selling about 18 000 000 poppies.

[From the mixed-up files of: “Legion”, “In Flanders Fields”, “Six Rules of Poppy Protocol for Remembrance Day”, “Remembrance Day”, and “The Poppy, Symbol of Remembrance”.]

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

One of the most beautiful and colourful celebrations of the year is coming up, so I thought I’d give you beans to brew some background information on Diwali/Deepavali.

Diwali - Festival of Lights

1. “Diwali” is a combination of the Sanskrit words dipa “light” or “lamp”, and avali “row”, “line”, or “series”.  Because of its etymology, Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights.  Although in English it is most commonly spelled as Diwali, it has various spellings and pronunciations among the people who celebrate this holiday.

2. The origins of Diwali differ according to the various regions and faiths that celebrate it, but they all hold similar the foundations of happiness and light.  For some, Diwali began as a harvest festival in India to mark the last harvest before winter; the lanterns lit during the festival represent the sun, the giver of life.  For others, the festival honours the triumph of good over evil, right over wrong, and knowledge over ignorance; this stems from the legend of Lord Rama and his wife, Sita, who returned home after defeating a demon king called Ravanna.  And then there are those who continue the ancient tradition of looking to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for financial blessings and continued success in the new year; the day after Diwali is considered the first day of the financial new year.

3. On the same night that Hindus commemorate the defeat of Ravanna by Lord Rama and Sita, Jains celebrate the attainment of moksha “release” of Lord Mahavira, the last tirthankara “teacher” who preached dharma “righteous path”, and Sikhs mark the release of Guru Hargobind Ji and 52 other princes from prison through the festival of Bandi Chhor Divas, “Prisoners’ Release Day”.  With all these celebrations, it’s only fitting that Diwali is one of the biggest and most important days of the year, not only in India, but throughout the world.

4. Diwali is an official holiday in many countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.  It is not a nationwide public holiday in Canada, the United States, or England (among other countries), but it is widely celebrated across these nations, in both small towns and large metropoles.

5. As with all holidays, there are various ways of celebrating Diwali.  Some Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfits—women wear fine silk and jewellery and decorate their hands with mehndi “henna”.  Many households light lamps (inside and outside the home) and have a presentation of fireworks or sparklers.  People enjoy participating in puja “prayers”, after which they indulge in a huge family feast (including lots of mithai “sweets”) and gift giving.

6. There are Five Days of Diwali, but the various regions that celebrate them have different names and even different ways of marking each day.  There are similarities across the board, however, and, of course, there are the unifying themes of happiness, togetherness, and light amongst all the varieties.

Diwali - Five Days

Do you celebrate Diwali?  Let me know what some of your traditions are!

[From the mixed-up files of: “Diwali”, “Diwali/Deepavali in Canada”, “Diwali – Nat’l Geo”, “Top 10 Greetings to Wish Your Loved Ones”, “Five Brilliant Days of Diwali, the Glittering Festival of Lights”, “Diwali – BBC”, “Different Days of the Diwali Festival”, and “What is Diwali 2015?”]



We’ve been having some very unseasonal weather lately, so, naturally, other unseasonal things have popped up, too.  Here are some beans about those pretty and fierce ladybugs that have been roaming about the city this past week.

Ladybugs - DKPCOFGS

1. Ladybugs are not bugs at all.  They don’t have that straw-shaped, beak-like mouthpart that true bugs use to suck out sap or blood from plants and people, respectively.  This is why most entomologists prefer to call them lady beetles or ladybirds.

2. Despite lacking those bug beaks, lady beetles bite.  And those bites hurt.  In my experience, they’re usually pretty docile, but just keep in mind that they won’t hesitate to bite you if you’re honing in on their territories.  They feed as soon as they are born, so if you’ve been bitten, maybe the baby ladies just found you too delicious to pass up.

3. Farmers HEART ladybugs big time.  That’s because these ladies enjoy devouring meals of plant-eating insects that damage crops.  Aphids, in particular, which find plants delicious, are, in turn, quite delicious to lady beetles.

4. Each specific kind of ladybug has its own specific colour and dot pattern, which are supposed to encourage predators to look away.  Some unfortunate predator at the dawn of time must have eaten the very unpalatable ladybug and spread it through the grapevine that these dome-shaped, winged, speckled specks are very untasty [thanks to fluid secreted from their leg joints] and not worth the predator’s efforts.  Even now, big bugs refrain from eating ladybugs by recognizing their spots.  Yay for spots.

5. All ladybugs also sometimes secrete their yellow blood when they get stressed out.  This blood can stain walls and clothing, but, even worse, it smells really bad.  Clearly, ladybugs are not good to eat or smell … they’re really just eye candy, now that I think about it.

Ladybug - Classroom 1

6. There are about 5000 different species that can live almost anywhere in the world that does not suffer from extremely cold temperatures.  During the winter, ladybugs hibernate.  So this mild start to November has effectively awakened them, who tend to live in groups, by the way, and they’ve been enjoying the sunshine and shorts-and-t-shirt weather just as much as we have.

7. Ladybug spots and domes come in all colours – not just black on red – and some have no spots at all.  They only live for about a year, and they neither increase nor decrease their number of spots over their lifetimes.

8. Boy ladybugs are also called ladybugs.  Life is funny that way.

Ladybug - Classroom 2

[From the mixed-up files of: “Ladybug – Animal Facts”, “Coccinellidae”, “Ladybug Life Cycle”“Hippodamia Convergens”, and “True Bugs”.]

National Sandwich Day

National Sandwich Day

November 3 has been deemed National Sandwich Day, so here are some beans for you to brew …

Where does the word “sandwich” come from?  Well, its eponym is a historic town in southeastern England (in the county of Kent).  The story goes that the fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague (no relation to Romeo), loved playing cards so much that he didn’t want to stop not even for a bite of lunch.  So rather than putting down his cards or getting his hands messy, he ordered his servants to slap together two slices of bread with some meat and cheese in between them.  The portability of this new serving style made it possible for him to eat with one hand while continuing his game with the other.  Montague’s “invention” became so popular with his friends that it got passed around and, well, it couldn’t help but adopt the moniker of its hometown.

Grilled Cheese & Mushrooms

[Aside: The title of earl, which signifies someone as a member of the nobility, is akin to the Scandinavian word jarl “chieftain”.  An earl is simply someone who rules a bit of territory in place of the monarch.  If you know this awesome cheese (which I love to make grilled-cheese sandwiches with) called Jarlsberg, well it’s your lucky day because you’re about to get a morpheme AND geography lesson all in one.  The name of the cheese comes from the name of the countship of Jarlsberg, Norway.  And the name of this countship comes from jarl “earl” and berg “hill; mountain”.  The town of Sandwich, meanwhile, comes from sand “sand; sandy” and wic “dwelling place; town; harbour” … and it only makes sense, for it is right on the coast.  This aside is making me hungry.]

So, we can’t really credit Montague with the invention of the sandwich though because people have been eating bread, meat, cheese, and veggies together for thousands of years before he came along with his gambling ways.  Think about it for a moment: before the awesomeness of being able to freeze bread before we need to eat it, or to store loaves in plastic bags to keep air and moisture out, people had no choice but to eat the whole baked goodness right away lest it go stale.  Stale bread that’s as hard as plastic would make excellent plates (that would then go on to feed the animals)!  I digress.  Even though Montague wasn’t the first guy to put his ingredients together, he certainly paved the way for students all over the world who now grow up toting bags of sandwiches every single day.

I love grilled-cheese-and-mushrooms and eggplant-parmigiana sandwiches.  But if you want to know the sandwich way to my heart, it’s a hot and buttery lobster roll.  Okay, I really need to start writing these posts after a nice meal.  What’s your favourite sandwich?

Lobster Roll

[From the mixed-up files of: “History of the Sandwich”, “Sandwich, Kent”, and “Jarlsberg Cheese”.]