January 31, 2013

My parents' birthdays

My parents were born one year and five days apart. They both celebrated their birthdays in the past week. When I was a kid I thought people could only get married if they had birthdays in the same week.

My dad's birthday was last Friday. He always has the same birthday cake, a chocolate sponge cake filled with cocoa-flavored whipped cream and topped with semisweet chocolate icing and powdered sugar glaze. More information on this cake can be found on my mom's blog, Cats From Mars.

My dad's birthday cake: credits to Cats From Mars

My mom's birthday was yesterday. For the past few years she has had an oatmeal cake. (However, I remember her having other cakes as well.) This cake is well-liked and always gets eaten up quickly.

My mom's birthday cake: credits to Cats From Mars
The most entertaining part of my parents' birthday week is seeing the cards they make for each other. My mom, who makes cards out of vintage materials (this can be seen on Cats From Mars), usually makes a birthday card for my dad pertaining to a certain theme. My dad then finds humorous images relating to that theme and makes my mom a card on the computer with those images. The theme is usually animal-related; this time, it was horses.

My dad's birthday card: credits to Cats From Mars
Five days later, my dad gave my mom a card that included pictures of runaway horses. It is always amusing to celebrate my parents' birthdays, and I will definitely miss being there for their birthdays when I am away at college next year.

January 27, 2013


A quinceañera is a Latina girl's traditional fifteenth birthday celebration. The word comes from the Spanish words quince (fifteen) and año (year.) It symbolizes the girl's transition from childhood to womanhood and the renewal of her faith. Quinceañeras are celebrated in many parts of Latin America, particularly Mexico. Latina girls in the United States often have quinceañeras as well. Quinceañera traditions vary from place to place.

The tradition is believed to go back to the Aztecs. Aztec girls were not considered to be a part of society until around age fifteen, when they prepared for marriage. Older women in the community taught women's tasks to young girls. Once the preparation was complete, a coming-of-age ceremony would take place. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought Christianity to the indigenous people. Over time, a Christian aspect was added to the coming-of-age ceremony.

Preparations for a quinceañera often begin months in advance. The girl (who is known as a quinceañera herself) must select her damas and chambelanes (girls and boys, typically friends or relatives, who will accompany her during the ceremony) and rehearse for the traditional dances. A girl traditionally has fourteen damas and fifteen chambelanes (one chambelan is her personal escort,) each dama representing one year of her life. However, some girls choose to have only damas or only chambelanes. Sometimes a girl takes classes at her church dealing with her faith and her relationship with God, according to therosedress.com. A hall must be rented, guests must be invited, a dress must be bought, and the menu must be planned. Quinceañeras are typically very expensive.

There are two parts to a quinceañera, the Mass and the reception. The Mass is known as Misa de Accion de Gracias (thanksgiving Mass.) The girl wears a full-length dress. It is usually white or pastel-colored. At the beginning of the Mass, the quinceañera walks up the aisle escorted by her parents and padrinos (godparents) and followed by her court (the damas and chambelanes.) The quinceañera sits or kneels on a pillow in front of the altar. The priest blesses her gifts and gives a sermon on faith and the girl's new role as a woman in her church community. The girl renews her baptismal vows, gives thanks for fifteen years of life,  and receives gifts, including a tiara, a scepter, a Bible, and jewelry. The tiara symbolizes the fact that the girl is a princess before God. The scepter symbolizes authority and responsibility. At the end of the Mass the girl places a bouquet on the altar to honor the Virgin Mary and younger family members pass out bolos (favors) to the congregation. The court then attends a photo session.

A Quinceañera Mass: credits to Wikipedia
 At the beginning of the reception, the Changing of the Shoes takes place. The birthday girl sits in a chair and her mother or father removes her flat shoes and puts on her high heels, symbolizing her transition into womanhood. She then waltzes with her father.

The vals (waltz) is a very important part of the reception. It begins with the birthday girl dancing with her father. She then dances with her chambelan escort and is eventually joined by her entire court. The court practices the vals for months prior to the quinceañera. Another popular tradition is the presentation of la ultima muñeca (the last doll.) The doll often wears a tiny version of the birthday girl's dress and represents the end of childhood. Sometimes the quinceañera gives the doll to a younger girl in the family; sometimes she keeps it.

The reception is typically a lavish celebration. There is a multi-layered cake that is often decorated in the color of the girl's dress. The quinceañera's father gives a brindis (toast) to his daughter. Then the fifteen candles on the cake are lit. Sometimes each candle is lit by a different guest. Quinceañeras are celebrated differently in different places, but no matter what, a quinceañera is a birthday that a girl will never forget.

Birthday shoutouts to Mom

January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a pastor. King Jr. was very intelligent and graduated from high school at age fifteen. He studied at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1955. By then he was the pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He married Coretta Scott, a woman he had met while in Boston.

King Jr. had always been concerned with civil rights. He became a member of the executive committee for the NAACP and led a boycott of the segregated Montgomery bus system that lasted over a year and led to the desegregation of the bus system. In 1957, King Jr. became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that took its ideas from Christianity. He spent the next eleven years traveling and speaking to promote civil rights. He led the March on Washington in 1963, during which he gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech during the March on Washington: credits to aphelis.net
 He supported non-violence and used civil disobedience to get his message across. He was arrested many times. King Jr wrote five books, was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963, and became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He donated his prize money to the civil rights movement. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated, shocking the nation.

Four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., an African-American Democratic congressman from Michigan named John Conyers proposed a bill that would declare January 15 a federal holiday in King Jr.'s memory. The bill was met with resistance in Congress, but Conyers re-introduced it at each new legislative session. In the 1970s, cities, beginning with New York City and St. Louis, began commemorating King Jr.'s birthday. In 1974, Illinois was the first state to celebrate MLK Day as a state holiday. In 1981, Stevie Wonder released a song, "Happy Birthday," to support the idea of a federal holiday honoring MLK Jr. Wonder and Coretta Scott King presented a petition with six million signatures supporting the federal holiday to Congress the following year. Congress passed the holiday bill in 1983. The date was moved from January 15 to the third Monday of January. President Reagan signed the bill, and the federal holiday went into effect in 1986. However, Arizona boycotted MLK Day until 1992, and it was not until the following year that it was recognized as a state holiday in all fifty states.

MLK Day can be celebrated in many ways. Some schools get the day off. Other schools teach children about Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he helped our nation. Some people like to participate in service projects on MLK day. Information on these projects can be found at mlkday.gov. "A day on, not a day off" is a common saying, according to this website.

Today was a particularly special Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as it was also the day of President Obama's second inauguration. People gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King Jr. and his father had served as pastors, to celebrate MLK Day. King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice, made an appearance at the service. The congregation was invited to watch the inauguration on a big-screen TV. However, they insisted on singing "We Shall Overcome" to honor MLK Jr. first. In Washington, President Obama took the oath on two Bibles - one that had been used by Martin Luther King, Jr., and one that had been used by Abraham Lincoln. He considered it a great privilege, according to the Huffington Post.

Birthday shoutouts to Dad and Josiah

January 13, 2013

Mswati III: a controversial monarch

His Majesty King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland was born on April 19, 1968 to Inkhosikati Ntombi Tfwala, the youngest Emakhosikati (wife) of King Sobhuza II. Several months later, Swaziland won independence from Britain and Sobhuza II became head of state. As a child, Mswati III was very energetic and was so fascinated by marching and drilling that he wanted to become a member of the Royal Guard at age five. The Prince loved hunting and herding cattle. He excelled academically as well as in his military training. He attended university in England and traveled around Europe during his free time. After completing his education in 1986, four years after the death of his father, Mswati III ascended the throne.

Mswati III in 2012: credits to telegraph.co.uk
Mswati III is Africa's last absolute monarch. He opposes using violence to settle disputes between nations and has worked to combat drug trafficking and terrorism. He has thirteen Emakhosikati, several whom participate in charities. Inkhosikati LaMbikiza founded the Lusito Charity Organisation, which pays for medical treatment for Swazi children whose parents cannot afford their medical bills.

However, His Majesty Mswati III is very controversial. Forbes magazine ranked him as one of the world's richest monarchs several years ago. Each of his wives has her own palace. Every year, a lavish celebration is hosted by a region of Swaziland for His Majesty's birthday. Cows are slaughtered for a mass feast and there is traditional music and dancing. In 2008 the party was a celebration of two milestones: His Majesty's 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland's independence. The only year the party was cancelled was 2011, when Swaziland was suffering from an economic crisis.

Mswati III's subjects are poor. Two-thirds of Swazi people make less than the equivalent of $1 a day. Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world. Unemployment is high and life expectancy is low. Many believe that it is inconsiderate for His Majesty to celebrate his birthday with such an expensive party while so many of his people suffer. A new stadium built for His Majesty's 40th birthday celebration sparked protests.

His Majesty's most recent birthday celebration was especially controversial. It took place in the Shiselweni region, the second poorest region in Swaziland. Mswati III ordered the region's chiefs to provide cattle for his birthday celebration. Swazi citizens were asked to contribute to funding the celebration. The banned opposition group People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) urged His Majesty to cancel his 44th birthday celebration. The country was still recovering from the economic crisis and many people could hardly afford to feed themselves, let alone fund the King's extravagant feast.

Mswati III received a private luxury jet complete with a lounge, a telephone, WiFi, and Blu-Ray for his 44th birthday. Swaziland's government's spokesman stated that the jet was a gift from "development partners and friends of the King" who preferred to remain anonymous, according to allafrica.com. PUDEMO has doubts that any development agency would be able to afford such a purchase and believes that no development agency would wish to remain anonymous. The banned opposition group fears that taxpayer money may have been used to purchase the jet. Another group, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, believes that the King had already owned the jet for some time before his birthday.

Birthday shoutouts to Maddy

January 6, 2013

Half birthdays

Since my half birthday is tomorrow, I am doing my first feature post on half birthdays. One's half birthday is exactly six months after one's birthday. I have been interested in the concept of a half birthday since I was a little kid. My dad used to make me cupcakes on January 7th every year. From ages five to eight I made sure to not only announce my birthday and half birthday, but every month in between. For example, on August 7th I would say "It's my one-twelfth birthday," and a month later I would say "It's my one-sixth birthday." I no longer make these monthly announcements, except on my birthday and my half birthday.

My dad made me cupcakes when I was 51/2!
 I always try to wish family members and classmates a happy half six months after their birthday. Sometimes the half birthday person nods in acknowledgment, sometimes he or she looks surprised. He or she is always flattered. Some people remember their own half birthdays; some people don't. No matter what, wishing someone a happy half is always a way to brighten one's day. If someone wants to take half birthday acknowledgment beyond saying "happy half," trendy concepts include giving the half birthday person half of a birthday card or half of a cupcake.

Half birthday shoutouts to myself, Paige, and Nick
Feature posts will include half birthday shoutouts for the coming week!

King Norodom Sihamoni's Birthday

Cambodians celebrate many holidays. There are 18 public holidays in Cambodia, which is officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia. Several of these holidays, including the King's Birthday, take place over the course of three days. Many people celebrate Christmas, though that is not an official holiday in Cambodia. Public holidays include Buddhist holidays, the King's Birthday and birthdays of former monarchs, the celebration of Cambodia's independence from France, and many others. A list of all Cambodian public holidays can be found at flightpedia.org. According to thediplomat.com, many Cambodians live in poverty, and holidays are considered a form of empowerment.

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni was born on May 14, 1953. He has ruled since his father's abdication in 2005. Prior to becoming King, he worked as a ballet instructor and a cultural ambassador. He spent many years living in foreign countries, speaks four languages, and has worked to promote Cambodian culture internationally.

The public holiday for His Majesty's birthday takes place over the course of three days, usually beginning the day before the King's birthday and ending the day after, unless His Majesty's birthday falls on a weekend. It is considered to be a rather low-key celebration in comparison to other Cambodian holidays, for example Pchum Ben, a religious holiday, and the Water Festival, which celebrates the end of the monsoon season.

During the three-day holiday, almost all offices, businesses, and government buildings are closed. Cambodians get three days off work. Buildings are decorated with colorful lights. Government buildings display portraits of the King. People raise the national flag from their homes. Some people use their time off to visit with family or to travel. Many people give parties on the evening of the King's birthday. The biggest celebration takes place on the river in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Fireworks are launched on the riverbank and are reflected in the river. Tourism is Cambodia's second-biggest industry, and many foreign tourists visit Cambodia for the King's birthday as well as other holidays, fascinated by the country's festivities, religious fervor, culture, and history.

 The King's father, Former HM King Norodom Sihanouk, ruled from 1939 to 2005 and was very popular with his people. His birthday, October 31, has been celebrated as a public holiday even after his abdication; however, this may no longer be the case, as he recently passed away. The Cambodians have deep affection for the current King's mother, who is known as the Queen Mother. Her birthday, June 18, is also celebrated as a public holiday. However, the former Queen's birthday is a minor holiday.

Birthday shoutouts to Emily and Luke