Thursday, December 29, 2011

"One if By Land, Two if By Sea," is not code for "I'm pregnant with twins."

My mom tries to constantly remind me that not everyone has a degree in history like I do. This usually comes after I yell at someone on Jeopardy for giving such a blatantly wrong answer (Abraham Lincoln did not sign the Declaration of Independence, Queen Victoria didn't sponsor Christopher Columbus on his expedition etc.) I think I'm pretty good at remembering that not everyone studied my favorite subject. I'm the first one to admit that I don't know as much about history as I probably should. But, I do expect people to have some sort of basic familiarity with history. This leads me to my story...

I bought a cute, new shirt a few days ago at Old Navy. It's a red and navy striped shirt that says, "One if By Land, Two if By Sea." A nautical design and a historical theme, how can you go wrong with that? You can't! I had a bunch of errands to run today and I thought it would be the perfect time to debut my new, nautical, nerdy shirt. One of the many stops on my itinerary was Starbucks. (shocker) I reached the front of the line and the barista at the register read my shirt. Then the following conversation took place:

Barista: "What does your shirt say?"
Me: "One if By Land, Two if By Sea."
Barista: "Is that about babies?"
Me: "No ?!?" ( Thinking, "What the fudge?")
        "It's from the Revolutionary War." (Now I'm starting to think that means my shirt makes me look pregnant.)
Barista: "I don't get it."
Barista 2: "It's a war saying."
Me: "It's how the colonists planned to signal to each other. If the British were coming by land they were going to hang one lantern in the church. If they came by sea -" (I was cut off)
Barista: "Oh I thought it was about twins. I have twins. Like a one for two thing... I didn't get it."
Barista 2: "Can you just give her, her coffee? This lady wants to leave."

I walked away from the counter and stood by the bar to wait for my drink. What just happened? Why wasn't anyone else there with me to witness this? Did I really just have to explain that a famous, historical, American phrase was not about babies? Why didn't the phrase sound even remotely familiar to this lady? I didn't expect her to say anything about Paul Revere, Boston, Old North Church, how many lanterns there were, Lexington and Concord, militia ... but a vague understanding would have been good with me. I'm sure if she had asked me if the shirt was about pirates, Jack Sparrow, or even the Loch Ness Monster I probably would have given her a bit of a stink face but golly, that would have been closer than babies! Babies?! Holy Smokes! That barista should have let me finish with my history lesson. She could have used a refresher course with JHistory Girl!

(No babies!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas in My Home Town + Christmas Carol Remix

I was fortunate enough to fly back to Colorado and visit my dad and stepmom during our school's fall break this year. Smog-free air, crisp temperatures and wild animals roaming about made up the perfect setting for a great week with my family. The trip started out with a surprise limo ride to the airport, complete with Michael Jackson music already playing when I climbed inside. Once in Colorado, there were fires in the fireplace and ATV rides around the property. There was also plenty of shopping, conversation, and relaxation. I couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving holiday!

At the start of my trip, I left California in full Thanksgiving mode. When I returned from Colorado on Black Friday it was already beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie-cinnamon rolls greeted me at the door. And once I had recovered from my exhausting travels, the Christmas carols began to hum and the decorations went up.

As they do every year, the Christmas lights around my neighborhood encourage me to go for walks/runs at night. Seeing the houses lit up, helps to take a little sting out of what sometimes feels like the chore of working out. And I need all the work outs I can get, so as to negate some of the calories I take in due to my fierce eggnog habit.

In the spirit of the season, I've decided to remix a classic Christmas melody- J.History Girl Style! I present to you J. History Girl's "The 12 Days of Christmas," enjoy! :

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
12 Dirty Diana tees
11 Pretty Paintbrushes
10 Lights a Glowing
9 Seasonal Lattes Brewing
8 Mugs of Eggnog
7 Sweet Sweaters!
6 Great Artifacts
5 Bedazzled Rings!
4 Candy Canes
3 French Christmas Carols
2 History Books
 and a Sparkley Christmas Tree

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dean Cain Might Be The Solution!

I recently rented one of my favorite childhood shows, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The other day I came across a Christmas episode from the final season. The villain in the story wanted to rule the world, and in order to seize power he needed to eliminate hope. This villain from another dimension set the world in a time loop of only a few hours. Every time the loop started over, the world became more and more hopeless. With each loop the Christmas tree got smaller, the evening news grew more depressing, and the characters became increasingly apathetic.

 I've been thinking about that episode a lot. Its always funny to me how certain songs, books or television shows find you at the right time. They mirror what you've been experiencing and provide a little bit of comfort, demonstrating that you aren't the only one to have ever thought or felt a certain way. There's also a bit of comfort in the divine way that the piece finds you at the right time.

So lately at work I've been recalling that Christmas episode (and not just because I love Dean Cain so much.) This feeling of apathy, hopelessness, and frustration may even stretch outside the walls of work.  The office just seems to almost be a petri dish of this moody aura. Perhaps I'm simply projecting my own low morale and frustration. As much as I try, my approach to a task is never "right." As much as I want to voice my opinion, I know it will only go unheard by the same person(s) who won't even look me in the eye. I follow the rules and the rules aren't even respected by those who are supposed to enforce them.
And just from doing my job, I get assigned some nasty nicknames.

I'm hopeful the tide will change toward a brighter outlook. I just hope that I don't have to wait for Dean Cain to swoop in and save my version of the Daily Planet. Don't get me wrong, that would definitely do the trick!!! But, I'm sure I'd be waiting for awhile.... I mean the odds of that happening are pretty low, I know.... but stranger things have happened, right?.... I mean you never know when he might have car trouble outside of my office...... ya, have car trouble and then start a Christmas sing along, like in that episode I was describing?..... No, that probably won't happen.... Whatever, it's cool. :) Things will likely shift back to the positive on their own .................. (My fingers are still secretly crossed for the Dean Cain method of solving this situation though. Most situations can be improved with a little Dean Cain!)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

There once was a J.History Girl who loved autumn...

There once was a J.History Girl who loved autumn........ The leaves on the ground, the spooky decorations and the cozy drinks are just a small portion of what makes the season so special.

My fall adventures started with a trip to Disneyland at Halloween Time with my sister. Main Street was decorated with orange and red foliage as well as a giant Mickey Mouse Jack-O-Lantern. The Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain were in the festive spirit too. Earthly spirits (from "when two holidays collide") had taken over in the mansion and galactic ghosts were in full force in outer space. Carved pumpkins with Disney characters were on display in Big Thunder Ranch, leaving me in awe and anxious to get to work on some pumpkins myself. A trip to Disneyland always works its magic and sparks some artistic inspiration in me. Holidays at the park are no different and seem to excite me even more.

Following our trip to Disneyland, we had plans to visit the local pumpkin patch. Its one of my favorite places to go. I've been visiting this patch since I was little. It helps bring me back to the days when everything was seemingly perfect. On this year's trip, we picked up a handful of large carve-worthy pumpkins and a number of tiny ones too.

My purpose in snatching up an armful of mini pumpkins was to make small decorations/presents for my coworkers in the front office at school. A couple of years ago, my friend Cassidy, hosted a Twilight viewing party. She gave her guests favors: mini pumpkins with ribbon tied around the stalk, and individualized with names written on the front. Because I loved the favor so much, I stole the idea and recreated them for my friends at work. I've received many compliments on them! (Thanks, Cassidy!!!!)They really add an extra special touch to the room!

I'm working on a creative project but, I'm looking forward to starting new sketches and paintings. Because I haven't worked on fresh projects in awhile, I felt I needed to get my hand (and eyes) back into practice. Last week after work, I brought my sketchbook to the pumpkin patch, plopped down on a bale of hay and sketched in the cool, crisp air. My artistic work from that day wasn't so hot but, I had a great time nonetheless.

At home, the decorations have been strategically placed. The Halloween costumes have been selected; (I have two.) And I'm loving this new drink that I stole from a magazine. It is ridiculously simple and equally delicious: Baileys in a chilled martini glass, sprinkled with pumpkin pie spice. Yummy! So as the rest of the Halloween season marches forward, I'm going to sip my new drink, enjoy my favorite three months of the year and search for the perfect design for my jack-o-lantern!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Genealogy Project

I started working on my genealogy project a number of years ago for a school assignment. Ever since then I've been taking advantage of free offers and picking the brains of my family members. Each year I learned a handful of new facts that I could use to fill in the branches of my family tree.

This year however, I hit the genealogy jackpot! I discovered that some of my grandmother's cousins were in possession of a book, published in 1862 and dedicated to the history of one of our family lines. After months of pestering this poor relative whom I had never met, he agreed to meet me and let me borrow True Genealogy of the Dunnel and Dwinnell Family. As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I was positively giddy with the idea of being able to read and handle this document. We met at my home away from home, Starbucks, and flipped through pages of this amazing piece of history. I felt as if I were on my own episode of Who Do You Think You Are.

I took the book home, got my gloves out and began scanning in the 82 pages. I did a lot of my scanning late at night. I read along as I scanned and when I came across something that gave me history goose bumps I just had to send my family members an email about the latest discovery. They received many an email from me, time- stamped way past one in the morning, rambling on in a delirious, gobsmacked state about so and so who fought in this army or died in this strange way.

I was delighted to learn that the Dwinnel Family were among the first settlers of Topsfield, Massachusetts. I was ecstatic to see that my ancestors were in America far before the French and Indian War. My super great grandfather born in 1670, was noted as the town's first "physician and chirugeion."  I was amazed to think about not only how long they've been in this country and their numerous accomplishments but, all of the amazing historical events that they were around for and had experienced first-hand.

Having access to this book meant that I had more information which I could use to search for even more family members. In such a search I was able to learn that two of the women in my family were hanged in the Salem Witch Trials. My direct ancestor Mary Towne Estes, and her sister, Rebecca Nurse, were both victims of the hysteria; something I wish I had known a few years earlier when I visited Salem.

Some family lines have been easier to trace than others. The family of my maternal grandfather has proven to be quite the mysterious bunch. I've been able to find such little information on them. I've struggled across the various lines over family members using middle names instead of first names as well as contradictions in records versus what relatives have told me.

I've learned a couple fundamental things this year in my quest to learn about who I come from. The first is the importance of staying organized! A good, solid spreadsheet can be your best friend. And it is so helpful in terms of keeping relationships straight, quick references and making notes. The second is to take advantage of local historical societies and libraries. If you're having trouble finding a document, reach out to one of them! I've found that they have access to a variety of information. And if they are unable to help, they may be able to put you in touch with someone they think may be of assistance.

Many thanks go to my various family members past and present, for having provided me with hints and facts about where we come from. I'm also grateful to them for their colorful, interesting lives, regardless of whether or not they were of good or poor character, for they are my family, my blood and my history!

Special thanks to Henry Gale Dunnel, MD for doing much of the work for me and leaving behind an incredible wealth of information. I wouldn't have been able to do it with out you- especially since our family spelled Dwinnel/ Dunnel about twenty different ways!

"Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind!" - Lilo and Stitch (That's one of my favorite quotes of all time!!!!!)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Is it Summer or Fall? I'm Confused.

Its Labor Day weekend and I'm so pleased to have had an extra day off from work. On the news these past few days, they have repeatedly mentioned that this weekend marks the unofficial end to summer. However we still have about another two weeks before the actual end of the season. While we are all in a holding pattern in the wait for fall, I've been feeling as though I've been in this liminal position between seasons since the first of August.

At the beginning of the eighth month, I returned back to work in preparation for a new school year. The perks of summer were over and I was back to making my lunch and setting my alarm every night. This while people in my circle were still sleeping in and on vacation. I traded late nights, swimming and middle of the day visits with friends for new copy machines, GATE results and registrations.

The approach of fall has been evident in stores for awhile with the endless aisles of "Back to School" supplies. It was even present in my backyard with the fallen leaves everywhere needing to be raked and disposed of. Those leaves never stop coming! I've already received a few notes in the mail about Halloween Time at Disneyland. And fall decor has begun to make its way onto store shelves once again.

Meanwhile here in Southern California, it is still hot enough to wear tank tops and flip flops everywhere. On weekends I do my best to maintain my tan (tan for a freckly Irish girl,) that I achieved for my friend's wedding in July. And at night all the windows in the house are open and the fans are put to work.

Now school is back in session. The phones are constantly ringing, the tardy slips are being written and the health office is seldom empty. I already miss the ease of summer. I'm still finishing up my summer reading selection, still listening to the songs that became my soundtrack for the season and still laying on the chaise in the backyard.

While the ease of summer reading and music is still something that I'm trying to hold onto with a firm grasp, I'm slightly anxious for it to actually be autumn. I can't wait to wear a sweater outside and not die from heat exhaustion. I can't wait for the local pumpkin patch to open, to buy a Halloween costume for my dog and to walk down the street and hear the crunch of leaves below my feet. And although most people like to say that we don't have seasons in California, we So. Cal. girls have a terrific way of determining the change of seasons: The Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. When that arrives you know that fall is here and that I'm in autumnal heaven.

Long story short, I haven't decided whether or not it's more summer or fall right now. My entire summer was great: NKOTBSB concert, family fun at the Hollywood Bowl, a good book, and a great friend's wedding. While the relaxation is over and the temperatures are quite unpleasant, I'm eagerly awaiting : picking out pumpkins with friends, snuggly sweaters and the excitement over upcoming holidays.

My Summer Books:
El Dorado by Baroness Orczy (The sequel to The Scarlet Pimpernel)
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (I'm about 150 pages from the end but, I love, love, love this book!!!!)

My Summer Soundtrack:
Don't Turn Out the Lights- NKOTBSB
Paris (Oh La La) - Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Hot Summer Night- Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Pause (Zumba Mix)- Pitbull
Run the World (Girls) - Beyonce
Streetwalker- Michael Jackson
Moves Like Jagger- Maroon 5

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thinking About La Gioconda (The Mona Lisa)

My aunt was traveling around Europe this week and visiting some of my favorite historical sites. As she posted pictures and announced which great museum she was onto next, I was at home and back to work from summer vacation. Up popped a picture on my computer from her, the camera gazing up at the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, I was answering phone calls from concerned parents and checking students for lice in the health office.

The best thing I could to do as I slipped away on my lunch break, a 45 minute vacation from my day, was to pretend that I too was in one of the most interesting and historically rich cities in the world. In 2009, I was fortunate enough to go on a field research trip with my university's history department. The first stop on that trip was to Paris. We hit all of the must- sees: Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and of course, the Louvre! I was so excited for the Louvre!

Part of our responsibilities on the trip was to prepare a short presentation about something we'd be visiting. My friend talked about the Arc de Triomphe. Another person discussed the Battle of Waterloo as we sat atop the battle's monument. My presentation was on the Mona Lisa.

We had a tour guide at the Louvre who led us underground where the moat once was, up the stairs past the Winged Victory and through the Italian Gallery where many Da Vinci's are on display. When we walked into the Grand Gallery, she stepped aside, handed me her "official tour guide pass," and let me take over. What an amazing moment to stand in front of the Mona Lisa, hold an audience and teach people about the most famous painting in the world. Its a painting that most people recognize by name and has a history that few people really know.

The Mona Lisa or "La Gioconda," is believed to be a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The title for the  painting that we use in America comes from a contraction of the word, "ma donna," which means "my lady." Da Vinci began working on the piece in 1503 and it supposedly took him four years to complete. She is painted on a poplar wood panel that currently has worm holes and an eleven centimeter crack in the back.

At the time of his death, Da Vinci bequeathed the portrait to his friend, King Francios I of France. As time went on, ownership passed to such notables as Louis XIV and Napoleon.  Caretakers of the painting took it upon themselves to add coats of varnish to the piece. In doing so it has caused the portrait to grow darker and darker. Scans of the piece show that La Gioconda once had eyebrows. Perhaps their absence today is a result of the layers of varnish.

The Mona Lisa came to the Louvre in the early nineteenth century when Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena. The piece was revered by artists and art lovers for its technique and realism. The museum had a million other objects in its collection but, the Mona Lisa was the only that had its own mailbox. Despite this fact, La Gioconda's value was substantially less than that of several other paintings. And paintings by other artists were copied more frequently than the Mona Lisa.

On August 21, 1911 it was discovered that La Gioconda had been stolen from its home in the museum. The only evidence that remained was the painting's new, 87 pound, double frame that had been removed and left near a staircase. Two years later a man calling himself Leonardo Vicenza contacted an art dealer about selling the painting. The dealer in turn got in touch with the director of the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy. The three men set up a meeting to discuss and inspect the painting. Police were notified and Vicenza was arrested at the meeting. The Mona Lisa was found in a trunk in the Vicenza's room. Leonardo Vicenza (or Vincenzo Peruggia if one prefers his real name) was given a light punishment for his crime. The Italian court had sympathy for the thief's ideal of returning to Italy what he had believed to be stolen by Napoleon.

The theft of Da Vinci's painting actually helped to grow the popularity of the portrait. Newspapers continually printed pictures of the Mona Lisa which increased familiarity with the painting around the world. The number of articles that were published in the span of two years helped expand awareness as well. Museum goers would stand in line and walk past the empty spot on the wall where the piece was once displayed.

" ' For many, the Mona Lisa is the Louvre,' the Paris-Journal echoed. ' In the eyes of the public, even the uneducated, the Mona Lisa occupies a privileged position that is not be accounted for by its value alone.'" Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti

The majority of my research came from Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti as well as the Louvre website.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I'm your Vitameatavegimin girl

   Lucille Ball turns 100 today. Like a lot of people, I've grown up watching I Love Lucy. It is one of my favorite shows of all time. And so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the show's star is one of my favorite cultural/ historical figures as well.

Lucy became one of my favorite figures because of her television show. Then she reinforced everything I thought I knew and felt about her with her autobiography. On the show, I saw a woman who despite being a 1950s housewife, was her own person. Lucy was silly, creative and defiant. In real life, Ms. Ball was courageous, a trailblazer, and someone who never gave up. Whether on stage or in real life, these qualities were presented to me in a manner which I whole heartedly responded to. They made me love and appreciate her for more than just the comedy. 

By the time I hit the sixth grade I had seen every episode of I Love Lucy at least a dozen times. Sometime during that school year I discovered Ms. Ball's autobiography on one of my family's frequent Saturday morning trips to the bookstore. My dad bought the book for me and I brought it with me to school for our afternoon reading time. I devoured and mastered as much of the material as my 12 year old brain could absorb. Later, in my junior year of high school I used it as the source for my history book report. What could be better than a book about one of the most famous Americans of all time, who discussed Old Hollywood, unions, the Red Scare and of course one of the most popular television shows of all time? As far as I was concerned it had a wonderful combination of American and cultural history. My teacher disagreed with me and told me I could have made a better book selection. (He clearly never read Love, Lucy.) I got a "B" on that paper. 

Through the years I've continued to love, memorize and learn from the show. My sister and I committed the famous Vitameatavegimin speech to memory. We can decipher which episode is on air after only a few seconds.  I learned my first few words of french, spanish vowel sounds and the difference between the bow and stern of a boat from the series. (I also learned not to exchange my dollars for francs on the streets of Paris. Always use the American Express office instead, so as to avoid the risk of getting arrested for counterfeit!)

So today on her 100th birthday, I want to shout out a big thanks for the lessons, comfort, and many laughs that Lucille Ball has given me. 

My favorite I Love Lucy episodes include:
Pioneer Women
Women from Mars
Lucy dancing with Van Johnson

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Believe in Being Festive

When I started thinking about putting pieces of my work together to sell, I decided that I would group pieces in collections with a common theme. One of the collections is titled," My Philosophy." No serious or high brow subject matter here. It is instead, my philosophy on the little things in life (which are the only things I've mastered thus far)

I started making a list of the things that I believe and believe in; they're the little things that make me happy and maybe even explain who I am a little bit. For instance, I believe in singing as loud as possible in the car. I believe that sunglasses complete an outfit. I believe in having a favorite historical figure. While we're on the subject, I believe in being nerdy and being proud of it!

I also believe in being festive and celebrating everything! Major holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries of  important events are always more enjoyable with decorations, special music or even an ugly sweater. It's all about getting into the spirit of whatever you're celebrating and making the day a little more extraordinary.

This past week I got into the spirit and celebrated Bastille Day. I love Paris and I love history. And no other day puts those two things together like Bastille Day. If you're not familiar, it is somewhat similar to our Independence Day in the way it is celebrated with parades and music. The holiday is generally noted for marking the start of the French Revolution in 1789 (a favorite subject of mine.)

 I filled the house with the sound of french music; a little Edith Piaf and a little La Vie en Rose while I made french onion soup and creme brulee. Instead of watching some revolution themed movie on TCM as usual, a friend and I went to the Getty Museum. They are currently having a special Parisian exhibit which I was especially eager to see. We walked through the rooms admiring the ornate yet everyday clothes, the french-latin dictionary, tapestries, portraits, writing sets, and so much more.

For me, being festive and celebrating even the smaller things gives me something special to look forward to. It adds a little extra joy to the day. And it gives me an excuse to acknowledge the things I love. Bastille Day 2011 was a success. Next on my list of celebrations is Christmas in July!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"You Can Call Me {JHistory Girl}"

It's summer vacation and I have all of July off from work. That means that I finally get to work on projects that I've been eyeing for the past few weeks and months. I want to work on learning more about my genealogy, practice my french on my Rosetta Stone, finish the 340 page book I've been reading for roughly the past five months, scrapbook and paint!

I've been a little artist as long as I can remember. One of my teachers from high school inspired me to get my Associate's Degree in art after she asked me to illustrate a book for her. From there, it was my travels that really inspired me to pick up the pencil and draw. In the two years since my trip to Paris I've just been sketching away.

I've received dozens of compliments on my work and even some requests by friends and family for original pieces. It's validating, fun and a joyful way to spend my time. But I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to actually get paid for some of these pieces? We've all seen the canvases hanging in galleries with solid blocks of paint with an apparent lack of artistic skill and not to mention those Jackson Pollock pieces (nothing against Pollock!).... So if those kinds of pieces can be successful, why can't I sell a couple of mine?

However, in preparing to get a couple pieces ready for sale, some self-doubt has started to creep in the past few days. This evening my mind flashed to the episode of Sex & the City where "The Russian," was questioning the quality and inspiration of his own art. He was concerned that people would think he and his light installations would be regarded as "silly." That's how I was feeling; like my work wasn't good enough. But hey, maybe I just need to "Carrie" on. (haha, get it?) Who knows, maybe my work will end up in Paris one day and I'll be a big hit at an opening, just like "The Russian." Wish Me Luck!

I better get back to that summer to-do list. Those items won't check themselves off!