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The Righteous Cyclist

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There was once a man in a large department store in America, balancing a canoe on his head as he passed the cashiers at the front of the shop, and the security guards; he smiled sheepishly and pointed to the canoe, saying, “They didn’t have a bag big enough.”  Only after he was long gone did they find out that he’d stolen the canoe – it was in plain sight, but because it was so bold, no one ever thought to ask to see a receipt.

Hiding things in plain sight is a frequently-used form of deception, from animals to thieves, and in this particular story, a cyclist whose racing bike was stuffed with forged documents; but the cause was much more important, and changed the lives of countless thousands through the generations.

Gino Bartali (July 1914 – May 2000) was a champion racing cyclist in Italy, who won races both before and after World War 2.  A devoutly religious man, he used his celebrity status, as well as the cover story of “training” to ensure that hundreds of Jews were rescued from the Nazi occupation in Italy.  Not only did he risk his and his family’s lives by hiding a Jewish family in his cellar, but he also used his fame to slip by undetected as he delivered forged documents and messages hidden within the frame and handlebars of his bike.  In 1943, he led a group of Jewish refugees toward the Swiss Alps; he cycled, pulling a wagon with a secret compartment; when he was stopped by a German patrol, he simply said that it was part of his training.  Working with the Assisi underground, his speed, fame and cover story enabled him to quickly travel 35-40 trips between Florence to Perugia, Assisi, Lucca and Terontola to deliver paperwork that saved the lives of over 800 Jews; if you look at those distances on a map, its mind boggling to think that he often made the trip out and back within the same day.

When he went to train stations, he would use the confusion of the crowds of fans to distract the German guards checking the identifications of passengers entering the train, thus slipping the Jews aboard in the chaos.  Once, when he was taken in for questioning, he asked that they not touch his bicycle, claiming that its parts were very carefully calibrated to achieve maximum speed.  He believed that talking about the good one does is taking advantage of others’ misfortunes for personal gain.  “Good is something you do, not something you talk about.  Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”  He refused to wear the label “hero”, wanting instead to be remembered for his sporting achievements; he said, “Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I’m just a cyclist.”

He kept his actions hidden for over 50 years, and only after his death did the story begin to emerge; he was declared one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” in 2013.  Please click on the image to watch a short video about a cycling tribute along the routes he traveled.

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Vintage Life Hack #4: How to Pull Out Long Nails

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Vintage Life Hack #3: How to Clean Bottles

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Vintage Life Hack #2: How to Engrave on Steel

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Gallaher’s Cigarettes was founded by Thomas Gallaher in 1857, in Derry (Londonderry), Ireland.  He went from one man selling cigars and cigarettes from a cart to the largest tobacco factory in the world within 40 years. In 1863, the company was moved to Belfast, and by 1896 had opened his famous factory.

In the late 1800s, colour lithography had been developed, and it wasn’t long before companies were investing in creating attractive images to market their products.  In 1910, Gallaher’s ran a series of ads that we refer to now as “life hacks” – tips and tricks on how to do tasks in and around the home.

I’ll be sharing them here occasionally, so just follow the trail of “Vintage Life Hacks”!  Being interested in history, as well as handy tips for crafts, this hack is great.  Sulphate of Iron is used as a moss killer on lawns, or a lawn greener / conditioner, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to find.

If you test this tip, please let me know the results!

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Vintage Life Hack #1: How to Adjust a Door

Life hacks might seem to be a modern invention, but they’re not; they’ve probably been around as long as the need to communicate with another human has.

“How’d you light that glowing thing?”

“Fire?  I rub these sticks together until something happened.  Don’t touch – it’s… hot.”

Here’s a vintage life hack for fixing those squeaking doors; with winter coming up for those of us in the northern hemisphere, this might just come in handy if you don’t have any WD-40 on hand.

Here be Dragons!

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Recently, my husband and I had a discussion about dragons (as one does).  I had just read Job 41, in which God describes fire-breathing dragons to Job as a rhetorical example of something that Job cannot control, but that God does (vss. 10-11).  Here’s a snippet (vss. 12-34):

“I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form.  Who can strip off its outer coat?  Who can penetrate its double coat of armour?  Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth?  Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;  each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.  They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.  Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn.  Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.  Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.  Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth.  Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it.  The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.  Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.  When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.  Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.  Arrows do not make it flee; slingstones are like chaff to it.  A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance.  Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.  It makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.  It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair.  Nothing on earth is its equal — a creature without fear.  It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”

Some Bible commentators have tried to pass this off as a hippo, or even crocodile; but I have yet to hear of a crocodile that sneezes flames.  As recently as the 17th century, scholars and scientists wrote about dragons as though they were scientific fact, yet modern science seems to steer clear of them as much as they might dismiss stories about big foot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Yet for all that, there is a rich treasure trove of historical evidence for the existence of dragons.

Just seen in the light of historical literary references, it is undeniable that such creatures as we would describe as dragons existed; from Native America, throughout Europe and into China records abound. Some literary sources are as follows:  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (two mentions); the Epic of Gilgamesh (written 2000 BC); the ancient historian Josephus; the third century historian Gaius Solinus; the Greek researcher Herodotus; the historian Gesner; the Italian historian Aldrovandus; the first century Greek historian Strabo; and the list goes on and on.

Historical pictorial references also abound:  Of the 12 animals depicted on the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is the only one that is no longer alive today; it is also the only one that is often considered mythical – but does it seem logical that they would include one non-existent animal, when all the others are real?  Botanists, meticulous recorders of natural history, fauna and wildlife, and men who were renowned historians all make references to and descriptions of dragons.  Like the Cambodian Stegosaurus, what seems out of place to modern man might simply have been a known creature at the time of the creation of the document or the artwork construction, but unknown today.

For an excellent article on the topic, with historical references galore, please click on the image below.

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Historical Gadgets for Cosmetic Alterations

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Cosmetic alterations are nothing new; if we go way back, the first animals skins fashioned into clothing were the very first “enhancement”.  Makeup is the most common; we tend to think of it in terms of foundation, eye-liner, etc., but the term also encompasses body art, from war paint, tribal markings (whether tattoos or scarring) to henna tattoos.

This generation, as obsessed as it is with physical perfection (which is impossible, but that doesn’t seem to deter some people with more money than sense), has perhaps taken alterations to an extreme with injections of the toxin Botox and plastic surgery addictions that render the patient unrecognizable (I won’t go into the psychological implications of not being able to recognize one’s own face in the mirror each morning, but if you’re interested in the topic, please click here.)  But is such behavior new?  No; poisons have been used cosmetically before, with one example being lead-based white make-up used as far back as Roman times.  Women in 16th century Europe would bleed themselves to become paler, which was considered more aristocratic; this standard of pale being a condition to aspire to goes back to ancient times.  In Song of Solomon 1:6, the heroine explains that her dark skin came from working the fields, because her brothers were angry with her and burdened her with those tasks.  Even today, this skewed perception of what is beautiful effects the lives of many dark-skinned men and women around the globe; to watch a 5-minute video about their experiences, please click here.

Along the way, gadgets have been invented to curl, dry, tan, tuck, nip or pinch.   Here are a few historical gadgets for your amusement.  Enjoy!

Dimple machine

Dimple Machine

A 1940s beauty treatment at Helena Rubinstein’s salon

A 1940s beauty treatment at Helena Rubinstein’s salon

A fruit mask from the 1930s

A fruit mask from the 1930s

A permanent hair procedure (presumably hair waving) being performed in Germany in 1929

A permanent hair procedure (presumably hair waving) being performed in Germany in 1929

Pre-war women would spend hours with their hair bundled up into creepy heating machines like these to achieve a fashionable curled look

Pre-war women would spend hours with their hair bundled up into creepy heating machines like these to achieve a fashionable curled look

Slenderising salons in the forties devised all sorts of weight-loss treatments, one of which was massage chairs like these, which massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers

Slenderising salons in the forties devised all sorts of weight-loss treatments, one of which was massage chairs like these, which massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers

This ‘Glamour Bonnet’ from the forties promised to give users a rosy complexion by lowering atmospheric pressure around their head to simulate alpine conditions

This ‘Glamour Bonnet’ from the forties promised to give users a rosy complexion by lowering atmospheric pressure around their head to simulate alpine conditions.

This device from 1930, invented by Max Factor, helps correct the application of make-up

This device from 1930, invented by Max Factor, helps correct the application of make-up

This Thirties suction machine consisted of tiny glass nozzles, a rubber hose and  a vacuum pump. It promised smooth, spot-free skin

This Thirties suction machine consisted of tiny glass nozzles, a rubber hose and a vacuum pump. It promised smooth, spot-free skin

Toilet Mask

Toilet Mask for bleaching and preserving the skin, “to be worn three times in the week”.

[The images have been gleaned from Pinterest and around cyberspace over the years, so I don’t know where to give ownership credit – if you own one of the photos, please let me know so that I can give credit where it is due.]

Furry Therapists

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It’s long been accepted that animals play an integral role in the overall well-being of humans.  One would be tempted to say that the significance of animal-human interaction is a modern discovery, and it may well be in the sense of measurable data, as science can monitor the changes in a heart rate (if you want a really science-y report, click here), though anyone who owns a cat can tell you that stroking a purring cat is calming.  But from the time that man domesticated wild dogs and wolves to become a vital part of their daily lives in hunting, protection and companionship, animals have been prevalent.   However, as hunting and gathering gave way to farming homesteads, which gave way eventually to urban development as the predominant habitation of modern man (particularly in western societies), we began to lose touch with just how important animals are to us.

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1956:  Three little boys reaching into a water bin of baby ducks as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals. Source:  Time Magazine

Now, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and even prisons have begun to rediscover the rehabilitating effects of furry therapists.  More recently, a VA hospital in Los Angeles, California has recognised the effects of animals on PTSD sufferers; yet they’ve gone a step farther:  They’ve paired PTSD birds with their human counterparts.

Please click on the links to watch videos of amazing work being done with and for animals; that both species benefit from the interaction is more than evident, and will make you smile!

Leader Dogs trained in Prison

The Immortality of Henrietta Lacks

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Henrietta Lacks, Immortal HeLa CellsBorn in 1920 as Loretta Pleasant, when her mother died giving birth to her 10th child and the father could not support the family, the children were divided among relatives to be raised.  Loretta, who became known as Henrietta, was sent to live with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks, who lived in a two-storey log cabin (former slave quarters) on the tobacco plantation of her white great-grandfather.  After having five children with her first cousin, whom she married after their first two children were born, she died at the age of 31 of cervix cancer.

What is most remarkable about her life is something she never knew:  During the diagnosis of her cancer, done at Johns Hopkins (the only hospital near her home that would treat black patients), her doctor, George Gey, was given samples of her cervix.  Before this time, any cells cultured from other cells would die within days.  Dr Gey discovered that her cells were remarkably durable, and prolific.  A selection of her cells was isolated and cultured (without her knowledge) into the immortal cell line that became known as HeLa Cells; they are still in use today, being the first human cells to be cloned successfully, in 1955.

HeLa cells are so prolific that if they land in a petri dish, they will take over; they have been used to create the vaccine against Polio, in research for AIDS, gene mapping, cancers and countless other projects; to date, scientists have grown over 50 million metric tonnes of her cells*, and there are nearly 11,000 patents involving these cells*.  Her name should be known, and as the godmother of biotechnology, her history deserves to be undusted!

For a fascinating book on this topic, see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

*For a more detailed article in the New York Times, click on the photo.

Thoughts on War and Murder: The Outcome is Up to Us

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I don’t often make personal commentary on this site to historical issues; they are what they are, and distance from a time as foreign to me as it is to most of my readers makes any commentary either a moot point or comes from a skewed perspective.  But I make an exception this time, because I see a horrific history beginning to repeat itself and that demands my attention, and yours, as we still have it within our power to prevent it from perpetuating, or to at least change the outcome.

Below is a photo from an interesting article on the topic of the de-nazification of Germany after World War 2.  I would encourage you to read the short article it is attached to, by clicking on the image.  I must say that reading the comments below that article is just as eye-opening; most of the people who commented did little more than spout their ignorance, splashing it out and displaying it for all the world to see.

German soldiers react to footage of concentration camps, 1945

German soldiers react to footage of concentration camps, 1945

But there is a holocaust happening today, and in America it has become a multi-million dollar industry, its running costs paid for largely by Americans’ tax money.  I’m sure most people have heard of, or seen, the Planned Parenthood scandal videos (if you have not, do take the time to Google them, watch them, and form your own opinion about them).  There are not one or two, but a dozen or more of them; undercover videos of PP execs talking about the murder (abortion) of humans, and the parcelling out of human organs and body parts for sale; the callous way they can speak of such atrocities truly smacks of what die-hard Nazis must have been thinking, or even voiced.  I am fairly certain that if Hitler had known how to generate money from selling body parts out of the death camps, he might have had a lot more silent supporters in the West.  That sounds harsh, but greed for power, territory or money is at the heart of most wars and genocides.  Now you may not agree that abortion is murder; but what else is it, if a human life is premeditatively and violently ended?  If a human female is pregnant, the pregnancy will not produce an elephant or a litter of kittens.  A disturbing difference between the reactions of the soldiers then and people now is that today we are becoming visually jaded; photo manipulation is an assumed tactic in media such as magazines and ads; if we saw models for their true forms and conditions, we’d more often than not be appalled or sickened, or at the very least shocked by imperfection.  So when an unmanipulated video or photo comes our way, a gut reaction is to mistrust it; but that should not prevent us from searching out the truth, and informing ourselves nonetheless.

Another borderless war is raging; it is a war that has had its victims since the arenas of Rome and Nero’s human torches:  A war against Christians.  In recent months the atrocities have been escalated by ISIS, with countless beheadings, tortures, rapes, kidnapping of Christian men, women and children to sell into slavery or forced into brutal “marriages” with ISIS soldiers (who likely torture, rape and kill them in short order).  The war has long been perpetrated in China, where some Christian pastors have been in tortuous prison, in conditions most people would not even consider keeping a dog, for forty years or more.  Just because of what they believe.  Years ago the West made a marginal fuss about human rights issues there; but since China has opened up to become a lucrative trading partner, all criticism on that head has been silenced.  No crime was committed by the Christians, they are no menace to society, and yet they still rot in Chinese prisons, holding firmly to their faith (I won’t go into the very valid reasons why they hold firmly, in this article).  On the contrary, where Christians are, sanity and reason tend to enter a society or a crisis; they are the first responders in most catastrophes, with churches organizing food, shelter, aid and counselling for the traumatized before most other NGOs can get their boxes together.  They are the ones mobilizing volunteers to rebuild homes, pick up the pieces, and put things back together long after other aid workers have left.  Yet the horrific persecution continues, and is largely ignored by the western press; instead, celebrity nut-jobs get more coverage and they dare to call it “news”.

I will not draw my own conclusions from the thoughts in this article; I reserve my firm convictions for my inner self, and leave the conclusions to you, the reader.  But please form your own opinion!  Don’t let it be formed by the news media, popular interpretation of events, or social media buzz.  Future generations will look back on this current generation and see these defining moments, and condemn us as failures, or laud us as history-shapers.  Become informed about these issues; for only when a people are informed can an intelligent solution be found for current issues (which leads people of conviction to action), and only then will the danger of a tragic history repeating itself be thwarted.

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