New Years Throughout History and Cultures

28 12 2011

The year is about to end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations for 2012 will take place across the country. How do you celebrate the start of the new year? Have you ever thought about how we know when the New Year actually is? This day is marked by our calendar, and that calendar was created by tracking the moon, sun, and earth!

Since the dawn of civilization man has kept track of time by use of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Man noticed that time could be broken up into units of the day (the time taken for the earth to rotate once on its axis), the month (the time taken for the moon to orbit the earth) and the year (the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun).

Ancient civilizations, were able to create calendars by keeping track of the moon and the sun. The ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At the right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The pyramid was used as a calendar! Four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year!

At the end of the year, these ancient civilizations also celebrated the New Year, just like we do, with feasts, dancing and festivities. Today, most New Year festivities take place on December 31, but in other cultures they take place on different dates.

  • The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. In Babylonia the New Year began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, usually mid-March.
  • In Assyria it was near the autumnal equinox in September.
  • For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the day was celebrated on the autumnal equinox, which now falls on about September 23.
  • For the Greeks it was the winter solstice, which now falls on about December 21 or 22.
  • In early Rome, March 1 began a new year, but after 153 BC the date was January 1.
  • The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, is sometimes called the “feast of the trumpets.” It starts on the first day of the month of Tishri, which may begin any time from September 6 to October 5. The celebration lasts for 48 hours but ushers in a ten-day period of penitence.
  • In Japan the New Year festivities take place on January 1 to 3. The house entrance is hung with a rope made of rice straw to keep out evil spirits. Decorations of ferns, bitter orange, and lobster promise good fortune, prosperity, and long life.
  • The Chinese New Year is celebrated for one whole month!. The official celebration begins in late January or early February. There are outdoor parades and fireworks to mark the occasion. Check out the cool dragon costume they dance with:

Finally, the American celebration of the New Year marks the end of the Christmas holiday period. Many people go to church on New Year’s Eve, and many attend parties. Now that you know the history of New Years, you can celebrate this holiday with the knowledge of the past.

You can have fun with a costume like the Chinese do, and download this neat New Year’s Mask, look through it so you can see what the coming year has ahead!

How the Grinch Made Cookies

19 12 2011

Every Who

Down in Who-ville

Liked Christmas a lot…

 But the Grinch,

Who lived just North of Who-ville,

Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss

The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with your family, don’t let the never-ending holiday cheer overwhelm you and turn you into a Grinch!

Here at the museum, we like to avoid becoming Grinch-y by making our own Grinch cookies! The recipe is originally from Betty Crocker but we found it on a cool blog called Living the Domestic Life (click on these links for the recipe!)

These gooey, green, mint-flavored, chocolate-chip cookies will subdue the Grinch in all of us. And if you would like a fun coloring activity to do while you wait for your cookies to bake, print out this Mr. Grinch Coloring Page!

Happy Baking!

The Happy Elephant

12 12 2011

Elephants are big happy mammals!

Elephants show joy all the time! When they are greeting of a friend or family member (even a human friend) that they haven’t seen in awhile, after the birth of a baby elephant or when they are playing games!

Typically this expression of joy takes place in the form of a greeting ceremony. When family members or friends meet, all the elephants gather around and celebrate. During this greeting the elephants involved will spin around, with their heads held high, and ears flapping they fill the air with a symphony of trumpets, rumbles, screams, and roars.

Also, elephants play games! They throw objects, twist, and interact with their elephant friends. Typically, elephants begin a playing session by trumpeting. Elephants can have fun playing with their friends or playing by themselves, they love to play either way!

Did you know:

  •     The elephant is the largest of all land mammals
  •     Life Span – elephants can live for up to 70 years!
  •     Elephants are able to swim for long distances
  •     Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating!
  •     They consume as much as 495 pounds of food per day
  •     They live in tight social units
  •     Their tusks are of ivory and are actually enormously enlarged teeth
  •     The elephant’s eyes are small and its eyesight is poor
  •     They have the largest brains in the animal kingdom!

Here at ACM we think these happy mammals are enormous and jolly and so very neat!

Holiday Light-bulb Ornaments!

8 12 2011

Aren’t these homemade ornaments charming? If you want your holidays to be filled with creativity, you can dazzle your family with your very own ornaments too!

They are pretty simple to make, you need an old light-bulb (we found a nice round one to mimic the shape of store-bought ornaments) paint, paintbrushes, a pipe-cleaner/string/or ribbon, liquid glue, shaving cream, and optional glitter.

First, clean off your light-bulb so that the paint sticks.

Then, plan out what you want to paint onto your ornament, we chose our name, a candy-cane, and a snowman. But if your hand isn’t as steady as ours, you can just do fun designs, like red and white stripes, snowflakes or just random!

It was kind of difficult to paint the light-bulb while holding it, since you want every part of it to have color. So we suggest you take an old egg carton, or a small cup to prop the light-bulb on while you decorate it.

We created a snow effect on the bottom and on the snowman by combining equal parts liquid glue and shaving cream. It should dry puffy and it’s a lot of fun to paint and play with!

We added glitter to the top part of the ornament, but you can go crazy and do a whole glitter ornament if you want, who’s stopping you?

Finally, we used a pipe cleaner wrapped around the top of the light-bulb. Make sure to twist it in a way that lets you hang it on your tree. If you don’t have pipe cleaners, you can try using ribbon, yarn, or string tied at the top for hanging.

So from now on, don’t throw out broken light-bulbs, make ornaments instead!

1 Paper, 6 Snowflakes

5 12 2011

See the pretty snowflakes
Falling from the sky;
On the wall and housetops
Soft and thick they lie.

On the window ledges,
On the branches bare;
Now how fast they gather,
Filling all the air.

Look into the garden,
Where the grass was green;
Covered by the snowflakes,
Not a blade is seen.

Now the bare black bushes
All look soft and white,
Every twig is laden,
What a pretty sight!

“Falling Snow” by Anonymous

Snowflakes have a certain mystery and magical quality to them. So this winter why don’t you enjoy nature’s ice art, and make some snowflakes out of paper? You can make 6 individual snowflakes using just one sheet of printer paper. Here’s how: print out this snowflake activity: Snowflake Pattern, cut along all the lines to get your 6 snowflake templates. Then watch the slideshow below for instructions on how to create your 6 snowflakes. Happy winter!

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Make a Paper Gingerbread House

30 11 2011

Burrrr… It’s going to get really cold, really soon. Christmas is just around the corner. When the temperature drops we like to be inside where it’s nice and cozy. If you don’t want to brave the cold weather just yet, stay inside like us and make a paper gingerbread house!

This neat activity, is half the mess of a real gingerbread house, and it’s free! You can practice all your candy decorating skills so that when you get that real cookie house, you’ll be a pro.

You can check out the Museum Dec 1st-23rd during Gingerbread House Workshops, where we’ll provide enough candy and gingerbread to make a mansion! Registration just opened,  so sign up all you gingerbread architects!

Download our at-home gingerbread activity here: Paper Gingerbread House and tell us how your gingerbread homes turn out!

Make a Banjo Box

28 11 2011

A banjo is a string instrument, it produces music by vibrating strings. Banjos are normally played by plucking the strings, but strumming (running your fingers along the strings instead of grabbing and pulling them) creates sound too. Sound is made by the vibrations that send sound waves through the air. When you pluck the strings, they vibrate and make sound waves that reach your ear.

You can make your own musical instrument, just follow the instructions below for our banjo box!

Instead of strings we used rubber bands. You’ll notice the thinner rubber bands make a higher note. Why is this? It’s because the thinner the band the faster it vibrates, making a higher pitch. The thicker band vibrates slower, producing a lower note. Our banjo box is a million times easier to make than an actual banjo, and just as much fun!

All you need is:

  • An old box (we used a left-over soap box because it was small)
  • Rubber bands of different thickness
  • 2 Pencils, pens or markers (to raise the rubber bands from the box)

Just wrap the rubber bands around the box and slide the pencils under the bands to raise them, then you’re done! Wasn’t that easy? See how ours turned out:

We had a lot of fun playing our creative instrument. You can make instruments out of all sorts of found objects. This guy made a banjo with an old cigar box!

We admit he’s a little better at playing it than we are with our banjo box…

Parfait/Sinkie Day!

25 11 2011

November 25th is National Parfait Day!

Did you know that the word “parfait” means “perfect” in French? This certainly makes sense because parfaits are a perfect dessert, you can create the perfect combinations of flavors to excite your very own taste buds.

A parfait consists of  layers of ice cream, whipped cream, syrups, fruits, granola, nuts, the combinations are endless!.  I bet this is sounding familiar to you isn’t it? Well parfait is basically a fancy word for a sundae!

While chocolate is my favorite, use your imagination to create a wide range of single and mixed flavors. I bet you have some Thanksgiving leftovers, wouldn’t a Pumpkin Parfait be marvelous?

If the delightful combination of delicious flavors in a parfait is not enough for you, try eating it over a sink. That’s right your kitchen sink! Not only is November 25th National Parfait Day, it’s also Sinkie Day.

Christmas shopping and Thanksgiving leftovers provide the perfect reasons to enjoy a quick meal. It’s the day many people discover the benefits of becoming a SINKIE and go on to many years of dining over the sink.

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by eating a parfait over the sink? Enjoy!

Thankful Turklings!

21 11 2011

The turkey is an American celebrity. It is one of the most famous birds in North America. In fact, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the wild turkey the national bird of the United States instead of the bald eagle!The wild turkey we usually see in pictures is not the same as the domestic turkey that we eat at Thanksgiving. Domestic or tame turkeys weigh twice what a wild turkey does and are raised on farms. Most domestic turkeys are so heavy they are unable to fly.

Wild turkeys on the other hand, can fly. They sleep in the low branches of trees at night, and how else would they get to their bed but by flying. They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries. Wild turkeys are covered with dark feathers that help them blend in with their woodland homes. The bare skin on the throat and head of a turkey can change color from flat gray to striking shades of red, white, and blue when the bird becomes distressed or excited.

Each spring male turkeys try to befriend as many females as possible. Male turkeys, also called “tom turkeys” or “gobblers” puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers, like a peacock. They grunt, make a gobble-gobble sound and strut about shaking their feathers. This fancy turkey trot helps the male attract female “hens” for mating.

After the female turkey mates, she prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her tan and speckled brown eggs. She incubates as many as 18 eggs at a time. It takes about a month for the chicks to hatch. When the babies, known as “poults” or “turklings” hatch, they flock with their mother all year.

If you want to get into the Thanksgiving spirit, you can celebrate the celebrity of the turkey with us and make your own little turkling!

Follow the link below for instructions!

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Brain Movies: Scanning the Visual Cortex

18 11 2011

Imagine if you could watch your dreams and the images inside your head like a movie… seems impossible right?

But recently, with a cutting-edge blend of brain imaging and computer simulation, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, have gotten closer to this impossible idea.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) (brain scans) and a computer, UC Berkeley researchers reconstructed people’s visual experiences. Their computer program recreated an image from inside someone’s mind.

So far, the technology can only reconstruct movie clips people have already viewed. However, the breakthrough is the first step towards reproducing the movies inside our heads that no one else sees, such as dreams and memories. It’s like opening a window into the movies in our minds.

Eventually, the technology could help to understand what goes on inside the minds of people who cannot communicate verbally, such as stroke victims, coma patients or other people with neurodegenerative diseases (loss of brain functions).

In the experiment, they watched two separate sets of Hollywood movie trailers, while fMRI was used to measure blood flow through the visual cortex (the part of the brain that processes visual information). The brain activity was recorded by a computer program that learned to associate visual patterns in the movie with the corresponding brain activity. The computer program then produced a blurry reconstruction of what was seen inside the brain.

Check out the image that was seen (on the left) and the blurry reconstructed image from the computer program (on the right). It looks like a painting, pretty amazing right?

If you find the brain as fascinating as we do, then check out this website: The Secret Life of the Brain they show all the techniques used to look inside the brain, such as the fMRI we mentioned above.

What would your brain movies look like? Would your movie show an action sequence or a cartoon, or something never seen before? Tell us what your brain thinks.

Car Trip Boredom Buster

17 11 2011

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How ’bout now?”

If you’ve been on a car trip, chances are you’ve heard that statement a million times in a row. You’ve probably even said it yourself! Car trips can be fun, the excitement of loading up the car and packing. The landscapes blurring across your windows. The weird radio station Dad won’t turn off. But once all that newness and anticipation wears off, the boredom sets in.

At ACM we don’t believe in boredom! You can use this opportunity to get crafty and have some road trip fun. So to help you with your road trip blues, we’ve created this neat bingo game.

We got the idea from MomsMinivan, which has a bunch more road trip games you can check out. We made our own bingo card with a Texas theme. So while the holiday season is here, you’ll have a fun game while you drive through this huge state of ours.

Once you download and print out as many bingo cards as you need, all you have to do to play is mark off the picture once you see it. The first to get 4 in a row wins!

Click the links below to print it out. Keep your eyes wide, and good luck!

Road Trip Bingo 1, 234 , 5

Historical Spotlight: Jeans!

8 11 2011

If you look in your closet, most of your pants are blue aren’t they? That’s because blue-jeans are the most popular type of pants. So do you know the history of these trendy trousers?

As American as we think jeans are, the history of blue jeans actually goes back to 16th Century Europe. The story goes that “jean” derives from the word Genoa. It refers to the material that sailors from Genoa used in their pants. On the other hand, the origin of the term “denim” can be traced to late 16th century France where a fabric known as “serge de Nimes” (Twill from Nimes) was very popular. Both fabrics grew in popularity, but denim was the stronger and more expensive of the two.

By the late 19th century, weavers in America were making fabric in the same fashion as the European denim, but using the locally produced cotton fibers. The material had a reputation for being very strong and not wearing out quickly, in spite of many washes. That’s why you can get away with wearing jeans for days on end!

The modern history of blue jeans starts with Levi Strauss. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That’s because you can still buy Levi jeans today! Levi moved to California in 1853 during the Gold Rush. He followed his family business , and opened a dry goods store where he sold fabric. His denim fabric became very popular in the region, where prospectors needed strong material to last while gold mining all day.

A tailor named Jacob Davis bought Levi’s fabric and started making men’s work pants with metal points of strain for greater strength. Those rivets of metal along your jeans may seem small but they are what make them durable and strong. Without rivets, the pockets would rip. Levi and Jacob Davis went into business together and jeans have been unstoppable since.

We’ve gotten even more creative with manufacturing jeans now, some companies have even started making them out of recycled plastic bottles!

So jeans can be traced back to 16th century Frenchmen, Italian sailors, and Californian gold-rushers! Now you know that your baggy-jeans , hip-huggers, bell-bottoms, pre-washed, and distressed jeans, they’re all a part of history!

Practice Pointillism

2 11 2011

So many dots!

Pointillism is a neat way of painting. The word itself: Point (dots) and ism (stlye) is exactly what it means, the style of dots. French artist George Seurat invented this time-consuming painting technique. Look at Seurat’s painting above from far away, it looks like a normal landscape painting doesn’t it? But once you get close to it you can see that the image is actually made out of lots and lots of tiny dots. Can you imagine how long that took?

When you view from a distance your eye blends the dots together, this is called optical blending. You can see this in Seurat’s painting The Eiffel Tower (pictured on the right). When you look at it, it looks orange, but really he only used tiny dots of red and yellow which your eyes blend to make the color orange. Instead of mixing the paint himself, he is making your eye do all the work!

This technique of optical blending, dividing the colors instead of blending them, was also called divisionism. Divisionism included pointillism, but an artist could create this optical illusion with more than the use of dots. For example, Vincent van Gogh used divisionism in his famous painting The Starry Night, instead of using dots he used lines. If you look closely you can see the lines from his brush everywhere, it makes it seem like the sky is moving.

If you want to practice pointillism and divisionism yourself, just print this coloring activity and use markers for the dots and lines: Artist Activity

Look how ours turned out:

Hang them up when you’re done and marvel at your masterpieces!

Make Your Own Silent Film

31 10 2011

I bet you like to watch movies, right? But have you ever seen a silent film?

Before there were 3D and Imax movies there were silent movies. These started as short movies that only lasted 30 minutes and only cost 5 cents! The movies would have a piano to go along with the soundless images, and sometimes even a full orchestra. Movies didn’t have sound until around 1927 with the first film “The Jazz Singer” which was called a “talkie“.

Buster Keaton in "Sherlock, Jr." photo by John McNab on Flickr

Until that point, films were silent and had to tell a story without sound. The actors had to be over-dramatic (like when you play charades) in order to tell the story right, they sometimes used heavy makeup too. If something was thought too difficult for the audience to understand, they would use title cards. Title cards were shots of written words that would portray what the actor was saying, or tell of the place they were, or sometimes even tell part of the story.

One of my favorite silent film actors was Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton was a comedian who grew up acting in Vaudeville shows, which were similar to circus acts. His background Vaudeville acting came in handy with his silent film career as a comedian. Buster would perform daring and funny stunts all without the use of sound. He even directed his own silent films!

If you want to be like Buster Keaton and direct your own silent film, all you have to do is make a flipbook. A flipbook is a book which has pictures that vary from page to page, so that when you turn the pages fast it makes an animation.

This is similar to how a film reel works with movies, only they have lots more pictures which are called frames, and are much faster. An easy way to start is to use a writing pad that already has blank pages stacked together. You can start with a title like the silent movies do with their title cards. Then begin your story by drawing something like a stickman, go to the next page and redraw the stickman, but have some part of him be slightly moved, like his legs. Keep drawing, each page a little different and once you flip the pages it looks like he’s walking. Check out our flipbook below:

And tell us how your silent movies turn out!

Odd October Observances

27 10 2011

October isn’t just for Halloween. There are all sorts of bizarre holidays you can celebrate before November gets here.  We all know Halloween is October 31st every year, but did you know there is also a Frankenstein Day?

This year Frankenstein Friday falls on the 28th. Celebrate by dressing up as a monster, or honor the writer and creator of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, and write your own monster story. Can you describe a monster scarier than Frankenstein?

October 30th, isn’t just the day before Halloween, it’s also Candy Corn Day. Did you know that candy corn is actually made with corn? These yummy confections are made with a very precise method using a corn starch molding process.

Photo by

And don’t just celebrate Halloween by dressing up. You can also commemorate this day with caramel apples! Caramel apple day falls on Halloween each year, and you can celebrate by making your own caramel apples. Or you can follow our recipe below to make caramel apple cookies!

Have fun with all of these wacky holidays by printing out this neat coloring activity (pictured above): October Holidays Coloring Sheet

Are you still October Obsessed? To get the most out of the end of October, you can also visit the Texas Memorial Museum Oct. 30th for their Fright at the Museum event. You can explore the mysterious side of Texas’ natural history. Feel frightful fish from the ocean depths, be rattled by slithery snakes of Central Texas. Feast your eyes on bizarre bugs while they serve up creepy, crawly critters for your culinary delight.

Have an odd October!

And follow the link below for instructions on how to make your own caramel apple cookies

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