Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The Black Hills

Some people think that the Black Hills are little "hills" because that's what their name says.  But they are actually very tall hills, which makes them mountains.  The tallest of the Black Hills, Harney Peak, is 7,244 ft. (2,208 m) tall.  This is taller than any peak in the Appalachian or Ozark Mountains.

The reason the Black Hills are called "black" is because they have lots of dark green trees growing on them, and from a distance, they look black.  "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota words Pahá Sápa.  The Lakota took over this mountain region in 1776, after they conquered the Cheyenne.  The Black Hills then became a sacred place for them.

The U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, which said that no white people would ever settle in the Black Hills.  Of course, as soon as gold was discovered there in 1874, the treaty got broken by all the miners going there to get rich.  The Lakota were herded off to some reservations in another part of South Dakota, which did not make them happy.

Harney Peak

Chop Suey

One of my in-depth sources said that chop suey was in no way a real Chinese dish because it was just a bunch of leftovers thrown together by a Chinese cook in a California mining camp.  But another source said the dish probably came to California with Chinese immigrants from the South China Coast, especially the town of Toishan.

In the 1870s, these immigrants moved from California to Eastern cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, where there was not so much racial violence.  One of the things they did there was start restaurants, and chop suey was on the menu.  Chop suey is a transliteration of two Chinese characters that are pronounced "tsa sui" in Mandarin or "shap sui" in Cantonese.  The meaning in either language is "mixed small bits" or "odds and ends."

In the 1880s in New York, a group of artists and writers who were called "Bohemians" decided to go to Mott Street to try out the Chinese food.  One of these people wrote this description:  "Chow-chop suey was the first dish we attacked.  It is a toothsome stew, composed of bean sprouts, chicken's gizzards and livers, calfe's tripe, dragon fish, dried and imported from China, pork, chicken, and various other ingredients which I was unable to make out."  These brave eaters not only liked the food, but they were very happy when the bill came to only 63 cents.

Soon thousands of non-Chinese were going to Mott Street to eat chop suey.  The dish started being made more for American tastes, especially in restaurants outside of Chinatown.  It had meat that was easy to identify, plus bean sprouts, onions, celery, and bamboo shoots.  By the 1920s, it was popular all across the U.S.

But eventually, people got tired of chop suey, and they started eating stuff like pizza instead of Chinese food.  Then when President Nixon went to China, everybody got interested in Chinese food again.  But this time they wanted "real" Chinese food such as Mandarin Duck or Kung Pao Chicken.  So now Chinese food is popular again, but chop suey not so much.

Cabbage Chop Suey

Ostriches Burying Their Heads in the Sand

Ostriches don't really do this because if they did, they would suffocate.  But this myth got started thousands of years ago, and it's still around.  One theory about why people believe this is because of an optical illusion.  Ostriches have small heads, so if they are picking at something on the ground, it kind of looks like their head is actually down in the sand.

Also, ostriches dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs in.  Then the eggs have to be turned over several times a day to make sure they stay warm on all sides.  When an ostrich sticks her head in the nest to do this, she really is sort of burying her head.

Or maybe people don't really believe ostriches do this behavior -- they just like having a good way to describe anybody who doesn't want to see the truth about what's going on.  And I'm sad to say that there are plenty of those people who need to be described!


Some people think that strawberries get their name because they are grown in straw, but this is not true. Strawberries grew wild for thousands of years, and they did not have any cushy beds of straw to grow in.  The truth is that nobody is totally sure why strawberries are called "strawberries," but there are a couple of pretty good theories.  One is that it's because the word straw can mean "a particle of straw," "chaff," or "mote," which is what the little yellow seeds sort of look like.  Another theory is that the plant's name comes from "stray" or "strow" because of the way it spreads out on runners across the ground.


  1. We have an area called the Black Forest near us and it wasn't really black either, just lots of dark green trees. But then a bunch of it burned and then it was black, but not so much a forest. The last time mom and I went through there it was snow covered, so neither black nor forest. very confusing!

    your friend,

    1. Dear Zest!
      This is indeed very confusing. Maybe you should move to the Black Hills in South Dakota. They will probably stay black (well, dark green) unless they also catch fire and burn down!
      Your friend, Piper