Soldier Care Packages for the Holidays

The season of giving is approaching.  This year, wouldn’t it be nice to have a focus for your charity instead of just giving random pockets full of change?  By choosing to donate to items for care packages, you can make one or more soldiers’ holiday brighter.

If you don’t know anyone in the service or families of those serving, it can be difficult knowing what to give or where to send your packages.  There are websites that can help you choose to whom to send your packages.  You should look into the websites to ensure who will receive your donations.

Sites like OperationCarePackages.org have many different ideas and options for donation.  There are options to send to veterans, those in service, wounded soldiers, and soldiers’ families, as well.  Operation Gratitude has several different donations that you can participate in, including a Halloween candy drive!  You can send packages of loose candy your family has collected, as well as unopened packages of toothbrushes and floss.  They ask that you ship these items out before November 15th.

soldier care package

For those who can’t spare a lot, they ask for Christmas cards, and, from children who aren’t comfortable with writing in cards, they ask for drawings. The site even has pages to print and color in, as well as some crafts that you can do to send them. Sending these personal messages of gratitude means a lot. Those interested in letter writing can even do so year round.

OperationCarePackages.org is just one of the sites that accept donations for care packages. For holiday donations or one-time donations or letters, Adoptaussoldier.org has a program as well as all-year programs for those who are willing and able to do so. There are also other sites that you can look at with ideas on what soldiers and wounded soldiers would like to be sent to them.

To figure out what to send in your package, these sites have a requested list, with some things that you may not think of; for instance, postage.  It is not cheap to send packages to those abroad or across the country. While people are kind enough to send items, money is needed to ship them to the soldiers. The average shipping cost is $18 to ensure that these boxes will be sent out.  Sending stamps or a check for postage will help all those donations get to the people they were  intended for.

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If you do want to create a care package for a soldier, there are many things to think about.  Sending cards or other games can brighten a soldier’s day. While they may not have a lot of free time, entertainment can be a big part these peoples’ lives; a pack of cards is easily stored and quickly packed.

Depending on where they are stationed, sending movies for them to watch can be a welcome distraction for them. Without a specific list of items, it can be hard to know what movies to send but, if you stick to comedies or romances, you should be safe. There are a few stores with discounted bins of movies where you can find some good new and classic titles.

While you are picking out movies, snacks are a welcomed treat to go with your film picks.  Remember that not all food travels well, so look for snacks like Slim Jims or pre-packaged snacks. Bags of coffee or individual packages of coffee, hot chocolate, and cider packages are delicious treats. If you light up when you see a case of Little Debbie snacks, just imagine how nice it will be for a soldier abroad.  Even sending some holiday decorations can brighten their day.

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Even sending more practical items to those who are stationed will be appreciated.  It can be nice to get some of the personal care products that we take for granted, like balm for their hands and new socks which wear down easily. Phone cards are a great present to help soldiers and their families keep in touch.

practical items for soldier donations

These donations are greatly appreciated no matter the size or the cost.  Sending these care packages is a great way show your support for our troops.  Remember to send your items early in the season but, if you can’t, donations are accepted year-round.

US army soldiers asking for donations

How the Eagle Became the U.S. Mascot

A true Native American, the bald eagle can be found from Alaska to the northern border of Mexico, and from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. It is the only eagle found exclusively in North America, so it is very fitting that it is our national emblem. Not only was it decided early on but, contrary to myths and folklore, it was a quick and widely supported decision.

Roman Republic SealSince Roman times, the eagle has been associated with strength, and the Legions used it as their standard. Rightfully so, as the American bald eagle weighs between 7 and 14 lbs., males being smaller than females, and their wing spans measure 6 to 8 feet. This incredible size and power allows them to fly up to 10,000 feet in the air and dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

The eagle is a sea bird and feeds on turtles, snakes, fish, and ducks. They are also known to add rabbits, muskrats, and dead animals (think roadkill). They are an incredible bird of prey with acute eyesight and sharp talons, giving them the ability to attack from the air.

So, with the knowledge of all these qualities, it is no surprise that our founding fathers chose this bird to be our national emblem. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to come up with an official seal. With the brain power of these three, you would think it would be an The Great Seal of the USeasy task. They failed to design something that would satisfy Congress. They turned to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress.

Finally, on June 20, 1782, the Great Seal was adopted. Thomson chose the best elements from various designs and changed the small white eagle (originally in a design by William Barton, a lawyer from Pennsylvania) to the American bald eagle. Thus, our national emblem became the American bald eagle.

There are stories told about Benjamin Franklin’s opposition to this choice. The myth is that Franklin wrote:

I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly, you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to its nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him…. Besides he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest. . . of America.. . . For a truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.

The American bald eagle with American flag backgroundWhile it is a humorous tale, the truth is that he penned a letter to his daughter, once, stating that the bald eagle was “a bird of bad moral character.” While Franklin had his opinions, the American bald eagle was a strong symbol of American pride, which made it necessary to pass the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940.

Congress passed the act because the population was being diminished by the use of DDT. The chemical was widely used as a pesticide after World War I all across the U.S. The eagles were consuming animals who carried the pesticide and became a silent killer of the eagles. Thankfully, once this act was in place and the use of DDT was prohibited, the population has grown over the years.

This majestic bird is now associated with the United States by countries and people all around the world. The American bald eagle strikes a chord of pride and patriotism in Americans just as the American flag does,  and it will continue to do so for many more centuries to come.

State Flag Spotlight: The Florida State Flag

florida flag divider The Florida state flag

The State Flag of Florida

  • 27th state to join the United States of America
  • Nickname: “The Sunshine State”
  • Capital: Tallahassee

The state flag of Florida consists of three major elements: the white background (or field in vexillology terms), the intersecting red bars, and the state seal. The white background with the crossing red bars is almost identical to the state flag of Florida’s neighbor to the northwest, the state of Alabama, except a small variation on the exact hue of red used.

Added in 1900, the red bars harkened back to the southern cross pattern that appeared on the flag used by the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. It is interesting to note that, as well as the southern cross, the red cross pattern is very similar to the flag of the Spanish empire which consisted of the original Europeans to inhabit what we know today as Florida.

This flag was originally the flag of the Duke of Burgundy, whose family eventually ended inheriting the Spanish empire. The flag was made up of a white field with two intersecting jagged red bars running from corner to corner in an X shape. Before 1900, and after 1868, the flag was made up of the state seal in the center of the white field of the flag.

The Floridian State Seal serves as a very complex and interesting focal point of the flag. On August 6, 1868, due to the requirements of the state’s newly adopted constitution, a resolution was passed dictating “That a Seal of the size of the American silver dollar, having in the center thereof a view of the sun’s rays over a high land in the distance, a cocoa tree, a steamboat on water, and an Indian female scattering flowers in the foreground, encircled by the words, ‘Great Seal of the State of Florida: In God We Trust’, be and the same is hereby adopted as the Great Seal of the State of Florida.”

In the year 1970, over a century since the original seal was designed and adopted by the government of the state of Florida, a small, and some would say, minor change was made to the official resolution describing the flag, which changed the “cocoa tree” to a “Sabal palmetto palm” tree.

In 2006 the phrase “In God We Trust,” which graces the banner at the bottom of the original seal and would later be moved to the bottom half of a banner encircling the modern seal, was adopted by the state of Florida as its official motto. After a few different variations in art style and overall design of the seal, as well as the correction of what were viewed as historical errors in the seal, the current version of the seal, the one that is now located at the center of Florida’s official state flag, was adopted in 1985.

florida flag sealDissecting the Meaning Behind the Seal

  • The woman on the seal is a member of the Seminole native American tribe who inhabited parts of the state before the Europeans began to settle the area.
  • The tree is a sable palm tree, which is the state tree.
  • The woman is dropping flowers which represent Florida’s name, referencing its abundance of flowers.
  • The rising sun is a representation of Florida’s being famously known as “the land of sunshine.”
  • The water is supposed to be the meeting of the lakes and rivers scattered throughout the state.
  • The steamboat appears to be an homage to Florida’s booming industry and trade that helped build the state.

 

Changes in the Sealmodern florida flag seal

  • The native American woman originally in the seal was wearing clothing from the Plains Indian tribes.
  • The tree from the first seal was changed from a cocoa tree to a sable palm tree.
  • The first seal had a banner reading “In God We Trust” across the bottom. This was then removed and replaced with a banner encircling the seal reading “Great Seal
    of the State of Florida” across the top and “In God We Trust” at the bottom .
  • The art style has also changed, from a very realistic painting, to a simpler version of the scene, to the current and more abstract art style the seal has now.

 

A Brief History of the American Flag

American Flag DividerMultiple American Flags

From atop flagpoles in front of every school to the rear window of cousin Jimmy’s 1987 Chevy Silverado, the flag of the United States of America is perhaps the most recognizable part of the American experience. We grow up seeing the flag in every classroom, in front of every state building, on our t-shirts, hats, and other articles of clothing—not to mention the Fourth of July, the celebration of America’s birthday, which is steadily ranked in America’s top five favorite holidays. Many Americans have no idea the history behind the flag and its earlier incarnations.

Grand Union Flag Divider

Grand Union FlagThe Grand Union Flag (1775-1777)

The first official flag of the United States of America was the Grand Union flag. With the flag of Great Britain in its canton (itself consisting of the English flag or St. George’s cross, and the Scottish flag or St. Andrew’s cross) and thirteen alternating red and white stripes representing the thirteen colonies making up the states that were united at the time.

Flag of Resolution Divider

American Flag of the ResolutionFlag of the Resolution (1777-1795)

On the fourteenth of June 1777, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress passed what would become known as “the flag resolution,” which stated “That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” The new resolution did not specify exactly what the star’s pattern would be—just that it was to be a new constellation.

Betsy Ross Flag Divider

Betsy Ross FlagBetsy Ross Flag (1792-1795)

A still popular variant of the flag of the resolution, this version placed the white stars in a circle on a blue field in the canton. Although referred to as “the Betsy Ross Flag,” it is heavily debated among experts if she had anything to do with the creation of the flag.

Star Spangled Banner Divider

Star Spangled BannerStar-Spangled Banner (1795-1818)

“Oh, say can you see, By the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hailed, At the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, Were so gallantly streaming. And the rocket’s red glare, The bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night,

That our flag was still there. Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave? For the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” On September 13th, 1814 Francis Scott Key wrote what would become known as the American National Anthem, a poem called “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after negotiating the release of a friend from the British who, as a condition to his friend’s release, refused to let them leave the ship that his friend had been being held on until after the assault on fort McHenry had finished.

Once the smoke from the battle cleared, the Garrison flag above the fort continued to wave. While the official “Star-Spangled Banner” flag that we hear about in the American National Anthem was not sewn until 1813, it was the largest battle flag ever to be flown at the time. It had been based on a popular design used since the annexation of Vermont and Kentucky.

Growing Nation Divider

US Historical FlagsGrowing Nation (1818-present)

As the country grew, there was another star added for each state that joined the union. Until 1912, the star pattern was not officially specified. There are a few variant patterns. They ranged from being in circle patterns to star patterns and, of course, the more traditional square patterns of today. In 1934 the exact hues of the flag’s colors were officially decided.

Finally, in 1959, Hawaii joined the union and our current flag design was adopted. There are already designs for possible future versions of the flag, including stars for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, and even one proposed one that has over 90 stars.

30 Great American Flag Crafts

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The American flag is a very popular subject for crafting. There is, of course, some controversy regarding whether a particular medium is suitable for creating one, or even whether using an American flag is appropriate in the first place. The Flag Code states that the flag should not be used in a disrespectful or inappropriate manner, which is implied insofar as disposable or edible items featuring the flag. It should not be desecrated (in this case, written on or cut up), nor worn as clothing, used as bedding, or as a receptacle. Continue reading

American Flag Guidelines You Need to Know

You have no doubt been wondering, ever since 1923, exactly how the American flag ought to be displayed. That, of course, being the year that the government ratified the United States Flag Code, although at that time it was more or less merely a codification of the procedures and regulations that the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army had already been following.

The next year, as you recall, the National Flag Conference made some slight changes to the Code and called it good, leaving it to Congress to eventually draft a resolution recognizing the Code as Law. Which, you certainly recollect, they got around to doing in 1942. Continue reading

In Appreciation of City Flags

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Throughout history, flags have served as an excellent display of cultural and geographic identity. A flag tends to be viewed as a physical representation of the intangible idea of the nation. Every weekday children across the United States of America say The Pledge of Allegiance to Old Glory, and they could easily explain to you that the thirteen red and white stripes are for the thirteen original colonies, and that the fifty stars stand for the fifty current states in the union. Continue reading

The Papal Flag: Symbols and Meaning

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A Tiny Country with Immense Power

Though Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, it is arguably one of the most influential of all time. It is the home of the Pope, the titular head of the Roman Catholic church and the site of some of some of the most important art and architecture on Earth: Pretty impressive for a tiny patch of land just over 100 acres in size. The population is similarly limited, with only 594 citizens registered in 2011. Most of these live abroad in diplomatic capacities attached to embassies. Continue reading

The Bedford Flag: Its History and Meaning

The Bedford Flag is the oldest intact flag in the United States, possibly the oldest flag carried into battle in the history of America. There is, of course, some controversy, which we will look at briefly. First, though, let’s look at the banner itself:

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… or at least a reproduction of it; the original is painted on red silk damask and, while intact, is not in the best of condition. Note the almost square shape; most modern flags are rectangular, in roughly a 2:1 to 4:3 ratio. This probably indicates it was a cavalry flag.

The flag is asymmetrical, with the obverse and reverse having slightly different designs. Here, we view the obverse, where the sword is extended behind the ribbon, gripped in the right hand, and the inscription on the ribbon reads from top to bottom. The reverse has the sword in front of the ribbon, held in the left hand, and the inscription climbing. That Latin inscription is Vince Aut Morire, meaning Conquer or Die.

The exact date of manufacture is unknown, but it was already an heirloom when it was carried into the Battle of Concord (or was it?) on April 19, 1775, by Nathaniel Page. Analysis of the pigments on the flag indicates the presence of the pigment Prussian Blue, invented in 1704, so that limits its creation to after that period.

The damasking suggests further that its likely creation is in the early 1700s; the floral pattern of pomegranates, grapes, and leaves was common in that time period. Also, the Page family is mentioned in military rolls at the time as being dispatched as cornets, who carried the flag for their companies, by 1737 at least. Presuming they brought this flag with them, it certainly indicates it was possible to have been carried to North Bridge in Concord at the appropriate time.

Unfortunately, the ephemera from the battles do not indicate the presence of such a flag. Surely someone at the battle would have taken notice of such a unique flag and made mention of it; most flags are readily identifiable – which is the point, really – and would have been listed in a debrief of a battle, so that the companies and units that participated would be properly recorded. Sadly, the lack of any such notice means that, despite the lore, Mr. Page probably did not actually carry the flag into any such conflict.

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That doesn’t mean that its position as the oldest flag in the United States is in danger, though, especially since it’s in very good shape for a three-hundred-year-old piece of cloth. In fact, the symbolism of the flag is pretty interesting, so let’s turn from the sorrow and embrace the heraldry.

The armored arm was a fairly standard heraldry symbol, used throughout Europe to indicate a powerful leader, specifically a person endowed with qualities of leadership rather than just a person in charge by circumstance. The sword, unsurprisingly, is also very commonly seen, indicating military honor and justice.

The cloud is a touch more obscure, indicating mystery, but flag designers were never totally immune to the idea that some things simply look awesome, and a sword-wielding arm emerging from a cloud to declare that it must “Conquer or Die” falls directly into that category. Three cannonballs are suspended in the air; in heraldry this generally means the bearer of the flag has faced such a weapon in battle.

To sum up: A strong military leader who is willing to face cannon and not back down? Definitely a good choice for a unit of Minutemen to rally behind. It is probable that the Page family carried the banner into maneuvers and meetings, even if they likely didn’t commission nor procure it for the company, as that was the company commander’s duty.

Even if it was absent at the first battle of the American Revolution, the long history of the flag ensures that it will command interest for a long time to come. The Bedford Library currently holds the flag in a special room in its history area, where it is available to view at any time the library is open. Seeing such an artifact in person connects the viewer to its original position in a way that is difficult to convey, although now you can acquire an excellent reproduction to re-experience that feeling at any time.

Showing Your Colors with NFL Football Flags

Autumn … leaves changing beautiful colors, pumpkin spice, cooler weather, and FOOTBALL! This time of year is a favorite for all the wonderful things from hoodies to Oktoberfest beer, but perhaps the most anticipated event is the kick-off to the football season. Every fan nationwide pulls out their favorite team’s shirts, hats, bobble heads, flags, and colors to show their love for the home team.

Fans can be fanatic about their teams, whether because they grew up watching them or because of an emotional tie to the team name and colors. Some of the NFL teams have been around since the 1920s, back when the league was known as the American Football League. Rooted in history, some of these franchises have changed names, cities, and owners over time, but their logos remained a part of the fabric of the team.

image1The San Francisco 49ers are among the top ten original teams of the NFL, playing since 1946. They are one of the few teams that can claim to have never moved cities and to have kept their team name intact for over 70 years. The meaning of their name is pretty obviously a nod to the 1849 gold rush. It was meant to pay homage to the influx of pioneers who migrated to California in search of gold.

Interestingly, the massive discovery of gold occurred just days before the treaty between Mexico and the U.S. was signed, effectively ending the Mexican-American War, leaving California as part of the United States. Over 750,000 pounds of gold were found over the course of the ‘49 gold rush – probably why the 49ers have gold as one of their main colors!

image2While San Francisco might be one of the original NFL teams, certainly one of the most notorious franchises is the Dallas Cowboys. Their infamous history began in 1960 as an expansion team, and they are the only NFL team to have a record 20 straight winning seasons from 1966-1985. Jerry Jones has made them into the wealthiest team in the League, with five Super Bowl wins.

Did you know they don’t even play in Dallas? Their current stadium is in Arlington, Texas. The team boasts so many incredible players to have been a part of the alumni. Players such as Mike Ditka, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmet Smith, and many more who hold records and places in the hall of fame. The logo clearly represents their home state nickname: ‘The Lone Star.”

The oldest team in NFL history is named the Chicago Bears. They began as the Decatur Staley’s, named after their owner, and when the Chicago Cardinals (the other oldest team) moved to St. Louis (finally landing in Arizona), they became the Chicago Bears. While the city doesn’t have a bear problem, the football team played at Wrigley field, home of the Cubs. Instead of keeping the name “Staley,” they changed their name in honor of their host.

The Bears trademark “C’ logo was first worn on their helmets in 1962, then redesigned to incorporate the team’s primary colors of red and blue in 1974. The fun fact about the “C” is that it was the exact same logo that the Chicago Cardinals used from 1920-1947, but since they were such a defunct team, the Bears repatriated their logo.

image3No discussion about football can be complete without mentioning the incredible dynasty of the New England Patriots. Fans who suffered through the challenging beginnings and the devastating loss in the ‘86 Super Bowl are now savoring the legacy Bill Belichick has bestowed on New England. The Brady/Belichick power-packed combo has reigned supreme since 2001, winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Throughout every controversy, every accusation of cheating, the New England Patriots have risen above it all. Belichick has created an organization of well-disciplined players who have more sportsmanship than most franchises. No wonder fans are eager to don their #12 jerseys!

The logo has changed throughout the years, from Pat Patriot snapping the football, to a modernized Patriot head lovingly known as “The Flying Elvis.” Having a Minuteman as the logo pays homage to the deep history of the region, where the Revolutionary War began and was primarily fought.

There are many reasons that football has replaced baseball as America’s sport of choice, not the least of which is the excellent marketing by the NFL with team gear. From clothing to mugs, lanyards to blankets, and so much more, you can show your colors for your favorite NFL team all year round. Are you ready for some football?