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Columns

Reflections: Is your clasp locker closed? Checking it is a real zip

April showers bring May flowers, we used to say.

Which puzzled our friends south of the Mason-Dixon Line, because spring flowers down that way started blooming in February and March, with summer blooms well underway by this time of year.

Nonetheless, it was true, although we have to keep in mind that this is the Midwest, the place where it is said, with no attempt at humor or hyperbole, that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.

But enough of this weather business – it’s time to talk about something really important: Junk mail.

Yes, while we have been braving this spring’s northern Illinois weather, so have the mailman and mailwoman as they completed their appointed rounds attempting to deliver mountains of third-class circulars, come-ons, and pleas for money. But in among even the worst junk mail, the really committed searcher can find pearls of wisdom. And so, with very little further ado (and apologies to the great columnist Hal Boyle), here are a bunch of things I never would have found out (or even thought about, for that matter) if I hadn’t opened all my junk mail each and every day the mail carrier showed up at the mailbox out front:

The first zip-fastener – the zipper – was invented by Whitcomb L. Judson of Chicago. Designed for boots and shoes and first called a clasp locker, it was first exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. So there.

The coldest permanently inhabited place in the world is the Siberian village of Oymyakon, population 4,000 (Saaalute!) (that’s a “Hee Haw” joke, for you older folks) where temperatures reached -96° F. in 1924. And here you thought the Cold War started after World War II!

Interested in keeping bugs under control without resorting to calling one of those guys driving the big tank truck and wearing a gas mask? Just buy some praying mantis egg cases and let them hatch in your yard. You can get them from Amazon.com, where the ad is accompanied by this exclamation: “Seriously, we have EVERYTHING!” I’m still bummed that Gurney’s in Yankton, South Dakota, my favorite mail-order gardening company, went belly-up back in 2001, after which the name got bought out and slapped on an Indiana mail order seed company. I always figured if stuff could survive in Yankton, it ought to grow like gangbusters here in the sunny southland of Kendall County. Anyway, it says here it takes 16 egg cases per acre to get really good coverage. It’s also a good idea not to think about that giant bug movie, “The Beginning of the End,” while you’re spreading the praying mantis cases around the neighborhood.

Says here a good dairy cow can produce 12,000 pounds of milk a year – that’s 1,395 gallons, by the way.

The month May was named for Maia, the Greek goddess of fertility.

Ever wonder where the word “glove” comes from? Turns out the root is one of those good old Anglo-Saxon four letter words: “glof,” which means palm of the hand.

Good work if you can get it: Some armadillos, opossums and sloths spend up to 80 percent of their lives sleeping. Meanwhile, just to even things out a bit, Dali’s porpoise never sleeps at all. Which reminds me, sloth is one of my favorite deadly sins.

Here’s something to ponder: In any given year, no month begins or ends on the same day of the week as May.

The nation’s first automobile speeding ticket was written in 1904 in Newport, Rhode Island. It seems a motorist was careening along with reckless abandon at 20 mph, five miles over the posted limit.

Talk about your laws: In Cleveland you can’t get married in a bathing suit. Since that’s the place the river used to catch on fire from time to time, maybe it’s a good idea.

May was once considered a bad luck month to get married. There is a poem that says “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day.”

The U.S. government owns 728 million acres of the U.S.

Have a thickening emergency on your hands? Well, if you’re out of flour for making gravy, you can substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch for each tablespoon of flour.

Your family’s coat of arms originally had a practical purpose. About 1100 or so, knights started painting devices on their shields and helmets to help their followers keep track of where they were on the battlefield. Eventually, those devices evolved into today’s coats of arms.

On average, about 4 trillion gallons of water fall on the U.S. each day in the form of rain and snow.

How badly do you want a new tablecloth? If you work up a 20-by-30-foot plot of ground and sow it with flax seeds, you should be able to grow enough to spin sufficient linen thread to weave a tablecloth. Of course, you’ve got to harvest the flax, break it, comb it, spin it, dye it, and then weave it, and you’ll need a variety of tools ranging from a spinning wheel to a loom, which makes that tablecloth at Penney’s look better all the time.

Figure using 1-1/2 pounds of coffee for each 90 cups you plan to make.

Summer beverage tip: Your iced tea cloudy? Just add a bit of boiling water and it should clear right up.

The yak of Tibet and the Sichuanese Alps of China occasionally feeds at altitudes as high as 20,000 feet.

No United States president has ever died in May, the only month with that distinction. 

Still hungry after eating your Weight Watchers supper (consisting of two crackers and a prune)? Eat some legumes: peas, peanuts, beans and soybeans all add bulk to your diet so you feel fuller longer.

Woodrow Wilson reported that his earliest memory as a child was of a passerby shouting that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and war would soon follow.

Today’s energy tip: If you leave a room for more than a minute, turn off the lights, otherwise leave them on. For fluorescent lights, use one hour as the rule.

• Looking for more local history? Visit historyonthefox.wordpress.com.

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