Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

May 5—five of May–Cinco de Mayo—the day Americans heartily celebrate Mexican food, culture, and traditions. People across the country, whether of Mexican heritage or not, embrace the day as an excuse to eat Tex-Mex cuisine, drink Mexican beer, prepare pitchers of margaritas and platters of nachos, and party!

However, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday.  It is not Mexico’s Independence Day (Dieciséis de Septiembre, September 16) as many incorrectly think, but rather marks the day the Mexican army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. It is also known as the Battle of Puebla Day and is celebrated in Puebla with a military parade and mock battle.

So why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the United States? As with many other U.S. holidays, it’s all in the marketing.  However, Cinco de Mayo initially started in the U.S. because of its historical ties to the Civil War, making it, truly, an American-made holiday.

At the time of the Franco-Mexican War, the US was in the midst of the Civil War.  The French desired a presence in Mexico to support the Confederate Army and hopefully regain possession of the land sold to Thomas Jefferson in the famed Louisiana Purchase.  With the French defeat at Puebla, the Confederate Army lost the French support and the Union Army was able to advance.  “The rest” as they say, “is history.”

Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated in Southern California in 1863 as a show of solidarity with Mexico against French rule. Celebrations continued on a yearly basis giving way to larger celebrations with corporations sponsoring events.  By the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo had become commercialized on a wide scale as alcohol and food companies used the celebrated day to promote their products as well as to celebrate Mexican food, culture, and tradition.  All giving Americans an excuse to throw a party.

Cinco de Mayo is for celebrating!  It is a day to celebrate our Mexican-American friends’ traditions, culture, and food.  It is a day to celebrate America’s connection to Cinco de Mayo. It is a day to celebrate diversity.  It is a day to celebrate opportunities to promote ethnic consciousness and build community union. By all means, have a fiesta!

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Celebrating Quilts and Crafts and Those Who DO IT


March might be the month of spring, but it is also National Quilting Month and National Craft Month! A time to celebrate and appreciate the two artistic forms.  Is it coincidence that the two commemorated activities come in the same month?  I have to wonder since they are so closely related.

National Quilting Month has been sponsored by the National Quilting Association (NQA) since 1991 when it designated the third Saturday in March as National Quilting Day; over the years it has expanded to the entire month of March giving quilters more time for shop-hops, shows, and classes.  In 1994, the Craft & Hobby Association created National Craft Month to help people rediscover and learn about the benefits of crafting.  While crafting may conjure up images of kids working with popsicle sticks and glue, crafters, in reality, are people of all ages who produce something tangible with their hands. 

I quilt and I craft.  Both provide me with joy and a sense of accomplishment but I have no idea if that makes me a quilter, crafter, or a kind of artist.  The word ‘craft’ is synonymous with the word ‘trade,’ meaning skilled labor in an area such as weaving, carpentry, pottery, etc.  Crafting also means creating anything by hand that has an artistic aspect to it such as knitting, scrapbooking, jewelry making, etc.

Whether one is quilting or crafting, there is skill and creativity involved.  Both are done with the hands and require supplies and equipment unique to the project.  Either can be an occupation with some earning a living by selling their creations or by teaching their skill.

Quilts and various crafts can be beautiful as well as useful or not.  It is for this reason that we have shows and museums to expose, share, study and enjoy the skill.  Whether quilt or craft, both adhere to aesthetic principles by the materials chosen, shapes used, or how the various pieces come together.  The completed pieces may be useful or have no purpose at all.  When they provide beauty or please our sense of aesthetics, the outcome is art.

Benefits of Quilting and Crafting

Regardless of how we see ourselves, quilting and crafting are intertwined and interdependent.  Crafting, whether quilting or otherwise, offers outlets for hands-on creativity and the benefits are numerous:

  • Relieves stress by turning on our endorphins, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, reducing fight or flight, heart attack and stroke.
  • Increases mental acuity with problem solving, math or geometry, and critical thinking.
  • Meaningful work or sense of accomplishment provides pleasure rewards for the brain.
  • Increases appreciation, empathy and tolerance of others and other forms of creativity.
  • Builds confidence and inspires one to think ‘outside of the box’ in other aspects of their lives.
  • Brings people together as they enjoy and inspire one another.
  • Helps one learn about themselves and their values, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Boosts productivity, resilience, concentration and focus by boosting neurons between the right and left brain hemispheres.

Celebrate Quilting and Crafting

There are any number of ways one can celebrate quilting and crafting in March or any other time. 

  • Rediscover a prior skill. 
  • Try something new or expand on a skill. 
  • Visit a museum or craft or quilt show to appreciate and learn more about the craft or art. 
  • Spend time with someone who quilts or crafts to learn more about their work. 
  • Take a class (virtual or in-person) in a craft that interests you. 

Do whatever it takes to get into the spirit of crafting or quilting.  Let your itching fingers, yearning heart, and skill set combine with your creativity to make something.  Reap the rewards that come with discovering yourself through hands-on crafting or quilting and celebrate and appreciate whatever your accomplishment may be! 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Chili – What is it?

Chili is a favorite soup or stew but no one seems to agree on what chili should be. There are as many ways to make chili as there are people who make it.    Some like it hot, some like it mild, some like it on top of a baked potato or mound of spaghetti, some say beans, others say NO beans.  However you like it, chili, served with a side of cornbread, cinnamon roll, oyster crackers, sour cream, cheese, or plain, is an American comfort food. To that end, chili even has its own national celebration day; the fourth Thursday in February is designated as National Chili Day.

While little information was found on the origin of Chili Day, it appears to have had a long history.  On the other hand, the origin of chili is credited to a mixture of chili peppers and meat known as chili con carne, Spanish for chili with meat.

In today’s world, there is no agreement on what chili should be or look like.  Many recipes use a combination of  tomatoes, beans or no beans, chili peppers and/or peppers, meat, garlic, onions, and cumin but the variations are endless and even include vegetarian and vegan varieties.  Despite popular belief, chili does not come from Mexico. Recipes have certainly been influenced by Mexican culture, but also incorporate elements from Native American and Spanish culinary traditions. Many historians believe chili originated in Texas where all three of these cultures intersected. Cowboys and the American frontier settlers made chili from a chili brick cooked in a pot of boiling water along the trail or in the frontier home for a hearty meal.  The brick consisted of dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers and salt, pounded together and dried giving the mixture a long shelf life. Chili was a popular food offering at the Worlds Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago where the San Antonio Chili Stand introduced Texas-style chili con carne to attendees.  Prior to World War II the popularity of chili lead to small, family-run chili parlors (also known as chili joints) popping up throughout the US with Texas leading the way.  Each parlor had its own claim to fame featuring a secret recipe or ingredient.

Chili adapts easily to quantity cookery making it a great food for crowds.  It also makes a great centerpiece for entertainment or as a fund raiser in the form of a chili cook-off.   Cook-off participants prepare their carefully-guarded and best chili concoctions to battle for judges’ or visitors’ approval to declare their recipe a winner!  While many chili cook-offs are a local event with prizes and recognition, it may also be a sanctioned contest leading to international fame with large prizes.

There are many ways that people enjoy the great taste of chili—soup, burgers, dogs, fries, just to name a few.  There are also regional ways to enjoy chili.  Cincinnati Chili is a favorite of many Ohioans.  Chili is spooned over pasta, usually spaghetti, and topped with shredded cheese, kidney beans, crushed crackers, and onions.  In New Mexico, one would commonly enjoy a bowl of Green Chili Stew or Chili Verde made with cubes of pork, Hatch chilies, tomatillos and other seasonings; it may be served over rice or corn tortillas or not.  St Louis also has a chili favorite known as the St Louis Slinger—a dish made with a ground beef patty, hash browns, and eggs covered with chili and topped with cheese and onions.  If one starts with a basic chili and adds a generous dose of Cajun seasoning and Louisiana hot sauce, one has an unforgettable New Orleans-style chili. Finally, there is the no-beans, no tomatoes Texas Red made with chunks of beef, beef suet, a variety of peppers, and seasonings.

Because chili ingredients vary so much, it is not possible to give exact nutritional information.  When meat, beans, peppers, onions, and tomatoes form the base of the soup, nutritional benefits may include vitamins A and C, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.  Whatever the nutritional value, style, or recipe, chili is definitely an American classic and favorite to be enjoyed in various styles.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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