National Cleaning Week

March 24, 2020

Americans spend, on average, six hours a week doing this? With the recent pandemic, however, the amount of time may be even greater. What is it?

Grumpy cat vacuum

Cleaning their house.

The last Sunday in March marks the beginning of National Cleaning Week. While the origins of this week are not entirely clear, the term ’spring cleaning ‘ is common and for our pioneer ancestors involved many back breaking tasks. One was the removing the stuffing of one’s mattresses, washing the cover, and then refilling it.  It does not take much imagination to envision how those beds may have smelled or what sorts of critters also used them when they were only changed every six months.

In fact every inch of the pioneer home was scrubbed into submission with the cleansing of curtains and bed sheets, the scrubbing of all walls and floors, the polishing of stoves, and the cleaning out of drawers and cupboards.

For many people, the task of cleaning is onerous. While a full time, live in housekeeper and even maids was once common for a wealthy household and even upper middle class ones; today’s American middle class has embraced the weekly or every other week, house cleaner. This is especially true for those where a job outside the house takes up the majority of daylight hours or the physical demands of cleaning are not possible.

Rather than quoting from the Infallible Wikipedia, the National Day’s Calendar shares this advice on how to ‘celebrate’ National Cleaning Week:

“Clean. The folks at Home Team have these recommendations to make cleaning week less intimidating: Tackle one room at a time, start from the top and work down, dusting ceiling fans door moldings and window tops. Don’t be afraid to move furniture. Donate to (a) thrift store those things you gather when you clean out closets, basements and storage space.”

Hmmm… that sounds a lot like what the pioneers did. With the exception of thrift stores.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have had housekeepers to help me stay on top of cleaning. I’ll never forget the first… the hubby and I had recently purchased a 1910 fixer upper in West Seattle. We were both working full time and this housekeeper was recommended to us.

I imagine this woman took one look at me and thought (not incorrectly) that I was a snotty 24 year old who knew nothing. So she shows up on week one and tells me HER rules. I could live with her rules since I really, really wanted her to clean the house so I didn’t have to. Especially the bathrooms. Did you know that for 52 percent of people that’s the most dreaded task? But I digress.

When she arrives, she is thrilled to learn that we have a cat. His name was Porsche. She immediately picks up Porsche to pet and cuddle him. Then it’s time for me to leave for work, so I put the cat outside. This sparks a conversation as now said housekeeper is upset that Porsche has to be outside for the day. I explain to her that he is the worst thing that ever happened to furniture and point out our badly damaged, and fairly new, couch which has been shredded by cat claws.

I leave for work. When I return later that afternoon, I do discover a cleaned house… and the cat is inside. Upon examination, I also discover that the new housekeeper has given Porsche a pedi.

In a subsequent conversation with her she refused to not cut the cats claws and refused to leave the cat outside per our instructions. I think we had the housekeeper for some three weeks before it was back to no housekeeper.

I’ve had others over the years. My favorite was a woman named Karen who only worked for people who appreciated her. She helped me when my children were little and I just couldn’t keep up with everything. One day she said to me that she liked coming to our house because she felt like her services were very much needed! Hah! Yes, I was truly a horrible housekeeper.

Now that I’m older, I don’t worry quite so much about having the house spotless and neither does my current housekeeper. She is, actually, rather lazy. I never quite know when she might show up and clean the dreaded bathrooms or mop the hardwoods. It’s very hit and miss. Eventually, she gets it done even if she grouses about how her back hurts, or she sits for a while, claiming she needs her frequent breaks.

These past couple of weeks with ‘social distancing’ edicts has really thrown my world into a tizzy. My lazy housekeeper says she won’t come in to clean and has instead declared that she’s staying at her own home to watch Hallmark movies, read trashy romance novels, and eat Bon Bons.

Lazy housekeepingSo it’s back to me having to clean the house once again. The hubby pulls out the vacuum when it gets bad. And I’m on constant vigil for signs that the bathrooms need attention. But a funny thing has happened with being forced to stay home. I’ve gotten through a number of boxes of stuff which needed sorting. I’m catching up on some mending projects. I’ve gotten the hubby to take on the task of fixing the barbecue table and plan to have him help me hang a few pictures and a display cabinet I brought back from my Dad’s house.

All in all, The Great Quarantine of 2020 and National Cleaning Week, have coalesced into the week when – I’m pretty sure – households all across the nation are at the Zenith of being clean.

Cats, however, cannot figure out what the fuss is all about. They wrote the book on social distancing and being clean… experts at staying six feet away, only interacting with their favored family members, and spending hours licking their fur clean. Just don’t trim their nails.

Our most dreaded of cleaning tasks:

  • cleaning the bathroom (52 percent)
  • kitchen cleaning (23 percent)
  • dusting (21 percent)
  • mopping (20 percent)
  • doing the laundry (17 percent)

National Clam Chowder Day

February 25, 2020

In search of the perfect soup

By the end of February, most people are longing for spring to arrive. Alas, the warmer days still elude in the northern hemisphere. So what better way to celebrate on February 25th than with a steaming bowl of Clam Chowder. Today is National Clam Chowder day.

Clam-Chowder-664In thinking about this particular soup I cannot recall a time when I did not know of it or eat it. Always a staple in my household growing up, my mother used to make it from the frozen razor clams my family dug each summer.

Which got me to wondering, what WAS the history of clam chowder?

As always, the Infallible Wikipedia sheds some light for us:

Clam chowder is any of several chowder soups containing clams and broth. In addition to clams, common ingredients include diced potatoes, onions, and celery. Other vegetables are not typically used, but small carrot strips or a garnish of parsley might occasionally be added primarily for color. A garnish of bay leaves adds both color and flavor. It is believed that clams were used in chowder because of the relative ease of harvesting them. Clam chowder is usually served with saltine crackers or small, hexagonal oyster crackers.

The dish originated in the Eastern United States, but is now commonly served in restaurants throughout the country, particularly on Fridays when American Catholics traditionally abstained from meat. Many regional variations exist, but the two most prevalent are New England or ‘white’ clam chowder and Rhode Island / Manhattan or ‘red’ clam chowder. (snip)

The earliest-established and most popular variety of clam chowder, New England clam chowder, was introduced to the region by French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers, becoming common in the 18th century. The first recipe for another variety, Manhattan clam chowder, known for using tomatoes and its consequently distinctly red coloring, was published before 1919, but it did not take on the current name until 1934. In 1939, the New England state of Maine debated legislation that would outlaw the use of tomatoes in chowder, thereby essentially prohibiting the ‘Manhattan’ form.”

I chuckled to myself when I read that last sentence about Maine considering a way to keep Manhattan chowder out of New England. Having grown up on New England style clam chowder, the red kind does seem a bit blasphemous.

My mother cooked wonderful clam chowder but me, not so much. I have, though, made it one of my fairly recent life’s missions to try clam chowder whenever I find myself in a coastal town which features the soup.

Fannizis Provincetown

Fanizzi’s in Provincetown was, I think, the restaurant where we ate.

While on Cape Cod in 2008 with my hubby and then 15 year old daughter, we happened into a quaint restaurant in Provincetown and enjoyed steamy bowls  of the nectar on a cool, but clear, early April afternoon.

Provincetown, for those unfamiliar with Massachusetts geography, sits at the very furthest away (by land) part of Cape Cod. It was where the Pilgrims first landed in 1620. Although I can no longer recall the name of the restaurant where we had lunch, it was that trip which began the quest for perfect chowder.

One summer, while on an annual trip to Long Beach Washington with my sister, we went to several local eateries to try the clam chowder. I was surprised when the place where we had always gone turned out to not be my favorite.


Not as flashy as Fannizi’s – but their chowder is top rate.

It was on the fourth day – and fourth restaurant – I declared a winner. Castaway’s has been a fixture on Pacific Avenue for years. But I’d never been there. So my sister and I got a high table in the bar rather than wait for seating in the restaurant portion which seems to always be full up. I ordered the clam chowder in a bread bowl.

From the first bite I knew it was a winner. Even better was getting to consume every last drop which the soft interior of the bread bowl had absorbed. It was heavenly.

Now, whenever I am lucky enough to visit the beach, Castaway’s is a required stop for a bread bowl full of their clam chowder.

Writing this article has inspired me to look for recipes and try my hand at recreating the very best chowder I can. The following claims to be the BEST clam chowder ever. I think I will mosey out to the fresh fish market on Highway 20 (between Burlington and Anacortes) and buy some clams to make the chowder. I will update the blog later this week with the results!

The recipe includes butter, half and half, bay leaves, and Tabasco sauce. What’s not to like? Here is the link:

And a couple more links on the history and variations of the eponymous clam chowder:

The National Christmas Tree

 A 96 Year Tradition

December 24, 2019


The 2019 National Christmas Tree

At 3 p.m. on Monday, December 24th, 1923, an American tradition began which continues to this day. That event was the lighting of the first National Christmas tree.

Now, 96 years later, the event occurs earlier in the month – this year on December 5th – as it has since 1954 during a month long event known as the Pageant of Peace. But back to the beginning.

The concept of a National Christmas tree was the idea of Frederick Morris Feiker, an engineer with General Electric. He, along with Vermont US Senator Frank L. Greene, convinced President Calvin Coolidge to light the tree.

Alumni of Middlebury College in Vermont paid for the transport of a 48 foot tall balsam fir to be transported to Washington, D.C. with GE providing 2,500 green, red, and white electric lights.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:


President Calvin Coolidge and dignitaries at the first National Tree Lighting ceremony in 1923

“At 3 p.m. on December 24, 1923, a 100-voice choir from the First Congregational Church assembled on the South Portico of the White House and began a two-hour concert of Christmas carols. At 5 p.m. (dusk) on Christmas Eve, President Coolidge touched a button at the foot of the tree which lit the lights and electric candles adorning the tree, but he did not speak. A searchlight from the nearby Washington Monument was trained on the tree to help illuminate it as well. The Coolidge family invited citizens of the city to sing Christmas carols on the Ellipse after dark. Between 5,000 and 6,000 people thronged the park, joined by 3,000 more people by 9 p.m. The crowds were joined by the Epiphany Church and First Congregational Church choirs, which sang carols, and the Marine Band played Christmas-themed music. The singing ended shortly before midnight. After the white residents of the city had dispersed, African American residents of the city were permitted on the park grounds to see the National Christmas Tree. An outdoor Christian worship service was held, and a mass choir composed of signing groups from area community centers sang more Christmas carols. An illuminated Christian cross was flashed on the Washington Monument, and men dressed as shepherds walked from the National Christmas Tree to the monument.”

300px-US_National_Christmas_Tree_1923The following year Coolidge objected to cutting down a tree for the event so a 35 foot tall live Norway Spruce was located and planted in a new location near the Treasury Building. This tree survived until 1929 when it was determined that the plant had been damaged and needed to be replaced. This began a series of live trees being planted, dying, and being replaced until, in 1934, the last tree was cut down in that location.

In December 1934, the tree and the ceremony were moved to Layfayette park, north of the White House. There it remained for only a few short years before returning to its original site on the Ellipse where it remains to this day. Over the years there have been many, many trees which have served in the role. Additionally, the ceremonies and events associated with it have become quite extensive. If you’d like to read more about its history, here’s the Wikipedia link and also the link to the official website

Although I’ve never seen the National Tree, I do love driving around during the Christmas season and viewing all the wonderful outdoor decorations. There is nothing quite so beautiful as a blue spruce or fir tree at night covered with lights AND an inch or two of snow on its branches.

My first memory of such a tree was when I was probably 7 or 8. My bedroom in Yakima faced towards our backyard. Our neighbor, Ray Broten, spent a lot of time keeping his yard beautiful. No matter the season, his was always manicured and trimmed to perfection. That particular December, the spruce tree located in the southwest corner of his backyard cut through the darkness with blue, green, red, and white lights, illuminating my bedroom each night. After I went to bed there was many a time I stole back over to the window and just stood and looked out at his beautiful tree. My favorite nights were when a soft snow was falling, muting the darkness with a blanket of white.

When I got too cold, I’d crawl back in to bed, and as I warmed up and drifted off to sleep, the shine of those lights would bathe the room with a soft glow.

This tradition continued for a number of years until the time I moved away from Yakima. Although those years are long ago, the memory is etched with clarity as Mr. Broten unknowingly created one of my fondest recollections.

May your Christmas also be one of wonderful reminiscences and the creation of new memories. Merry Christmas one and all.

Shiny Brite

A Christmas Tradition

December 17, 2019

Shiny Brite box

Shiny Brite box. Note Uncle Sam and Santa shaking hands.

Long before Hallmark introduced their line of annual Christmas ornaments, another American Company  had taken the market by storm, selling millions of baubles every year from 1940 to 1962. Marketed as Shiny Brite, the distinctive green boxes which featured Santa Claus shaking Uncle Sam’s hand were a fixture in the average home of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The story begins in 1937 with importer Max Eckhardt who, seeing the clouds of war encroaching and feared that his supply line would be cut, went to the Corning Glass company in Pennsylvania and made a deal with them to begin producing ornments. Thus was born Shiny Brite. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Eckardt had been importing hand-blown glass balls from Germany since around 1907, but had the foresight to anticipate a disruption in his supply from the upcoming war. Corning adapted their process for making light bulbs to making clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II.
Dating of the ornaments is often facilitated by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop, from which the ornament was hung from the tree.
Wartime production necessitated the replacement of the metal cap with a cardboard tab, from which the owner would use yarn or string to hang the ornament. These hangers firmly place the date of manufacture of the ornament to the early 1940s. (snip)
Shiny Brite ornaments were first manufactured at Corning’s plant in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and continued there for many decades. During its peak, Shiny Brite also had factories in New Jersey, located in the cities of Hoboken, Irvington, North Bergen, and West New York. The company’s main office and showroom were located at 45 East 17th Street in New York city.
Shiny Brite’s most popular ornaments have been reissued under the same trademark by Christopher Radko since 2001.”
Although there were other companies which manufactured and sold ornaments in that era, Shiny Brite was by far the largest player.

My collection of vintage ornaments

As a child in the 1960’s I loved the December day when our family’s tree would be put up. I always watched as my father strung the C-7 bulbs on the branches. It seemed as though it took forever for my mother to declare the moment when the ornaments could be hung. Out would come the green shiny brite boxes, their lids lifted, and one by one the delicate glass balls would soon dangle from the branches.

Each year it was as if seeing old friends arrive for the holidays. By the 1980’s – with their children all moved away – my parents quit hanging ornaments on a tree. Instead, they kept an artificial tree – lights already placed on the branches – in their basement storage room. Mid-December my dad would carry it upstairs, plug in the lights, and call it good.
The ornaments were squirreled away in a box in the storage room where they remained untouched for 30 years.
This past summer, as we worked to clean out my parent’s home after my Dad had moved to an Adult Family home, my sister and I kept waiting for the Christmas Box to be unearthed.
Finally, in late August, that day arrived. We sat on the floor and opened the ornament boxes, each picking out those we wanted to keep. Last week, after my tree was up, I went searching for my parents’ ornaments. I looked in box after box which had been stored in my garage since summer, but no ornaments.
Following a two day search, I lamented to my son that I could not find them. He, however, said he had seen them and a few minutes later produced a small box from a section of the garage where I had not looked.
Just like when I was a little girl, I opened the box and said hello to my old friends. But unlike during my childhood, I could not bear to hang them on my tree, fearful they might fall and break. Amazing how something so ordinary and familiar had now become precious and irreplacable. Instead, I placed the treasured ornaments in a bowl and, along with a pair of ceramic angels and two ceramic bells, set them in a place of honor.

Precious ceramic Angels and bells

I can only hope that one day my own children will also cherish these heirlooms passed down from generation to generation.
The links:
I loved this story about Wellsboro, PA, where Shiny Brite’s were manufactured:
And a nice story about Shiny Brite:

The Fourth Thursday in November

November 26, 2019

…A National Day of thanksgiving

v-70 first english thanksgiving in virginia.jpgThe celebration of harvest by setting aside a day of ‘thanksgiving’ is a tradition long observed by people the world over.  Most Americans embrace the idea that the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, by the pilgrims who settled the wilderness there in 1621.

Virginia Thanksgiving

An early Thanksgiving in Virginia 1619

But a historical look at ‘thanksgiving’ celebrations indicates a more haphazard approach. In fact, colonists in Virginia also held feasts of ‘thanksgiving’ during the early years of European settlements and a number of years before the New England events. In subsequent years such feasts were declared from time to time, occurring whenever it seemed a good idea for a few days of eating and celebration.

It was George Washington, as the first president, who by proclamation made Thursday, November 26, 1789, a national day of Thanksgiving.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.’”

Although additional ‘days of thanksgiving’ were proclaimed over the years, it was during the Civil War when the last Thursday of November became the traditional celebration date. And, in a coincidence, it was also November 26th for that official celebration.

Controversy arose, however, when – during Franklin Roosevelt’s term as President –there was a ‘fifth’ Thursday.  Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was usually the last Thursday and sometimes (two years out of seven, on average) the next to last. The amendment also passed the House, and on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law and fixing the day as the fourth Thursday of November.

For several years some states continued to observe the last-Thursday date in years with five November Thursdays (the next such year being 1944), with Texas doing so as late as 1956.”

Eventually, however, everyone got on board with the change which, of course, made the planning of parades, retail sales, and football games much easier.

For me, Thanksgiving was always a long anticipated day. My family moved to Yakima in 1961 and, as a small girl of four years, I had no prior memories of the event.  All my recollections are of the two holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas – being spent at either my family’s house or that of my cousins.

Being that my cousins’ house was a short walk down 31st Avenue, it became tradition that our two families of six each – along with my maternal grandparents – would spend Thanksgiving together.


Royal Doulton Country Roses China

I loved going to their house for the holiday for a number of reasons, the first being that my Aunt Helen set the most gorgeous table.  Even as a child I loved china and hers was exquisite. It might have been Royal Doulton Country Roses – or a knockoff – but I recall it was bold, fussy, and beautiful. She had enough place settings to accommodate 14 people but not enough seats at the main table… so the five younger children (2 boys, 3 girls) were relegated to the kitchen table WITH the pocket door closed. It was glorious. Behind that closed door, mischief abounded with my brother – who was four years older than I – the main mischief maker. There were jokes told, inappropriate noises, and much laughter. We thought we were the lucky ones not having to endure the boring adult conversations which seemed to center on who was sick or had died that year.

The third, and my favorite, reason I loved going to the cousins’ was because of their basement.  After dinner (which was ALWAYS served at 1 p.m.) we were sent downstairs. That basement was the one place in my fastidious Aunt’s house where we could play without concern over too much noise.

Oh the adventures we had. Like the time we set up the Ouija Board and invoked spirits (of the dead relatives discussed at dinner) only to have the basement window bang open at the exact moment of contact! And the time that my sister and cousin Tim put on a play in the basement, complete with a curtain and props, and a surprise ending. 145568-004-DE99C63D.jpgMy uncle had an old pump organ down there which fascinated me as I pumped the pedals and pulled on knobs to create different sounds as I ‘played’ the instrument.  We never ran out of things to do and I was always sad when the hour grew late and we had to return home.

When I think of my many blessings in life, I’m especially thankful for my childhood and those special holidays I spent with my siblings and cousins. At the time I did not appreciate the transitory nature of life and thought it would always be that way.

I’ve come to cherish Thanksgiving and have to say that it’s truly my favorite holiday. At no other time do we pause to give thanks for all our blessings and the people who make our lives richer and better.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

As always, a link:

Arches National Park

November 12, 2019

With more than 2000 natural sandstone arches located within, Arches National Park has the highest concentration of these features in the world. Although it had been named a National Monument in 1929, it was on November 12, 1971, when Arches National Park was created.

Windows arches national park.jpg
Situated in eastern Utah, it’s remote location and rugged terrain make getting there a challenge. The Utah park, however, has become a magnet for hikers, climbers, and nature lovers, attracting some 1.6 million visitors in 2018.
According to the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The Arches area was first brought to the attention of the National Park Service by Frank A. Wadleigh, passenger traffic manager of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Wadleigh, accompanied by railroad photographer George L. Beam, visited the area in September 1923 at the invitation of Alexander Ringhoffer, a Hungarian-born prospector living in Salt Valley. Ringhoffer had written to the railroad in an effort to interest them in the tourist potential of a scenic area he had discovered the previous year with his two sons and a son-in-law, which he called the Devils Garden (known today as the Klondike Bluffs). Wadleigh was impressed by what Ringhoffer showed him, and suggested to Park Service director Stephen T. Mather that the area be made a national monument.”
Over the years, like so many of our nation’s National Parks, Arches has been loved to the point of fragile features being in danger of destruction. Consequently, there are now bans within the park which make climbing some of the more famous arches illegal.
The hubby and I have had the privilege of visiting Arches twice. The first time was in the summer of 1984. We arrived on a hot July day which was not conducive to outdoor activities. Being young and in decent shape, however, we did exit the car and hiked  in the Windows region of the park.
Balancing rock arches np.jpg

Cold and rainy Thursday October 11, 2018 in Arches NP

The second trip was in October of 2018 along with several hundred of those 1,599,998 other visitors on a rainy – which is rare since the park gets less than 10 inches of precipitation a year – weekday. What struck me about the differences between those two visits is that the park had been ‘discovered’ in the intervening years. On the first trip we saw maybe a half dozen other cars and some 12 tourists.  In 2018, despite the inclement weather and a number of  flooded roads, the place was crawling with people. Finding a place to park the car at some of the stops was a challenge at times.

Our method of touring, 24 years later, has changed. In eighty four, I would cram as many things into our travels as possible, never allowing nearly enough time to pause and marvel at nature’s grandeur. A year ago, our inclinations to be mountain goats now subdued, getting out and hiking for a mile or two wasn’t happening. Instead, rather than the slap and dash tourists of yesteryear, we stopped frequently and walked short paths to where we could stand and simply appreciate the amazing features, listen for birds and insects, and find joy in the moment.
The term ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’ may be cliche, but the idea behind it is solid. Too often we rush to the airport, wait in lines to be crammed into a plane, then fly to a destination where the modern amenities make our lives easy. There’s nothing easy about visiting Arches or many of Utah’s spectacular landscapes… but it is so very worth the trip.

My Wawona

Yosemite National Park

October 1, 2019

El Capitan
El Capitan

October 1, 1890 marked the official inclusion of this region into the newly formed National Park System. Long before that, however, the Yosemite Valley had inspired the natives who resided in the area as well as the early white settlers.

It was, contrary to popular belief, James Mason Hutchings and artist Thomas Ayres who were the first Americans to tour the area in 1855.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Hutchings and Ayres were responsible for much of the earliest publicity about Yosemite, writing articles and special magazine issues about the Valley. Ayres’ style in art was highly detailed with exaggerated angularity. His works and written accounts were distributed nationally, and an art exhibition of his drawings was held in New York City. Hutchings’ publicity efforts between 1855 and 1860 led to an increase in tourism to Yosemite.”

Although the greater Yosemite area had been set aside by Congress in 1864, the Valley and Mariposa Grove were ceded to California to manage as a state park. The two areas had seen an influx of homesteaders and were being rapidly commercialized as well as being used for the grazing of sheep and cattle; the old growth sequoias were being logged.

Most people associate the founding of Yosemite with early environmentalist John Muir. Rightly, he is credited with not only pushing for park expansion but also  lobbied for the federal government to take back the iconic valley and grove.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“It was because of Muir that many National Parks were left untouched, such as Yosemite Vally National Park. One of the most significant camping trips Muir took was in 1903 with then president Theodore Roosevelt. This trip persuaded Roosevelt to return ‘Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to federal protection as part of Yosemite National Park.'”

The years long efforts paid off when, in 1906, Roosevelt signed a bill which stripped the two areas still managed by California from the state and they were returned to the federal government which finally created a unified Yosemite National Park.

half dome.jpg
Half Dome

One trip to Yosemite is all it takes for a person to understand the granduer and how special a place it is. From towering El Capitan, to the massive Half Dome, or the fascinating Tuolome Meadows, Yosemite is a visual feast.

And the hubby and I wondered, when we visited in September 2015, how come it had taken us so long to get there. We arrived on the day after Labor Day which was a good thing as the summer crowds were gone. Reservations are generally required months – if not a year – in advance for the various hotels. I figured we were out of luck but checked anyway as we drove south a few days before our planned stay. What a surprise! There were rooms available at the Wawona Hotel or space in ‘dry’ tents. We opted for the hotel.

It was only after we arrived at the park that it dawned on me that the Wawona Hotel was nowhere near the Yosemite Valley. That day had turned into a driving ordeal. My hubby suffers from vertigo. Being close to any ledge can trigger a sensation of spinning as well as nausea. Knowing this, it was my duty to do the driving so that he could close his eyes as needed when navigating cliff-side roads.

Up, up, up we traveled from the eastern side of the park to the 9,943 foot high Tioga Pass – the highest mountain pass in California. Come to find out, THAT was the easiest road. From there we wound our way through Yosemite’s high country. Then we had to go down. From Tuolome Meadows – elevation 8,619 feet – to the Valley floor was a 4,619 foot descent. And all of it seemed to be a series of endless switchbacks and curvy roads carved in to the sides of mountains.

It was with a sense of relief we reached the bottom when it hit me… Wawona was another 30 miles which we had to add to the 230 we’d already traveled that day. No rest for the driver as the road climbed back up the other side through yet another series of switchbacks,cliffs, and amazing vistas.

Now close to sunset, we found the hotel and were charmed at the thought of staying in a 1870’s structure.

Adirondack chairs on the veranda

Our room was in the more recently added section… built at the turn of the last century. Located at the far western end of the first floor, the room opened out on to a wide veranda adorned with honeysuckle.

But that’s where the charm ended. The room itself featured a double bed and a twin bed. There was a sink attached to the wall next to the twin bed with a door in the wall next to it. The door, however, was locked.

The room was completed with a small square closet, small dresser and a table and chair. No TV and no phone. But we were up for the adventure and the price – less than $70 a night – was a steal even with having to use the bathroom down the stairs.

As we went to bed that night we could hear, through the thin walls, talking in the room next door; two men were conversing in German. We laughingly dubbed them Hans and Fritz and, although the hubby had taken German in high school, were unable to decipher their conversation.

Our feast…

The next day, after breakfast in the hotel dining room, we headed out for a full day of touring. That evening we bought deli meats, fruits, crackers, and a bottle of wine which we ate and drank while sitting in the Adirondack chairs outside our room on the veranda. A pink and purple sunset was the perfect icing on a wonderful day.

Despite the older beds and somewhat rustic accommodations we slept well… that was until about 7:30 the next morning when our German neighbors’ talking awoke us. It was then we discovered where the locked door next to the sink led. When the hotel was built, the rooms all shared Jack and Jill bathrooms. To accommodate a more modern customer the bathrooms had been designated as a private bath for one of the rooms only, and the door to the adjacent room was locked.

We had the room without a private bath. Our German neighbors, Hans and Fritz, had the bathroom. Did I mention that the walls were paper-thin and not insulated?

Soon, some rather unfortunate sounds penetrated into our hearing range. We dressed as quickly as we could and headed to breakfast… and decided that the Germans would hereafter be known as Fritz… and a scatological term which rhymes with Fritz.

Of course the thing one most recalls about any trip are the occurrences which are out of the ordinary. Our stay at the Wawona turned out to be the most memorable part. And we wouldn’t change a thing.

Wawona hotel barb
The author and traveling companion Alvin the Chipmunk (in his National Park Ranger gear) in front of the ‘old’ section of the Wawona Hotel

A couple of websites to visit:
For those who want to see the Wawona Hotel’s claim to fame, be sure to check out the movie 36 Hours.

Alvin – our traveling companion

This is…

American Idol!

June 11, 2019


These four words burst into our collective consciousness on June 11, 2002 and launched one of the most successful reality TV franchises in American History.

The show was an instant hit, showcasing the talent of people looking for their big break. Week after week fans tuned in to follow the stories of the lucky few selected to compete in the contest. The premise was, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, this:

“Each season premieres with the audition round, taking place in different cities. The audition episodes typically feature a mix of potential finalists, interesting characters and woefully inadequate contestants. Each successful contestant receives a golden ticket to proceed on to the next round in Hollywood. Based on their performances during the Hollywood round (Las Vegas round from the tenth through twelfth seasons), 24 to 36 contestants are selected by the judges to participate in the semifinals. From the semifinals onward the contestants perform their songs live, with the judges making their critiques after each performance. The contestants are voted for by the viewing public, and the outcome of the public votes is then revealed during a results segment. The results segment feature group performances by the contestants as well as guest performers. The Top-three results also features homecoming events for the Top 3 finalists. The season reaches its climax in a two-hour results finale show, where the winner of the season is revealed.”

Along with the judges, viewers at home became music critics, repeating such phrases as “that was pitchy,” and “You’re going to Hollywood.” The judge everyone loved to hate, however, was Simon Cowell, who un-apologetically skewered the singing of contestants with such pithy remarks like “It was all a little bit like angry girl in the bedroom screaming on the guitar.”


I would argue that the high water mark for the show was in 2005 with the crowning of Carrie Underwood as the winner. She has been, by far, the most successful AI alum and her win and subsequent stardom created much excitement and interest in the show. That excitement coalesced into the 2007 season with it being the number one show on TV that year. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“American Idol ended the season as the top show of the 2006–2007 TV season. Its Wednesday episodes ranked first with an average of 30.02 million viewers, followed by the Tuesday episodes which averaged 29.54 million. The premiere episode became the series’ highest rated debut episode, viewed by 37.44 million viewers and receiving a 15.8/36 Nielsen rating in the Adult 18-49 demographic.”

In my household AI fever kicked in to high gear when my teenage daughter became enthralled with it and AI took over our lives. Just before 8 o’clock each evening I’d hear the thunder of her footsteps coming down the stairs and soon we were wrapped up in the drama.

That year there was extra interest as a contestant from Bothell – six miles north of where we lived – was making a name for himself on the show.

Blake Lewis was, at the time, a local Seattle musician whose beat-boxing ability provided enough novelty that he earned a golden ticket to Hollywood. At first, it seemed, the judges viewed him as a one trick pony who would not survive the first round of performances. Week after week, however, Lewis proved that he could sing. He made each song his own with original arrangements, and defied the odds, advancing in each round.

For my 14 year old daughter and a couple of her friends, Lewis became almost an obsession like the Beatles were in the 1960’s, or David Cassiday in the 1970’s, or the Backstreet Boys in the 1990’s (It’s what 14 year old girls are known to do!) Of course, Mom was pulled in to that universe also, as we then had to vote for him every week. And I’m not talking about dialing the phone one time and being done. Oh no. On American Idol they encouraged the viewers to vote many, many times. Hundreds of times. Once the performances were over we’d start dialing and continue until they closed them down.

And Lewis became the last man, literally, standing.

When the contest is down to the final three it’s time for the ‘hometown’ visit. Or, as the cynic in me believes, just another way to market the AI franchise to the public.

In the week before Lewis was to arrive in Bothell, my daughter and her friends “L” and “D” spent a couple of afternoons making t-shirts and posters and plotting the big event. Lewis’ female fans called themselves “Blaker Girls.”

During that week I became the ‘cool’ mom. I bought the many supplies and, on a warm, sunny afternoon on May 11, drove the trio of girls to Bothell so they could see ‘their’ American Idol. I figured there would be a crowd so we got there several hours in advance, secured a parking spot and joined the throng of over 7000.

The girls were not disappointed. The fans were amped up for the parade and, after a long wait, there he was… riding on the back of a Mustang convertible, smiling and waving to the crowd.

After the parade, we moved with the hoards down to the park where he was to perform live and receive his hometown hero’s welcome.

From the Seattle Time’s article:

The Bothell crowd of more than 7,000 was growing restless. Where was its American Idol?

Some teens chanted “We want Blake!” Others hoisted “We Ache for Blake” or “Bothell Boy, You Rock!” signs. And then, off in the distance, the twirling lights of police cars, the thundering beats of the Inglemoor Marching Band and Blake Lewis, all smiles and waves and two-fingered kisses, sailing down Main Street in a Mustang convertible with his beaming parents.

It was a highlight in a full day of events for Lewis that started at 8 a.m. at KCPQ/Fox studios for a television performance on the morning newscast. There was a lunchtime “mini-concert” at Seattle’s Westlake Center, a parade through downtown Bothell and another performance at the Park at Bothell Landing in the afternoon.”

Lewis ended up finishing second the next week, much to our disappointment.

For the next couple of years my daughter faithfully watched American Idol and even went to the American Idol tour with a friend in 2009. For me there has never been a more fun season than that one. I no longer watch the show, but for a few months in the spring of 2007, it was a magic time. Sadly, our computer crashed that summer and all the evidence of the Blake Lewis hometown visit are gone…*

A few links:

*Update June 11, 2020 – During the lockdown of the past few months, I have sorted, organized, and sorted again. Lo and behold, video evidence of the visit to Blake’s Hometown parade exists! Many thanks to my nephew Chris, who put together the photos I took that day as well as found at least one I did not take. Not sure who did, but this Mom appears at the 2:19 mark with camera in hand next to the screaming teens. Enjoy!

Automate This!

June 4, 2019

The Curse of Automation

atm533On June 4, 1973, the US patent for the ATM machine was issued to Don Wetzel, Tom Barnes, and George Chastain.

As with many such inventions, it did not spring spontaneously into use as there were others who had conceived of the idea for at least three decades prior. Cash machines were used in both Japan and Great Britain for nearly a decade before they arrived in the United States.

For the purposes of this article, however, we will go with 1973 as the year this form of automation entered our American lives. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“After looking firsthand at the experiences in Europe, in 1968 the ATM was pioneered in the U.S. by Donald Wetzel, who was a department head at a company called Docutel. Docutel was a subsidiary of Recognition Equipment Inc of Dallas, Texas, which was producing optical scanning equipment and had instructed Docutel to explore automated baggage handling and automated gasoline pumps.

On September 2, 1969, Chemical Bank installed the first ATM in the U.S. at its branch in Rockville Centre, New York. The first ATMs were designed to dispense a fixed amount of cash when a user inserted a specially coded card. A Chemical Bank advertisement boasted ‘On Sept. 2 our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again.’ Chemical’s ATM, initially known as a Docuteller was designed by Donald Wetzel and his company Docutel. Chemical executives were initially hesitant about the electronic banking transition given the high cost of the early machines. Additionally, executives were concerned that customers would resist having machines handling their money. In 1995, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History recognised Docutel and Wetzel as the inventors of the networked ATM.

By 1974, Docutel had acquired 70 percent of the U.S. market; but as a result of the early 1970s worldwide recession and its reliance on a single product line, Docutel lost its independence and was forced to merge with the U.S. subsidiary of Olivetti.

Wetzel was recognised by the United States Patent Office as having invented the ATM in the form of U.S. Patent # 3,761,682; the application had been filed in October 1971 and the patent was granted in 1973. However, the U.S. patent record cites at least three previous applications from Docutel, all relevant to the development of the ATM and where Wetzel does not figure, namely US Patent # 3,662,343, U.S. Patent # 3651976 and U.S. Patent # 3,68,569. These patents are all credited to Kenneth S. Goldstein, MR Karecki, TR Barnes, GR Chastian and John D. White.”

Automation, of course, is not limited to the dispensing of money. It’s everywhere in our world. And nowhere is it more frustrating and confusing than in public restrooms.

When one enters such a place it becomes a midway house of horrors as one never knows what is or is not automated. Like the toilet.

auto flush toilet.jpgUpon entry into the stall I dread seeing the little black box with the red light attached to the back of the throne. I don’t know if it’s just me but it seems as if the slightest movement will trigger the flushing mechanism and the toilet turns into an unruly bidet, spraying the unsuspecting (me!) customer with a premature shower of love. Sometimes this occurs multiple times sending this user screaming from the stall.

Now I also don’t know about others but I always (ALWAYS!) wash my hands before I leave the restroom. Having survived the automatic flushing toilet, the next gauntlet is the sink. I am never sure if swiping my hands under the faucet will trigger a flow of water or if I must push on the neck of the faucet or, heaven forbid, use an old-fashioned handle. An automatic faucet is a mystery. What is the exact placement of one’s hands to produce the elusive water? Too high or too low and you get nothing, instead looking like a magician swiping your digits back and forth in an attempt to conjure up the desired fluid.

Need soap? The device on the nearby wall never gives any clue as to how its operated. I stare at it and try to guess. My first attempt is yet another magical wave of my hand. If that does not work then I start pressing on what looks like levers and buttons. The mound of clear gel on the counter below the machine provides evidence that I am not the first to guess incorrectly how to use it.

Now, with soap in hand and an idea of how to get water to flow, I wash my hands then turn to the scariest step of all: drying.

modern day stocksIn some restrooms you have a choice between paper towels and, nowadays, the device where you put your hands down into what looks like modern day stocks. The machine springs to life and blasts out a stream of air produced from the engines of a Boeing 747. In my hands go. I watch in fascinated horror as the skin on them wrinkles and flaps like the upper arms on Miss Luhman, the infamous fourth grade teacher who, when she was conducting the school choir, held all children’s attention with fascinated attention on her flappy arms.

Or, heaven forbid, it’s an automatic towel dispenser. Usually there are two such devices, side by side, in the restroom which provides the opportunity to do the paper towel dispenser dance (TM). I stand a foot away from the silver boxes, extend my arms straight out and then move my hands simultaneously in a frenetic motion as though doing that 1960’s dance The Swim.

At last – if I’m lucky – two inches of blessed brown paper appears. I tear it off, dry three fingers, then start the dance once again. After three or four rounds of wild gyrations, my hands are dry, I’ve gotten the day’s workout, and I escape still slightly wet but mostly unscathed.

Ain’t automation grand?

Actual footage of me attempting to get a paper towel from an automatic dispenser.

On The Road to the Little House

May 7, 2019

Perhaps more than any other books I’ve ever read, this series captured my young imagination and inspired me to want to write and record my world.

The first “Little House” book was published in 1932. Six more followed over the next decade and Laura Ingalls Wilder was propelled from a farmer’s wife to one of the most beloved children’s book authors in history.

As a child I was entranced by the thought of living in a cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin, or in a dugout carved into the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, or in a claim shanty on the wind swept prairies of South Dakota. What adventures awaited!

I’ve had as a goal to visit the many homestead sites. In September 2013 I, along with my 20 year old daughter, went to Mansfield, Missouri, and toured the museum and also the house where Laura lived as an adult. This past week was round two as the hubby and I meandered from Wisconsin to South Dakota and traced a portion of the Ingalls family pioneer journey.

The takeaway for me as an adult – considering it from the perspective of a wife and mother – is how very difficult it was, especially for Laura’s mother, Caroline.


A cold day in late April at the Little House In The Big Woods

20190501_133037.jpg20190501_133141.jpgOur first stop was in Wisconsin. Although the Ingalls’ cabin is long gone, those who preserved the sites have erected faithful reproductions of the original structures. The little house in Wisconsin was certainly that: little. The main room was no bigger than a small bedroom by today’s standards. For the pioneers, this room was kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry room (at least half the year). The entire family slept in a room the size of a closet.


The doorway of the dugout is approximately where the author is standing. (Above) What the inside of the dugout may have looked like. (right)


It was the next ‘house’, however, that really gave me pause. Laura’s family purchased a farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota… but there was no ‘house.’ Instead the family lived for some months in a ten by twelve room dug out of a bank above a creek. The actual dugout collapsed years ago, but a reproduction exists in South Dakota. When I walked in to that room I was struck by two things in particular. The first was the smell. It was a combination of earth, mold and dampness. It was depressing and dark. As Laura describes life in the dugout she tells how her mother whitewashed the dirt walls and floor with  a lime mixture. I imagine the lime served several purposes including pest control and to brighten the room. How hard it must have been for Caroline Ingalls to cook, clean, and care for her children in that tiny, tiny space.

In South Dakota the Ingalls family had to, once again, start from scratch. It was not hard to imagine how alone and desolate Caroline must have felt as one of the first pioneers in DeSmet. Their homestead was 160 acres – one quarter mile square – and it was a half mile south of the town. There were no neighbors, just the wildlife which called the prairie home. The Ingalls claim shanty was just that: a shanty. Unlike the cabin in Pepin, their home was a tiny one room building with the beds for a family of six in every corner, a stove in the center, and a few chairs and a table. The thin walls not much protection against the persistent winds and cold. Over time the shanty was expanded to include 2 small bedrooms and 12 by 16 living room.


A reproduction of the claim shanty after 2 additions. The last addition is the 12 x 16 section on the left.

What resilience these people possessed!

When we stopped at the Ingalls homestead near DeSmet, the woman who owns and runs the property came by to speak to us. I said to her I suspected when the Ingalls family arrived there that Caroline told Charles she was done moving and carving out homes in the wilderness. Our hostess confirmed my supposition. Laura’s parents lived the rest of their lives in that community, eventually moving to a proper house in the town eight years after their arrival.

20190505_115005.jpgIt is impossible to truly capture each of these places on paper. But Laura Ingalls Wilder’s narrative description of each location comes close. I felt as if her spirit was there with us in South Dakota, especially, as I mapped out some travels to the spots she describes in her books.

It was at Lake Henry when the magic occurred. The hubby and I noticed the water in a nearby slough was roiling. Upon closer examination we discovered hundreds of fish flopping and thrashing about! We walked close to the spectacle, mesmerized by the yellow perch which spawn this time of year once the water raises to a certain temperature. From there we meandered across the back-roads, and observed white tailed deer, a muskrat which waddled across the road, and hundreds of birds: pelicans, herons, eagles, hawks, geese, and all variety of smaller ones.

We were reluctant to leave but how very glad we were able to experience a tiny portion of the pioneer’s journey.

So which of the three would have been the best? Probably the cabin in Wisconsin. But I am thankful for modern amenities: electricity, running water, flushing toilets, refrigeration, automobiles, and airplanes. What a blessed era in which to live.

A few links. First is to my blog article from February 7, 2017 about Laura Ingalls Wilder:

And some links to the various historical sites:

I know everyone would be disappointed if there was not at least one link to the Infallible Wikipedia: