Liddle Kiddles

A “Gotta Have It” for little girls in 1966

March 14, 2023

Dolls. As a child, I loved dolls. And I had many of them. Not as many as I would have liked, and I was always angling to find a way to acquire more.

The original 10 Liddle Kiddles. I always wanted No. 3, Calamity Jiddle with her rocking horse.

Enter this tiny doll, introduced by Mattel in 1966, which captured my imagination. The doll series: Liddle Kiddles.

A few days ago I mentioned to the hubby that I was considering writing about Liddle Kiddle dolls for this week’s post. He shook his head and said, “I’ve never heard of them.”

Well, all you Tuesday Newsday readers who are in the same category as the hubby, you are about to learn something new.

We turn to the nearly Infallible Wikipedia to find out more:

Liddle Diddle in the original packaging

“Kiddles were made of soft vinyl with painted facial features and rooted, brushable hair. The first, second, and third series (called ‘bigger bodies’ by collectors) ranged from 2¾ inches to 3½ inches, while the Skediddle Kiddles were 4 inches tall and had a special mechanism inside the body which allowed them to walk, wave, and ride vehicles with the push of a child’s hand. The Kola and Kologne Kiddles were 2 inches, and the mini Jewelry Kiddles were 78–1+116 inches. (snip)

The Holy Grail for children everywhere: The Sears Christmas Catalog

The bigger bodies (the first ten dolls) were designed to resemble typical neighborhood children at play. The name Liddle Kiddles was taken from the words ‘little kid’. Each of the first 24 dolls had detailed clothing and accessories that perfectly matched their theme and size. Wire skeletons inside the vinyl bodies enabled the dolls to be posed and re-posed realistically.

The first series of 9 Liddle Kiddle dolls plus 1 special doll set was available only through the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog (SRCC). It was conceived in 1965 and released to toy shelves in 1966.”

Peter Paniddle with Tinkerbelle, Alligator, and even his shadow

No doubt I got my first Liddle Kiddle that year at Christmas. The SRCC was THE Holy Grail. Forget Google and Amazon, we would pour over the SRCC, creating our Christmas lists and dreaming of those things we hoped to see on Christmas morning.

My mother got the message and the adorable Liddle Diddle was under our tree. To be sure, I would have liked to have gotten every single one of the ten original dolls but, alas, there was only one.

The next year I received my second Liddle Kiddle, Peter Paniddle; part of the Storybook Kiddles series.

Marketing genius at work, appealing to the target audience

Since it was the 1960s and smart phones were not available for entertainment while eating our morning cereal and milk, we had to resort to reading the backs of cereal boxes. Clever product marketing people figured this out and kids everywhere were enticed to pressure their parents into buying more Post Super Sugar Crisp and Alphabits to earn the number of box tops needed to earn ‘free’ giveaways.

Which is how I more than doubled my Liddle Kiddle collection. Sort of. It took seven box tops to get one of three ‘knock off’ dolls being offered. These were StoryKins Doll sets: Cinderella – complete with a pumpkin carriage! Sleeping Beauty- she had her own pink canopy bed! And Goldilocks – with an adorable little bear!

Our family must have eaten a whole bunch of Post Cereal because I did get ALL three sets. I was a determined child.

The poor dolls – both the actual Liddle Kiddles and the StoryKins – were played with all the time. With the exception of the Snow White doll, none of the sets are complete and all are dingy, many with the wires which made it possible for their arms and legs to bend, protruding.

Now, if I was in need of a little cash, a quick look on Ebay reveals that some of these dolls are worth a fair bit. Take Peter Paniddle for instance. He came with the cutest green alligator and a tiny Barbie with Tinkerbelle wings. Just the Tinkerbelle alone sold on Ebay last month for fifty bucks! A set with the pieces I have (sans Peter’s shirt) went for $125.

My authentic Liddle Kiddle collection (left to right) – Peter Paniddle and friends, Funny Bunny, Locket Kiddle, and Liddle Diddle in what’s left of her crib.
The StoryKins Trio offered through Post Cereals: Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty

A few years ago my brother found a couple of the StoryKins sets and a Liddle Kiddle doll and bought them for me. So now I have a second Cinderella and carriage, and a second Goldilocks and her bear, and a second Liddle Diddle. I see how this might work. A collector in search of a missing item from one of the sets has to buy several sets to make a complete one. It gets kinda pricey rather quickly.

For me, I love my dolls the way they are: some have pieces of their original clothing missing and now wear a child created shirt or dress. Goldilocks and Cinderella are both missing a shoe. Liddle Diddle’s crib is broken and her blanket is long gone.

Even so, there is a magic when I open the small bin which houses these childhood toys and a small part of me is transported back to those simpler times and I can enjoy my dolls once again.

A couple links:

The Valentine Card

A tradition born in Great Britain

February 14, 2023

The earliest Valentines were often hand made of ribbons, lace, and buttons.

Today is, of course, Valentine’s Day. A day when hopes and expectations far exceed reality. When I was in elementary school, Valentine’s Day was probably THE biggest day of the year. We looked forward to getting our red construction paper folders filled with the cute greeting cards from our classmates; the afternoon always meant cupcakes and cookies provided by one of our parents.

It was, however, the introduction of the Valentine’s Card which propelled the holiday to what it is today. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called ‘mechanical valentines.’ Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century.  In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in the United Kingdom, despite postage being expensive.”

Oh those crazy for love Brits!

Eventually the idea made its way across the Atlantic and sending Valentine’s Day cards became all the rage in the US also. Although the statistics are from a few years ago, it is estimated by the US Greeting Card Association that “approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities are included the figure goes up to 1 billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines.”

That’s a whole lot of paper.

Valentine’s Day at my house when I was growing up consisted of each child getting to purchase a package of Valentine’s to give out in their classroom at school. For several days before the big day, I would painstakingly decide which of the cards (each box usually contained several different sentiments) would be given to which classmate. Their name would be written on the envelope and the card inside signed by me.

Each year I seemed to ‘like’ one of the boys in my class and would obsess over which card to give him.

Finally, on February 14th, we would arrive at school, our fistfuls of valentines in tow, and wait for the announcement from our teacher that it was time to distribute our Valentines.

Up from our seats we would spring and then drop our cards into the folders hung around the room. Sometimes they were taped along the window and at other times at the front of our desks. There was an unwritten rule that if you gave a card to one then you had to give a card to everyone. While this was going on, some dedicated Mom would be there, setting out delicious baked goodies (my mother was often that person!). At last we were allowed to open the swollen folders and read our cards.

A typical ‘kids’ Valentine card. The card is about 2 1/4″ wide and 3 1/4″ high. No idea WHY I had this in my card box but it was there when I needed it for this article.

Now, there were ALWAYS some lame boys who didn’t give out Valentines. Or they might break the rule and give out a few but only to certain people. Undoubtedly it was one of those boys who I had a crush on who either didn’t do it or only gave it to the most popular girl, who wasn’t me. It was usually Kristin. Everybody loved that girl! Which takes us back to how expectations exceed reality.

After school I’d go home to a big family Valentine’s celebration. Or not.

As on any other day, my mother fixed dinner and served it right at six p.m. It was after dinner, however, when my Dad would get up, produce a Valentine’s gift for my mother, and present it with a flourish.

Every year. Not just some years. But every year. Always the same gift.

It would be wrapped but we all knew what it was: a box of Russell Stover’s chocolates.

The 24 oz. box of Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates.

My mother would open it, exclaim how much she liked it, and then would kiss my dad and thank him for it.

Each of us children would be allowed to choose one piece of candy. I hated when I accidentally got the coconut one. Yuck. (Pro-tip: the coconut ones were sometimes hidden as round ones. Best to pick a rectangular one)

That box of candy would last for a week or two with one piece of candy allowed after dinner each day.

Yep. That was it. There were a few Valentine’s Days over the years when I was the recipient of some romantic gesture. But for the most part, once our kids reached elementary school, I simply carried on the tradition of letting my children pick out a package of cards to give to their classmates; I also became the mom who brought the treats. One year I baked heart shaped sugar cookies, frosted them in white, pink, and red frosting and wrote EVERY child’s name on their cookie. Yes, I was that crazy. I also noted that most of the kids didn’t eat their cookie but instead told me they were taking it home to show their Mom. Hah!

Now, I love sugar cookies but unless I have someone who wants to help me decorate them, I don’t do them for all the holidays like I once did. So forget those. And forget Russell Stover’s. The easiest and best Valentine’s gift in my opinion are Sanders Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels (see my story on these here)… or even Dove Dark Chocolates… oh, who am I kidding, OR whatever chocolate. Just so long as there’s no coconut.

The links:’s_Day

Wordle Is The Word

Online puzzle game gone viral

February 7, 2023

The concept of this game is simple: try to solve a five letter word puzzle in six guesses or less.

Wordle is an online game which came into existence less than two years ago. Yet it has swept the internet with millions playing it worldwide each day.

The inventor, Josh Wardle, wrote a computer program for his own amusement based on the game Mastermind. At first just he and his partner played the game. After a time, he shared the game with friends by posting it on the internet. Before long it was discovered and through word of mouth went viral.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us what happened next:

 “The game gained popularity in December 2021 after Wardle added the ability for players to copy their daily results as emoji squares, which were widely shared on Twitter. Many clones and variations of the game were also created, as were versions in languages besides English. The game was purchased by The New York Times Company in January 2022 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, with plans to keep it free for all players; it was moved to the company’s website in February 2022.”

It was a year ago, on February 10, 2022, with the move to the NY Times, its popularity soared and the number of players exploded. Also, from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“According to the Times quarterly earnings report ending on March 31, 2022, the acquisition of Wordle brought ‘tens of millions’ of new players to the Times puzzle site and app, many of whom continued to play the other puzzles offered by the Times.”

Josh Wardle, inventor of Wordle

What’s been the most fun about Wordle is that a number of my Facebook friends also discovered it and started posting their daily results. Which I do also. My BFF Daphne and I exchange text messages every morning now to cheer each other on and, occasionally, offer a nudge to the other person if one of us is struggling.

Take yesterday, for example. Over the weekend I was ambushed and caught by a cold (not Covid – I tested). Consequently, I wasn’t feeling very well on Monday morning. But that did not matter. Had to do the daily Wordle. Now, since it is Tuesday I can post the results of my journey.

I always start my word with one of two ‘starters’: DRAIN or STOLE. Why, you might ask? It’s because between these two words they capture the 10 most common letters used in five letter words.

So I start with STOLE and learn that I have one letter, a T and it’s in the wrong spot. Since that’s not enough information to make a reasonable guess I put in DRAIN and get two more letters: I and N. Neither in the correct place.

So here’s how my grid looked:

The next thing I do is make a little chart of all the possible combinations of the three letters I know. On paper. Very old school.

I finally settle on trying the word INPUT. It gets the I, the N, and the T in different spots plus adds in the U and another popular consonant, P.

All that does is confirm neither are in the word AND I still do not have any letters in the right spot.

Think, Barb, think!

So I think THINK is a good word to try and now my grid looks like this:

Okay! Now I’m getting someplace.

And then I whiff it. Which I later blame on the fact that I was running a slight fever and am sick. Apparently I wasn’t thinking because the next work I try is NIFTY.

Yes, I totally ignored the poor H but now I know where the N, the I, and the T belong. And spend the next half an hour searching for words which work in that configuration…but without the H. I try all the remaining letters.

There is not a single word which works. Zero. Zilch. I am perplexed. What could the word possibly be?

So I text my friend Daphne and express my frustration and she texts me back at 8:04 a.m.:

“You have all the pieces. 5 and counting.”

My fever addled brain MISSES that clue also so I go take a shower, eat breakfast, dry my hair and fret over what the darn word could possibly be!

Finally, as I’m writing this and once again texting with Daphne she sends another text as a reply to my request for a nudge at 10:32 a.m.:

“…I gave you a clue on last reply.”

To which I reply, now focused on numbers, “Well it can’t be ninth… the H is gone. So is the Y.”

And then I look at my grid one more time, whack my head, and see where I messed up. My reply to her:

“OMG! My brain is not working right. The H is not gone… it belongs in the word. Lol. I blame it on the low grade fever I’m running.”

I pull out a win at word six and am happy to escape with my 62 day in a row solving Wordle streak.

Of course, getting it on an early word is the best. A while back I became curious as to what the odds of guessing it correctly on the first word might be. It’s 1 in 2315. Or .0004 percent. On the second word its 6.5 percent (rounded). You are most likely to get it at word three or word four.

Now, I will finish this article by saying there are sites out there which will POST the word each day, allowing those who use such sites to ‘guess’ it on their first or second try. There are anagram solvers. There are all sorts of ways you can enhance your statistics. As far as I’m concerned, everyone gets to play the game however they want.

For me, however, I like the personal challenge and also the social aspects of it. I love seeing how many tries it takes my friends on Facebook. And on those days when I get it in two (I never use any online cheats!) I do a happy dance, enjoying the sweet victory and savoring the moment.

The links:

Scotch Tape

An indispensable household item

January 31, 2023

When I think of inventions which have made my life – and millions of others – better there are a few which leap to mind: indoor plumbing, electricity, central heating, and refrigeration being at the top of the list.

Display of many of the Scotch Tape varieties

But today we celebrate an invention which – in the world of inventions – I have a difficult time imagining it NOT existing. It is ostensibly, at times, a nearly invisible product but one which makes so many things easier.

Today is Scotch Tape Day according to the National Day’s Calendar. While the Infallible Wikipedia does have a section on this ubiquitous product, I found the National Days information more compelling:

“In the early 1920s, Richard Drew worked at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, which made sandpaper at the time. When he used to deliver sandpaper samples to auto body shops, he observed the inconvenience that car painters experienced when they had to paint two-tone color cars. At that time, surgical adhesive tapes or library glues were used to hold newspapers on cars when painting. However, when the newspapers were removed, residue remained and would rip the paint off when peeled off.

This inspired Drew to come up with a long-term and efficient solution. He went on to invent masking tape made out of crêpe paper, cabinetmaker’s glue, and glycerin. It adhered well to cars and came off easily without taking paint away. It was later marketed as Scotch Masking Tape. (snip)

The invention of Scotch Tape, which can now be found in almost every home, resulted in Drew being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.”

The mascot for Scotch Tape for many years was Scotty McTape

All of that is interesting, but what I was most entertained by is the explanation of how it came to be called ‘Scotch’ tape.

For those of you, like myself, who claim some Scottish heritage you might know that the Scottish people are known as being, well, frugal at best, and tight fisted cheapskates at worst.

Scottish people prefer to think of it as being careful with our assets.

We turn to the Infallible Wikipedia for this explanation:

“The use of the term Scotch in the name was a pejorative meaning ‘parsimonious’in the 1920s and 1930s. The brand name Scotch came about around 1925 while Richard Drew was testing his first masking tape to determine how much adhesive he needed to add. The bodyshop painter became frustrated with the sample masking tape and exclaimed, ‘Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!’ The name was soon applied to the entire line of 3M tapes.”

Rather than force you to go look up the meaning of parsimonious, here’s a list of synonyms:

The tape I found in my desk drawer… all Scotch

Frugal… sparing…prudent…

Those are not so bad. Yet the list continues:

Chintzy… miserly… stingy…

Uh oh.

Greedy… illiberal… skinflint… tightwad…

Needless to say, that painter was none too impressed with that first tape. Thankfully, 3M did get the formula right and a wide variety of Scotch ‘Tapes’ have become household items. Whether it is the infinitely useful masking tape, or the clear varieties used to tape together untold torn papers, Christmas and birthday wrappings, the 3M product is estimated to be present in 90 percent of all American homes.

A quick look in one of my desk drawers turned up seven scotch tape products: five clear tape dispensers, one box of tape – opened but unusued – I taped it shut, and a mostly used roll of masking tape. And that was just in my office. I have no idea what I might find elsewhere in the house.

Apparently one can never have too much Scotch tape. All purchased on sale, no doubt. It’s the Scotch in me.

Our extra tape supply can be found in cupboards in the hubbys office
The Scotch Tape products discovered in the household tool room.
Scotch tape pressed into use sometime in the 1970’s… still there after 50 years!

The links:

Santa Claus

An icon of Christmas

December 20, 2022

Over the years, Christmas has blended in to a mishmash of traditions with the blurring of the lines between its purely religious meaning and the more secular elements.

A page from The Night Before Christmas Golden Book, copyright 1955

Take Santa Claus, for example. The idea of the jolly elf who brings presents for children began several hundred years ago. He is based on Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children.

The image of Santa Claus as a portly and white bearded man dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur can be traced back to 1823 with the publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

The images which that poem conjured up captured the imagination of people everywhere as the story became a favorite to read to children on Christmas Eve.

You will be pleased to know that the Infallible Wikipedia has an extensive and exhaustive article in regards to everyone’s favorite Christmas elf:

“In 1821, the book A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve was published in New York. It contained ‘Old Santeclaus with Much Delight’, an anonymous poem describing Santeclaus on a reindeer sleigh, bringing rewards to children. Some modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the anonymous publication of the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known today as The Night Before Christmas) in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on 23 December 1823; Clement Clarke Moore later claimed authorship, though some scholars argue that Henry Livingston, Jr. (who died nine years before Moore’s claim) was the author. St. Nick is described as being ‘chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf’ with ‘a little round belly’, that ‘shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly’, in spite of which the ‘miniature sleigh’ and ‘tiny reindeer’ still indicate that he is physically diminutive. The reindeer were also named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which were later changed to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen).

By 1845, ‘Kris Kringle’ was a common variant of Santa in parts of the United States. A magazine article from 1853, describing American Christmas customs to British readers, refers to children hanging up their stockings on Christmas Eve for ‘a fabulous personage’ whose name varies: in Pennsylvania he is usually called ‘Krishkinkle’, but in New York he is ‘St. Nicholas’ or ‘Santa Claus’. The author quotes Moore’s poem in its entirety, saying that its descriptions apply to Krishkinkle too.”

There is so much more in the article which I would encourage all Santa researchers to peruse.

Me and my sister visiting Santa circa 1960

From my perspective, Santa Claus is as integral to Christmas as a tree or a nativity scene and he’s always been a part of the holiday for me. Over the past several days, as I considered this topic, the biggest challenge was deciding what, exactly, to share.

I found early home movies of this author at age four or five, standing on the porch of our house with a three foot tall stiff paper Santa and Mrs. Claus. There was a photo of my sister and me sitting on Santa’s lap as well as one of my older brother and one of our cousins.

On Christmas Eve each year we dutifully hung our stockings only to discover them full of goodies the next morning; evidence that Santa had paid a visit overnight.

But perhaps the best part of the Santa Claus myth was when I became a parent and could share the joy with my own children. Like me, both my son and daughter looked forward to hanging the stockings and anticipating Santa’s visit.

I saw the magic happen with my son in 1991. It was a week or two before Christmas and the local fire district had a tradition of Santa riding on the back of a fire truck through the neighborhood.

For a small boy, this was nirvana. On this particular night – well, it was probably no later than six p.m. – my sister and her daughter were visiting and we were eating dinner when I ‘heard’ the fire truck a few blocks over.

What they would do is have the truck’s lights flashing and run the sirens to announce their approach. When we heard the sound, we sprung into action, bundling the children into their coats, arriving out on the street just in time to watch as the big red fire truck, with lights ablaze, roll slowly towards us.

Closer and closer it came, it’s sirens blaring. And then the truck was in front of our house and Santa – riding on the back of the truck – turned and waved at my son and niece – then jumped down and gave each a candy cane.

A moment later, Santa was back on the truck and spirited away up the street. We waved Santa goodbye and then it was back into the house to finish eating dinner. My son, however, was having none of that. I put him in his high chair but he refused to sit down, instead standing there and repeating over and over and over in a staccato voice: “Santa Claus… Fire Truck!”

His little fist was extended and he pumped it up and down pronouncing each syllable: “San-ta-Claus… Fi-er-Truck!”

This continued for the next half an hour and even after that it was a tough night getting him to settle down and go to sleep.

I think for my sister and me it’s one of our favorite Christmas memories and one we reminisce about every year.

When cleaning out my parents’ home, I came across a copy of the book “The Night Before Christmas.” Picking it up and reading it was like getting together with an old friend: the story and colorful artwork a familiar companion from Christmas’ past. Inside the front cover, it was signed by my grandmother who gave the book as a gift to my sister (I got Frosty the Snowman that year). It seems like my sister said I could keep the book. I include it as part of my holiday decorations each year now.

Three treasured books from my childhood. The Night Before Christmas and Frosty The Snowman were gifts to me and my sister on Christmas circa 1961

Truly, it wouldn’t seem like Christmas without Santa Claus. And a fire truck.

The links:

And, yes, Santa riding on Fire trucks is a thing all across America:

Eastside Fire and Rescue in Sammamish have been doing the Santa thing for many years


A nearly 400 year Christmas tradition

December 13, 2022

An early Nutcracker by Friedrich Fuchtner

I’ve long been fascinated by the thought of how primitive people learned about foods and what was safe to eat. Take nuts, for example. Here were these things encased in shells which grew on trees. I imagine the people watched as animals collected and ate the nuts.

People, being inventive creatures, are always looking for solutions to problems. I suppose they figured out that if they placed the hard shell on a rock and then hit it with another rock that they could get to the seed inside, the nut meat. And nut meats, it turns out, are delicious.

Over the millennia, those ever inventive people devised better ways to get to the nut meats, developing devices which have become known as ‘nutcrackers.’

Some of the earliest ones were forged from metal and became prized items. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Nuts were historically opened using a hammer and anvil, often made of stone. Some nuts such as walnuts can also be opened by hand, by holding the nut in the palm of the hand and applying pressure with the other palm or thumb, or using another nut.

Manufacturers produce modern functional nutcrackers usually somewhat resembling pliers, but with the pivot point at the end beyond the nut, rather than in the middle. These are also used for cracking the shells of crab and lobster to make the meat inside available for eating. Hinged lever nutcrackers, often called a ‘pair of nutcrackers’, may date back to Ancient Greece. By the 4th century in Europe, nutcrackers were documented in England, including in the Canterbury Tales, and in France. The lever design may derive from blacksmiths’ pincers. Materials included metals such as silver, cast-iron and bronze, and wood including boxwood, especially those from France and Italy. More rarely, porcelain was used. Many of the wooden carved nutcrackers were in the form of people and animals.

An antique metal dragon nutcracker

During the Victorian era, fruit and nuts were presented at dinner and ornate and often silver-plated nutcrackers were produced to accompany them on the dinner table. Nuts have long been a popular choice for desserts, particularly throughout Europe. The nutcrackers were placed on dining tables to serve as a fun and entertaining center of conversation while diners awaited their final course.”

The wooden nutcrackers we associate with Christmas originated in Germany in the late 17th century in the Ore Mountains. Again, from the Infallible Wikipedia: 

“One origin story attributes the creation of the first nutcracker doll to a craftsman from Seiffen. They were often given as gifts, and at some point they became associated with Christmas season. They grew in popularity around the 19th century and spread to nearby European countries. As the demand grew, nutcracker doll production also began on a mass scale in factories. Friedrich Wilhelm Füchtner  (1844–1923), commonly known in Germany as ‘father of the nutcracker’, began the first mass production of the design (using a lathe) at his workshop in Seiffen in Saxony during 1872.”

As the popularity of the dolls grew, nutcrackers were often given as gifts to children so they could crack the nuts which filled their stockings. Although nowadays stockings are filled with toys and candy, at one time they held nuts and fruits.

Most of the wooden nutcrackers sold today are not equipped to actually crack nuts but are for decorative purposes only. One reason for this is that those always inventive people continued to find better ways to harvest nuts. Today that is done in factories with machines which can crack open large quantity of nuts with efficiency.

For those who love Nutcrackers a visit to the Leavenworth, Washington, museum is a must see.

I hadn’t much thought about the origin of the soldier nutcrackers until the late 1980’s when the hubby and I lived in the Timberline neighborhood in Sammamish, Washington. (Note – it wasn’t even ‘Sammamish’ at that time, just unincorporated King County!)

As a new development ,Timberline attracted primarily twenty and thirty something professionals who worked in nearby Redmond and Bellevue or commuted to Seattle. Many in the neighborhood were transplants from other states from all over the U.S.

It was never anything official, but Christmas became a big deal in the neighborhood. I suppose that many of us were simply trying to replicate the cozy warmth and hominess of our childhoods by putting up lights and outdoor decorations. Truly, the Timberline neighborhood had more than its share of over the top displays.

But there was one street in particular which gained a reputation for being ‘THE’ must visit lane due, in large part, to resident Peter Johnston and his giant nutcrackers.

In December 1991, I was the editor of a neighborhood newsletter, The Timberlines, and decided to write a feature story about the Nutcrackers. From my story:

Peter Johnston at work creating his third 3D Nutcracker, the Fireman, in 1991

“Peter’s vision began four years ago when he and his wife, Sue, were looking at Christmas lights in Issaquah. On one street, every home boasted a large ‘Nutcracker’ decoration. Painted on plywood, the soldiers created a very nice Christmas effect. Although impressed, Peter’s vision was much grander. ‘Why not,’ he thought, ‘Do Nutcrackers in 3-D?’”

Peter started creating his 3-D nutcracker using materials he worked with during his day job as an electrician. Soon the ‘Nutcracker’ took on a life of its own and went far beyond simple 3-D. Suffice it to say that when it was finished, the Nutcracker was nearly seven feet tall and its head was filled with motors, lights and moving levers. The mouth opened and closed and the eyes blinked.

Johnston’s original 3D nutcraker how it looked when stored

It was an instant holiday hit. The next year he built a Nutcracker which drummed and the year I wrote the article, he completed a firefighter who held a hose and poured water on a flame.

The article I wrote is far too long to include in its entirety, but I’ve attached it for anyone who wants to read the whole thing.

‘Peak’ Nutcracker was, for us, that Christmas of 1991 when our son was not quite two years old. Every day of December, around five in the late (and dark!) afternoon, we would bundle into the car and he and I would go to see the Nutcrackers. I would have to roll the window down so my son could see them better and talk to them. It was a magical time thanks to the inventiveness of one Nutcracker artist and his vision.

The links:

Page 1 of the article I wrote in 1991
Page 2 of the 1991 Newsletter article

When PONG was King

The original video game

November 29, 2022

Back in the 1970’s life was much simpler. There were no personal computers; no cell phones; no video games. To entertain ourselves, we would tune in to the local radio station and listen to the hits of the day; we might go for a drive – if our parents let us use the car; we’d call our friends on the phone and, perhaps, meet at the local pizza parlor; or we might hang out at the local arcade and drop quarters in a pinball machine.

THIS is what the excitement was all about…

It was on November 29, 1972, when the first hint of the coming electronic age poked its head up out of the ether with the introduction of the earliest of all electronic games: PONG by Atari.

I could attempt to explain to anyone born after 1970 what Pong was, but will let the Infallible Wikipedia do the heavy lifting for me:

“Pong is a two-dimensional sports game that simulates table tennis. The player controls an in-game paddle by moving it vertically across the left or right side of the screen. They can compete against another player controlling a second paddle on the opposing side. Players use the paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The goal is for each player to reach eleven points before the opponent; points are earned when one fails to return the ball to the other.”

Okay, I know, I know. All you Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Gen-Z types are saying: “Really? That’s what you thought was fun back in the 1970’s, Boomer?”

Yes. Yes we did.

The Infallible Wikipedia continues: “The Pong arcade games manufactured by Atari were a great success. The prototype was well received by Andy Capp’s Tavern patrons; people came to the bar solely to play the game. Following its release, Pong consistently earned four times more revenue than other coin-operated machines. (Nolan) Bushnell estimated that the game earned US$35–40 per day (i.e. 140–160 plays daily per console at $0.25 per play), which he described as nothing he’d ever seen before in the coin-operated entertainment industry at the time. The game’s earning power resulted in an increase in the number of orders Atari received. This provided Atari with a steady source of income; the company sold the machines at three times the cost of production. By 1973, the company had filled 2,500 orders, and, at the end of 1974, sold more than 8,000 units.”

1972 Pong Arcade game from

I cannot say for sure when Pong first entered my consciousness. My arcade hopping days were a few years later and I can assure you that my mother would not have let me near one anyway. But I did have something which exposed me to the early games: older brothers.

It was likely my eldest brother – nine years my senior – was all agog over Pong. From the earliest days of electronics, he was in to it. Really in to it. No doubt he went to arcades and played Pong, looking to extend a win streak or earn a high score, responsible for giving Nolan Bushnell a bunch of quarters.

When, probably at Christmas 1975, the first home Pong gaming console was released, my brother brought it to the house where we grew up and everyone got a chance to try their hand at the game. All that Christmas there were whoops of joy and cries of dismay as games were won and lost. While I no doubt played Pong, I was never that in to it. I really didn’t get the attraction of moving a little line up and down one side of a screen trying to ‘hit’ a little blinking thing.

By the early 1980’s, the arcade version of Pong became a relic of the past as newer, more involved electronic games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong took their place. (I wrote about them here:

Similarly, the dedicated ‘at home’ gaming consoles eventually were able to feature multiple games in the form of interchangeable cartridges.

Atari stayed at the top of the heap for a few more years with the introduction of a dedicated gaming console. The Infallible Wikipedia shares:

“The Atari 2600, initially branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) from its release until November 1982, is a home video game console developed and produced by Atari, Inc. Released in September 1977, it popularized microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on swappable ROM cartridges, a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976. The VCS was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge—initially Combat and later Pac-Man.

(snip) The Atari VCS launched in 1977 with nine simple, low-resolution games in 2 KB cartridges. The system’s first killer app was the home conversion of Taito’s arcade game Space Invaders in 1980.”

A ‘gotta have it’ Christmas gift of the 1970’s

My brother, however, did not go with the Atari but invested in the Commodore VIC 20 which was an early home computer system which had a whole bunch of compatible games for it. I have a distinct memory of being at my brother’s  home in Ballard in the early 1980’s and we are all huddled around the TV in their small sitting area, watching as my brother and the hubby battle it out over some game.

I imagine it’s difficult to imagine the thrill of those early games when compared to the sophistication of today’s technology. Yet, it had the power to make us all sit up and notice and be in awe of things we’d never seen before.

As is my custom, I do try to ferret out how I might have been involved with whatever my Tuesday Newsday topic might be. Which led me to my small collection of diary’s from the early to mid-1970’s.  I was rewarded with this gem from December 31, 1973:

The “Upper Valley (DeMolay) New Year’s Eve dance was tonight. It was slow at first. I danced some. Once with Alan, and twice with his friend. Then towards the end Sally and Julie and myself were dancing with Tony, Cory A., and some other guy. It was a fun dance. We went to Pizza Pete’s afterwards but I didn’t eat anything. I played electronic Ping-Pong with Lee L., Kev, Mike K., and beat them. I played Tony and lost.”

Oh, us crazy Boomers. Such wild things! Did we know how to have fun or what!?

Of course, the links:

Patti Play Pal Dolls

Companion Dolls were all the rage

November 8, 2022

Patti Playpal with her original box

Way back in the early 1960’s, a type of doll – known as Companion Dolls – were all the rage. Little girls everywhere wanted one of these dolls. Ranging in height from 28 to 36 inches, they were about the same size as the child and often wore the same size clothes.

The most famous of these dolls was Patti Playpal, manufactured by Ideal Toy Company from 1959 to 1962.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Patti Playpal, also spelled as Patti Play Pal, was an American line of dolls created by both Neil Estern and Vincent DeFilippo (creator of the “baby face” sculpt Patti) both versions were produced by the Ideal Toy Company during the late 1950s to early 1960s. The dolls head, arms, legs and torso are made from vinyl. The process used for the torso and legs is known as blow molding.[1]

A main selling point of the dolls was their size. At 35 inches (89 cm) they were made and marketed as ‘companion dolls’ to children, and thus are able to share clothing and play with its owner as if it were a real child.

Besides the original Patti Playpal doll, several variants were also released (a ‘walking’ version and the non-walking version). The doll line had ‘family members’ which included: 32 inches (81 cm) Penny, 32 inches (81 cm) Saucy Walker who also was sold in a 28 inch version, 28 inches (71 cm) Suzy, 24 inches (61 cm) Bonnie, 24 inches (61 cm) Johnny and the 38 inches (97 cm) Peter. A related line, the 38 inches (97 cm) and 42 inches (110 cm) Daddy’s Girl dolls, were also released around the same time, representing a 12-year old girl. Special editions, including Playpals modeled after child actresses Shirley Temple and Lori Martin, were also produced.

Owing to the popularity of the line, similar companion dolls and counterfeits were made and marketed by other companies under different names, such as those from Allied Eastern, Sayco, Madame Alexander and numerous other manufacturers.”

The year I was four, a companion doll (Not a Playpal brand, but a knock off) arrived for me on Christmas morning. Based on the home movies shot by my dad that year, I was thrilled; footage of me hugging and kissing the doll preserved on celluloid.

The author with ‘Sandy’ on Christmas Day 1961. Photo captured from home movies shot that day.

I’m not sure why but I named the doll ‘Sandy.’ And Sandy was a big part of my life for a time. She became the victim of a murder one afternoon when our cousins were playing at our house. That was the day she lost the middle finger of her left hand when the rope tied around it pulled the digit off.

Like all toys, Sandy eventually was relegated to the back of my closet where she stayed until my parents moved from that house in 1983. A number of years later, when they asked if I would please take my things with me, I obliged and Sandy relocated to our home in Kirkland. It was now the mid-2000’s

Not really having a spot for her, she was a bit of a nomad. She landed in a corner in the guest room where she patiently waited for someone to notice her.

New Year’s Eve 2015… Sandy isn’t quite sure about their beverage choice

That day came December 30, 2015 when my daughter and her boyfriend were in town for a visit. The daughter was reading on her i-phone in bed and happened to notice Sandy standing in the corner… and her eyes were glowing.

The daughter soon arrived at the door of my room demanding that I get that ‘creepy doll’ out of her room. I, of course, thought that it was hilarious that my adult daughter was freaked out by a doll. But I obliged… and moved Sandy into the bathtub of the bathroom my daughter was using. Of course Sandy was concealed behind the shower curtain. Then I went to bed.

The next morning I was rewarded with a scream and some choice words letting me know that my daughter was not pleased with where Sandy now resided. So I transferred the doll down by the Christmas tree. Which is where she remained until later that afternoon.

The daughter and boyfriend had plans to visit friends for New Year’s Eve and had gone to the store to obtain some beer… which they put out in our garage to get cool. Then they left for awhile and, once again, Sandy made her way to the garage to see what beverage they’d chosen and patiently waited for their return. Once again, we were pleased to hear a scream and suggestions as to where Sandy was NOT allowed.

And that’s how Sandy The Creepy Doll became a thing.

Truly, it started as a joke between my son and me as a way to torment his sister. But then a weird thing happened. The doll took on a life of her own. Remember the eyes and how my daughter said they glowed? Well, they do. Since they are made out of glass, a flash from a camera will capture the glow. And I swear that when that glow is recorded you can tell if Sandy is happy… or mad.

Weird things often happen during photo shoots. Not only did I get a cactus spine in my leg, but someone (cough, cough, Sandy) switched the camera to ‘sepia’ instead of color

Now, to really do it right I created a Facebook page for her in April 2016 started chronicling her activities through photos. Sandy has been a true companion doll for a number of years now, traveling around Washington State to places like Yakima, Leavenworth, Blaine, and Long Beach.

In 2018 she tagged along for a two week road trip to the Albuquerque Balloon festival visiting Lassen Peak, Death Valley, Saguaro, Carlsbad, and Arches National Parks along the way.

I have been the recipient of her displeasure. Like that one time at Saguaro National Park when I learned that she’s not a fan of cactus, and was uncooperative during the photo shoot. I backed into a cactus while trying to get the perfect picture, taking a spine in my calf… or the time I tripped over the rock at Lava Beds National Monument…I swear she was judging me as I sprawled on my behind on the hard dirt. She got over it when a woman insisted that Sandy be in a photo with… her dog.

At Lava Beds National Monument with her new best friend.

Sandy doesn’t travel much these days but she is there to greet any houseguests who make their way to the upper floor. I think she kinda freaked out my niece and her boyfriend a couple weeks ago. Sandy was only standing guard outside the room where they were staying. But don’t tell my daughter, okay? One of these days she might come back and stay the night. But I’m not counting on it.

A couple of links: – A 1960’s commercial for Patti Play Pal – A video about a man who collects and restores the dolls


I added this photo as her expression clearly says “I’m not amused.”

At Area 51 museum in Rowell, New Mexico. I got the impression the lady there had seen it all…Sandy, on the other hand, seems a bit worried about that alien.

Trick or Treat

A tradition which spans centuries

October 25, 2022

My brothers trick or treating circa 1958

For children everywhere, dressing up for Halloween and getting to go out trick or treating is almost as great as Christmas. After all, what’s not to like about a day when you can put on a costume, roam the streets of your neighborhood in the dark, and have people fill your outstretched bag with candy?

For anyone who grew up in the 1950’s and later, Halloween has been a day to embrace the joys of childhood.

Which got me to wondering this week “When, exactly, did the tradition of trick or treating begin?”

For the answer we turn, of course, to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Since the Middle Ages, a tradition of mumming on a certain holiday has existed in parts of Britain and Ireland. It involved going door-to-door in costume, performing short scenes or parts of plays in exchange for food or drink. The custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween may come from the belief that supernatural beings, or the souls of the dead, roamed the earth at this time and needed to be appeased.”

Mummers – those who participate in costumes in pantomime plays- depicted

Okay, so it was not invented recently. Today’s current trend in the United States has its roots some 80 years ago:

“Almost all pre-1940 uses of the term ‘trick-or-treat’ are from the United States and Canada. Trick-or-treating spread throughout the United States, stalled only by World War II sugar rationing that began in April, 1942 and lasted until June, 1947.

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. Trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip in 1951. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. In 1953 UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.

(snip) The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of adults in the United States planned to give out confectionery to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to go trick-or-treating or participating in other Halloween activities.

My own earliest memories of Trick or Treating on Halloween were likely from the second fall after we moved to Yakima. That would have been the year I was five. It is all a bit fuzzy but I remember getting to dress up as a gypsy and wearing a hard plastic face mask with the face of a smiling lady wearing a scarf and large earrings painted on it.

My older brother evaluating his loot circa 1958

It was my father who walked with my sister and me around the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure my older brother got to trick or treat with friends. The best part was when we got home and we dumped our prizes out on the living room floor and sorted the bounty.

This went on for the next five or six years. Eventually, my older brother ‘aged’ out since my mother had a rule that once you turned twelve you were too old for trick or treating. By the time I first went trick or treating, my oldest brother had been relegated to the passing out of candy.

When the year arrived I turned twelve, my mother had apparently been worn down by all her children because somehow I was allowed to go out trick or treating. The last year I remember participating was the year I was… 16! In my diary entry that year I wrote the following:

“In Reveille (yearbook class) we had a party, and it started to snow. The snow stuck, 2 inches of it. Andi & Vicki came down & we went out Trick or treating.”

I knew that it snowed the last year I went trick or treating but was surprised at how old I was!

Eventually the allure of trick or treating faded away… until October of 1990… and it was time to share the tradition with my offspring.

A few days before Halloween my son (in his tux, tail, and top hat) and I joined our Mom and Baby group for a party.

My son turned nine months old that Halloween and I dressed him up in a baby onesie which looked like a tiny tuxedo. I made him a black top hat and he was quite dapper. Then the hubby carted him to a few neighbors’ houses so he could trick or treat.

In the ensuing years, Halloween was ALWAYS a big deal for the kids, a tradition to be embraced. Each year they both would plan their costumes and this mom was frequently pressed into sewing services to create their vision.

My kids and nieces, ready to head out trick or treating. My son is dressed as the Pokemon Marawok and my daughter as a can-can girl. One of the years I did not make costumes.

By the time my daughter was a teenager, we were involved with the Rainbow Girls and Halloween was an opportunity to help the community. For most of those years, our group planned a food collection event. The girls, most of them now too old to be trick or treating, would distribute fliers a week to ten days before the holiday to about 300 houses asking for people to donate canned items for the food bank. Then, on Halloween night, the girls would go in pairs to the houses and collect the food. An adult would be in a car on the road so the girls had a place to put the collected items.

When I asked my daughter what her most memorable Halloween was, here’s what she wrote:

“Not sure if this counts but my most memorable Halloween from my youth was the year I was worthy advisor (president) and we collected like 600lbs of canned goods for NW Harvest.”

Although the photo is a bit fuzzy, you can see the 600K+ pounds of food collected by the Rainbow Girls. 2009

Although I miss the excitement of Halloween night with my children, it is fun to see a new generation ring my doorbell and shout “Trick Or Treat!” when I open it.

The link:

Happy Days

Fonzie Jumps the Shark

September 20, 2022

There was, perhaps, no more popular and successful Sitcom of the 1970’s than Happy Days. In its eleven years on the air it was culture defining.

Its early success played off the nostalgia of the 1950’s, portraying a traditional family of that era. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Happy Days originated during a time of 1950s nostalgic interest as evident in 1970s film, television, and music. In late winter of 1971, Michael Eisner was snowed in at Newark airport where he bumped into Tom Miller, head of development at Paramount. Eisner has stated that he told Miller, ‘Tom, this is ridiculous. We’re wasting our time here. Let’s write a show.’ The script treatment that came out of that did not sell. But in spite of the market research department telling them that the 1950s theme would not work, they decided to redo it, and this was accepted as a pilot. This unsold pilot was filmed in late 1971 and titled New Family in Town. (snip) Paramount passed on making it into a weekly series, and the pilot was recycled with the title Love and the Television Set (later retitled Love and the Happy Days for syndication), for presentation on the television anthology series Love, American Style. Also in 1971, the musical Grease had a successful opening in Chicago, and by the following year became successful on Broadway. Also in 1972, George Lucas asked to view the pilot to determine if Ron Howard would be suitable to play a teenager in American Graffiti, then in pre-production. Lucas immediately cast Howard in the film, which became one of the top-grossing films of 1973.”

It was on September 20, 1977, however, when one Happy Days episode aired which has become a cultural catch phrase to describe a moment when a TV series, particularly, has passed its prime. That phrase is “jumping the shark.”

We can trace the moment back to a scene where Fonzie – arguably the most popular character from Happy Days – accepts a challenge from a character called ‘The California Kid’ to water ski over a tiger shark.

The ‘Kid’ chickens out but Fonzie, who feels he has something to prove, continues with the challenge, and is seen in his iconic leather jacket water skiing, successfully jumping the shark.

To be clear, Happy Days continued for seven additional seasons. It was only in 1985 when the phrase ‘jumping the shark’ was introduced.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The idiom ‘jumping the shark’ was coined in 1985 by Jon Hein in response to a 1977 episode from the fifth season of the American sitcom Happy Days, in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jumps over a shark while on water-skis. The phrase is pejorative and is used to argue that a creative work or outlet appears to be making a stunt in a seemingly exhaustive attempt to generate elevated attention or publicity to something that was once perceived as popular, but is no longer.”

I can’t recall when, exactly, I became familiar with the phrase. But for me the term has come to be representative of what I refer to as a cultural reference.

Henry Winkler, aka Fonzie, about to jump the shark

When my kids were about six and nine years old, I found myself using what I believed were common cultural references only to discover that my kids did NOT know them.

Thus I began a program of renting – actually I would check them out from the King County Public Library – movies which I felt they should see.

At first it was all the old musicals from the 1950’s and 1960’s which kept us entertained for a number of years. Then, when the kids were a bit older, I decided to introduce them to movies like Top Gun, Blazing Saddles, Animal House, and Risky Business.

There were more than a few awkward moments when my 13 year old daughter would hide her face behind a pillow when some inappropriate scene would appear on screen.

Note to parents out there: be sure to preview all movies before showing them to young teens.

Thinking that they needed to know about Monty Python, we gave our son the complete Monty Python DVD set one year for his birthday. Soon he was the one making cultural references and for years would quote famous lines from the show, my efforts successful.

I’ve always felt that I contributed significantly to my children’s general knowledge base.

That said, there were many times when I would comment on what I thought of as a common cultural reference only to discover my children staring at me, blank looks on their faces.

Inevitably that would lead to me trotting over to the computer and searching the internet to find the clip or explanation so they could learn it too.

There are times, nowadays, when my daughter, particularly, is on the receiving end of the blank stare. Yes, I am frequently the one who does not know a current cultural reference.

Rather than admitting I don’t know the reference, I often make a mental note to check it out later. FWIW, its how I’ve learned what the pervasive acronyms splattered throughout social media mean. (FWIW= For What It’s Worth).

After experiencing an unfamiliar cultural reference, I’ve often returned home to watch a movie or TV show which their generation all know and, in some cases, I can see the attraction. But not always.

But I do think making a sincere effort to understand another person’s cultural references is important. After all, I’m not quite ready to jump the shark. Not Yet. WBU?

A few links for your cultural reference education: