Lava Lamp

A 1960’s symbol still popular today

April 5, 2022

Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the 1960’s, the Lava Lamp was patented on April 4, 1963. Two years later – in a very sixtyish style on April 5th,  the day after, the actual patent – was declared as National Lava Lamp day.

1960’s ad for lava lamps

Much beloved by teens of the 60’s and 70’s, the lamp – unlike plaid bell bottoms, Nehru jackets, and Twiggy’s haircut – has found new fans in subsequent generations.

The Lava Lamp got its beginnings in the early 1960’s. From the Infallible Wikipedia we learn:

“British entrepreneur Edward Craven Walker had the idea for the lava lamp in 1963 after watching a homemade egg timer, made from a cocktail shaker filled with liquids, as it bubbled on a stovetop in a pub. He hired British inventor David George Smith to develop the device and the chemical formula it required. Smith is credited as the inventor on the original U.S. Patent 3,387,396 for a ‘Display Device’ filed and assigned to Craven-Walker’s company in 1965, and subsequently issued in 1968. Craven Walker’s company, Crestworth, was based in Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom. He named the lamp ‘Astro’ and had variations such as the ‘Astro Mini’ and the ‘Astro Coach’ lantern.” 

For most of us, the details of who invented it are – likely – not of a great deal of interest. But my geeky side IS curious as to the technology behind the lamps. It turns out that it is the combination of two different materials that, when exposed to heat, cause the instantly recognizable function of the lava lamp.

Lava Lamp inventor

The material used to make the colored ‘lava’ originally consisted of mineral oil, paraffin wax, and carbon tetrachloride. This was suspended in water. The difference in how the wax/oil and the water heated is what caused the wax/oil to do what it does. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Common wax has a density much lower than that of water and would float on top at any temperature. However, carbon tetrachloride is denser than water (also nonflammable and miscible with wax) and is added to the wax to make its density at room temperature slightly higher than that of the water. When heated, the wax mixture becomes less dense than the water, because it expands more than water when both are heated. It also becomes fluid, causing blobs of it to ascend to the top of the lamp. There, they cool, increasing their density relative to that of the water, and descend.  A metallic wire coil in the bottle’s base breaks the cooled blobs’ surface tension, allowing them to recombine.”

Over the years, the wax ingredients have been replaced since one of the early ingredients proved to have toxicity which caused challenges if the glass jar was broken. 

But enough of the geeky details. For those who wish to learn more there is a link below.

I cannot recall the first time I saw a lava lamp. But I do know when I first lived in a place with one. When I moved into the hubby’s apartment after our marriage I became the defacto half owner of a lava lamp. Now, in a custody battle for the lamp I would have, no doubt, lost, since he owned it before we got married. Thankfully that custody battle has been avoided!

But over the years, the lava lamp has gone from being on display in our living room to being in our bedroom to living on a shelf in my office. But that was only until our eldest child discovered the lamp and it soon took up residence in his room. And then another one arrived to live in his room.

Here was this kid, born in the 1990’s, totally enthralled with a throwback product of the 60’s. The lava lamps moved with him to Tennessee, California, and then back to Washington. He lived for several years in Seattle but then moved out of the city in the fall of 2019. And the lava lamps arrived back in our house. Granted they were in his room, but that meant I could visit them pretty much anytime I wanted.

Our two lava lamps in phase 1

Like me, I think my son was mesmerized by the various phases the lava light goes through when it’s turned on.

Phase 1: the blob sits at the bottom of the lamp, glowing red, blue, yellow (the most common blob colors) for a time.

Phase 2: a tiny little tendril will erupt from the blob and snake its way upward like a plant sprout in springtime, only much faster. 

Late phase 2/early phase 3

Phase 3: more tendrils erupt and then, suddenly, the entire blob seems to explode like a cumulus nimbus cloud in spring, billowing up and out, filling the lamp.

Tiny lava blobs dance in the lamp/phase 5

Phase 4: the heat of the water approaches boiling and the wax mixture starts to form the ‘blobs’ for which the lava lamp got its name.

Phase 5: the numerous and various sized blobs, slowly at first, engage in a mesmerizing dance bouncing off one another, moving around through the lighted water lamp.

Phase 6: the blobs combine with one another, the large absorbing the smaller, until all that’s left is one huge blob. This phase continues until the lamp is turned off and the blob then settles in the base of the jar to cool down.

Phase 6 – large blobs

Each of these phases is interesting in its own way. My favorite, by far, is phase three. In fact, if given the chance, I will wait until the billowing wax looks like clouds… and turn the lamp off. 

My son, as far as I can tell, loves the lava lamp when it’s in phase 5, the multi-blob state. During the time he was living with us and the two lamps resided in his room, I would often go in to visit with him and the lava lamps would be illuminated.

Two years ago he took off for Mexico and, subsequently, decided to move there. Because of the logistics of getting household goods into Mexico was a challenge, the lava lamps had to be left behind.  So far, they have remained in the same spot where he had them displayed… but I think in honor of lava lamp day it may be time to relocate them to my office.


February 22, 2022

There are topics which come to my attention from time to time that cause me to say: that just can’t be right.

The hubby and I have had this same set of bowls for decades now… and still use them

According to a number of sources on the internet, it was on February 22, 1621, when a Native American by the name of Squanto, at the first Thanksgiving, showed the settlers how to make ‘popcorn’.

Hmmm… wasn’t the first Thanksgiving held in the fall and not February? And did the natives of that region really eat popcorn?

A little refresher. The Pilgrims landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in November of 1620. For the next year they struggled mightily, enduring hardships and starvation. There was no feast in February 1621. That did not occur until sometime between mid-September and early November 162.

Now on to the second question about the popcorn. According to

I feel confident that the two groups were not sitting around the campfire enjoying a batch of jiffy pop in February 1621.

Colorful dried corn

“It’s been said that popcorn was part of the first Thanksgiving feast, in Plymouth Colony in 1621. According to myth, Squanto himself taught the Pilgrims to raise and harvest corn, and pop the kernels for a delicious snack. Unfortunately, this story contains more hot air than a large bag of Jiffy Pop. While the early settlers at Plymouth did indeed grow corn, it was of the Northern Flint variety, with delicate kernels that are unsuitable for popping. No contemporary accounts reference eating or making popcorn in that area, and the first mention of popcorn at Thanksgiving doesn’t appear until a fictional work published in 1889, over 200 years later.”

But, the history of popped corn is interesting. A uniquely western hemisphere food, there is evidence that corn has existed and had been used as food for thousands of years.

While the Infallible Wikipedia was silent on the Pilgrims angle, it does share the following:

“Corn was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in what is now Mexico. Archaeologists discovered that people have known about popcorn for thousands of years. Fossil evidence from Peru suggests that corn was popped as early as 4700 BC.

Through the 19th century, popping of the kernels was achieved by hand on stove tops. Kernels were sold on the East Coast of the United States under names such as Pearls or Nonpareil. The term popped corn first appeared in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. Popcorn is an ingredient in Cracker Jack and, in the early years of the product, it was popped by hand.

Charles Cretors with one of his popcorn machines

Popcorn’s accessibility increased rapidly in the 1890s with Charles Cretors’ invention of the popcorn maker. Cretors, a Chicago candy store owner, had created a number of steam-powered machines for roasting nuts and applied the technology to the corn kernels.

By the turn of the century, Cretors had created and deployed street carts equipped with steam-powered popcorn makers.”

It was, however, during the Great Depression when popcorn consumption really took off. With sugar in short supply and sweets largely unavailable, American’s discovered they could have an inexpensive salty, buttery snack instead. Soon popcorn was sold in movie theatres and people could pop it at home.

Popcorn popularity surged once again in the 1980’s  with the ability to cook the product in microwave ovens. It’s estimated that Americans today consume more than 17 billion quarts of popcorn annually!

Some of my earliest memories center around popcorn. My dad would pop a pan full on most Saturday nights of my childhood; a once a week treat while the family played cards.

My first popcorn popper was likely a Stir Crazy or similar. You poured a bit of oil on the base and heated it up, then added the popcorn kernels. It was fun to watch the popcorn fill the lid – which you turned over and it became the bowl.

When I went away to college at the University of Puget Sound, I brought with me two ‘appliances.’ One was a small electric kettle and the other was an all in one popcorn popper. Of course I was not the only girl to have one in the sorority, but one could be sure that the smell of the popping corn would be a siren call to others; soon the party would be in my room.

I associate popcorn with the hubby. Not only does he LOVE popcorn, it was the thing we were both eating on the night of our first ever phone call.

The hubby’s older brother, while we were on a waterski trip to Lake Tapps in 1981, decided the hubby was a good ‘target’ for getting popcorned.

In 1979 there were no cell phones. We did not have individual phones in our rooms either. Instead, there was a multi-line phone system in the Alpha Phi sorority where I lived,  and down the hall from my room was ‘the phone room.’ This was a closet size space with a small desk and chair, and the phone for the entire sorority was located there. Additional handsets were located on the second floor and another in the basement. Members took turns being on phone duty in the evenings, answering the calls and then, via intercom, paging those who had a call.

The evening of our first call, I had just finished making a batch of popcorn when the intercom near my room announced, “Call for Barbie D on line 2.” So, with a bowl of popcorn in hand, I made my way to one of the phones. As the conversation got going my new romantic interest and I discovered that we were both enjoying the same snack.

Our mutual love of popcorn has never wavered and we are in agreement that popcorn is best when it has butter drizzled over it and a few turns of the salt grinder on top of that. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

The links:

Probably our 4th or 5th popcorn popper. The bowl and popcorn canister we’ve had since the 1980’s. The average American consumes 58 quarts of popcorn a year!

The Teddy Bear

A beloved childhood toy for over 100 years

February 15, 2022

Generations of children, no doubt, think of this toy – one of the first they were likely to have – as a source of comfort. The Teddy Bear was introduced in the United States on February 15, 1903.

The modern day Vermont Teddy Bears can be huge… my dad bought TWO for my Mom when she was in assisted living. The darn things took up alot of space!

Amazingly, two different manufacturers conceived the idea simultaneously. The year before, American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt had been the focus of an incident involving a bear. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The name originated from an incident on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, to which Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. There were several other hunters competing, and most of them had already killed an animal. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American black bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds.

They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.

Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and was inspired to create a teddy bear. He created a tiny soft bear cub and put it in his candy shop window at 404 Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn with a sign ‘Teddy’s bear.’ After sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name, he began to produce them commercially to great demand. The toys were an immediate success and Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co.”

President Theodore Roosevelt and one of Morris Michtom’s “Teddy’ Bears

The Steiff Toy Company in Germany, which had been working on their bear since December 1902, introduced it at a toy show a month later.

It was, perhaps, the first ‘gotta-have-it’ toy for children.

Over the years the style of Teddy Bears has changed. Originally, they were made to look like real bears with long snouts and beady eyes. Modern bears tend to feature large round eyes, stubby noses, and an upturned mouth.

One need only look at culture to really understand the impact this toy made. Since its creation, there have been many children’s books which feature as its main character a bear: Paddington, Winnie-The-Pooh, and Corduroy, for examples.

The song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” was inspired by the first Teddy Bears and there have been several movies and TV shows about the toy.

Like most products, its popularity waned over time, giving way to flashier toys. Then, in the 1990’s, the Teddy Bear had a revival spurred, no doubt, by the electronic Teddy Ruxpin and the wildly popular “Build-A-Bear” workshops.

The latter took the idea of creating your own bear and opened retail locations in malls everywhere. Now a child could pick and choose the features, give their ‘bear’ a unique name, and watch as it was ‘born.’ There were, of course, adorable clothes which can be purchased for the bear. A little girl might want a ballerina bear. Once you’ve invested in the bear – or other equally adorable stuffed animals –then there were hundreds of adorable outfits available. Today, the dolls start at $14 and go up from there. For $20.50 you can buy the ballerina outfit which includes the glittery tutu and shoes. As you can see, it gets quite spendy.

The machine where each child’s bear is ‘built.’ Part of the allure is getting to see your own ‘bear’ come to life

One of the first toys I remember as a child was my teddy bear. In fact, that bear slept with me every night, my comfort item.

As far as I know it arrived as a Christmas present the year I was two.

Over the years, his soft fur was worn away – except for one spot under the back of each of his legs – and his original eyes long ago replaced by two matching red buttons from my mother’s collection.

My sister received a similar bear, but hers was pale blue with a light pink tummy while mine was a tawny brown with a beige tummy. I asked her if she still had her bear but she said she did not, unsure when it left her life.

The author’s original ‘Teddy’ – still a source of comfort when one is sick.

Being a couple years older, I don’t think she had the same affinity for her bear that I had for mine. I’m no psychologist, but from a child development standpoint, there is a window of time when a child naturally starts to move away from their parent and when another object – like a stuffed toy, blanket, or baby doll – becomes their comfort. Around age two is about that age.

For me, when there was no one else to play with, Teddy served as a substitute. We had tea parties, I ‘read’ him books, and we colored together.

One of my favorite children’s books is The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s a story about a stuffed rabbit that is so loved by its ‘child’ that he loses his fur, his eyes, everything which makes him ‘beautiful.’ But the message of the story was not lost on me as I could see the parallels to my own Teddy. The book’s author, Margery Williams Bianco, shares this bit of wisdom:

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

And, yes, I still have my Teddy. He’s traveled with me through life, always there to offer comfort when needed, a reminder of what’s ‘real’ in life.

A few links:

Roller Skates

‘Rinkmania’ was all the craze in Victorian England

January 4, 2022

There are days in history on which an invention so novel arrives, that it becomes all the rage – at least for a time.

An early ‘concept’ of a roller skate as well as a quite humorous interpretation.

One such invention was the four wheeled roller-skate, patented on January 4, 1863 by American James Plimpton.

Unlike an ice skate, the wheeled variety did not require a flat frozen surface and could be enjoyed in a variety of settings.

During the late 1800’s, it also was the catalyst for a ‘sexual revolution’ of sorts.

The roller skates story begins in 1743 when a pair was used in the theatre in Great Britain. John Joseph Merlin patented his version of the skate in 1760. But they were difficult to steer and, because there was no braking system, stopping at will was problematic.

It was Plimpton’s 1863 design which proved to be commercially successful. The Infallible Wikipedia informs us that Plimpton invented what was known as a rocking skate:

“… (He) used a four-wheel configuration for stability, and independent axles that turned by pressing to one side of the skate or the other when the skater wants to create an edge. This was a vast improvement on the Merlin design, one that was easier to use and drove the huge popularity of roller skating, dubbed ‘rinkomania’ in the 1860s and 1870s, which spread to Europe and around the world, and continued through the 1930s. The Plimpton skate is still used today.

1950’s era roller skaters

Eventually, roller skating evolved from just a pastime to a competitive sport; speed skating, racing on skates, and inline figure skating, very similar to what can be seen in the Olympics on ice. In the mid 1990s roller hockey, played with a ball rather than a puck, became so popular that it even made an appearance in the Olympics in 1992. The National Sporting Goods Association statistics showed, from a 1999 study, that 2.5 million people played roller hockey. Roller skating was considered for the 2012 Summer Olympics but has never become an Olympic event. Other roller skating sports include jam skating and roller derby.

Roller skating popularity exploded during the disco era but tapered off in the 1980s and 1990s. Sales of roller skates increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as people sought safe outdoor activities.

Roller skating saw a revival in the late 2010s and early 2020s, spurred on by a number of viral videos on the popular video sharing app TikTok. Many popular brands sold out to the point of back-order, with many people taking up the hobby during COVID-19 quarantines across the globe.”

One aspect of the roller skates history which intrigued was the claim that it inspired a sexual revolution back in the 1860’s.  This is attributable to the stodgy Victorian moral codes of the day in Great Britain.

I’m not quite sure what the heck was going on here… but everything about this photo is intriguing!

According to one article, the skating rink proved to be the one place where romantically inclined young Brit’s could meet other young people.

“By the mid-1870s, a craze for indoor rollerskating had come to Britain, with 50 rinks in place in London at one point. The press dubbed the phenomenon ‘rinkomania’, but the healthy exercise that Plimpton had boasted of was not all that attracted the young ‘rinkers’.

‘The skating rink is the neutral ground on which the sexes may meet,’ reported Australia’s Port Macquarie News of goings-on in London and elsewhere, ‘without all the pomp and circumstances of society. The rink knows no Mother Grundy, with her eagle eye and sharp tongue, for Mother Grundy dare not trust herself on skates, and so the rinker is happier than the horseman of whom Horace sang.’

Holding hands and whispering sweet nothings became easier without Mother Grundy – a contemporary term for a stern matriarch – and her ilk tagging along. Prolonged eye contact with one’s intended replaced stolen glances.”

Skating rinks were also built all across the United States and remained wildly popular for one hundred years. In the late 1990’s and into the early part of the 21st Century, many were shuttered.

1960’s era metal roller skates. Very adjustable, you could make them fit your tennis shoes exactly.

But thanks to the global pandemic of 2020, roller skating has emerged as a great way to get exercise. Roller rinks are seeing a revival in popularity.

I must admit that when I came across this topic, it produced nostalgia. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been out roller skating. A fear of falling and breaking something keeps me from pursuing this particular activity.

But as a child, I was fearless. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t roller skate. It was in 1966 when my parents did a home remodel and our carport was converted to a family room. The driveway was relocated and became a large, flat expanse of concrete. It was perfect for a child with a pair of all metal roller skates which attached to her shoes. I spent many hours in the driveway skating around. No doubt I skinned my knees dozens, if not hundreds, of times. But I was undaunted.

When the weather turned inclement I’d sometimes get to go to my Aunt’s house a couple blocks away and skate in circles around their basement.

The current exterior of Yakima’s Skateland

But the holy grail of experiences was on the days when I got to go to Skateland, Yakima’s very own roller rink. I loved everything about Skateland. How it smelled. The wood cubbies where one stored their shoes and coat. The flashing lights suspended over the rink. The planked floor with numbers painted on it for when they had a contest. The sound of hundreds of wheels rolling across it. The impossibly loud music. Dancing the hokey pokey.

September 2001 was the last time I went skating at Skateland in Yakima. The occasion was my niece’s ninth birthday. We are pictured skating together at the left side of the photo.

I feel quite confident that roller skating is in my rear view mirror but I wonder if there is some inventor out there who could create a contraption that would allow all us Baby Boomers to skate once again. Places like Skateland in Yakima, or Skagit Skate not too far from where I currently live, could make it a real thing.

What we BB’s need would be akin to training wheels or even a walker like device. Something that would allow all the old fogies to stay upright and be able to recapture a few fleeting moments of our youth. Ah yes, those were the good old days.

A few links:

First up is Jim Croce’s classic ‘Roller Derby Queen’ – his explanation at the beginning is great!

Same Old Lang Syne

The Iconic song with a twist

December 28, 2021

The end of December is, traditionally, a time to reflect on the year just past. No song is more associated with the ending of the year and the start of a new one than Auld Lang Syne.

It somehow seems appropriate that the origins of this poem and song are steeped in the mysteries of time. It was plucked from obscurity by Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in 1788. He set it to music and added verses which most closely approximate the song familiar to all.

The Infallible Wikipedia shares, of course, a plethora of information:

“Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 with the remark, ‘The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.’ Some of the lyrics were indeed ‘collected’ rather than composed by the poet; the ballad ‘Old Long Syne’ printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns’ later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same ‘old song’. To quote from the first stanza of the James Watson ballad:

Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.

It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.”

The song was popularized in the United States by Guy Lombardo who “is remembered for almost a half-century of New Year’s Eve big band remotes, first on radio, then on television. His orchestra played at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 (snip) to 1959, and from then until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Live broadcasts (and later telecasts) of their performances were a large part of New Year’s celebrations across North America; millions of people watched the show with friends at house parties. Because of this popularity, Lombardo was called ‘Mr. New Year’s Eve.’”

You would have had to have been born in a cave and lived in the wilderness your entire life to never have heard the song. In December 1980, another artist came along who wrote an autobiographical song which succeeded in connecting yet another generation to the concept of remembering, with a wistful nostalgia, days and people since gone.

Dan Fogelberg’s addition came about following a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend on Christmas Eve in 1975. They run in to each other in the grocery store and then proceed to share a six pack of beer while sitting in her car at a mini-mart. It is, I think, the very ordinariness of the encounter which juxtaposes so very well with the emotions just under the surface.

Cover for the 1980 single

Somehow Fogelberg – who claimed to have begun the song more as a joke – ended up transforming the opening music from the 1812 Overture into a nostalgia filled classic that ends with Auld Lang Syne.

Perhaps the thing that makes the song resonate with so many people is that one recognizes – as one matures – that life is a series of binary choices. A first love, for example, is just that. A young person simply does not have the advantage of time and experience to understand that once a relationship is over it is likely to stay that way.

Fogelberg – in his song – encapsulates that moment of recognition and the emotion which comes with it:

We drank a toast to innocence

We drank a toast to now

And tried to reach beyond the emptiness

But neither one knew how

We drank a toast to innocence

We drank a toast to time

Reliving in our eloquence

Another ‘auld lang syne’

It is, though, the final few bars of the song which stops the listener and creates the ennui associated with endings… he leaves the car to walk back to his parents’ home and the ‘snow turns in to rain.’ It is at this moment when Fogelberg uses Auld Lang Syne to such devastating effect through a soulful, blues filled saxophone rendition.

Although many regard the song as a Christmas one due to its taking place on December 24th, I’ve always thought it belonged to the last week of December when, as we take down our calendars and put up the new ones, we reflect on the year just past and remember those who are no longer with us.

So here’s a toast to Auld Lang Syne with a short verse which is one of my favorites:

The Christmas Card

Curses to the person who started it all

December 14, 2021

I have a lot of friends who love, love, love Christmas. The decorations. The lights. Snow. Music. Truly, all of these things are wonderful and there’s a lot to enjoy this time of year.

A Victorian era Christmas card

But as the calendar turns from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, I am filled with a sense of dread. “But, Barb,” you are no doubt exclaiming, “why?”

The answer is simple: Christmas Cards and presents.

Friends of mine who are not writers or ponderers (is that even a word? If not, it should be!) will never understand the anxiety this time of year brings to those of us who are either or both of these things. I’ve heard comments like “Well, you’re a writer, it’s easy for you to jot a note on a card, right?”

The answer, my friends, is “no, it is not.”

So here I sit on November 21* and I have not purchased a single Christmas card to send but I do still have at least a dozen different blank cards of varying quantities from holiday seasons past. Sometimes I send those out to family along with checks because I have no great ideas for presents.

My ‘collection’ of cards from Christmas past… always ‘some’ sent but never all, leaving a mishmash to choose from each year.

Which got me to wondering, “Who can I blame for the tradition of mailing Christmas cards?”

The Infallible Wikipedia, as always, provides some answers. Historians have discovered a Christmas card sent to James I of England in 1611! It is some 200 years later before the next such missive is noted:

“The next cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole and illustrated by John Callcott Horsley in London on 1 May 1843. The central picture showed three generations of a family raising a toast to the card’s recipient: on either side were scenes of charity, with food and clothing being given to the poor. Allegedly the image of the family drinking wine together proved controversial, but the idea was shrewd: Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. Two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each.”

The idea caught on and, by 1873, the phenomenon had become a cultural change in both Great Britain and the United States. In the early part of the 20th century, with the advent of mass produced cards, the sending of holiday greeting exploded. Hallmark – the largest manufacturer – posts that 1.6 BILLION Christmas cards are produced annually. Now that’s big business.

The sending of Christmas cards is also more likely to be from, ahem, older people. Younger folks don’t have a problem with digital greetings and messages, forsaking the now ‘old fashioned’ physical letter mailed through the post office.

The adorable stationary I chose for the 2021 Christmas letter

For me, personally, I prefer the ‘Christmas Letter.’ Why? Because when I have a blank card in front of me I feel guilty if I just sign my name and don’t pen a personal note to the recipient. But with the Christmas letter, I can agonize over each word, looking for just the right combination of humor and humility. And I get to type it on a computer which is much easier for a wordsmith.

For those who get one in the mail AND read my weekly Tuesday Newsday blog, the format of this will look familiar. Why, I asked myself, mess around with what works? And why not, I also conjectured, blend the need for Christmas greetings with my regular column?

Just one of about a dozen pages of Christmas cards in a scrapbook which belonged to my Great Aunt Frances DeVore. These are from 1945.

Voila! It’s the first annual Tuesday Newsday Christmas blog and greeting letter. A tidy way to accomplish it all.

No Christmas letter would be complete without a bit about the family. So here it goes: both kiddos are off doing their own things. The son is living in Mexico having recently purchased a Mexican fixer upper house. His days are filled with work as a Senior Software Engineer (working remotely) or solving a deluge of plumbing issues. The daughter got married at the height of COVID in December 2020. Not even the bride or groom’s parents attended the ceremony… the party was delayed a year to give close friends and family the opportunity to fete the happy couple. Even better is that the pair moved back to the PNW in April 2020 and both work for Amazon. I do my part to help support them. Sometimes so does the hubby. Thank goodness for that Prime membership!

Speaking of the hubby, he became president of our HOA earlier this year and he and I both manage to stay busy via our involvement with Masonic organizations. As I am a state officer for the Order of the Eastern Star this year, most weekends find us at a reception somewhere in Washington and many a weeknight I’m off to visits. What a wonderful experience it has been!

Photo Christmas Card from my Aunt Helen and Uncle Al to our family December 1956. The stockings behind them were handmade by my grandmother.

When not traveling, I stay busy writing my blog (, crafting my seventh novel, and cleaning house. Just kidding about that last one. My lazy housekeeper does that. For those wondering, my hope is to finally get a novel or four published. Back in 2005-ish I penned a list of things I wanted to accomplish. First on the list was ‘Write/Publish a Novel.’ Turns out the write part is easier than the publish part. Why? Well, in today’s world, one pretty much has to self-publish and self-promote their book(s). And that takes one commodity which I often find in short supply: time. Until I have the time to do it right, publishing will have to wait.

But I am determined that eventually everyone can meet the Paxton family and find out ‘who’ is The Darling of Delta Rho Chi.

Well, I just looked at my word count and see that I’m about a dozen words from the magic thousand… the amount which fits on a two sided piece of cute holiday stationary. I certainly cannot send out plain paper! Despite my protests over the anxiety of Christmas cards, etc., I love, love, love, stationary. Thanks Amazon!

So Merry Christmas to All, and to All a good night! (Final word count: 988)

*Sometimes, but not often, I will write a Tuesday Newsday far in advance. Last year for December 14th was one of those rare times!

National Pumpkin Day

The Ultimate Symbol of Halloween

October 26, 2021

During the last week of October, this item dominates American culture. Its bright orange color and – often large size – make it impossible to miss. I am talking about the pumpkin

National Pumpkin Day is celebrated every year on October 26th.

Believed to be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, pumpkins originated thousands of years ago in northern Mexico and the southern United States. There is evidence that the gourd was used as early as 7,000 BC!

The average person, however, might think that it came from New England since its first well documented historic use was at the first Thanksgiving held in Plymouth in 1621. (Although it is disputed as to the Massachusetts event being first since a similar celebration reportedly took place in Virginia two years earlier)

The pumpkin was introduced to the Pilgrims by the natives of the area. The Infallible Wikipedia advises:

“An alternate derivation for pumpkin is the Massachusetts word pôhpukun ‘grows forth round’. This term would likely have been used by the Wampanoag people (who speak the Wôpanâak dialect of Massachusett) when introducing pumpkins to English Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony, located in present-day Massachusetts.”

As a food, it is dense and fiber rich; it’s primary nutrients beta-carotene and Vitamins A and C.

Still one of my favorite photos ever of my children

The thing which catches most people’s attention, however, is its visual allure. This time of year a field of bright orange pumpkins is hard to miss. Their large size and eye catching hues are a visual treat. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8 kilograms (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars (of the species C. maxima) regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb).

The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-cryptoxanthin, alpha and beta carotene, all of which are provitamin A compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.”

The largest pumpkin ever documented and the two runners up in Germany in 2016

The heaviest pumpkin ever documented was in Belgium in 2016 and weighed 2,624 pounds! It’s amazing.

A little horseplay was always in order
One of the last pumpkin carving years

Visiting the pumpkin patch was, for our family, an annual tradition for many years. From the time my children were little we made it a priority to wander out on a sunny weekend day to pick the perfect pumpkin.

One year, while at Remlinger Farms, they had on display a pumpkin which weighed 500 pounds more as either kid. We ended up in the background of a video for one of the news stations as their reporter and cameraman were there at the same time to report on the monster pumpkin.

For a couple of years – when the kids got a bit older – we combined the pumpkin patch visit with exploration of a corn maze which was lots of fun.

Over the years many a photo was snapped of pumpkin patch fun. My favorite photo, however, came from the year we ended up just off Sahalee Way and 202 between Redmond and Sammamish. Our kids were probably around ages 10 and 7 and getting the right gourd was important. The kids – perched on a pallet of pumpkins – are clearly enjoying the event.

Home we would go each year and a day or two before Halloween, the pumpkins were carved and the costumes assembled, all in advance of the big night. But more than any other activity, it was the trip to the pumpkin patch which was my favorite part.

The links:

Mork and Mindy

Na-Nu, Na-Nu

September 14, 2021

Na-nu, Na-nu! This phrase – unknown before September 14, 1978 – became a part of the American cultural vernacular thanks to the incomparable Robin Williams in his role as Mork in the sitcom Mork and Mindy.

The show catapulted Williams to fame and fans of the show tuned in every week to see what crazy new thing Mork would do.

The story of Mork began the previous year as a plot line in the popular TV show Happy Days. In one episode Richie encounters Mork – an alien from the planet Ork – who attempts to capture Richie and take him back to his planet for study.

Apparently fans loved the Mork character and the concept. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Mork appears in the Happy Days season five episode ‘My Favorite Orkan’, which first aired in February 1978 and is a take on the 1960s sitcom My Favorite Martian. The show wanted to feature a spaceman in order to capitalize on the popularity of the then recently released Star Wars film. Williams’ character, Mork, attempts to take Richie Cunningham back to his planet of Ork as a human specimen, but his plan is foiled by Fonzie. In the initial broadcast of this episode, it all turned out to be a dream that Richie had, but when Mork proved so popular, the ending in the syndicated version was re-edited to show Mork erasing the experience from everyone’s minds, thus meaning the event had actually happened and was not a dream.”

The spin off show catapulted to the #3 spot on TV during its inaugural season, leaping ahead of Happy Days in the ratings.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

Mork arrives on earth in an egg

Mork arrives on Earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft. He has been assigned to observe human behavior by Orson, his mostly unseen and long-suffering superior (voiced by Ralph James). Orson has sent Mork to get him off Ork, where humor is not permitted. Attempting to fit in, Mork dresses in an Earth suit, but wears it backwards. Landing in Boulder, Colorado, he encounters 21-year-old Mindy (Pam Dawber), who is upset after an argument with her boyfriend, and offers assistance. Because of his odd garb, she mistakes him for a priest and is taken in by his willingness to listen (in fact, simply observing her behavior). Snip

Culturally, the impact was huge and spawned a variety of toys and games

Storylines usually center on Mork’s attempts to understand human behavior and American culture as Mindy helps him to adjust to life on Earth. It usually ends up frustrating Mindy, as Mork can only do things according to Orkan customs. For example, lying to someone or not informing them it will rain is considered a practical joke (called ‘splinking’) on Ork. At the end of each episode, Mork reports back to Orson on what he has learned about Earth. These end-of-show summaries allow Mork to humorously comment on social norms. Snip

This series was Robin Williams’ first major acting role. Pam Dawber found him so funny that she had to bite her lip in many scenes to avoid breaking up in laughter and ruining the take, often a difficult task with Williams’ talent.”

In the fall of 1978, I was 21 years old and in college so I didn’t see every episode of Mork and Mindy. But the show, specifically Williams’ role, made an impression. My fellow sorority sisters and I loved Mork and soon mimicked some of his outrageous phrases and antics.

People magazine cover October 1978

We greeted each other with “Na-nu, Na-nu” and the accompanying hand gesture; we used the term “Kay Oh” instead of “Oh Kay.” The crazier male students attempted to ‘sit’ on their heads. In many ways Mork provided a primer on how to be outrageous which, when you are in college, is a goal for many.

Mork and Mindy was like fireworks, bursting onto the television scene, in a soaring arc of sparks and light. Many tuned in just to see what crazy thing Williams would say and do. I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been for Williams to keep it up week after week.

Although the series remained popular in subsequent seasons, nothing quite compared to its meteoric season one.

Occasionally, I still find myself saying “na-nu, na-nu” or “K-O” without even realizing how these terms – so very novel when first uttered – have become a part of American culture. All due to an alien named Mork who conquered the world in September 1978.

The link:

Answers to the Facebook post: Three’s Company (1976), Mork and Mindy (1978), Taxi (1978), Welcome Back, Kotter (1975), and Laverne and Shirley (1976)

The Ice Cream Truck

The best thing on a hot August afternoon

August 17, 2021

Lost in the hazy memories of childhood summers are the snippets from hot afternoons spent playing outside with the gaggle of kids who lived on my street.

Our days were filled with pick up softball games, bikes, Barbie Dolls and board games. But there was one distinctive sound which caused our collective to drop everything and run home. That sound was the blare of the song Greensleeves.

In suburban communities throughout the United States, the ice cream truck has been a summer fixture for several generations now.

It seemed to me that the ‘truck’ which roamed our streets was open like this one and the driver turned in his seat to get the treats

They also, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, are very popular in Britain and are described thus:

“An ice cream van (British) or ice cream truck (North American) is a commercial vehicle that serves as a mobile retail outlet for ice cream, usually during the spring and summer. Ice cream vans are often seen parked at public events, or near parks, beaches, or other areas where people congregate. Ice cream vans often travel near where children play — outside schools, in residential areas, or in other locations. They usually stop briefly before moving on to the next street. Along the sides, a large sliding window acts as a serving hatch, and this often displays pictures of the available products and their prices. Most ice cream vans tend to sell both pre-manufactured ice pops in wrappers, and soft serve ice cream from a machine, served in a cone, and often with a chocolate flake (in Britain), a sugary syrup, or toppings such as sprinkles. While franchises or chains are rare within the ice cream truck community (most trucks are independently owned and run), some do exist.”

When one is a child, we often take for granted certain things. One of those things was the ice cream truck which came down our street frequently during the summer. Of course I didn’t think about it much. All I thought about was how I was going to get my hands on the nickel (and when the price went up, a dime and a nickel) I needed to buy a treat.

In the houses up and down my street, our mothers’ doled out the coins needed. Soon we all lined up, patiently or not, for our turn to peruse the desired frozen treats, the cloud of cold steam from the dry ice billowing out like some magician’s trick. The truck always stopped between our house and the Tuttle’s house. This strategic location often produced a dozen eager customers as my family boasted four children and the Tuttle’s had six. Added to our ten were several groups of three additional children within a few houses and even more further up the street. That was a lot of potential customers!

Vintage ad for a Creamsicle from the late 1960’s

Soon I’d have the frozen delight in hand and would sit on the curb with the others. I can envision our gangly group, in pedal pusher pants or shorts and the summer footwear of choice: thongs. For those born after about 1970, we never called them flip-flops, they were thongs and every single one of us wore them all summer long despite the occasional bee sting or stubbed toe.

But I digress. Although I often thought about buying something new and different, I always got the same thing: an orange creamsicle.

My mother, no doubt in a futile attempt to cut back on the money spent at the ice cream truck, developed her own frozen treats. She would fill an ice cube tray with (I think) chocolate fudge jello and freeze the little squares. Into each square was inserted a wooden popsicle stick. These would be doled out on hot August afternoons when the ice cream truck did not come up our street.

When my own children were growing up I would often make Koolaid based popsicles in specially designed holders. My daughter could go through several every day.

Of course one of the reasons for this is that there were no ice cream trucks which ventured the steep driveway up to the house where we lived. Unlike the street where I grew up, my pair of children mostly played with one another or with a friend or two invited over for the afternoon.

A delicious fudge bar and ice cream cone.

When we moved to Kirkland in 2004 the kids were 14 and 11 and past the age where the ice cream truck was a motivating factor. Even so, there were many afternoons when I’d hear the familiar Greensleeves, it’s Pavlovian tune beckoning to youngsters.

In the past three years I have yet to hear or notice an ice cream truck in our neighborhood. Perhaps, with the advent of instant grocery deliveries, it’s now been swept into the dustbin of history. I think our society is a little less rich if that is the case.

Perhaps the next time I’m at the store, I’ll purchase a package of creamsicles, blare Greensleeves from Spotify, and then close my eyes and imagine I’m 8 years old once again, sitting on the curb and savoring that wonderful childhood treat.

The Driver’s Test

40 was the magic number

August 3, 2021

At one time this test was an important rite of passage for the American teenager, an indication that they were about to enjoy one of the privileges of adulthood: being able to drive.

For one Mariam Hargrave of Yorkshire, England, no doubt it was an ordeal. It was on August 3, 1970, when the 62 year old finally passed her driving test. Although the Infallible Wikipedia has an article about driver’s tests, they ignore poor Mrs. Hargraves. Instead, I was able to glean this information:

“By April 1970 Mrs. Miriam Hargrave had failed her test thirty-nine times. In the eight preceding years she had received two hundred and twelve driving lessons at a cost of £300. She set the new record while driving triumphantly through a set of red traffic lights in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Disappointingly, she passed at the fortieth attempt (3 August 1970) but eight years later she showed some of her old magic when she was reported as saying that she still didn’t like doing right-hand turns. — Stephen Pile, ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’”

Back in 1970’s Yakima it was a big deal to learn how to drive. By the time I was in high school, they were offering Driver’s Ed classes which involved learning the rules of the road and practicing driving. I doubt there were any braver educators anywhere than those who willingly climbed into a car with a 15 ½ year old, hormone driven, child and allowed them to command a 2,000 pound vehicle on city streets.

Yet, they did. I seem to recall my Driver’s Ed teacher, Mr. Breshears, always popping antacid tablets. I suppose the only thing which gave the instructors any comfort at all was the fact that the cars were equipped with a set of brakes for the front seat passenger.

Our simulators looked something like this set up from 1969.

Three students at a time would go drive with the teacher. It was a bit terrifying since not all budding drivers had the benefit of a parent who worked with them after school. There was one student I recall who tested Mr. Breshears patience each time they got behind the wheel. Those instructor brakes got quite the workout.

But the favorite part of Driver’s Ed class was getting to go to the Simulator. It was a windowless trailer which had been equipped with two parallel rows of seats, separated by an aisle sort of like being on a bus, and all faced forward. Each station had a steering wheels, brakes, etc. to look like the driver’s area of a car. At the front of the trailer was a large screen. Once all the students were settled into their places, the lights would be dimmed and the screen would come to life as though one was behind the wheel, driving down the street. It was our job to accelerate in unison with what we saw on the screen. It was also imperative that we hit the brakes at the right time.

From the IKE Reveille year book, 1972

Driver’s training films seemed to mostly consist of tree lined city blocks which, at first, seemed like lovely enclaves of blissful American life. But no. Those streets were every driver’s worst nightmare. Balls of all sorts would suddenly bounce out into the road followed by adorable tikes chasing them. Woe unto those who didn’t hit the brakes in time!

There were dogs and cats; there were other vehicles; things fell off the backs of trucks, branches crashed down. Who knew how truly hazardous things could be in one bucolic town?

Of course, some cheeky student would purposefully ‘run’ over the simulated hazards and a little red light would illuminate on their console, publically shaming them for an egregious infraction. I always wondered if students who ‘ran’ over cats, dogs, and children, failed the course.

Over the years I have learned just how accurate those simulations were as I’ve encountered many of the hazards portrayed. Thankfully, it’s only occasionally that such things happen. The hubby and I, if we are in the car together, will comment in unison ‘Driver’s Training film!’ when something we experienced in the simulator occurs in real life.

This photo is from the Eisenhower High School 1972 annual. The headline above this proclaimed “380 license-hungry students swamp driver education course this year.” Apparently there were a bunch of us who turned 16 that year.

The  instruction I received was successful and on my 16th birthday I took the tests – written and driving – and emerged as a licensed driver and, despite losing points for parallel parking, never came close to Mariam Hargrave’s, 212 lessons, eight years of time, and over $700 (US) spent.

The links:

An entertaining look at early simulators: (Can you pass the written test for Washington State?)