Bobsledding Along

The Debut of Sledding in the Olympics

February 9, 2021

Over the years, a variety of competitions have been added to the Winter Olympics. On February 9, 1932, the two-man Bobsled made its debut and has been a fan favorite ever since.

Photo of a USA 2 man Bobsled team at the 1932 Olympics

For anyone unfamiliar with the event, think sledding but much, much faster. The first competitions, predating the Olympic Games, occurred in St. Moritz, Switzerland in the 1800’s.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Its foundation began when hotelier Caspar Badrutt (1848–1904) convinced some wealthy English regulars to remain through the entire winter at his hotel in the mineral spa town of St. Moritz, Switzerland. He had been frustrated that his hotel was only busy during the summer months. By keeping his guests entertained with food, alcohol, and activities, he quickly established the concept of ‘winter resorting’. Within a few years, wintering at Badrutt’s St Moritz hotel became very fashionable in Victorian Britain. However, with increased numbers this led some guests to search for new diversions. In the early 1870s some adventurous Englishmen began adapting boys’ delivery sleds for recreational purposes.”

The hotel guests loved the sleds and soon they competed in races down the streets and alleys of St. Moritz. The ‘runs’ became longer and the speeds faster which led to crashes and injuries. Complaints from the townspeople increased.

Sledding the streets of St. Moritz circa 1903

(Badrutt’s) “solution was to build a basic natural ice run for his guests outside the town near the small hamlet named Cresta in the late 1870s. Badrutt took action because he did not want to make enemies in the town and he had worked hard and investing a lot of time and money in popularizing wintering in St. Moritz so he was not going to let customers stop coming due to boredom.”

The Bobsled – either the two-man or four-man – is controlled by a steering mechanism in the nose of a bullet shaped ‘car.’ The participants sit in a crouched position facing forward inside the car which is guided by the pilot. The additional participants serve as pushers to gain initial speed and then as ballast which helps the Bobsled go faster down the icy track.

Besides Bobsled another winter event, the Luge, also involves excessive speeds. The Luge, however, is sport where the participant lays face up on an open, lightweight sled and uses his or her feet to guide it.

You can ride an actual bobsled on the Olympic Track from the Whistler games… just a six hour drive from Seattle!

Both sports are rather heart stopping at times. The world record for Bobsled speed is 125 mph! Lugers generally race between 75 and 90 mph.

Given a choice between watching the summer or winter games, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the snow sports whether it’s skating, skiing, or sledding.

I think this may stem from my childhood days growing up in Yakima. While most of winter in Yakima tends to be marked by sunny, cold, and dry, there are usually a few big enough snow events which made sledding – which is an inexpensive pastime – possible. The street I grew up on was perfect for a beginner sledding experience. It had a slope, but was gentle enough that a five year old could manage it.

As the years went on, I graduated to bigger hills. A walk south to where 31st Avenue crossed Tieton drive brought we adventurous sliders to the top of a rather daunting slope. At the bottom of that slope lived my cousins. When we got bored with our pedestrian hill we ventured to theirs.

Then, the year I was twelve I was allowed one day to head to the holy grail of all sledding hills in Yakima: Franklin Park.

From top to bottom, the hill is probably about 60 feet. The center of the 45 degree slope is flat like a cookie sheet. But on either side are terraces, each of the half dozen around 10 feet high. After a big snow, of course, the hill comes alive with hundreds of kids and every one of them wants to slide down the sloped ‘cookie sheet’ in the middle. It doesn’t take long for the snow to reveal the un-slidable grass from the activity of all those kids.

Franklin Park in Yakima is a magnet for kids after a big snowfall. The center section was always the most popular spot but when the snow was gone even the terraces (the lumpy looking sides) beckoned the brave.

On the particular day I was allowed to go I ended up relegated to trying to figure out how to sled the terraces. I lay down on my sled, hands on the cross bar and inched my way to the top of the highest terrace; the sled dropped down over the edge and I flew. For exactly 10 feet before the sled lurched to a stop in the deep snow.

This was not, you might imagine, a particularly successful method of sledding. But I persevered and dragged the sled to the next terrace ledge, lay down and once again pushed the sled over the ledge, pretty much bouncing down the next terrace with a similar result.

Now I cannot recall for sure on which terrace disaster struck, but strike it did during this, my first and only time sledding at Franklin Park.

Down the slope I went and when I got to the bottom of the third level, the front of the sled reared up and smacked me in the face. I rolled off the sled, the stinging pain letting me know my decision making abilities were not very good. But the worst part of all was that my glasses, which I needed for distance vision, lay broken in two in the snow.

Despite that experience, I have persisted. There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as when you gain momentum and go hurtling down a slippery slope, knowing that you are likely out of control, but loving the speed and the flying sensation.

Kids having fun sledding at the family cabin near White Pass

Our family cabin was, for years, a destination for New Year’s or President’s Day weekends. When the kids arrived, we introduced them to the joys of sledding and everyone looked forward to those trips.

On one particular afternoon, we were all outside playing in the snow and my dad had driven up from Yakima. He had to have been in his late 70’s at the time, but there he was sliding down the hill with the kids and having a great time. Or he was right up until the boat sled in which he was riding sailed over a berm and he landed hard, bruising his tailbone. It was at that moment he declared his sledding days over. About five years ago I did the exact same thing in the exact same spot and, like my dad, ended up bruised and battered.

We all frequently ended up sprawled out on the snow at the end of the sled run

I have my doubts that I’ll ever get back on a sled but I haven’t counted it out quite yet. After we sold the cabin this past summer, two of the metal boat sleds came to live in my garage. Now all I need is a snowy day. Not too far from where I live is an epic hill which would be perfect for a run.

But, with no big snow storms on the horizon, I’ll do the next best thing. I typed in ‘virtual luge’ on my computer and got hundreds of hits. For best results, view it on a full size TV. And for a couple of minutes you can see what it would be like to ride a two man bobsled. And you won’t even need to wear a helmet or your mittens. But a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whip cream would be heavenly.

And a couple of links:

Facebook answers, clockwise from upper left corner: 2 Man Bobsled, Ski Jumping, Single Luge, Ice Hockey, Ice Dance

Fifteen two, fifteen four

It’s all about the board

January 5, 2021

Early January is a good time to hunker down and find amusing pastimes. What with the tiresome and ongoing lockdown, occupying oneself with solitaire might be fun. Or, if you are sequestered with another person, I suggest Cribbage.

Cribbage was invented by English Poet Sir John Suckling in the 1630’s. An older game, Noddy, was the inspiration for cribbage. Noddy, now considered an historical game, is rarely played.

Three cribbage boards in my collection plus a ‘perfect’ crib hand which counts 29.

On the other hand, Cribbage has been referred to as “Britain’s national card game” and is the only game which can be legally played in pubs and clubs. All other games require special permission!

A standard 52 card deck and a piece of paper and a pencil is all one really needs to play the game. However, most aficionados use a cribbage board. A traditional board features two ‘tracks’ of 60 holes each, drilled into a piece of wood. Over the centuries, cribbage boards have been made from a variety of materials including ivory, horn, leather, and bone. Plastic and manufactured stone are more modern materials which have been used in recent years.

The game play is fairly strait forward for two people. Six cards are dealt to each player. Each player then chooses two of the cards to place in the ‘crib.’ Whoever dealt the hand gets to count the points in the crib. On the next hand, the other person deals and counts the crib. Once the two players have removed their two cards, the non-dealer cuts the cards and that card is flipped over.

Where strategy comes in is to figure out what the best combination of cards should be kept and which should go to the crib.

For those unfamiliar with cribbage the Infallible Wikipedia provides information on how to play. The link is below.

Rather than use this space to discuss the minutiae of the game, however, I was captivated when I started reading about what is known as the O’Kane cribbage board. Naval legend is that just prior to a submarine bombing mission in 1943 Lieutenant Dick O’Kane broke out his cribbage board to play a game with the commanding officer, Lt. Commander Dudley Morton.

The O’Kane Cribbage Board

From the Defense Visual Information Distribution Services website:

“Morton dealt O’Kane a perfect cribbage hand of 29 — the odds of which are 1 in 216,580. The crew would take this extremely rare hand as an omen of good luck. The following day, Wahoo sunk two Japanese freighters.

Two days later, Morton and O’Kane played another game of cribbage in the wardroom. This time Morton dealt O’Kane a hand of 28 — these odds being 1 in 15,625. Morton was furious, vowing to never play O’Kane again, according to O’Kane’s book, “Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Famous WWII Submarine.” The hand proved to be another stroke of good luck as later another enemy freighter was spotted and promptly sunk. Wahoo ended up being one of the most successful submarines during World War II.

O’Kane’s luck with the board would continue as he took it with him to become the commanding officer of USS Tang (SS 306). Tang would go on to set the record of most ships sunk on a patrol. O’Kane received the Medal of Honor for his actions while commanding Tang.

On Oct. 25, 1944, Tang was sunk by its own torpedo. Only nine Sailors survived, O’Kane being one of them. The survivors were picked up by a Japanese frigate and taken as prisoners of war. The original board went down with the submarine.”

O’Kane replaced the board and, upon his death in 1994, it was given to the oldest submarine in the fleet, at that time the Kamehameha. For over 25 years the board has been passed down to the oldest submarine when the current ship is decommissioned. Considered a good luck charm, it is currently aboard the Chicago.

Submariners playing a game with the O’Kane Cribbage Board

My first recollection of seeing people play cribbage dates to the mid 1960’s. We are at my Aunt and Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. In addition to them, my parents and siblings, my cousins, and my maternal grandparents, I clearly recall my great-grandfather, Charles Hancock, was also present. Everyone called him Big Grandpa. Which really confused me as a child. He was a skinny little old man – barely taller than I was – whose baggy pants were held up with suspenders. He had thick glasses and was, by then, at least 90 years old. Ancient in the eyes of a child.

But the one thing Big Grandpa loved to do was play cribbage. After Thanksgiving ‘dinner’ –which was ALWAYS served at 1 p.m. – he and my oldest cousin, Patricia, adjourned to the living room. Big Grandpa brought out his cribbage board and cards and they sat across from each other at a folding card table and played, oblivious to the cacophony of us younger kids engaged in other activities nearby.

Their game was lively with one or the other laying down a card with enthusiasm as the lead shifted back and forth. Occasionally the volume of conversation would rise and there would be exclamations of surprise; and it was clear they were both fully engaged and enjoying themselves.

Several years later, as a teenager, I learned how to play cribbage. Over the years, I have found many willing individuals to join in a round or three. One of my more memorable opponents was a co-worker, Paul, who is legendary for his big laugh and even bigger personality. Most every day we’d break out the cards and board and play while eating our lunches. Others would come into the break room and watch the game for awhile, sometimes kibitzing and offering suggestions. But we paid little attention to others, it was far more important to win and the competition was fierce.

One day, after Paul counted a coveted 29 hand he jumped up and did a victory dance then bragged that he was certain he won more often than I did. I disagreed and the contest was on. From then on, every time we played I would mark down who ‘won.’ By the time we both left that company, I had bested him at a rate of winning three games for every two he won. No doubt when he reads this he will remember it differently. But I have a steel trap mind for stuff like that and it’s true.

Live opponents have been much more difficult to find in recent years. For some time now I’ve had a digital game on my phone and will play it, usually, once or twice a day. I get mad at it because I’m sure it cheats and deals itself better cards. But I’ve also learned that it, unlike a human opponent, is very predictable in its methods, always playing its lowest card first and always making a ‘15’ rather than a pair or strategizing how to make a run if there is an option.

The upside is that I’ve gotten much better at the game and currently have a 70 percent win rate, better than my 60 percent win record with Paul.

My Great Grandfather’s folding leather cribbage board, circa 1940

Of course I still prefer playing with an actual person using real cards and one of my several boards. But the most treasured board of all is the one which we found when cleaning out my parents’ home in 2019. It’s a small folding board, made of brown leather, likely intended to be carried in a pocket like a wallet. An internet search turned up little information on it but I was able to discern that this style of board was manufactured in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I know it belonged to my great grandfather as his initials C.E.H. – Charles Edwin Hancock – are written in ink on the interior fold. It’s still in great condition.

Maybe my family can start a tradition – like the O’Kane board – and the cribbage board is kept by the oldest person in the family, passed down to subsequent generations. We can start that just as soon as I’m done being the keeper of Big Grandpa’s cribbage board. Or maybe we should hold a tournament and whoever wins the most games gets to keep the board. I like that idea and think I have a pretty good chance. Time to go practice with the computer.

The links:

‘Like An Exocet Missle’

Perhaps a not so great invention

November 24, 2020

“I’ve always liked squirrels – but once you’ve had one land on your head travelling about 30mph you can easily go off them.”

This little tidbit probably deserves to be classified in the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ file. It was on November 24, 2001, when British inventor, Mike Madden, decided to give his latest invention a whirl.

“Just what, exactly, are you accusing me of doing?” – photo by author of one of her backyard marauders.

The results of his research, however, left him with whiplash and a big headache.

Mr. Madden had recently invented a hat which allowed the wearer to feed birds. The top of the hat would be filled with bird seed which would provide his feathered friends a perch where they could sit and eat their fill, especially during the winter months.

But Mr. Madden never counted on an ever opportunistic squirrel to foil his plans.

While the Infallible Wikipedia is silent on this particular topic, a United Kingdom site, the Metro News, offers this:

“…he also attracted the attention of a squirrel which leapt on him from a tree and made off with the bird feed.

Mr. Madden was left rolling on the ground with whiplash injuries and has since been forced to wear a neck brace.

The 48-year-old said: ‘It came at me like an Exocet missile. I didn’t have time to blink. There was a crash, a bang and a wallop. It felt like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer.’”

There’s so much amusement in this article but I think my favorite part is where he says it came at him like an Exocet missle. Even funnier is the name of where Mr. Madden lives: Crackpot Cottage.

Like all of you I questioned the veracity of this article. But research has proved it to be true. The BBC also carried the story in, granted, a slightly more sedate telling:

“The 48-year-old welder has been taking pain-killers and wearing a neck brace since the accident near his home in Crackpot Cottage, Honley, in Huddersfield.

He said: ‘I was out walking through the woods with my friend Craig Bailey.We had only just started the walk when ‘kaboom’ – I was on the floor.

‘I didn’t see much of what happened but Craig told me he saw the squirrel flying through the air and land right on my head.’”

(The above video is just over 20 minutes long and worth every moment!)

Over the years, filling bird feeders only to have them hijacked by squirrels has been a frustration. I’ve tried greasing the pole only to watch in amusement as the gray interlopers slide down them like some dancer in a backroom dive. Soon, however, a more acrobatic squirrel discovers that it can leap to the feeder, bypassing the obstacles.

I’ve tried putting out a second feeding area for the squirrels but that never satisfied them. Soon they co-opted all feeding stations and their ranks seemed to increase exponentially.

The worst year, however, was back in 1994 when we moved into a house off East Lake Sammamish parkway near Redmond. The previous owner loved, loved, loved the squirrels. So much so that she fed them by hand from the kitchen windows.

We had only been there a few weeks when I happened to open one of the windows to let in fresh air only to discover that the squirrels also wanted to come in the house.

Maybe that was okay for the previous house frau, but I had a four year old son and a one year old daughter. Call me over protective but potentially rabid and flea infested squirrels hanging out with my children wasn’t in the plan.

As the weeks wore on and I wasn’t feeding the squirrels, they became more and more aggressive. Additionally, I couldn’t keep track of how many there were as they were always swarming and running about. I couldn’t take the children outside to play; we were prisoners in our house.

Thankfully, my dad came to the rescue and brought us an animal trap which he was used in the family fruit orchards.

Once the trap was seeded with nuts, it took less than an hour to capture the first squirrel. The bigger question then was ‘what do I do with it?’

Looks suspicious. Photo from

Soon I had loaded the squirrel, still in the cage, into the back of our trusty Astro Van, and the kids and I headed off to a local park to set the creature free.

Between the hubby and I, this happened SEVEN more times over the next week and a half.

Finally we were down to the last squirrel. And this guy was not going quietly into that good night.

He hissed at me, he ran at me, he tried to claw his way through the windows. And he wouldn’t fall for that old peanut in a cage trick.

Then, finally, he could no longer resist the temptation. I heard the clang of the metal shutting the final inmate in. For this trip I had to wrap the cage in a blanket as the squirrel continued his aggressive behaviors biting at me through the wire. I, however, prevailed and he was released with his compadres. I avoided that park for a time.

After a while I put up new bird feeders and soon there were squirrels figuring out how to get to them. But it was as if, with the relocation of the previous residents, the new ones no longer retained a memory of hand feeding or coming in to the house. Finally, we could go outside without fear of a squirrel attack.

When we moved to our new abode two years ago, I finally kicked the bird feeding habit. Well, at least in regards to seed. My pets are hummingbirds whose feeders do not attract furry interlopers.

But I did see on the internet a really cool looking hat that you wear to feed them. Seems legit. Maybe I’ll add it to my Christmas list.

Hummingbird hat from

Squirrel brains a nutty professor | Metro News

BBC News | ENGLAND | Squirrel gets nut

B3Mya.4Wpjb.1.jpg (1920×1080) (

A big thanks to my brother who included this in his weekly radio show prep!

Prime Meridian

Time Is a Construct

October 13, 2020

When one thinks of impressive British cities, London immediately comes to mind. It is, after all, steeped in rich tradition, full of historical buildings, awash in history.

A few miles west of central London, however, is a place also with rich traditions, historical buildings, and brimming with history. It is a place whose name has become common due primarily to the decision by the International Meridian Conference on October 13, 1884.

It was on that date that Greenwich was declared as ground zero, so to speak, for determining – literally – the longitudinal address of every place on earth.

The story began hundreds of years earlier when Greenwich, located a little over 7 miles west of Parliament Square in London, developed into an important maritime port. At the time, it was a separate entity from the capital although it has long since been annexed into the city of London. Its location on a broad section of the Thames river, and proximity to the seat of power, made it a logical location as it is a short 50 miles to the North Sea. It was from this location the British Empire launched its navy and, arguably, several hundred years as the world’s greatest power.

One of the challenges that the seafarers encountered was to develop an accurate navigation system. Using the position of the sun during the day, and astronomical star charts at night, sailors were able to determine their location based on where they started or the “Prime Meridian.”

Of course, it was not only the British who needed this technology. Dozens of “Prime Meridians” were established throughout history. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

Sphere sculpture and ‘prime meridian’ line where you can locate 0 degrees longitude. Photo from Wikimedia

“The notion of longitude was developed by the Greek Eratosthenes (c. 276 BC – c. 195 BC) in Alexandria, and Hipparchus (c. 190 BC – c. 120 BC) in Rhodes, and applied to a large number of cities by the geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – c. 24 AD). But it was Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. AD 168) who first used a consistent meridian for a world map in his Geographia.

Ptolemy used as his basis the ‘Fortunate Isles’, a group of islands in the Atlantic, which are usually associated with the Canary Islands (13° to 18°W), although his maps correspond more closely to the Cape Verde islands (22° to 25° W). The main point is to be comfortably west of the western tip of Africa (17.5° W) as negative numbers were not yet in use. His prime meridian corresponds to 18° 40′ west of Winchester (about 20°W) today. At that time the chief method of determining longitude was by using the reported times of lunar eclipses in different countries.”

By the 1800’s, the whole Prime Meridian thing was a mess with dozens of civilized countries establishing their own locations. In Germany it was Berlin, France had Paris, Denmark had Copenhagen and, of course, Britain had Greenwich.

It was the British, however, who led the way. The Infallible Wikipedia continues:

“Between 1765 and 1811, Nevil Maskelyne published 49 issues of the Nautical Almanac based on the meridian of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. ‘Maskelyne’s tables not only made the lunar method practicable, they also made the Greenwich meridian the universal reference point. Even the French translations of the Nautical Almanac retained Maskelyne’s calculations from Greenwich—in spite of the fact that every other table in the Connaissance des Temps considered the Paris meridian as the prime.’

In 1884, at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., 22 countries voted to adopt the Greenwich meridian as the prime meridian of the world. The French argued for a neutral line, mentioning the Azores and the Bering Strait, but eventually abstained and continued to use the Paris meridian until 1911.”

Once the French came around, so did the entire world with the term ‘prime meridian’ and Greenwich synonymous.

Personally, I have always found the concept of an arbitrary line stretching from top to bottom of earth kind of weird. And then there is the whole plus/minus hours to figure out how many hours ahead or behind one might be from Greenwich.

Here in Washington State we are eight hours behind until we are not. I find myself constantly having to count on my fingers whenever I read something that establishes a particular event happening at, for example, 11.45 UTC. Which stands for Coordinated Universal Time. Shouldn’t the acronym be CUT? But I digress.

In 2018, the autumnal equinox arrived at 1:54 a.m. on September 23rd in Greenwich. But it was still September 22nd here when it arrived at 6:54 p.m.

Although I’ve never crossed the International Date Line (located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and drawn in such a way as to not cross any populated islands), my one trip to England involved getting on a plane in Seattle around 9 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, flying up and over Canada and Greenland, then landing in London the next morning.

My parents’ – who had traveled to Europe before that trip – had a method worked out. They’d arranged for our hotel to be ready earlier in the day. When we arrived it was agreed that we’d all go to sleep for about 3 hours, then get up in the afternoon, and proceed with the local time.

That afternoon, we did a bit of walking about London, went to dinner, and then retired at the same time as most of England’s citizens would. The adjustment was easy.

Of course on the return trip we arrived back home earlier than we left. Talk about mind bending. It took me a solid three days to readjust.

Nowadays I try to avoid taking any flight which involves leaving at night and arriving at my destination the next morning. My theory is that we are only allotted so many ‘all-nighters’ in our lives and I’ve used most of mine. I pulled more than one all-nighter during college and too many to count from when my children were babies.

My children are both now grown so they are no longer inclined to keep me awake all night. It’s my oldest, however, who has coined the phrase “Time Is a Construct.” After all, in the grand scheme of life, does it really matter if it’s 1:53 p.m. or 12:53 p.m.? Perhaps we will find out in a few weeks when ‘time’ falls back.

The one thing I do think I will need to make an exception to are the overnight flight rules. I am sorry I missed visiting Greenwich when I was there before. I’ve decided that, for at least once in my life, I really want to be in the right time and place. Literally.

For those other geeky musers like the author, a couple links:


Pass The Pigs

September 29, 2020

This ancient game was first played some 3000 years ago and, according to the official rules, in the ‘renowned land of Pigalonia.’

I suppose all my readers can be forgiven their ignorance of pig tossing as an enjoyable pastime as we now live in an era when doing so would immediately draw the scrutiny of the PETA police directly to your abode.

Since most civilized people in the United States no longer have a pig or two residing in a sty or a corner of their cabin, we can assume that had it not been for Dr. Cyrus Whopper, who discovered the game while traveling in Germany, it would have been lost in the mists of time.

How the game looked in 1977.

A debt of gratitude is owed to said doctor who introduced a more mundane version of pig tossing in a game he named ‘Pigmania!’. According to the literature included with the game:

“In 1977, Cy Whopper, a lover of kosher bacon since boyhood, decided to enhance the rather tarnished image of pigs by introducing Pigmania to the modern world. ‘After all,’ snorted Whopper, ‘pigs have been pushed around long enough. Every day you hear people saying ‘you look like a pig,’ ‘you eat like a pig,’ ‘you dress like a pig,’ ‘you smell like a pig,’ ‘you’re a male chauvinist pig,’ ‘you have swine flu.’

In truth pigs are the most intelligent creatures on earth, only exceeded by some human beings and all dolphins.

Pigs are lucky, pigs are useful, pigs have class.

It is time something is done on their behalf… thus Pigmania.”

To play the game, each player takes turns tossing a pair of tiny plastic pigs out of a cup labeled ‘pig sty.’ To earn points, the players are seeking to have their pigs land in any of the following ways:

A mixed combo…. hoofer and razorback.

Siders – two pigs laying on their sides, facing the same direction

Hoofer – a single pig standing on its feet.

Double Hoofer – yes, two pigs standing on their feet.

Snouter – a single pig leaning on it’s snout and two front feet.

Double Snouter – two pigs resting on their snouts..

Razorback – a single pig laying feet up.

Double Razorback – two pigs on their backs.

Leaning Jowler – a single pig, listing to the left, using it’s left ear and left leg for support.

The rare Double Leaning Jowler

Double Leaning Jowler – the rarest and most difficult to achieve toss.

Mixed Combo – Any combination of both pigs being in two different aforementioned positions.

If the pigs land on the table with their snouts facing opposite directions, then that’s called a ‘Pig Out’ and your turn is over. Same thing if you end up “Makin’ Bacon’ which is the pigs land touching one another!

Alas, the original Pigmania! was acquired – as is the way with pretty much any successful game idea – by a much bigger farmer.

Now, if you thought the Infallible Wikipedia might draw blanks on this topic, you would be wrong:

“Pass the Pigs is a commercial version of the dice game Pig, but using custom asymmetrical throwing dice, similar to shagai. It was created by David Moffatt and published by Recycled Paper Products as Pig Mania! in 1977. The publishing license was later sold to Milton Bradley and the game renamed Pass the Pigs. In 2001, publishing rights for North America were sold to Winning Moves, which acquired the game outright from David Moffat Enterprises in early 2017.”

Pass The Pigs is also available with more pigs, giant pigs, and in a handy travel game

It was sometime in the early 1980’s when the hubby and I were introduced to Pigmania! I can no longer recall who introduced us. Undoubtedly when that person reads this article they will take their rightful credit and shout ‘soo-eee!”

Simple in its concept and play, it provided some fun as an amusing parlor game. Over time, it was relegated to the game ‘cupboard’ which was actually a repurposed credenza from a business office. When our son was about 1 ½ , he discovered the wondrous credenza full of mystery boxes. A daily favorite activity was to excavate all his favorites (which was all of them unfortunately) and soon there was a mess of Monopoly money, Clue markers and weapons, poker chips, and tiny soldiers, scattered across the floor. 

Being a first time Mom I put up with this for a while then decided that a few games could be sacrificed to the enthusiasm of a toddler. The rest, however, were stowed away on a high shelf. It was several years, and a second child, later before the games reappeared. 

Turns out that the tiny Pigmania! pigs were highly popular. Said second child left her mark on the directions, ‘coloring’ the pictures of pigs with a Number 2 pencil. At some point she either used a thumb tack to post the story and rules to a wall or poked the pencil through the paper.

Our well loved Pigmania! directions ‘colored’ by my youngest child.

Over time the obsession faded and Pigmania! – rather worse for the wear – returned to the game cupboard, forgotten. Or so I thought. 

This past weekend we had a planned trip with our daughter and her fiance to the beach. Being that it was the beach, and the weather is always a question mark, I asked her if there were any games the hubby and I should bring along in case of inclement weather. Her response: Uno!

Her reply was followed with this text message exchange:

Me: “Only Uno?”

Her: “I don’t really know what the other options are.”

Me: “Well, I’ll bring Uno. Padre is willing to play that. I put in a couple decks of cards also. There’s Sequence. And Skipbo.”

Then I sent a photo of our current game cupboard. The following one word reply was all she included:

Her: “Pigmania!!”

Me: “I didn’t get it and we are in the car. Do I need to go back? I can. We haven’t left the driveway.”

The middle shelf of the game cupboard. As you can see it took some doing for the daughter to pick out Pigmania! from the jumble.

Her: “Nope.”

Of course, I could almost hear the disappointment through the text message. And even though it was raining Noah and his ark sort of rain, I returned to the house and got Pigmania.

On Saturday, my 27 year old daughter, her fiancé, and I played Pigmania! We competed, we threw shade at one another, we laughed, and we connected. 

For both she and I it was reliving just a bit of her childhood in the very best of ways. When the mud had settled from our three way Pig Sty battle, the daughter and I each had a pair of victories in our columns, while her poor fiancé was left out in the cold.

Even more than that, however, is that I was glad Pigmania! had survived the purges of a couple of moves as well as the enthusiastic scribblings of a little girl. In the process it became a tangible symbol of the best of childhood and will always have a home in our game cupboard, no matter how shabby. Pass The Pigs! and may your Pig Out’s be few.

Looking rather worse for the wear is our Pigmania! box.

The History of Canning

The Great Canned Peaches Escapade

September 22, 2020

A stroll down most any aisle in a modern grocery store reveals shelf after shelf of this item which is taken for granted in today’s world.

Yet, this method for the preservation of food has only been around for 200 years and, without it, our way of life would not be possible.

The process of canning foods was invented in 1809 by Frenchman Nicholas Appert. Appert – a brewer and confectioner – “observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars.”

The French Government was in need of a reliable food source for its troops during the Napoleonic War and had offered a cash reward for anyone who could successfully develop one. Ironically, the war was over before canned foods were available. Regardless, it was an invention whose time had come.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The original fragile and heavy glass containers presented challenges for transportation, and glass jars were largely replaced in commercial canneries with cylindrical tin can or wrought-iron canisters (later shortened to “cans”) following the work of Peter Durand (1810). Cans are cheaper and quicker to make, and much less fragile than glass jars. Glass jars have remained popular for some high-value products and in home canning. Can openers were not invented for another thirty years – at first, soldiers had to cut the cans open with bayonets or smash them open with rocks. Today, tin-coated steel is the material most commonly used. Laminate vacuum pouches are also used for canning, such as used in MREs and Capri Sun drinks.

Image from Press Connect

To prevent the food from being spoiled before and during containment, a number of methods are used: pasteurisation, boiling (and other applications of high temperature over a period of time), refrigeration, freezing, drying, vacuum treatment, antimicrobial agents that are natural to the recipe of the foods being preserved, a sufficient dose of ionizing radiation, submersion in a strong saline solution, acid, base, osmotically extreme (for example very sugary) or other microbially-challenging environments.

Other than sterilization, no method is perfectly dependable as a preservative. For example, the spores of the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism) can be eliminated only at temperatures above the boiling point of water.”

This time of year, with fruits and vegetables in abundance, the industrious individuals who like to do such things might turn their efforts to canning their favorites at home. Caution, of course, is always a necessity to avoid improper methods and exposing themselves and others to botulism.

From the pioneers of the 1800’s to the thrifty housewives of the Great Depression, canning was a necessary activity each summer and fall.

My mother was never one of those. I think she endured more than her share of  rugged independence growing up from the late 1920’s until she left for college in the 1940’s. There was, however, one food she adored and canned it every year: peaches.

The Yakima Valley is fertile grounds for fruit orchards, its main crops being cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and apples. We each have our own favorites. For me, as a child, I have a distinct memory of biting into a fresh peach and declaring to my mother it was ‘my favorite fruit.’ I would say that they now share the ‘favorite’ status with cherries, blueberries, and raspberries.

They were, I’m guessing, my mother’s favorite also. Because it was the ONE thing that she canned every year. When the fuzzy orbs were finally ripe, a flat or two of them would make their way to our house and for one or two hot afternoons, she’d can the peaches.

By the time I was about 10, she discovered that there were a couple of custom canneries in the area where she could take her peaches and let them do the final part of the process. For a couple of years I was ‘employed’ as one of her helpers and she, my dad, and me and my sister, would go to Toppenish for an afternoon of canning. 32 ounce cans, purchased from the cannery, were supplied to us sterilized and ready to go.

The peaches would be blanched and we would remove the skins, cut them in half, pull out the seed and the roughage in the middle, before sliding the slippery fruit into big tubs. It seems as if my dad was in charge of packing the halves into the cans and my mom would add the requisite sugar. Once a dozen cans were filled it was on to the conveyer belt and off to be cooked and sealed.

A few days later our hard work was rewarded when Mom would arrive home with stacks and stacks of canned peaches in the large tin cans.

Of course one issue was where to store said peaches. Growing up in a late 1950’s, 1300 square foot house (after an addition!) provided no pantry space. So the next best place was in the unused bottom of my older brother’s closet.

The date is September 25, 1970 and I – now age 13 – have spent the entire day at home by myself. My brother, age 17, is at work and then has gone out with friends. My sister, age 15, is at an all day event and slumber party. My parents have gone to Seattle to attend the opera and will not be home until well after midnight.

The tiny house as it looked in the 1960’s – before the addition and before new chairs.

Somewhere around two in the afternoon I am in my room just sort of hanging out when I hear a loud ‘thump.’ Being home and alone there is a niggle of fear which this noise inspires. So I leave my room and walk the entire house. Which doesn’t take long since it is a ranch house and, as I said, only 1300 square feet. The doors are all secure and I can find no evidence of anyone trying to break in.

I return to my room and  some time later I hear another ‘thump.’ I am truly mystified. I know it’s coming from somewhere within the house, but cannot figure out where.

By this time there’s another phenomenon in play. There’s a yeasty sort of smell permeating the air, as if someone is baking bread. But, since I do not know how to cook and no one else is home, that is also a mystery.

Fast forward to about midnight. My brother arrives home. I tell him about the two thumps (verified by my Diary entry from the next day, September 26th) but, like me, he’s mystified. A short time later he goes to his room and opens the closet and I think some sort of expletive may have escaped his lips.

Of course I hurry across the hall and peer into the closet. There’s yellow slime on everything and what appears to be a couple of cans of my mom’s precious peaches with their side seams opened up.

The brother – whose tired after working all day – decides to shut the closet door and go to bed. Right.

And then our parents get home and my mom immediately notices the smell. We tell them about the slime, the split cans, and the thumps. An evaluation of the canned peaches reveals a swelling of the containers and its determined they need to be removed from the closet to the outside. While my parents are doing this, I’m in my brother’s room. He’s in bed and I’m standing about four feet from the open closet. According to the diary:

“one box was still in there (the closet). I heard a fizzing sound, said ‘oh no’ and a can blew up on us.”

My diary entry does not begin to describe what actually occurred. My brother and I heard the sound at the same moment and locked eyes in mutual understanding of what was about to occur. I dove for the side of the bed away from the open closet while my brother yanked the blankets over his face for protection. The can blew. Little bits of vomited peach rained down on us, splattering the walls and ceiling. And then we started to laugh hysterically.

The last flat of botulism laden peaches were expedited to the back yard where my dad – in some sort of sacrificial ritual worthy of Brits at Stonehenge – used an ice pick and a hammer to puncture each and every can. From the small hole an arcing stream of peach guts formed an impressive pureed rainbow across the crisp, black September night.

My mother never went back to that cannery. She found one in Ellensburg it seems and went there for a few years until they closed down. From then on, canned peaches were purchased from the grocery store shelves. Which is kind of anti-climatic after the great exploding peaches event of 1970.

Okay, I’m weird. There’s something satisfying about being able to get the peel of a peach removed in one piece.

A couple of useful links:

Fall Has Fallen

The Start of Meteorlogical Autumn

September 1, 2020

Did anyone notice last Sunday that someone flipped the switch from summer to fall? You could tell it was coming about a week before that… the days still boasted temperatures in the high seventies and low eighties but suddenly the nights were cooling well into the 50’s.

We’ve flipped the switch to Fall

And then it happened. It was a noticeable ‘ping’… then another… and then another… on the windshield just around 5 p.m. Soon, a light drizzle. By the time the hubby and I left the restaurant where we had gone to celebrate our wedding anniversary on August 30th, it was honest to goodness rain and the temperature was 63 degrees.

Now, I will state right up front, I don’t much like autumn. I’m already missing summer. Soon I’ll have to put away my Capri’s and sandals. Soon the short sleeve shirts will be replaced by long sleeves and then turtlenecks, sweaters, and fleece. I’ll have to wear real socks and shoes; Raincoats and jackets.

You can keep your pumpkin spice everything, thank you very much.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m weather obsessed. I know when daylight savings ends and the dark times begin. (It’s November 1st this year!) I know the dates and details of some pretty incredible autumn wind storms. And I know that despite meteorological fall beginning today, September 1st, we will be lulled into thinking ‘oh this isn’t so bad’ when we get our mid-September heat for a few days. But the crisp mornings don’t lie.


Two years ago I discovered that for those of us who live in the northern half of the northern hemisphere, autumn does not truly begin on the Autumnal Equinox, usually on September 22nd. Nope. It actually begins on September 1st. When I learned this it was as if all those years of KNOWING – despite it not yet being official ‘fall’ in the Pacific Northwest – that it sure acted like and felt like Fall.

Don’t believe me? Then we need only go to the Infallible Wikipedia for confirmation:

“September is the ninth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, the third of four months to have a length of 30 days, and the fourth of five months to have a length of less than 31 days. In the Northern Hemisphere September is the seasonal equivalent of March in the Southern Hemisphere.

In the Northern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological autumn is on 1 September. In the Southern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological spring is on 1 September. “

Don’t believe the Infallible Wikipedia? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association states on their website:

“Meteorologists and climatologists break the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar. We generally think of winter as the coldest time of the year and summer as the warmest time of the year, with spring and fall being the transition seasons, and that is what the meteorological seasons are based on. Meteorological spring includes March, April, and May; meteorological summer includes June, July, and August; meteorological fall includes September, October, and November; and meteorological winter includes December, January, and February.”

All of this made me curious. When did meteorologists start using this system? Turns out they’ve had it a well kept secret since the mid-twentieth century.

I just wish they’d told me sooner. Then I wouldn’t have fought so hard against turning on my furnace before September 21st. Or tossing that blanket over me when I watch TV.

What I do know is that with fall now ‘officially’ started by the weather people, it  means that in 91 days it will be winter and then only 90 days after that, its spring again! Hooray!

Those of us who are spring and summer lovers need all the support we can get.

Courtesy of

For the rest whose favorite season is fall, just don’t feed me pumpkin spice or make me wear orange and we’ll get along just fine.

The links:

Rhubarb Roots

June 9, 2020


Rhubarb pie (no strawberries!) baked  by the author for Memorial Day weekend 2020

I love pie. I don’t always love making it, but I love eating it. So what better way to celebrate June 9th than to acknowledge the rhubarb plant and national Strawberry Rhubarb pie day?


Rhubarb is an amazing plant. It’s hardy, high in vitamin C, and is touted as a blood pressure reducer.

For centuries it has been recognized for its medicinal purposes and was, during the time of Marco Polo, more expensive than saffron. Historically, its origins can be traced to China. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Chinese call rhubarb “the great yellow” and have used rhubarb root for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It appears in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic which is thought to have been compiled about 1,800 years ago Though Dioscurides’ description of ρηον or ρά indicates that a medicinal root brought to Greece from beyond the Bosphorus may have been rhubarb, commerce in the drug did not become securely established until Islamic times. During Islamic times, it was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as “Turkish rhubarb”. Later, it also started arriving via the new maritime routes, or overland through Russia. The “Russian rhubarb” was the most valued, probably because of the rhubarb-specific quality control system maintained by the Russian Empire. (snip)

The high price as well as the increasing demand from apothecaries stimulated efforts to cultivate the different species of rhubarb on European soil. Certain species came to be grown in England to produce the roots. The local availability of the plants grown for medicinal purposes, together with the increasing abundance and decreasing price of sugar in the 18th century, galvanized its culinary adoption. Grieve claims a date of 1820 in England. Rhubarb was grown in Scotland from at least 1786, having been introduced to the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh by the traveller Bruce of Kinnaird.

Though it is often asserted that rhubarb first came to the United States in the 1820s, John Bartram was growing medicinal and culinary rhubarbs in Philadelphia from the 1730s, planting seeds sent him by Peter Collinson. From the first, the familiar garden rhubarb was not the only Rheum in American gardens: Thomas Jefferson planted R. undulatum at Monticello in 1809 and 1811, observing that it was “Esculent rhubarb, the leaves excellent as Spinach.”


The rhubarb plant at our home in Kirkland, 2017


Fifteen years ago I enrolled in a class at Bellevue Community College which was touted as one that would explore the various types of articles one could write for publication in magazines. This was, for the most part, before blogs and individual web pages took root.

Each week we were given an assignment to write an article of a specific type such as “How To” or “Humor.” I recall clearly the day I shared my version of a “personal essay” – near the end of the course – and the reaction. When I finished reading my piece aloud, the room was silent; even the instructor did not say anything for several beats. When she did speak she said, “I think this is your strength.”

The development of this blog was the natural result of decades of extrapolating small slices of life and looking for the story gems hidden within. What follows is the article I wrote back in 2004…

Rhubarb Roots


The story of that rhubarb plant didn’t stop with its transplant to Kirkland, however. Root balls have been gifted to family and friends whenever requested. In fact when my friend Mary – who grew up in Kansas – heard the story of the rhubarb and its connection to her home state, she asked for a piece of it which we gladly shared. Every so often she will post a picture of the VERY healthy plant on social media or send me a message providing updates as to what delectable delight she has created. (Being that she is one of the best cooks I know, no doubt the end result is fabulous!) Our niece Carolyn – who we gave a hunk of it to back in 2016 and another great cook – also recently posted that she had cooked a pie with the rhubarb stalks along with thanks for our sharing of the plant.

When the hubby and I moved yet again in 2018 there was never any doubt that the rhubarb was coming too. But there was a catch. We were moving to a condo/townhouse and there was no spot for a proper garden. Instead, all the rhubarb moved north to the hubby’s family century old farmhouse and acreage in Blaine to be planted there as a means of keeping it for us and future generations.

Rhubarb in the pot

The rhubarb we transplanted to a pot next to our front walk. It is scheduled for a change of scenery to allow it to grow unfettered by the constraints of its environment.

We did manage to plant one root ball in a pot alongside our front walk at the new place. We soon discovered that our next door neighbor, Bob, is a plant guy. I mean a real plant guy in that he has spent his career working with plants and the development of new vegetable varietals. Following his lead of finding space for fruits and vegetables in some of the common spaces, a second section of our rhubarb was recently repatriated and is now taking root at the edge of the back fence. Of course Bob, would like his own rhubarb also, a request which will soon be obliged.

And so it goes… another leg in the journey for my rhubarb roots. I’m pretty sure I have just enough to make another pie.

A couple of links for your edification:



Palm Pilot vs. Paper Planners

March 10, 2020

This technology was all the rage

528912-usrobotics-palmpilot-1997Twenty three years ago, this product was the “be all, end all” in new technology. A year earlier, business people everywhere were snapping these up, sure that they would be the ultimate organization tool. That product was the Palm Pilot – the highly successful Personal Digitial Assistant (PDA) computer you could carry in your pocket.

On March 10, 1997, the second generation Palm products were launched and – much like the latest iPhone or Android phones of today – they were the ‘got to have it’ device of the late 1990’s.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Pilot was the name of the first generation of personal digital assistants manufactured by Palm Computing in 1996 (by then a division of U.S. Robotics).

The inventors of the Pilot were Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan, who founded Palm Computing in 1992. The original purpose of this company was to create handwriting recognition software, named PalmPrint, and personal information management (PIM) software, named PalmOrganizer for the PEN/GEOS based Zoomer devices. Their research convinced them, however, they could create better hardware as well. Before starting development of the Pilot, Hawkins said he carried a block of wood, the size of the potential Pilot, in his pocket for a week. Palm was widely perceived to have benefited from the notable, if ill-fated, earlier attempts to create a popular handheld computing platform by Go Corporation, Tandy, and Apple Computer (Newton).”

Palm – they had to drop the Pilot designation following a legal dispute over the Pilot pen trademark – is a case study of a wildly successful startup. After it was sold to US Robotics, the company switched hands multiple times. Today it is a division of Hewlett Packard. No doubt its founders have prospered financially from their invention.

Personally, I’ve never owned or used a Palm product. Back in the late 1990’s when they were all the rage, I was a Mom just trying to get through each day and making sure my kids were both alive at the end of it. I do recall that there were lots of people who raved about their Palm Pilots and swore they could not live without the thing. When in meetings or trying to set up something with many of the other people I knew, out would come the device – seems to me there was a little stylus thing to write on the screen – and it was the only way they seemed to be able to schedule anything in their life.

Calendar collection 2

Ready for 2021 and 2022

Me, I was definitely old school. Give me a calendar and a pen – that’s how I did it. And still do. Yes, I have a phone with a calendar app on it. I also have an electronic notepad on that machine. I use both from time to time but for ease of access and speed I have found the following system which works for me.

  1. Print my own custom monthly calendar pages which fit into a small, portable notebook.
  2. Put all known events onto the dates where they are scheduled.
  3. Carry the calendar with me whenever I go out. Write appointments in it.
  4. Transfer appointments to an erasable weekly calendar which lives on fridge.

Fridge Calendar

The erasable by week calendar segments on the family fridge

Occasionally, I forget to take the calendar with me. It’s then I will either put dates in the phone or, more likely, send myself an email reminder. Then when I get to my regular computer I will retrieve the information and write it on my calendar.

While technology is great, the advantage of paper for calendars and lists is simple: they never run out of battery power and quickly writing a few details is easier than the hunt and peck of an electronic keyboard.  Of course, anyone who has ever seen my desk knows that I never run out of pens. Or paper.

In 2021 I am becoming a true  calendar recycler. The past few months I’ve been working my way through boxes of old papers. I have assembled, over the years, quite a number of wall calendars. I wondered if, rather than throwing them out, perhaps there were years coming up which had the same date configurations?

Of course there had to be, but how to easily determine which years matched? There’s a website called which, for the geeky among us, is just the best. Put in the year of the calendar you have and it will reveal all.

Calendar collectionWhich I did with my 22 saved wall calendars. I’m all set for 2021, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and beyond. This year, however, I had to buy a new paper calendar. Why? Leap year. For 2020, the layout of dates occurs only once every 28 years and there was not a 1992 in my arsenal. But I’m now good for the year 2048 (Note to my children, be sure to put the calendar up on the wall for me in my Senior facility, okay?)

By my calculations the next time I need to buy a calendar is in 4 years with yet another leap year and not having saved a 1996 calendar. 2024 may be the last one I’ll ever have to buy. Being a saver can really pay off.

(Update… a few weeks after I posted this I discovered a couple more paper calendars! Total now stands at 28.)

(Update #2… March 10, 2021. I’m pretty sure of the FINAL count… 45. I am not sure I have enough wall space for the 2025 and 2026 years!)

The links:

The Great Planet Debate

February 18, 2020

Pluto’s Plight

If ever you want to start an argument, be sure to bring up this topic. No, I’m not talking about politics. Or whether Tom Brady really cheated during “Deflategate.” The topic which really gets people animated is whether Pluto is or is not a planet.


Our NOT ninth planet, Pluto

It was on February 18, 1930, when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh announced the confirmation of a planet just beyond Neptune. The solar system got its ninth and school children everywhere were soon making models of the sun surrounded by Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto.

The real story began a number of years earlier. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 1906, Percival Lowell—a wealthy Bostonian who had founded Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894—started an extensive project in search of a possible ninth planet, which he termed ‘Planet X‘. By 1909, Lowell and William H. Pickering had suggested several possible celestial coordinates for such a planet. Lowell and his observatory conducted his search until his death in 1916, but to no avail. Unknown to Lowell, his surveys had captured two faint images of Pluto on March 19 and April 7, 1915, but they were not recognized for what they were. (snip)

Tombaugh’s task was to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. Using a blink comparator, he rapidly shifted back and forth between views of each of the plates to create the illusion of movement of any objects that had changed position or appearance between photographs. On February 18, 1930, after nearly a year of searching, Tombaugh discovered a possible moving object on photographic plates taken on January 23 and 29. A lesser-quality photograph taken on January 21 helped confirm the movement. After the observatory obtained further confirmatory photographs, news of the discovery was telegraphed to the Harvard College Observatory on March 13, 1930. Pluto has yet to complete a full orbit of the Sun since its discovery, as one Plutonian year is 247.68 years long.”

For the putative ninth planet, however, controversy was ever present. Despite the initial excitement at the evidence of its existence, the questions soon arose: was it truly a planet, or was it a Neptunium moon gone astray?

For years scientists sought out photographic evidence of the planet, made possible as telescopes were improved.  Then in August 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to officially define what makes a planet in our solar system a planet. Their three criteria are:

  1. The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. The object must be massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape defined by hydrostatic equilibrium.
  3. It must have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

k-belt1It is the third criteria which caused Pluto a problem. The object exists as part of the Kuiper Belt, an astronomical conglomeration of ice fragments which – like planets – is in orbit around the sun. It is here where Pluto exists.

Over the years, scientists have identified other planet like objects which, like Pluto, circle the sun from within the Kuiper Belt. Along with Pluto are other large spheres. Were these also planets?

The answer came back ‘no.’ Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The IAU further decided that bodies that, like Pluto, meet criteria 1 and 2, but do not meet criterion 3 would be called dwarf planets. In September 2006, the IAU included Pluto, and Eris and its moon Dysnomia, in their Minor Planet Catalogue, giving them the official minor planet designations “(134340) Pluto’, ‘(136199) Eris’, and ‘(136199) Eris I Dysnomia’. Had Pluto been included upon its discovery in 1930, it would have likely been designated 1164, following 1163 Saga, which was discovered a month earlier.

kbosThere has been some resistance within the astronomical community toward the reclassification. Alan Stern, principal investigator with NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, derided the IAU resolution, stating that ‘the definition stinks, for technical reasons’. Stern contended that, by the terms of the new definition, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune, all of which share their orbits with asteroids, would be excluded. He argued that all big spherical moons, including the Moon, should likewise be considered planets. He also stated that because less than five percent of astronomers voted for it, the decision was not representative of the entire astronomical community. Marc W. Buie, then at the Lowell Observatory petitioned against the definition. Others have supported the IAU. Mike Brown, the astronomer who discovered Eris, said ‘through this whole crazy circus-like procedure, somehow the right answer was stumbled on. It’s been a long time coming. Science is self-correcting eventually, even when strong emotions are involved.”

And so it remains. Pluto is no longer considered the ninth planet in our solar system. But don’t tell that to Pluto lovers.

Of course, anyone who grew up in the 1930’s through to the early 2000’s, may be hard to convince. In the last blissful year of Pluto being a planet, my daughter was in 7th grade. Like the generations before her she was to build a model of the solar system using some unique material to do so. Currently between rounds of braces she opted for the one thing she loved more than anything: chewing gum.

In her mind, I’m positive, what better way to fulfill her chewing gum habit AND have Mom and Dad pay for it than to build a solar model out of gum? Over a number of weeks she chewed gum and saved it. Then chewed more and saved it. Soon massive amounts of gum began to be shaped into sun and planets. A plywood board was acquired, painted black, and marker lines put down showing the planets and their orbit. The Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars proved simple. Planet by planet the gum was shaped into tiny little spheres and glued to the board.

When it dawned on her the amount of gum it would take to complete the model it was back to the store for more gum. She chewed until her jaw hurt to create Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. By the end of the project I believe she would have been relieved had Pluto NOT been a planet.

At last the day arrived and I helped her carry the massive solar masterpiece to class. I can still see the look on her teacher’s face when she realized it was created from chewed gum and declared it the most unique material she (the teacher) had ever seen for a solar system project.

My daughter’s sore jaw and unique gambit paid off as she was awarded an “A”. And although she continued to like gum occasionally, her obsession ended with the creation of her solar system model.

child's 3D solar system

This is NOT my daughter’s solar system project. Try to imagine this made out of gross globs of chewed gum and you would have it… Alas, no photographic evidence exists as we lost all a couple years of photos in a computer hard drive crash in 2006

So be sure to share Pluto’s story and ask the question: Is Pluto our ninth planet? You’re sure to have a lively debate.

A couple of links: