One Giant Leap for Mankind

Men walk on the moon

July 21, 2020


“One small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

Man on the Moon 1969These words were spoken at 2:56 a.m. (UTC) on July 21, 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon.

For those of a technical bent one could argue that those famous steps took place on July 20th; at least that was true for those of us living on the west coast of the United States. Everyone was glued to their television sets all that Sunday afternoon and evening, the drama playing out in a single day.

The race to the moon began over a decade earlier in November 1957 with the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by then President Dwight Eisenhower. Its formation was in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. This was followed in early 1961 with the first earth orbit by a human. (see my blog about the Century 21 Exposition and the day a Russian cosmonaut visited!)

The U.S. – now behind in the space race – was urged by President John F. Kennedy to throw their resources and national enthusiasm behind the program. On May 25, 1961 he implored Congress thus:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon—if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

— Kennedy’s speech to Congress

Despite setbacks in the Apollo program, resources were poured into the ambitious plans. With each Apollo mission, the systems were refined as the best and the brightest minds of the day labored to solve the myriad of problems encountered. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In July 1962 NASA head James Webb announced that lunar orbit rendezvous would be used and that the Apollo spacecraft would have three major parts: a command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, and the only part that returned to Earth; a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages—a descent stage for landing on the Moon, and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.] This design meant the spacecraft could be launched by a single Saturn V rocket that was then under development.


Project Apollo was abruptly halted by the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967, in which astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee died, and the subsequent investigation. In October 1968, Apollo 7 evaluated the command module in Earth orbit, and in December Apollo 8 tested it in lunar orbit. In March 1969, Apollo 9 put the lunar module through its paces in Earth orbit, and in May Apollo 10 conducted a “dress rehearsal” in lunar orbit. By July 1969, all was in readiness for Apollo 11 to take the final step onto the Moon.

Ap11InitialThe Soviet Union competed with the US in the Space Race, but its early lead was lost through repeated failures in development of the N1 launcher, which was comparable to the Saturn V. The Soviets tried to beat the US to return lunar material to the Earth by means of un-crewed probes. On July 13, three days before Apollo 11’s launch, the Soviet Union launched Luna 15, which reached lunar orbit before Apollo 11. During descent, a malfunction caused Luna 15 to crash in Mare Crisium about two hours before Armstrong and Aldrin took off from the Moon’s surface to begin their voyage home. The Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories radio telescope in England recorded transmissions from Luna 15 during its descent, and these were released in July 2009 for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.”

It was truly an amazing feat as has been chronicled in book, documentary, and a feature length movie.

At the time Armstrong, particularly, became a national hero; the very face of American greatness. No doubt that mission motivated a whole generation of science minded kids to dream of one day traveling into space beyond the moon.

It was truly an inspirational moment and ranks up there with other events that you absolutely remember where you were and what you were doing.

In those days most families had a single television. So you watched whatever your parents watched. With three basic channels (ABC, CBS, NBC) the choices were limited. On July 20, 1969, ALL three channels were broadcasting just one thing: man landing on the moon.

I was 11 years old that July day and it was a pretty typical Yakima summer day with temperatures in the low 90’s. Like any self respecting kid, I’d watched the initial landing but then wandered off to do other things.

Sometime after dinner, the family gathered around the TV once again to watch the first steps on the moon by Armstrong. A couple of things stick out. Despite having a color television, the moon landing was all in black and white. The American Flag they planted was stiff since there was not any sort of breeze to flap the cloth. And everything was done very, very slowly.

My older brother and I decided to play cards as a way to pass the time. The game was called Casino and it consisted of trying to collect more cards than the other person AND obtain certain specialty cards which were worth points. I remember the two of spades was a desired card, and I doubt I could play the game today. At the time I was pretty good at the game AND very competitive. My brother and I were sitting on the floor of the family room a few feet from the TV, playing our game, and looking up every once in a while to see if anything was happening (it wasn’t).

Finally, just before 8 p.m., Armstrong slowly bounced his way down the steps of the Lunar module, his echo-y micro phoned voice coming through the TV as he intoned, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was years later when I learned that he had not said what he planned, since the sentence was supposed to be “that’s one small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.” Personally, I think it was much cooler the way it came out.

Soon after his grand arrival – not being particularly interested in watching the astronauts collect rocks – I drifted away to do other more interesting 11 year old things. I do think we all went outside and stared up at the quarter moon that night, in awe of what had been accomplished.

casino cardsI really can’t recall who won the Casino game, so I’ll just claim I did and squabble with my brother when he reads this. And, BTW, Mr. P., the Shaw and Sons little league guy was out. That’s what Dad always said. Higher and Higher. Cherry Cola. Sibling rivalry and inside jokes are the best.

The What’s and Who’s on the Facebook post:

  1. Moon Pies
  2. Moon Landing
  3. Moon River
  4. Sailor Moon
  5. Harvey Moon (a brand used in advertising in Yakima when I was growing up)



Winchester Mystery House

38 Years of continual construction

June 30, 2020


The sprawling footprint of the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

By the time the last hammer was silenced in 1922, this house comprised a 24,000 sq. ft.  “foot print” which had been added one room at a time over the course of 38 years. It was a short nine months later, on June 30, 1923, when the house opened for its first tours. The Winchester Mystery house – as it known – is a fascinating place to visit. And the story behind its genesis is the stuff of novels.

Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Her husband, William, had died in 1881 of tuberculosis. Sarah, then age 42, had lost her only child 15 years earlier just six weeks after the baby’s birth; she came to believe that the tragedies which had befallen her were due to the immorality associated with the guns manufactured by Winchester Arms.  Like so many of that age, she consulted a psychic who told her to leave Connecticut and go west. Her mission, she came to believe, was to spend the rest of her life spending her considerable fortune to build a house to atone for husband’s company.

Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester

She purchased an 8 room house located on a sprawling farm in the Santa Clara valley of California in 1884; she immediately hired workers to transform the structure into a Victorian mansion. No architect was ever hired and no blueprint ever produced. It was Sarah who designed and added the rooms. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“There are roughly 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms (one completed and one unfinished) as well as 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basement levels and three elevators. Winchester’s property was about 162 acres (66 ha) at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) – the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers, hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim, and a vast array of colors and materials. Due to Mrs. Winchester’s debilitating arthritis, special ‘easy riser’ stairways were installed as a replacement for her original steep construction. This allowed her to move about her home freely as she was only able to raise each foot a few inches. There was only one working toilet for Winchester; it has been said that ‘all other restrooms were decoys to confuse spirits’ and that this is also ‘the reason why she slept in a different room each night’. The home’s conveniences were rare at the time of its construction. These included steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, and Mrs. Winchester’s personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, including an Otis electric and one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical to save space, but Winchester preferred the improved functionality of the horizontal configuration.”


Front entry to the estate

Upon Sarah Winchester’s death September 5, 1922, the property and all her belongings were inherited by her niece and personal secretary who took what they wanted and sold the remaining furniture in an estate sale. The house was considered mostly worthless due to damage sustained during the 1906 San Francisco quake and considered unsellable due to the size and nature of the house.

A local investor, however, purchased it for $139K then leased it to a couple who gave the first tours. That couple, John and Mayme Brown, eventually purchased the house ten years later and it is still owned and operated by their heirs.

2709270244_eee185a1feIf you are in the bay area and have a few hours, a visit to the Winchester Mystery House is worth the time and money. Our family visit occurred in 1995. For my daughter – who was two that year – the intricacies of the house were lost. My five year old son, however, was enthralled. Around every corner was another oddity – a set of three stair risers leading to a door. Which, when opened, revealed a wall. There were rooms where, when you looked up, you saw windows into more rooms. Stairs which once led to upper floors… those levels long since removed but the stairs remained. Up and down the many staircases the tour went… room, after room, after room.stairs to nowhere

My son talked about the mystery house for months, intent, I think, on building his own such house. Thankfully, his obsession waned, as we could not afford unending building projects.

Today, my  now 30 year old son is more minimalist, recognizing that one does not need a lot of space to comfortably live. At the time of our visit to Sarah’s mansion, we lived in a nearly 4,000 square foot house. The problem with a large house is that soon you are filling that house with stuff. Always more stuff. In the past two years the hubby and I have made a concerted effort to reduce our stuff.

One of the blessings of the extended stay at home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there has been time to focus on reduction. Each week, it seems, another box is sorted and purged, the proverbial grain separated from the chaff.

I’m pretty much down to my last big purge: photographs. A couple days ago I ventured in to what I call the “Harry Potter closet” as it is a space under the lower level stairs reminiscent of where the boy wizard lived before discovering his magic powers. Since we moved in it has been the repository for all the bins of family history, the slides of my grandparents as well as our own, 8 and 16 mm movie projectors and reels, VHS and digital camera tapes, and boxes and boxes of photos.

Harry Potter closet

The ‘Harry Potter’ closet after the reorganization. Picture on the left is the entry way.  The picture on this right is what’s stored under the stairs behind the wall from the first photo.

Last Saturday much of the contents of the closet were extricated and then organized and stacked back in the closet for the next purge. Sunday, the first bin of photos dating from the 1990’s to the early 2000’s hit the dining room table.

Ironically, in my first sort, I found photos from our 1995 trip to San Jose but not a single picture from the visit to Sarah Winchester’s house. I wonder what happened to those photos? It’s truly a mystery.

A couple of links:


Five Famous Babies

May 28, 2019Dionne quintuplets with mother

Born on May 28, 1934, this set of five identical girls was believed to be the first quintuplets to have all survived such a birth. The chances of an identical five are 1 in 55 million. The news raced around the globe, catapulting the Dionne sisters to international fame.

Already the parents of five children, Oliva (father) and Elzire (mother), were a poor family from Ontario, Canada.  From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Elzire suspected she was carrying twins, but no one was aware that quintuplets were even possible. The quintuplets were born two months premature. In 1938, the doctors had a theory that was later proven correct when genetic tests showed that the girls were identical, meaning they were created from a single egg cell. Elzire reported having had cramps in her third month and passing a strange object which may have been a sixth fetus.

Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe is credited with ensuring the successful live birth of the quintuplets. Originally, he diagnosed Elzire with a ‘fetal abnormality’. He delivered the babies with the help of two midwives, Aunt Donalda and Madame Benoit Lebel, who were summoned by Oliva Dionne in the middle of the night.

Émilie and Marie shared an embryonic sac, Annette and Yvonne shared an embryonic sac, and it is believed that Cécile shared an embryonic sac with the miscarried sixth baby. All but Émilie were later discovered to be right-handed and all but Marie had a counter-clockwise whorl in their hair.

The quintuplets’ total weight at birth was 13 pounds, 6 ounces. Their individual weights and measurements were not recorded. The quintuplets were immediately wrapped in cotton sheets and old napkins, and laid in the corner of the bed. Elzire went into shock, but she recovered in two hours.

The babies were kept in a wicker basket borrowed from the neighbours, covered with heated blankets. They were brought into the kitchen and set by the open door of the stove to keep warm. One by one, they were taken out of the basket and massaged with olive oil. Every two hours for the first twenty-four, they were fed water sweetened with corn syrup. By the second day they were moved to a slightly larger laundry basket and kept warm with hot-water bottles. They were watched constantly and often had to be roused. They were then fed with ‘seven-twenty’ formula: cow’s milk, boiled water, two spoonfuls of corn syrup, and one or two drops of rum for a stimulant.”

Dionne Quintuplets (6)Even without television or the internet, their birth created media frenzy.  The Province of Ontario – after four months – placed the quints into a guardianship and removed the girls from their parents.  The parents were declared unfit to raise the five girls (but not their other children!).

Dr. Dafoe with quintuplets

Dr. Dafoe with the girls.


A nursery facility was constructed across the street from the Dionne’s farmhouse and staff was hired to care for the girls. Not unlike animals on display in a zoo, the girls were taken out side to a play area three times a day. The paying public could observe them through one way screens. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Approximately 6,000 people per day visited the observation gallery that surrounded the outdoor playground to view the Dionne sisters. Ample parking was provided and almost 3,000,000 people walked through the gallery between 1936 and 1943. Oliva Dionne ran a souvenir shop and a concession store opposite the nursery and the area acquired the name ‘Quintland’. tourists with viewing clockThe souvenirs, picturing the five sisters, included autographs and framed photographs, spoons, cups, plates, plaques, candy bars, books, postcards, and dolls. Oliva also sold stones from the Dionne farm that were supposed to have a magical power of fertility. Midwives Madame LeGros and Madame LeBelle also opened their own souvenir and dining stand. The quintuplets brought in more than $50 million in total tourist revenue to Ontario. Quintland became Ontario’s biggest tourist attraction of the era, surpassing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.”Tourists rushing in to view the quintuplets



This arrangement lasted until Dr. Dafoe’s death in 1943 when the girls were nine. Their parents successfully sued the Ontario government for the return of their children.

Unfortunately, the quintuplets continued to be exploited, but this time by their father who used the funds the girls had earned through public appearances and merchandise sales.  He built a large house which featured uncommon luxuries but kept secret from his daughters’ the source of the wealth.  All the girls left home at age 18.

The famous five have been the subject of books, documentaries and movies. Today, in our more enlightened times, we can clearly see the harm which they suffered. In 1998, the three surviving sisters were awarded $2.8 million dollars in compensatory damages from the Ontario government for exploitation.

There have been other high profile ‘multiples’ births since 1934. The McCaughey septuplets, born in 1997, were the first set of seven to all survive birth. The most to be born to one mother and all survive are octuplets with two known such births. The most recent set, the Suleman octuplets, arrived in 2009. Unlike the Dionne sisters, these births were the result of fertility drugs and/or in vitro-fertilization.

From a fairly young age, I thought that I’d like to have twins someday. While that never happened, one of my best friends in high school (and to this day!) was a triplet. What a surprise it must have been for her parents’ with the following scenario: a son was born, then a daughter… then twins (a boy and a girl), followed by… triplets (boy, boy, girl).

I had a conversation with her mother one day after the birth of my son. I told her I was in awe of what she had done and how hard she must have worked to care for that brood of seven. I told her I found taking care of just one baby to be a difficult endeavor. She just smiled and said that it was a lot of effort, but worth it.

Then in the early 2000’s another friend of mine announced she was expecting triplets! I sprang into action and – when she ended up bed-ridden two months prior to her due date – I started sending her daily emails with naming strategies for her three babies. A few examples:

wilma pebbles bettyThe Flintstones: Wilma, Betty, Pebbles

British Royalty: Elizabeth, Mary, Victoria

The Jetsons: Jane, Judy, Rosie

Gilligan’s Island: Ginger, Maryann, Lovey

Bewitched: Samantha, Tabitha, Eldora

The Supreme’s: Diana, Florence, Mary

spice girls    Spice Girls: Sporty, Posh, Ginger

You get the idea. I continued to pepper her with outlandish names until the girls arrived in early June of 2002. Despite the exhaustive list, none of my suggested name combinations were chosen.

So even though I never ended up with ‘multiples’ I did get to join in the fun and awe of such an event and was more than happy with having two ‘singles.’

The links:


Facebook answers! The Jackson 5, The Spice Girls, The Dionne Quintuplets, The Beach Boys





Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis… Meet Me at the Fair

April 30, 2019

Festival Hall St. Louis.jpg

Festival Hall at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition – also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair – is considered by some to be the most significant world’s fair ever.  It was an exposition unlike any the world had ever seen and featured pavilions, gardens, electric light displays, and introduced a number of modern marvels. It opened April 30th and ran through December 1st that year; it drew just shy of 20 million people.

Fair goers marveled at communication wonders like the wireless telephone and also an early fax machine. The x-ray machine was introduced at the fair and two other life saving medical inventions were prominently featured: the Finsen light and Infant Incubators. In the world of transportation, air travel and electric streetcars were both highlighted, but it was the first showing of the personal automobile which created the most buzz.

Yet there was one innovation which, more than any others, captured the imagination of a nation and was destined to be steeped in controversy and take on the qualities of an urban legend. The invention: the ice cream cone.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia, here’s the story:

“Edible cones were patented by two entrepreneurs, both Italian, separately in the years 1902 and 1903. Antonio Valvona, an ice cream merchant from Manchester, UK, patented a biscuit cup producing machine in 1902, and in 1903, Italo Marchioni, an italian ice cream salesman, filed for the patent of a machine which made ice cream containers.

Ice_cream___2A.jpgAt the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, a Syrian/Lebanese concessionaire named Arnold Fornachou was running an ice cream booth. When he ran short on paper cups, he noticed he was next to a waffle vendor by the name of Ernest Hamwi, who sold Fornachou some of his waffles. Fornachou rolled the waffles into cones to hold the ice cream – and this is believed by some (although there is much dispute) to be the moment where ice-cream cones became mainstream.

Abe Doumar and the Doumar family can also claim credit for the ice cream cone. At the age of 16, Doumar began to sell paperweights and other items. One night, he bought a waffle from another vendor transplanted to Norfolk, Virginia from Ghent in Belgium, Leonidas Kestekidès. Doumar proceeded to roll up the waffle and place a scoop of ice cream on top. He then began selling the cones at the St. Louis Exposition. His “cones” were such a success that he designed a four-iron baking machine and had a foundry make it for him. At the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, he and his brothers sold nearly twenty-three thousand cones. After that, Abe bought a semiautomatic 36-iron machine, which produced 20 cones per minute and opened Doumar’s Drive In in Norfolk, Virginia, which still operates at the same location over 100 years later.

While the Ice Cream cone does not appear to have been ‘invented’ at the fair, it certainly gained a foothold in popular culture. With the advent of electricity, ice cream – once a delicacy only for the wealthy – became a mainstay for the average person; an affordable treat during a Saturday outing.

Over the years, of course, refrigeration – one of the top 3 inventions ever (the other two are electricity and flushing toilets) in my opinion – made it possible for people to have ice cream stored in their freezer at home. The ability to buy the ice cream and commercially made cones at the local grocer completed the deal.

Personally, I love ice cream cones. I will always choose to have my ice cream in a cone if one is available. As a child I recall that my mother used to purchase the cake style cones and we usually had a choice between vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream.

waflet conesThen, probably in the early 1970’s, my mother came home from the store one day with colored cake cones. In addition to the boring beige, there were the exciting colors of green, pink, and brown. But even more exciting was the ice cream. It was called chocolate marble and it was an instant favorite. Swirled into the vanilla were ribbons of chocolaty fudge. Now that was an ice cream cone.

Over the years I’ve tried various flavors when at an ice cream shop: Blueberry, Huckleberry, Strawberry cheesecake to name a few… and those are all delicious. But nothing can ever beat a Vanilla chocolate swirl waffle cone. It’s the best.

The links for today:



Diary of a Young Girl

March 12, 2019

Required reading for all junior high students in the 1970’s, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, both inspired and dismayed.


Margot and Anne Frank

Although the exact date of the 15 year old’s death is in question, March 12, 1945, is designated as such.

While I tend to avoid controversial and depressing topics, there is no question that this book ranks within the top tier of the most important works of the 20th century and deserves recognition as such.

Anne Frank lived in the Netherlands on June 12, 1942 – her 13th birthday – along with her parents and sister. It was on that date she was given her first ‘diary.’ From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank received a blank diary the diaryas one of her presents on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday. According to the Anne Frank House, the red, checkered autograph book which Anne used as her diary was actually not a surprise, since she had chosen it the day before with her father when browsing a bookstore near her home. She began to write in it on June 14, 1942, two days later.

On July 5, 1942, Anne’s older sister Margot received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, and on July 6, Margot and Anne went into hiding with their father Otto and mother Edith. They were joined by Hermann van Pels, Otto’s business partner, including his wife Auguste and their teenage son Peter. Their hiding place was in the sealed-off upper rooms of the annex at the back of Otto’s company building in Amsterdam. Otto Frank started his business, named Opekta, in 1933. He was licensed to manufacture and sell pectin, a substance used to make jam. He stopped running his business while everybody was in hiding. But once he returned, he found his employees running it. The rooms that everyone hid in were concealed behind a movable bookcase in the same building as Opekta. Mrs. van Pels’s dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, joined them four months later. In the published version, names were changed: The van Pelses are known as the Van Daans, and Fritz Pfeffer as Albert Dussel. With the assistance of a group of Otto Frank’s trusted colleagues, they remained hidden for two years and one month.”

The family and the others were discovered in August 1944 and taken to concentration camps. It was in the Bergen-Belsan camp where Anne, who contracted Typhus, and her sister both died. Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived. Those who concealed the family found and saved her diaries and gave the books to her father. It was he who got them published.interior pages of diary

I can’t say exactly when I was first required to read the book, but no doubt it was in junior high (middle school to Americans under the age of 40). The timing of it coincided with when I became obsessed with keeping a diary. Perhaps I had visions of my musings being enshrined forever in a similar manner. Young teenage girls are, particularly, susceptible to drama and tragedy. Unlike Anne Frank, however, my diary entries included such riveting entries such as this one:

“March 1 (1972)

Well here we go again another month gone by. I’m 14 years, 7 months today. It was strange today we have had about four inches of snow, oh joy! I felt like I was being watched. We had a meeting at Mrs. Hughey’s this evening. We started Co-education volleyball in P.E. but I didn’t take it because I can’t, doctor’s orders. Yea! It can’t be that bad but if you take a look at last year’s diary today, you’d understand!”

Even I, the author of the above passage, have no idea what a couple of the references are about. I do know that playing co-ed volleyball when you have the coordination and look of a newborn colt is about the worse torture you can inflict on a teenage girl. The reason I couldn’t play volleyball is that I was still recovering from a nine day case of the hard measles. (We didn’t have a measles vaccination then… get your kids vaccinated. Trust me on this) While I was sick I lost approximately 10 pounds… weight I already could not afford to lose since I was, according to the identification pages at the front of my diary, 5’7” and 110 pounds. Yes, the colt reference is accurate. And, apparently, getting snow in early March isn’t that uncommon either.


This author’s diaries. 1972 is on top.

What I do know is that the keeping of a diary galvanized for me a thing which has been a lifelong passion: to write. My musings – set in an easier time in history – will never carry the same weight and warnings of Anne Frank. I’m okay with that. The five years of books which I still have are reminder enough that being a teenager is an awkward and difficult time in life. Anne Frank’s diaries – despite being written under the most challenging of circumstances – still ring true as to the thoughts and emotions of a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman.

For more about Anne Frank and her diary, a couple of links:




Beware Hitchhikers!

February 26, 2019

When one thinks of the most spectacular places in the world, this location is always near the top of the list.  The nearly 5 million visitors a year who trek to its rim, no doubt, help to confirm this impression.  Tomorrow, February 26, 2019, marks a century since it was designated as the 17th National Park in the United States.  Happy 100th birthday to the Grand Canyon!Grand Canyon retro poster

Its statistics and early history, from the Infallible Wikipedia, are as follows:

“The Grand Canyon  is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, United States. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters).(snip)

… Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. While some aspects about the history of incision of the canyon are debated by geologists, several recent studies support the hypothesis that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River has driven the down-cutting of the tributaries and retreat of the cliffs, simultaneously deepening and widening the canyon.

For thousands of years, the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans, who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon a holy site, and made pilgrimages to it. The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas from Spain, who arrived in 1540.”

It’s one thing to read about a place in an article or even to see a program on TV or in a theatre. Only when experienced first hand, however, does the grandeur of The Grand Canyon hit you and inspire you to marvel that such a place could exist.grand canyon sunset

In the one time I visited, I learned a valuable lesson. Do not pick up hitchhikers.

When the Hubby and I visited the Grand Canyon in July 1982 we did just that although we didn’t know it at the time. Our road trip – which took us on an over 3000 mile two week adventure – led us to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Because we were in the National Forest they allowed you, at that time, to camp outside of developed campgrounds. We found a lovely spot not too far from the Canyon rim, pitched our tent and ‘roughed’ it for the night. There was no picnic table or shelter. It was just us, our Honda Civic wagon, and our tent.

The next morning we were up early with the intention of driving to the South rim to visit the National Park. By this point in our trip, however, we were tired of sleeping on the ground and it was time to head home. So we drove the 215 miles to the visitor center, looked down into the gaping hole that is the Grand Canyon and called it good. Then we drove across Arizona, over the Hoover Dam, and up through Nevada to Las Vegas.

It was close to 8 p.m. and we’d been up since 6 a.m. I lobbied to stay the night in Sin City but the Hubby made a really valid point. It was, literally, still 108 degrees outside and he did NOT want to be driving across the Nevada desert during the heat of the day. So we continued north. The sun set and we switched drivers. I was now at the wheel, speeding across Nevada in the dark. And I was feeling a bit sleepy. Because we were young and foolish we kept driving despite our fatigue. We had the windows rolled down so the relatively cooler air would cool us and keep us awake. This seemed to work pretty well until around 11 p.m. or so when I noticed something was moving on the dashboard. At first I thought it was the rag that the Hubby kept there to wipe the dust and film from the insides of the window. Then, when the ‘rag’ moved again, I screamed and proceeded to stop the car in the middle of US Highway 95. By this time the Hubby, of course, suggested in a rather firm way that perhaps I should pull over to the side of the road. Which I somehow managed to do, despite my fear there was a snake or a giant spider in the car.

Doors flew open. Overhead lights illuminated. There we were, unloading the car in the middle of the night in the Nevada desert. Out came the cooler and the bags of food and clothes. We were about to start on everything stored in back when our hitchhiker revealed his (her?) identity: a deer mouse.deermouse

Around the interior of the car our guest scurried and, we were sure, was more frightened of us beating on the backs of seats, than we were of it. I guess it decided that we were no longer the friendly hosts we had been since he got in while we camped on the north rim of the Grand Canyon some 700 miles earlier. The mouse leaped from the car and scurried across the highway into the night.

The adrenaline rush provided me with an alertness which lasted another hour or so before I needed to sleep. The Hubby took over the wheel once again and he made it until about two a.m. when he parked on the side of the road and we both slept in the seats of the car until sometime after sunrise. Later that day we discovered that our guest had chewed through a sleeve of saltine crackers, gnawing off the corner of every single one. I hope he enjoyed his meal because we threw out the rest. And did I mention we were young and foolish? We did what young and foolish people do – we drove all the way back to Seattle that day. It was an epic road trip.

As always, a couple of links:


One Hundred Plus Three

February 5, 2019

It really should not come as a surprise that a Snowpocalypse has gripped Seattle the first week of February. It could be worse, however, if one looks back in time. The year was 1916 and on February 5th of that year, the Puget Sound region was still reeling from a heavy snowfall which began late on January 31st. It was a 24 hour period from February 1st to 2nd, however, which produced a whopping 21 and half inches of the white stuff. That record snowfall still stands.

union street after 1916 snowstorm

Union Street in Seattle as viewed from 9th Avenue, February 1916. Photo from University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections (link below)

The Infallible Wikipedia gives us but a brief glimpse of that event:

“From January 31 to February 2, 1916, another heavy snow event occurred with 29 in (74 cm) of snow on the ground by the time the event was over.”

However, it does link to a more comprehensive article from which, I’ve found over the years, provides pretty comprehensive coverage of Seattle history minutiae. From the article:

When the big snow of 1916 began to fall on a cold Monday on January 31, 1916, there may have been more cameras than shovels in the hands of amateurs. The flurry of snapshots of our second greatest snowstorm illustrate snow-stopped streetcars, closed schools, closed libraries, closed theaters, closed bridges, a clogged waterfront, collapsed roofs, and — most sensationally — the great dome of St. James Cathedral, which landed in a heap in the nave and choir of the sanctuary. (There were no injuries to persons.)

The unusually cold January already had 23 inches of snow on the ground when, on the last day of the month, it began to fall relentlessly. Between 5 p.m. on Tuesday, February 1 and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 2, 21.5 inches accumulated in the Central Business District at the Weather Bureau in the Hoge Building. This remains (in 2002) a record — our largest 24-hour pile.

9th and James 1916 snowstorm

James street as viewed down 9th Avenue. Smith Tower – then the tallest building in Seattle – is on the left. February 1916. Photo from the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections (link below)

The 1916 snow was a wet snow, and it came to a foul end — a mayhem of mud that mutilated bridges and carried away homes.”

In the category of how quickly we forget, it was just two years ago that the record for snowfall on any February 5th was set when two inches was recorded at Sea-Tac airport. An additional 5.1 inches fell on February 6th for a total of 7.1 inches on these two dates in 2017.

February 5 2017 snow kirkland

The snowfall in progress on 
5 February 2017 near Kirkland, WA 
“About an inch and a half so far. Of course this is nothing compared to what Michelle has gotten in Tahoe Vista this year.”

Since the hubby and I moved north from the greater Seattle area a little less than a year ago, I cannot accurately compare the amount of snow from our old house to the one here in Mount Vernon. As of this morning (I write my blog the day before, so it’s February 4) we have between 3 and 4 inches and it is still snowing. The view from my office window – with a little wind in play – gives the appearance of being in a powdery snow globe.

I cannot complain about Puget Sound snow, however. This region has some of the mildest weather in the world and I think of the white stuff as a wondrous treat to be enjoyed. Ensconced in my warm house with a morning cup of coffee – or later in the day with a mug of hot buttered rum – the beautiful coat of white is a magical event.

Too soon the temperatures will rise, the snow will melt, and we will be back to the brown and green scenery which characterizes a Puget Sound winter. One thing I do know is that within a few short weeks, the plum and cherry tree blossoms will erupt in shades of violet and pink and carpets of purple, yellow and white crocus will spread across the landscape. All we will recall from the winter of 2019 will be these few short days in early February when the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland.



Interesting perspective on the February 5/6 2017 event:

An article which highlights the biggest Puget Sound snowstorms:

Some great historic photos of the February 1916 snowstorm:

Article about the February 5th and 6th, 2017 snowstorm:




… Riding a Roller Coaster

Astroland Cyclone

June 26, 2018

When one thinks of amusement park rides, it’s none other than the roller coaster which has been firmly etched on the psyche of the American. It was in 1884 when the first Coney Island coaster – known as The Switchback Railway – opened.

Coney Island CycloneOver the years Coney Island was truly ground zero for amusement rides, especially the roller coaster.
It was on June 26, 1927 when the Cyclone coaster opened, providing thrills for generations:
From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The Cyclone sits at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street. The track is 2,640 feet (800 m) long (including six fan turns and twelve drops) and the lift hill is 85-foot (26 m) tall at its highest point; the first drop is at a 58.1 degree angle. It has three trains of three eight-person cars; one train can run at a time. The ride’s top speed is 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) and it takes about one minute and fifty seconds. “
When one looks at a photo of the Cyclone it truly is the iconic image of the wooden coaster.

The coaster underwent a complete renovation in 1974-75 with its deteriorating wooden structure being replaced with steel.

In 1991 it was declared a National Historic landmark and still operates to this day.
I have no amusing story of riding the Cyclone but I will say that I’m no longer as big a fan of roller coasters as I once was. The last high speed coaster I rode was California Screamin’ at the California Adventure (adjacent to Disneyland) and swore I’d never ride one that wild again. I would, however, ride either of my two favorite roller coasters, both at Disneyland: Big Thunder Railroad and The Matterhorn Bobsleds.
What’s fun about those is that the ride goes fast enough to provide a bit of a thrill but they also incorporate a story into the ride.
matterhornWhen you ride the Matterhorn, according to the promotional Disney website, you will:
“Break out of the side of the mountain and race down the base of the peak. Swoop in and out of shadowy caves and along jagged rocky ledges. Throttle through icy chutes and around frozen precipices. Whisk across wooden and stone bridges, pass under waterfalls and weave around mysteriously glowing ice crystals before splashing down in a shallow alpine lake.

But the real peril is not the snow or sleet. Folklore has it that a growling monster known as the Abominable Snowman lives inside the mountain—and that he will do anything and everything to protect his home.”

And it is fun to nearly run in to the Yette around many a corner, his glowing eyes and menacing roar adding to the charm of the speedy bobsled descent.

The same is true of Big Thunder Railroad (BTRR). The ride utilizes entertaining elements: an abandoned, bat filled mine, goats on the tracks, and the threat of a tunnel collapse, to add to the adventure. The interesting thing about this ride is that the ride has evolved over the years.

mine train Rainbow geyser.jpgWhen I first visited Disneyland in the summer of 1970, the ride, called “Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland,” was a sedate meander through an array of western landscapes including mountains, deserts, and geyser basins. My parents, my sister and I enjoyed the ride at the time, not realizing that it was destined to be re-purposed. The ride was closed in early 1977 and reopened as a roller coaster in September 1979.

My first experience on BTRR was as an adult with my hubby in the early 1980’s. We both loved the ride and every trip to Disneyland in subsequent years ALWAYS required at least one spin on Big Thunder Railroad: fast enough to be exciting but not so fast as to give you whiplash. Exactly my sort of roller coaster.

For more information on The Cyclone:

And about the former Mine Train Attraction:

And the Matterhorn Bobsleds:


A Royal Mystery Solved

June 5, 2018

Hers was a story which inspired novels, movies and mini-series and, for 89 years, the question remained: had she survived?

Romanov-307824 (2)The woman in question was Anastasia Nikolaevna, better known as the Grand Duchess, daughter of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II. She was born on June 5, 1901.

No doubt most people know how the Tsar and all his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in August 1918. Yet rumors persisted for years that the youngest daughter of the family, Anastasia, somehow survived the event. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Rumors of Anastasia’s survival were embellished with various contemporary reports of trains and houses being searched for ‘Anastasia Romanov’ by Bolshevik soldiers and secret police. When she was briefly imprisoned at Perm in 1918, Princess Helena Petrovna, the wife of Anastasia’s distant cousin, Prince John Constantinovich of Russia, reported that a guard brought a girl who called herself Anastasia Romanova to her cell and asked if the girl was the daughter of the Tsar. Helena Petrovna said she did not recognize the girl and the guard took her away.”

anastasia_anna_franziska_thumbTo add to the intrigue, no less than ten women claimed to have been Anastasia. The most famous was a woman by the name of Anna Anderson who insisted she was the Grand Duchess until the day she died.

It was technology which paved the way for the puzzle to be solved.  Although Anderson died in 1984, DNA testing on some kept pieces of her tissue in 1994 told the truth: she was not Anastasia.

The rumors that Anastasia – and possibly others – survived the execution were fueled by the very people who had killed them. Fearing backlash from Germany and damage to a recently signed peace treaty, the Russians told the Germans that the royal women had been moved to a safer location.

With those assurances – and no way to prove or disprove the claim – rumors persisted. The first Anastasia ‘sightings’ cropped up shortly thereafter.

After the fall of the Soviet Union it was revealed that the burial site of the family had been discovered in 1991. Was the mystery finally solved? Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“However, on 23 August 2007, a Russian archaeologist announced the discovery of two burned, partial skeletons at a bonfire site near Yekaterinburg that appeared to match the site described in Yurovsky’s memoirs. The archaeologists said the bones were from a boy who was roughly between the ages of ten and thirteen years at the time of his death and of a young woman who was roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three years old. Anastasia was seventeen years and one month old at the time of the assassination, while her sister Maria was nineteen years, one month old and her brother Alexei was two weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. Anastasia’s elder sisters Olga and Tatiana were twenty-two and twenty-one years old respectively at the time of the assassination. Along with the remains of the two bodies, archaeologists found ‘shards of a container of sulfuric acid, nails, metal strips from a wooden box, and bullets of various caliber’. The site was initially found with metal detectors and by using metal rods as probes.

DNA testing by multiple international laboratories such as the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and Innsbruck Medical University confirmed that the remains belong to the Tsarevich Alexei and to one of his sisters, proving conclusively that all family members, including Anastasia, died in 1918. The parents and all five children are now accounted for, and each has his or her own unique DNA profile.”

1200px-Russian_Imperial_Family_1913.jpgAnd thus ended years of questions and impostors and the mystery of Anastasia turned out not to be a mystery after all.

Last year for my birthday my sister and niece gave me a DNA kit. I think it’s about time I take a swab and send it in since I’m pretty certain I must be related to royalty somewhere. Not the Grand Duchess perhaps but some nice British royalty would be good. I’m still unhappy that I didn’t receive an invite to Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

For more on Anastasia and also Anna Anderson, two links:

Soaring High in a Hot Air Balloon

November 21, 2017

From the moment people could harness their imaginations, there has been no greater desire than to be able to soar like birds, high above the ground. Today, of course, we find air travel utilitarian and, perhaps, a bit mundane. But on November 21, 1783, it was anything but mundane when two Frenchmen, Jean-François Pilâtre deRozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes, became the first humans to travel in a ship through the ‘air.’

DeRozier balloon

DeRozier can credibly be dubbed the father of flight. He became interested in chemicals, specifically gases and how they reacted and interacted; he parlayed his obsession to a career as a teacher and scientist and, as such, opened a museum for nobles to come and witness his experiments.

When, in June 1783, he observed a tethered balloon ‘flight’ of a duck, a sheep and a cockerel, his desire to fly was ignited.

From the infallible Wikipedia:

“After several tethered tests to gain some experience of controlling the balloon, DeRozier and d’Arlandes made their first un-tethered flight in a Montgolfier hot air balloon on 21 November 1783, taking off at around 2 p.m. from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, in the presence of the King. Their 25-minute flight travelled slowly about 5½ miles (some 9 km) to the southeast, attaining an altitude of 3,000 feet, before returning to the ground at the Butte-aux-Cailles, then on the outskirts of Paris.”

By all accounts, DeRozier was fearless and continued his experiments with what we know as ‘hot air balloons.’ Several successful balloon flights followed and, in June 1785, he took on his most ambitious journey which was to travel from France to England across the English Channel. Because of the distance involved, DeRozier determined that using just hot air (powered by stoves set up in the balloon basket!) would not be enough to make the journey. Instead he developed his own balloon – called the DeRozier Balloon – which was powered by use of hydrogen fuel to heat the air. By all accounts it should have worked. But a sudden change in wind direction pushed the balloon back, and caused it to rapidly deflate. It plummeted 1500 feet to the ground, killing DeRozier and the two others onboard.Rozier death

The accident ended the adventurer’s life and research, but the “modern hybrid gas and hot air balloon is named the Rozière balloon after his pioneering design.”

So the next time you fly remember how very far air travel has advanced in just 234 years.

To read more about DeRozier and balloon flight:

And a general history of Balloon flight:

There are a number of hot air balloon festivals. This photo is from the Albuquerque, New Mexico, event held every October.

Albuquerque hot air balloon festival