Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Cards - A “fad” that continues to this day.
The ancient Romans exchanged some kind of greeting or gift during the first week of January, so in essence they were New Year’s rather than Christmas gifts. Later, as Christianity took hold, the custom of giving gifts and cards became more popular, but they were still given during the first week of January. When the lithograph was invented during the late 18th century, cards were produced, but the manufacturers considered them a ‘fad’ that would pass in time. In 1843, the first Christmas card was produced in England and distributed before Christmas Day. It was designed by John Calcott Horsley and cost one shilling. During Victorian times, the cards became more stylish with layers of lace type paper, frosting and other embellishments. In 1875, Louis Prang, an American businessman began manufacturing Christmas cards from his firm in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The business was so successful that it is still in operating today as the American Greeting Card company.

Christmas Seals -
A stamp with no momentary value.
In 1904, a Danish postmaster came up with the idea to produce a Christmas seal. The idea was so popular that it spread to other countries around the world. Christmas seals are now a prime source of revenue for many charitable organizations and generate millions of dollars for charities each year.

Caroling -
The friars had a knack for it.
Friars from the Order of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy were perhaps the first people to compose songs of praise and happiness especially for the Christmas period. The concept spread to other parts of the world and soon the custom of singing carols, especially on Christmas Eve or early morning on Christmas Day, was commonplace.

Angels at Christmastime -
Winged messengers.
The word angel originated from the Greek Angelos which means “messenger” or “herald.” They have been depicted in paintings by the masters for centuries and of course the bible too where various accounts of angels are mentioned. Often, a halo or nimbus appears behind their heads indicating their holiness or purity – sometimes they hold a harp or other musical instrument which perhaps signifies their desire to sing the praises of God.

First footing -
A Scottish tradition.
The Scots have an interesting tradition on the last day of the year. The custom calls for a tall, dark-haired man to cross the threshold of a home immediately after midnight on the last day of the year. He brings with him, a loaf of bread, a piece of coal and a silver coin, all of which symbolizes food, warmth and prosperity for the coming year. He enters through the front door in silence, shakes the hands of the men in the household and kisses the women. After this, he gives everyone in the home his best wishes for the coming year and then, most importantly, he leaves the house through the back door. Following is a first footing rhyme:

I wish you a happy New Year
A pocketful of money, a cellar full of beer,
A good fat pig to last all year
So please give a gift for New Year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Book Signing

Another great book signing event at Borders Bookshop in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to purchase books and have them personalized and autographed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Signing Event at Borders Book Store

Despite the apparent "downturn" in the economy, the Borders Book Store was hopping on December 6th. The mood was great and everyone seemed to be in good spirits shopping for the holidays. It was a great afternoon and many books were sold - thank you!

The next event:
Borders Book Store
2120 Southgate Road
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906
Time: 2-4 PM

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Siging Events

Borders Books will be hosting two events for my book Colorado Springs, Colorado on the following dates. Please feel free to visit either store and I will personalize your copy.

Borders Book Store
1710 Briargate Boulevard, #209

Colorado Springs, CO 80920
Telephone: 719.266.1600
Saturday, November 22nd from 2-4 PM.

Borders Book Store
2120 Southgate Road

Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906
Telephone: 719-632-0956.
Saturday, December 6th from 1-3 PM.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lady Bountiful and other origins

Lady Bountiful - A generous woman.
This expression is not always used in a complimentary fashion. For example, when an individual offers unsolicited advice the recipient might well respond with, “Who does she think she is…Lady Bountiful.” The original “Lady Bountiful” was a character in the comedy The Beaux Stratagem (1707) who gave away half her money to charitable causes.

America - Named after an Italian navigator.
Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) was a merchant and explorer who at one time worked for a company that outfitted ocean-going ships. He was also a navigator who explored the northeastern coast of America in 1497-99. In 1507, an article was published giving details of Vespucci’s adventures to the New World, but just before his death, Vespucci disputed this account. However, he did claim that he had traveled to the New World on three occasions and wrote journals and penned maps of the area to substantiate his claim. To this day, some scholars still dispute whether Vespucci’s accounts are accurate, but in any event, we get our name (America) from Vespucci Amerigo – Americus, the Latin form of Amerigo.

The Bartlett Pear - An American staple.
The Bartlett pear, sometimes called the Williams Pear, was brought to the United States from England at the end of the 18th century. It was named after Enoch Bartlett (1779-1860) who purchased a pear orchard from Captain Thomas Brewer. After acquiring the orchard, Bartlett set about propagating the pears until he was satisfied with the juicy, fleshy pear. From then on, the fruit was given the name Bartlett Pear.

The Douglas Fir Tree - Second only in height to the Sequoia.
In the early 1800s, David Douglas, a Scottish botanist traveled across Canada on foot and ventured south to California. He was amazed at the huge redwood and sequoia trees but also at the large fir trees he found in abundance. It is said that Douglas used an unusual method to collect some seeds from the gigantic firs; he used his gun to shoot cones to the ground. The shots alerted the native Indians, who pursued Douglas, but his mission had been accomplished, he had his precious seeds. During his lifetime, Douglas collected over 200 species of plants and seeds that were unknown in Europe. Unfortunately, he did not have a happy end. In 1834, he was gored to death by a wild bullock in Hawaii.

The Paul Jones Dance - Changing partners.
Perhaps the origin of this expression began when Paul Jones, a Scot, arrived in America and decided to change sides and support the War of Independence. Jones eventually became an American naval commander and fought many successful battles on the high seas against the British. By the way, the Paul Jones Dance involves many turns, passes and crisscrossing of partners.

Putting on the dog - To put on a show.
This phrase first appeared in print in 1871 in a book by L.H. Bagg called, Four Years at Yale. Bagg’s definition of the phrase is still a good one: “To put on the dog is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

Typically of American Origin

Bowie knife - A formidable weapon
The knife is named after James Bowie (1799-1836) an adventurer and American soldier but it is believed that either his father or brother actually designed the Bowie knife. Due to his exploits, James became a hero to many as he defended his land and beliefs. In later years he became a colonel in the Texan army and fought against Mexico. In 1836, James Bowie and his companion Davy Crockett helped fend off thousands of Mexican soldiers at the Battle of the Alamo. They, together with almost 200 Texan soldiers held the Mexican army at bay for 13 days, but finally the Texan army succumbed and was killed. Bowie, who had been ill for some days and had taken to his bed before the final onslaught by the Mexican army was killed in his bed.

Bury the hatchet -
A gesture of peace
We often use this term to describe putting old scores behind us and starting anew which is not too far from the original meaning. The origin of the term comes to us from American Indians who made peace with the settlers. In 1690, Samuel Sewall wrote “Meeting with the Sachem (Indian chiefs), they came to an agreement and buried two axes in the ground, which ceremony to them is more significant and binding than all the Articles of Peace, the hatchet being the principal weapon.”

The Stetson -
A hat designed with cowboys in mind
After travelling across America in the late 1800s and watching cowboys on the range, hat maker John Batterson Stetson decided to design a hat specifically with a cowboy’s needs in mind. When he returned home, he designed a special hat with a large brim to keep out the sun. The hat became very popular with the cowboys and soon the “Stetson” was mass-produced.

Uncle Sam -
A catch-all of terms
As usual, there are several claims to the authenticity of this phrase. Some believe that it began with a meat packer named Samuel Wilson who lived in Troy, New York. Wilson was nicknamed Uncle Sam by his employees because of the initials US that was stamped on the company’s shipping cases. The expression Uncle Sam perhaps took hold during the war of 1812 to counteract the British John Bull symbol. It was not until more than 60 years later that Harper’s magazine portrayed Uncle Sam in the striped suit and top hat image that we are accustomed to seeing today.

The Sequoia -
The largest tree in the world
A Hungarian botanist Stephen Ladislaus Endlicher named the massive trees after the American Indian Sequoya (c.1770-1843). Sequoya could see the value of the European’s customs, especially the written word. He decided the Cherokee nation should have a written language all it’s own and so devised 86 characters that described the sounds used by the Cherokee Indians. His work took him almost 12 years to complete, but his language was quickly learned and accepted by other Cherokees. Later, a newspaper was published using the Cherokee language that he developed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween and other origins

Halloween or Allhallows Eve – A boundary between the living and the dead.
The custom of celebrating the end of summer and harvest time and the beginning of winter has been in effect for over 2000 years. It began with the Celts who lived in the United Kingdom, Ireland and some parts of northern France. They believed that on one particular night, October 31, the relationship between the living and dead was thinly defined, and therefore on that night, the dead could visit the earth. This belief was not feared by the Celts who instead celebrated the occasion with a festival called “Samhain” which literally means summer’s end. During this time, there were feasts and much rejoicing around huge bonfires. At the end of the evening, participants took home a lighted ember from the sacred bonfire to rekindle their home fire as a symbol of the continuity of life and the beginning of the winter.

To get up on the wrong side of the bed - To be in a grumpy mood.
This expression seems to be more associated with folklore than origins, but it was believed by the ancient peoples that all the good forces of a man were on the right side of his body whilst the bad (or evil) were associated on his left. So, to get out of bed on the wrong side (on the left) it would mean the day had already started off poorly. To avoid this happening, many innkeepers would actually push the beds against the wall on the left hand side so that their guests had to get out of bed on the right side.

Gremlin – A scapegoat for when things go wrong.
A fanciful name given to those mischievous little creatures with long ears and sharp teeth we’ve seen in the movies. In WW2, British pilots blamed their poor performance on gremlins that behaved like poltergeists and turned their well-planned operations into complete FUBAR – meaning “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

Knock on Wood –A good luck wish.
The origin is not known and there are several claims to the authenticity. One possibility is the ancient people (pre Christian) used to believe that spirits lived in trees, notably the willow, oak, ash and holly. If one knocked on the tree, the spirit would awaken and come to the aid of the individual needing help.

Hanky-Panky – Sinister dealings.
This term originated in the fairgrounds and carnivals more than a hundred years ago. Hanky-panky is a variation of the much older hocus-pocus used by magicians while performing tricks. Hanky-panky is used to mean double-dealing, sly, and crafty behavior.

Baker’s Dozen – Short change.
It seems that the bakers of the medieval period had such a bad name that the words baker and devil were sometimes used interchangeably. The term baker’s dozen may have evolved from devil’s dozen, which was a common folk phrase meaning thirteen - thirteen being the number of witches usually present at a coven.

Another theory, and my favorite, goes back to fifteenth-century England. Bakers had a reputation for short weighting their bread. Because of this, very strict laws were passed, regulating the weight of the loaves. The bakers had difficulty with this so, to comply with the laws, they gave an extra loaf as a guaranty.

The devil’s strip - Not as ominous as it sounds.
Although it is believed this term originated in England, I have been unable to substantiate the claim. However, it is used in many parts of the United States to describe that strip of land that separates a sidewalk from a curb. Sometimes, the strip is narrow giving the pedestrian barely a couple of feet from the speeding traffic – hence the term “Devil’s Strip.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Food for Thought

We can’t live without it and too much will send us to the gym or worse. Food and drink, a necessary requirement for our very existence has some wonderful and interesting origins that I’ve included in this post.

TeaThe Brits have a special time for it - 4 PM with cakes and tiny sandwiches.
The first pot of tea was believed to have originated with the Chinese emperor, Shen Nung who in 2737 BC was boiling some water when some leaves fell into his pot from a nearby tree. He drank the liquid and enjoyed it so much that he made a note in his diary saying, “It quenches the thirst. It lessens the desire to sleep. It gladdens and cheers the heart.”

CoffeeSometimes needed to jump-start us in the morning.
Many legends surround the origin of the coffee bean but probably the most famous is the story about Kaldi a 9th-century Arab goat-herder. Kaldi noticed his goats became frisky after eating the red berries of a nearby bush. He took a handful himself and ate them experiencing the same friskiness. For the next few hundred years the berries were chewed to obtain the stimulating affect of the berry until in the 13th century, Arabs brewed the first roasted beans, which is the forerunner of coffee as we know it today.

Salt – The origin of the word "salary"
So important was salt to ancient people that it was often kept under lock and key. Salt pans were found all over the world and archeologists know that by 6500 BC people were panning salt to provide a meager living. When William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066, he had his scribes note in the Domesday Book (an inventory of England’s wealth) the amount of salt pans used by the Saxons. William levied a tax against the collection of salt by the Saxons. There was also a tax levied against their houses, livestock, and other possessions.

The Roman writer Petronius gave us the expression “not worth his salt.” Roman soldiers were often given special allowances for salt rations called salarium, from which the word salary is derived.

Chicken Tetrazzini An opera singer’s delight
The famous opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini loved this dish so much, it still bears her name to this day. Comprised of chicken, mushrooms and spaghetti in a creamy sauce, it is said that Luisa loved the dish with a passion that was equal only to her love of the opera.

Peach MelbaA dessert sweet enough for a Soprano
This dish was a favorite of the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba. Nellie adored this dessert that still bears her name to this day. A combination of halved peaches, vanilla ice cream topped with a sauce of raspberries and currants make this a delicious dessert.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How Did They Get Their Names?

From Wellington boots to bikinis, blue jeans to galoshes, the origins of these words are rich and interesting. Sometimes there is more than one theory to the source of these sayings or phrases; here are some favorites of mine… more to follow in the months to come.

Bandanna – The Hindu word for dyeing
The Hindus called this kind of dyeing Bandnu but over the years the word, coming through the Portuguese, has given us the English Bandanna. The term originated in Indian, as did the technique. The method of providing such colorful design is obtained by tightly knotting the cloth and dipping it in dye; thus some of the cloth retains the original color giving an attractive star burst effect to the finished product.

Petticoat – Not an undergarment but a small coat
Men wore the early petticoat or “little coat”. Men continued to wear petticoats until the eighteenth century, although the garments were later called waistcoats.

Soccus – Loose leather slippers
Comedians of Rome wore masks to depict the characters they impersonated. It is said they also wore loose, leather, slippers called soccus. These slippers were usually worn by women or effeminate men and loosely covered the toes more than the heels.

Wellington Boot – A solution to prevent foot rot
So many soldiers were affected with foot rot which was caused by marching in water logged trenches that the Duke of Wellington designed and commissioned a waterproof boot, hence the name Wellington boot

Blue Jeans – Centuries old usage then and now
This early sixteenth century word, which originally described the cotton material rather than the garment it made, was not named after a person but a city. Jean is a derivation of Genoa, Italy. Denim is similarly derived from the city of Nimes, France. The material was originally called Serge de Nimes. By the way, there really was a gentleman called Levi-Strauss. He lived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush days. It was he who added rivets to the corners of the pockets, making Levis a handy as well as durable pair of pants.

Pea Jacket – Originally a sailor’s garb
It’s believed the origin came from Dutch sailors in the fifteenth century. The coats were made of a coarse cloth suitable for use in rough weather. So where does the word pea come from? The Dutch word for coarse cloth is pijjekker, but as usual, the English had to shorten the name to make it more manageable, hence the term Pea Jacket.

Zipper – Faster than a speeding bullet!
Zip was used as a noun and verb in English as early as 1850. Zip was probably first used to describe the hissing sound of a speeding bullet. It’s believe that zipper was similarly taken from the sound it made by fastening. B.F. Goodrich trademarked the word in 1925. Zippers helped make Goodrich’s overshoes waterproof.

Bikini - Tweeny weenie swimming suit
The bikini takes its name from an atoll in the Marshall Islands where the United States held the atomic bomb tests. We may assume the name came from the scantily dressed inhabitants of Bikini Atoll.

Dungaree – No farmer would be without with these
About 250 years ago, traders brought from India to England a coarsely woven cotton cloth, which was known, in Hindustrani as – dungri. It was first used for sails and tents but seaman started using it for clothing. As time passed, dungi picked up another syllable becoming...dungaree.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Work Related Sayings

Pink Slip – Dismissal notice
The dreaded Pink Slip - none of us want to receive one. I have been unable to find the origin although we can assume that termination notices were once printed on pink paper.

A Cushy Job - A great job with little effort
During World War II a cushy job was one that did not involve danger or too much hard work. An Anglo-Indian term, cushy is derived from the Hindi, Khush, meaning pleasant.

Boarding the Gravy Train – Where the money flows
It’s easy to see how gravy, a rich sauce used in the 14th century to accompany meat would later be used to described a pleasant trip or something extra. Later, it became an American expression used by railroad workers to describe a well-paid job requiring little effort. Today we use the term to describe financial rewards.

Fish or Cut Bait - Make yourself useful
There is no room in a cramped fishing boat for idle people – so, if you’re not going to fish, then get to work cutting bait, in other words – make yourself useful.

Get Sacked - To be fired
This expression originated in the Industrial Revolution in England around 1700. In those days, mechanics were expected to supply their own tools while working in the age-old factories of the period. When a worker was discharged, he was usually given a sack to carry his tools away.

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass - Money can be made from hard, dirty work
At the end of the 17th century in England, pennies, halfpennies and farthings were made in brass because it was less expensive than gold or silver. As a result, a farthing (one fourth of a penny) was worth nothing. This led to the saying; it’s not worth a brass farthing. Since that time, brass has become a slang word for money.

The Bosses in the Smoke Filled Room - Back stage maneuvering
First used by an Associated Press reporter, Kirke Simpson, who used it to describe back-stage maneuvering for Warren Harding’s nomination at the 1920 Republican convention.

Yellow Dog Contract - Signifying worthlessness
These contracts are illegal now but at one time they were a very good way for employers to stop the spread of unionism. The employers encouraged the employees to sign a contract stating they would not join a union. Yellow Dog was used as an epithet in the 1800’s to signify worthlessness at a time when the Knights of Labor and the A.F.L. were beginning to flex their muscles.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The North American Cowboy

Just mention the word cowboy to some people and a little smile appears on their faces. Perhaps they remember their favorite characters from television shows such as Rawhide and Wagon Train. The characters in these shows seem to have become part of our lives. In fact, we have never forgotten those men who sat high in their saddles, who conducted themselves by a code of ethics and who portrayed all that was good about the West. We can only imagine how hard the real cowboys worked in the mid 1800s. It was a unique way of life and not suited to all men.

Some etymologists suggest the word “cowboy” came from Middle English/Germanic roots but others say it originated in medieval Ireland and was used to describe a young man who tended cows. One thing we know for sure is that the term was widely used during the late 1860s when young Confederate soldiers returned to Texas. There was little work available, but there was an abundance of longhorn cattle roaming freely on the prairies. The young men rounded up thousands of unbranded longhorn cattle that they sold to land barons. This roundup was sometimes called a “cow hunt.”

Some cowboys worked on ranches while others chose the trail. These cowboys usually owned their own saddle but rode the company’s horses. They averaged between 10 and 15 miles a day as they travelled north across swollen rivers, endured lightning storms and stampedes that could be started by the flash of a match. The average age for these young men was about 25 year and, despite their youth; the work was so hard that almost two thirds never again worked on a cattle drive and chose a different line of work.

The men who did choose the trail rather than working closer to home led a very hard life. As the Topeka Commonwealth stated on August 15, 1871, “The Texas cattle herder is a character, the life of which can be found nowhere else on earth. Of course he is unlearned and illiterate, but with few wants and meager ambitions. His diet is principally navy plug and whiskey and the occupation dearest to his heart is gambling. His dress consists of a flannel shirt with a handkerchief encircling his neck, butternut pants and a pair of long boots, in which are always the legs of his pants. His head is covered by a sombrero, which is a Mexican hat with a high crown and a brim of enormous dimensions. He generally wears a revolver on each side of his person, which he will use with as little hesitate on a man as on a wild animal. Such a character is dangerous and desperate and each one has generally killed his man.”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Victory Sign or Insult?

When Winston Churchill gave the victory sign after England won the Second World War, the sign was quickly adopted by many individuals around the world to show solidarity with a particular group or movement. This photograph, with the palm of the hand facing outward is the proper victory sign. However, I have seen many people on television and in newspapers making what they think is the victory sign, and instead are making a rude gesture. Palm of the hand facing an audience is a victory sign - back of the hand facing the audience is an insult!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Street Sellers - Patterers

There is an old fashioned term to describe a person who is talkative and appears to be well versed in a particular subject - it is said that he has “all the patter.” I have heard the term for years, and wondered where and how this saying originated. Just recently, I found a reference to it in Henry Mayhew’s book titled Henry Mayhew’s London published in 1851.

Mayhew describes the word ‘patterer’ as slang for someone who speaks constantly. The individual is always a man (never a woman) who collects information on the street, and then prints that information on a sheet of paper to be sold on the street corners of London for half a penny. He would entice a passer by with the promise of some salacious information such as recent murder with all the gory details, robberies, attacks and other tragedies. Often the ‘stories’ were not verified and were simply heard third hand, then printed up ready for the evening edition. The curious and gullible individuals who bought the paper were perhaps left wishing they had purchased a better known newspaper instead.

During Victorian times 1850-1902, the news was printed on both sides of a large piece of paper that was nicknamed a “broadsheet” and was sold on street corners for one penny.

Mayhew also writes of sealed packets that were given away with the purchase of a straw and sold only to gentlemen not ladies. The literature contained in these packets was described as “unsavory” and could be off-color jokes, political songs, sketches or worse. The ruse known as “strawing” allowed the patterer to claim they sold only straws and not forbidden material. The purchaser (of course) would not know the contents of the packet until he had purchased the straw. In his book, Mayhew recounts an interview with a patterer. “It’s astonishing how few people ever complain of having been took in. It hurts their feelings to lose a halfpenny, but it hurts their pride too much, when they’re had, to grumble in public about it.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On Tenter Hooks

It is said that England was built on the wool trade and, even to this day, the Chancellor of the Exchequer sits on a wool sack to signify how important the wool trade has been to the development of the United Kingdom. Many people today still refer to the beautiful churches in England as “wool” churches because it was the wealth of the wool trade that enabled the towns to grow and the churches to be built.

During medieval times, the Flemish Weavers who immigrated to England taught the locals their own special technique of fulling and stretching the wool. The wool was first soaked in clean water and fuller’s earth and then pounded and/or ‘walked on’, a system similar to the treading of grapes that meshed the wool. Potash was sometimes used in the fulling process to thicken the wool but stale urine and fuller’s earth was also used as an economical alternative.

When the wool was ready, it was stretched over two frames, a lower and an upper frame called a Tenter. The wool cloth was then secured in place every few inches using nails called tenterhooks. If the weaver had performed his duties well, the cloth would be evenly stretched and reasonably square. This of course required not only skill and expertise, but also a high level of tension.

So, it is easy to see how the term could be used to describe an individual whose emotions were raw, taunt and uptight - in other words, the person was on “tenter hooks.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Going Berserk

When we hear the expression that an individual has “gone berserk” we instinctively know what that term means and therefore can visualize a man or woman losing control of their emotions. The name Berserker (ber for “bear” and serkr for “coat”) was given to an ancient Norse warrior who, rather than wear the standard chain mail attire into combat, instead wore a bear skin coat and therefore became known as Berserkr. And, as this particular warrior was renowned for his rage and fury during battle, the term berserk quickly became identified with anyone who behaved in a frenzied or crazy manner.

During the 7th and 8th centuries Vikings often invaded England because there was little resistance from the villagers and the island was easy to reach across the North Sea. Their prime targets were churches because the Vikings knew this was where they would find gold or silver candlesticks and other valuables. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, a contemporaneous account written by monks, and includes 1000 years of English history, describes in detail when and how the Vikings invaded England. The monks describe how the beautiful monasteries were burned to the ground by the Vikings and that, “… they made that which was very great such that it became nothing.”

The Vikings were soldier-sailors and highly skilled oarsmen. Their callused hands allowed them to row for long periods of time. The rhythmic pull of 16 or more professional warriors on each side of the boat allowed them to stealthily approach a village and then, attack, loot and withdraw without loss of life. While traveling, their wooden shields hung on the outside of the boat like badges of victory. When they attacked, they wore a kind of chain mail, conical steel helmets and wielded terrifying iron axes that were capable of inflicting mortal wounds.

The church of St. Botolph’s nestled in the quiet countryside of Essex, England, was perfect a target for Vikings attacks, but it seems that it played a part in the tragic end of at least one Viking. The centuries-old legend of St. Botolph describes the capture of a Danish pirate by the men of the village. The pirate blasphemed and ridiculed the village folk and the monks for their belief in Christianity. Legend has it that the pirate was flayed alive, and his skin was nailed to the church door. A few years ago, the church door at St. Botolph’s had to be removed for repairs. To the amazement of the workmen, they discovered a substance under the hinges of the door. It was collected and sent for analysis, and was found to be of human origin. Was there some truth to the ancient legend? Was this the skin that of the Danish pirate who was accused of heresy? The skin is now displayed at the museum at Saffron Walden, Essex.

St. Botolph’s Church in Hadstock, Essex, England is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records and holds the record as being the oldest constantly used church door in England (circa 1020).

Extraordinary Places...Close to London. ISBN 0-8038-2031-3

Friday, August 15, 2008

Word Mavens

Some years ago, I appeared as part of a panel on the Walt Bodine radio show in Kansas City, Missouri. The concept for this particular show was an original idea from yours truly. For some time, I had been fascinated by the expressions and terms we use in everyday language, expressions that we instinctively know the meaning of -- but not necessarily the origin. Sayings such as, "Back to square one" and, "Chip off the old block." I contacted the producer of the show who thought it was a wonderful idea for a one time program. I appeared with two professors from the University of Missouri, and our first show aired in 1998. According to the producer "the lines lit up like the 4th of July" and there was so much interest in the topic, we were given a monthly slot, and were given the title of Word Mavens. The show required extensive research on my part (not wanting to be asked a question I couldn't answer on live radio!) and so I plan on using that research as posts over the next few weeks. I hope you will enjoy them. I will choose my own favorites, but also some that appear in common, everyday usage.

Note: The origin of the terms and expressions are often lost to obscurity, and many have multiple source origins.

Back to Square One

From the late 1920s into the late 1950s, the radio or the “wireless” as it was affectionately called in England became a very popular form of entertainment. The most popular shows were music, weekly lifestyle serials and sport. The sporting events such as rugby and football (soccer) were the most difficult for the sports commentators to describe in real-time to their listeners. So, the BBC came up with a concept that helped the audience visualize where a particular player was at the very moment the ball was played, in essence to “see” the game. The idea was simple and effective. They drew a diagram of a field and sectioned it into eight numbered squares -- plus one square (numbered "one") for each goalkeeper. This diagram was first published it the Radio Times (BBC’s weekly listing guide) in their January 1927 edition. Listeners could refer to the diagram while the game was in progress. The commentators were able to give the name of the player and which square he was in, then who received the ball and where he was on the pitch. The listeners, by looking at the diagram in the Radio Times, would know exactly where the player was on the field, and where he had passed the ball. The commentators use of this technique helped the listening audience follow the game in real-time. This origin is controversial because the available BBC recordings of early games do not include mention of the term "Back to Square One".

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy.

On a recent trip to Italy…I was awe inspired by the Coliseum. It is truly a magnificent structure, and one can only imagine how it looked 2,000 years ago. Today, it is merely a shell of its former glory, but is absolutely wonderful to see.

The following information was taken directly from:

The Flavius amphitheatre is the biggest and most imposing in the Roman world, but is also the most famous monument in Rome and is known as the "Colosseum" or "Coliseum". Started by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavia family, it was opened by his son Titus in 80 A.D.

The highly ostentatious opening ceremony, lasted one hundred days during which people saw great fights, shows and hunts involving the killing of thousands of animals (5000 according to the historian Suetonius). For the opening, the arena space was filled with water for one of the most fantastic events held in Roman times, naumachias – real sea battles reproducing great battles of the past.

The Coliseum is one of the most imposing ancient structures. Imagine it all white, completely covered in splendid travertine stone slabs. It is elliptic in shape in order to hold more spectators. It had four floors; the first three had eighty arches each; the arches on the second and third floors were decorated with huge statues.
What we see nowadays is just the skeleton of what was the greatest arena in the ancient world. Three-fifths of the outer surrounding brick wall are missing. In the Middle Ages, when no longer in use, the Colosseum was transformed into an enormous marble, lead and iron quarry used by Popes to build Barberini Palace,
Piazza Venezia and even St. Peter's.

The holes still seen in many columns are just the holes made to extract the lead and iron used by the Romans for the nails inside the marble blocks.

The amphitheatre could hold up to seventy thousand spectators. The tiers of seats were inclined in such a way as to enable people to get a perfect view from wherever they sat. Entry was free for all Roman citizens, but places were divided according to social status, the seats at the top were for the people, the nearer you got to the arena the higher your social status.

After the VI century, with the Empire's decline, the Coliseum fell into disuse and its walls housed confraternities, hospitals, hermits and even a cemetery. From the Middle Ages onwards, the Coliseum has been one of Rome's and the world's greatest marvels, attracting hoards of visitors.

Threatened with demolition by Sixtus V for town-planning reasons, it was declared a sacred monument dedicated to the Passion of Christ by Benedict XIV, placing a cross on a pedestal, as a symbol of the sufferings of all Christian martyrs. This cross is still the starting point for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Since then, it has become an object of worship for Christians and was protected from further destruction and ruin; in fact, Popes after that restored and consolidated it.

For a tourist today, seeing the Coliseum means, as Charles Dickens wrote, "seeing the ghost of old Rome floating over the places its people walk in".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

If you plan on visiting Colorado Springs, Colorado, a trip through the Garden of the Gods should be on your agenda. The red rock formations with names such as Kissing Camels, Balanced Rock and Cathedral Spires are truly spectacular sights to behold. Picnics, hiking, biking and horseback riding are just a few of the wonderful things to enjoy when you visit the park.

It is said the name Garden of the Gods originated when Melancthon Beach, one of the founders of Colorado City (another great place to visit with fantastic shops) was showing the area to a friend, Rufus Cable (c. 1897)when Beach stated "Don't you think this would be a great place for a Milwaukee beer garden?" Cable was stunned by the comment and replied, "Beer garden! Why this is fit for a Garden of the Gods!"

Early in the 20th century...Charles Perkins bequeathed the Garden of the Gods to the City of Colorado for everyone to enjoy free of charge.

For more information and excellent vintage photographs see Images of America Colorado Springs, Colorado ISBN: 978-0-7385-2091-9 by Elizabeth Wallace. The book can be purchased at the Garden of the Gods visitor center and most book shops in the Colorado Springs area.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pillar Boxes in Ireland

Photo courtesy: David Lentell

Travelling around Ireland, David Lentell took many photographs of green pillar boxes. Although the same shape as pillar boxes in England, many boxes in Ireland are painted green rather than the customary cherry red colour seen in England. I believe the colour change took place after the Irish independence in 1922. The pillar box shown in the photograph displays the emblem of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

We owe the concept of the pillar box to Anthony Trollope. Following is an excerpt from Christmas Past in Essex ISNB #9780752444635 by Elizabeth Wallace.

As an adult, he worked as a teacher but then took a position at the Post Office. He quickly gained prestige within that organisation and in 1841, was sent to Ireland where he met and married Rose Heseltine. A happy family life and his new position as Post Office Inspector seem to have agreed with Anthony. He is credited by the postal service for the invention of the pillar box. Over the years, more than 156 designs of the pillar box were manufactured, often with the initials of the reigning monarch. In 1840, the Penny Black made its debut. It was the first stamp to have an image of a monarch, Queen Victoria, and also the first stamp to have an adhesive.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings, Colorado

Native American Indians have performed their special dances for generations at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The dances are carefully designed to take into account the sun’s rays (see shadow of dancer). The traditional dances have been passed down from father to son and grandson, each bringing new life into their extraordinary customs that continue to this day.

A visit to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. The dwellings are open year round, but the American Indian dancers only appear from June to August. They perform daily at specific times, and, as you wait for their program to begin, a visitor can explore the dwellings, museum and gift shop.

Following is an excerpt from the Manitou Cliff Dwellings site.

Chief Manitou
In the first decade of the 20th century Cayete, a great uncle of Mike's and Bob's grandmother, performed here at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. At a time when Native Americans were more of a curiosity to western tourists, "Chief Manitou," as he was nicknamed by old timers in Manitou Springs, and other Indians would meet arriving passenger trains at Colorado Springs' old Rio Grande Railroad Terminal, now occupied by Giuseppe's Restaurant. He also sold Indian "trinkets" at the Narrows in William's Canyon, below the Cave of the Winds.

Joseph Tafoya, Sr. (Chief Little Deer), 1892-1972
Chief Little Deer entertained and educated Cliff Dwellings visitors from 1916 until his death in 1972, right here in the Pueblo building. A volunteer, he was one of the original Seabees during World War I. He attended Carlisle University with Jim Thorpe. Later, he served as governor of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. During the 1940's he was Chairman of the All Pueblo Indian Council.

Joseph Tafoya, Jr. (Whitecloud), 1922-2000
Bob and Mike's father, Whitecloud (okhuwa-tsa in his native Tewa language), died July 19, 2000, at the age of 78. Following in the footsteps of his own father, he performed for decades here at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. He was a man of many talents. While attending Santa Fe Indian School, he studied with well-known Indian artists Pablita Velarde and Allen Houser. Later, while attending high school in Española, one of his paintings of traditional Pueblo life won a national art competition judged by Norman Rockwell.

Mike Little Deer Tafoya, 1948-2001
Cliff Dwellings visitors and staff will miss Mike Little Deer Tafoya. He died on August 4, 2001, following a short illness. He was 53. Born at Santa Clara Pueblo in Northern New Mexico, Mike was already dancing at the age of two with his Grandfather, Joseph Tafoya Sr. (Chief Little Deer), and others at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. He traveled around the world with members of his family, sharing Native American Indian culture and dance with others. In his later years he acted as emcee for the Cliff Dwelling dancers, lacing his descriptions of dance origins and significance with a unique brand of humor.

The Tafoyas are members of the Winter Clan, also known as the Corn People, who are connected to the Hopi. According to their creation story, they are the Ice People, who emerged from the Earth at a point between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Southern Colorado.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Opera House - Central City, Colorado

Central City is a great place to visit, not only for the casinos if one likes to gamble, but also to visit the little shops and diners around the town. It is also known for the wonderful performances that are held every year in the legendary opera house (c. 1877). The following information was taken from their official Opera House site.

Central City Opera’s 2008 Festival Season offers three productions of 20th century works in English, celebrating and coinciding with the National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC) in Denver in 2008.
The 2008 Festival opens earlier than usual, in honor of the Convention, running June 6 to Aug. 10. It features a new production of Benjamin Britten's
The Rape of Lucretia, the rarely performed chamber opera about a faithful woman scorned amongst political rebellion in ancient Rome; a new production of Leonard Bernstein's popular West Side Story, the modern twist on Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet tale of two lovers divided; and American composer Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, the story of an innocent heroine accused of immorality and shunned in the eyes of her rural Tennessee community.
Single tickets start at $45 and two-pack subscriptions start at just $75.
Purchase tickets online now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mysterious Gargoyles

They come in many different shapes, forms and sizes and are believed to have originated in France during the 12th century; however, a lion mask on the Acropolis in Athens dating from the 4th century indicates a much earlier history. In any event, strange and mysterious gargoyles can still be seen perched strategically on the corners of buildings as rainwater gushes from their mouths. Some sculptures resemble half man, half beast creatures with grotesque features that must have scared the ancients into believing these very beasts warded off evil spirits.

As I researched my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London I came across many strange sculptures in various churches and important buildings. For instance, in the village of Thaxted in the county of Essex there is a variety of sculptured faces in the church of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary and St. Lawrence.

Following is an excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London (Thaxted, Essex.)

The church is quite exquisite and still dominates the town. It has been described as one of the most beautiful and architecturally pleasing in the country. The foundations were laid and work began on the church in 1340 but it was completed until 1510. No one knows for sure who the original benefactors of the church were but the Cutlers, townspeople and the House of Clare who owned the Manor are all thought to be instrumental in its construction. The influential family of the House of Clare had connections to the Crown, so it is assumed that royalty also contributed to the initial funds.

The walls of St. John the Baptist Church are made of flint with decorations in limestone. The roofs are constructed of lead with the exception of the tiled north and south porch chambers. During construction of the church the artisans were asked to carve their own likeness in the rafters. Some have portrayed themselves with smiling faces, others are quite grim but yet some have shown a sense of humor by poking their tongues out. There are various ancient chests around the church holding age-old linens that are still used during services. The splendid organ used by Holst as he composed The Planets Suite and some of his other works sits quietly against a wall in the church.

It is believed the famous St. Thomas of Beckett, who was killed at Canterbury Cathedral on orders of King Henry II, was interred under the floor of the church.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Amber Lodge Hotel, Norfolk

If you are looking for a great place to stay while touring in Norfolk, why not use the Amber Lodge Hotel as your base? Pride of ownership shows in this ten bedroom hotel, all with bathrooms on suite. It has about four acres of well maintained gardens with beautiful flowers and shrubs, plus a large patio. There is also ample parking accommodations.
Located about one mile from the center of Acle, the hotel is midway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth on the A47, and is therefore idealy suited for all sightseeing adventures.

The owners operate the hotel and it shows! Service is good and so was the food. A full English breakfast is offered and is included in the cost of the room. An evening meal is also offered to guests and there is a wellstocked hotel bar that opens to a large patio.

Amber Lodge
South Walsham
Acle, Norwich, NR13 3ES, United Kingdom+44 1493 750377

Room Prices
All prices are per room, per night (not per person) and inclusive of VAT
£55 - Single room£70 - Double room
£75 - Twin room
£85 - Luxury king-sized room (with Jacuzzi bath)
£85 - Family room (double bed & bunk bed)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Thameside Mummers

An excerpt from Christmas Past in Essex (ISBN 9780752444635) by Elizabeth Wallace.

Richard Peacock and Derek Oliver both members of the “Fabulous” Thameside Mummers describe how the group collects stories and maintains the tradition of Mumming plays.

“Plays have been discovered from villages all over England, mostly collected by local gentry or churchmen and written in their diaries or books of ‘local customs’ the tradition even reached Wales where the Mari Llwyd (Grey Mare) and her entourage would visit homes and perform a ritual song/play in return for food.

The villagers would perform their play but once each year, the parts being handed down from father to son; the costumes would be a suit of rags, with each character being introduced by the wording of the play ‘In come I…., or by a ‘calling-on’ song. These rags would be simple and cheap to produce but would also hide the ‘real’ identity of the performer, important if the play included some line, or ad-lib, critical of the church or the local gentry. For this reason, the Mummers would frequently blacken their faces with soot to hide their identity…. The Mummers would of course perform for the Lord of the Manor and his guests, expecting (and probably receiving) a considerable amount of reciprocal entertainment from the kitchen and wine cellar. Nowadays, the remuneration tends to be in the form of cash, though a free pint or two and the occasional meals are gratefully received and faithfully consumed.”


Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mayan Temple at Coba, Mexico.

Climbing the Grand Pyramid at Cobá was a truly wonderful experience. Hiking the 120+ steps to the top and then looking over the vast expanse of what was once a huge Mayan community was the highlight of my trip. At the top, there is a small temple with a carving over the entrance. There are many theories about the origin of the effigy over the mantle, but one is that it represents a “bee god” and is associated with the planet Venus. In any event, reaching the top of the Grand Pyramid and viewing a canopy of jungle with smaller pyramids protruding above the trees was absolutely fantastic.

The site dates from 600-900 AD and is located at Quintana Roo, 120 miles south of Cancun, Mexico. It is believed that approximately 100,000 people lived in and around the area. More than 50 sacbes (ancient roads) led directly to Cobá which was obviously once a thriving city center. It is a mystery as to why Cobá was eventually deserted – one theory is that a disease decimated the Mayan civilization. Another is that the Mayans overworked the once rich soil and since the land could no longer produce a decent harvest, they moved to more fertile land to sustain their community. Either way, they left the city and it was soon overtaken by the jungle. Only a small percentage of the site has been excavated, and so we can only marvel at the actual size.

I highly recommend a visit to Cobá but suggest using a tour guide service. I was grateful of the running commentary about specific items of interest such as the bee hives (the area is known for its excellent honey) the sacrificial stones, Mayan games and the gum trees from which chewing gum originated.

For visitors with small children or who those who need a little extra help, “human taxis” are available for the 2 mile round trip. The taxis use “peddle power” and are basically a tricycle with two of the wheels and a bench seat up front. They can carry up to two adults and two children. The cost is minimal and provides a unique way to visit the site.

For more information go to here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Victorian Elegance in Durango, Colorado

The Victorian Strater Hotel was built in 1887 in Durango, Colorado. It is an elegant hotel that combines the beauty of bygone times with the practical everyday conveniences expected by today’s visitors. There are 93 rooms each lavishly furnished with American Victorian antiques, and highly decorated ceilings with magnificent light fixtures. A visitor can sit by the fire in the lounge and then enjoy a wonderful meal in the restaurant as they listen to a medley of tunes by an excellent pianist. For more info call: 1-800-247-4431.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Ruins of Aztec, New Mexico

The National Park Service describes The Ruins of Aztec as “Contrary to the name, these structures were not built by the Aztecs of central Mexico. The Aztecs in fact lived centuries after the building of this ancestral Pueblo community. Inspired by popular histories about Cortez’s conquest of Mexico and thinking that Aztecs built the structures, early settlers named the site Aztec. The nearby city eventually took its name from the site.”

On a recent trip to New Mexico, I took the time to visit The Ruins of Aztec. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of excavation work that had been completed and the actual size of the exhibit. It covers more than 320 acres. A visitor can meander around the site and get a real sense of the way people lived more than 700 years ago. The majority of homes were built around a huge central plaza. Some of the homes were built three stories high and comprised hundreds of homes. In the center of the plaza stood the main kiva building which is believed was used as a ceremonial chamber. Earl Morris, an archaeologist, first visited the site in 1916, and began the first excavations on the large kiva in 1921. After leaving the site for a few years, he returned in 1934 to supervise the renovations to the large kiva. It is the only reconstructed great kiva in the Southwest. It is an impressive building with a stone bench around the circular, interior walls. It has a large fire pit in the center and two open burial pits.

When Morris first saw the site, only the tops of sandstone walls were visible above the surrounding brush and trees. But now, almost one hundred years later, we can see the true extent of this magnificent community village and get a small glimpse into their lives.

Don’t miss the 24 minute documentary on the excavations and the museum. For more information go to:

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kent - Garden of England

Kent is sometimes referred to as the Garden of England because of the pretty countryside and picturesque villages and homes with well tended and beautiful gardens. This is perhaps due to the rich, nutritious soil that provides farmers with plentiful crops of barley and rape and orchards full of fruit. But for centuries, Kent was known as one of the leading counties for its hop fields and, by neccesity there were many oast houses. Some have been lost to the ravages of time while others have been maintained and converted from their original use to private homes.

During the mid 1500s, hop fields flourished in Kent and the production of beer increased providing a lucrative market for farmers for many centuries. Even as late as the mid 1950s, migrant workers arrived from London to harvest the hops and earn the much needed extra money in post war England. The days were long and hard in the hop fields as the vines were pulled from their overhead string lacings and placed across canvas bins. Then the men, women and children went to work, their nimble fingers separating the hops from the leaves in quick, fluid strokes. Once picked, measured by the bushels and recorded, a tractor-drawn trailer deposited the hops at the oast house where they were dried and the process of beer making beer began.

There are ten chapters in Extraordinary Places...Close to London dedicated to the county of Kent including: Royal Tonbridge Wells, Ightham, Cobham, Rochester, Chilham, Leeds Castle, Westerham, Chiddingstone, Biddenden and Pluckley. They offer stories of our past from the Black Prince at Ightham Mote to the ghosts of Pluckley said to be the most haunted village in England.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Tower of London's Raven Master

Yeoman Derrick Coyle lives with forty other Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London and has the unique assignment of Raven Master. He does not necessarily believe the legend that if the feathered residents left the Tower, then England would fall. But, on the other hand, he is not taking any chances. “The only time the Tower has been without the ravens" protection was during the blitz of WWII, and London was heavily bombed”, said Coyle. Now we keep at least six ravens at the Tower and a couple in reserve – just be to be sure!”

The ravens at the Tower are known to be particularly mischievous and will swoop down to take a ribbon out of a girl’s hair and then strut around the inner castle walls mimicking the voices of those around them. They are fed extremely well with approximately 6 oz of raw meat a day and a bird formula biscuit soaked in blood.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to get the ravens into their cages at night, but I have a little trick, said Coyle. “There is a pecking order so to speak, and the dominant raven will challenge me sometimes. I simply get the light behind me, pull out my cloak as though I have wings and the raven thinks I’m a large bird and retreats to his cage” Coyle said with a smile.

There have been some escapees from the Tower. Hugine took advantage one day of a warm, wind updraft and sailed over the Tower walls. He was found walking in the middle of a busy street in London. When shoppers realized it was a raven from the Tower, they completely surrounded the bird until he could be taken back home. This situation obviously caused a tremendous traffic jam, but the motorists in London were wonderful and very understanding. Were they just being kind or were they reminded of the ancient legend and they were not taking any chances?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Achensee, Austria

I recently had a chance to revisit Achensee Lake, which I first visited in 1969. The main town on the lake is Maurach which is on the southern bank of the lake at an elevation of about 3,000 feet and offers a good selection of typically small Tyrolean hotels.

Maurach is heaven for those looking for tranquil and peaceful relaxation during the winter months, where you find yourself next to a magnificent ice-covered lake, surrounded fields of white powder and snow-capped peaks. The Achensee region offers winter sports and relaxation for all ages and difficulties – most popular activities include cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, horse riding, etc. The Rofan gondola takes you to the Rofan ski area, which offers a wide range of skiing terrain for all difficulty levels.

Achensee is busier during the summer when you can expect tourists from all over Europe to fill the local hotels and campgrounds. Summer activities include hiking, sailing, kayaking and swimming.

The popular Achensee Dampfzahnradbahn rag railway also stops in the town and you shouldn't miss the Notburgamuseum, Achensee Museumswelt, the distillery Schnappsbrennerei Kostenzer and of course the Dalfazer waterfall.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The USS Constellation

Photo courtesy: Marion Watchinski

The majority of sea faring business is still alive and thriving in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, but few tourists see that part of Baltimore. Instead, they see water taxis buzzing back and forth as they ferry passengers to the many attractions such as the National Aquarium or the Baltimore Maritime Museum.

The USS Constellation, a restored 1854 wooden navel warship is docked in the harbor and open for tours. There is a special tour for children who can participate interactively in a program designed especially for them. By doing so, they can see how young boys, some at the tender age of 11 years, were expected to help "man" the ship over one hundred and fifty years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed this special trip back in time to actually see the limited conditions where sailors had to sleep, eat and perform the daily duties of working on a warship.

Not only is The USS Constellation a floating museum, it is also available for weddings and other important events. For more information, go to: