Friday, December 30, 2011

Scottish New Year Tradition

The influx of Scottish families who left their homes to seek work in the south of England brought many customs and traditions of Christmas and the New Year. One such custom is that of “first footing” ceremony. 

Traditionally, a man with dark hair should enter the front door of the home at the stroke of midnight. He should not wear any dark clothes as if in mourning, he should not carry anything sharp, have bad thoughts and should not have a limp or be otherwise impaired. Depending on the area, he should carry specific gifts such as a piece of coal, or other means of providing warmth such as wood or peat; a bottle of whiskey, beer or mead, a loaf of bread or a cake and some silver coins. These gifts are symbolic of the need for warmth, food and drink and wealth. The dark haired visitor may also hold some kind of greenery--the universal sign of a messenger.
The visitor would enter in silence, but after doing so would kiss all the ladies and recite a 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.”
After this ritual, the visitor must exit through the back door to complete the custom.

From: Christmas Past in Essex by Elizabeth Wallace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Garrett Estate Cellars

Mitch Garrett

On most Wednesday evenings recently, Mitch Garrett, of Garrett Estate Cellars has been conducting wine tasting events at Boozers Reserve List at 22691 E. Aurora Parkway from 5-7 PM. We sampled the wine and were so impressed...we bought several bottles, and plan on buying a case!

Following is a brief description of the winery.

Garrett Estate Cellars is a family owned and operated winery located in Olathe, Colorado. Our 35 acre vineyard sits at 5350 feet and is a porous, high alkaline heavy sediment derived soil which is a mix of sand, rock, and clay. A climate consisting of warm days and cool nights and drip irrigation from the nutrient rich Rocky Mountain Uncompagre River, provides a quality growing environment for exceptional wine grapes.

With a commitment to creating exceptional wines, we invite you to try all our award winning wines today.

Mitch Garrett.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Apple & Nut Cake

This cake is one of my favorites. It's easy to make, and freezes well. Serve with hot custard or a dollop of cream.

½ cup shortening
1½ cups of white sugar (½ for topping)
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
2½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup of milk
2 cups of chopped apples (I leave the skin on but that’s up to you)
½ cup of chopped nuts I use either walnuts or pecans (topping)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (topping)

Cream shortening, 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup of brown sugar together and add the beaten eggs gradually. Sift the flour, soda, baking powder together and add alternately with the milk. Stir in the apples and pour into a greased and floured 13x9 pan.

Mix ½ cup of white sugar with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ cup of nuts. Sprinkle on top of batter in pan and bake for about 45 minutes at 350°.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best (and easiest) Sugar Cookies - Ever!

These cookies are simple to make, economical, and they freeze well - they are perfect for the holidays.

Danish Sugar Cookies

1 egg                                                             ½ cup of margarine (softened)
2 cups of flour                                               ½ cup of powdered sugar
½ teaspoon of cream of tarter                        ½ cup of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt                                         ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of soda                                        ½ cup of vegetable oil

Cream sugars, vanilla, oil, margarine and egg together. Sift flour, cream of tarter, salt and soda together. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. Drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 8-10 minutes. Dust with powered sugar or ice and sprinkle with your favorite topping. Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Legend of the Robin Redbreast

Following is an excerpt from Christmas Past in Essex by Elizabeth Wallace

One of the most delightful birds seen at Christmastime and probably the most featured animals seen on Christmas cards (in the U.K.) is the robin redbreast. Robins are so closely associated with Christmastime that many myths and legends surround the friendly little bird.

One the most popular tales is that a little brown robin tried to remove the thorns in Jesus’ crown and, as he did so, a droplet of His blood fell on the robin’s breast turning it red in the process.

Another tale is that a robin who tried to fan the dying embers in the stable where Christ was born. In doing so, one of the hot embers fell out and turned the little bird’s breast red, but he continued regardless with his duties in an effort to keep Jesus warm in the manger. 

Yet another story concerns a superstition that if one sees a robin first thing on Christmas morning, one will have good luck in the coming year. Needless to say, many people provide all sorts of incentives to get the little bird to visit their homes. They provide crumbs, tiny pieces of meat and suet to encourage the little feathered friend to gather where he can easily been seen. A favourite rhyme:

“Robins and wrens - Be God Almighty’s friends.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Patricia Duncan and A Defining Moment

Patricia Duncan has produced a wonderful book that is full of extraordinary photographs, dialog and speeches about our President. The book is doing extremely well, and has a special place in The White House. Following is a synopsis:
A Defining Moment is a 9x10 coffee table book that contains a collection of never before seen color photographs and historic speeches that provides an introspective look at the first African American President of the United States. Take another look at the events that led to a time in American History that will come to be known as A Defining Moment. ISBN-13: 9780615271828.
Go here to see Patricia's video.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cowboy Moving and Storage

On a very snowy day in late November, John (left) and Josh of Cowboy Moving did an excellent job of moving us into a mountain home. The day started off relatively warm and sunny in Denver, but, as we climbed to over 10,000 feet, the snow began to fall, and we wondered how "our guys" would traverse the six hairpin bends up the mountain. We shouldn't have worried. John mastered the road with ease, although he later said he was considering using his chains. Both men were courteous, polite and in good spirits even though they had to stop several times to pick up furniture along the route.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Strange Display

I am never too sure of what I will see in a campground. I've watched with interest as campers, as big as small houses, pull into a bay and immediately, pop ups, pull outs, awnings, BBQ's, etc. suddenly appear. These are quickly followed by dogs and cats on leashes, men with parrots on their shoulders, and children! Almost before the vehicle has come to a complete standstill, the kids burst through the door, and rush to the back of the camper where the bikes and scooters are stored. Within minutes, they are bicycling up and down, exploring the campsite, the game room, the shop and pool...laughter filling the air.

Over the years, I have seen a steady increase in camper rental. At this particular campsite, three identical campers arrived simultaneously. The families (from Italy) were touring the United States, and decided to camp instead of staying in motels. It was a wonderful sight to see the three families join together for supper that evening, cook their BBQ, and enjoyed a glass of wine as their children amused enjoyed themselves.

One of my favorite past times when camping is to exercise. I've seen some sights over the years...but nothing quite like the one that greeted me early one morning. I had to run back for my camera! I can only imagine the jeans (that are stuffed with flowerpots by the way) had some importance to the owner of the camper.

Worth noting! Some campgrounds have shuttle services to and from town. This is a great idea unless of course a traveller is towing a small car.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Barnes and Noble Book Fair

Ann Alexander Leggett and Maggie Sefton are just two of the eight local authors who appeared at the Pikes Peak Writers Book Fair yesterday. The event was held at Barnes and Noble at 906 S. Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. The whole shop was a hive of activity as members from various groups mingled with the crowds who apparently were doing their holiday shopping early. It was a very successful afternoon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tree Carving

Who created these magnificent works of art? Wherever I am, I seem to come across such carvings, and I'm fascinated by the skill of the men or women who "see" something other than an old tree to be cut down and used as firewood. The image above depicts a man and woman each with an arm in the air (branches) - it's so clever!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Walking in the Woods

While in Wales some months ago, I realized how carefree it is for people in the British Isles to walk in the woods. There are no wild animals to worry about, no snakes (save the adder which is extremely rare) and very few badgers, which if provoked...will attack. I watched with delight as this older couple donned their walking shoes, hats and sticks, and strolled off into the woods without a care in the world. They seemed completely at ease, and comfortable in their surroundings.
I took the photo (above) and smiled as the couple disappeared from my view. As I watched them, I considered what I have to think about when I walk on the trails here in Colorado. I have to be watchful for bears, mountain lions, coyotes, poisonous snakes, nasty insects, etc. And should I forget...there are always signs to remind me of the dangers, especially from bears. The signs read:

Be alert and make a noise
Travel in groups of two or more
Do not pursue or approach bears for photographs
Store all food and anything with a strong odor (toothpaste, shampoo, bug repellent, soap, etc.) locked in your vehicle
Deposit garbage in appropriate bear proof containers
Clean picnic and camping area thoroughly before leaving the park
Report bear sightings to park personnel immediately!
Remember: A fed bear is a dead bear!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just Released - Hidden History of Denver

The Back Cover
When prospector set up camp on Cherry Creek in 1858, Denver emerged as a lightning rod for the extraordinary. Time has washed away so many unusual stories—from the dark days of nineteenth-century Law and Order League lynching, and the KKK’s later rise and fall to the heroism of suffragettes and the touching plight of the gypsies. Elizabeth Wallace knocks the dust off these details and introduces readers to characters like world heavyweight boxing champion Charles L. “Sonny” Liston, hit-man turned rodeo promoter Leland Varain, aka “Diamond Jack,” and the city’s daring wall dogs, whose hand-painted building advertisements are fading reminders of a bygone Denver.

ISBN 978.1.60949.350.9

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost Signs and Wall Dogs

As part of my research for my new book Hidden History of Denver (to be released next week) I studied the unusual signs I’d seen painted directly on brick walls, not only in downtown Denver…but in other towns too. I wondered who had created these works of art. They were obviously talented individuals, but how did they work so high in the air? I found their lives and work really interesting, and felt they had to be included in the book.

Following is an excerpt:

They were called “wall dogs” because they worked on walls and worked like dogs. The derisive term did not appear to concern the men who were part artists, part daredevils and, most of all, part chemists. Instead, they let their work speak for itself. Some of it can still be seen on the streets of Denver to this day, a testament to the quality of the work.

During the late 1800s, sign painters mixed the paint by hand, using a complex and intricate balance of chemicals, color pigments and a white base, which contained high levels of lead. The shopkeeper may have asked the sign painter to help him design a message that would best portray the shop. Since many of the people were illiterate or did not speak the language, signs were particularly beneficial.

The price the wall dogs charged depended on the height of the building. The higher floors were considered more hazardous, even if the weather was good. Sometimes Mother Nature was not kind to the men as they swung from a rope attached to their waist at the top of the building, paint in one hand and a brush in the other. Some men used a hanging basket or trellis, but either way it was still very dangerous work. In effect, they had to be part gymnast and part artist.

There was one potentially devastating effect from a long career as a wall dog: lead poisoning caused by exposure to white paint. It permeated their skin and their eyes, crippled their hands and weakened their bodies as it slowly poisoned them. Their brains were affected, they lost the ability to hear and then the deadly paint affected their nervous system. It was not until one hundred years later that lead was discovered to be the culprit, a fact not known to the men as they mixed a lethal dose of lead, linseed oil and color pigments. Later in life, the afflicted men appeared drunk or otherwise impaired, but in reality they suffered from “painter colic.”

Over the years, as businesses changed hands, so did the signs. One sign was painted over another, but in the right light, both may be visible. These are often referred to as “ghost signs” because they seem to appear in certain lights and then disappear at other times. It is a strange phenomenon, and one can only imagine the level of lead paint that had to be used for the images to last more than 120 years.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Traditional Pub Food - Scotch Eggs

A close friend made these Scotch Eggs -

A long time tradition in many pubs, the Scotch Egg is one of my favorites...and one I have introduced to many American friends. The usual comment is, "I've never seen anything like this before..."

They are delicious and a good "finger food" for parties especially if they are quartered. Following is my recipe.


4 hard-boiled eggs
1 pound package of sausage meat (any variety)
¼ cup of flour
1 egg
Oil for frying


Hard-boil the eggs (about 10 minutes). Plunge into cold water to stop a black line forming between the yolk and white part of the egg. Peel the eggs and roll into the flour. Divide the sausage meat into 4 pieces and carefully shape around the boiled egg. Roll the sausage in the flour, dip in the beaten egg mixture, then roll again in the breadcrumbs. Place in the hot oil, reduce the heat and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes until the sausage is cooked. However, if you slice in two with a sharp knife, and it appears the sausage is not thoroughly cooked, you can pop them into the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baking "Blind"

Many times I've been asked the question, "what does baking blind mean?" Since there have been many requests for the answer...I thought I'd address it here.

Baking “blind” basically means to use some kind of weighted materials to keep a pastry shell flat while cooking. I use dried peas or rice for this purpose, and keep them in a jar so that I use them over and over.

The best method is to line a pie plate or pan with your basic short crust pastry (see recipe below). Prick the bottom all over, place some aluminum foil or greaseproof paper in the bottom of the pie plate, and spread the dried peas or rice out evenly.This will weigh the pastry down during cooking…usually at around 400 degrees F. until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven, lift out the aluminum foil and contents, and return the pastry to the oven for about three minutes. The base of your pie shell should be flat. Allow it to cool, and fill the pastry shell with your favorite filling -- top with cream.

Basic short crust recipe:
2 ½ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
¾ cup of shortening
About 1/3 cup of cold water.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

And More....

Hard-boiled egg shells can be removed easily if you place them in cold water immediately after cooking. This method also stops the dark ring from forming around the yoke.
For “fuller” omelets, add a small amount of cornstarch before beating the eggs.
Cheese will not harden if you butter the exposed edges before storage.
If you have a bag of lumpy sugar…place it in a refrigerator for about 24 hours, and it should soften.
When measuring syrup, honey or treacle, dip the spoon in hot water. The sticky measure will then slide off the spoon easily.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Even More Kitchen Hints

Potatoes will bake much faster if they are boiled for about 10 minutes before placing them in a hot oven. They will bake even faster if you place them on a skewer.
When browning meat, be sure that the meat is very dry – and the fat is hot.
When you take a pan of hot muffins out of the oven…place them on a wet towel  for a moment, then the muffins will slide right out of the pan.
A small piece of butter or a teaspoon of oil added to noodles will prevent the water boiling over.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Kitchen Hints

To avoid a “weeping” meringue, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar before beating it into the egg whites.

To remove skins from almonds, place them in boiling water for a couple of minutes. The skins can then be easily removed.

 Place a couple of slices of bacon in the bottom of the pan when baking a meat loaf. The bacon provides a tasty addition to the dish, and also helps the loaf slide easily out of the pan.

Thaw fish in a little milk because it enhances the flavor.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From My Kitchen To Yours

Over many years of cooking for my family, I've made mistakes and had some dismal failures. Some I've been able to correct by asking friends what they've done in similar circumstances. I've written some of those remedies down, and will share those with you over the next few weeks.

Don't discard butter and margarine wrappers...they make wonderful cake pan liners

Brown sugar won't harden if an apple slice is placed in the container - however, if your brown sugar is rock hard...use a cheese grater to grate off the amount you need

A few drops of lemon juice added to whipping cream helps it whip faster

A small amount of baking soda added to gravy will eliminate excess grease

If you have used too much salt in your soup or stew - add some raw potatoes. They will absorb the salt and you can remove them when the soup/stew is cooked

Poached eggs won't spread in the boiling water if you add a little vinegar.

More to come another day ----

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cap Lamp Signals

Communication is an essential part of everyday mine operation. If communication breaks down, the safety of the workers can be put at risk, and lives could be lost. Other than the obvious telecommunications methods, there is is one method that is easily recognizable underground -- the cap lamp signals. At a museum in Alaska, I saw the following exhibit, and explanation:

An up and down motion (nodding) means move away from the source of light.

A circular motion means move towards the source of light.

A side to side motion (horizontal) means stop!

"Most accident investigations have indicated that poor communication, or a break down in communication often contributed to the accident."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Siege Weapon Engines at Caerphilly Castle - Wales

Following information supplied by:

Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of Western Europe. Several factors give it this pre-eminence - its immense size (1.2h), making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, its large-scale use of water for defense and the fact that it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. Of the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning.

One of Henry III's most powerful and ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, built this castle. His purpose was to secure the area and prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last, who controlled most of mid and north Wales. De Clare built other castles on the northern fringes of his territory for the same purpose, such as Castell Coch. He had seized the upland district of Senghenydd, in which Caerphilly lies, from the Welsh in 1266 to act as a buffer against Llywelyn's southward ambitions. Llywelyn realised the threat and tried but failed to prevent the castle from being built; it was begun on 11 April 1268, was attacked by Llywelyn in 1270, and was begun again in 1271. This time it was completed without hindrance. Its message was not lost on Llywelyn, who retreated northwards. Apart from the remodelling of the great hall and other domestic works in 1322-6 for Hugh le Despenser, no more alterations were carried out, making it a very pure example of late 13th-century military architecture.

Following information from:

Siege Weapons and Warfare

The Medieval era of the English Middle Ages saw the advent of the Crusades to the Holy Land and the construction of hundreds of castles at home. A totally new form of warfare and weapons were introduced to England with the castles and following the experiences fighting the Saracens and their fortresses during the Crusades - Siege Warfare. Siege warfare tactics and weapons varied according to the role of Defender or Attacker.

Medieval Siege Weapons DesignSiege weapons were made to order! They were far too cumbersome to move from one place to another. In a siege situation the commander would assess the situation and the siege weapons design requirements to break a siege. Engineers would instruct soldiers as to the design and construction of siege weapons and siege engines. 

Construction of Siege Weapons

Medieval Siege warfare and building siege weapons was an extremely expensive business! All sieges had to be carefully planned and the exact type and number of siege weapons had to be established. Medieval Lords, knights and their Siege Engineers identified the weakest parts of the Castle or town that they needed to attack and planned the design of the siege engines accordingly. A workforce including carpenters and blacksmiths had to be transported to the site. The surrounding area was checked out for materials and supplies. Armed men and soldiers were expected to help prepare for the siege by helping to build the siege weapons and engines. Many elements needed to be taken into consideration when designing siege weapons.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Art of Knitting

From hats to socks to sweaters (or jumpers as they’re called in the U.K.) knitting has been a hobby of women and men for centuries. Queen Elizabeth I of England had a love of fine silk stockings that were very decorative and obviously expensive. The regular folk wore stockings made of wool and, during the late 15th century, knitted stockings were in such a high demand that men, women and children learned the art of knitting to supplement their income. Knitting became so fashionable that schools were established to promote the art and the people of England became well known for their fine work.

As a young child growing up in England, knitting was a required part of my curriculum. Perhaps teachers wanted to continue the ancient art, but the exercise teaches hand/eye coordination, and of course dexterity.
Knitters in Scotland developed patterns that are specific to certain areas. Aran sweaters are known worldwide for their warmth and their designs. As with quilting patterns wherein a design is specific to an area in the U.S. the Aran sweaters also tell a tail. The ribbing section has a "twisted" stitch, there are twisted cables, interlocking diamonds and  “popcorn” stitches that represent a certain area. Sweaters were essential garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Squash - Racquetball - Tennis

Is it possible to play all three sports? Having played squash at the local club in Essex, England for many years–my family was transferred to Kansas City, Missouri. At that time, there were only two squash courts located at the Kansas City Men’s Club, and women players were not encouraged to play. After twenty plus years of racquetball, and several years of tennis, I decided to try squash again. Is it even possible to return after such a long time? Would all those bad habits return? Who knows - but I'm trying!

Lifetime Fitness in Parker, Colorado has two racquetball courts, and two squash courts. The club offers excellent programs and league play. There are professional instructors for both sports. For more information go to:
Since I’m interested in history…following is a thumbnail sketch of racquet sports in the U.K. and U.S.
The game of squash appears to have developed from possibly five other sports wherein one or more players hit a ball against a wall with their bare hands. In the 12th century, monks used a kind of webbed glove to hit a hard ball against the walls in the monasteries (similar to handball.) During the centuries to come, a racquet and net were introduced and the game of tennis evolved. King Henry VIII was known to be an excellent player, as was King Charles II of England. The game of tennis was called “The Game of Kings.” Almost 100 years later, King Charles (1660) wrote a letter to a family member wherein he stated that he “played some tennis this morning after breakfast…”
During the late 19th century, a game called “racquets” (or rackets) was played in the courtyards of prisons in England and most likely in prisons all over Europe. An early sketch of a London debtor’s prison depicts two men, racquets in hand hitting a ball against a prison wall.
The equipment for racquet sports has changed over the years. My first squash racquet was a “Lady Grey” given to me by Barbara Sanderson, now world champion in her age bracket. Barbara received many such racquets as prizes, and graciously gave me one to get started. That racquet was made out of laminated timber or carbon-based materials. Today, the racquets are a different shape and they are lighter in weight. Manufacturers use a combination of materials.
Eventually, the sport of squash spread to America and Canada, and eventually around the globe. No reference to squash can be made without mentioning the Khan dynasty. Just recently, I had the pleasure of taking a clinic with Salim Khan at the Lifetime Fitness Club in Parker, Colorado. “Sam” as he is known to the players described his father’s life, and how he attained the title of world champion. “My father was once a ball boy for the British squash players in Pakistan. He was fascinated by watching the men play, their stance, and the way the ball bounced off the floor and walls. Eventually, he began playing himself and was a mature man when he was asked to represent Pakistan in the world championship. He was very nervous, and lost the first few points, but then rallied and dived to get a shot between his opponent's legs. After that, he didn't lose one point and beat the Englishman to become world champion. He trained others in the sport, mostly in our immediate family, and began a dynasty that would last for many years.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde

The ancestral Pueblo arrived in the Mancos Valley area about 500 A.D. They hunted and farmed the canyons and mesa tops and grew in siz to great numbers. Evidence of their homes can be seen nestled under cliff faces and ledges at Mesa Verde. The Native American were farmers and gatherers, but eventually had to leave their "hillside palces because of drought and famine.

The oldest native residents of Colorado are the Ute Band of Indian. The seven Ute Bands were the Weeminuche, Mouache, Capote, Uncomahgres, Grand River, Yampa River, and Unitah. Historically, the Ute Nation roamed throughout Colorado, Utah and New Mexico as a hunter gatherer society, moving with the seasons searching for the best hunting and harvest. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Thameside Mummers

Photo courtesy: Thameside Mummers
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.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lichen of Ketchikan, Alaska

Our guide in Ketchikan, Alaska, mentioned that lichen is used for medicinal purposes, and is a favorite food of the many animals in the area including squirrels, black-tailed deer, and mountain goats...but what is a lichen? The stringy, almost web-like lichen on the trees in Ketchikan hung in great swaths over the branches.

The following from the U.S. Department of Agricultural --  

You can think of lichens as fungi that have discovered farming. Instead of parasitizing or scavenging other organisms for a living (such as molds, mildews, mushrooms), lichen fungi cultivate tiny algae and/or blue-green bacteria (called cyanobacteria) within the fabric of interwoven fungal threads that form the lichen body (or thallus.) The algae and cyanobacteria produce food for the fungus by converting the sun’s energy into sugars through photosynthesis. Perhaps the most important contribution of the fungus is to provide a protective habitat for the algae or cyanobacteria. Thus, lichens are a combination of two or three organisms that live together intimately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Estes Park, Colorado

We’ve done a lot of camping over the years in tents and campers, and find that a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a cup of good coffee never tastes as good as it does first thing in the morning watching the sun come up.
The Elk Meadow Lodge Campground close to Estes Park is just such a place to experience the beauty of the mountains…and wait for it…there are elk roaming around the area. On one of our bikes rides, I spied two elk in a yard just across the road to the campsite. By the way, the campground is well run with excellent showers and clean bathrooms. There’s a bar within easy walking distance – that opens at 4:00 PM, offering Happy Hour between 4:00 and 7:00 PM. There is also a free shuttle to town that stops at the entrance to the campsite.
Following from the Elk Meadow Lodge web site:
Welcome to the ideal Rocky Mountain experience – an essential part of your visit to Colorado. Enjoy the peaceful setting. Indulge in vast amenities. Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Resort is situated on 30 acres, right outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and is open from April 15 – October 15. Plus, only one mile away, you'll find the charming village of Estes Park with an abundance of shops, restaurants, galleries, museums, and recreational opportunities. Take advantage of the free shuttle to Estes Park – Elk Meadow Lodge & RV is on the regularly scheduled route.
Phone: 800.582.5342
Address: 1665 Colorado Highway 66, Estes Park, CO 80517

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Low Man on the Totem Pole and Shame Poles

Over the years, I've often used the term "low man on the totem pole" to describe an individual or organization that appears less important than others, but while in Alaska recently, I realized that expression is not necessarily true. The vertical order of images does not represent any significance at all. In fact there is a counterargument that the figures are arranged in a "reverse hierarchy" style, with the most important representations being on the bottom, and the least important being on top.

Sometimes, a town may erect a “Shame Pole” to publicly embarrass, humiliate and shame an individual or organization. On March 24, 2007 a Shame Pole was erected in Cordova, Alaska. On the pole was an effigy of Lee Raymond, Exxon ex-CEO who stood down after the oil spill in Valdez, Alaska.

Improved Order of Redmen

Photo taken in Juneau, Alaska.

The Improved Order of Red Men traces its origin to certain secret patriotic societies founded before the American Revolution. They were established to promote Liberty and to defy the tyranny of the English Crown. Among the early groups were: The Sons of Liberty, the Sons of St. Tammany, and later the Society of Red Men.

On December 16, 1773 a group of men, all members of the Sons of Liberty, met in Boston to protest the tax on tea imposed by England. When their protest went unheeded, they disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, proceeded to Boston harbor, and dumped overboard 342 chests of English tea.

During the 1920s, Denver and the surrounding areas had six tribes of the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM) with at least three tribes meeting at Evans Hall. There were also 4 Degree of Pocahontas councils (women's auxiliary).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Cherry Creek (Denver) Got Its Name

I've often wondered how and why a specific area got its name. Usually, it's for a person who was instrumental in the building of a town, building, etc. but how did Cherry Creek get its name? As part of the research for my next book Hidden History of Denver, I scoured the history books and found the name was given because of the choke cherries that still can be found along the Cherry Creek and the South Platte rivers.

Last week, as I cycled towards Denver from Mineral/Santa Fe (a 30 mile round trip) I saw with my own eyes the choke cherry trees (prunus virginiana) that grow along the banks of the rivers. It was a fruit the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes harvested each year to sustain them through the winter.

Following is a short excerpt from Hidden History of Denver.

For centuries, Native Americans had camped along Cherry Creek—given the name because of the small, choke cherry trees that grew along its banks. When the cherries were ripe, they were harvested, pounded and then dried in the sun to be used over the winter months.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

West Ham Quilts

Two quilts in one year! The log cabin design is one of the most versatile in any quilter's pattern book. All the blocks are the same...the difference is how the blocks are assembled. Here are two versions, but there are many more. For these quilts, I made twenty blocks, using four across and five deep. Then I added a border to get the desired width and length. 

One of the main reasons for choosing the log cabin design was because two of my grandsons wanted quilts to take away to college. Each wanted their favorite (U.K.) soccer team's colors. West Ham is a very old London Club whose colors are claret, light blue and black/white depending on their home/away strip. I used a rotary cutter, cutting through 8 layers of fabric at a time. The strips are 2.5 inches that were joined with a 1/4" foot. The main thing is to keep the strips "square" and one should calibrate the blocks every so often. It's easy to get slightly off on one block...then another, and in the end you'll discover your seam lines do not match.

I have made scores of hand pieced and hand quilted projects, but since time was of the essence (and I was under contract for Hidden History of Denver) I decided to keep the designs simple. Also, I invested in a quilting foot ($85.00) for my Husqvarna machine, it has been one of the best investments I have ever made. The foot enables the "quilting in the ditch" technique, but also works beautifully for geometric designs. The foot carries all three fabrics (the top, the bottom and the batting) through the dog feeds all at one time. I recommend using a quilting machine needle. The end result is little or no puckering at all.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Recently, we took our very first cruise to Alaska on Celebrity Cruise Lines. At the various stops along the Inside Passage route, we took advantage of the zipline, ATV tours, hiking trails and shopping expeditions. We're glad to say it was a wonderful trip, the staff and the food were excellent -- and we'll certainly take another cruise soon.

One of the many interesting places we visited was Hubbard Glacier. The ship's captain slowly gave us a 360 degree view, therefore providing the opportunity for excellent photographs. What surprised me was the sound of the massive glacier. It is constantly moving, moaning and groaning as if it were alive. Then suddenly, a loud crack can be heard as a huge section breaks off and falls into the water. It's a magnificent sight, almost surreal. Even at a height of approximately 75 feet (standing on the deck of the ship) the sections were so big that when seals climbed aboard, they looked tiny in comparison.

The origin of Hubbard is unclear. Some say it takes about 400 years for ice to traverse the length of the glacier, and that "calves" break off that can be the size of a ten-story building. In any event, it is truly a spectacular sight and one I will not forget any time soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Alfred Packer - Colorado's Cannibal

Photo courtesy: Lake City Museum.

As part of my latest book Hidden History of Denver, (due for release in November 2011), I included the story of Alfred Packer and his ill fated journey. On November 8, 1873, a twenty-one man party left Bingham Canyon, Utah for Denver, attracted by the lure of gold. Each looking to make his fortune, they hired Alfred Packer as their guide after he boasted, “The Colorados, I know ‘em like the back of my hand.” After a disastrous trip, the group arrived at Chief Ouray's camp in Montrose, Colorado. Ouray advised the men to wait until the spring before continuing their journey, but Packer and five companions decided to take a chance.

Two months later, on April 16, 1874, a dishevelled but otherwise well nourished Alfred Packer walked into the Los Pinos Indian Agency. Over the next few days, he told various accounts of the demise of his party...but never denied the fact that he used their remains to sustain himself. He said, "I could only eat a little at a time." The newspapers nicknamed him "the ghoul of the San Juan’s."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Origin of Cotton Candy

The following text was supplied by:
Originally called “Fairy Floss”, the process of making Cotton Candy was invented by four men: Thomas Patton, Josef Delarose Lascaux, John C. Wharton, and William Morrison.  In 1899, Morrison and Wharton were able to patent the first electric cotton candy machine, which used centrifugal force to spin and melt sugar through small holes.  In 1904, these two Nashville candy makers introduced their invention of how to make cotton candy to the St. Louis World’s Fair.  Due to fair goers’ curiosity, these inventors sold approximately 68,655 boxes of cotton candy for 25 cents a box for a total of $17,163.75.  Back then and today this is a great deal of money, just think of the profit that you could make today selling such a low cost and enjoyable product!
In 1900, Patton obtained a patent for his invention of making cotton candy.  Using a gas-fired rotating plate to spin caramelizing sugar, he was able to form threads of cotton candy with a fork.  In addition, he introduced his invention to the public at the Ringley Bros. Circus.  Boy was it a hit!  Even though he never received a patent, dentist Josef Lascaux introduced this popular candy to his Louisiana dental office.
About 50 years later, in 1949, Gold Medal Products launched a cotton candy machine that had a spring base.  Like any other invention, this cotton candy maker was more dependable than the past machines due to the help of new knowledge on how to create a better machine.  From here own, cotton candy has been a hit and still is today.  Whether you have tried this tasty treat at a local fair, circus, or from a school fund raising event, we hope that the next time you enjoy this delicious candy you will think about the interesting history of such an enjoyable food.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Devil's Claw (Alaska)

On a recent hike in beautiful Alaska, the ground was literally covered with large green leaves. The guide informed us that it was Devil's claw, a plan that has been used for thousands of years in Africa to treat fever, rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, and conditions involving the gallbladder, pancreas, stomach and kidneys.

In the early 1900's, devil's claw was brought to Europe. It is used to improve digestion, as the bitter taste of devil's claw tea is thought to stimulate digestive juices. The primary uses of devil’s claw today are to control inflammation and pain in the back, neck, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendinitis although tests show the plant gives little more relief than a placebo. Potential users should seek their doctor's advice before using this plant.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Legend of Dead Horse Point

Back to Moab (Utah) again this year because there is simply too much to see and do in one visit. Last year we visited the State Parks, but this time we took a boat ride (round trip about 35 miles) down the Colorado River. It was fascinating to see the canyon  from a completely different point of view, the artwork and wildlife were spectacular.

Following information courtesy of Utah State Parks:

In the 1800s, cowboys used Dead Horse Point to catch wild horses. With sheer cliffs on all sides and an access only 30 yards wide, the point made a perfect horse trap. Cowboys herded horses onto the point and built a fence across the narrow neck to create a natural corral. According to legend, a band of horses left corralled on the waterless point died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Dead Horse Point is nine miles north of Moab, Utah on US 19, turn west on SR 313, and travel 22 miles to the visitor center. The part is open year-round from 6 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.

If you are traveling east on I-70, you may want to consider a "scenic route" that links up to I-70 at the town of Cisco. Take Highway 128 which is just outside the city limits of Moab. The journey takes a little longer, but well worth it in my opinion.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Painting Class given by Paul Valdez

Photo courtesy: Paul Valdez

Last week, Tagawa Nursery hosted a painting class given Paul Valdez, local artist and instructor. It was a great afternoon with funny, entertaining ladies who each chose a different subject to paint. We are a diverse group of painters/artists, some more talented than others (I'm in the latter category...but I try hard) and therefore we are a constant challenge to our teacher. Valdez gently corrects our work during critique session, and constantly encourages us to do better.  He offers water color and oil painting classes at his studio, and also at Heritage Eagle Bend, Aurora. For more information go to:

Looking for an unusual idea for a girl's birthday party? Why not consider having a Fairy Party at Tagawa Nursery. In fact there are so many classes and's best to check their site. I particularly enjoyed the Fairy Garden - very creative and enchanting!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cayman Island Castle

Over the years, I have visited the Cayman's many, many times, but this last visit was truly wonderful. The view was spectacular...the villa was clean, the private pool was well maintained, and the weather was glorious.

There are two "castles" located next to each other. Since we had six people...we chose the smaller of the two, but the larger would accommodate a very large family, or group of friends. There is a private beach (that is swept daily) next to the facility with several kayaks for visitors' use. A dive shop is within walking distance. The shop provides all the gear for scuba divers and snorkelers. They set out  each morning and afternoon, and offer a deep water dive of 100 feet...and also a reef dive.
Following is an excerpt from the trip notes.

I woke up early the next day to take advantage of the sunrise, which was just to the left of the pool.  Amazing!  You will hear roosters crowing in the morning, as there are a lot of chickens roaming the island along with green iguanas (although we didn’t see any iguanas at the property).   I then took a kayak out to a white pole that is about 300 yards from shore.  Take note of this pole: right beneath it is a wonderful coral head, absolutely teaming with fish.  The water is about 10 to 15 feet deep here, and it makes for a delightful dive.  Most of the kayaks have a line on the bow or stern, so you can tie up to the pole and swim with the fish.  I thought this was a brilliant “perk” of the property.  Take advantage of it!

Other than hanging out on the patio and in the pool (which the kids loved) and on the beach, we did the following activities:

1)    Dolphin Discovery.  This is located north of Seven Mile Beach, about an hour drive from the property.  It was great fun.

2)    Turtle Farm.  This was included in the price of the Dolphin Discovery.  The main tank holds all the mature turtles and we got to see them being fed.  Quite an experience.  They are huge!  They also have smaller tanks where you can pick up and hold the little turtles (the kids loved it).

3)    Red Sail 65 foot catamaran sail from Rum Point to the reef at North Sound and Stingray City.  You have to do this.  It was fantastic.

4)    Mastic Trail.  This is a guided walk which begins up near Rum Point.  If you like nature walks, this is for you.  Our guide was very well-informed and pointed out all the different trees, birds and other critters which we encountered.  Make sure you take plenty of water and bug spray.  It’s not a hard walk and lasts about two and a half hours. 

A quick note on Rum Point.  It is about a 25 minute drive from the property, and is highly recommended.  We actually went back the day after the sail just to hang out.  It is perfectly maintained and the beach is gorgeous.  The water is only a few feet deep with a sandy bottom, so the kids can explore the water without being worried about it being too deep.  We found a number of live conchs there, too.  We couldn’t resist taking a couple of waverunners out (again from Red Sail) on an excursion.  There were three stops.  The first was to the mangroves, then on to Starfish Point (where you stop and hold live starfish), and then on to a 15 minute snorkel dive on a beautiful coral head.  We had a blast on this tour.

For more information you may go to: