Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Day In History

Built of cast iron and glass, the Crystal Palace was erected in London in 1851 for the Great Exposition, planned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as the first World's Fair. After the Exposition, the Crystal Palace was moved to tony Syndenham Hill, an enclave of Victorian mansions, where it stood from 1854 to 1936, when it was destroyed by fire.

In 1852 the owners of the Crystal Palace commissioned artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to design and sculpt 33 life size dinosaur statues. He was assisted by Sir Richard Owen. On this day in 1854, the world's first dinosaur sculpture was unveiled and twenty men dined grandly inside the iguanodon, pictured above. The picture below shows the Crystal Palace as it appeared at the Grand Exposition.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Always Christmas On The Inside

Here are some final shots of this year's Christmas. Once it's all packed away, we set our workshop back up in the same space and commence creating our 2009 line. We work from January until October, and although we make ornaments for other holidays, it's Christmas that's our favorite.

If you've never seen our website, you can check it out here. My daughter built the site herself, took all of the photographs and handles the business end. If you like making your own ornaments, we have another site where we sell supplies - one site links to the other. We source most of our supplies in Europe and are constantly adding to our stock.

If you'd like to be added to our mailing list, please drop us a line. We'd love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Until Next Year...

Another happy, busy Christmas season is winding to a close, and it's time to pack the decorations away until next year. Out come the cardboard boxes stuffed with tissue paper that were haphazardly pushed into the closet last month, once they were emptied of ornaments. The mischievous elf pictured below, clutching his little dog, always brings a smile and has been putting in an appearance every Christmas for the past 50 years. Things get packed away a little wistfully, but once the tabletops are cleared and a semblance of order returns, we look forward to the new year with happiness and gratitude for the one gone by.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Smarter Than The Average Bird

This is a yellow crowned night heron, another resident of our local lagoons. The northern lagoon, the Batiquitos, is open all year to the Pacific Ocean, which keeps the freshwater flushed and thriving with food for the migrating visitors.

Herons are one of the few birds with "powder down" - exceptionally fine feathers that produce a special dust which the birds use to coat their other feathers. The dust provides waterproofing and interlocks the feathers to give good lift so the birds can still fly in the rain.

Sometimes herons are called egrets, although egrets are mostly white and tend to be smaller. Herons were recently tested on a newly developed bird intelligence scale and were deemed to be one of the smartest birds because of their ability to acquire food. They're not terribly choosy and will eat rabbits, fish and frogs and make do with insects when they have to. The bird pictured has been walking the shallows near the shoreline and found a tasty crab, tangled in a bit of reed.

Thanks again to local wildlife photographer Chris Mayne for sharing his wonderful photographs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Friends In Uniform

It's been said if you can read this, thank a teacher. It's also been said that if you're reading this in English, thank the United States military.

Christmas has come and gone this year, but if you're so inclined, it's never too late to show our friends in uniform that you care. You can contribute to an organization that benefits the families of those who are serving at home and abroad or make a donation to a Veteran's Hospital in your area. If you're at a loss for how to go about helping, check your phone book for a local VFW hall. They can steer you in the right direction.

Thanks to all the folks who volunteer for organizations like Operation Gratitude, Soldiers' Angels, Any Soldier, and Adopt A Soldier, to name just a few. They can all be accessed via Google on the internet, if you'd like to participate.

These amazing photographs are courtesy of our United States military. Each branch maintains their own website and they constantly update their photo archives with incredible shots of the important work they do. Almost all of their photographs are in the public domain. They're well worth a look.

Friday, December 26, 2008

John & Ted's Excellent Adventure

In 1903, John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and President Theodore Roosevelt met up together in Yosemite National Park, which had been established in 1890. The photograph of them was taken at Glacier Point, high above the floor of the Valley, with Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in the background. After his visit there, President Roosevelt added Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley to the Park.

Just last month, a major rock slide permanently closed a major portion of Camp Curry, located in the Valley below Glacier Point.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tidings Of Comfort & Joy

Warm wishes to my readers for a Merry Christmas and hoping you were able to give to your heart's content.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And To All A Good Night

May your cares be few and your blessings be many. Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa's Original Reindeer

Santa's famous eight reindeer were first described in an anonymously written 1823 poem called "A Visit From St. Nicholas". Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blixem. Donder and Blixem are Dutch for thunder and lightning, and those names were later changed to the German, Donner and Blitzen, which also translate to thunder and lightning. Rudolph, with his nose so bright, didn't put in an appearance until the 1900s. More recently, Hollywood and some misguided authors have tried to foist some new reindeer onto the team. To the relief of traditionalists, Fireball, Leroy, Pedro and Olive haven't gained much traction.

This old photograph was taken in Archangel, Russia in the 1890s. It shows the locals preparing their sleigh, getting ready to travel by reindeer. Good to know that Santa Claus had plenty of helpers beyond the North Pole, even then.

The photograph is part of the Detroit Publishing Company collection in the archives of the Library of Congress. It is described in the margins as a "photomechanical print".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas In Montana

This historical photograph, circa 1900, shows a family of 11 from a Flathead Indian tribe, gathered around their decorated Christmas tree in front of a teepee. The location is the west side of Glacier National Park in Montana, in a dense forest of evergreens. The photograph is from the Library of Congress' George Grantham Bain collection.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Color For Christmas

If you get tired of the same old poinsettia plants at Christmas, consider trying something different. Coleus are a favorite around our house. They come in striking color combinations, are easily grown and best of all, they can be planted in the ground after the holidays (if you live in a temperate zone). If you like to garden, that makes more sense than tossing out a soon to be scraggly poinsettia at the end of the season.

Coleus are generally grown for their colorful leaves, so once yours starts to flower, keep the buds pinched back to promote more bushing. Keep the soil in the pot evenly watered, not soaked. After the holidays, when you transplant your coleus into the ground, bear in mind they'll tolerate some sun along the coast, but prefer shade inland.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whimsical Vintage Ornaments For Christmas

Here are some more of our holiday collections, spread out on tabletops. We don't take our decorating too seriously - things don't have to match to be part of the display.

The cigarette smoking snowman never fails to elicit comments. We figure that when it was made in Japan in the 1950s, the part about a corncob pipe was lost in translation, hence, a snowman with a cigarette. Here he's being eyed by a crazed looking Christmas elephant, with a rogue reindeer ready to bolt the whole scene. The folding paper Santas in the second picture, oddly enough, glow in the dark. The folding paper elves are from Sweden. Some of the older ornaments and decorations are held together with tape or glue. Over the years, they've been arranged and rearranged by children. To us, that's part of the charm.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Spanish Gothic

Known as the Dame of the Spanish Cathedrals, the cathedral of Segovia was designed and built by mason Juan Gil de Hontanon from 1525-1526. His son, Rodrigo Gil de Hontanon carried on his father's work until 1577, and it was finally completed by Juan de Mugaguren shortly thereafter. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this Gothic wonder stands on La Plaza Mayor and is considered the jewel of Segovia.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Guerilla Marketing In 1921

This photograph is from the collection of the National Photo Company in the archives of the Library of Congress. It was taken in 1921 in Washington, D.C. Obviously, postal employees had more leeway then in deciding how they might encourage customers to mail early during the Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Calm After The Storm

There's a powerful north swell running, mostly wind generated, and the extreme tides have tossed cobblestones onto the sand. The beaches are pretty empty this time of year, even though December is our sunniest month. We have more days of sunshine now than in summertime because our stretch of coast gets "June Gloom" and "May Gray" as the inland deserts beyond the mountains heat up.

We read that it's been -81 degrees in Siberia and that the cold air has to go somewhere... The prediction is that some Arctic air is making it's way in this direction, to arrive soon and the snow level could drop to 3,000 feet. We've had freak snowfalls on the coast before, once in 1968 and again in 1998. In '98 kids were using boogie boards as sleds in the streets. In '68, there was snow on the beach and perfect surf at Swamis - two great excuses to ditch school. (Not that we needed any).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Neighborhood Elves To The Rescue

We've finally got a good autumn storm going and the morning wind blew strong enough to topple my patio fence. My favorite neighbors noticed the problem first and came over in the blowing rain to kindly tie it back up for me. While they were engrossed with that task, a surfboard blew over in the backyard, which knocked into a 5 foot carved tiki, which fell over onto a water pipe, which broke and shot a water geyser into the air. The neighbors left the fence long enough to turn off the water valve, which stopped the geyser. The fence is now secured to a tree trunk, thanks to their efforts. It's good to have such nice neighbors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Day In History

On this day in 1791, when ratified by the state of Virginia, our Bill of Rights became the law of the land. The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. They are written plainly and unambiguously in the original and their express purpose was and is to limit the power of the government over the people.

We can thank the Founding Fathers for their foresight, fortitude and love of freedom. James Madison is pictured above at the age of 65 in an 1816 portrait painted by John Vanderlyn. He was our 4th president and served two terms, from 1809-1817. He is considered the "Father of the Constitution" and was the author of the first Bill of Rights.

The co-author of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton is show below in a portrait painted by John Trunbull in 1806. He distinguished himself while serving in the American Revolution. As senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, he led 3 battalions at the Siege of Yorktown. As he was born in the British West Indies, he was ineligible to serve as President. He was appointed the country's first Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington. On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton, at the age of 47, was mortally wounded by Vice President Aaron Burn in a duel on the west bank of the Hudson River. Burr had taken exception to comments Hamilton had made at a dinner party. Hamilton's eldest son had been killed in a duel on the same ground three years earlier.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly

Christmas has always been the high point of our year and we've been collecting and making ornaments and decorations for a long time. Swedish dala horses, Polish, German and Czech blown glass figural ornaments, tinsel, glitter, wax, metallic paper, carved wood, Japanese ornaments from the 1950s - we love it all! We change it up every year to keep it fresh.

And every year we vow to get an earlier start and be more organized and are always determined to put things away in a more orderly fashion - none of which has yet to happen. It's usually just a happy chaos, which is also part of the family tradition.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Remembering John L. Burns

Born in 1794, John L. Burns was already a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War when he volunteered to be a combat soldier in the Civil War, at the age of 70. Barred from the fight, he worked driving wagons in support of the troops until he was sent home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was appointed constable.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, John Burns walked to the scene of the fighting and fell in with a regiment. He was later described thus, by Major Thomas Chamberlin: "(his dress) consisted of dark trousers and a waistcoat, a blue 'swallow tail' coat with burnished brass buttons, such as used to be affected by well-to-do gentlemen of the old school about 40 years ago, and a high black silk hat, from which most of the original gloss had long departed, of a shape to be found only in the fashion plates of the remote past."

He fought alongside the famous Iron Brigade, and being an accomplished sharpshooter, he shot a charging Confederate officer off his horse. As Confederates advanced and the Union line fell back, Burns was wounded in the leg, arm and chest and he was left behind in the field to fend for himself. He buried his ammo and crawled away from his rifle, convincing the Confederate troops he was just wandering the battlefield, seeking aid for his sick wife. The Confederates treated his wounds and he later crawled away to the cellar of the nearest house and was eventually taken home.

Word of his exploits and devotion to the Union cause spread quickly and the famous Matthew Brady sent his photographer Timothy H. O'Sullivan to make a picture of John Burns, recovering from his wounds at his home in Gettysburg. Posing with his rifle and crutches, Burns became a national hero. When Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the memorial there, he also met with John Burns.

Friday, December 12, 2008

White Rock, Psyche & Santa

For some reason, we don't see White Rock soda in these parts any more, but it was a staple in most supermarkets and our favorite when we were kids. It didn't taste much different from the other sodas, but definitely had the best logo, and that was reason alone to choose it. The White Rock soda lady is actually Psyche, famous lover of Cupid in Greek and Roman mythology.

The White Rock Company was founded in 1871 in Waukesha, Wisconsin and initially bottled water from a natural spring the Potawtomi Indians believed contained healing powers. Popular as a remedy, within 5 years, the bottled mineral water was being sold all across the country.

Many credit Coca-Cola with being the first company to popularize Santa Claus as a marketing tool. Not so. White Rock first used the jolly old soul in 1915 to pitch their water and again in 1923 for their ginger ale.

The company still makes seltzers, mixes and sodas, and the White Rock lady is still a great logo.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Passel Of Hummingbirds

Happy hummingbirds for a hectic Thursday. These little fellows are always busy collecting nectar from a myriad of blossoms, shown here with Mexican salvia, hibiscus and the blossom of an orchid tree. That's an Anna's hummingbird in the last shot, taking a break and watching the world.

Thanks to Chris Mayne, local wildlife photographer, for the beautiful shots.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Pursuit Of Happiness

Nowadays, you see actors portray surfers in commercials and corporate types don wetsuits at "surf retreats". Long time surfers disdain the current cultural surf saturation. Fortunately, passion and raw talent can still combine to transcend a sport and make it an art form.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking Back In Calfiornia

This picture was taken just up the coast at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1880. It captures such a charming scene of old California. The arched adobe arcade looks much the same today.

The twenty-one missions are the oldest structures in the state of California. Mission San Juan Capistrano was originally founded in 1775 as a way station between the missions in San Diego and San Gabriel. Eight days after the founding in San Juan Capistrano, a padre was killed by Indians at San Diego de Alcala, so the mission bells were buried and the padres departed.

A year later, on Nov. 1, 1776, the padres returned, dug up the bells, and the mission was re-founded, named for St. John of Capistrano, Italy. It wasn't until 1791 that the bell tower was completed and the bells hung. For the previous 15 years, they had been hanging in a tree.

The photograph is courtesy of the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Blithe Spirit

As the days keep getting shorter and colder, here's a favorite look back to sunnier days and warmer water.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Until the late 1800s, Pearl Harbor on Oahu in Hawaii was known mostly for its pearl producing oysters. Today marks the 67th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan on December 7, 1941. At 7:55 AM, the first wave of 183 planes struck in a sneak attack that took the United States Navy completely by surprise. A second wave of 180 mostly torpedo bombers struck at 8:30 AM. When the smoke had cleared, 2,350 people were killed. Of that total, 1,177 were on the battleship Arizona, which was hit with an armor piercing bomb that detonated the ship's ammunition hold. It sunk within minutes. All told, 9 ships were sunk and 21 severely damaged, 3 beyond repair. The course of world history was forever altered and the United States entered World War II.

My dad was 15 when the attack occurred. He joined the Navy on his 17th birthday and served in the Marshall and Solomon Islands. Thanks to him and the millions of other guys like him who answered the call, for all of us, then and now.

The photograph is from American military archives, and was captured at the end of the war. It shows Japanese Navy bombers lined up and ready to takeoff on their first bombing run to Pearl Harbor. The ship in the background is the carrier Soryu.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Guest In The Garden

Daffodils are supposed to deter gophers. My garden has hundreds of daffodils, planted with forethought and strategy. Clusters of Dutch iris bulbs are planted and then surrounded by a fortress of daffodils. But all the planning and planting have been no match for one bold little gopher with an outsized appetite. He appeared yesterday, apparently to enjoy the autumn sun while he chewed grass and watched the Christmas lights going up.

We've encouraged him to find new digs. All the smoke bombs, neighborhood cats and garden hoses have been to no avail. The camera's shutter caused nary a shudder. It seems he's staked his ground and that's that. Now, if only he would develop a taste for weeds...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Deadwood's Volunteer Firefighters

Pictured above on the Fourth of July, 1888, are the twelve members of the Chinese Hose Team of America, in Deadwood, the Dakota Territories. Not just any hose team, these twelve men, posing in their uniforms, had just won the great Hub-to-Hub race in Deadwood, which pitted volunteer fire crews against one another to see who had the quickest response time and most agility. The victors posed proudly for photographer John H.C. Grabill.

Had there been a first prize for best dressed, they would surely have won that, as well.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gregarious Loafers

Pictured is a black skimmer, the only bird to have a lower mandible longer than the upper and cat-like vertical irises. This tropical and subtropical seabird flies low over the surface of the water and catches fish by touch.

The females lay eggs on sandy beaches, 3-7 at a time, and once the eggs hatch, the babies burrow themselves down, as the entire adult colony will leave at night to forage. The colonies have been described thus: "They spend much of their time loafing gregariously on sandbars in rivers, coasts and lagoons they frequent". Some skimmers winter as far afield as the Caribbean, but many chose to stay over in southern California.

The photographs were captured by Chris Mayne at the San Joaquin Nature Reserve in Irvine, 45 miles north of here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When Flowers Speak Japanese

The Japanese have long attached meanings to different flowers, as a way to express feelings that could not otherwise be spoken. Japanese greeting cards still follow the traditional language and symbolism of individual flowers, called Hanakotobu. It is a frequent theme in anime. The symbolic use of flowers and their language dates back to ancient times and is precise enough to have nuances amongst different colors of the same flower. For instance, among camellias, white signifies waiting, while yellow stands for longing and red means in love. The daffodil represents respect and the dahlia good taste, while the daisy symbolizes faith and the hibiscus gentleness.

Western Victorians also had a language of flowers and those flower meanings are remarkably similar to Hanakotobu. The advertising slogan "Say It With Flowers" takes on a whole new meaning when one has the language of flowers in mind.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Santa Claus School

Some years back, any would-be Santa Claus seeking employment for the Christmas season needed to pass a course and get certification at a Santa Claus school. This 1961 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt is from Life Magazine's archives. These soon to be department store Santas learn to adjust their wigs and beards just so.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Two weeks into the project and it's still a jumble of boxes and tissue paper as the Christmas collection reappears. We keep getting sidetracked by sunny skies, low tides and gardening. The warm weather has the bulbs confused and some of the Dutch irises have grown 18 inches tall already.

There are still several thousand lights to string on the front of the house. All in good time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Other Grand Canyon ~ Waimea

4 million years ago, as the volcano that formed the island of Kauai was still erupting, part of the island collapsed and formed Waimea Canyon. Over the years, the sides have been eroded by the ebb and flow of the Waimea River, fed steadily by water from Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on Earth. Ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep, the canyon floor is far removed from the tourism hustle and bustle of the Hawaiian coast.

Located on the west side of Kauai, the sound of the river rushing and the wind predominate. There are waterfalls and pools, some small gravelly beaches along the river, and colorful canyon walls that seem to rise forever. Day hiking is most common, and overnight camping not recommended for the faint of heart. That rustling you hear in the bushes nearby is likely to be a wild boar!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Home From The Sea

That's the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the newest and largest in the whole fleet, making its ways into its home port of San Diego on November 25th after a six month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Collectively known as Carrier Strike Group 7, the guided missile destroyers USS Decatur and USS Gridley, guided missile frigate USS Thach, guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville and the USS Ronald Reagan, with a total of 5,500 crew aboard, returned home just in time for the holidays.

Aviators from the ships flew 1,150 sorties in support of coalition troops in Afghanistan, providing security on the ground and at sea. They unexpectedly diverted to the Philippines last summer in the aftermath of Typhoon Fengshen, rendering humanitarian aid and airlifting a total of 260 tons of fresh water, rice and medical supplies nonstop over eight days.

Thanks to the US Navy for the photograph, taken by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class David Brandenburg.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thomas & The Trees

Thomas the cat stops by for a visit almost every day. He's intrigued with all the new sights and smells as the Christmas decorations come out of the boxes. He takes an occasional swat at a low hanging pine cone, but for the most part is just happy to be where the action is and observe the goings-on as we decorate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Living in one's hometown means lots of family at the holidays. There'll be four generations of us gathered together. We all live within a couple miles of each other, so although we see each other throughout the year, it's good to get together and mark the milestones, keep the traditions going and express our thanks for what we have.

The Thanksgiving postcard above is by Raphael Tuck. He started printing cards in 1866 in London and soon found favor with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His three sons joined him in the business in 1871, the year they printed their first Christmas card. They had great success and eventually produced postcards, scrapbooks, die cut cards, greeting cards and puzzles in London, Paris and New York. Raphael Tuck & Sons continued printing into the 20th century. They put the picture postcard on the map, so to speak.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sharing With Those Who Serve

Sending a package overseas to our troops couldn't be easier. The post office has a special flat rate box that ships to Iraq, Afghanistan, or any place in the world where Americans are serving to protect our freedoms here at home. The package ships for a mere $12.95. If you don't have friends or family overseas, there are many websites you can access to chose a recipient. "Any Soldier" is a good one. Things we take for granted at home are a major treat for our sons and daughters stationed abroad. Beef jerky, new socks, chewing tobacco, hand sanitizer, lip balm, Cup-o-Noodles, music CDs, magazines - they're easy to please!

There's not much news lately from Iraq - the media must have lost interest when things started going so well. But we've still got tens of thousand of dedicated Americans there and elsewhere, so far from their homes and loved ones. If you can, please consider filling a box and mailing it off in the next few days, in time for Christmas. It may be the best gift you give.