It’s American Dog Derby Time!

Ashton Dog Derby

Ashton Dog Derby


The small city of Ashton, Idaho, goes to the dogs this weekend, as it has for the past 97 years, when the American Dog Derby begins tomorrow, February 14, 2014.  This is, unfortunately, one of those years when too little snow and warm temperatures are combining to force some changes in the racing schedule, but the races will go on.  If you’ve never seen a sled dog race before, Ashton is the place to be.  They’re noisy, fun and exciting and you can get an up close look at winter transportation in the days before snowmobiles.

The first race, run in 1917, was a 55 mile run from West Yellowstone, Montana to Ashton with mushers facing a blinding blizzard the entire way.  Deep snow and high winds made the race a challenge for man and dog and caused the racers to hole up overnight because of the deep snows.  The next day Ashton entrant Tud Kent won the race in a time of 29 hours and 23 minutes.

The hero of this first dog race wasn’t the winner.  That honor went to a bulldog belonging to “Windriver” Smith, who came from “somewhere in Wyoming.”  Smith had three hounds, a shepherd and the bulldog as his string and when they hit the deep drifts the hounds refused to go on.  Smith put the bulldog in the lead to break trail and the little dog would sometime disappear completely as he burrowed through the drifts.  They came in last, but they finished first in the hearts of many of the spectators.

This isn’t the first year the races have had to be adjusted for a lack of snow.  In 1920 the race was cancelled due to a lack of snow brought on by weeks of unseasonably mild weather.  After race organizers made the difficult decision and word went out Mother Nature’s perverse sense of humor produced six inches of snow the night before the races would have been run.  Race organizers vowed to never again cancel a race.  In 1938 the race was run on wheeled sleds because of the lack of snow.  Mother Nature evened things out when the race did have to be cancelled because of too much snow in 1949.  The great winter of 1948-49 essentially shut down southeastern Idaho, along with much of the west, with heavy snows, subzero temperatures and high winds for some 13 weeks, beginning in late November.

Road to Drummon finally opened - winter 1948-49

Road to Drummond finally opened – winter 1948-49

If you go to the Derby expecting to see all Husky breeds competing, you’ll be disappointed.  There may be Samoyeds, Malamutes and Huskies in the race but you’re just as likely to see a wide variety of various breeds including Setters, Labs, Lab mixes, and various combinations of those and other breeds.  In 1926 one team entered was noteworthy because no two dogs were the same size, breed or color.  And the arguments about which breeds are the best undoubtedly still go on among the mushers.  Early mushers tended to agree that while Husky breed teams with their steady pace and endurance were ideal for longer distances the various mixed breed dogs were better for shorter distances on races of 25 miles where speed was more important.  You’ll just have to go to the races and decide for yourself.

Mixed bree dog team

Mixed breed dog team

One thing you can be assured of at the Dog Derby is entertainment.  While sled dogs are well trained they do get excited when they know it’s time to race.  Trying to get them harnessed and hooked in to the gang line and keep them all untangled until the race starts can be a trying experience.  They bark, bounce, squeal and hurl insults at other teams. You hang on for dear life and hope the rope securing dogs and sled until the race starts is very sturdy.  When that rope is released, look out!  More than one hapless musher has been left at the starting line because he didn’t have a good grip.  And this brings up one of the cardinal rules of dog mushing:  Never let go of your sled.  Being left at the starting line isn’t as bad as losing your sled and team somewhere along the trail and having to walk back.  The dogs don’t stop.  I’ve seen races where the dogs came in first but it doesn’t count without the musher.

Once the race is on and the dogs settle in a bit, the unexpected can still happen.  The dog sled is light and has only a very basic brake which usually consists of a spring-loaded wood plank attached to the sled bed at one end and has a metal or wooden hook at the back.  When the musher wants to stop he steps down on the brake, driving the hook into the snow, and hollers at his team  These effforts may or may not work, depending on the size of the musher and the enthusiasm of the dogs.

Your Basic Dog Sled

Your Basic Dog Sled

One year Dog Derby organizers decided it would be great entertainment for the crowds to drop a team of dogs, sled and musher by parachute from a plane.  The plan was for the musher, Lewis Price, to then hook up his team of Samoyeds to the sled and ride triumphantly back to the starting line.  All went well with the jump – until one of the dogs landed on a rabbit which happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The dogs all went off in happy pursuit of the rabbit, leaving a very frustrated musher to walk back to the starting line.  Lewis had a very colorful vocabulary and exercised most of it, which my cousins and I found most enlightening.

Lewi Price (kneeling) and his dog team just before being parachuted onto the race track at the Dog Derby.

Lewi Price (kneeling) and his dog team just before being parachuted onto the race track at the Dog Derby.

They may not drop dogs from airplanes at the Dog Derby any more, but you’ll find plenty of excitement and fun at the Dog Derby.  For information on the events and times, check out the Dog Derby’s web site and go have fun!

American Dog Derby

American Dog Derby

My 2014 New Year’s Blessing For Everyone



It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to brush off last year’s new year’s resolutions which have been buried since last mid-January under a stack of paperwork, realize you didn’t keep one of them, and resolve to do much better this year.  This time you even tack the pristine list up on the bulletin board where you can see it every time you sit down at your desk.

I’ve never figured out quite why it’s any use making a resolution to start your diet or go to the gym on the first day of the new year.  The house is full of left-overs from last night’s New Year’s Eve party, and everyone is coming over today to bring goodies for watching the mindless procession of parades and football games which will keep you firmly lodged on the couch unless you run out of beer.

By the evening of New Year’s Day you’re quite sure you’ll throw up if you eat anything else and besides the only pair of pants you can fit into by now still lets you sit down and breathe at the same time and you’ve convinced yourself things can’t be all that bad.  However, if the scales are smart they’ll stay hidden until sometime around the 4th of July.  Then the gang decides to go out to the new restaurant down the street which has 27 new varieties of daiquiris half price and and a buffet full of appetizers.    Scratch that resolution.

In your food-induced stupor you finally decide to heck with those resolutions.  We’ll get started tomorrow, or next week, or maybe, well we’ll have to set up a meeting to talk about it.

I finally decided to cut out the angst of deciding on New Year’s resolutions and the guilt trip that comes from not managing to make it one full day without breaking at least half the resolutions.  I don’t make any.  It’s so much less painful and starts the new year out on the bright note of knowing you can’t break what you didn’t make.

And for all of you out there who may be entering the New Year worried about troubles of any kind, especially on how to keep your resolutions, I leave you with this wish:



I’m Late, I’m Late…



One of my cousins reminded me at a recent summer family gathering that I hadn’t posted anything to my blog “for quite awhile.”  “Um, well, no I haven’t but it hasn’t been that long.”  “Oh, only since Christmas.”  “Well, see, it’s not that long ago.  It’s only been…”  Having dredged up a calendar in my mind and realizing it was not only 2013 it was August I did a mental “Oops.”  Now it’s November and the “Oops” is even bigger.  Mentally I still haven’t made it much past Labor Day despite the fact it’s trying to snow outside and the sparrows are skating on their water dish.

retiredSince I am still on the planet, I really must apologize for being so slow in posting anything.  Being retired, my brain tends to view “I’ll do it tomorrow” as “next week, sometime…maybe.”  Added to that are a winter, spring and early fall that left hubby and me definite believers in the adage “growing old isn’t for wimps.”  Since reading detailed discussions of someone else’s medical ailments is about as much fun as watching paint dry, suffice it to say we’ve both been doing our share to keep the medical establishment in our area occupied.  If it weren’t for various doctor and lab visits our social calendar would be right empty.  Ah, well, at least we are reasonably well, still able to complain and determined not to do so much of that after seeing some of the folks who are less fortunate than we are in the health department.

Whether you just got here for the first time or have come back to see if I’ve finally done something constructive, thanks for visiting!  For your troubles, I’m offering thank-you’s of flowers and candy.  Both virtual, of course, but that’s about all I can supply since the flowers are long gone and I ate all the candy.

The Flowers

My grandmother, then in her 90′s

Lilacs have always been one of my favorite flowers.  I think it’s in my genes because both my grandmother and mother loved lilacs.  Actually they’re a tree, part of the syringa family, and migrated across the United States with pioneers.  Today a hardy, persistent lilac tree may be the only remaining sign of a pioneer homestead.  Now days I have to enjoy them outside, because their fragrance sends me into sneezing fits, but when the first blooms come out it’s worth it.

If lilacs aren’t your thing, how about pansies?  They were another favorite of Grandma’s and the path to her pansieshouse was lined with pansies, mostly lavender and purple, growing beneath the lilacs.  These, too, came with the pioneers to bring a touch of the familiar to new gardens so far away from home.  Grandma had other flowers she loved as well.  One peony plant which grows alongside their house must be getting close to 75 years old and still blooms.  Over the years it has provided starts for just about everyone in the family who wants a reminder of the place where our roots grow deep.


Take your pick, or take all of them!!

The Candy

While I have a hard time picking out one favorite flower, there’s no doubt about my favorite candy.  The Black Walnut Candy Bar, made by Farr Candy Company in Idaho Falls, Idaho, wins, hands down.  It’s a rich black walnut fondant bar hand dipped in dark chocolate.  The 1 oz. size may seem small, but trust me, it’s all you’ll need!  In fact you might find yourself cutting it into smaller portions since it doesn’t take much to satisfy almost any sweet tooth.


Farr’s, which has been in business since 1911, is an area icon, making both candy bars and a wide variety of ice cream and frozen desserts.  I remember eating black walnut candy bars as a kid, but then they disappeared from the market for a long time.  I almost gave the poor clerk at ShipPro a heart attack earlier this spring when I spied my first black walnut bar in years and shouted “They’re back!”  I ordered a box from the company and when it was slow arriving I called to find out what had happened.

Owner Kevin Call said black walnut bars were a perennial favorite over the years for everyone except perhaps Farr employees since they’re difficult to make and dipped by hand.  Because of the time involved they don’t make them very often, but I finally snagged a box.  He even hand delivered it to me since the deadline had passed for shipping them by mail.  They melt easily so once it turns too warm in the spring the company won’t mail them until fall.  I keep my stash in the freezer and haul one out periodically as a special treat.  It’s good my husband doesn’t really care for them because they’re one thing I’m definitely not good at sharing.

Pick up your favorite candy, come back for a visit and let us know why it’s your favorite.  I’m always on the lookout for new sugar fixes to try.

Oh, Christmas Tree…


National Christmas Tree, Washington DC, 1972
photo by Helen McMullin

On Christmas Eve 1923 President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and threw the switch on the first National Christmas Tree, a 48 foot Balsam fir from his home state of Vermont decorated with 2,500 red, white and green bulbs.  A local choir and quartet from the U.S. Marine Band provided music for the occasion. I couldn’t find any records on how many people may have attended that first ceremony.

Now, 90 years later, the official lighting ceremony is so popular that attendance is by ticket only.  This year the 17,000 free tickets to the ceremony were distributed through an on-line lottery which ran from October 25 to October 29. The ceremony marks the beginning of the Pageant of Peace, a three week Christmas tradition which draws thousands of visitors and is free.  In addition to the national tree, a “Pathway of Peace” winds past 56 smaller trees representing the 50 states, five territories and District of Columbia which are decorated by sponsoring organizations from each state.  Other displays include model trains and Santa’s workshop, complete with Santa and his elves, reindeer from the National Zoo, and a wide variety of musical entertainment.

The lighting ceremony itself is one of those events where the best (and certainly warmest) view is from your couch, hot chocolate in hand, watching on tv.  That being said, everyone should be there in person at least once, for it is a very special experience.

I’ve only attended once, back in 1972 when I was working as a Park Ranger on an extended training assignment in Washington, DC with the U.S. Park Police.  It was an interesting time to be in Washington.  Richard Nixon had just been reelected for a second term, America was still embroiled in the Viet Nam war and the Watergate scandal was just beginning to rear its ugly head.  The Pageant of Peace that year had the potential to be anything but peaceful.

The 1972 National Christmas Tree was a 70 foot Engelmann Spruce from the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming.  It was decorated with 9,000 green bulbs, 1,000 clear twinkling bulbs and 250 five-inch globes.  In addition to the 57 smaller (12 foot) trees, other displays included a life-size Nativity scene, lighted at night, a traditional Yule log, kept burning 24 hours a day during the pageant, and Santa’s reindeer, courtesy of the National Zoo. 

The reindeer became an unintended source of amusement for many of us working the Pageant.  It was apparently near the end of their breeding season according to Zoo folks and being confined in a small enclosure with nothing much else to do all day the reindeer regularly became rather amorous – usually about the same time bus loads of school kids descended on the Pageant.  More than once we were accosted by indignant teachers or parents demanding that “those disgusting beasts” be removed.  But they had their advantages, too.  If any small boys went missing, we learned they could usually be found at the reindeer enclosure hoping to improve their biology education.

The entire display required an enormous amount of power and extra circuits had to be provided by the power company.  Huge electrical cables snaked under the public walkways laid down over the grass and made walking outside the public areas an obstacle course challenge.  There had been snow on the ground, but as I remember, the day of the Pageant the temperature climbed into the mid 40′s and it rained – and then rained some more.  The snow melted, the grass churned up into a muddy morass and the walkways were wet and slick.  And it kept raining.  Which did not deter the visitors who poured into the President’s Park for the lighting ceremony, umbrellas, tarps and other coverings at the ready. 

Mainenance and electrical personnel scurried around trying to get last minute items taken care of and keep electrical equipment dry.  An electrician came by and ripped a tarp off the top of what looked like the tomb snake scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”  Electrical cables twisted and wound their way in all directions out of a huge box which sat in a low spot that was beginning to attract a puddle.  He plunged into the middle of the mess muttering “I hope this works, I hope this works,” made some adjustments, ripped the tarp back over the mess and disappeared into the rain, still muttering. 

As darkness approached, visitors, police, security personnel, and other behind-the-scenes workers, along with politicians, dignitaries and performers, gathered around and in the covered stage, trying to stay reasonably dry.  You could tell those of us who had been there for awhile – we squished and squelched.  I was glad for my Smokey Bear hat which at least kept rain from running down the back of my neck. 

Despite the weather, the crowd was cheery.  Looking back, security was far different from that of today.  The Park Police, DC Metropolitan Police and other agencies responsible for security and crowd contol were (and are) old hands at large gatherings and demonstrations. While we kept a watchful eye on people, there was no sudden rush to pounce if we spotted someone with strange bulges under their raincoats.  If we couldn’t figure out what musical instrument they were trying to keep dry, we asked. 

While the Marine Band was tuning up, the electrician appeared and dove into the cable snake pile again.  “I hope this is gonna work,” he muttered.  “I dunno which is gonna light up when the Vice President throws the switch, him or the damn tree.”  My partner and I moved a bit further back from the stage.










The program went off more or less as scheduled, although where politicians and dignitaries are concerned, time is a relative matter.  The only hiccup occured when Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton and Vice President Agnew engaged in a short but intense whispered exchange just back from the microphones.  These two big men – Morton stood 6’6, Agnew 6’2 – dominated the stage.  We couldn’t hear what they were saying but my partner said “Maybe they’re arguing over who has to throw the switch for the tree.”  This did not amuse the electrician who was still hovering nearby.

Finally, the moment came.  The Vice President finished his speech, all the lights were turned out around the Ellipse and Agnew threw the switch.  There was a moment of silence, the electrician took in a deep breath and held it, and then the National Tree began to light.  The electrician’s small whoop of joy was lost in the oohs and ahhs that rose from the crowd rose as the lights blazed to life from bottom to top, ending with the huge star on top . 

 The tree lights shimmered in the rain, with the Washington Monument glowing softly in the background on one side and behind us in the distance,President and Mrs. Nixon could be seen standing at the second floor windows of the White House, looking out.

There was almost complete silence in the crowd for a few moments and then, softly, a voice began singing “Silent Night.”  Slowly at first, other voices joined, until before long the Park was full of the sounds of the familiar hymn.  For a few minutes, weather and differences forgotten, we were one, reminded of the reason we celebrate this special season.

Merry (Politically Incorrect) Christmas


Yesterday I went to our local Walgreens to do some quick shopping and was almost inside before I realized the Salvation Army Bell Ringer just outside the door had actually said “Merry Christmas” as I went by instead of delivering the usual “Happy Holidays” or other politically correct greeting you usually hear from these folks.  I just had to go back outside make sure I wasn’t hearing things but sure enough, the smiling young lady was wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” as they went into the store.

I said “Thank you for that.  It’s so nice to hear someone saying ‘Merry Christmas’ now days.”  She said “I refuse to say ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’  ‘Merry Christmas’ is a part of long-standing Christmas tradition and I believe in tradition.  If people don’t like it, they don’t need to listen.” 

I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed the cheery “Merry Christmas!” greetings that always used to float through the air this time of year until I heard her.  In the push to be politically correct and not offend anyone so many have taken all the joy, color and tradition out of a very special time of year.  And if “Merry Christmas” doesn’t ring your bells this time of year, I like to hear “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Feliz Navidad” or whatever greeting is special to your particular religion or belief this time of year in return.  Even “Bah, humbug!” is better than “Happy Holidays.”  America may be one big melting pot but it’s never been a generic melting pot with everyone lumped into one big colorless lump of sameness.  The blend of cultures, religions and beliefs is what, to me, has always made this country great and what better time of year to celebrate and enjoy all that diversity than now.

Merry Christmas!  And if you have a different greeting special to this time of year, please share it, and its origins.

Happy Halloween!

What are your favorite Halloween stories or movies? Which ones scare you into keeping the light on all night or just plain not sleeping at all? Or do scary stories bother you at all?

Ichabod Crane and The Headless Horseman, by William Wilgus 1856 Public Domain from

Washington Irving’s short story “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in 1817 (or 1820, depending on what source you look at) is still a scary story.  For some a story about being chased at night by a horseman with a pumpkin for a head may sound just plain silly but when I was growing up we lived in the country and it didn’t take much for my overactive imagination to come up with some vivid mental pictures.  Needless to say, my folks didn’t have to worry where I was after dark.

Then came Walt Disney’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 1949.  I still get shivers when I watch it.  I’m not quite sure why when I look at it rationally.   Ichabod certainly isn’t your idea of a brave and dashing hero.  Gawky, awkward and downright homely, he’s the 1820 version of today’s socially inept nerd.  And then there’s his horse.  It looks like it was put together with whatever parts were leftover from assembling a moose.  On the whole they’re an unappealing pair and then comes the question of why anyone would be dumb enough to ride alone through those woods at that time of night.  Of course something is going to happen.  Just listen to the music.

And then comes the headless horseman.  I don’t know about you, but for me that sight, in the middle of the woods on a dark and windy night, would be one of those cases where first I’d say it and then I’d do it.  Definitely new underwear time.  And that’s before the pumpkin appears.  Or the glowing red eyes and nostrils.  Forget it.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching.  If you have watch it again.  It’s one of our Halloween traditions.


My other favorite Halloween story, or poem, if you will, isn’t specific to Halloween but for me it certainly fits .

The Highwayman” is a narrative poem written by Alfred Noyes which was first published in August 1906. The following year it was included in a collection of Noyes’ works, becoming an immediate success. 

I found this image on multiple web pages but never with an notation to where it came from. If anyone knows, please tell me!

The poem, set in 18th century England, tells the story of an unnamed highwayman who is in love with Bess, an innkeeper’s daughter. Betrayed to the authorities by a stableman, the highwayman escapes ambush when Bess sacrifices her life to warn him. Learning of her death he dies himself in a futile attempt at revenge, shot down on the highway. In the final stanza, the ghosts of the lovers meet again on winter nights.

Noyes, age 24, had taken rooms in a cottage in at the edge of a desolate stretch of land called Bagshot Heath in West Surrey, England. In his autobiography, he recalled: “‘The Highwayman’ suggested itself to me one blustery night when the sound of the wind in the pines gave me the first line.”

The Highwayman

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—


“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”


He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.
He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.


They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.


They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!


She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!


The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.


Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.


Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.


He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.


Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.


And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
Whether you like scary, slasher, funny or spooky, have a HAPPY, safe Halloween and drive fly safely.


The Funny, Fascinating, Frightening “F”

For the past several weeks various bloggers I follow have been playing the Letter Game floating around blogger cyber-space.  The game’s only rule seems to be to get a random letter from another blogger and then blog about ten things that begin with that letter.  The results are witty, thought-provoking and downright funny and kept tempting me to participate, but I resisted, given the list of things on my to-do list that I was already ignoring.  Then I lost my to-do list, read Jenny Hansen’s Titillating Tenacity of Tiny “T”on her Cowbell blog and decided I just had to do this.

from via Pinterest

Jenny gave me the letter “F”  to experiment with and I’ve been pondering it for several days.  There are lots of possibilities for F-words, but let’s face it, what’s the first F-word that comes to your mind??  Come on, be honest!  It’s a word I hate to hear and will only use if I get really, really angry, but it’s also the first one that popped into my mind.  So, rather than write around the elephant in the room, I thought perhaps I’d confront it first. 



The F-Word, The F-Bomb, or whatever you prefer to call it, or not call it, has been around a surprisingly long time.  The first generally accepted written occurence is in a poem composed sometime before 1500, but it was used far more extensively in common speech than in traceable writings, so it’s hard to pinpoint its exact origins.  Its meaning, however, has never changed, and it appears the word has always been considered obscene.  If you’re really bored some day there are a number of interesting Urban Legends that have grown up about various acronymns that try to explain how the word was formed, but its origins go back much further.  So much for today’s generations thinking they’ve discovered a new and original word to shock their parents.

OK, so much for the elephant.  Now on to better and more entertaining F-words.

#1.  Fudge.  One of my favorite food groups and a guaranteed way to get your chocolate and sugar fixes all at once.  The fudge recipe in our family, which goes back at leat 3 generations,  is very simple:

3 c. sugar
1 c. milk (dilute half if canned milk used)
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
Mix sugar, cocoa and milk, cook to soft ball stage.  Remove pan from heat and place in cold water to cool.  Add vanilla and butter, stir to creamy consistency and pour out onto buttered dish or pan.  If fresh, whole milk is available it makes marvelously creamy fudge.

It can be a bit tricky – let it cool too long and you get a pan full of hard sugar.  I learned to get it right from watching my Mom make it and then having her look over my shoulder while I finished a batch.  My husband had never tried this variety of fudge before and it’s still too sugary for him.  I, on the other hand, still have a hard time getting used to the stickier sweetened milk and/or marshmallow creme varieties.

#2.  French Fries.  I’m from Idaho, smack dab in the middle of the land of famous Idaho potatoes.  I grew up on potatoes and I love them in just about any style, but French fries are probably my favorite.  When we were kids out horseback riding we’d go along the edge of a potato field, dig up raw potatoes and eat them, dirt and all.  One of the horses we rode also loved raw potatoes, so you’d have to get an extra for him, too. 


from wikimedia commons

#3.  Fireflies.  We don’t have fireflies in Idaho.  I was always fascinated reading about them in various children’s stories and thought how much more fun they’d be than the moths and gnats we got at night.  As an adult, I went with my Mother to Branson, Missouri and one evening we attended an outdoor performance of “Shepherd of the Hills.”  As dusk settled over the packed crowd the fireflies began winking on and off throughout the trees, over our heads and across the stage, lending a mystical fairyland atmosphere to the play.  It was totally enchanting.


#4.  Francis Crawford.  The hero of Dorothy Dunnett’s six volume “The Lymond Chronicles,”  historical fiction which tells the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman.  Spanning the years from 1547-1558 and spreading across Europe, the Near East, Russia and Scotland the books weave fictional characters with real life historical figures.  She weaves a fascinating web of plots and subplots, romance, wild chases, and comedy into her novels.  Think Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Antonio Banderas as Zorro, combine them with any swashbuckling hero of your choice and you have Francis.  If you like historical fiction, you’ll love Francis, but beware:  he’s not an easy read – you have to pay attention. 


#5.  Frightening.  With Halloween just around the corner, the usual run of horror and slasher movies are showing up on tv once more.  I’ve never been a fan of the “slasher” movies – maybe it’s because there are only so many ways you can stab, slash and dismember someone before all those assorted body parts and fake blood become rather boring.  Give me a good old Vincent Price movie any day.  His characters were creepy, evil and downright scary and his silky, sinister voice sent chills up our spines during Saturday matinees.  Although he played a variety of film and theater roles over his long career he’s probably best known for his creepy villains in horror movies.  Even when he was doing campy takeoffs on horror movies he was still scary.  Off-screen, he was a noted gourmet cook, authoring several cookbooks – we still use his recipe for prime rib and Yorkshire pudding over the holidays.  He was also an art collector and for a number of years Sears offered “The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art,” with Price selecting and commissioning the works offered for sale.

#6.  Frankenweenie.  The first version of Tim Burtons’ movie in 1984 was a 30 minute live action parody of the 1931 Frankenstein movie, this time featuring a bull terrier named Sparky, who is hit by a car and then brought back to life by his young owner.  It’s cute, especially since it includes a bull terrier, my favorite dog breed, but a bit unsettling even though the actual accident is never seen.  The 2012 version is an 87 minute stop action 3D animation released earlier this month.  I haven’t seen it yet but it’s getting basically good reviews.  The new Sparky is fueling an enthusiastic collecting frenzy among my bull terrier friends.

#7.  Frankenstein.  It’s amazing what an impact a book written by an 18 year old girl in 1818 still has today.  Originally titled “Frankenstein:  The Modern Prometheus,” it still inspires plays, movies, video games, and derivative works around the world.  The character of the monster is one of the most recognized icons in horror fiction.  Originally the monster was nameless but who remembers it should be “Frankenstein’s monster” for the doctor who created it? And is there anyone who does not automatically picture Boris Karloff as the monster?  He played the monster in the original 1931 movie and two sequels and went on to play sinister characters in many different movies.  In real life, however,  he was a quiet, gentle man who contributed to children’s charities and for many years dressed as Father Christmas to hand out presents to physically disabled children in a Baltimore hospital.


#8.  Finished.  As in “That’s all, folks!”  I could go on forever but this is quite long enough!  But tell me, what are your favorite F-words??

Atta Boy, Chuck Yeager

On Sunday, October 14, 2012, most media attention was focused on 43 year old Felix Baumgartner as he became the first skydiver to break the sound barrier as he jumped from a balloon from 23 miles above the earth over New Mexico.

On that same day, an F-15 took off from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and flying at 33,000 feet over the Mohave Desert “laid down a pretty good sonic boom” over Edwards Air Force Base in California.  It was almost exactly 65 years ago to the minute, on October 14, 1947, that the same pilot, in an experimental jet dropped from a B-29 bomber, became the first test pilot to officially break the sound barrier over the same Edwards Air Force Base.

“Retired” Brigadier General Chuck Yeager is now 89 years old.  So much for being put out to pasture.  He admits he didn’t pilot the F-15 all the way, but he was at the controls when they broke the sound barrier and finished off the flight with a fly-by to buzz the tower on the return to Nellis.

General Yeager has always been one of my heroes.  I’m not sure where I first encountered his story but I do remember seeing documentary footage of his X1 flight and reading about him when I was a kid.  For the most part, though, he wasn’t well known outside military and aviation circles until publication in 1979 of Thomas Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff,” about early test pilots and American astronauts, followed by the movie in 1983.  Suddenly he and other test pilots of the 1940′s and 1950′s were given some of the recognition they so richly deserved for their roles in flying and testing experimental aircraft that continually pushed to go higher, further and faster than the ones before. He wasn’t eligible to become a NASA astronaut because he hadn’t been to college, but nearly half of the astronauts who served in the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs were graduates of his Air Force Aerospace Research Pilots School. 

Chuck Yeager in X-1 “Glamorous Glennis.” Photo from USAF via Wikimedia Commons

His career began in World War II as a Private in the United States Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic in September 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of Flight Officer becoming a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany and in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and in recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units he then was promoted to brigadier general. Yeager’s flying career spans more than 60 years and has taken him to every corner of the globe. On March 1, 1975 he retired from the Air Force at Norton Air Force Base, but still occasionally flew for the USAF and NASA as a consulting test pilot at Edwards AFB. For his consultant work to the Test Pilot School Commander at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager was paid one dollar annually, along with all the flying time he wanted. The $1 allowed him to be covered by workers compensation. 

In 2004, Congress voted to authorize the President to promote Yeager to the rank of major general on the retired list. In 2005, President George W. Bush granted the promotion of both Yeager and (posthumously) air-power pioneer Billy Mitchell to major general.  Only Mitchell and Jimmy Stewart had previously been recipients of post-retirement promotions.

Chuck Yeager is unquestionably the most famous test pilot of all time and is considered by many to be one of the best pilots of all time. He proved on Sunday (as if he needed to!) that he unquestionably still has “The Right Stuff.”

“Where The Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder…”


Sunrise in Oklahoma through smoke from 1988 Yellowstone Fires Photo by Robert J. Rathgeber via Wikimedia Commons

 For most of the summer our skies have been smoky, courtesy of the massive fires in Idaho and other parts of the west.  This morning, once again, smoke turned the sunrise seeping through the blinds in our bedroom blood red.  In the words of Rudyard Kipling “…An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!” 

This line has always spoken to me when our sunrises are so vivid.  If they came with sound it would have to be rolling thunder, ominous and threatening, more than just a bit unsettling.

I don’t remember when I was first introduced to Kipling’s poetry but I’ve always loved it.  The pictures his poems painted fueled my imagination:

“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
The Ballad of East and West

copyright Peter Stackpole, from University of Arizona Libraries


“By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
Gunga Din

My mental picture of Gunga Din will forever and always be of Sam Jaffe playing the part in the 1939 movie,Gunga Din, starring Cary Grand, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen. 



“They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,
For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;
Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.”
Danny Deever

I had a vivid imagination and this one always made shivers run up and down my spine.

Did I mention that my taste in poetry did not run to the “sappy” stuff when I was growing up? I read Elizabeth Browning and Robert Browning somewhere along the way but I was definitely not a romantic, and “How do I love thee?” just didn’t do a thing for me. Give me Robert Service any day:

photo by Ian MacKenzie, from WikiMedia

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.”
The Ballad of Sam McGee

My cousin once memorized this whole poem when we were teenagers. Her taste in poetry was as weird as mine.

“So I buried him as the contract was
In a narrow grave and deep,
And there he’s waiting the Great Clean-up,
When the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate
In the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was,
The awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks,
Expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill –
And how hard he was to saw.”
The Ballad of Blasphemous BillMy first exposure to this poem was a recording by Hank Snow, whose voice was perfect for the Robert Service poems. The last line made my hair stand on end.

Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling were both fascinating literary figures who had the ability to paint such vivid pictures with their poetry that I was drawn into their very different worlds (although both wrote prose as well, it’s the poetry of both I remember best). They transported me from rural Idaho to exotic India and cold Alaska and opened up new horizons.

One summer in Yellowstone a seasonal ranger I worked with was given to suddenly spouting rather bawdy versions of what sounded like a Robert Service poem but turned out to be a parody by Edward E. Paramore, Jr., better known as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures. In the days before Google it took me forever to track down but it was worth the effort.

“But a hopeless rake was Yukon Jake,
The hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal!
And the dizzy maid he rebetrayed
And wrecked her immortal soul!…

Then he rowed her ashore, with a broken oar,
And he sold her to Dan McGrew
For a husky dog and some hot eggnog –
As rascals are wont to do.”

OK, this probably didn’t exactly expand my horizons, but it was great fun.

Probably the closest thing to a romantic poem that appealed to me as a teenager was The Highwayman by English poet and author Alfred Noyes.

I found this marvelous illustration on a number of web pages, but never any attribution. If anyone knows where it came from, please let me know.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–Riding–riding–
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. ”

It’s a tragic love story which can still make me teary-eyed, but so descriptive that it’s always been almost like watching a movie in my mind from the first time I read it.


How about you?  What poems, quirky or romatic, speak to you?  I’m not much of a poetry reader, so I’d be interested in hearing comments about poems/poets that are worth exploring, whether they’re old or new.