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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What’s Old is New Again

     In the 1960s and ‘70s, lighted ceramic Christmas trees were everywhere in the United States, and this year they seem to be making a comeback. These cheerful decorations have been around for about eighty years, so many may have been inherited from mothers and grandmothers but new ones are being advertised in a variety of outlets.

Debra Hines' Tree

     The earliest models appeared in the 1940s and were made by private craftspeople. As the figures gained popularity, they began to be commercially produced. The Atlantic Mold company copyrighted the first lighted ceramic tree in 1958. The traditional model is a green tree with ‘snow’ on the branches and multi-colored lights. But as more manufacturers entered the market, variability in size and colors were introduced. Initially, the lights were lit individually, but soon an easily replaceable single bulb in the hollow center of the tree became the source for lighting all of the bulbs.

     Popularity of these trees grew through the ‘60s, reaching its peak in the 1970s. As women wanted to produce their own decorations or handmade gifts, they flocked to classes at local ceramics shops to paint their own creations. This allowed many choices of paint and plastic ‘bulb’ colors. 

My Tree

     In the 1980s, the demand for the trees declined as did interest in ceramics as a hobby. At that time, I worked at the Iowa Veterans Home, where production of these decorations was still popular among the residents who frequented the Recreation Department’s ceramics workshop. I placed my order for a green tree with blue lights to match my holiday décor during my time there.

     In the 1990s many mold makers and ceramics manufacturers went out of business, merged, or discontinued making the lighted trees. This year interest has again surged. According to Country Living magazine (, lighted ceramic Christmas trees are “all the rage again.”

     Mine is out and shining brightly every night. Does your grandma have a lighted, ceramic Christmas tree? Your mother? You? 

Merry Christmas!

Ann Markim




Buy Links: Paperback at Amazon                     Amazon print or digital

Amazon Kindle 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Medieval Crowns and More

 Today I’m talking a bit about some lost medieval treasures that I would love to find.

Every girl and boy in England knows that King John was forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his powers, and that he lost the crown jewels in the Wash, the wide inlet of the North sea to the north of East Anglia, while travelling from Norfolk into Lincolnshire. Apparently John was ill and took a long route north, while sending the baggage on a short cut across the estuary of one of the rivers emptying into the Wash. The baggage train, slow and lumbering, was overwhelmed by the tide, and the jewels were lost. This seems like poor planning on the king's part, although in 2008 two geologists suggested that there might have been a local tsunami, possibly caused in turn by an underwater landslide, that made the incoming seas higher than normal.

With such a spectacular loss, conspiracies have added to the story. There is a legend that a monk called Brother Simon made off with the jewels, selling them round Europe to add riches to the Templar order. There is also a claim that the wily King John arranged for the jewels to 'disappear'. If he did, he didn't live to benefit from it - a few nights after that unfortunate crossing, he died of his illness. He was buried at Worcester, without any crowns.

What would these missing jewels have looked like? Were they even crowns? We know that King John loved collecting jewels and that he owned silver and gold plate. He also had the regalia he'd inherited from the Empress Maud. This regalia is missing from an inventory used by John's son Henry at his coronation as Henry III in 1220, so it would seem they were lost. However Roger de Wendover’s Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History), written around 1230, says that the lost treasure was ‘precious vessels, and all the other things which he cherished with special care’. Ralph of Coggeshall’s Chronicon Anglicanum says it was ‘his chapel with its relics … and diverse household effects’. None of these items sound like crowns or regalia.

There are surviving crowns from later periods, especially from the time of King Richard II. In his reign  he ordered that a treasure roll be drawn up, inventorying the crowns and jewels in his household. There are crowns (eleven of them), chaplets, brooches, circlets, small jewels, cups and ewers. The only surviving crown, sent to Bavaria for the marriage of Henry IV's daughter Blanche, is certainly very beautiful. Given the skill of goldsmiths throughout the ages, from Sutton Hoo, the Staffordshire Hoard and onwards, I imagine the jewels John lost were spectacular. If I could somehow dig down over twenty feet of silt (knowing first where to dig!), I would love to rediscover them.

People have always hidden and lost treasure, or used it in ways different to what the original owners or creators intended. In "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure" - which takes place before the reign of the unfortunate King John - the heroConrad and heroine Maggie are taken to see a holy relic. It is a gold torc and quite spectacular. 


Curious where he had not been greatly intrigued before, merely staying with Maggie to ensure she was safe, Conrad waited for the smoke of the priest’s spitting, damp torch to settle, and then looked for himself.

So much bright gold, was his first thought, while his brother Richard, naturally stretched out sticky fingers to paw at the pieces and Earl John intoned, “Roman, or earlier, and fit for a king.”

“This is the holy moon torc of Saint Oswald!” snapped the priest, keen to put the church’s ownership beyond doubt, “Discovered in a pond near here by my great-grandfather!”

“I have heard tell of such sacred wonders before,” said Conrad, hoping to prevent the priest and earl from saying more in anger or gold-greed that they could not take back.

Here is the torc I had in mind:

Lindsay Townsend 

Link to Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure here

Monday, December 13, 2021

Who's That Tapping on My Window?

What did you do before alarm clocks to wake up and make it to work on time?

In towns across England, workers would be roused from sleep by the sound of someone tapping at their bedroom window. On the street outside would be a figure wielding a long stick—the knocker upper.


The "knocker upper" was a common sight, in the towns where people worked shifts, in mining communities, even in London where dock workers, ruled by the tides, kept unusual hours.


In order to have a knocker-upper wake you, you could either put a note on your door saying when you wanted to be “knocked up,” or contact the knocker-upper directly in person and let them know when to bang on your window. Some houses had small slates attached to the outer wall where notes could be left requesting knocking up.


Caroline Jane Cousins, known by many as "Granny" Cousins, was born in Dorset in 1841 and became Poole's last knocker upper, waking brewery workers each morning until retiring in 1918.


Mrs. Bowers was a familiar sight in Sacriston, County Durham, where she and her dog, Jack, woke the miners working the early shift. She began knocking up during World War One and continued for many years. [Beamish, the Living Museum of the North] Take a look at the club she used.

Mary Smith, who used a pea shooter to pelt the windows of her clients, was a well-known knocker upper in east London in the 1930’s. She earned sixpence for each knocking up. Her daughter, Mary, followed in the family trade. Mary the younger is believed to have been one of the city’s last knocker uppers.


Though the trade continued in a few places until the 1970s, the spread of electricity and affordable alarm clocks meant knocking up died out in most places by the 1940s and 1950s.


Knocking up was immortalized in songs such as this one written by singer-song writer Mike Canavan, "The Knocker Upper Man":

   "Through cobbled streets, cold and damp, the knocker-upper man is creeping.

   "Tap, tapping on each window pane, to keep the world from sleeping..."


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Magic and Reality

Magic and Reality

by C. A. Asbrey

It would be hard to underestimate how much the early Christians adjusted the Celtic myths to fit their own ends. The pre-Christian era was melded with Old Testament characters, and the origins of new arrivals to Ireland were adjusted to place them in Bible stories. One such pseudo-history which received this treatment was the story of Cesair, the supposed granddaughter of Noah. She is said to have fled to the Western edge of the world to escape the flood, arriving with only three men, and numerous women. The numbers vary, but most legends settle for around fifty. Two men soon die, leaving one who felt unable to cope. He ran away, pursued by the women, and shapeshifts as he jumped over a cliff. Fintan turned into a one-eyed salmon, then an eagle, before changing into a hawk. He lives for another 5,500 years, and recounts Ireland’s history to the high king, Diarmait mac Cerbaill. This sounds very much like a version of Tuan mac Cairill, who recounted Ireland’s history through remembering his various reincarnations going back to the great flood. Reincarnation was not a Christian belief, so, of course, could not be used in connection with Noah’s granddaughter, hence the supernatural adjustment. Tuan’s shapeshifting was put down to being reborn as a stag, an eagle, and a salmon. When he was eaten by a pregnant woman, and became born again as her son – but it was nothing to do with Cesair, despite the fact they told pretty much the same story

Cesair wasn’t, technically speaking, an invasion. The next one came from Nemed. Nemed came from Sythia (Central Eurasia). The Nemedians also came up against the Fomorians, but managed to built two forts and clear twelve plains. When Nemed died the Fomorians oppressed them. A huge battle eventually ensued and the Nemedians escaped, after scattering into three groups. Two of the groups were to return, and rule over Ireland in later centuries.

The Fir Bolg (men of bags) ruled over Ireland as high kings for the next 37 years, dividing the country into five counties. Another group descended from the Nemdians, the Tuatha Dé Danann, defeated the Fir Bolg, but still faced problems with the Fomorians. Clearly, there is intermarriage between Fomorians and the Tuatha Dé Danann, as Lugh was a product of a dynastic marriage between the two groups. Lugh, was a god-king, and his dynasty ruled for 150 years until the Milesians arrived from Spain.

How does this reflect the real history? The peoples we now refer to as Celtic brought farming to Ireland. Genetic analysis shows that early farmers came all the way from the Eastern periphery of Europe, replacing the earliest inhabitants, who were similar to most early southern Europeans. A lot of the early DNA has disappeared, indicating that new waves brought population displacement – either death, or departure. Some early Irish were genetically distant cousins to Otzi the Iceman who was discovered In the Alps. He too carried a genetic legacy which has been swept away in Europe, but which was thought to persist in patches, due to isolation – places like Ireland and Sardinia.

These people, the people who built the stone circles and dolmen, themselves had ancestors who indisputably came from the Middle East, before they migrated west. A woman’s burial at Ballynahatty, near Belfast, was examined. She lived around 5,200 years ago, and had brown hair and eyes, and her genes show her ancestors travelled by sea to Spain, and then up the Atlantic coast. But that journey took centuries. Her genes give us traces of the early hunter-gatherers too, but her people largely replaced them.

Her people endured the same fate. Testing on remains from Rathlin from about 1,000 years later show that her gene pool had also mostly disappeared. Their DNA is very like the modern population of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They come from the Russian Steppes, and spread throughout Europe. Linguists say that the Celtic languages arrived about 4,300 years ago – around the time of the Rathlin bodies. Not Gaelic as we know it now, but an ancestor of the tongue. The Ballynahatty woman’s people brought farming. The Rathlin boys brought metalworking, and it looks like they wiped out the previous population, or as the myths suggest, some died of a disease to which they had no immunity.

Both the Ballynahatty woman and Rathlin men had different variants of genes causing haemochromatosis – now so common in Ireland it’s called the Irish disease. They also brought coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis, and galactosemia. The Ballynahatty woman was lactose intolerant, but 1,000 years later the Rathlin bodies were not. The myths mention Scythia, Spain, and Greece. The genetics are not inconsistent with those tales.

It does fit somewhat with the myths, but there are some intriguing details of the Celtic mythology which chime with real finds and archaeology. There are a number of very similar myths around a brother and sister, part of a dynasty of god-kings who used their coupling to start the sun cycles as part of the summer solstice celebrations. There are also tales of sisters with numerous brothers, and fathers and daughters. As the circumstances are not the same in them all, we can only assume it wasn’t unknown.

Such incestuous relationships in pseudo-divine rulers, were not uncommon in ancient times, and certainly not in Europe. The Ptolemys of Egypt were actually Macedonian descendents of the people put in place to rule Egypt for Alexander the Great, and they infamously lived in such a way. So did the Mesopotamians, and the Romans. The god-kings had a clear intention to keep power in a few hands, as well as establishing dominance by showing lesser people that they were not fit for the royal seed. Some of the stories have clearly been well-sanitized by the monks who transcribed the ancient myths. They feature accidental couplings through not knowing who their object of desire really was. Incest was unthinkable amongst the parties who converted to Christianity. However, it was such a small country, with an even smaller elite, who continued to breed amongst themselves. Bloodline was so culturally important that accident is not credible. But the message of incest remains. Excavations of megalithic necropolis of the Bru na Boinne, Newgrange showed genetic material to bear this out. A male skeleton was shown to be the offspring of first degree relatives; either parent and child, or brother and sister. And they were not the only close relatives in the tombs. There were many generations of bodies buried there, at least five hundred years worth. At least forty are related, pointing to a hereditary elite, but only one first degree relationship has been found so far. Notably, the oldest finding of a Down Syndrome baby is in the tomb. He was carefully placed in a sacred place, and had been breastfed before his death. That too is an interesting insight into the values of the society.

Shapeshifters come in abundance in Celtic mythology. The Kelpies transform from humans into horses which drag people to their deaths in deep water. Selkies transform from seals to humans, Morrigan is a war goddess who would swoop over the battlefields, devouring the bodies as a crow or a raven. She would turn into a wolf to cause cattle to stampede the enemy, and could turn into a woman of any age. Perhaps one of the most famous shapeshifters was Taliesin, the famous Welsh Bard.

Perhaps the shapeshifting makes more sense when we get inside the Celtic belief system. They were Animists. They didn’t believe they populated the living world – they were part of it. They were bound by the cycles, by the elements, and by the universe. The world was a living thing, and it wasn’t there to serve them – they were just an element in the big wheel of life. If they wanted to survive, they had to play to nature’s rules. Even certain words had extra meaning, and could be used as a powerful way to benefit humanity. Everything was cyclical, so reincarnation meant that souls never died. They could exist in a netherworld, or be born again, hence the tales of Tuan mac Cairill witnessing thousands of years of history in various animal forms. Ancestors were revered. People could take any form, from one life to another. They may 'remember' being that deer under the right circumstances. 

Guardian spirits protected water, forests, and mountains, but paradoxically the gods protected the prey as much as the hunters. These beliefs meant that they invoked the spirits when preparing to hunt, so they could gain the skills of their prey. They dressed in skins, wore masks and heads to look like the beasts, and painted them on walls, holding their grace, speed and courage in great admiration. There are a few ways in which recent discoveries help us to experience the world as they did, and understand why they believed in magic.

In 1940, a group of boys descended into a cave near the town of Montiac. Deep in the bowels they found brightly coloured animals, unfamiliar in the 20th century, painted all around the walls and roof. As they watched, the flickering from the lamplight seemed to make their heads swirl, their vision blur, and they watched as the painted beasts seemed to dance and chase around the walls. When they resurfaced, adults put it down to low oxygen. It took years before the phenomenon was looked at more closely.

In 1995 scientists discovered that if they recreated the lighting which those who created the art would have used, the art takes on a whole new perspective. Using a series of grease lamps to create a circle, they were able to view the art in a whole new way. As the flames rose and fell, they realized that by fully illuminating the work, they had missed the point entirely. When flickering lights and shadows were used, the effect was like a strobe light in a night club. The animals which were painted in a series of movements came to life, and dynamic movement was witnessed in the paintings.
Five stag heads in the Nave region of Lascaux cave might represent a single stag in different stages of motion.
“In low light, human vision degrades, and that can lead to the perception of movement even when all is still,” says Susana Martinez-Conde, the director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. “The trick may occur at two levels; one when the eye processes a dimly lit scene, and the second when the brain makes sense of that limited, flickering information.”

Ancients hunters knew that our eyes undergo a switch when we slip into darkness, but they didn’t understand the science behind it. They knew how to play with it, though, in camouflage and art. Blue wode made people disappear in the darkness better than black. In bright light, eyes primarily rely on the colour-sensitive cones, but in low light the cones don’t have enough photons to work with and black and white gradients, picked up by the rods, take over. Hunters and soldiers know that shadows become harder to distinguish from actual objects in the dark, and the boundaries between things disappear, unless they move. Then the mind can make more sense of an outine. Images straight ahead of us look out of focus, as if they were seen in our peripheral vision. Early humans viewing cave paintings by firelight might have been that a deer with multiple heads, for example, resembled a single, animated beast, much like a series of flickering images. This experiment worked in successive caves and images.

Marc Azéma, a Paleolithic researcher and filmmaker at the University of Toulouse in France, has found two primary techniques that Paleolithic artists used to imply motion; juxtaposition of successive images—the technique used for the deer head—and superimposition. Rather than appearing in sequence, variations of an image pile on top of one another in superimposition to lend a sense of motion. Superimposition has been found in caves across France and Spain.

Vision is just one way to experience the paintings, but add percussion, melody, and chanting, and it can build into an adrenaline-packed ride. Flutes formed from mammoth and bird bones have been found in Europe, dating back between 42,000 to 45,000 years ago. Bullroarers consist of blade of wood swung around on a string to make a howling sound, and have been found in the Ukraine in Palaeolithic digs. They were sacred instruments to the ancients Greek, But what about percussion instruments?

There may have been a reason why the stones used to build Stonehenge’s inner circle were moved 180 miles from Wales, beyond the need to extend the unity of a religious group or clan. The stones themselves ring like a bell when struck. In fact, percussionists have played full pieces on them. They sound so much like bells that churches in the region used them as their bells until the 1700s. A nearby village is named Maenclochog, meaning ringing stones. When they were tested, the rocks still rang, even though they have been weathered for millennia or sunk into the ground. Archaeologists even found marks where it appeared the rocks had been repeatedly struck.
The Singing Stones of Preseli

See and hear and example here. (Copy the link to use.)

Couple all of that sound, light-play, and music, with drugs and alcohol, and people experienced a mind-blowing cocktail of experiences. And they did have drugs and alcohol. This is proved in both the botanical finds, and in coprolites. Mushrooms were a favourite, and they went to extremes to get high. Fly Agaric, the red and white spotted mushroom, is highly toxic to humans, but a powerful hallucinogenic. However, when fed to reindeer, and their urine drunk, it filters out the poison and allows people to get safely out of their heads. It’s thought to relate to the legend of Santa’s reindeer. There’s also evidence that paintings in extreme depths in caving systems were a place of ritualistic communing, or some kind of rite of passage. They are reached through such tight passages that oxygen levels dropped very quickly, especially in the presence of a naked flame. Induced hypoxia is a well-known method of reaching different states of consciousness, one often used in autoerotic practices. Hypoxia is a theory posited about the Oracle at Delphi, being built over vents pouring out noxious gas.
Papyrus from 16th-18th Century BCE detailing Dedi. Literally, the oldest trick in the book.

And then there were just plain tricks. Priests all over the ancient world used sleight-of-hand, misdirection, hidden pulley, trapdoors, and even electricity to make people believe they had potent powers. Ventriloquism was originally seen as a religious practice, and was used in ancient times. The Greeks called it gastromancy. It would be naive to suppose that ancient Western Europe was any different. Conjuring tricks and sleight of hand have been documented since the 2700 BCE The first named practitioner was Dedi in ancient Egypt. And he must have learned it from someone undocumented. Electricity was also used to strike fear into people, with people having built working capacitors from the description of the Arc of the Covenant.  It explains why people were  struck by lightening when they tried to touch it, and Nicola Tesla called Moses, "a skilled electrician, far ahead of his time.” And stated that virtually that every one of his “miracles” and “plagues” can be attributed to some sort of device in his possession that allowed him and his brother Aaron to safely manipulate electromagnetic energy, if not to a natural phenomenon. Was he right?

Keeping secrets was a powerful tool too. Those able to predict eclipses, turn what looked like ordinary stones into metal, or cure ailments, were seen as having special powers, and many records show that the elites kept such knowledge close. Such information was power, and if people wanted it, they had to keep you around - and stay in your favour.  

What is magic? The dictionary defines it as the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. We can see that all kinds of real influences can influence our perceptions of events or circumstances, and who am I to argue that’s not pretty much the same thing? So, all in all, our distant ancestors had good reason to see the world as a magical place. They believed the evidence of their own eyes and ears, and simply had a different way of explaining the very real phenomena they encountered.


There was no reply, so Jake rapped at the door once more, harder and with more insistence. “Tibby. I can’t stay. Open this door.” 
There was something about the thick, heavy silence which felt wrong. Tibby was anything but quiet, so it was fair to assume any room containing him wouldn’t be, either. 
Jake knocked again. “Tibby?” All he could hear was the sound of his own breath echoing against the wooden door. A muscle in his jaw flexed and he felt in his pocket for the room key he’d been asked to hold. He grabbed the wooden fob and called out once more. “I’m comin’ in, Tibby. Make sure you ain’t doin’ anythin’ indecent.” He paused, running through what he knew about the man. “Or strange.” 
The key rattled in the lock and the door swung slowly open. Jake’s jaw dropped open at the carnage which greeted his horrified eyes. 
The room was awash with blood; splattered over furniture, walls, and fabrics. Gouts of gore lay littered on the floor, and adhered to the wall behind the bundle of bloody petticoats in the corner. Thick claret dripped from the drapes in a sickening seep and intestines dangled over furniture and snaked across the floor. 
Tibby lay unconscious near the door, a knife near his hand, his blood-drenched clothes stained red. Worst of all, the pale blue dress was saturated in blood and revealed what looked like a dismembered carcass beneath the pulled-back frills. 
It looked like she’d tried to hide under the bed and had been dragged out as her legs were hidden, but the torso appeared from underneath. The clothing was pulled over her head so all Jake could see were the bare bones of the ribs and the open belly covered in blood with what remained of her intestines. 
“Dear God.” Jake’s reaction to the trauma robbed his voice of its power, his eyes drawn to the intestines strewn on the floor near what what looked like half a kidney. “Tibby! What the hell have you done?” 


Monday, December 6, 2021

Christmas Moments by Elizabeth Clements

In the hushed stillness of midnight when everyone should be fast asleep, I heard a faint rustle, like a cat high-stepping through piles of paper. More rustling sounds, furtive sliding…

          “What are you doing down there!” a male voice thundered.

          Someone shrieked. Strange noises clattered and thumped. Then silence.

          I shot up in bed, flung back the covers and dashed from my room where I had been recuperating from a cold and sore throat. The living room was dark except for the glow of colored lights twinkling in the Christmas tree. And there stood my dad, arms akimbo, trying to look stern as he gazed down at my mother, kneeling amidst the scattered gifts, much like a deer frozen in beaming headlights.

          Of course my mother couldn’t come up with an explanation. Dad and I both knew curiosity was the death of any patience on her part when it came to gifts for her. Earlier, Dad had given me money to buy Mom a present because he knew I would know what she’d like. I’d snuck it into the house, furtively wrapped it and hid it in my closet because I knew she could not wait until Christmas Eve. Suspense was killing her. She just had to find her gift.

          That Christmas, when I was seventeen, was the first time I realized she was very good at sliding a sharp knife through the tape, carefully unwrapping if a peek wasn’t enough, then just as carefully rewrapping all the folds and placing new tape precisely over the old tape. Apparently, she’d been doing it for years. Became quite accomplished at it. And continued to do so ever after.

Any parcel from my brother in Toronto was opened ahead of time. Gift exchanges with her friends were also opened on the spot or the moment her friend went home. I resorted to urging my brother to send the parcel c/o me, but he didn’t believe me <grin>. Hence, if it hadn’t been for the gifts we brought, my mother would have had nothing to open on Christmas Eve. Or on her birthday. Or Mother’s Day.

I’m just the opposite. I love the anticipation. Love shaking a gift. Could it be perfume? And I love having fun with the gifts. I’ll write cryptic message on the gift tag, to give a clue to the contents. I also save boxes throughout the year because square shapes are so much easier to wrap. One time one of my boys opened a box and tossed it aside without opening it. I reassured him that you can’t always judge a gift by its container. <grin>

My dad wasn’t big on Christmas decorating, so he often brought home the sorriest-looking tree in the lot, stuck it in an old steel tire rim and left it to me to create magic. Of course there was no water for the tree to absorb, so by New Year’s the needles were probably falling off. But oh, the lead tinsel from those days, how they made a tree glitter like magic. I miss the tinsel, in fact I saved it from year to year for a long time until one could only buy that fly-away stuff that if someone sneezed or opened a door causing a draft, it would fly off the tree.

And speaking of trees, here’s the first of three tales of Christmas trees. It was my first time picking out a tree. It had to be perfect, as all new brides anxiously want everything to be perfect. And the tree I found, was of course the biggest, after lifting and scrutinizing dozens of trees. It was a bushy, fragrant tree that almost scraped our apartment ceiling. We set it in the corner of the living room, had fun decorating, and when we were all done, we closed the folding door that separated our bedroom from the living room. Moments later, we heard an odd scraping sound and a whooshing thump. The tree had fainted.

Luckily, there was little damage, a few broken ornaments and pine needles. In no time everything was perfect again, we slid the door shut and went to bed. Moments later, again that odd scraping sound and whooshing thump. Yep, you guessed it. The tree had fainted a second time. We also figured out why. The sliding door probably nudged it.

This time Doug got a nail and hammer and string, tied a long cord around the trunk and nailed that tree to the wall. The tree never had another fainting spell.

When our second Christmas arrived, we were in Germany. We were able to go to a tree nursery, select the tree we wanted and then the attendant chopped it down for us and strapped it to our car. Back then, it was quite the custom to put a small tree on top of a table. I missed a full-size tree, so the next Christmas we had moved into an apartment building and had a tall tree. By the following Christmas we had switched apartments with another military family who wanted a second bedroom for their newborn. I was quite happy with the switch because we now had a second-floor unit with a long balcony. It was fun having a bigger living room and we went all out decorating with lights around the windows and balcony.

That evening we heard a bunch of voices drifting up from outdoors. We looked out the window and saw pedestrians standing and pointing at our apartment. More people gathered. Even cars stopped and people rolled down their windows and stared, pointing. Things may have changed since 1968, but at that time white lights were the only colors on trees or outdoors. Indoor trees were lit with candles in special holders and shouldn’t be left unattended. The German people had never seen colored lights, let alone on a Christmas tree.

The couple living in the apartment directly beside us had a young girl and boy, probably aged five and six. I’d hear them giggling in their bedroom which was on the other side of my kitchen wall. When they saw our tree for the first time they stood in awe at the wonder of colored lights. When we moved back to Canada, we gave them all our Christmas lights.

And now onto the tale of the third Christmas tree. Many, many years later, Doug and the three youngest boys, all older teens by now, went with their dad to Calgary early Sunday morning to bring Chris back home to stay. I decorated our beautiful big tree, and went to bed, unaware that Doug and the boys were stranded at a truck stop an hour’s drive away. They had left Calgary later than planned, and luckily made it to Brooks. The highway had been closed due to a fierce blizzard.  I went to work the next day as usual, so I missed the surprise that awaited Doug and the boys when they arrived home around eight in the morning. Chris was especially tired and went into the living room and discovered the tree had “fainted” on the carpet. Oh no! No one needed this mess after the harrowing night they’d spent without any sleep.

Doug and Chris righted the tree and seconds later it started falling again. Luckily, they caught it. While Doug held the tree, Chris went and rummaged in his toolbox, got out the drill and drilled through the tree stand attached to a square of plywood, and “nailed” that tree to the carpet. “Now, try and fall down, you s.o.b.” he muttered.

As extra insurance, a thick string was looped around the trunk and secured to the wall. To this day, that hook and string is still there to keep the tree from fainting. <grin> 

Do you remember when you or your children helped decorate the tree as high as they could reach (and then the perfectionist re-did the tree while the “elves” were sleeping?) Methinks I was guilty of the same…or was I just too tired to notice the imbalance?

I have a couple more anecdotes to share, that I hope will make you laugh, or at least smile? My family always opened gifts on Christmas Eve whereas Doug’s family opened gifts on Christmas morning. For several years, we opened gifts around midnight until we came back home from Germany. I always reserved one special gift for Doug for Christmas morning so he would have a special gift besides what was hung in his stocking.

One year I arranged with our neighbor to have a snow blower delivered from Sears and stored in his garage. Then he was to bring it over Christmas morning so Doug would have a surprise. I tried everything to get Doug to go outside. Finally he did, and nearly tripped over the dang thing when he opened the door. Dwayne had really planted it right by the door.

It never snowed that winter!

Now for a funny that still makes me smile as I type this—and it is something we’ve reminisced about around the dinner table when we were too stuffed with turkey and dressing to move for a while. In the fall of 1994 Dolly Parton released an autobiography. The bookstore had a special display of her book, complete with a life-size cardboard photo of herself. As I paid for my copy, I asked the clerk if I could have/buy the cut-out when the promotion was over. And shortly before Christmas the store called. I picked up “Dolly” and had Chris take “her” downstairs where he hid her in his closet until Christmas morning.

While I had Doug preoccupied with some task, maybe taking out the garbage—LOL, Chris put Dolly in the bathroom off our bedroom, and for some unknown reason, left the light on before closing the door. A while later, Doug went into the bedroom, saw the door was closed, and being the polite gentleman that he is, knocked on the door. Receiving no answer, he opened the door saw a woman standing there, muttered “Oh, excuse me,” and whipped the door shut.

The boys and I were just outside the bedroom door, holding our breaths and mirth. And then we heard the Lord’s name in an explosive burst when he re-opened the door. Doug is such a good sport and laughed right along with us, after he caught his breath. He’s a Dolly fan, too, hence the idea for my prank.

I hope this little glimpse in my world has left you smiling. That’s what Christmas is all about, love, laughter, family and friends and grateful to God and his Son for all our blessings. May your Christmas be filled with joy and light, and if you’re alone, re-visit your memories to coax a smile. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful new year.

Excerpt: Beneath A Horse-Thief Moon

Ten minutes later Chase couldn't wait any longer. He wanted Sara beside him. He hurriedly lit the dozens of candles he'd fastened to the fir boughs. “Sara? You ready to come out now? It's lonely out here without you.”

“I'm coming,” she replied, her voice muffled.

In two strides he was at the bedroom door and watched her struggle into a nightgown. “Let me help.”

From behind his back he produced a tissue-wrapped parcel tied with a green ribbon and dropped it into her lap.

“I couldn't wait any longer. Merry Christmas, Sara.”

She gazed at him, her mouth a perfect circle of surprise. “A present? For me?” she said in a hushed voice. “I've never had a Christmas present. Not even a doll.”

He ached for what she'd missed. “Next Christmas I'll buy you a dozen dolls.” He watched her untie the ribbon and fold back the tissue. Emerald satin shimmered in the candlelight. “Oh, my,” she breathed. A big, fat tear rolled down her cheek. “Oh, my.”

“Hey, you're not supposed to cry. I'll take it back.” He reached to take the parcel.

She grabbed it back. “It's the most beautiful gown I've ever seen. But it's far too fine for the likes of me.”

Chase heaved a sigh of relief. “No, it's you wearing it that makes it look fine.”

Sara cupped his face and kissed him. “You are the sweetest, most generous person I know. What did I ever do to deserve you?”

Chase shrugged, trying hard to hide his pleasure. “Let's get this on you. Hope it fits. I ordered it from Boston.”

He lifted her old nightgown from where it bunched around her shoulders and grinned at her nudity. “On second thought, I like you just the way you are.”

“Chase!” Sara ducked her head to hide her face.

With a laugh, Chase bunched up the green gown. “Raise your arms.”

She complied. Her eyes fluttered shut and a moan of pure pleasure escaped her lips when the material slid over her breasts. He helped her stand and slid the sleeves of the matching peignoir up her arms. A crush of green ruffles framed her face and floated in twin panels down her front.

Chase unraveled her braid and let it cascade in waves down her back and over her breasts. “You're so beautiful, Sara.” He adored her with his eyes, then lifted her into his arms.

“Chase, you're crushing my gown.”

“I like the feel of you in my arms.” Walking into the main room, he sat her down in the rocker he'd pulled close to the fire. Around her legs he wrapped Silver's old blue horse blanket.

“Oh, Chase, the tree is so beautiful. And smells like the forest is inside. I've never had a Christmas tree before.”

Although she said it without a trace of self-pity, a lump formed in his throat that this lovely, generous woman had been so deprived of even the most simple things in life that most people took for granted. “How come?”



Sunday, December 5, 2021


 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

As the Holiday season of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, The New Year comes barreling toward us, I thought it might be interesting to see what was happening in the world of travel in Colorado on December 5 prior to 1900. Even back in 1881, they were enticing people to travel, go home, see old friends. This appeared at the beginning of an article about the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. 

The Gunnison Daily Democrat
December 5, 1881

Yet, just ten years earlier, on December 5, 1871, travel all but stopped coming into Colorado. According to an article in the Rocky Mountain News about 'The Great Storm':

All the railroads are in a very bad condition. The following is a current account of affairs up to midnight last night, as nearest could be obtained.

In regard to the Union Pacific troubles we have it from good authority that no trains from either direction have reached Cheyenne since Saturday. Three engines and the snowplow are in the ditch forty miles east of Cheyenne, near to Pine Bluffs, and two large ten–wheeled engines are in the ditch seven miles east of Cheyenne, near Archer's Tree. Three engines on a passenger train are in the ditch Coopers Lake, eighty-two miles west of Cheyenne. All trains on the road, east and west, are abandoned until the storm abates. There was no train out of Omaha Sunday, but one started Monday afternoon, and it has been laid up.

The Denver Pacific trains are all between Denver and Cheyenne. The passenger train leaving here Monday morning, started out with two engines and a large snowplow, and found no troubles till it reached Crow Creek, two miles south of Cheyenne. The train had been up to midnight, between Crow Creek and Cheyenne since about 1:45 yesterday afternoon. It was blowing and drifting so that Colonel Fisher, who went out with this train, had to quit work until the wind abated. They took the passengers from the train to Cheyenne in carriages.

The Boulder Valley trains, which left Hughes, coming south, 440 yesterday afternoon, had not reached Denver at midnight. It was supposed that they were not far from here, were having any amount of troubles with snow and ice.

The freight leaving here yesterday morning, left their train at Carr and started north with engines to help the passenger, but at last accounts it was "stuck."

The Kansas Pacific passenger do Sunday morning and the one due at Wallace last night, were both at Ellsworth at midnight. The passenger train on this road, leaving Denver Saturday and Sunday nights were at Wallace last night. Because of this delay is, to engines with the snowplow off the track at Wilson, waiting for a wrecking train to, to their assistance. The storm would not have detained the train any. A passenger train was sent West from Wallace on time last night and one was set east. Three freight trains arrived in Denver from Hugo yesterday, bringing 18 loaded cars. This road is all clear between Denver and Wallace.

By December 5, 1891, the Pueblo paper was advertising the idea of "A Winter In the South". The article talks of going to Texas and ends with the following:

An escape from all the pains and discomforts of our rigorous weather, transported by magic from the regions of snow and ice, to the fragrance of this summer – land is now made possible and easy by the Denver, Texas and Fort Worth branch of the Union Pacific system, which runs through Pullman Palace sleepers, between Denver, Fort Worth, Dallas, Shreveport, and New Orleans, and offers exceedingly low excursion rates to all the southern cities from Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Trinidad. For a full description of Southern winter resorts, reached over the Union Pacific system, for excursion rates, apply to E. R. Harding, general agent, 233 North Union Ave. or Union Depot Pueblo, Colorado Wednesday and Saturday.

Even back over a hundred years ago, traveling, getting away was something people dreamed of. Yet, like all travel, there were setbacks.

I do hope you enjoyed the travel back in time. History never seems to fail to give us perspective when we look. 

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Path to a Thanksgiving Holiday


Saratoga Surrender (Library of Congress)

     We all have been taught the story of Thanksgiving, how the pilgrims were helped by the native Americans to survive and celebrated with a big feast. Well, maybe. Many myths and much controversy surround the “first Thanksgiving,” but the march of Thanksgiving toward its status as a U.S. national holiday is well documented. Although individual colonies had various earlier observances, the first time all thirteen colonies celebrated a day of thanksgiving on the same date was December 18, 1777. George Washington, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, called for a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” to celebrate the Continental Army’s victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga on October 17th.

The proclamation was printed in newspapers, including the October 9, 1789 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser (via

     The first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking the President to recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. Not long after, President Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789 a
 "day of publick thanksgiving and prayer" to express gratitude for both the successful end to the war for independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Washington attended church and donated money and food to prisoners and debtors in observance of the holiday. Subsequently, Presidents John Adams and James Madison designated days of thanks.

Sarah Hale pictured in Godeys (via Wikimedia Commons)

     During the first half of the 19th century, several states officially adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday, although each designated a different day. Additionally, Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for authoring “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” began a 36-year campaign to get Thanksgiving designated a national holiday. She was later nicknamed the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

President Abraham Lincoln s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863, Page 3 (National Archives)

     In 1863, Hale implored both President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward to officially designate Thanksgiving as a permanent national holiday. Despite the United States being torn apart by the bloody Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day in words written by Seward. “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Carving the Thanksgiving Turkey (National Archives) 

     Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November every year until 1939. In that year, Thanksgiving was set to fall on November 30, leaving only 24 shopping days until Christmas. President Franklin Roosevelt feared the short Christmas season would negatively impact the economy. He signed an executive order that moved the holiday a week earlier to November 23 in an attempt to aid retail sales. This met with fiery opposition, with critics calling it “Franksgiving.”

Senate Amendments to H.J. Res. 41, Making the Fourth Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, December 9, 1941

     After much effort to return the holiday to its traditional date, in 1941, Congress officially moved the holiday to its current place. President Roosevelt reluctantly signed the bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Happy Thanksgiving!

  Ann Markim




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