Tanya Hanson’s Merriest Christmas Eve Ever

A Christmas Memory…

For the second time in her life, our daughter Christi wasn’t here with us on a Christmas Eve. Four days ago, she was in Arizona with her new in-laws. However she and her hubby kept the promise to fly back home in time for Christmas dinner. Prime rib, fun stuff, and family.

The first time we spent Christmas Eve apart was Christi’s first on earth. Two weeks old, she spent it in a neonatal intensive care unit hooked to every wire and tube imaginable. I still get shivers at the memory.

Thing is, she’d been born a hearty nine-pounder, healthy and content after a short easy labor. As I held my newborn daughter, I knew my life was complete with a handsome hubby at my side and a precious two-year old son waiting at home.

Family Stockings 2

But four days before Christi’s first Christmas, disaster struck. Her unusual irritability and sudden fever of 106 brought about the fearsome diagnosis of bacterial meningitis, and my perfect world began to unravel. She went into isolation, and I went into full panic.

“She’s in good hands here,” said the pediatrician, also a mom. “Come here whenever you want to, but remember, it’s Christmas, and your little boy needs you, too.”

Good advice. Although our hearts were heavy, we took her brother to see Santa, shopped and cooked and pretended, laid the tiny red velvet dress from her Uncle Mike across her empty bassinette at home. We saw our baby whenever possible, but it was total agony not to touch her, to only see her through the transparent confines of a tiny temperature-controlled isolette. The nurses hung a little white Christmas stocking on it to add some cheer.

Tears rarely stopped although we did our best to hide them, and nights were long and sleepless. We prayed without ceasing.

On the second hospital day, the report was half-comforting: She’s a big, strong baby. The antibiotics are powerful, so she could possibly make it.

Okay. But what if she doesn’t? How could I ever celebrate Christmas again?

Day Three: Your baby girl will live, but…meningitis is a very bad thing and it can bring about many bad things. (We knew this. Blindness, deafness, seizures, crippling, mental retardation.) We don’t know how much residual damage yet…

When will you know? Terror flamed again while everybody else sang Joy to the world.

Day Four: Christmas Eve. Christi will suffer no residual damage. We’ve run tests and consulted. She’s fine, she’s perfect in every way! Have a Merry Christmas!

Talk about a Christmas miracle! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect! I still get shivers.

Both as precaution and to complete the antibiotic protocol, Christi stayed in NICU for five more weeks. However, the day did come when we could hold her, when I could nurse her, when her “big” brother could peek in through the inner sanctum NICU windows and be reminded he had a new baby sister. Here they are the next Christmas and skiing in Yosemite a few Christmases later.

Christi one year old and her brother

Christmas Ski Trip in Yosemite







 In February, she wore that tiny red velvet dress at the family party following her baptism. (She wore my little white baptism dress to the ceremony.) And she’s had a ton of cool Christmases since then, including 2009 as a happy newlywed.

Tiny Christmas Dancer

  Christi and Scott Christmas 2009









Well, I learned first-hand on that long-ago Christmas Eve that the Lord lives…and that the Lord loves. Christmas miracles are real. May all your Christmas dreams come true, may all your Christmas prayers be answered, and may God bless you all, everyone, in 2010.

The Real Twelve Days of Christmas

MarryingMinda Crop to UseMany of America’s present-day Christmas customs were in place by the mid 1800’s. Our trip to small New England towns lets me easily visualize sleighs full of carolers dashing through the snow singing their hearts out. But out West, the mountain man and lone cowboy had to make do all by their lonesome, in freezing weather and often a blizzard. Soldiers might gather together at the fort to roast venison and join in song. Farms and ranches were miles apart, so most caroling likely took place inside a cozy homestead with the family members. 


At our house, most of the caroling took place as lullabies when our kids were little. My son’s all-time favorite was The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each line, each verse, each refrain. He knew it all, so I couldn’t get away with skipping one single line. I was aware of the medieval images of the song itself, but I didn’t know until recently that the song has a sacred meaning. The odd gifts mentioned all have a “double life.” 


Although our local malls and radio stations are currently offering gimmicks each day for the “twelve days of Christmas” right now, prior to December 25, the twelve days traditionally start December 26, on St. Stephen’s Day, with celebration ending end on January 6, the feast if the Epiphany, or visit of the Magi. The custom began in England, starting with the lighting of the Yule log on Christmas Eve, which stayed burning until Twelfth Night, a time of great festivity. 

From 1558 to a Parliamentary decree in 1829, Roman Catholics in England were prohibited from public practices of their faith.

So the enoyable carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” developed as a “catechism song” or teaching aid to help children learn the tenets of their faith. The song’s gifts are hidden meanings. First off, the “true love” isn’t an earthly suitor, but God Himself.

12 Days of Christmas 1 

First Day: The partridge, known as a valiant bird willing to fight to the death to defend its young, represents Jesus, and the pear tree, the cross. 1partridgeinpeartree

Second Day: Two meanings here: Doves, required as sacrifice in Jewish Law and offered by Mary and Joseph when Jesus was 40 days old, symbolized either His later sacrifice…or the Old and New testaments. 

Third Day: The three French hens refer to the holy Trinity, to the three valuable gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, brought by the wise man, and the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. 

Fourth Day: Four calling birds were reminders of the first four books of the New Testament, the four Gospels that proclaim Jesus’ life and teachings. 

Fifth Day: Five golden rings recall the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. 

Sixth Day: Six geese a’laying symbolizes the six days of creation.  In many cultures, eggs stand for “new life.” It can also signify the six days of the working week, with Sunday reserved for worship. 

Seventh Day: The seven swimming swans stand both for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that help “ugly ducklings” grow into God’s children, or the seven sacraments. 12 Days of Christmas 2

Eighth Day:  The eight maids a’milking show the nurturing of the Beatitudes written in Matthew 5. It can also refer to the eight people saved on Noah’s ark. 

Ninth Day: Nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, love, joy, peace, patience kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. 


Tenth Day: The ten lords a’leaping symbolize the Ten Commandments.   

Eleventh Day: The pipers piping signify the eleven faithful apostles. 

Twelfth Day: And last but not least, the twelve drummers marked the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed, and also represent the twelve tribes of Israel. 


Have you heard any of these double meanings before? I loved learning this and couldn’t resist passing it on. But even with the sacred theme today, I also can’t resist a re-write of this great song in Western terms. Wanna play? How about let’s start out with…a roadrunner in a piñon pine tree? Who wants to take on Day Two? (No symbolism required.) 

And to you and yours, best wishes for a blessed, safe, a meaningful Christmastide!

Tim McGraw and San Manuel


If you’ve known Charlene Sands and me for longer than five minutes, you’ll find out we’re both In Love with country music super star Tim McGraw. Our hubbies know all about it and are in full support. After all, Tim’s a real good man, with the heart of a man’s man and a poet’s soul. Besides, this way our hubbies don’t have to drag themselves to concerts along with us.  By last count, we’ve been to six concerts together. Or is it seven? tim-mc-in-concert1 

Here’s our view (right) of Tim from our catwalk seats a few years ago. Sigh. 

     A while back, we met him up close and personal, at his book signing in Pasadena California. (below)  I still remember him saying, “It’s so nice to meet you.” Whew.  

















And Charlene and I confess to numerous occasions of having him with us at critique sessions. Well, this life-size cardboard figure of him, that is. One of Charlene’s pals gave it to her as a wonderful joke. Whew again. It is amazingly realistic.


Most recently we drooled over him at the San Manuel Indian Casino showroom in San Bernardino, California, about a hundred miles from our homesteads. Heavenly angels so guarded us on that excursion. First off, we didn’t get lost once. Second, we parked miraculously on the perfect parking level, just steps away from the 1) restaurant; 2) casino, 3) showroom. In fact, as we hurried forth in our glee on a raised walkway into the casino, we saw ahead what appeared to be a decorative square of tiles. But we stopped as if an invisible force field held us back…because the tiles were glass and a river raged three or four stories below. Neither of us could garner courage to walk across it and instead walked around it.


     Now this isn’t the best picture of Tim, but it’s the best I could do that night  in a very dark showroom. This was our first time rockin’ with Tim in such a small venue, maybe 2,500 people. Most times, it’s Hollywood Bowl or Staples Center with more than twenty-thousand. So this night was even more special than usual.some-wedding-reno-pumpkin-patch-wine-tasting-fall-2009-355


     Pictures all around the casino piqued my curiosity about this clan of the Serrano Indians indigenous to the San Bernardino area of California. I thought I’d share today what I learned about them. serrano-indians     Their original name is Yuhaviatam which means People of the Pines. For centuries, they lived in a self-sustaining, independent community before the years of change brought by Spanish explorers. As did most tribes, the People of the Pines lived in harmony with the environment, holding sacred everything the land provided for them. Life was good in the highlands, passes, valleys and mountains of the San Bernardino region.serrano-highlands 

     The origin of the name, San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, derives from the intrusion of Europeans and Americans. The first Spanish explorers gave the tribe the name Serrano, the Spanish term for highlanders.  The term Mission Indians originated from the 21 missions established by Spanish clergy and soldiers along California’s coast from 1769-1823. 

     Not surprisingly, Spanish soldiers soon invaded Serrano villages and removed the People from their ancient homelands, placing them into the mission system as workers, or to be accurate and unpolitically correct, slaves. Here, many died from disease and changes to their diet. 

     The passage of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the California Gold Rush of 1849 brought major changes to California. New settlers came and Serrano lands became ranches, farms, and timber camps. In 1866, militia forces from San Bernardino settled unrest by killing Serrano men, women, and children in a 32-day campaign. Yuhaviatam tribal leader Santos Manuel safely led the remaining People from their ancient homelands in the mountains to the valley floor.serrano-grinding-holes 

     In 1891, the passage of the Act for Relief for Mission Indians established the San Manuel reservation and recognized the tribe as a sovereign nation with the right of self-government. The reservation was named in honor of the courageous Santos Manuel and is officially known as The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians.

     Their reservation originally consisted of 657 acres of steep foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, to near the top of Mount McKinley. Today, the reservation is just over 800 acres and is located in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in California, just north of the city of Highland. Today the tribe sponsors a beautiful resort and casino and showroom.serrano-burial-grounds 

     Did you know the day after Thanksgiving was Native American Heritage Day? Here is President Obama’s declaration.  

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day. 

     What is your heritage? Any special history of your culture? Have you visited a reservation or attended a “rock” concert?  Today, share however the spirit moves y’all.

These Boots are Made for Walkin’…and ridin’…and ropin’…and rodeo…



cowboy-in-sunsetWell, it’s Friday the thirteenth. I don’t fancy myself a superstitious person (I do not count my quirks and phobias in this statement, which include my terror of down-escalators and cooking with yeast). However, if I see a penny on the ground, I admit to picking it up because all day long I’ll have good luck. I especially like finding a dime because that way I get ten lucks.


So I reckoned there must be some kind of superstitions in the Old West among our cowboy heroes. Somehow. Somewhere. So this is what I found.  

Cowboys seem to have many superstitions about their boots. First off, they believe old boots should be worn on Friday the thirteenth for good luck. So check your cowboy’s feet today. New boots: no-no. cowboy-spurs

Tripping over a boot is a bad omen. Furthermore, cowboys consider it bad luck to step into their left boot first. Similarly, a bronco rider always puts the right foot in the stirrup first. For some reason, it’s bad juju to use those boots to kick a paper cup thrown down at a rodeo. 


However, if a cowboy drops an old boot outside the door as he leaves on a trip, he’ll have only good luck during his journey. 

He’ll quarrel with someone soon if he sets his boots on a table. Duh. I’d sure quarrel with anybody who did that in my house. 

If he wears out his boots at the toe, he’ll spend money as he goes.  cowboy-boots-on-fence

A cowboy won’t stow his boots higher than his head at night because if he does, he’ll have a restless night’s sleep. I reckon this is when he’s camping out along the trail. 

If he walks wearing only one boot, he’ll have as many bad days ahead as steps he’s taken. And he sure shouldn’t give boots to a friend. That means the friend will walk away from him. Furthermore, he’ll end up walking in the former owner’s troubles if he takes somebody else’s boots even as a gift.



If his new boots creak as he walks, this means he still owes money on them. And new unworn boots should be put high above the floor for luck. (Unless it’s that table-quarrel thing.) 

In every day life, if a cowboy wears his boots while his baby is being born, it’ll be a boy. Seeing a boot set atop a fence post is a sign that someone is at home. And seeing boots hung with the toes pointed toward the wall means their owner is dead.


For maintenance, our cowboy should place red pepper in his boots during winter to keep his feet warm. For a bad fit, he should fill his boots with dry beans or corn, pour in some water, and tie the tops shut. Or…put a zip-lock bag filled with water in the boot, and place the whole she-bang in the freezer.


Well, there’s more cowboy lore regarding rodeo superstitions and hat superstitions and of course, the whole range of Superstition Mountains in Arizona…but I think this will do for now.

Of course, dying with his boots on was the cowboy’s greatest dignity. Who can forget our favorite huckleberry, Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday on his death bed, peering dolefully at his bare toes and saying, “Now that’s funny?” Sigh.  

How about ya’ll? Any superstitions out there? Anybody wear cowboy boots?

The Grateful Dead: Dia de la Muertos



Around Halloween, it’s quite the norm to see skulls and fall-colored flowers as home décor. But when you see these decorations after All Hallows’ Eve, especially on November first and second, they just might signify Dia de La Muertos, The Day of the Dead.



Well, there’s nothing “wo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o” about this holiday. A time when families celebrate the lives of deceased relatives, it’s a popular tradition in Mexico, many Latin American countries, and the American southwest. Families often build an ofrenda, or altar, to honor the deceased loved one. Here in Ventura County, California, the kids at the Boys and Girls Club built altars honoring extinct and endangered animals! And an Irish family built an altar for the late grandmother, both to honor her memory and to teach their kids about another culture.




An ofrenda is a bright, colorful memorial display designed for joy, not mourning or sadness. It is often a simple stack of boxes arranged in tiers, with the deceased’s favorite foods and beverages set out, as well as much-loved knick-knacks, photos, and candles. You might even see small soaps and grooming aids in case his/her spirit comes home and wants to gussy up for the trip back. Marigolds are the main Dia De La Muertos flower, and most altars include profusions of the golden blooms in vases or on overhead arches.


And we can’t forget the candy sugar skulls!


They are called calaveras de azucar, and are inscribed with the name of the dead loved ones and eaten in their honor.




More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in the area of today’s Mexico, they encountered native peoples practicing a ritual dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl that seemed to mock death by celebrating the dead. Skulls were a powerful symbol.


The indigenous people had practiced this ritual for at least 3,000 years, during the entire ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, which is approximately today’s August. Although the Spaniards considered the ritual pagan and sacrilegious, the old Aztec rite refused to die.




In the Spaniards’ attempts to convert the Aztecs to Catholicism, the Days of the Dead were moved to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2), when Christians honor those who have passed on before. These dates remain today.


Nothing about Dia de la Muertos reflects the fright and horror of All Hallows’ Eve. In fact, skeletal figurines, the calacas and catrinas, are usually depicted laughing and cavorting and wearing bright clothes. skeletons1


On the Day of the Dead, the favorite foods of the departed person are prepared as well as bread, salt and water to help the spirit on its journey back. Candied pumpkin is a delicious treat, and special bread, called pan de muerto, is made from egg-rich dough flavored with anise and orange. The shapes vary regionally, but often reflect the shape of skull bones, although some bakers shape humans and animals.




The souls of children, or los angelitos are said to return on the first day of celebration. They are honored with miniature pan de muerto. The adult spirits, who return a day later, receive only the finest foods, dishes that require many ingredients and complex preparation. Specialties include mole, turkey or chicken in a chocolate chili sauce, and tamales, corn dumplings filled with meat and chili steamed in corn husks. Supposedly spirits take in the aromas of these foods since they cannot eat; therefore the more pungent and spicy, the better The foods are often displayed on the ofrenda, later eaten by the family or given away. Edible marigolds are included in many recipes.




Like the Aztecs, today’s central symbol in Day of the Dead festivities is the skull. Celebrants make and wear masks and dance to honor their loved ones. Masks range from expensive, cutting-edge pieces of fine art to simple children’s crafts, such as cutting eye holes from paper plates.




The whole idea of this festival is embracing life and an afterlife full of joy. Sometimes a gravesite itself becomes an ofrenda full of flowers and favorite foods, and the family picnics nearby.


Have you ever built an ofrenda or seen one? A sugar skull? What traditions are special to your family, neighborhood, or culture? Please share some of them with us today!


And don’t forget to enter our “Cowboy Under the Christmas Tree” contest while you’re here! 



Flying Horses

marryingminda-crop-to-useOn our recent trip north to visit our niece Katie and hubby John in the Lake Tahoe area, we paused to take in the sites and history of Sacramento including the mansion  some-wedding-sacramento-reno-tahoe-2009-115of Leland Stanford (1824-1893). Stanford wore such hats as California governor, railroad baron, university founder…and race horse owner. One of the video displays at the mansion shows his search to settle one of the hot debates of the 1870’s: Is there a moment in a horse’s gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once?


There is a legend that Leland Stanford bet $25,000 that it was true. Common reaction at the time nixed the idea. After all, if God wanted horses to “fly”, He would have given the creature wings.  But determined to settle the question, Stanford hired celebrity photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to prove it.


Actually Muybridge was born Edward Muggeridge in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, near London. He adopted the more dramatic moniker, believing it to be the true Anglo-Saxon spelling. eadweard-muybridgeHowever, he soon shortened it to Helios and became one of San Francisco’s most celebrated landscape photographers, taking more then 2,000 photographs with 20×24 inch negatives. His 1867 photographs of Yosemite Valley brought the valley…and himself…almost mythic status.


He accepted Stanford’s challenge in 1872 and came to “the farm” in Palo Alto. (It now is Stanford University.)  After a bit of a detour –Muybridge went on trial for killing his wife’s lover— he found it wise to spend some time in Mexico and Central America even though he was acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide. Here he did photography work for Union Pacific Railroad, one of Stanford’s companies. In 1877 Muybridge came back to Palo Alto and continued his experiments in motion photography, using 12 to 24 cameras and a special shutter he developed that gave an exposure of 2/1,000 of a second. stanford-horse-farm-camera

Muybridge’s first attempt indeed captured Stanford’s horse, Occident, silhouetted against white sheets with all four feet off the ground. Although these original pictures didn’t survive, Muybridge continued to work with Stanford to develop techniques in the “science of animal motion.”

In 1878, he succeeded in photographing a sequence of frames produced on wet plate with 12 cameras that proved the “flying horse.” The slow wet plate collodion process produced images that were mostly silhouettes, but they showed something never before seen by the human eye. muybridge-horse-3



iscientific-american-october-18-18781Scientific American and other prominent publications featured articles on Muybridge’s accomplishment. However, Stanford invited his close friend, horseman and medical physician  Dr. J.B.D. Stillman to produce a book analyzing the horse-in-motion. Stillman used Muybridge’s photography without crediting the photographer. Interestingly, when Muybridge sued Stanford and Stillman for copyright infringement, he lost his suit.

Eadweard migrated to the University of Pennsylvania after that where he developed sequences of human figures, both clothed and naked (including himself unclothed). This important collection helped scientists and artists study human and animal movement, and many of the sequences were published in 1887 in a portfolio,  “Animal Locomotion, An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement.”. To simplify, imagine the “flip books” of your childhood. And actually, Muybridge’s sequences are available for kids in just this format in the mansion gift shop.

For all these reasons, and for the big one — the zoopraxiscope—Eadweard Muybridge is often called the father of the motion picture. To illustrate his lectures, he developed the’scope; its lantern projected images in rapid succession onto a screen. The images came from his photographs, printed on a glass disc. From the rotating disc came the illusion of moving pictures. muybridge-zoopraxiscope

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope display, an important predecessor of the modern cinema, was a sensation at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Muybridge continued to promote his photography and publish his work until his retirement in 1900 at which time he returned to England. “Animal Locomotion” is still in demand by art students today.     flying-single-horse 

I’m always amazed at the progress and prowess of people who came before. What a debt we owe to their ingenuity, their resilience. In honor of Eadweard Muybridge’s legacy, what are your favorite motion pictures?


Tanya Hanson: “I measure all lakes by Tahoe…” -Mark Twain



“I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” said Mark Twain upon his first sight of the “big water” on a summer day in 1863. Although he lived in Virginia City, Nevada and wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, he’d decided to try harvesting timber from the lake’s luxuriant wooded shores for the Comstock Lode mines. mark-twain

“It was a vast oval,” he later wrote in Innocents Abroad,  “…80 or 100 miles in traveling around it.”  

Actually, the drive around the Tahoe shoreline  is 71 miles, 42 belonging to California, 29 to Nevada. and so spectacular it should be on everybody’s Bucket List. The breathtaking clarity of the lake water exceeds depth of 75 feet! Although this is down from 100 feet in the late 1960’s, it has held stable since 2001. In fact, Mark Twain blamed the clear water for his failures at fishing, saying if he could see fish 80 feet down, they surely could see him as well and refuse to be caught.

The lake holds enough water , 39 trillion gallons, to cover entire California fourteen inches deep. The amount of water evaporating every 24 hours could supply Los Angeles with its daily demand for water!

And some people get to live here! Today Lake Tahoe is a mix of residents and tourists, but the first humans here were the Washoe. For centuries, the tribe migrated here from Nevada’s Carson Valley every summer  to seek cooler temperatures and abundant fish and game, and hold religious ceremonies at the  lake sacred to them.  They named the lake, Da-ow-a-ga, meaning “edge of the lake.” The basketry of the Washoe women is especially famed today.  

In 1844,  John C. Fremont and Kit Carson recorded the first non-native “sightings.” Mispronouncing the Washoe name, they called the lake “Tahoe.” It was officially named Tahoe in 1945 after names such as Lake Bonpland and Bigler (after California’s third governor) failed to stick. Although Kit Carson went on in 1848 to carve the nearby Carson Pass known then as the Mormon-Emigrant Trail, the Tahoe area was virtually ignored until the discovery of silver in Virginia City in 1859.

tahoe-loggingThus began the heartbreaking deforestation of this lush land from 1860-1880’s, as timber was relentlessly cut to build the mines of the Comstock and the boomtowns, trestles and snowsheds of the Central Pacific Railroad. A logging empire established on the east shore clear-cut the entire shoreline, and the natural resources are still recovering. I’m happy that Twain only spent a few half-hearted weeks working a timber claim.

In 1860, the lake had its first permanent resident. General William Phipps claimed 160 acres in today’s Sugar Pine Point and built a humble cabin.  general-phipps-cabinDuring his twelve years at the lake, he built a second cabin, a pier and a boathouse while successfully protecting his homestead from loggers. His homestead is preserved today, and does it ever have a room with a view.


On this same plot at Sugar Pine in 1903, banker Isias Hellman built a vacation cabin, ahem—a spectacular three-story mansion with Phipps’s same view. Sadly, sugar pines are scarce in the basin today, still recovering from the deforestation of more than a century ago. Florence Ehrman inherited her father’s estate in 1920, her heirs selling it to the State of California in 1965, which offers daily tours. tahoe-ehrman-mansion-2

Not far away at Emerald Bay sits Fannette Island, the lake’s only island, overlooked by Vikingsholm Castle. A castle?  Vikings?  taho-vikingsholmIndeed. In 1928, the bay so reminded Mrs. Lora J. Knight of Norwegian fjords that she instructed a Scandinavian architect to build her a vacation home without chopping down or injuring any of her land’s natural trees.  The resulting structure was built with the same methods and details of a Norse fortress circa 800 A.D. and includes sod roofs,  tahoe-grass-rooflike those in Scandinavia which fed livestock in the wintertime. For her guests, Mrs. Knight built a special “tea house” on Fannette Island.  Look to the top of the island in the photo to see it.tahoe-fannette-islane-emerald-bay

Now, I’ve seen such historic, iconic waters as Lake Champlain, Walden Pond, the Mississippi, the big Muddy, the Columbia, and others, but nothing, nowhere, does it for me the way Lake Tahoe does.  Since it’s one of my favorite places ever, and Twain is one of my favorite authors, I can’t help but quote him again because he said it best. “I have such a high admiration for it (Tahoe) and such a world of pleasant recollections of it, that it is very nearly impossible for me to speak of lakes and not mention it.”

How lucky were Ben Cartwright and the boys to live around here. Sadly, the ranch at the Incline area was closed to tourists in 2004 after a 37-year ride. ponderosa_ranch_incline_002

How about you? Have you ever visited Lake Tahoe? What other bodies of water are special to you? Do you fish? Have a mountain home? Go river rafting?

(P.s. All the travel brochures warn that it can snow any time at Lake Tahoe. Believe it. Here’s me in late May. )




Tanya Hanson: Historic “Fire Marks”



 I wrote this blog some time ago, before my fair homeland of Southern California exploded in flames.  Although I live on a coastal plain far from the burning hills and valleys, the sky miles away is filled with visible “pyrocumulus” clouds of smoke that resemble nuclear blasts. Nearly 200 square miles have burned. The only good thing, if a good thing can be found:   the “devil winds,” the hellish Santa Anas aren’t blowing.  The hell would become Armageddon  if that were so.

My hubby spent his professional career chasing this kind of wildfire. He’s retired now, but I remember those panic-stricken days glued to the TV set, not knowing exactly where in the state he was, or how long he’d be there. Or worse, if I’d ever seen him again.  In fact, when we were dating, if I got stood up it wasn’t personal. I’d turn on the TV and sure enough, there was a wildfire somewhere, and he was out in the thick of it. Tragically, a pal of his died in a firestorm on Monday. He  remembers “cutting line” –removing stubborn brush and growth in a path around something to save it –with Ted on the same winding, treacherous mountain  ridgeline where Ted, a fire captain, died.

Right now, let’s bombard heaven for the safety of the men and women fighting these infernos, for the folks having to evacuate and leave behind most of what they hold dear, and for the precious wildlife and domesticated animals, so terrified and displaced. We made a donation today to the SPCA to help feed the sweet animals they have sheltered.

Now, on a happier note, throughout those 34 years as a firefighter, my hubby received a ton of unique fire-related gifts from family and friends.  He’s got a crystal liquor decanter shaped like a fire hydrant, reproduction antique cast-iron toy engines, a framed collage of all his cloth patches,…and a whole caboodle of “fire marks.”  firemark-valiant-hose

Fire mark? Whazzat?

The fire mark, a cast iron plaque about a foot large, originated in England long ago. British fire insurance companies used these plaques to identify properties they’d insured because each company had its own fire brigade. A private firefighting team would put out a fire only when it saw its employer’s mark on a property! Yikes. 


Not here in America! Volunteer fire companies existed here long before the fire insurance companies.  In fact, groups of volunteer firefighters in many large cities organized their own insurance companies, most of which issued fire marks. However, the “badge,” was never necessary for firefighting purposes.  Firemen put out your fire no matter what. The fire mark was simply an advertising tool.

In 1736, Benjamin Franklin founded the Union Fire Company, America’s first volunteer fire company, in Philadelphia, and in 1752, his insurance company was the first to issue a fire mark. Six of the company’s  twelve directors had every inducement to reduce fire loss—they were volunteer firefighters as well as mutual policy holders. The fire mark identified properties that would be financial losses for them, and saving those properties became a high priority.  

However, no volunteer company refused to protect a burning home or business that didn’t  display a fire mark. In fact, volunteer fire companies raced each other to be “first water” on a fire. Competition among companies was fierce, rivalry intense. It was huge to be first at a fire.firemark-company

 But researcher Robert M. Shea has found rumors starting in the 20th century that claimed volunteer fire companies let structures burn if there were no fire mark. Not true! In 1929, the Franklin Fire Insurance Company in its 100th anniversary history stated that in Philadelphia’s early years, all fire companies would respond, but only the company whose “badge” was displayed on the structure would fight the flames.  A 1938 article by W. Emmert Swigart stated that  “If no insurance fire mark was seen, the free-lancers [volunteers] would often declare a false alarm and calmly walk away from the scene, much to the chagrin of the uninsured owner of the burning building.” Not true!

No sources exist, no records, no newspaper accounts or most of all, no public outrage, indicate that volunteer fire companies ignored their firefighting duties unless the property had a fire mark. Like with most anything, a snippet of falsehood often seems more intriguing than the truth, and I myself believed the stories for years until I researched this blog.  It does appear true, however, that some fire marks indicated an insurance company that paid rewards up to five dollars to the first engine company that arrived to a fire with its equipment in good working order.


Fire marks in America were definitely not required for firefighting. Their main purpose was a sign that the property was insured in addition to good advertising for the insurance company. One insurance company took to heart Benjamin Franklin’s theory that trees attract lightning and voted not to insure houses with trees in front of them. Its mark was, appropriately, a tree.firemark-of-tree

Indeed, the fire mark was one of the longest ad campaigns in America. The use of fire marks reached its peak from 1850 to 1870 as a result of the westward expansion of established companies in the East, and the smaller new companies of the Midwest..


The heyday of the “badge” was over by the 1890’s, By then, the era of modern firefighting, with full-time trained men and high- power steam engines had begun.. And of course, printed advertising material for an insurance company was cheaper and easier to dispense than the heavy cast-iron “badges.” 

However, the Baltimore Equitable Society still issues fire marks to keep the tradition alive and well.               

                                                                                     firemark-firehands                                          firemark-running

So how about  you? Is “fire mark” a new term for you today, or have you seen ‘em before?  Anyone ever visited a fire station?  Ridden in or on a fire truck? Any other “fire-y” tales to share?   


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Tanya Hanson: History and Romance, the perfect combo


 Well, there is something downright romantic about darling little birds flying in to California from Argentina on the same March day year after year to build their nests in the eaves of a jewel-like California mission. In the 1940’s, the hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” delighted radio listeners around the world. 

Truth is, the swallows have barely been seen at the San Juan Capistrano mission for years. Maybe it was all exaggeration. Or maybe the tiny birds got ticked off when work to preserve the mission started up ten years ago. Or…maybe their absence is just the tragic dearth of birdlife all over my fair state—the unhappy result of excessive building of houses and strip malls as far as one can see. Today, swallows are more likely to be seen building their mud nests on freeway overpasses even though mission-keepers try everything to lure them back to the grounds with ceramic nests and recorded bird songs.  

But there is definitely something romantic going on in San Juan Capistrano as you’ll soon see, after I enlighten (bore?) you with a few facts about the mission itself.

The founder of California’s mission system, Junipero Serra instructed Father Fermin Lasuen to found a mission between San Diego and San Gabriel, and Fermin did so in 1775. He named it for St. John of Capistrano, Italy. The local Indians, the Juaneno, were friendly and helped construct the buildings, church, and belltower. In its heyday, 1811, the mission grew 500,000 pounds of wheat, 303,000 pounds of corn, and had 14,000 cattle, as many sheep, and some 800 horses.


However, an earthquake in December 1812 destroyed the church and killed 40 natives; Pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard provided further destruction in 1818 when he raided the California coast. bouchard

(To be honest, I didn’t even know a blackguard buccaneer had raided my beloved home coast! Grrrrrrrrrrrr. Sounds like future blog material?)


In 1834, after Mexico won independence from Spain, the Mexican government ended the mission system and sold the land. Don Juan Forster became the owner of the mission in 1845, and the Forster family lived there for years.

When President Abraham Lincoln returned mission lands to the Catholic church in 1863, Mission San Juan Capistrano was in ruins, and Frank A. Forster, Don Juan’s grandson, lived in a small home on the site. In 1910, he decided to build an elegant mansion for his family.  And a good thing he did, for the Forster Mansion was the gorgeous site of our daughter’s wedding just eleven days ago.  forster-mansion-historic


The Forster Mansion was the first stucco-covered home in an area of adobe homes, and a historic wall of the mission still defines the property.The wall is the focal point against which a flower-bedecked arch is positioned during  wedding ceremonies. wedding-arbor-day-of


At a cost of about $10,000, Frank constructed a mansion of 6,000 square feet that soon became the hub of high society. Sadly, by 1983, the mansion was considered nothing more than a “tear down” until foresighted buyers restored it to its original elegance, making it one of the premiere event sites in this south Orange County area. And the mansion even has a ghost! Owners swear to cigar smoke, inter-changed portrait on walls…and the stub of  one of “George’s” cigars is enshrined under a glass dome in the parlor. Georg has been seen in moustache and khaki clothing and the bedroom upstairs credited to him has a “crack” in the wood door so he can keep an eye on things.

Today the mansion is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Properties.  

I couldn’t have been happier with Christi’s choice of wedding venue, lover of history that I am. The fountain directly across from the historic wall is the starting point for processionals, including a ringbearer who did the job great even though he refused to wear his tux jacket. His shiny shoes, however, did make the cut. 


 To the artful music of a string quartet playing the same Bach air I marched up to 35 Augusts ago, my hubby escorted his daugher in a misty, poignant moment. With her cousins, her sisters-in-law, her brother, and her sorority sisters waiting for her at the altar, it was a family moment ever etched in my  heart.


 The bride wore her godmother’s garter and the sixpence from my wedding shoe.

 Later, the yellow Livestrong theme garnished with lemons graced the event.  livestrong-theme


And with beloved friends and family surrounding us,  a special pastor blessing us all, I know the newlyweds will have a HEA even better than anything I could pen.


Truly, a day to remember. History. Romance. Love. Family. Friendship.


Now, how about you? Have you ever visited a California mission? How about a historic church or cathedral, a shrine or otherwise sacred ground? To me, battlefields and cemeteries count! Let’s hear from ya today!


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Welcome, Paty Jager

paty-jager-marshal-in-petticoatsAll us fillies today extend a hearty downhome welcome  to Miss Paty Jager! This award-winning Western author is filling in for me so I can head on south for my daughter’s wedding and all the shenanigans that need to get done. She’ll be giving away a copy of her first book in the Halsey Brothers series, Marshal in Petticoats, so make sure you leave a comment.

Paty received the prestigious Eppie Award in 2008 for her contemporary romance, Perfectly Good Nanny, set in eastern Oregon ranch country. It’s a book I enjoyed from start to finish, and such recognition is truly deserved. Thanks for spending some time here at Wildflower Junction, Paty.

Scroll down to read Paty’s post for today.