Lighthouse stripes help guide ships around the world

The United States has more than one thousand lights protecting ships and shores. There are the classic lighthouses, light towers, range lights, and pier lights. In the late 19th century, the Lighthouse Board assigned each lighthouse in the U.S. a distinctive color pattern. The paint pattern (horizontal or stripes) is the day-mark and the light sequence of the colors (white, black, red) is the night-mark. This differentiation in day-mark and night-mark helps mariners to recognize the specific lighthouses from others in an area as they sailed along the coast.

For example, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, received its famous black and white spiral pattern in 1873. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse protects one of the most hazardous sections of the Atlantic Coast. The area around the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of ships have wrecked in this region because of the convergence the Gulf Stream with the Virginia Drift, a branch of the Labrador Current from Canada, making the waters treacherous.

The Bodie Lighthouse, also on the Outer Banks, has a distinctive horizontal pattern of black and white stripes. These markings distinguished it for mariners from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 42 miles away.

Now that you know about the differences in markings keep your eye out for lighthouses as you travel along the coastlines.

OBX Bodie Lighthouse

A trip to the beach isn’t complete without salt water taffy from a candy store.
But is there salty ocean water in that taffy?

Salt water taffy was first found in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 19th century in a store on their now-famous boardwalk. Salt water taffy is the sweet treat in dozens of colors that you find in beach towns across the U.S. While you might think that the taffy was made with ocean water, that’s a myth. The story goes that the original candy shop was flooded during a storm, and the salty water soaked the candy. The store repackaged the taffy as salt water taffy to sell it to their customers, and a new name for the sweet confection was born.


The Best South Carolina Beaches and Hammocks

I grew up traveling down to Pawley’s Island, SC each year for a week with my family. This wonderful destination is home to beautiful beaches, great surf fishing, and the famous Hammock Shops. As the name implies, this is where you can find the original Pawley’s Island Hammocks. Not only can you buy a hammock to bring home, but you can also watch craftsman weaving the hammocks in an open-air shop.

I am on my third Pawley’s Island hammock. This last one is strung between two trees in a shady spot in my garden. It has happily been there for three straight years spending our snowy winters outside. I had grown up with cotton hammocks, but my last purchase was one made from “duro-cord.” Duro-cord is some kind of blended fiber, and I find it to be softer than the polyester hammock they sell. And, I know from past experience that the all-cotton hammocks do not last very long when left outside in the rain and cold. Since I like to plop down into our hammock at any time of the year, I want one that can stay outside and handle the wear and tear from the elements. Now I have a hammock that I can enjoy all year long, come rain or shine.


What an evening at the beach at Pawley's Island

Who created the first lollipop?

The history of the lollipop is a bit vague. Some think that lollipops were invented during the American Civil War. Others believe that a version of the lollipop has been around since the early 1800s. What is known is that in 1905, the owner of the McAviney Candy Company may have stumbled upon the lollipop by accident. The company made boiled hard candies that were stirred with a stick, and at day’s end, the owner brought the sticks covered with the candy home for his children to enjoy. It wasn’t until 1908 that he began to market these candy sticks in his store.

In 1908, in Racine, Wisconsin, the first lollipop machine was developed by the Racine Confectionary Company. They created a machine that put hard candy on the end of a stick at the rate of 2,400 sticks per hour. At the time, the owners believed that they could produce enough candies on a stick in a single week to supply the nation’s demand for an entire year.

Also in 1908, George Smith, owner of a confectionary company called the Bradley Smith Company, took credit for inventing the modern version of the lollipop. In 1931, he took the next step and trademarked the term ‘lollipop.” It is said that he borrowed the name from a famous racehorse of the time named Lolly Pop.

And how are lollipops made?

Making lollipops is simple. First, candy makers mix and heat sugar and corn syrup. Once cooked, bright colors and wonderful flavors are added. The sticky mixture then goes to a batch roller and press. This process forms the head of the lollipop and the machine inserts the sticks. The lollipops are then cooled, wrapped and are ready to find their way to a candy store near you.

Lollipops are one of the most popular candies. Companies such as Dum Dums in Bryan, Ohio, and  Hammond’s in Denver, Colorado offer daily tours so you can see firsthand how they are made.

Are frogs and toads the same?

I was wandering down by the edge of the water with my son. We were skipping rocks and having a great time. Then he asked me one of those questions that I had never really thought about… “Are frogs and toads the same thing?”

Now I knew that they weren’t the same thing. I have seen plenty of frogs and toads in the wild and in exhibits at aquariums, like the amazing poison dart frogs at the National Aquarium of Baltimore. But I had to confess that I did not know exactly what made frogs different from toads.

Here’s what I found out:

Do not need to live near water to survive
Have rough, dry, bumpy skin
Have a wider body
Have lower, football-shaped eyes
Have shorter, less powerful hind legs
Will run or take small hops rather than jump
Do not have many predators. (Lucky for them, they taste bad. A toad’s skin lets out a bitter taste and smell that burns the eyes and nostrils of its predators.)

Need to live near water
Have smooth, moist skin that makes them look “slimy”.
Have a narrow body
Have higher, rounder, bulgier eyes
Have longer hind legs
Take long high jumps
Have many predators (Sad for them, they taste good.)

Frogs and toads are very important to ecosystems. With frogs generally spending part of their lifecycle in water, and their moist skins are especially sensitive to pollution. We can all help to reduce the impact of pollution on frogs by preventing chemicals such as petrol, insecticides, detergents, and fertilizers from entering our waterways.

Fog on the water at Walnut Creek Park, Charlottesville, VA

find a rink near you and choose the correct skates

Ice skating is a fun way to spend an afternoon. In some cities, you can skate all year round and in others, rinks pop up for the winter holidays. One can also skate outside on a frozen pond but this takes a seasoned pro to know when the ice is thick enough to be safe. I have skated on a frozen pond and a frozen reservoir in a tucked away cove, but the ice has always been tested with a drill to measure the exact depth of the ice. Even with the ice depth tested, each person always skates with an ice hockey stick as a precaution – just in case the ice were to crack.

choosing your skates the first time

If you are a beginning skater or have a new skater with you, wearing figure skates until you have the basics down is a good idea. Figure skates have a long, flat blade that is pointed on the back with a toe pick on the front. Ice hockey skates have a rounded blade that is curved on both ends. I have often seen ice hockey skates being given to a new skater and have watched them fall backward over and over because of the rounded blades. If you have a new skater start with figure skates.

One other tip – a great way to start out as a new skater on the ice is to march – yes march! If you are taking steps up and down then you aren’t sliding out of control. You transition from marching steps to a gentle glide. From there, the gliding becomes skating.

A quick search on the term – “find an ice skating rink near me” – should locate a fun place to skate. Pack your warm gear and head out for a day of ice skating.


How a scary fairy tale becomes a Christmas classic

The story of The Nutcracker is loosely based on a scary fairy-tale penned by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 that was intended only for adults. Years later, a new version of the story made it nicer and more appropriate for children. Marius Petipa, chief ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, liked this story and decided to have it made into a ballet in the 1890’s. He commissioned Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky to write the music.

The now-famous story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is about a girl who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve. The nutcracker wages a victorious battle against the evil Mouse King. Unfortunately, the first performance of the Nutcracker was a failure. In a letter to a friend, Tchaikovsky himself wrote, “Apparently the opera gave pleasure, but the ballet not really; and, as a matter of fact, in spite of all the sumptuousness it did turn out to be rather boring.”

Despite the disaster of its original performance, The Nutcracker has become one of the most performed ballets and an introduction to the ballet for many people. There are productions of The Nutcracker all across the country and around the world during November and December. The Nutcracker is performed in hundreds of different ways with unique stage designs and costumes. Find a ballet near you and create a holiday tradition with your family and friends.

Atlanta Ballet

Hong Kong Ballet

New York City Ballet

Royal Ballet London

San Francisco Ballet


Picking apples at a farm near you

It’s apple season and there are orchards and markets across the country overflowing with apples. There are pies to be made, apple butter to cook and harvest festivals to attend.

Before you bite into that next apple, here’s a bit about its history:

The apple tree originated in Western Asia, where you can sill find its wild ancestor today. Archeologists have found evidence that humans have been enjoying apples since at least 6500 B.C. After thousand years of cultivation, there are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples, resulting in a range of characteristics from color to crispness. Apples were brought to North America with colonists in the 1600s, and the first apple orchard was said to have been planted near Boston in 1625. Apples must cross-pollinate to develop fruit. With the large decline in natural bee populations over the recent years, apple growers usually bring in hives of pollinators to carry the pollen during the flowering season.

With apples being grown all across the country, there’s probably a festival near you. Find an orchard or festival and have fun!


Trail hiking and fishing in Virginia

One of the great things about the Charlottesville, Virginia area is the variety of outdoor activities that are available. We have mountains to hike, rivers to raft and beautiful state and local parks to explore. Walnut Creek Park is one of the many gems in the countryside that you should definitely visit. Walnut Creek is in Albemarle County, just a short 15-minute drive south of Charlottesville. You can rent a canoe, play frisbee golf on a large course or swim in the lake during the warm months of the year. There are miles of mountain biking trails for riding enthusiasts. The bike trails are also great for walking, but you do you need to pay attention and be ready to step aside when bikers are coming.

I have recently been spending quite a bit of time at Walnut Creek Park. The park is a great place to take a dog for an on-leash walk. You can walk through the woods on different trails that are tagged based on their difficulty. You can also walk on a lovely trail that winds its way around the end of the lake.

If you are a fisherman, you need to bring your rod and reel out to Walnut Creek Park. I have seen folks fishing from the sides of the lake, as well as from boats that they have launched themselves. You could also fish from one of the many canoes that are available for rent.

All in all, Walnut Creek Park is a great place to spend an hour or an entire day.

Fog on the water at Walnut Creek Park, Charlottesville, VA


Rides, games, and animals at your local fair

What ride threatens to make you sick at the fair? Is it the Tilt-a-Whirl? Maybe it is the Flying Pirate Ship that may at any moment dump you out of your seat. For me, it is the cute green dragons.

Those dragons seem innocent enough with their pretty colors and smiling faces, but beware! Unknown to me was the fact that they each spin individually, while simultaneously being hurled around in a circle. Really, I can’t think of any carnival ride more torturous for an adult. Of course, my two small children thought it was the best ride they have ever been on. They grabbed the wheel in the middle of the dragon and spun it around and around making us go faster and faster. To survive, I had to look out the door and try and focus on a light or building, anything to keep my dizzy head from getting the best of me.

When the ride was finally over, I stumbled outside and safely away from the grinning dragon. The kids handed the man two more tickets and jumped back on. My lesson…. let the kids ride the spinning dragons. I’m happy to wait by the fence with some kettle corn.

Here are a few fairs with and without dragons.

Harvest Faire in Newport News, VA
October 12-14
Harvest Faire is a modern interpretation of a late 15th-century European fall harvest celebration and tournament.    Entertainers and a market mix with the sounds of good-natured martial competition and the smells of period cooking.     Watch a craftsperson plying their trade, try your hand at games of chance and skill, and cheer for the warrior of your choice at the Field of Honors. Wander through 6 acres of the village on a 22-acre site.

New York Fairs 
July through September
In addition to the New York State Fair, there are dozens of local county fairs across the state.

California Fairs
January through December
You will find large country fairs and small farm fairs all across California. You could spend almost every day enjoying fresh food and riding rides.

More to come…..