Origins of Valentine’s Day

Now that we are arming ourselves to find the perfect gift for our significant others, do we ever wonder who or what started this odyssey?  Back in the day, Valentine’s Day was characterized as a day of romance.

Today, caring, gratitude, and love are grouped together.  They may range from a simple handwritten note to flowers, chocolates, or to a fancy dinner.  Rather than being focused on only a love interest, valentines are routinely sent to a sibling, a teacher, a classmate, a policeman, or a good friend.  The idea is to take a moment to think of something special for someone special, and it does not necessarily have to have a cupid or heart on it.  Recipients will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

There are a number of Saints called Valentine who are honored on February 14.  Originally, the day became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages in England. This may have followed on from the beginning-of-Spring festivals that were held all over Europe as winter came to an end.  The link between February 14 and St. Valentine has been attributed to a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375.   In the poem Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day”.   William Shakespeare followed suite, and soon, exchanging handmade cards and tokens became popular in England.

Gradually, the Valentine cards, as we know them, became the norm throughout the 19th century. During the industrial revolution, mechanization facilitated commercial printing.  This, combined with cheaper postage, helped foster the greeting card industry as we now know it.

With mass-produced cards, the commercial card industry began to grow, and by 1913, Hallmark Cards had entered the scene. Today, it is estimated that loved ones send approximately 145 million cards around the world every Valentine’s Day.

Flutter Shawls

Every Valentine’s Day, the Bee & Thistle endeavors to present a number of alternatives for the appropriate Valentines gift.  Our selections are apropos for any age, any budget.  Just to give you head start, we would like to show you a new version of a customer favorite.  These newly arrived flutter shawls, shown above, are quite appropriate for Valentine’s Day.  Come see for yourself.



The Origins of Halloween and a Few of Its Legends


Halloween is upon us, and just about everyone has different ideas about the origins of Halloween, its customs, and traditions.  To do an exhaustive ‘expose’ of Halloween would be beyond the scope of this paper.  It may be both interesting and fun, however, to delve into some of the historical everyday occurrences which evolved into what we know as Halloween.  First, however, let’s find out where it originated.

Origin of Halloween.  Halloween, although it was not called Halloween then, really originated as long ago as 5 B.C., so much of what is known about ancient ‘Halloween’ was passed via word of mouth.  The consensus is that Halloween originated in the British Isles as part of a Pagan Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced sow-en).  The Celts believed that on this day the spirits of the dead rose and mingled with the living.  The Celts left food out for the living and wore masks (much like what we do today) to scare off the bad spirits.

Many centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church, trying to do away with pagan celebrations, established November 1st as All Saints Day to celebrate all of the saints who did not have their own holy day.  This, however, did not lessen the attention paid to the Samhian celebrations, and they only grew and grew.  In the 1840’s, with the massive Irish immigration to America in the 1840’s, Halloween found its way to the United States where it continued to flourish.

The modern name, Halloween, comes from “All Hallows’ Evening”, or in the slang, “All Hallow’s Even”.  Eventually, it became abbreviated to “Hallowe’en and then to Halloween.

Trick and Treating.  This fun activity was brought to America by the Irish and eventually became popular early in the 20th century.  It died out during WWII when sugar was rationed.  After the rationing ended in 1947, the children’s radio programs “Jack and Jill”, the Ozzie and Harriet show, and the Peanuts comic strip all contributed to resurrecting this popular pastime of dressing up in costumes and asking for candy at the door.  The candy industry on Halloween, at last count, sells over $2 billion in candy which translates roughly into 90 million pounds of chocolate!

Enjoying High Tea

There are innumerable teas in the world. To provide a comprehensive list of them in this blog would be difficult, to say the least.  There are many people, like myself, who have decided to switch from coffee to tea at breakfast because tea just ‘fits’ better in the morning. In a bit, we’ll look at one of the most enjoyable ways to continue your search for a favorite tea – by attending a high tea.  First, a brief history of tea.

History of Tea and Teabags

The act of immersing leaves from a tea bush in boiling water to create a refreshing drink came about serendipitously.  It appears that some 5,000 years ago a Chinese emperor was journeying to a far flung province.  Avoiding risk to his constitution, he liked to partake of his drinking water only after it had been boiled.  On one occasion, a few leaves from an adjacent bush were accidentally blown by the wind into the water boiling pot.  He must have been very thirsty because he chose not to quibble but drink it down.  He found it to be a surprisingly refreshing beverage, and it was here that the drinking of tea was born.  Tea did not reach Europe for another 4500 years.

Interestingly enough, tea bags also came about by chance. In 1908, a New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan started sending tea samples out to his customers in little silk sachets, intending them to be opened and the tea leaves emptied out into the pot.  Some of his customers misunderstood and immersed the silk sachets into the water filled tea pots with their contents still inside. Result – tea bags!

Enjoying High Tea

One of the more enjoyable ways to enjoy tea is to participate in what is called a “High Tea” here in America.

High Tea Set-up

Participating in high teas provides an excellent and enjoyable environment for you to sample a number of teas while enjoying the ‘delectables’ served during the tea. The term “High Tea” has had, and continues to have, a number of meanings, particularly in the UK.   Many tea drinkers in the UK routinely enjoy what they call “Afternoon Tea” which is similar to the high tea we enjoy in the US.

A Brief History of Afternoon Tea

Legend has it that Afternoon Tea was started in the UK in the mid-1800s by the Duchess of Bedford. Around this time, kerosene lamps had been introduced in wealthier homes, and eating a late dinner (8 or 9 p.m.) had become fashionable.  This increasingly late dinner was one of only two meals each day, the other was a mid-morning, breakfast-like meal.

One day the Duchess asked her servant to accompany her pot of refreshing Afternoon Tea with, “Perhaps a few sweet items and maybe a couple of small sandwiches as well”. This certainly did the trick in helping the Duchess and her friends stave off the pre-dinner hunger pangs, and it quickly became a habit.  The Duchess certainly mentioned it to her friend Queen Victoria who introduced Afternoon Tea at court. By the end of the 19th century, Afternoon Tea had become a pastime with social status.

High Tea vs. Afternoon Tea

Outside of the United Kingdom, many people, and certainly in the US, we refer to an Afternoon Tea as ‘high tea.’  Although the idea that high tea here in the US is a meal of foods like scones and finger sandwiches is common, it is not actually correct in a traditional or historical sense.

What, then, is Afternoon Tea in the UK?  Afternoon Tea, is also known as ‘low tea’ in the UK.  It involves things like manners, lace, and dainty foods.  It is typically served in the mid-afternoon and it was traditionally served on low tables, hence its two names.  An Afternoon Tea menu is light and focuses on scones, finger sandwiches. Marmalade, lemon curds, and herbed butter may also be included. Favorite teas for Afternoon Tea include black teas like Earl Grey and Assam, and herbal teas like chamomile and mint.  Historically, Afternoon Tea was considered to be a ladies’ social occasion, and it is more often enjoyed by women than men to this day.

In the past, high tea was a working class meal served on a high table at the end of the workday, shortly after 5 p.m.  It was more a family meal than it was an elite social gathering.  High tea was usually a heavy meal of meat dishes such as steak, kidney pie, and other heavy foods such as baked beans and cheesy casseroles.  A possible explanation why this type of meal was called high tea is the fact that it was eaten at a table. In comparison, Afternoon Tea was taken whilst seating in low, comfortable chairs or sofas.

It is important to add that the Afternoon Tea menu served in the UK today is often referred to as high tea in many other parts of the world. Because of this some hotels, such as The Ritz in London, use the term ‘High tea in London’ to advertise their Afternoon Tea because a large proportion of their customers are from overseas.

I hope that this clears up some of the confusion about high tea.  Normally, here in the US, at ‘high tea’, an assortment of teas are presented for your selection and this should help you in your quest for a favorite tea.  Should you be in the mood for scones, clotted cream, and triangular sandwiches, please ask your server for a menu to be sure you are served the right dish.

Scrimshaw Art

Scrimshaw box


Often, when visiting a gentleman’s office or in his den, you may be fascinated by boxes or other items adorned with nautical pictures produced by artists using an art form called ‘scrimshaw’ on ivory or other similar substances.  The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the scrimshaw art form and, due to its popularity, to provide some basic guidance for acquiring gifts using this medium.

Because of federal guidelines established in the early 1970’s, acquiring antique items made from various forms of ivory are protected and are usually only seen in museums like the Whaling Museum in Nantucket, MA.  Scrimshaw-like items can easily be acquired in gift shops, and they make a very attractive gift.  These items are usually made from animal bone or are cast from resin molds.

Origin of Scrimshaw

Although it is generally accepted that the modern form of Scrimshaw is an original American art form that dates back over 200 years, there are accounts of ancient Native American Eskimos or Inuit’s practicing a precursor to the American style of Scrimshaw.  While some say that the Eskimos passed this art form on to the New England sailors and whalers, it was the sailors and whalers who refined the art form and led the way to the modern more refined scrimshaw art we see and enjoy today.

Scrimshaw box

Antique Scrimshaw

On board whaling ships, the ivory teeth from the sperm whale were the most popular for scrimshaw engravings because they were plentiful and small enough to be stowed away in

the sailor’s sea chest.  Since they had no commercial value, the ship’s Captain would hand them out at no cost to the sailors who wanted them.

The scrimshaw engravings were done with a pocket knife or if the sailor/whaler was lucky he would get a discarded needle from the ship’s sail maker.  With the knife or needle the sailor would cut and/or scratch a picture into the polished surface of the tooth.  Then, periodically during the engraving process the sailor would rub pigment into the cuts and scratches.  Since ink wasn’t readily available they would get soot from the chimney of the ships cooking stove, or they would grind up gun powder with a little whale oil.  It was the pigment rubbed into the cuts and scratches that made the picture come to life.

Scrimshaw Moves Inland

From the sea, sailors and whalers brought us scrimshaw on whale’s teeth with images depicting nautical scenes and other things relating to their long voyages.  They also inscribed memories and images of loved ones back home. The art of scrimshaw was being practiced on land at about the same time as it was being done on the whaling ships.  Long before the invention and introduction of the modern cartridge firearms, muzzle loading, black powder firearms were used and everyone that carried a rifle or hand gun also carried a powder horn fashioned from a cow’s horn which they used to carry the black powder needed to load and fire their gun.  Like the whalers and their whale’s teeth, when the soldiers found time between battles they would engrave images onto their powder horns often of battle scenes and maps showing where they had fought.

Scrimshaw box

Modern Scrimshaw

Jackknives and sailmaker’s needles have been replaced by laser printers and specialized software.  One manufacturer we know created his own software for this process.  He acquires blank boxes made from bone from the Far East and can reproduce high quality, scrimshaw-like pictures at will.

Starting a Fairy Garden

Fairy Garden
Time to tend the flower garden with a friend.


I will bet that you didn’t know that fairy gardens are not a new phenomenon.  It is hard to believe that they had their beginnings in the US in 1893!  It is reputed that they began as bonsai dish gardens which were on display at the Japanese Pavilion in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Soon thereafter, the New York Times featured these miniature creations in an article and the rest, as they say, is history.  So, fairies had their start that long ago, and they are still as popular as ever.

Fairy and fawn
Fairy and fawn

Who Enjoys Fairy Gardens?

Fairy gardens are for both adults and kids.  Adults have them inside in their homes and offices, many times in terrariums or in the soil of an existing plant or tree.  Families enjoy fairy gardens in and around the garden or patio. Kids can enjoy them in their rooms, just as they would a doll house. With fairy gardens, you are only limited by your imagination. The more the innovative you can be in selecting the location or ‘container’ for your fairy garden, the more fun you will have with it.  Outside, for instance, an old, broken wheelbarrow or flower pot can be a great choice and a conversation piece, and can only add to the whimsy of your fairy garden.

How Do I Get Started?

There is no average age for our fairy garden customers.  Many are kids trying to start their fairy garden or picking up some items to add to their existing fairy garden.   Some adult customers come into our store with excited, but puzzled, looks on their face.  Their comments are something like this, “I love these, but how do you get started?”  They could mean for their child or for themselves.  The great thing about fairy gardens is that you can get started with a ‘favorite’ fairy, a little house to live in, one or more pets to keep the fairy company, and perhaps a friend so that the fairy doesn’t get lonely. For those who need a little help getting started, we have starter sets at the Bee & Thistle that can be a big help.

How Do I Improve My Fairy Garden?

Then, as you may have done with a doll house, you will probably need more things for the fairies to use.  These can include furniture, a sandbox, a wishing well, a gazing ball (fairies love to make wishes), and more. There are so many fairy garden web sites that it is easy to get confused.  Our suggestion is to be patient, let it grow gradually. As you find the right things for your fairies, gnomes, and sprites, your fairy garden will gradually grow into a wonderful, magical place.

Outside vs. Inside?

If the fairy garden is inside, it is easy to treat it like a doll house.  At the Bee & Thistle, we have ‘fairy boxes’ for just this purpose.  They come with preserved moss that acts like grass, and with this you have a ready-made starting point for your fairy garden.  If you decide to move it outside, I would suggest using the plants around the patio.  It is close, convenient, and will make an attractive backdrop for your fairy garden.  Most of the items for fairy gardens are waterproof, but they will weather like anything else you have around the patio.  It is recommended that you consider eventually moving the fairy garden indoors after the summer.

Ready to start your project? We’d love to hear all about it! Please feel free to stop in and talk to Eileen or John about your ideas about what comes next.  Good luck!

Fairy on a mushroom.
Fairy on a mushroom.

Creating a Man Cave ‘Starter Set’

Metal replica WWI airplanes
Metal replica WWI airplanes: Fokker Dr.1 German triplane (Red Baron’s plane); Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”, British biplane
Baseball Figure
Baseball Figure, 8.5 in. tall, part of a set.

There comes a time when a man wants to display his accomplishments to the world. Up to now, the ‘proof’ of these accomplishments has been stored in various places in the house because there just was no place to show them. Now is the time to begin planning for your display location, and for lack of a better word, we will call it a ‘man cave’.

Picking a location

To get started, let’s pick a location on the family property. In this example, we will use a single family home with a detached garage. Now we need a space -could be a room or part of a room that is not in the mainstream of family activity. In our example, we have ‘negotiated’ with the other family members that it will be either in the basement or in the detached garage and the budget will be minimal. The basement, however, is unfinished, and since we are trying to stay within a manageable budget, rather than tackle the expense of finishing the basement, we take a good look at the garage.

We are in luck. The garage has space ‘upstairs’, and short of moving or discarding what is there, we determine that this may just be the perfect location. It is definitely out of the mainstream and is suitable for our project.


We will be limited in our choices by the existing utilities already in the garage. Usually the garage will have electricity for lights. In the future as your room ‘matures’, you may want to increase the usage to include electric heat or major appliances and a new service entrance may be required.


Depending on the value of the furnishings to come, you may need to increase the level of security on the garage. Improvements like a large TV, refrigerator, or a sound system, could increase the value of the furnishings significantly.

Setting the Scene

Since we are talking about a starter set for our man cave, we are going to keep the costs down. Most guys are just looking for a place to display their favorite items. You all know what these usually are: trophies, diplomas, pictures. When you expand this to hobbies and sports, you may find that there just is not enough room for everything, so prior planning is definitely in order. You probably won’t have room for both a train layout and a ping pong table. For example, you can start with sports equipment you used in college, and a lot of times, this list can be expanded by including antique collectables related to the sport in question. Perhaps the ‘man cave manager’ was a veteran of the armed services and this could bring in a whole new dimension to the display.


Now that the theme or themes are determined, we need to consider the furniture needs. To keep the budget down, we will focus on using existing furniture for the man cave. In keeping with the starter set limitations we have set, the obvious choice will be the furniture that is in your attic or a friend’s or a relative’s attic that is just dying to find a new home.

We have now created a showplace for those mementoes that had been hiding all over the house all these years.

Wooden storage boxes
Wooden storage boxes decorated with book titles. Perfect for ‘stuff’ on the coffee table.
Faux Scrimshaw box
Faux Scrimshaw box made of bone and laser etched.