10 Things About St. Patrick’s Day

I own exactly one shirt that says “Irish Proud” and zero shirts that bear the common “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” I have a partially Irish heritage from both sides of my family. I can name at least three separate castles in Ireland where my ancestors were born (one of them is now a hotel). I’ve never taken St. Patrick’s Day very seriously. I’m not Catholic (though I certainly respect the solemnity of the day for those who are truly honoring the Saint), my heritage includes a hodge podge of cultures and this is only a piece of it, and I loathe the whole tradition of pinching anyone not wearing green. Don’t kiss me. Don’t pinch me. Do not touch me without my permission. And not just because we’re still in a pandemic.

Still. There are some fun things to know about St. Patrick’s Day and the holiday’s namesake himself. And since I have about a bajillion and one things going on right now, this month you get a short and sweet post.

10 Things You Might Not Know About St. Patrick’s Day:

  1. Saint Patrick wasn’t actually named Patrick. He adopted the moniker of Patrick during his years in the priesthood. It stems from the Latin “Patricius” meaning “father figure”. Scholars believe his given name was likely Maewyn Succat.
  2. Until the late 1960s and early1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day because it was a religious observance holiday. The laws changed as Ireland began to embrace the opportunity the holiday presented for the tourism industry. However, Belfast (Northern Ireland) didn’t have an official parade until 1998 due to hostilities between Protestants and Catholics.
  3. The color green didn’t become associated with St. Patrick or his namesake feast day until the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Prior, St. Patrick was most closely associated with blue–so much so that there is a hue actually named St. Patrick’s Blue.
  4. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade was the oldest continuously running civilian parade in the United States. The first parade was held in 1762 and it continued every year until the current pandemic caused its cancellation. The parade takes nearly 5 hours to complete and includes over 250,000 marchers. No floats are allowed.
  5. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world is thought to be the one held in 1732 in Boston. So why doesn’t it get to have the title of longest running St. Patrick’s parade? Because it’s not just for St. Patrick. Some time after the American Revolution (the sources I checked seemed to disagree on exactly when), the St. Patrick’s Day parade also became the Evacuation Day celebration commemorating the evacuation of British troops from the city. These days it focuses more on St. Patrick than the Evacuation, but the brief interlude and change of focus cost it the title. And now, some historians are pointing to new evidence found of a St. Patrick’s celebration in part of Florida. It seems records have been discovered discussing a St. Patrick’s Day parade arranged by a clergyman serving in the then Spanish occupied St. Augustine in the 1600s.
  6. St. Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t Irish. He was born to Roman parents in what is now England, Wales, or Scotland. Historians are not certain which. He was kidnapped as a teenager and sold into slavery in Ireland. Years later, he escaped in the middle of the night by traveling the peat bogs in total darkness and finding passage on a ship. He claims in his autobiographical Confessio that the reason he knew where to go and which ship to approach was because an angel appeared to him in a dream after he spent many hours praying in the field while working as a shepherd for his master. After his escape, he eventually made it home to his parents, but continued to have religious dreams and visions. Eventually he became a priest and returned to Ireland to minister to the people there. While plenty of historians say his capture and escape are entirely plausible given the circumstances of the day, others point out that the only reason we know any of this is because it’s what Patrick himself wrote. With that in mind, they think it is possible, though not an especially popular theory, that Patrick actually ran away from home to avoid being forced to follow in his father’s footsteps as a tax-collector.
  7. The legend that states St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland during a public sermon didn’t begin to circulate until some time after his death. There were never any snakes in Ireland. However, it is believed that the legend is metaphorical with snakes representing a form of evil in general.
  8. The reason shamrocks are so closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day is the Saint was regularly known to use the the three-leafed plant (as opposed to the four-leaf clover) to help explain the Holy Trinity to new believers.
  9. St. Patrick’s Feast Day, which was added to the Catholic calendar in 1631, falls during the observance of Lent, during which the Catholic church prohibits the consumption of meat (exceptions are made on Fridays, also fish doesn’t count as meat in the prohibition). However, the Church lifts the ban on St. Patrick’s Day to allow and encourage members to feast and celebrate the Saint.
  10. The dish commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage. However, it turns out that it’s an American tradition. In Ireland, cabbage and bacon are commonly served on the feast day. However, in Colonial New York, Irish immigrants living in slums couldn’t afford bacon. Instead they purchased leftover corned beef rations from ships returning to port after long voyages. The “corn” in corned beef is actually salt. The meat had large salt grains, known as corns of salt due to their size comparison to kernels, because it was used as a preservative. The poor immigrants would purchase the leftovers and boil it three times to get ride of the taste of brine before serving it with cabbage.

For anyone wondering why I keep capitalizing Saint when it is not directly followed by Patrick’s name, it’s because there is a difference between saint with a lowercase s and Saint with a capital S. Saint with a capital letter refers to someone who has been canonized by the Catholic Church. However, saint with a lowercase letter retains it’s original definition–believer. All Christians are saints, but very few are recognized as Saints.

There are many catchy Irish Blessings, but I’ll leave you with this one because I grew up with it embroidered and framed on the wall of the farm house we lived in: May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

10 Things About Adopting a Shelter/Rescue Pet (in the United States)

In December, my family had to say goodbye to our dearly loved Boxer. His name was Major and he was 11, almost 12. That’s pretty elderly for his breed, but it was actually a ridiculously aggressive form of bone cancer that took him from us. It was hard for all of us, but watching my 7-year-old react nearly did me in. We’d had Major since before he was born and that dog was his very first best friend. He cried. Bawled. And so did the rest of us. The last night Major was with us, my son refused to stop petting him to go to bed because he knew what the next day would bring. I couldn’t blame him. After the kids were in bed, my husband and I took turns doing the same thing. The next morning, even the vet tried to comfort us. I’m not a hugger, but one of the vet techs at our vet’s office has known us for years. She came in and hugged me. I let her. She was crying almost as much as we were.

We were blessed to have Major as part of our family for over 10 years. We adopted him from a local rescue organization. He was one of the first pets they took in as the head of the organization was just getting things started. You want to know some interesting things about my wonderful rescue dog? We adopted him when he was only one year old. He was already crate trained, house broken, and new several commands. We knew his birthday. He was up to date on vaccinations and neutered. All things that saved us time, money, and a lot of work. He was amazing. He was never aggressive to us or the kids, he was a big ol’ snuggle puppy. He was 75 lbs of wannabe lap dog. We let him be. Fuzz therapy is real. Snuggling with a dog and petting their fur is good for the soul.

You’re thinking, Only if all rescue dogs were that great. Spoiler alert: a LOT of them are. Seriously. We’ve taken time to grieve. We still miss our furry friend, don’t get me wrong, but there is an emptiness to our house without a dog here. And that’s saying something during a pandemic when all of us are home ALL. THE. TIME. We weren’t entirely sure we were ready for another dog, but we’ve kept in touch with the woman who runs the rescue that got us Major. She was in desperate need of an emergency foster for the last week so she could take in a dog from an animal cruelty case. If she didn’t, the local shelter might have put him down because they had no room to take him in. We said we’d foster him.

He was only with us for a week, but wow he did a lot to help heal our hearts. He was part of a neglect case. You’d think he’d have some behavioral problems, but he was the one of the sweetest, most loving dogs I’ve ever met. He had zero behavioral issues. He was about 18 months old, picked up on the concept of house training and crate training in a snap, was completely in love with our kids, gentle as could be, and his only desire was to be allowed to be near you. Well, not just near. Touching. It was like he didn’t believe we were all real. We even taught him how to play with toys. He didn’t understand the concept at first, but wow did he really enjoy it once he figured out he was allowed to have them. He already has a permanent family waiting on him. He left our house to go get neutered (a requirement of the rescue before they’ll allow adoption) and then on to his forever family! Interesting thing: He was a Pit Mix. A lot of people fear pit bulls. But pit bull itself isn’t a breed. It’s a group of breeds that look very much alike and are much maligned. There was not a mean or aggressive bone in that dog’s whole body, which is actually more commonly true of “pit bulls” than most breeds their size.

If the things I’ve told you about Major and Mojo (the foster dog) don’t seem to line up with the things you think about shelter/rescue dogs, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t know just how great a shelter/rescue dog can be. While this month’s post may not help much with world building (unless you’re writing a rom com about people who meet up while volunteering with a rescue or shelter–which I WOULD TOTALLY READ SO PLEASE LET ME BE A BETA FOR YOU), hopefully it will help shine a light on some often overlooked darlings.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Adopting a Shelter/Rescue Pet (in the U.S. because stats, laws, and populations are different in different countries).

  1. Approximately 6.5 million pets enter U.S. shelters every year. Anywhere from 1.5 million to 2.7 million end up being euthanized. Some for health reasons, but some because there is just no place for them to be. It’s not fair, it’s not easy, and even the shelter employees wish is wasn’t true.
  2. Almost 35% of people looking to adopt a cat or dog still turn to breeders first. There is nothing wrong with a *reputable* breeder, but sadly, not every breeder is, in fact, reputable. All this while nearly 7 million pets enter shelters annually just begging for a home–and at the cost of roughly $2 Billion in taxpayer dollars.
  3. People might go to a breeder because they want a pure bred dog. Great! Up to 30% of shelter animals are pure bred. People might avoid a shelter because they are afraid of unforeseen, costly health issues. However, due to the nature of the shelter system, every dog has to be given a full medical evaluation upon intake. That means, you’re actually just as likely to be up to speed about a shelter dog’s medical needs as you are a breeder’s dog (more so if the breeder isn’t entirely forthcoming).
  4. About half of the animals that enter the shelter system each year are adopted. Nearly 750,000 dogs and 620,000 cats are returned to their rightful owner after entering the shelter while being lost. Many more come in wearing collars but no identification tags or microchips.
  5. The most common reason cited for owner surrender of a pet is their behavior. Most (not all) of the reasons are the fault of poor training, not actual pet behavior issues. The most common time for owner surrenders is January-March. Families buy a pet for Christmas without really knowing what they’re getting into and end up giving up the pet before St. Patrick’s Day.
  6. The average age of a shelter dog is 18 months. Yes, there are some older and some younger, but nationwide the average is a year and a half. The good news for a potential adopter is that 18 months is out of the puppy chewing phase, and into adolescence. They’ll play and have derpy fun with you, they’re still pretty easy to train, and they won’t destroy your shoes. Although, full disclosure on that last part, Major would sometimes hide my shoes from me because he didn’t want me to leave the house without him. He didn’t hide my walking shoes, only the shoes I wore to work/church/etc. He never destroyed a single one, but he would hide them around the house.
  7. Scientific studies show that pet ownership is good for your health! Pet owners often have a longer life span than their non-pet owning counterparts. And I told you Fuzz Therapy is real. Studies have shown that petting an animal is good for your mental health. And shelter/rescue dogs usually LOVE people and being petted. They’re individuals, so there are definitely exceptions, but most of them are desperate to be loved.
  8. Most shelters/rescues have rules about spaying/neutering so that by the time a dog is adopted that’s already taken care of. One less expense for the new owner. They’ll also often go ahead and get the animal’s vaccines up to date. And most rescue dogs that spend time with foster families are pretty well trained by the time they get adopted out too. You might miss out on the super fluffy puppy stage, but wow is it ever hassle free.
  9. Adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue is often cheaper than buying from a breeder. There are still fees involved, but often hundreds less than from a breeder. And please, NEVER, EVER BUY A DOG OR CAT FROM A PET STORE. Those are more often than not (as in, almost always) puppy/kitty mill pets. They are bred in horrible conditions just to make a quick buck. So unless, it’s an adoption event that’s part of a partnership with a local shelter or rescue (that does happen and they are great!), don’t buy a dog or cat from a pet store. Many municipalities, counties, or even entire states are starting to pass laws against the sale of animals directly from a pet store (this would not affect shelter/rescue events), but not all. A town to the north of me just experienced weeks of protests to start the process of passing legislation against it when a pet store notorious for such practices tried to move in. The protestors are winning the battle for now, but it’s too early to give up the fight.
  10. If you can’t afford to spay/neuter or microchip your pet and that’s what’s keeping you from bringing an animal home, talk to your local shelter/rescue. They often know of events to help low income households get such services done for discounted prices. For instance, there is a clinic in my metro area that a few times a year holds an event for low income families to get their pets spayed/neutered for only $35. I know of several that do microchip clinics for $20. However, if money is an issue, I do suggest to talk to the shelter/rescue about the food costs for the specific pet you’re curious about. They can help give you a better idea of what you should expect to spend every month. And there are even pet insurance companies now, so if you’re worried about your pet needing emergency care that you can’t afford, the pet insurance company pays up front and you pay them over time (yes, there is often some sort of interest involved).

Having another dog in our home, even for a short while, definitely helped our hearts start to heal. We’re already talking to the rescue about taking in another dog, this one on a permanent basis. The rescue currently has a one-year-old Rottweiler (the type of dog I had as a child) female who is looking for a home. We met her and I love her. The kids love her. My husband loves her. She is gentle with my youngest son, she plays with my oldest son. She’s energetic and sweet. And hopefully she’ll be ours in about two weeks. She is already house broken and crate trained. She knows basic commands. Her foster home has kids and other pets, so we know she’s been well socialized and gets along well with others. Why was such a sweet baby surrendered? She was hit by a car and her previous owner didn’t want to pay for her surgery (not couldn’t–didn’t want to). So the rescue took her in. She’s been through the surgery and is doing WONDERFULLY. The orthopedic vet specialist says she is looking great. She’s healthy as can be, spayed, up to date on vaccines, and after her next check-up, she’ll come home to us. Forever.

I’m not saying in all this that buying a dog from a reputable breeder is a bad thing. I’ve had dogs from breeders before. But after my experience with Major, I know just how amazing shelter pets can be. Mojo reinforced that. And soon, Elsie the Rottweiler will too. So there is a special place in my heart for shelter/rescue dogs.

After all, love is a four-legged word.

10 Things About Lego

I have two sons who love to play with Lego. I want to say Legos because that’s what looks correct to me, but as I researched for this post, I discovered that the company officially confirmed some time ago that the plural of Lego is Lego. Also, they have decided it’s an adjective, not actually a noun because it describes parts (Lego bricks, Lego wheel, Lego minifigure, etc). They’ve clearly given it quite some thought.

But I digress. My two boys (I’m sure if I had a daughter she could very well be just as enamored, but I only have boys), adore building anything they can dream up out of their Lego sets. Dinosaurs, laboratories, jails, zoos, houses, spaceships, time machines, etc, they never stop imagining and building. And since our country (the United States) is trying to deal with a lot of crazy right now, I thought I’d spend this month focusing on something simple and wholesome. Toys.

Here are 10 Things You Might Not Know About Lego:

  1. The company started during the Great Depression. A Danish man named Kirk Kristiansen stopped building expensive wooden furniture that nobody could afford to buy during such a time, and instead began making small wooden toys. The company name is a mash up of two Danish words Leg and Godt. They mean “play well”.
  2. It wasn’t until 1949 that a salesman pitching a plastic mold injection machine changed the fate of the company. For part of his sales pitch, he had a small, studded, interlocking brick to help demonstrate what the machine could make. Kristiansen and his son, who by now had joined the enterprise, soon began making their own little brick toys not knowing that someone else held the patent! By 1958, Lego had improved upon the design and the mistake involving the patent violation wasn’t discovered until after the original patent holder passed away. The company’s official stance is that Kristiansen was “inspired” by the original patent holder, and they did eventually buy out that man’s company to avoid any messy legal issues.
  3. The margin of error on a Lego brick is 0.005 millimeters. But the process is so streamlined and precise that only about eighteen bricks per million have to be discarded due to irregularities. And with over 400 billion bricks in circulation around the world, it’s important to be consistent.
  4. A Lego brick made in 1958 and a Lego brick made today would still interlock with each other.
  5. Lego didn’t begin making the little people–minifigures, or minifigs for short–until the 1970s. Yellow was chosen as the universal color for them because the company thought it was the the most “racially neutral”. Minifigs didn’t start to have any other skin colors until licensing contracts began for already existing products, properties, or people. The first were NBA players.
  6. It wasn’t until the company started having financial difficulty in the late 1990s that they started considering licensing Star Wars products. The prequel trilogy was being hyped and they needed something that would guarantee revenue, but the official company stance had always been that no toy should represent war. They’d never before made a Lego firearm of any kind, real or imagined. The Star Wars series would require weaponry. It took six month of arguing before the board convinced the head of the company, Kristiansen’s grandson at this time, to sign the contract. It basically saved the company and opened the door for many, many more licensing agreements.
  7. A single Lego brick and withstand up to 950 lbs of force without breaking and can be hit thousands of times before cracking. It might be the most durable (and painful to step on) toy in history!
  8. Lego produces more tires for their playsets each year than Goodyear does.
  9. The heads of all minifigs are hollow and have small holes on either side (sometimes hidden under helmets or hair attachments). This is so if a child swallows one, there is a way for air to get through the obstruction.
  10. During the Christmas shopping season, approximately 28 Lego sets are purchased every second worldwide.

For a television show on BBC, a team of master builders once built an entire, functioning–e.g. with working electricity and a flushing toilet–house entirely out of Lego just to prove it could be done. So not only can they be used to build small scale buildings like the ones my children love to make, they can be used as actual construction material! Though, I will say that my husband and I once tried to build a night stand for my eldest son out of Lego and it takes a lot more little bricks than you think. I feel like of the 400 billion Lego bricks around the world, approximately half of them stay scattered about my living room floor pretty regularly. It took a significant portion of the ones we had at the time to put together that night stand and it took a sweet forever. In the end, my son decided they were more fun to take apart and rebuild than they were to use as furniture, but it is doable!

10 Things About St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Last weekend, I ran the St. Jude 10k. I never really thought I’d do it before, but this year I started running and since the race went virtual, even an introvert with social anxiety couldn’t say no. I’m glad I did it. I love to support St. Jude and this is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.

I was never much of a runner before this year. But 2020 has done weird things to a lot of people. For me, I started running. And soon after I started, I knew that I would want to run for St. Jude. My husband has run for St. Jude for years, but he’s naturally athletic and built to run. Me, not so much. Still, I wanted to try. When the race went virtual, meaning I wouldn’t have to be in the midst of roughly 26,000 runners (based on previous years’ numbers), I decided to go for it. So I ran a 5k and then a 10k for a dual race challenge.

Why was a non-runner like me so keen to run so much? St. Jude. I love their mission and I love supporting what they do. I don’t live terribly far from St. Jude and I know plenty of people who work there, but I’ve also met many families of patients there. St. Jude is a special place and I hope they continue to do amazing things for generations to come.

What’s so special about St. Jude? It’s not just a children’s hospital. It’s a place where families of pediatric cancer patients go to find hope. Let me tell you a little more. Here are 10 things you might not know about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

  1. Danny Thomas, born Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz, was an American comedian, singer, actor, producer and philanthropist. He founded St. Jude after his career took off. He said that in the early days of his career, when work was hard to come by and he wasn’t sure he could truly provide for his wife who was pregnant with their first child, that he prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus. One night, in a church in Detroit, he begged the saint for help and vowed that in return, he would build a shrine.
  2. St. Jude Thaddeus is known as the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.
  3. Shortly after that pivotal moment in the entertainer’s life, things began to pick up. He would eventually be a household name. And by the 1950s, he was ready to make good on his promise. He turned to Cardinal Samuel Strict, the man who confirmed him into the Catholic church as a boy. Cardinal Strict hailed from Memphis, Tennessee and suggested Thomas start there. Thomas knew he wanted it to be a children’s hospital, but his vision was for something bigger than a general hospital.
  4. In the mid-1950s, the childhood cancer survival rate was barely 20%. The survival rate for ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer, was only 4%. When Thomas enlisted the help of several Memphis area businessmen to help fund his hospital project, he declared that “no child should die in the dawn of life” and the decision was made that St. Jude was focus specifically on pediatric cancer care and research.
  5. That decision made, Thomas had another declaration to make. He wanted to remove the burden of the cost of treatment for patient families. No St. Jude family would ever be turned away for lack of insurance, nor would they ever receive a bill. They would forever be free to focus on their child during a critical time. That’s still true today. No family at St. Jude is ever billed for treatment, travel, accommodations, etc. Other charities partner with St. Jude to provide housing for families from out-of-town so they are not met with hotel costs. Meals are provided, and, of course, world class medical care.
  6. Funding the hospital without ever billing a patient is a major endeavor even today. But before it was even built? Thomas and his group of original donors knew they were going to need more help. Once again, Thomas knew where to turn, his fellow Arab Americans. In Chicago in 1957, 100 representatives of the Arab American community met to discuss the prospect of funding St. Jude. The American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was founded during that meeting and is still responsible for 80% of the hospital’s funds. It is America’s second largest healthcare charity.
  7. On February 4, 1962, St. Jude opened their doors. They stayed true to the vision of Danny Thomas to never turn away a family based on race, religion, or financial status. St. Jude was an integrated hospital from the very first day, making it the first such hospital in the South. And it wasn’t just the patients who were integrated. At a time when many “white” hospitals refused to hire Black doctors, St. Jude hired an integrated medical and research staff.
  8. Since the opening of the hospital and research center, the way childhood cancer is treated has changed in many way thanks to scientific breakthroughs made there. The childhood cancer survival rate is now 80%, and the ALL survival rate is 94%. The research teams there have also made strides in treating sickle cell anemia, found a cure for “bubble boy disease”, and recently announced a discovery of how to successfully treat COVID-19.
  9. In 1996, Peter Doherty, PhD–the Immunology Chair at St. Jude at the time–won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  10. The child Thomas’s wife was pregnant with when he first made that desperate prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus would eventually be known to the world as Marlo Thomas, an actress, author, social activist and the current National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you’ve ever seen a St. Jude commercial asking for donations that she or any of her celebrity friends star in, the kids around them in the clips are actual St. Jude patients in Memphis.

St. Jude race weekend is one of the hospital’s biggest fundraisers of the year. This year 15,000 people participated, down from over 26,000 last year. And while so many people are not in a place to be able to donate during the pandemic, childhood cancer doesn’t care. I had the means to donate a small sum, solicit additional donations, and to run, so I did. I’m proud of myself for running the distance, but I’m more excited to be even a miniscule part of what goes on at St. Jude.

Because I agree with the late Mr. Thomas, who passed away in 1991. No child should die in the dawn of life.

10 Things About Birthday Celebrations

My eldest son recently turned seven years old. We don’t usually do big birthday parties, but we do like to take weekend trips to fun (and generally educational) places. Last year his obsession with dinosaurs began in earnest, so we took a day trip to a museum where he could see fossils and learn more about the types of dinosaurs discovered in our region. He loved it. But as you can imagine, the pandemic prevented us from continuing that tradition this year.

Sure, some places are open. No, we aren’t in lockdown at the moment. We are all healthy (knock on wood). But it just didn’t seem prudent. The fact that we were even able to make that decision based on practicality and not financially instability is something I recognize as a huge privilege in the uncertainty of 2020. I am grateful for that.

Luckily, my son had a great time anyway. Knowing there was only so much we could really do, he was over the moon at what we pulled off. I made him a dinosaur shaped cake, we took him to the local Lego specialty store (we were all in our masks) and let him pick out a new set–it was dinosaur related, and we took him to a restaurant to sit outside on the patio and let him order some of his favorite foods. He was all smiles and laughter the whole time. He didn’t seem some big birthday tradition of museums, zoos, or aquariums. He just wanted to have fun with his family.

I’ve been pondering that. I know it sounds like we go over the top for birthdays. And maybe we do. But I have found that it is easier and cheaper to take a day trip to a museum a couple of hours away than it is to prepare and host a room full of children. Even so, we make a big deal out of it.

Growing up, my family didn’t make a gargantuan deal out of a birthday. Maybe we had a party. Or maybe we went out to dinner. There were always gifts, to be sure, and there was no lack of love. But since my birthday was very close to a major holiday, a lot of the time if there was a party, it wasn’t for me. It just happened to take place on my birthday. It never bothered me. In fact, I never thought all that much about it except when I joked about how big some of the parties were. “Look at this place. These people really went all out for my birthday!” “These people” of course being people I probably had only met a handful of times, if that, and were acquaintances my parents knew. It might not have been for me, but those parties were often pretty fun and certainly on a bigger scale than any one event has any right to be. On more than one occasion, I got to ride in a limo or even a private plane on my birthday at someone else’s expense. I didn’t care it wasn’t specifically for me, it was cool. But my husband grew up in a family where birthdays are a big deal. He very fondly remembers birthday traditions in his childhood and wanted to pass that along to our children. We agreed to do so and I have no regrets. I find it’s more fun to celebrate their birthdays than it is to celebrate my own.

With so many birthday traditions in every culture being affected by the global pandemic, it got me thinking about where some of our traditions originated. Obviously traditions can vary from family to family, and certainly from culture to culture, but everything starts somewhere. Research target fully locked, I began combing through sources to find the answers and found a few interesting* snippets along the way.

*Interesting is in the eye of the beholder. I’m a nerd who likes history and random trivia so take my evaluation of the aforementioned snippets with a grain of salt.

And so we have it. 10 Things about Birthday Celebrations:

  1. Most sources cite Ancient Egypt as the first observed birthday celebrations. Pharaohs celebrated their coronation dates as their birthday because it was thought that when a person became a pharaoh, they were reborn as a deity. It was more of a sacred observance than anything and no mere mortal celebrated their own birthday.
  2. Historians believe the tradition of candles on a birthday cake stems from the Greeks. Like the Egyptians, they celebrated the birthdays of deities, not mortals. To honor the birthday of the goddess Artemis, it was common to make a moon shaped cake with a candle in it.
  3. The Ancient Romans are credited with taking the tradition of a celebrating a deity’s birthday and expanding it to the common man. Man, of course, is the key word there. In Rome, *only* men celebrated their birthdays (the first celebration of a woman’s birthday in the Western World that we have record of isn’t until the 12th century).
  4. A set of slabs made of “wooden leaf fragments” from 100 A.D., prepared by Claudia Severa, are believed to be the first birthday invitations. She prepared them for her husband, Roman Commander Aelius Brocchus. Discovered in Northern England, the invitations are part of the collection of Vindolanda Tablets that were unearthed in the 1970s. The invitations are thought to be the oldest surviving writing in Latin by a woman.
  5. Evidence of gift giving is also found in the Roman tradition. However, it was not guests who brought gifts to the birthday boy. The man being celebrated was expected to provide gifts to his guests. The gifts were meant to represent his thankfulness to his friends and family that he did not have to live his life in isolation (especially in largely agrarian areas where people lived great distances from each other).
  6. The “Happy Birthday” song is actually a rip-off. The tune was written by sisters and Kentucky school teachers Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893. They wrote it as a song to start of the school day. “Good Morning to All” was the original song. Patty wanted a song easy enough for her youngest students to be able to sing and remember. Mildred was a gifted pianist and composed the music. The newer lyrics pertaining to a birthday were first published in 1912 and in the 1930s a copyright was filed by The Summy Company. Years later that copyright would be challenged first by the Hill sisters and then their estate. They won, but had to split the royalties with the company. The copyright was challenged again in the late 1980s after another company bought up The Summy Company and increased royalties on the song. Eventually the decision was that the copyright really only ever applied to a specific piano arrangement of the tune, never the words, and that it should have expired anyway. The song is now in the public domain in the US and UK.
  7. The concept of the birthday cake as we know it today can be traced by to the early 1700s in Germany. Children, both male and female, celebrated their birthdays with “kinderfeste”. Instead of sweet bread, German bakers began making sweet cakes for such occasions. Unfortunately, at that time the ingredients it took to make a sweet cake with sweet icing were still fairly astronomical in price so only the rich could afford such a luxury. That wouldn’t change until the Industrial Revolution.
  8. The Chinese birthday tradition of “longevity noodles” dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). I had never heard of this before, but it sounds pretty delicious. Golden Egg Noodles are consumed and the longer the noodles, the longer the person’s lifespan will be–never, ever cut someone’s longevity noodles. I am given to understand that this is also a common dish at Chinese funerals to celebrate the deceased’s long life.
  9. There are cultures and religions that still refuse to celebrate birthdays. Early Christianity associated the celebration of birthdays (apart from the coming of age celebration of a bar mitzvah that many early Christians still celebrated) with pagans. It was sinful to celebrate one’s earthly birth because each person is born a sinner. This could be tied to why saints are celebrated on the day of their death (their birth into heaven) instead of the birthday (their birth into sin and a sinful world). In any case, sometime around the 4th century, the church began annually celebrating the birthday of Jesus* and it quickly lead to the celebration of everyone’s birthday.
    *Since the actual birthday of Jesus was not specifically mentioned in the Bible, it is unknown. In fact, most evidence suggests it is much more plausible that he was born in late summer or early fall. However, choosing to celebrate his birthday near Hannukah and also near Saturnalia was thought to make it easier for new converts to adjust to the different celebrations of Christianity.
    **I give this information without judgement. I am a Christian and do not see historical accuracy as a threat to my beliefs, nor do I see the efforts of the early church in this matter as inherently awful. Moreover, it is not my place to judge anyone’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. If you do not know and love my God, why would I hold you to the same standard as those who claim to do so?
  10. Sir Henry Cole is credited with the invention of the Christmas card in 1843 in England because he had too many friends sending him Christmas letters thanks to the new “Penny Post” system and it was considered impolite not to respond. He had an artist draw up a picture that he described (a family around a dinner table flanked by renderings of them serving the poor) and then had a printer make him 1,000 copies with a generic message on each–“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” All Sir Cole had to do was write the recipient’s name and attach postage. This idea immediately took off and birthday cards (and subsequently other types of greeting cards such as “Get Well” cards) evolved from the idea shortly thereafter.

So while birthday celebrations are very personal–one family goes big, while another chooses a smaller celebration–our modern idea of a birthday celebration is really the result of several different ancient traditions (and a few more not so ancient ones) put into a blender. I find this interesting both from a trivia standpoint, but also from a worldbuilding one. In fiction, when we create our worlds and cultures, even if we don’t feature a character’s birthday, perhaps thinking about how their birthday would be celebrated might help us round out the character a bit more.

10 Things About Scary Stories

When I was younger, I used to love ghost stories, scary movies, haunted house attractions–the works. If it could make me jump out of my skin or lose sleep, I loved it. This changed at some point in my life. I don’t remember the exact moment that I stopped enjoying them, it may have been more of a gradual thing.

Now I don’t care much for scary stories. Maybe it’s because as an adult (with anxiety) I have enough things keeping me up at night. I don’t really know, but I still have fond memories of being scared out of my wits as a kid with horror movies and ghost stories told during the wee hours of an October sleepover party. I’ve even called for Bloody Mary in the mirror.

These days I’m much more interested in the origins of the scary stories we all know. All stories start somewhere. And with Halloween just around the corner this seemed like as good a time as any to dive into the history of a few famous ghost stories.

Here are 10 things you might not know about scary stories.

  1. The oldest (known) ghost story *written* in *Western Culture* (these are my disclaimers because I have heard some spine tingling things from Eastern cultures and have no idea how old they are, and because even in the West, so much was passed by word of mouth for so many centuries that who knows how old some of our favorite ghosties really are) is credited to Pliny The Younger of Ancient Rome. He wrote of a house in Athens that, though large and luxurious, had to be rented out of cheap because anyone who stayed there was tormented by spooky sounds and menacing whispers throughout the night. It was said one could hear chains rattling if you listened closely enough. Finally, one determined fellow waited for the apparition to appear and marked the spot where the ghost stood. The next morning, he had a crew come dig up that area of the floor. They found the decomposing body of an emaciated man in chains. They gave the unknown man a proper burial and the ghost was never heard from again.
  2. The Headless Horseman. In Washington Iriving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow we meet an apparition who stalks a particular road through the woods looking for a head to replace the one he’s missing. Some think that this story evolved after rumors of a Revolutionary War soldier losing his head to cannon fire in upstate New York being seen post mortem. However, if you look back far enough, you can find a character in Celtic Mythology–The Dullahan–who rides a dark horse and carries his own head under his arm. He is also said to stalk the night terrorizing the unwitting.
  3. The Exorcist. Before Linda Blair spewed green gunk across movie screens in the the mid 1970s, she spun her head around in a book. That book was based on an account of an actual exorcism in the late 1940s. A young boy that the records call “Roland Doe” because they would not record his true name, was said to scream, speak gibberish, and suddenly have terrifying powers manifest. His mother called priests who thought he must be possessed by demons and tried to exorcise them to save the boy. It wasn’t pretty. The Catholic Church admits this happened, though they’d rather people forget about it, and agrees that it was the wrong thing to do. In hindsight, it is believed the boy may have suffered from more than one psychological disorder and needed an entirely different kind of care.
  4. Ghost stories have been translated from Egyptian Hieroglyphics that could be even older than Pliny the Younger’s 1st Century A.D. story. The inscription was found in Luxor and parts of the story are missing or too damaged to read, but it is definitely about a ghost.
  5. The Mummy. A lot of the inspiration for this tale of a tomb raiding releasing the powerful mummy spirit comes from the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The world was fascinated when the tomb was found and followed the story of it closely in newspaper accounts. However, very shortly after the tomb was opened, one of the team members died of a sudden and unidentified illness. One member was poisoned, another smothered by his own father who was then so distraught over what he’d done that he committed suicide. Even one of the first visitors of the tomb, who wasn’t involved in the actual opening of it, was shot by his wife shortly after returning from the site. All of these events may have been explained away, but at the time it caused rumors of ancient curses and vengeful spirits.
  6. Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs were all inspired by the same, very real murderer. Ed Gein of Wisconsin. In 1957, some of Gein’s crimes came to light when authorities discovered he’d been snatching women’s bodies from local graveyards and making “trophies” out of their skin and bones. He also admitted to the murders of two women, but was declared legally insane and spent the rest of his life in a mental health facility.
  7. Amityville Horror. Ronnie DeFeo murdered his entire family while living in this New York town. He claimed during his trial that “the voices” made him do it. The Lutzes soon bought the house, not so surprisingly at a really good price since nobody else wanted to live there. Practically before they were done unpacking they claimed to experience terrifying and dangerous things they couldn’t explain. They called in famous paranormal investigators, The Warrens (yes the same couple mentioned from above) who agreed the house had way too much paranormal activity and was absolutely haunted. However, what The Warrens, and most of Amityville, didn’t know was the the Lutzes were working very closely with DeFeo’s lawyer to try to help him get a lesser sentence. It didn’t work. No other family who has lived in the house since the Lutzes moved out has mentioned any unusual happenings.
  8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on a young German woman named Annelise. While today it is believed she suffered from epilepsy, during her own lifetime her parents and the local priests thought she was possessed. The poor girl went through not just one, but numerous exorcisms, and died less than a year after the last of them was performed. Some think that all of the exorcisms weakened her, but the records claim her death is the result of parental neglect. Since they thought she was possessed, they didn’t think taking her to a doctor would do any good.
  9. Dracula, and by association the German knock-off Nosferatu (because the film company couldn’t get the rights from Bram Stoker’s estate), is based on European pagan folklore. It was basically how people explained deaths by plagues, heart attacks, pretty much anything they couldn’t understand with the limited resources and knowledge the average peasant had at the time. Some say Stoker based Dracula on Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia in Romania. And while Stoker’s research notes mention that “dracula” means “devil” in Wallachian, there is some doubt about whether the connection goes further than that. I’d argue that it does, but I’m not a scholar or a historian, I’m just a nerd with a website and a heavy dose of skepticism. But I digress. In any case, by the time Stoker’s vampire came to life, so to speak, vampiric novels, epic poems, etc were already rising in popularity throughout Europe, some written by his own friends.
  10. La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman, about a woman who murders her own children and then is so overcome with grief that she commits suicide and her ghost wanders the night wailing over the loss of her offspring (and in some recitations, taking or killing other children to replace her lost ones), traces all the way back to an Aztec earth goddess tale. Meaning she predates the use of Spanish as the primary language in Latin America, but I cannot seem to find the name the Aztecs used.

In any case, each of these stories, both the ancient and the horrifyingly more recent, shows that scary stories, especially those about the afterlife, have existed all around the world since the days of old. Some scholars argue that this is merely evidence of the humans’ persisting and inherent fear of death, but others argue that the apparitions and monsters have more often been used to critique something about society, while thinly masking the message behind a “campfire tale” in order to escape retribution from society, or authority. Is Frankenstein’s monster really any more frightening than a doctor and scientist who is willing to disrespect the dead enough to use them like jigsaw puzzles? In the exorcism stories, is it the unhinged actions of the “patient” that are so scary, or the fact that the person is suffering from something unidentifiable and instead of really listening to their needs, everyone around them chalks it up to demons? Is Dracula a threat because he’s a vampire, or because he has the power to lure otherwise “virtuous” maidens into his lair with suggestions of a pleasure they aren’t supposed to even know about?

Happy Halloween.

10 Things You’ll (Probably) Only Hear in the South

I grew up in the southeastern portion of the United States, as did my parents, grand-parents, great-grandparents, etc before me. There are some things we say and do in the South that I truly didn’t realize weren’t normal until I got old enough to notice that nobody else seemed to do or say them. And before you think it, I’m not talking about racism. I’ve seen that every place I’ve ever traveled. I’m not excusing it by any means, but based on my experience, it’s not particular to the South–or the U.S.

Now, while my family tree harbors Natives who called this land home long before Europeans ever set foot on the continent and slaves that were brought here against their will, I’m a white girl. So I can only give the perspective of a white girl. And yes, that could be very different of the perspective, actions, and opinions of a POC in the South. I’m openly admitting that.

Having provided you with my general disclaimers, the South is a special place to me. I love to travel, both domestically and internationally, but there is always something special about coming home, and the South is my home. I love it. But we are a special breed.

When I worked in New York, my coworkers would often give me blank stares or quizzical looks and I’d have to back track in my head to figure out what I had said. It was usually a southern colloquialism that I had to explain. The same was true when I lived abroad briefly. Some stuff just doesn’t translate.

I’ve written a post before about colorful southern sayings, so if you’d like you can consider this part two. It can be just for kicks and giggles, or if you’re a writer you can use it to help shape your characters. What are the colloquialisms that unite them with or separate them from other characters? If a “chosen one” girl from the province is suddenly dropped in the palace and has to fulfill her destiny of slaying the monarch who is secretly a member of the legion of the undead, there’s a solid chance she’s not going to blend in seamlessly. And I don’t mean just because she still has a beating heart. Bless her.

So here is a small smattering of sayings that you’ll most likely only hear in the South.

  1. “If the creek don’t rise.” This is actually the shorthand of a longer saying, “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” It means that I intend to and will, unless something completely out of my control happens; e.g. a local flood that washes out the road. “I’ll be there by six o’clock, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”
  2. “Aren’t you precious?” This falls in line with “Bless your heart.” It can sometimes be taken at face value, a sweet compliment. Other times is can absolutely be said sarcastically and be a huge insult. We’re versatile like that. So whether it means you’re adorable or screw you is all about the context clues.
  3. “Quit being ugly.” This refers to bad or rude behavior, not the way someone looks. If a person is “being ugly” it means they’re acting like a jerk.
  4. “That dog won’t hunt.” Never gonna happen.
  5. “Can’t never could.” It means if you start off with a defeatist attitude, the odds of success are nil. Generally used when someone is whining that they’re incapable of doing something.
  6. “Too big for his britches.” First off, britches are pants. I assume it somehow traces back to the term breeches, but that’s more of a theory than an actual etymology of the word. If someone is too big for their britches, it means they are so full of themselves that they can’t even fasten their pants.
  7. “Ain’t got the good sense God gave dirt.” Stupid. Epically stupid. Dumber than dirt.
  8. “Useless as a screen door on a submarine.” This one is pretty vivid, so I probably don’t need to explain it.
  9. “I’m fixin’ to.” I am preparing to do so. Example: “I’m fixin’ to go to the grocery store, do you need me to get anything for you?”
  10. “All gussied up.” Dressed up fancier than normal. Cinderella couldn’t go to the ball until her Godmother helped her get all gussied up.

I’m sure I’ll come back around and do another one of these someday. There are just too many things to choose from. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. We are a culture that loves similes and metaphors, that’s for sure.

I want to know what the sayings from your home are. Let me know in the comments!

10 Things About Unsolved Mystery (U.S. Television Series)

When I was a very young child, my family lived out on a farm. We got three television channels. This was in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, so it was not the norm for people who didn’t live out in the boondocks. But for us, it was all there was unless we went to our grandparents’ house “in town”.

My grandmother had a small television set up in her family room, so she could see it while she cleaned or worked in the kitchen. She and her maid loved to watch their stories, and heaven help the person who interrupted All My Children. But at night when the soap operas were done for the day and my grandmother didn’t much care for most of the contemporary sitcoms, I remember getting to watch Unsolved Mysteries.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a show about missing persons cases, unsolved homicides, even paranormal stuff. Any interesting cold case the show could get its hands on. And it was entertaining. And also the creepiest television show in the history of ever. And this is from a kid who was of the generation where Tales from the Crypt was considered a perfectly normal and acceptable kids’ show.

Now that it’s being revived on Netflix, I thought I’d share some info about the show in general. Partly because I thought it would be fun for those of us who watched it way back in the day, and partly because it’s time for me to write this month’s post and other than this I got nothin’.

So here are 10 Things About Unsolved Mysteries:

  1. It actually started as a series of seven specials that premiered on NBC beginning in January of 1987. The specials were split between three different hosts, including Robert Stack.
  2. By the fall of 1988, the show was green-lit at a full fledged series with Robert Stack at the full-time host. It is his voice most of us remember creeping us out as youngsters. It was iconic.
  3. The series was dropped by NBC, but picked up by CBS in 1997 where it ran for two seasons before being dropped. Lifetime picked up the show’s last season, ending when Robert Stack fell ill and could no longer host. When he eventually passed away, the network didn’t try to replace him, they simply cancelled the show.
  4. Six years later, a fourth network laid claim to the concept and Spike TV revived the show with a new host. Two years and 175 episodes later, Spike gave it up too. In addition to the four main host networks, several other networks paid for syndication of the show. Today you can even find original episodes through YouTube, FilmRise, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
  5. Its theme song was the soundtrack to my nightmares and was composed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin. The song has had different arrangements throughout the show’s history, but has never been replaced. It is the same music that plays during the intro of the Netflix revival of the show.
  6. When the show began, the internet wasn’t yet prevalent, so they set up a caller hotline so people who saw the show could leave tips if they had information to share. Even in the first season, tips called in from around the country helped locate suspects and solve cases. As technology moved forward, so did the show. It has a website that is still live and used for tips today.
  7. Several actors got their start by playing characters in the show’s reenactments of the crimes/cases portrayed. Matthew McConaughey, Taran Killam, David Ramsey, Hill Harper, and Daniel Dae Kim are just a few of the names that have shown up in the credits of the show.
  8. Other celebrities, including Jon Bon Jovi and Reggie White, were interviewed on the show regarding cases that were close to them.
  9. The Netflix revival of the show has no host and depends solely on interviews to tell the story. This is actually reflective of the proposed pilot episode of the original show. It’s also being produced by Shawn Levy, one of the executive producers of Stranger Things.
  10. Since the premier of the Netflix revival of the show, people are already sending in tips and information on the newly featured cases. Multiple people who have worked on episodes of the show say they are confident that some of the cases will be solved based on information coming in.

There is no voice that compares to Robert Stack. That man could make anything sound terrifying. They tried to add co-hosts to the show as he got older, but he was undoubtedly the star. After his passing, other hosts could never quite garner the popularity that Stack had while hosting the show.

Here’s a clip from YouTube of just the intro and the closing of the show to give you a taste of Robert Stack’s voice, and the creepiest theme song in the history of ever.

I don’t know if this can or will help my fellow writers out there in any way, but it was fun to think back to my little preschool self shaking getting so excited and then having nightmares after hearing the intro to this show. I’m not gonna lie, I’m in my 30s now and some of those old episodes are still on my nope list.

10 People that History Whitewashed

Last month I handed off the mic and pointed to several articles, videos, podcasts, etc that better handled the topic of racism than I was prepared or qualified to. I would love to do that again, but honestly I can’t afford to pay guest posters and asking someone to donate their skills during a time when they are bombarded with requests for emotional labor to explain this or that seemed like a jerk move. So we’re back to me. And while I’m not qualified to talk about the ins and outs of daily racism experience, I am entirely capable of research and editorializing.

I have screamed for years that Jesus wasn’t White. No matter how movies, paintings, sculptures, statues, or any other art media portray him. He was whitewashed starting around the time of the Italian Renaissance (a weird thing, to me, since at the time Italians themselves weren’t actually considered “White” by most of Europe).

Anyway, when I start that conversation people are often taken aback and then transition into “Oh…I guess you’re right.”

I’m fun at parties. Also, this is where a sarcasm font would absolutely come in handy.

It’s doesn’t stop with Jesus, though. There are a plethora of historical figures who have been whitewashed in one way or another (or, as the case with one figure on my list, erased from the narrative completely).

In writing it is all too easy to fall into a “white normative” mindset. If you only describe someone’s features, ethnicity, etc when they are not White, you’re essentially saying that everyone else is by default. And just for the record, while “White/Caucasian” is the majority in the U.S., Canada, and several European nations, worldwide it’s not even top three. So a white normative dystopian future tale is saying something about who the author expects to survive. Be mindful of that as you write.

Because white normative narratives affect more than literature. In history, unless we are specifically told someone isn’t White, it’s basically assumed that they are. You know why Alexander Hamilton being mixed race shocked a lot of people? Because they don’t mention his race in history books and he’s light skinned in all his paintings, so the dude must have been White, right? *Annoying buzzer sound* Wrong. We’re (United States education, both public and private, I can’t speak for anyone else) just accustomed to a White Normative History Perspective. A Whitewashed history.

What else are we missing? A lot, actually. But I’m limiting myself to ten because that’s my series. “10 Things on the 10th” not “A lot of things on the 10th”. So here are 10 famous figures who have been whitewashed or erased by our culture (in no particular order, be it chronological or importance).

  1. J. Edgar Hoover. He was part Jewish, yes. He was also (credibly) rumored to be Gay (though, some believe he was more Ace than anything). But the man who went hard against leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was also part Black. He was light skinned and began passing very early in life, and his family went to great lengths to hide that part of their heritage. But DNA analysis, genealogical research, and familial accounts all back up the claim that he was, in fact, part Black himself. There are also several accounts of people who openly questioned this while he was still alive who were immediately threatened by the man himself. It was a secret he guarded more closely than the nature of his romantic life.
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  2. Alexandre Dumas. He wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers among many others. His father was a general in the French Army, well decorated, well respected and well recorded in paintings. Alexandre’s grandmother was a slave in what is now Haiti. His father was a dark-skinned biracial man, something made very clear in artistic depictions of him. Alexandre was lighter skinned than his father, but still pretty clearly mixed race. Now go back and read The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of a man who is wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned for years, who eventually gains his freedom and fortune and returns (pretending to be an Italian Count) to seek revenge on those who purposely framed him. Do you picture it differently now?
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  3. St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was born Northern Africa to a pagan father (who converted to Christianity before his death) and a Christian mother. His household primarily spoke Latin as a way to evidence their education in Roman society. However, genetically, his family were Berbers–a people group historically and genetically tied to Northern Africa. Yep. One of the most important and celebrated figures in post Biblical Christian history was Black. Even early artistic depictions of him by the church show him as a dark skinned man.
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  4. Saint Nicholas. Yes, I’m bring Santa Claus into the fray. Saint Nicholas was of southern Greek decent, Turkish, and not especially light skinned given the early artistic renderings of him by the church. Santa Claus wasn’t a White guy. White beard is totally probable, though.
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  5. Ludwig Van Beethoven. This one has been debated, but science is on my side. While the first examinations were ruled inconclusive because his hair didn’t have the “most common” characteristics of genetically African hair (do not get me started on everything wrong with that statement), follow up DNA analysis and a facial mold created from his remains and modern technology say everyone’s favorite deaf musical genius was Black. And also didn’t look ANYTHING like the majority of his artistic renderings. This was not uncommon for his day and time, and it was even more so for Beethoven who was rumored to use copious amounts of white facial powder and even employ body doubles for portraits to hide his true visage.
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  6. Queen Charlotte. Wife of King George III (yes, the crazy dude from Hamilton). Charlotte came from a small German ducal family, but on her father’s side she was descended from Portuguese royalty. More specifically, she was descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, from the Black branch of the Portuguese Royal Family Tree. Remember when I said it was not uncommon for people to look nothing like their artistic renderings in Beethoven’s day? It was true for Charlotte too. In fact, when some court painters depicted her a little more realistically, they were fired and threatened with death. Her contemporaries’ written accounts of her discuss her dark skin (as compared to most White Europeans) and features, though, so her correct visage hasn’t been lost to history.
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  7. Pete Wentz. Most identifiable member of Fall Out Boy. His grandfather was a Black Jamaican man who is also a cousin of Colin Powell. Pete has never hidden his heritage, and has stated proudly that he is mixed race. However, with white skin and the last name Wentz, people have actually called him a liar regarding his ethnicity before, leading the musician to to essentially throw his hands in the air over it. If you’re wondering, I’m including him on this list to show that this is STILL HAPPENING.
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  8. Saint George. The patron saint of England whose flag was co-opted by Crusaders and a modern English political party. George was Turkish and Persian. He was Middle Eastern. By modern definitions, not a White guy. Something I’m almost certain is lost on the particular English political party using his personal emblem.
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  9. Alessandro de Medici. Financial gurus, power players, political powerhouse, Head of the Catholic church in their pocket, feared and revered in Florence, and an integral part of Italian history. That Medici family. Alessandro was raised as the son of Lorenzo II (son of Lorenzo the Magnficent) de Medici, but was, in actuality, the son of Lorenzo I’s nephew Giulio and a Black servant in the Medici household. Giulio was only seventeen when he fathered Alessandro, but would become Pope Clement VII by the time Alessandro reached his adolescence. His mother was married off to a lesser noble and Alessandro was accepted as a legitimate Medici because the last thing you want to do is lose your cousin the Papal throne and relinquish all the power (and blackmail ability) that goes with raising his son for him on the sly. Thanks to his birth father, Alessandro would eventually become the Florentine Head of State. Possibly (I say only possibly because I don’t know who else history has whitewashed) the first Black Head of State in Europe.
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  10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Godmother of Rock and Roll. A Bisexual, guitar playing, boundary pushing, musical powerhouse who literally created rock and roll by fusing Delta Blues and New Orleans Jazz with her Gospel music. And yes, she was simultaneously bisexual and a worldwide Gospel sensation. When White artists began to copy her style and even get credit for it, she didn’t have much recourse. So she traveled to Europe and toured there for decades, creating a new following and performing to large crowds until just three years before her death in the 1970s. Still, even many music enthusiasts have never heard of her because her name gets buried under names like Elvis Presley who very much used her as inspiration.
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Do you have someone to add to the list? Tell me about them in the comments. I’m a history nerd who would actually be very interested.

10 Things About Racism

Black. Lives. Matter.

I want to start with that. And if you’re response to that is to say “All Lives Matter”, let’s talk. Yes, all lives DO matter. However, our culture, our government, our society has treated POC, ESPECIALLY the Black Community, like their lives don’t. So the mantra isn’t trying to say that White lives don’t matter, or that police lives don’t matter, or that any life doesn’t matter, but instead that all lives do, in fact, matter. So let’s stop leaving the Black lives out of that sentiment.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Now, I’m a White girl from the South. My family tree has a great many shades of brown running through it, but the melanin got real watered down by the time it got to me. I’m White. I didn’t realize the privilege associated with that until I was an adult. I knew racism existed, but there was a lot I didn’t understand.

And the difference between not being racist and being actively anti-racist? I’m still learning. But this topic is important. Too important to shy away from. I’m a Christian. I am called by my God to love my neighbor. And Jesus makes it VERY clear that my neighbors are not just the people who live next door, or who look like me, think like me, speak like me, etc. So I’m trying to learn.

Having said all that, I’m admitting I’m not qualified to lead the discussion on racism and being anti-racist. I’m doing a lot of reading and listening to people much better educated on the topic than myself.

So this month, I thought instead of rambling off ten facts that may or may not be relevant to your writing, I’d supply ten links to resources that are relevant to all our lives. I’m handing over the mic, so to speak, the best way I know how.

1.100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Sources to Help You Learn About Institutional Racism, a List from PBS News Hour A list of 100 books, podcasts, movies, articles, etc to help educate people about racism.

3. Access Ain’t Inclusion a Ted Talk by Anthony Jack:

4. New Day Podcast, Episode: A Conversation About Racial Injustice This came recommended from a former co-worker of mine. As White people, we don’t have to talk about race every day. But that’s not true for many of our Black counterparts.

5. Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History This is a class from Coursera that you can audit for free. It starts today.

6. Performative Allyship is Deadly (Here’s What to do Instead).

7. Racial Reconciliation: A sermon by Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church in Tulsa, OK. It’s about two hours long and worth every single minute.

8. Racial Injustice has Benefited Me: A Confession Okay, yes, this one was written by a White guy. But maybe if you won’t listen to all of the powerful statements from the Black leaders on this list, you’ll listen to the guy who created Veggie Tales.

9. Here’s a list of Black-owned, independent bookstores where you can buy all the books on this list and also support the Black community at the same time.

10. How to Deconstruct Racism, One Headline at a Time. A Ted Talk by Baratunde Thurston.

I have never done anything intentionally racist. I have never said anything intentionally racist. But, in hindsight and with learning, I know now that I have said, done, and thought harmful things rooted in racism. I am sorry. As I come to know better, I will do better. And I will be intentional about learning.