10 Things About Vacuum Cleaners

I have two sons. They love dinosaurs. One of their favorite games in the backyard is to dig holes to “excavate fossils” while pretending to be paleontologists. They have discovered and named many new species of dinosaurs in our backyard to date.

I encourage their imaginations and their love of science. Unfortunately, my carpet often pays the price. They track in dirt on their shoes, on their clothes, in their hair, under their fingernails, and–as in a recent case–sometimes they just plain ol’ carry in big chunks of it to further examine after they’ve been told to come inside. It doesn’t help that we have a Rottweiler who loves and adores these boys so much that she is more than happy to help dig holes for them and track in her own amount of debris.

First world problems, I know. But the truth is, in their short little lives so far, these boys have killed three vacuum cleaners. Expensive ones. A Dyson, you know, the kind that promises to never lose suction, choked on their dirt. A Shark choked on their dirt. Lately, we opted for a less expensive model just in case it happened again. It did. The Eureka also burned out. We have a stick vacuum to help pick up the slack, but I feel a lot like that little robot in Wall-E that rolls around screaming “CONTAMINANT” as it follows Wall-E around the spaceship. Side note, that’s an underrated movie.

It seems however, I am not alone in my struggle. A friend of mine was commiserating with me because her kids have also cost her more than one vacuum cleaner along the way and shared this video she found for a good laugh. I’m not ashamed to say that I absolutely cackled. I don’t know who this woman is, but SHE GETS ME.

As you can see, vacuums have been on my mind lately. And because the internet can be a very useful thing, I did a little research to share 10 Things You Might Not Know About Vacuum Cleaners.

  1. The earliest incarnation of a cleaning device that would eventually lead toward the vacuum cleaner was, like many of its immediate successors, quite the behemoth. Invented in the 1860s in Iowa, it used bellows and blew instead of sucked. After typing that sentence the former teacher in me immediately braced for teenage giggles.
  2. Most early versions of the vacuum had to be carted around on horse drawn carriages and took at least two people to operate the mechanisms. Moreover, they were too big to enter the buildings they were meant to clean, so they had to be hooked to pipes and hoses through windows and doorways. The most famous was the “Puffing Billy” and was commissioned to clean Westminster Abbey before the coronation of King Edward VII. Lord Chamberlain was so impressed that he commissioned a Billy for Buckingham Palace and another for Windsor Castle.
  3. The quest for the perfect vacuum technology also spawned the hair dryer. The large blowing machines were hooked up to chairs with large hoods and used to blow air from furnaces to a person’s hair. Modern handheld hair dryers wouldn’t become widely commercially available until the 1950s.
  4. Anna and Melville Bissell ran a crockery shop until they managed to create a mechanized sweeper that used brushes. Their invention took off and the company they started has carried their name (and been run by their descendants) ever since. In fact, in 1889 when Melville Bissell passed away, Anna took over the company to steward it for her five children before they were of age and became the first female corporate CEO in America.
  5. In the early 1900s a department store janitor named James Murray Spangler used the Bissell Sweeper and added a few modifications of his own and created something that would make his job easier. He quickly realized the commercial viability of his invention and patented it. However, he didn’t have the means to manufacture and sell the machines himself, so he turned to family. His wife’s brother-in-law just happened to be William Henry Hoover. Hoover bought the rights, but also kept Spangler on in the business. However when Spangler died in 1915, he changed the name of the company from the Electric Suction Sweeper Company to The Hoover Company.
  6. The first iron lung was created by using an electric motor and two vacuum cleaners in 1927.
  7. A woman purchased an Electrolux vacuum in the 1930s (when they were the equivalent about $800 today) in Kent. She continued to use it without replacing it until it finally kicked the bucket in 2008 when it exploded in mid use. The Electrolux Company sent her a new one for free. Maybe I should look into getting an Electrolux if the whole Ridgid Shop Vac thing doesn’t work out for me.
  8. There are modern artists whose installations are primarily made from vacuum cleaners, and even one stage musician who is known for “playing” a vacuum cleaner.
  9. There is a vacuum cleaner museum in St. James, Missouri. And actually, my research calls it “the first vacuum cleaner museum” suggesting that there are more elsewhere.
  10. Before World War II, vacuum cleaners ranged in price from the modern day equivalent of $800-$1,300. After the war, manufacturing processes helped lower the price somewhat. However, it was the rapid growth of the middle class that is credited with the boom of consumer sales. Today 98% of American homes own a vacuum cleaner.

There you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean my floors. Again.

10 Things About Funerals

I know I missed posting last month, but I have a good reason. My eldest nephew got married! My sons were both a part of the wedding, so there was a lot going on and I gave myself permission to spend time with my family in celebration instead of posting. I regret nothing.

Before I get started with this month’s post, though, I would like to let all of you science fiction fans out there know that you have only ONE MORE DAY to wait until the release of Erebus Dawning by A.J. Super! She is even hosting an online book launch party so you can join in on the fun! It’s all online and COVID protocol friendly, and she’ll even have a couple of special guests! I know that is a lot of exclamation points in a row, but I got to read the very first draft of this book and the fact that I’ll get to see it in full, published glory is overwhelmingly exciting. I’m like Buddy the Elf, only instead of Santa Claus I’m over here screaming “I KNOW HER” about A.J. Super. So head on over to Amazon, request the book at your local library, or visit your local independent bookstore! Wherever you get your reading material, look for Erebus Dawning tomorrow!

Okay, why did I start off talking about weddings and book launches and then start to write a post about funerals? Well, I’m fairly certain I’ve already written about Mother’s Day in the past, so that was out. And one of my sisters has been chatting with me this week about our own mother, who passed away many years ago. Since that has been on my mind, funeral trivia it is!

When you’re world building, even if you’re writing a contemporary instead of fantasy or sci-fi story, funeral practices can tell us a lot about family dynamics, character beliefs, etc. For instance, I know that a funeral in Mississippi and a funeral in Cambodia are two very different processes. Being that I’m not Cambodian and that’s not my culture to explain (as I would probably do it poorly), today’s post is primarily about Western Funerals.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Funerals:

  1. The word Funeral is derived from the Latin word “funus” which has several meanings, but primarily translates to “death” or “corpse”.
  2. In Ancient Rome it is recorded that family or close friends planted flowers over and around the grave to “cleanse the ground” of the spirits of the dead, and to ensure peaceful repose for the deceased.
  3. On the other side of that coin, it is considered bad manners to send flowers to a traditionally Jewish family during a funeral. It reminds them of the vibrant life that has been lost. Having said that, I have several Jewish friends who would welcome the sentiment with which the flowers are offered, so if you’ve ever unknowingly done it, don’t beat yourself up. Also, this is actually a growing trend in non-Jewish funerary practices too. In 1927 less than 10% of obituaries included the phrase “in lieu of flowers” asking mourners to do something, or perhaps donate to a favorite charity of the deceased instead of gifting the family with flowers. Today in the United States, that number is closer to 80%.
  4. Generally, a funeral in the West consists of three main parts (though some tend to blend the first two together). The first step is the viewing. Unless the body is too damaged or it is specifically requested by the family, the embalmed body is put on display so that friends and family may gather to say goodbye one final time. If the casket has to be closed, a photograph of the deceased is prominently displayed. I won’t lie to you, I have thought this part was kind of a weird tradition ever since I was a little kid. I’m in my mid 30s now and I still think it is a bit odd. The second step is the service, it generally includes a eulogy either by a member of the clergy or from close family or friends and, in the case of the Christian faith, Scripture readings. The final step is the graveside service, which is usually attended by fewer people than the first two. A few final remarks are shared and the casket is lowered into the ground.
  5. When you lose a loved one, especially in the American South, you will be given food by just about everyone you know. It is believed that a mourner should be able to take time to grieve and should not have to worry about such mundane things as cooking while they do so. However, they are expected to receive visitors who come to pay respects to the family and the deceased, so there are definitely still obligations to fill.
  6. We tend to use the words coffin and casket interchangeably, but they don’t actually mean the same thing. A coffin is the hexagonal box that tapers toward the bottom. A casket is rectangular and usually lined with a soft cloth. A casket is named after a special box that families kept their fine jewelry in. We don’t often refer to the velvet lined jewelry boxes as caskets anymore, but that is where the burial apparatus got its name. Of course, since the 1990s in the United State, the rising popularity of “green” or “natural” burials mean that there is not a coffin or a casket. While statistics show that this practice is gaining traction, I’ve never attended a green burial. The body is not embalmed and is buried with as little excess man-made materials as possible.
  7. While dark colors have been common during mourning for centuries in the West, wearing black specifically didn’t become standard until it was made popular by Queen Victoria. She wore black mourning clothes for the remainder of her life after her husband passed away. While dark clothes have been longstanding tradition, even longer standing traditions in many Asian cultures use white as the funerary color.
  8. Some gravestones are elaborate, some are all but bare. These days that might be a choice by the family, or it might be limited by the cost of the stone. However, in the early colonies, especially those inhabited by Puritans, elaborate gravestones were considered sinful. Trying to distance themselves from the elaborate memorial markers of the Catholic Church they were distancing themselves from, they went in the opposite direction and tried to keep both the funeral and the gravestone simple and austere. Today, you’ll find a mix in any given cemetery of elaborate gravestones and simple ones.
  9. Archaeological evidence in both Iraq and Wales shows Neanderthal bodies purposely buried and covered in a layer of pollen dust. While it is possible that the pollen dust has been deposited over the years by burrowing rodents, many believe this to be a sign that flowers at funerals were a concept even before modern humans entered the picture.
  10. There is another distinctly American type of funeral that is unlike any other. It started in New Orleans, Louisiana and it is not so uncommon that I haven’t seen it done. In fact, I have seen several. Jazz Funerals. During a Jazz Funeral, the family follows the hearse to the graveside on foot, followed by a Jazz band playing solemn hymns. After the graveside service, the Jazz band plays upbeat music and the family is joined by many other mourners to turn the mood into a true celebration of the life of the lost loved one. Everyone wears black, but it becomes a street parade. I’m not from New Orleans, but I do have to say that I like the idea of my family and friends celebrating my life instead of mourning my death. In my family, we have long embraced the concept of a wake and after all the loved ones we have lost, I think that celebrating their life helps my own personal grieving process much more than the somber whispers of a traditional funeral.

There you have it. If you are from a culture or part of the world that celebrates or mourns differently, I would love to hear about it. I know that sounds a bit macabre, but it’s true. Funeral practices and traditions can tell us so much about each other that I sometimes find them quite fascinating.

Celebrate life. Check out A.J. Super’s new book. Come back next month for more trivia.

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 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 About Nail Polish

Today is Mother’s Day, my vegetable garden has been planted, and I sprained my calf and cannot do my interval workouts for a few days, so I decided to turn to something else that brings me peace–painting my nails. I’ve always liked to paint my nails, but quite frankly I’m not great at it, so I don’t do it terribly often. But I recently discovered nail stamping, and now with just a swipe and a press I can showcase my love for books, pretty flowers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy franchises, or even create dinosaur designs that my kids love. There’s nothing quite like stamping a triceratops on your nails and then having your three-year-old look upon you with awe and declare, “Mama, you SO beautiful.”

But where did the tradition of painting our nails even come from? The answer is actually pretty hard to pin down other than to call it widespread cultural appropriation. I did give it the old college try, though, and learned several interesting things along the way. So here are 10 things you might not know about nail polish.

  1. While some sources claim the tradition of pigmenting one’s nails began circa 3,000 BC in China, others claim there is evidence of soldiers from Babylon using it circa 3,200 BC. Still others point to mummified pharaohs with pigmented nails and say it all began in Egypt. However, I find the most plausible place of origin from all the different arguments to be India. Henna had been used to create intricate designs on the hands for thousands of years. And from India, the use of such a pigment could easily have geographically expanded to China, Babylonia, and even Egypt where–spoiler alert–henna was used to pigment the nails of the upper classes.
  2. While Babylonian soldiers used kohl to color their nails and lips before going into battle (there is also archaeological evidence that they also spent time curling their hair before heading out, which leads me to call BS on many modern gender norms), Chinese women painted their nails to show their class. Women of the upper class, and especially of the royal family, wore specific colors that women of lesser classes were not allowed to wear. They also created intricate designs and even wore long, claw-like tips to protect long nails on two fingers of each hand. It was to show others they didn’t have to use their hands for manual labor.
  3. During the Rennaisance, the trend of coloring nails and then buffing them to a shine spread to Europe. However, the available colors were few and sometimes toxic. And in Victorian England, for example, simple, clean, nude nails were seen as a sign of moral purity and good upbringing (nevermind mind the abrasives and processes they used to make their nails look “naturally clean”).
  4. Towards the end of the 19th century, French women began re-popularizing the use of colored pigment on nails. And the turn of the century saw suffragettes in both England and North America don make-up and colored nail pigment to outwardly showcase their rebellion against the status quo. Some went so far as to wear bloomers (gasp) or even, dare I say it, pants. The horror.
  5. In 1916 Cutex developed a clear lacquer to paint over nails to make them shine so that women no longer had to spend hours breathing in chemicals from the abrasives they used to buff their nails to a shine. It revolutionized the nail industry. Mary E. Cobb studied how French salons manicured the nails of their clients, both men and women alike–a tradition dating back to King Louis Philippe. She also spent years watching her husband who was a podiatrist and a cosmetics manufacturer. She divorced her husband, struck out on her own, moved to New York City, and opened the first nail parlor in America. “Mrs. Pray’s Manicure” was the official name of the service and it was a runaway hit.
  6. In the 1920s, Michelle Menard watched the automotive industry develop shiny, brightly colored paints for cars. She made some changes to the formula, and voila, modern liquid nail polish was born. Of course, her employer owned the rights to her invention and patented it himself. And in 1932 Ms. Menard’s invention flooded the shelves. We can still find it there today, but alas Ms. Menard’s name isn’t on it. Instead, it bears the name of the company started by the man who patented her formula: Revlon.
  7. Since 1932 was still during the Great Depression, it might make you wonder how a company based on a luxury cosmetic item could survive. The answer is that it wasn’t that much of a luxury. A bottle of nail varnish in the early 1930s was about thirty-four cents in the United States. While that still put it out of reach for large swaths of the population, many women deemed it an item worth buying to lift their spirits during tough times. However, during WWII as many women entered the workplace and embodied Rosie the Riveter, painted nails became impractical. Women didn’t give up painting their nails altogether, it just became more popular to paint them with clear lacquer.
  8. In 1957 Frederick Slack changed the nail game again. Dr. Slack was a dentist who had the unfortunate experience of badly chipping a nail during his workday. A resourceful gentleman, he used tin foil and dental acrylic to create a fake nail to cover his chipped one. It looked so real and so natural that he decided to collaborate with his brother to turn his invention into a marketable venture. The result? Acrylic nails. It would still take until the 1970s for acrylics to become widely available.
  9. With strong colors once again en vogue by the 1970s, it sometimes made it difficult for make-up artists and designers to find a way to paint the nails so they wouldn’t clash with clothing during runway shows with multiple wardrobe changes. In 1976, Jeff Pink (who founded Orly) created a new type of nail design that wouldn’t clash with the outfits and was understated but adored the moment it debuted in a Paris fashion show. Today we call it the French manicure.
  10. Today the nail polish industry is a multi-billion dollar market and lacquers, varnishes, dips, powders, and polishes come in different price ranges, color schemes, and even ingredients. The most expensive bottle of nail polish available though is created by crushing black diamonds which gives the formula a one of a kind sparkle. Of course, at $250,000 there would need to be a genie in that bottle before I got too close to it.

From ancient traditions to battlefields to politics to wartime factories, the history of nail polish gives an interesting insight into changing values and ideals for women. With each new trend or available product line coinciding with women taking a step away from the societal norms of their day, it is an art that tells a story all its own. A sign of the struggle for equality. Beautiful war paint.

Maybe that will clear out the pandemic induced cobwebs and spark an idea for a new world to build. If not, don’t beat yourself up. The creative juices will flow again at some point. Until then, cut yourself some slack. You’re in the middle of a major historic event. It’s okay to be off your game (I’m really saying this to me because I haven’t written any salvageable material since school closed).

As for me, I’m going to enjoy my Mother’s Day and paint my nails.

Happy Mother’s Day to you. Whether you are a pet mom, a biological mom, an adoptive mom, a step-mom, a pregnant mom, a legal guardian, caretaker, or someone desperately wanting to become a mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

10 Things About Trampolines

Like most of the world, my family is staying home and distancing ourselves from non-essential spaces, activities, etc. I have two sons. If they can’t play with their friends at school or have playdates at the park, they need to get their energy out somehow. Plus, they are young and while we have talked about the virus and the reason we have to stay home right now, I don’t want them to live in fear.

Just as the virus was ramping up in the United States, my younger son had a birthday. I found a mini-trampoline that could be used indoors (a major plus considering the epic amount of rain this winter), but I could also toss it out in the yard and let them turn it into a dinosaur nest, part of an obstacle course, and flying superhero training pad, or whatever else their little imaginations could produce. It’s not the same as a big trampoline, but it fit in my budget at the time and it has provided them with a blessed amount of stimulation.

Despite its size and ease of use indoors, it has become an outside toy for two reasons. The first is that they like to have it there to be part of their imaginary games of dinosaur, superhero, American Ninja Warrior contestant, etc. The second is that somehow when indoors the idea of using it to propel oneself against a wall as hard and fast as possible seemed like a capital idea.

Still, they have loved every second of having it around and for that I’m grateful. They are already campaigning to get a bigger one. My husband is against it for a plethora of safety reasons. I can’t blame him, but I also have to remind him that most of the common injuries on a trampoline are caused by things our generation did on purpose when we were young. Elder millennials are the reason they now sell nets to go around the outside of backyard trampolines. We tried to bounce each other off on purpose. It was great fun.

Anyway, it got me to thinking, where did this ridiculous and fun contraption even come from? And ta-da, a 10 Things post is born.

Here are 10 things you might not know about trampolines:

  1. Long before the modern trampoline, the Inupiat (I hope that is the correct term, please forgive and correct me if it is not), a group of Alaskan Natives, would toss dancers into the air from taught walrus skin as part of the whaling festival in the spring.
  2. There is also evidence of this type of activity–involuntarily bouncing a person from a cloth tightly held by a group of people–being used as a type of punishment in Europe before it became a tool used by firemen to catch people who jumped from burning buildings.
  3. In the early 19th and 20th centuries, circus performers used springboards sometimes called trampolines and “bouncing beds” in acrobatic routines and comedic performances.
  4. What we know as the modern trampoline is an invention credited to George Nissen and his University of Iowa gymnastics coach Larry Griswald. Nissen is said to have first gotten the idea as a teenager watching acrobats use their safety net as a part of their routine at the circus to wow the audience. At some point, he even took apart his bedframe at home trying to create a smaller-scale replica of the bouncing safety net. When he was in college, his gymnastics coach helped him create a new prototype and in 1934 they filed for a patent. They named their invention a trampoline–a purposely anglicized version of el trampolín, a Spanish term for a diving board.
  5. Trampoline was originally trademarked. The product’s generic name was a “rebound tumbler”. However, when the term trampoline lost its trademark, the term became synonymous with the generic product.
  6. During World War II, the United States Navy began using trampolines as a training activity for pilots. The rebound tumbler was a way for the pilots to get a more accurate feel of orienting themselves in midair, a skill often needed during air fights and bombing raids. It was also one of the tools first used by the newly developing space program after the war ended.
  7. As far back as 1959 and into the 1970s, outdoor trampoline parks popped up across North America. George Nissen often spoke out against this type of use, little supervision or training and with practically no safety regulations, of his invention, but could do little to stop it. He believed in the power of his invention as a training tool, exercise equipment, and even a platform for sports, but thought that safety should always be a primary concern.
  8. In 1962 trampolining was officially recognized as a sport by the International Gymnastics Federation. It was introduced as an Olympic event in 2000 in Australia. George Nissen was there to witness the moment.
  9. He was also, at 94 years of age, able to “test” the trampolines at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He died two years later in 2010, but his daughter–who now runs a trampolining academy in California–says it was a true highlight and an unforgettable moment for him.
  10. Competition trampolines are made with slightly different materials than the recreational backyard version. A competition trampoline can help an athlete reach heights of approximately 33 feet (10 meters). Recreational trampolines can be expected to serve up about 1/3 of that height. Thank goodness.

It should also be noted that the added nets around the outside of a trampoline haven’t actually caused a big decrease in the number of trampoline-related emergency room visits. Kids will find a way to hurt themselves.

So if you have a backyard trampoline, or just a backyard to play in, get out in the fresh air and have some fun. If your stay-at-home orders are more stringent and don’t allow outside play, or perhaps you don’t have an outside play space, nobody is going to judge you for the amount of screen time you allow your child right now.

Remember, during this time you are not homeschooling your child. You are providing educational triage. You are not simply parenting. You are parenting through a global pandemic, something the What to Expect series never prepared any of us for. Cut yourself some slack, and cut your kids some slack too. Most of them don’t know how to appropriately express their fear or anxiety. Reach out if you need help or your kids need help. There are teletherapists that can consult with you over the phone, there are food banks to help those without a paycheck right now, there are organizations that exist to help you. Let those of us who want to reach out a hand do so. Please. Like the old song says, no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.

We’re all in this together no matter how far apart we are.

Happy Good Friday, everyone.

A 10 Things Repeat About Flu

I’ve never straight up repeated a post (that I’m aware of), however back in the fall I wrote a 10 Things post that seems super apropos right now. The world is concerned about a type of influenza. It doesn’t matter if you think the world is overreacting, if you feel the need to stockpile supplies, or if you are just taken aback by the seemingly overwhelming number of people in your town who apparently weren’t washing their hands before this. Seriously. If you are privileged enough to have ready access to clean, running water and AREN’T already washing your hands after EVERY bathroom visit I have serious questions. But I’ll ask them from over here because I don’t want to get too close.

Anyway, if you’d like to see the original post, I’ll post the text below or you can visit it at its permalink here.

The following was posted back in September:

I thought about doing a post about the traditions and origins of Homecoming Week, but I realized that I’ve done a lot of posts about sports-centric or sports-related topics. But while I was contemplating a post on Homecoming, I came across a piece of trivia that steered me in a new direction. Most of the homecoming celebrations for colleges and universities in the United States that try to lay claim to the longest celebrated tradition almost all have a gap in 1918 and/or 1919.

Why is not a great mystery to any world history nerd, or Twilight fan for that matter. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed millions of people worldwide. Hospitals were overcrowded with sick patients, so universities and colleges (and churches, high schools, community centers, etc) were often converted to makeshift clinics. And since the flu is, as it always has been and continues to be, highly contagious, you can imagine why people might have wanted to avoid crowded sporting events and the like.

When people think of an illness that killed millions and affected world history, most conjure up thoughts of the Bubonic Plague. However, the “Spanish Flu” affected more people. And a single virus that makes its way around the world could give a writer a lot of ideas about how something as simple as a cough can shape the worlds we build.

10 Things About the Influenza Pandemic of 1918:

  1. An epidemic is an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and across multiple communities, but a pandemic spreads throughout the world. Both words are Greek in origin and epidemic means “among the people”, while pandemic means “all the people”. The people part can also be translated as “district”, but since I have a less than rudimentary grasp on Greek, I’m just going to roll with it. The Influenza Pandemic affected most of the world, including remote islands and the Arctic. It killed somewhere between 3% and 5% of the Earth’s population at the time.
  2. Afraid of mass panic, many countries coming out of the war censored how widespread the flu was as much as they could for as long as they could. However, Spain had been neutral in the war and had no wartime censorship in effect. Other countries felt free to report on how the disease was ravaging the Spanish population, including the king. This misled the general public to believe that the flu originated in Spain, and that Spain was hit particularly hard by it. In truth, scholars and historians still aren’t certain where it began. So it’s called the Spanish Flu because of how newspapers reported it, not because it actually has any tie to Spain itself.
  3. It was not any more aggressive than previous influenza strains, or most since. However, a combination of crowded medical camps and hospitals, poor hygiene, and malnourishment helped it spread quickly. Many of the lives lost during the pandemic were actually from bacterial infections that patients got because their immune systems were so weak from fighting the virus.
  4. The reason for overcrowded medical camps and malnourishment had a lot to do with World War I. If the war had never happened, the pandemic might not have either. That’s not to say that the flu originated in Europe at the time. Different researchers have claimed the spread of this strain of the flu began in China, Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe. There is still great debate about where the spread of the disease began. But as travel modernized, the disease could be carried quicker and more efficiently than ever before.
  5. It has been dubbed “the greatest medical holocaust in human history”. It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS killed in twenty-four years. It also killed more people in a single year than the Black Death killed over the course of 100 years. Think about that the next time you pass on getting a flu shot.
  6. The pandemic was truly worldwide and not just “Euro-centric World”, “First World”, or “Developed World”. There was not a single region of the globe that was unaffected. 3-5% of the world’s population died, but that was only somewhere between 10% and 20% of the people who contracted the flu at the time.
  7. While typical flu epidemics tend to be more dangerous for the very young and the elderly, the 1918 pandemic was different because it actually killed mostly young adults. Half of the fatalities were between ages 20 and 40.
  8. Because of secondary infections, symptoms such as bleeding from the ears, coughing up blood, and bloody stools, the flu was misdiagnosed as a number of other conditions early on. These included dengue, cholera, and typhoid.
  9. It came in two waves, but disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. The first wave of flu during the pandemic wasn’t much worse than the usual flu season numbers. The second wave was the deadly pandemic. However, less than three weeks after the largest spike in death tolls, many cities were reporting that the illness seemed to be disappearing. There are many theories about why this is, but the prevailing one seems to be that the virus began to mutate (which is common) to a less deadly strain.
  10. Even after the flu died down at the end of the pandemic, the havoc wasn’t over. Studies showed that babies who were in utero during the outbreak were more likely to exhibit physical abnormalities or disabilities at birth and in the long-term were less likely to achieve the same socioeconomic status or educational milestones as the generation before or after.

The Pandemic of 1918 changed how we study the flu, how we classify the flu, and how we treat the flu. Generations were affected and populations decimated. All from a “simple” respiratory illness. There are a lot of plot and world-building possibilities in that concept.

Also, flu season is rapidly approaching. Get vaccinated.

One more time for the people in the back.

GET. YOUR. FLU. SHOT.

And if you are running a fever, stay home if at all possible.