10 Things About Team Mascots

I love sports. Not only am I riveted by the competition and strategy, but I enjoy the ice-breaker that sports often provide. Whenever I’m far from home and begin to feel isolated, sports have always found a way of making me feel connected again.

When I traveled to Europe for the first time, I was fourteen. I traveled with an educational tour group and the only person I knew at the start of the trip was the chaperone from my school. I can be a bit awkward socially, so this was a recipe for disaster. But early in the trip, I wore a t-shirt bearing the logo of my favorite sports team and someone from another school started a conversation with me about it. I was no longer alone.

When I got an internship in New York City in college, I had no idea where to even look for housing. I had a very small stipend to live on and, as you might guess, things are expensive in the Big Apple. My options were limited. Until I found someone from my alma mater, a fellow Bulldog, who had a loft to rent.

Those are just two of a plethora of stories I can share about how sports connected me to someone. In fact, the first time I met my husband he was the referee for my game. Though, to be fair that meeting did not go well and, thankfully, we met again under other circumstances a few months later.

My point is sports are about more than rules and uniforms. Wherever there are sports, there will be a fandom. Wherever there is a fandom, there will be people that fandom connects, for better or worse. So why deny that to your characters? Build them a world in which they can connect through sports. Give them a common ground. An ice-breaker. Or, if necessary, a jumping off point for their animosity. Because that can happen too.

And if you need a bit of inspiration to build your athletic world around, maybe I can help. I am, after all, more than a sports fan. I’m a nerd. Trivia is my jam. And since school is back in session, let’s talk about school mascots.

  1. The term mascot is actually derived from a French word meaning talisman or lucky charm.
  2. Mascots can and in some cases should change. Many schools have voted to change mascots for a number of different reasons over the years. Common reasons include lack of fan support and/or a racist connotation.
  3. The on-field mascot, meaning the human in costume, might change more often than the mascot itself. Two examples: 1 – Ole Miss is officially the Rebels, but their on-field mascot of Colonel Reb was offensive in his design because he looked like a Civil War Confederate. They have changed their on-field mascot a couple of times in the last few years trying to find something that both resonates with the fan base and is less controversial. 2 – At Stanford, each year the students get to redesign the Cardinal (the tree) on-field mascot to their liking. The school has not had an official mascot since 1972 when they voted to stop being the “Indians” out of respect for cultural issues. The school is simply represented by cardinal (the color).
  4. Sometimes schools don’t actually pick their own mascots. A single line from a sports reporter can sometimes stick. Such is the case for my own Mississippi State Bulldogs. Originally Mississippi A&M, the university was first called the Maroons for the color of their uniforms, and then the Aggies because it has a large agricultural school. But in 1905 a sports reporter wrote about the tireless efforts of our “bulldog defense” and the name stuck. And now Bully is a treasured member of the MSU family. In fact, when the first Bully (Bully I) died, his funeral procession was a half-mile long and included the Famous Maroon Band and three ROTC battalions. He was buried under the bench at the fifty-yard line of the football field. The funeral was covered by LIFE magazine.

    bullyxixtonka
    There have now been twenty-one dogs who have played the role of  Bully. 
  5. And sometimes a school can end up with more than one mascot when nicknames or images stick. The University of Alabama earned the official nickname of the Crimson Tide when a reporter in 1907 described how the offense, in their deep red jerseys, rolled down the field like a crimson tide. However, on the sidelines today, and on their logo, you will also see an elephant named Big Al. This stems from another incident in which the Offensive-line was said to be like a herd of elephants as they stampeded over their opponent (in this particular case it was Ole Miss and has led to a rivalry across state lines between the schools).
  6. The mascot and the battle cry are also different. Auburn University is a good example of this. Auburn’s mascot is a tiger named Aubie. However, many people confuse their battle cry-“War Eagle”-with their mascot. The battle cry is separate and there are many different stories about its origin, but the most popular is from a game against Georgia in which an Eagle that had been found wounded on a Civil War battlefield and restored to health escaped its caretaker and swooped over the team. The fans began pointing and calling out “War Eagle” after which the Tigers won the game. The battle cry remains popular to this day.
  7. Not every team at a school shares the same mascot. Long Beach State is officially known as the 49ers. However, their baseball team is the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Why? Because in 1989 their sub-par baseball team got a new coach who would make them practice on a local all-dirt field that was nicknamed “Dirtbag Field”. They practiced extra hours and ended up with a berth in the College World Series. The nickname is meant to represent the scrappy effort of the team in those days and is proudly claimed today by the baseball team, but no other team at Long Beach State.
  8. Sometimes a mascot is about owning and reclaiming a disparaging nickname. Teams at Delta State University in Mississippi, for instance, were officially the Statesmen while being mocked by those around them as “The Fighting Okra” because of their location in a heavily agricultural area, among other things. Today, you can find Fighting Okra merchandise at Delta State because they have decided to bear the name with pride.
  9. Mascots don’t have to be real things. For instance, there is no such thing as a Nittany Lion. Penn State made it up. And they aren’t alone. Virginia Tech uses “Hokies” as their mascot. It stems from a filler word in a school cheer from 1899 because they decided they didn’t want to be “The Gobblers” anymore. It doesn’t stop either fan base from loving their school.
  10. When a team has an on-field mascot (not all of them do), that mascot is often portrayed by more than one person. It’s often a small team of three or four people and each of them has to try-out with a routine before earning a spot on the team. This is, of course, not true at every school, but for many of them. A lot of the costumes get very hot and cannot be worn by a single person for the duration of a football game without risk of overheating.

Part of me really wants to keep going, but this is only a “10 Things” post and my geek is showing. So that’s it for this month, but I’ll be back with more trivia in October!

10 Things About Southern Cocktails

crazy cocktail

Drinking in the South is almost an art form. We take our alcohol seriously. Bourbon is a way of life. Moonshine is a point of pride. And not being able to hold your liquor is a mark of poor breeding.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the doctrine of the Southern Baptist Church, drinking is more than frowned upon. It’s prohibited. However, the old joke runs “What’s the difference between Baptists and Methodists? Methodists will say hello to each other in the liquor store.” Because no matter what the church says, most of the congregation imbibes. How do I know? I’m a Baptist. My father also grew up Baptist and was, for a time, part-owner of the local liquor store. Just to paint you a picture.

There are, however, teetotalers within the South. Most of the ones I know are older ladies. Like my great-grandmother, God Rest her soul. When the doctor told her she needed to drink a beer a day for her circulation, she made my grandfather drive to the next county to buy it for her because she was terrified someone in her Sunday School class would see! Never you mind that my grandfather kept a beer fridge on the porch at his home. And if you don’t think I’ve ever written a character based on that gem of a woman, you’re wrong.

For the most part, though, alcohol is deeply ingrained in the Southern culture. It can wash away the pain of a harsh loss of your beloved alma mater’s athletic team. It can blur the jagged edges of a broken heart. It can ease the tension at dysfunctional family gatherings, unless of course part of the dysfunction is an uncle or two with an addiction issue. Also a common Southern tale.

So get out your shakers, your stirrers, and the key to your liquor cabinet. It’s time to booze it up, Southern Style.

  1. The Mint Julep, a drink long associated with bougie white women in big hats who watch horse races and their significant others in seersucker suits, actually started off as a medicinal tonic over a thousand years ago. The mint wasn’t added until the late 1700s, and it has been made with different bases over the years, but it was in the Southeastern United States that the concoction gained real popularity as a recreational drink.
  2. The Sazerac was created in New Orleans. Its specific origin within the city is controversial, but the recipe first called for cognac. Due to crop failures cognac was hard to come by for a while and rye whiskey was the replacement. I’m a tried and true Southerner and I’ll be honest, I’ve actually never had one of these.
  3. There is an official tailgate cocktail for every university in the Southeastern Conference, as published in the Southern Living Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook. My own beloved Mississippi State’s is the Bulldog Bloody Mary (it’s garnished with pickled okra).
  4. The Old-Fashioned. America’s first cocktail was created down south, but as other drinks created in the same style grew in popularity, people continued to order this one–in the “old-fashioned style”. The drink eventually made its way to the Waldorf-Astoria and its place in history was firmly cemented. But it all started south of the Mason-Dixon.
  5. Mississippi Punch, so named because it originated “somewhere along the Mississippi” calls for light brandy, rum, and bourbon along with some bitters, lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Basically, pour a little of all the best stuff in your liquor cabinet and then add a bit of something without alcohol to make it look like you aren’t just trying to get hammered.
  6. Three words: Sweet Tea Vodka. You’re welcome. Also, pace yourself. It’ll get you faster than you think.
  7. The Hurricane, named because it was originally served in glass from a hurricane lamp, was invented by the Pat O’Brien in New Orleans. Several of my friends and acquaintances have lived to regret Pat O’s signature creation.
  8. It’s hotter than the Devil’s backside down here in the summer, so leave it to Southerners to mix ice cream with booze. Mississippi Mudslides are made with chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, milk, and–what else–bourbon. You can even top it with marshmallows.
  9. Folks at the University of Alabama have a drink named after the line of one of their most common cheers. The Alabama Yellow Hammer Slammer is made with three different kinds of alcohol, but you’ll only taste the fruit juices in the recipe. Have you ever wondered how Southern women can possibly wear heels to football games where they will stand and cheer for hours? Drinks like this. Your feet won’t hurt if you can’t feel them.
  10. Everybody has their own special tricks to avoid or cure hangovers because showing up to church on Sunday morning in a pair of sunglasses that covers half your face and slumping down in the pew is a dead giveaway that you’re an amateur. But perhaps the most popular is the “hair of the dog that bit you”, followed closely by Gatorade (also created in the South) and painkillers.

The South has an ugly past, but a wonderful history of creativity. Music, theater, literature. So it should be no surprise that the same creative spirit spilled over into our, well, spirits.

So if you’re writing a character with a bit of a Southern flair and you don’t picture them as the kind of person who drinks beer that’s on tap or whiskey neat, then maybe this will inspire you. Though, if you feel the need to “get into character” I would advise you to pace yourself.

10 Things About Mascara

I’m not a makeup artist. Truthfully, I’m still learning what works for me. But one thing I love is mascara. Putting on mascara for me is like putting on armor. It gets me ready to face the outside world. I can be in yoga pants and a t-shirt, but mascara makes me feel “put together”.

Based on the proliferation of the product throughout the cosmetic market, I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this. Walk down the cosmetic aisle at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or supermarket and see how many different options there are and then tell me I’m wrong.

And it’s not like mascara just appeared on the market yesterday, some form of eyelash cosmetic treatment has existed for millennia. So if you’re writing a romance, a historical fiction, or just have characters who like to look good, here a few things you might not know about mascara.

  1. The first use of eyelash cosmetics is widely credited to ancient Egypt. Kohl was used on eyelashes, eyebrows, and eyelids. Among other ingredients, it often consisted of honey, soot, and–wait for it–crocodile dung.
  2. The use of cosmetics like kohl for the Egyptians was for more than just decoration. It was used as a religious practice and was also believed to have magical properties. While it did serve a purpose, it was less magic and more chemistry.
  3. The use of kohl spread through the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires from Egypt as well. But after the fall of Rome, it fell widely into disuse throughout Europe. It remained popular in Egypt and the Middle East as part of cosmetic, medicinal, and religious practices.
  4. Mascara made a roaring comeback in Europe during the Victorian era. Women sometimes made their own at home using lampblack and elderberry juice. The mixture would be heated and then applied to eyelashes in an effort to make them appear longer and darker.
  5. A more modern version of mascara was invented in 1913 by chemist Eugene Rimmel. In fact, “rimmel” is still synonymous with mascara in multiple languages.
  6. A similar product was invented by Thomas Lyle Williams in 1915 for his sister Maybel. By 1917 he was selling the substance through a mail-order company he dubbed Maybelline.
  7. Both the original Rimmel and Maybelline products were petroleum jelly based, but that was messy. The products also went through a “hard cake” phase during which a brush was rubbed against the hard, dark substance until it flaked off and then was rubbed on the eyelashes.
  8. Lash Lure was another competing product. It became available in 1933 and was an eyelash dye. However, it was highly toxic and was eventually banned by several states after multiple people went blind after using it.
  9. Mascara went largely unchanged between the 1910s and the 1950s when Helena Rubinstein made a lotion-based version of the product. Rubinstein, who was soon joined by Elizabeth Arden, promoted her mascara product by getting the Hollywood starlets of the day to wear it during filming so that the average woman would want to emulate the look.
  10. In 2016, consumers in the United States alone spent over $335 million on just the top ten selling mascara brands on the market.

So maybe your character is mixing elderberry juice in Victorian London or applying it for medicinal purposes in Babylon. Perhaps they are a modern Goth and have a meet-cute in the cosmetic aisle as they search for the perfect shade of black. No matter the scenario, knowing a little about your character’s daily routine, including their favorite mascara, might just help you connect with them a bit.

It’s also possible that this is all just a good excuse for me to go down the research rabbit hole. Either way. Win-win.

10 Things About the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (Pt. 1)

1893_world_columbian_exposition

School is about to let out for summer vacation and all over the country (the United States), fairs and festivals are gearing up. From now through the fall, Ferris Wheels, funnel cakes, and (mostly) family-friendly fun are the orders of the day. To celebrate that, this month’s 10 Things post will be about the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. This will be part 1 of 2 because there are several fascinating things about the World’s Columbian Exposition and I plan to share more of them with you next month. Buckle up, my friends. It’s time to get your history on.

The Chicago World’s Fair, otherwise known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, was held in 1893. The area for the fair covered more than 600 acres and spawned such attractions as the Ferris Wheel, but that’s not all. There are some really interesting things associated with the Fair that you might not know, especially if you’re not a history geek like me, so I thought I would share a few things that might spark your interest.

  1. One of the principal designers and builders of the Chicago World’s Fair was Daniel Burnham, who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C. Frederick Law Olmsted was another principal designer (but he worked with the landscaping, while Mr. Burnham worked with architectural structures). Mr. Olmsted is most famous, however, for co-designing Central Park in New York City.
  1. The design of the “White City”, the nickname of the part of the Fair officially known as the Court of Honor because all of the buildings were white (and because of the extensive use of streetlights actually made it possible to use the area at night), was actually the inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. It also was the inspiration for the “alabaster cities” referenced in the poem “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates.
  1. The world’s first Ferris Wheel, so called because it was designed by George Ferris, debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was 264 feet high and had 36 cars, each car could carry 60 people. In fact, in some parts of the world today the Ferris Wheel is actually known as The Chicago Wheel.

ferris-wheel

  1. Walt Disney’s father was one of the laborers who helped build and paint the buildings used for the World’s Fair.
  1. It was the Columbian Exposition because it was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World.
  1. When it was originally suggested to have such a celebration, it drew little interest. However, in 1889 Paris hosted a World’s Fair during which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled. At that time, the Eiffel Tower was taller than any American Building, and during the fair France made sure that their exhibits seemed more elegant than those of any other nation, including America. Wounded pride is a driving force, and soon the idea of having a World’s Fair, with the excuse of it being the Columbian Exposition, that would top anything France could offer seemed only right. It took a vote of Congress to decide where the Fair would be held and Chicago won over Washington, D. C., New York City, and St. Louis. Chicago lobbied for votes by saying that this was their chance to show the world they had rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871.
  1. The Decorations Director for the Chicago World’s Fair, Frank Millet, died in the sinking of the Titanic, while Daniel Burnham, by now his close friend, rode a sister ship, the Olympic, going the opposite direction across the Atlantic. The Olympic made an attempt to answer the distress call, but it was too late. Mr. Millet invented spray painting as a way to speed the process of painting all the building facades white for the Fair.
  1. Chicago’s Mayor, Carter Harrison, Sr., was assassinated two days before the Fair’s Closing Ceremonies. The Ceremonies were canceled in favor of a memorial service for the late mayor.
  1. Both General Electric (backed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan) and Westinghouse (backed by George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla) made bids to provide the electricity for the event, but Westinghouse won, and the Tesla alternating current system was used, instead of General Electric’s direct current proposal.
  1. All of the 200 buildings that were built for the fair were intended to be temporary. Two of them, however, still stand in place today. One now houses the Museum of Science and Industry and the other is home to the Art Institute of Chicago.

To be continued…

13 Things on the 13th

I do a series called 10 Things on the 10th. Except the 10th was over the weekend when I was busy recovering from the flu and hosing my house down with Lysol. I missed my deadline. Bad blogger!

While I was sick, I didn’t gather a lot of tidbits on a single topic. Truthfully, I didn’t gather much of anything except perhaps tissue boxes. But have no fear, because my family has dubbed me the bottomless pit of useless information. I have trivia to share. And since I’m three days late with the post, I’ll throw in three extra facts.

Call it even?

  1. Your foot and your forearm are the same lengths.
  2. Your wingspan matches your height.
  3. There are exceptions to both of the rules above. Those people are disproportionate.
  4. The kid who played Benny Rodriguez in The Sandlot is now a firefighter.
  5. His older brother played grown-up Benny in The Sandlot.
  6. Utah was originally named Deseret.
  7. In the movie Back to the Future, Doc Brown mispronounces the word gigawatts.
  8. The Beatles had a drummer before Ringo. His name was Pete Best.
  9. C.S. Lewis dictated The Screwtape Letters to J.R.R. Tolkien.
  10. The plus size clothing line Lane Bryant was actually started by a seamstress in NYC named Lena Bryant, who started by making maternity clothes.
  11. The statue of Nathan Hale at Yale University was not based on what Nathan Hale actually looked like because there are no known portraits of him. Instead, the artist lined up the Yale class (of 1912, I believe) and picked the most regal looking of them and made him model for the statue.
    statue_of_captain_nathan_hale
  12. Billy the Kid wasn’t actually named Billy (or William). He claimed several different identities. His real first named is believed to be Henry.
  13. The singular of trivia is trivium.

Here’s hoping that next month I won’t be in a virus-induced haze and will post on time. Until then, I hope you at least get some entertainment out of this month’s hodgepodge list. Or that I help you win a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Class dismissed.

Origin of the Mason-Dixon Line

I love history. We can learn so much from it when we’re not busy memorizing names and dates for that big test. So today, we’re going to have a little history lesson. Partly because I’m a history nerd, and partly because this is a post from my old site and I forgot to write a sparkly new post for today. Just being honest.

Let the learning commence!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re asking what credentials give me the right to teach you history. None, actually. I don’t teach history. I’m certainly not a historian. I don’t have a degree in history of any kind. What I did have were two excellent history teachers in high school. My tenth grade history teacher made it fun. She told us the untold stories that weren’t in our history books. She read to us out of books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and One Night Stands in American History. That last one isn’t exactly what you think. I also had an AP US History teacher in the eleventh grade who was small, but fiery and just a little bit scary. She reminds me of the character “Hetty” from NCIS Los Angeles. She made me a better writer, too.

Thanks to those two ladies (and the other great teachers I had along the way) I am quite well versed in the history of these here United States. And today’s topic hits close to home because I’m from the south. South of the Mason-Dixon Line. Which isn’t what you think.

Did you know the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line has absolutely nothing to do with the division between North and South? Not a thing. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. The Mason Dixon Line, for the most part, runs along the southern border of Pennsylvania (it also dips down the western border of Delaware). In 1861, Maryland (south of the Mason-Dixon Line) became a “border state”, meaning it was a slave state that did not secede when the Confederacy did. So the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn to separate slave states and non-slave states, right? No. Actually, it existed quite some time before that.

MasonDixonPlaque

The Mason-Dixon Line was “drawn” because of a completely different fight. Approximately a century before the Civil War. The line is named for the two surveyors (just called scientists back then, by the way) from England, who were sent to settle a disagreement over the city of Philadelphia.

The original Maryland charter placed part of its border in Philadelphia. The Penn Family (you know, of PENNsylvania –just in case you missed it) was none too happy about this. Philadelphia was theirs, and they would have none of this Maryland nonsense. In 1681, when the disagreement arose, they took the problem to King Charles II. The King’s answer was to give Delaware (originally part of Maryland) to Pennsylvania, as a satellite colony, and to give Philadelphia to Maryland. Again, William Penn wasn’t happy. He had already decided that Philadelphia would be his colony’s capital! Outrage! This border dispute continued. In fact, in 1732 a war over it broke out, known as Cresap’s War. The result? The offended parties went back to the King. He came up with a new solution and sent two scientists, Mason and Dixon, to enforce it.

Mason and Dixon surveyed the land and drew the line, based on the stipulations they were given (I should add here that the timeline is quite drawn out. It took a while to get from England to the colonies, and it took much longer to survey land). The two scientists used crown stones, which were actually created in England and then shipped to the colonies, at five-mile intervals to mark the line. One side of the stones had the Calvert Family (Maryland) crest, and one side had the Penn Family crest. This line was created sometime in the 1760s.

Crown Stones

So, there you have it. It may have become famous for other reasons, but that is the real origin of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was the center of disputes between states long before the Civil War. It doesn’t change what it has been used for in the time since, but like I said, I’m a history nerd. Plus, this was the best I could do last minute. I’m a hot mess mom today, what can I say.