10 Things about Valentine’s Day

It’s the tenth of the month! Around here that means it’s time for me to spout off random trivia in hopes that you might find any of it interesting or helpful.

In fiction, especially in Fantasy and Science Fiction, worldbuilding is an important element in telling the story. We want the reader to become part of our world. I’ve touched before on athletic topics and how we can use sports to make our world seem more real. Another way is to assign holidays.

Most cultures around the world have at least a few major holidays and some minor ones as well. Religious holidays are generally the most well-known, but not all major holidays have something to do with religion. Think about the holidays you celebrate during the year. Think about how you celebrate, whether you get the day off or not, whether you celebrate with family or not, etc. The people in your fictional world might celebrate an armistice, a religious event, a monarch’s jubilee, etc. And a holiday that has been celebrated for a number of years might change over time.

This month, our case study is Valentine’s Day. Here are 10 Things about February 14th.

  1. Saint Valentine’s day is still part of the official Anglican and Lutheran calendars of commemorative saints days, but has been removed from the official Roman Catholic calendar as of 1969. Even so, it is still widely celebrated.
  2. There were no less than three saints named Valentine/Valentinus, all of whom were martyrs. The two best known were both originally buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome between 269 and 275 AD, though the remains of at least one of them have been relocated. Both are said to have died on February 14th.
  3. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine is commemorated on July 6th.
  4. There are legends that say a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriages for soldiers under Roman Emperor Claudius II who forbade the practice reasoning that single men made better soldiers because they were less concerned about the wives they left at home. However, there is serious doubt that any such ban on marriage ever existed.
  5. There was a priest named Valentine who was imprisoned in Rome for ministering to Christians during a time when Christianity was cause for persecution. It is believed that this Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, and the entire family of the jailer converted to Christianity as a result. The legend goes on to say, though this part is more disputed, that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and on the night before his execution wrote her a letter signing it “Your Valentine.”
  6. There is still no record of Valentine’s Day or February 14th being associated with romantic love until 1400s England when it was mentioned by Chaucer and his contemporaries. There is also a poem the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt (1415 AD), which is considered the oldest “Valentine” on record.
  7. Formal “valentines”–handwritten notes or tokens of affection traded on Saint Valentine’s Day–became more popular in the 1500s, but were not commonly traded until the 1700s; and during the latter part of the 18th century commercially printed messages started to become available.
  8. In the 1840s, Esther Howland began making and selling pre-made Valentines greetings with scraps of lace and ribbon around colorful pictures. It earned her the moniker “Mother of the Valentine.”
  9. Though most of the marketing we see near Valentine’s Day seems to be aimed at men, women purchase as much as 85% of Valentine’s Day cards.
  10. In some countries, mass weddings are held on February 14th. It is also said to be the most common wedding anniversary date in the Philippines.

Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates, or other tokens of affection. But Saint Valentine’s Day was originally a day set aside by the church to commemorate a man (or three) who lost his life because he was being evangelical. It was not associated with romance until several hundred years after his death. And was not widely celebrated as a romantic holiday until centuries after that.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The point is that holidays can evolve, no matter what they originally celebrated. Traditions develop over time and sometimes deviate between cultures, regions, etc. They can be an excellent way to showcase different cultures, even ones that are seemingly similar in your worldbuilding.

What are your characters celebrating?

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.

 

10 Things You Can Do To Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness

It’s time for another 10 Things post. I was originally going to do 10 More Things about the Georgia Aquarium because I took a behind the scenes tour and that place is a nerd paradise. Then I thought I might go festive instead and write a 10 Things about Christmas. However, all those plans changed at the last minute.

This morning I got a phone call from my best friend. Someone very close to her, whom she loved dearly, lost a battle against depression. Out of respect for those closest to the person, I will withhold further details. My friend is grieving and in shock. And like most people who lose someone who has been battling mental illness, she knew on a logical level that it was not her fault and there was nothing more she could have done, but on an emotional level, she was struggling.

It was not her fault.

She did everything she could to support her loved one.

I spoke with her throughout the day because she’s my friend and she needs support now too. But as I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t help but think about the many people who fear this situation more than any other because they have a loved one living with mental illness.

This is not the first time someone I know has lost a battle with mental illness. I wish it were. Unfortunately, this is too common an outcome because our society still puts a stigma on mental illness which discourages some people from seeking the help they need or sticking to a treatment plan.

I’m no expert. By any stretch of the imagination. So when it occurred to me that this month–since it is one of the hardest months of the year for people with depression–might be a good month to talk about how to support your loved ones with mental illness, I had to do some research. I turned to Psychology Today, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Psych Central who all offer tips for anyone who is trying to show love and support to someone with a mental illness.

If any of this information is incomplete or outdated, I apologize. And if this post is something you think you might need to read through, please also do more research on your own. I will repeat: I’m no expert. Please seek more knowledgeable resources. In the meantime, hopefully, this can get the ball rolling in the right direction.

In tribute to those who are suffering because of their own battle with mental illness and to all those who have to stand on the sidelines as they witness their loved ones battle.

10 Things You Can Do to Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness:

  1. Research. Ask questions, read articles and books. Devour the information available so that you know how the illness works. Do not let misconceptions make the illness just a “personality quirk”.
  2. Have Reasonable Expectations. If your loved one has a few good days in a row, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean they’re cured. You need to know that and so do they. They should still try not to exceed their limits.
  3. Get Help for Yourself. Every resource I consulted strongly advocated that family members and loved ones of the person with mental illness seek outside support for themselves. A therapist, a support group, etc. You need someone to talk to.
  4. Encourage Them to be Honest with their Treatment Team. Is this medication not working? Does it have some side effects that they’re not comfortable with? The doctor needs to know. They are not disturbing the doctor by being honest, they are reasserting control over their bodies and their lives. Encourage them to do so.
  5. Know Where to Draw the Line. You have to set limits. No matter how much you love someone, if they put you or your mental health in danger, it isn’t helping either of you. Set limits.
  6. Treat Them with Respect. Do not talk down to someone with a mental illness. Speak at an age and maturity appropriate level. Living with mental illness does not lower their IQ.
  7. Be a Good Listener. Ask how they are doing and wait for the answer. Engage in the conversation. Show them you genuinely care. Don’t just hear their words, listen to what they are saying. And this should be a discourse, not a debate.
  8. Pick an Appropriate Setting. If you are going to talk to someone about their mental illness, do it in a place or at a time where they won’t feel ambushed or put on display. They need to be comfortable and willing to share, not called out in front of friends or family.
  9. Don’t Guess. If you don’t know how you can help, ask. Even if you think you already know what is best, ask. It isn’t your life, it’s theirs. They have control. Unless they are in a position where you know they can or will do self-harm. That changes everything.
  10. Remain Calm. If you are speaking to a loved one about their mental illness, it will not help them for you to get heated or melodramatic. I’m not saying you can’t have feelings on the matter, but this isn’t about you. It’s about them and how to best support them.

This isn’t a complete list. Please seek other sources.

Above all, know this: Even if you do everything you are supposed to do, sometimes they lose the battle. It isn’t your fault. It’s not their fault. They were fighting an internal battle and lost. You couldn’t fight it for them, no matter how much you wanted to slay their dragons. And if you lose someone to this battle, it’s okay to seek help for yourself, too.

I sincerely hope that I didn’t mislead anyone with bad advice and again, I strongly suggest seeking other sources, but I wanted to take the opportunity to start a conversation. To serve as a reminder.

10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium

Yesterday was a momentous day for my family. My oldest turned five. He was so excited all day. It was the kind of excitement that’s infectious. Everything was fun and amazing because it was his birthday.

Instead of a party this year, he wanted to go on a creature adventure for his birthday. What can I say? Wild Kratts and Planet Earth are his favorite shows. Anyway, since we live in the south and have family in Georgia, we negotiated a trip to The Georgia Aquarium. He’s been once before and still raves about it.

So perhaps while you’re reading this, I’ll be traipsing through the world’s second largest aquarium with a look of awe to match my son’s. It doesn’t matter whether you’re five or ninety-five, that place is cool.

Which is why today’s post is 10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium.

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Male whale shark at The Georgia Aquarium
  1. When it opened in 2005 it was the largest aquarium in the world. It was surpassed in 2012 by one in Singapore, though after the expansion currently in progress I’m unsure if it will regain the lead.
  2. It sits on land donated by the Coca-Cola Company. And thanks to corporate and private donations, it opened debt free.
  3. It is the only institution outside of Asia to house whale sharks.
  4. More than 100,000 specimens representing over 700 species reside there. Including a manta ray rescued from a net in South Africa–it is one of only four sites worldwide to showcase such.
  5. Its biggest individual tank is 6.3 million gallons, and combined it has more 10 million gallons of marine and salt-water habitats.
  6. While the aquarium has served as an economic boost for Atlanta, the board also pushes education and conservation as prioritized goals. When the dolphin show fell under controversy, it was redesigned to focus more on education.
  7. The coral used in exhibits is man-made and part of a joint project between Georgia Tech and The University of the South Pacific.
  8. The aquarium partners with universities (eg Georgia Tech, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Florida Atlantic University) and the federal government to help save endangered species through research and education.
  9. It has a 4D simulator that can take you on a submarine tour of prehistoric seas.
  10. The aquarium is part of the Smithsonian Affiliations program, and although run as a non-profit, has some of the highest admission charges nationwide.

 

Well, that’s it for November. Maybe next year I’ll give you 10 Things About Veterans’ Day, but for now whale sharks and manta rays are dancing through my head. Just keep swimming!

10 Things About Hurricanes

eye of the storm image from outer space
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While both of my children have recently battled sick tummies, leaving me to feel like I should wear a poncho around the house, I promise that isn’t what inspired this post. Though it is one of the reasons the blog has been a little quiet for the last week or so.

I have several family members and quite a few friends who live in different parts of Florida. My sister and several childhood friends live in the panhandle and are battening down the hatches if they didn’t get a chance to evacuate.

Whenever a dangerous storm makes landfall and leaves a wake of devastation and flood waters, I hear at least one person ask “Why didn’t they evacuate?” What that tells me is that this person has very little experience, if any, with hurricanes. And if you’re a writer, you might need to know a little something about it for a story someday. Or maybe just because you’re curious. Either way, board up the windows and move to the high ground. Here are 10 Things You Might Not Know About Hurricanes.

  1. There is a difference between a recommended/voluntary evacuation and a mandatory evacuation. And if evacuation isn’t mandatory (and in some specific cases even if it is) if you don’t have vacation time, you risk losing your job for not showing up to work.
  2. Not everyone has somewhere to go. And if you can’t afford a hotel or the gas to travel to one far enough away, evacuation is difficult. Most government organizations suggest having a plan in place in which you can call on family or friends for help, especially if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, but not everyone has that option.
  3. Some emergency personnel must stay to help with the evacuation efforts, help run storm shelters, hospitals, etc. My sister is a nurse who is in the path of Michael. She is on-call during the storm and while everyone else is evacuating, she’s making sure the storm shelters are fully stocked with emergency medical supplies.
  4. When people start evacuating, a common obstacle is filling up your gas tank. The lines to get to a pump at your local gas station are going to get long very quickly. And if the station runs out of gas, there likely won’t be a petroleum truck coming to restock it before the storm arrives.
  5. If you live on an island, evacuation may be hindered by the wind. Wind gusts of dangerous speeds could mean bridges close down long before the storm arrives.
  6. This type of storm is called a hurricane in the Atlantic. In the North Pacific, it might be called a hurricane or a typhoon. In the South Pacific and in the Indian Oceans they are more commonly called cyclones. A rose by any other name.
  7. Hurricanes rotate clockwise on one side of the equator, but counter-clockwise on the other.
  8. One of the more dangerous parts of a hurricane is the “storm surge”. That means that those high-powered winds are actually pushing water towards the shore causing high waves and flooding. Hurricane Katrina produced the highest storm surge on record at 27.8 feet.
  9. The eye of the storm has no rain and no clouds. It is the center of the storm and it is the point around which the rest of the storm rotates. And this is a scary place to be because what follows the eye is the “eye wall”. It is the most dangerous part of the storm with the heaviest rains, darkest clouds, and strongest winds.
  10. Hurricanes are given names in alphabetical order each season and a name must wait a minimum of six years to be used again. If the storm gets particularly bad, the name may be retired.

And just in case you need more, I’ll throw in this tidbit: the largest hurricane by diameter was Typhoon Tip in 1979. At its strongest, the storm was 1,380 miles in diameter. That might not help you in a story, but it’s pretty impressive. Note: The name Tip has not yet been retired and there have been two more since 1979.

Please keep those in the path of Hurricane Michael in your thoughts and prayers. And if the storm has cut short your plans for Fall Break, please be considerate of those whose full-time homes are in danger as you complain about returning early to yours.

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

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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.

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  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…

10 Things I learned from Beauty and the Beast

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a tale I have loved since I was a little girl. I could relate to Belle in ways that I couldn’t relate to the other princesses. People thought she was weird, she had brown hair, her mother was deceased, and she read a lot of books. She was my princess (P.S. This is why it should not have taken me as long as it did to understand why representation in media is so important. I’m sorry for that.)

The animated film and its live-action counterpart are beautiful to me. The animated version has sentimental value, the live action version has Audra McDonald. I realize the story on which this particular fairy tale is based is horrific and deals with some triggering issues, but I fell in love with the Disney version and that’s the one I’m sticking to. It taught me many things, so I’ll outline a few of them for today’s 10 things post.

  1. It’s okay to be a bookworm. Even Disney Princesses are bookworms.

  2. It is okay to stand your ground and be a little stubborn sometimes, even if it means you have to stand up to a real beast.

  3. Sometimes, the most popular guy in town is a total jerk face. A tool. A butthead.

  4. It’s okay if the whole town thinks you are weird. It means you stand out. Own it.

  5. It’s okay to talk to yourself a little, but you should probably be worried when the furniture starts to answer you.

  6. No matter how crazy your family is, there is always someone out there who is crazier (like a beast who talks to a candle, a clock, and a teapot for company).

  7. There is nothing like having your own personal library.

  8. You’re not always going to like what you see in the mirror, but you’ll always have the power to change it.

  9. It’s really better to tidy up the whole house and put things away rather than to make one room (or wing) “forbidden” and try to hide the mess.

  10. The more you love someone, the more attractive they become to you. 

I could have written a post like this for any and all of the Disney Princess line, but Belle holds a special place in my heart. Also, I’ve been incredibly busy lately and got sick to boot, so I wanted to focus on something light-hearted and fun. There’s nothing like a good story to make you feel better.