Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Date Night : The Hogwarts Experience

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 24•16

We didn’t actually end up making much of this, I don’t think.

Saturday night hubby and I had our October date night.  When I picked the movies last December, I hadn’t done so thinking that Fantastic Beasts will be out in just another couple of weeks.  I was just thinking Halloween= Harry Potter.  So my plan was to decorate the house to look like Hogwarts, serve British food mentioned in the books, and watch Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. (Being American, my books say sorcerer’s stone, but I actually knew what the philosopher’s stone was.  And I am from Arkansas.  So neyh neyh Scholastic.)

Hubby picked the meal and I went completely overboard on decor.  I’ll write a little bit about my decorating process next week, and provide links to places that inspired me. This week, I’m going to show off the recipies that I made. 

To start with, Harry Potter thinks about food a lot.  Like a starving kid a lot.  He talks about how his friend Ron eats all the time, but Ron is the 6th boy in a poor family, so he grabs the food while it’s still on the table.  Harry notices food and mentions it in his internal monologue like a kid who is skinny because his abusive guardians withhold food as punishment.  


Cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties, licorice wands and cockroach clusters.

So we know from the text what he is eating.  Everything from the cake that Hagrid makes him for his eleventh birthday, to the Burger King he eats at when Hagrid takes him to London, to everything he eats on the trolley to everything he eats at Hogwarts.  And as Fluer Delacour says in book four, the food is very heavy.  Roasts and steak and kidney pie and savory pudding and hand pies and bangers and mash and lots and lots of odd wizard candy. 

The menu as I presented it was a choice between quiddich players pie (which is basically a shepherd’s pie), or corned beef sandwiches. Instead we chose a roast, potatoes, carrots and gravy.  This gave me more time to decorate. (I needed it!).


Popover Leviosa!


But I was looking for something to elevate the meal from Sunday-at-Grandma’s-in-Arkansas to eating-at-a-British-boarding-school. So I decided on Yorkshire Pudding. 

Now where I’m from, pudding is a creamy desert, not a savory bread-like thing.  But this was good. Very light and airy, with pockets for holding gravy.  The dish is made of eggs and flour.  It was originally baked under a spit, where it could soak up beef drippings as it cooked. These days, one puts beef drippings in the pan ahead of the batter.  The batter puffs up and becomes crispy and brown in the oven.

The recipe I used was this one from Serious Eats. They’re the website I went to for my Pullman bread recipe, so I generally trust them. 


Why are they called cauldron cakes? Because they look like they are baked in a cauldron.

For desert, we chose cauldron cakes.  The cauldron cakes in Harry Potter aren’t described very well.  The ones at the theme park are kind of like filled cupcakes, and I’ve seen some recipes that are similar to molten lava cakes.  But the recipe that hubby and I chose was the one from Food In Literature, which is more like a shortbread cookie with a spiced date center.  Hubby couldn’t stop eating them! 

And since I can’t do anything without overdoing it, I made my own Pumpkin Pasties out of leftover pie dough and pumpkin pie filling, licorice wands out of leftover chocolate twizzlers and chocolate chips, and cockroach clusters out of peanuts and chocolate chips.

There are two big, iconic drinks in Harry Potter that everyone remembers, pumpkin juice, and Butterbeer.  (I suspect that Starbucks is secretly owned by a house elf conglomerate.) We tried them both last year at the theme park, and I have to say that I liked pumpkin juice better.  I think it’s because I grew up drinking Butterscotch milkshakes at the Dairy Dream in Mountainburg and butterbeer tastes like a pale imitation of that. 


Using the mugs I bought from some Sackville-Baggins yard sale.

But if you like that kind of thing, (and most of you do), the Rowling-approved recipe was on Fox  We made it, and I felt like I had a huge coating of butter in my mouth. 

There is a spot-on recreation of pumpkin juice from Wizarding World on Food and Literature as well.  That’s the one I used. The result was this smooth, pumpkin spiced drink.  It was like drinking pumpkin pie.  It was a little thicker than the one served in the park, but I simmered it longer.  The next night, I added a little water to the drink and drank it in my marauder’s map mug.  It was perfect!

That was the food for date night.  Next week I’ll talk about the decorations.  Because sweet baby Merlin on a spotted hippo, I went overboard with decorations. 

I Am Not Making This Up: How Bathing Led To The Decline Of Rome

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 17•16


Some not-that-ancient Romans in need of a bath, in front of some former Roman baths.

When we were little, our parents encouraged us to take a bath daily.  But there’s a theory out there that taking a bath may have actually contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic and the slow decline of Rome as a country. 

The Romans loved their baths.  Bathing was a public activity (unless you were uber-wealthy.  Then you could afford  private facilities in your home).
Public bath houses (called Thermae) resembled modern day spas where Romans of all classes went to socialize daily. The largest Thermae, the Baths of Diocletian could hold up to 3,000 bathers.
A public bathhouse would be stuffed with amenities, including:
  • separate men’s and women’s facilities
  • both heated and cold pools for bathing and swimming
  • exercise space
  • elaborate gardens
  • stalls selling food and perfume
  • saunas
  • locker rooms
  • libraries
  •  musical and theatre performances
  • lecture halls
 There is even some evidence that medical procedures or dentistry might have been performed in bath houses, based on archaeologists finding scalpels and teeth in the drains of some ancient bath houses.
Because of all this, the bath house may have formed a social center for Roman communities.  People may have dressed up just to be seen at the bath house the way ladies in Jane Austen’s time would dress up in the latest fashions just to go for a walk.
Unsurprisingly, bath houses were a major export to the hinterlands of Rome.  Surviving Roman baths may be found from England to Algeria.
So how did a social activity as innocuous as bathing lead to the decline and downfall of Rome?  If you asked a Roman senator at the time Rome started it’s downward slump, he might have said something about people losing sight of traditional Roman values and embracing decadence (which doesn’t sound too different than things that a senator might say now).

Roman Baths in England. Surviving Roman baths may be found across the former Roman Empire from England to Lybia.

But the actual reason may be more complex than that.  Around the fall of the republic and the rise of the empire, Rome was experiencing a population slump.  Fewer people meant fewer taxes, fewer soldiers and fewer shoulders to take on the responsibilities of caring for the country. Then the republic became an empire.  And the empire was only as good as it’s emperor.  One too many bad emperors in a row, and you had the empire in a downward spiral.

The population slump got so bad that by the time the republic rolled Into an empire, The emperors started giving tax breaks to people with children.
Now that we’ve put the decline of Rome squarely on the shoulders of the population slump, what caused it?  There were diseases, such as the Antonine Plague in 165 AD, as well as women dying in childbirth and children dying young.  Lead in pipes, eating utensils, plates and lead makeup also may have weakened immune systems and allowed disease to creep in (not to mention causing sterility in men).
Also there was some decline in population due to Roman birth control methods.  The Romans had plants such as Silphium (which is now extinct) that were effective as birth control and abortifacients.
But another theory is that the declining population was a direct result of the Romans enjoying their baths too much.  Most Roman baths could be heated as high as 170 degrees. Anyone who has ever tried to conceive knows to stay out of hot tubs because the heat (anything over body temperature hot) can cause infertility in men and birth defects or miscarriages in women.
So the decadence of the Ancient Romans may actually have contributed to their decline. Just, not in the way the senators believed.
I wish I’d known this story when I was a kid wanting to get out of bath time.

Archon Con Report

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 10•16

The last weekend of September/first weekend of October I went to Archon in St. Louis.  This was the first time I attended Archon in about 15 years.  It usually falls on my birthday weekend, so I have to make the choice of either going to Archon, or letting my family spoil me.  The struggle is real, ya’ll. 

One audience member drew quick sketches of each of us and had us sign it. I’m the necklace and bracelet in the corner.

So the Friday of the convention, I loaded the car and drove the 6 hours to Collinsville (actually across the river from St. Louis, but meh, details.) and I made it in time to moderate my first panel: world building. Where I found out that the convention center’s wifi wasn’t great, so I couldn’t access my notes in Evernote. Wah wah. 

But everyone on the panel (Lettie Prell, Angie Fox, Jimmy D. Gillentine and Kristin Bailey) all had good things to say. We had a good audience with lots of questions so all I really had to do was make sure that everyone got a turn to speak, and that we stayed on topic. 

I had an author reading at 4:00, with actual audience (Including Tony Stark)!  I had advertised that I would read the coffee/zombie/cargo cult story, but couldn’t access it due to the wifi issues.  Instead I read two of my newer short stories, Dear Dr. Wintergreen (don’t get kidnapped by pirates), and When Wizards Come Knocking (pretend you’re not home). And since we were in St. Louis, I told them the story of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics and marathon from I am Not Making This Up. Thanks to my roomie, Julia Mandala for loaning me her iPhone so I could access the article for reference. 

At 7:00 I sat on The Ethics Of Super Powers, where the moderator, my roomie Tex Thompson dubbed my book mini-cards as choking hazards. Other panelists included R.J. Carter and Brock J. Hanke. 

Then I ran for the other side of the convention center so that I wouldn’t be late to moderate the Original Marvel TV panel – and broke up the previous panel that hadn’t yet wrapped up by charging up the asile announcing that I’m sorry that I’m late.  (Huge apologies to the 501’st legion for that).

Highlights of the panel included seeing Brad Denton, as well as seeing Don Price’s Shield agent Patton Oswald and hearing Jack Snyder talk about his experiences writing for one of the shark week b movies. 

And then I ran out of that panel to zip over to the Yard Dog Press 20th anniversary Roadshow, where I thoroughly made a spectacle of myself, as usual. 

I saw her and started to sing “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”

Archon is a huge costuming convention. So there were tons of hall costumes, in addition to the Saturday masquerade competition. I was not wearing a costume, but when Julia and I meandered through the lobby of the host hotel, we bumped into a 10 foot cardboard Optimus Prime grooving to dance music from the concert, a human-sized ewok (Wicket), Furiosa and the Five Wives, among others.  

At one point Lettie Prell and I bumped into the Mad Hatter, who wanted to know where our costumes were.  When we told him that we didn’t have any, he gave us each a playing card t-shirt.  I was the four of clubs. 

Despite staying up late and not having a panel until noon Saturday, my Mom habits kicked in and I was awake by 7:30. After breakfast, I was even able to move around without feeling like a zombie. 

I arrived at my noon panel just as Van Allen Plexio from the previous panel was leaving.  His book Lucian looks interesting, so it’s probably going onto my Amazon wish list. 

My noon panel was “Our Favorite Series,” which I took to mean TV, but some of the other panelists took to mean books.  One even said that they never watch tv. There was a huge age range in the audience as well. So since I was moderating, I decided to make it a round the room discussion and take reccomendations from the audience as well. (The other panelists were David Phelps, Cheryl Medley and Deborah Millitello.)

Things I recommended included Fraction’s run on Hawkeye, The Discworld series, and Sherry Priest’s Clockwork Century books.  Others reccomended a Manga called The Leftover Princess, the blog Word Wenches, and a book called Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. 

At 2:00 I sat in on the All Things Sherlock Holmes panel with Van Allen Plexico again, Marella Sands and Deborah Millitello again.  There the topic ranged from favorite portrayal of Sherlock (my current favorite is Sir. Ian McKellan) to which adaptation did the better Sherlock Scan.

Then I had to rush back across the convention center to moderate a panel on the new Star Wars movies coming out with Jimmy D. Gillentine and Paul Hahn. The audience for this one was packed, and I spent nearly as much time admiring the costumes in the audience as I did moderating.  There was a very convincing Captain Jack Sparrow, a dwarf standing on boxes, and a guy with a great red coat. 

We talked about what we liked about The Force Awakens, that Kylo Ren’s actual name is Darth Emo, how Mark Hamill is our favorite internet troll, how Grand Admiral Thrawn was brought into Rebels, and rumors about Rogue One and Episode VIII. 

After that, Julia and I got dinner and got back in time for the Masquerade. It started strong with a well done Spartain Batman, and a few hall costumes I’d seen that day like Jack Sparrow (Captain Jack Sparrow!). There was a well done Troll bridge and a creepy Krampus as well as a couple of cute high concept costume and skits like Pokémon Kung Fu and captain Barbieosa (pink pirate Barbie).

Hall costumes can be just as much fun as the masquerade. This is master chef. Hopefully not Swedish.

My favorite by far was “Bigfoot goes to Mardi Gras,” which was a hulking Sasquatch covered head to toe in Mardi Gras beads. 

If you want to see them all, you can see photos on the Archon Masquerade Facebook page. Sorry to say we didn’t stick around to find out who won, and I haven’t seen it announced.  Perhaps they’ll put that information up on the Facebook page soon. 


Sunday I had one panel, on Horses and magical horse-like beings in fiction. Marella Sanda moderated, and Walt Boyes and Rachel Neumeier sat in on the discussion. This one was one of my favorites, since I grew up around horses.  My favorite point to not was that the Ancient Scythian horse archers were supposed to be the inspiration for the centaur. 

After the panel wrapped, I headed home so that I could tuck the kids in. 


Things I missed (but wished I’d seen):

How to Tell a Good Indie Publisher From a Bad 

Podcasting 101


The verdict: A++, would Archon again.  Zo and the programming staff put together a great show, and the rest of the convention was lots of fun. 


I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 5 That Time the French King Was Cannibalized (Podcast Version)

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 03•16

The only king for which “Eat Your Heart Out” was literal.

This is the oddball history story that set me on the road to writing strange history articles.  When I started up my podcast, I knew I wanted to do it as an episode.

France’s King Louis XIV, “The Sun King” created a cult of personality around the monarch and royal family to inject stability into the monarchy.  When he died, his internal organs were removed and buried separate (with lots of pomp and circumstance).

By the Victorian Era, Louis’s heart had found it’s way into the mouth of William Buckland.

My Archon Schedule

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 26•16

I’ll be at Archon 40 in St. Louis this weekend. This is my last planned appearance of the year. 


My schedule is as follows:


1:00 world building (I’m Moderating!)

4:00 author reading 

7:00 the ethics of superpowers  

8:00 Original Marvel TV (Moderating again!)

9:00 Yard Dog Press Traveling Roadshow



12:00 Our Favorite Series (Moderating!)

2:00 All Things Sherlock Holmes 

3:00 Star Wars the Force Awakens, Rogue One and Episode 8 (Moderating!)



10:00 Horse stories – Pegasus, Unicorn and the dreaded kelpie


Hope to see you there!

I’m Not Making This Up – How Do You Solve A Problem Like Mad King Ludwig?

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 19•16

He sort of looks like a broody vampire.

You have to admire Mad King Ludwig. Unlike other mad royals (Jonna of Castile, for one) Ludwig aggressively owned his crazy.  Or did he?

When Ludwig came to the throne in 1846, people thought he was a little eccentric. But then again, aren’t all wealthy folk? And who cares, when you have brooding good looks and a tendency to support the arts? (It worked for Edward Cullen)

But right from the beginning, the signs were there. Distant parents, and a tendency to get lost in his own little fantasy world.

Then Ludwig suffered a crushing defeat to Prussia. For the rest of Ludwig’s life, he’d only rule as a vassal of Prussia.

The pressures of ruling (combined with his sexual orientation and pressure to get married and produce an heir) may have caused Ludwig to retreat into his increasingly active fantasy life. Which would have been fine, if it wasn’t wrecking Bavaria’s economy.

Ludwig commissioned private operas, lavish gardens, fanciful sleighs for traveling at night (he slept all day and stayed up at night), gave lavish gifts to peasants (peasants!) and built fantasy castles that would later inspire Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.

Although Ludwig used his personal fortune to build each of his three castles and his royal apartments in Munich, his debt lowered Bavaria’s credit. His ministers asked him to slow down the spending and economize. (Much like a parent might ask their college kids: do you really need three credit cards, the Bavarian Ministers asked Ludwig, do you really need three castles?)

Eventually, the ministers had enough. Ludwig’s spending, his refusal to schmooze with his courtiers or even visit Munich, his refusal to attend state functions (or do anything kingly) and his insistence on behaving like an artist rather than a monarch (the nerve) was too much for Ludwig’s ministers. They asked dear uncle Lutipold to step in.

Lutipold refused, unless they could prove beyond any doubt that Ludwig was crazy. To which the ministers no doubt said: noooo problem. In no time, the ministers hired a specialist who diagnosed Ludwig sight unseen. Lutipold took over as regent, and Ludwig was confined to one of his fantasy castles, where he promptly died (officially drowned, but possibly shot during an escape attempt) along with the physician who declared him insane (convenient, that).

So was Mad King Ludwig really insane? Modern psychology would disagree with a diagnosis when the doctor didn’t even see the patient. It’s possible that if Ludwig hadn’t been a prince, he would’ve been a successful artist and architect.

Every dollar Ludwig sank his country into debt, they make back now on tourism.


I Am Not Making This Up – Santa Anna Was A Leg Man

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 12•16

Most know General Antonio López de Santa Anna as the man who ordered the slaughter of Texas Defenders (including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie) at the Battle of the Alamo, lost at the battle of San Jacinto, served as president of Mexico 11 times, and eventually became known as “the Napoleon of the West.”

But less well known, is Santa Anna’s obsession with his own leg. 

Two years after the battle of San Jacinto, during the “pastry war” of 1838 (which was not a giant pie fight, as awesome as that sounds), the French and Mexico were at war. Santa Anna had to have his leg amputated after being wounded while defending Vera Cruz from the invading French.

Four years later, (in between his sixth and seventh time serving as president of Mexico) Santa Anna held a state funeral for his leg, complete with cannonade salutes, speeches, prayers and poems dedicated to himself. He then buried the leg in a fancy vessel beneath a monument to his own awesome.

Santa Anna then used the publicity from his state funeral to win another term as president. During parades, he would hold his prosthetic leg up so that people could see that he’d made sacrifices on behalf of Mexico. (He had three prosthetics made. One was a simple peg leg. The other two were expensive, custom cork prosthetics with a foot on a ball bearing. Each fitted with a square-toed boot.)

Two years after burying his leg, Santa Anna would lose two of the prosthetics (one of the custom legs, and the peg) to the Americans (because the entire southwest was not enough). During a battle, he was eating lunch when the 4th Illinois infantry surprised him. The president general jumped on a horse and rode away, leaving his lunch, his gold and his legs behind. 

The custom prosthetic leg is the centerpiece of a diorama at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The display shows Illinois troops seizing Santa Anna’s camp. 

Only the leg is authentic here.

The peg leg was used as a baseball bat and is on display at the Oglesby Manor in Decatur Illinois. 

Mexico and Texas have both asked that Illinois give up the prosthetic legs (and have been turned down). The story of the leg has been featured on the tv show “King of the Hill.”

Santa Anna’s interred actual leg was dug up by an angry mob, dragged through the streets and thrown onto a garbage heap. 

He served as President of Mexico 11 times, lived in and out of exile, died in 1876 and was buried with full military honors. Unlike his leg, he was not dug up and thrown on a trash pile. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 4 The Most Bonkers Race in Olympic History

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 05•16

Olympics_poster.jpgNext time someone mentions the plight of the Olympic athlete, remember that it’s not that bad.  They could be forced to run a marathon through a cloud of dust while wearing cutoff shorts, having cramps & being chased by dogs while their trainers try to poison them.

I’d like to apologize for possibly mispronouncing some of the names of the runners in the audio.  I tried, but not all of them had a pronounciation guide with them.

Research links for this podcast: The 1904 Olympic Marathon May have Been the Strangest Ever

LA Times: Sports Legend Revealed: A Marathon Runner Nearly Died Because of the Drugs He took Took To Help Him Win The First Winner of The 1904 Marathon Used A Car, The Second Winner Used Drugs & Booze 8 Unusual Facts About the 1904 Olympics


I’m Not Making This Up – Do A Good Deed, Find Your Father’s Body Snatchers

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 29•16

Poor John Scott Harrison. You would think that being a State Representative, son of a President and father of another President would get you some respect. Or at least keep grave robbers away. Unfortunately, in Harrison’s case, you’d be wrong.

Of course, Harrison only served two terms in office. His father, William Henry Harrison (9th president of the United States) was the first president to die in office (less than a month after his inauguration). His son, Benjamin Harrison (the guy who served in between Grover Cleveland’s two terms) was not yet elected at the time of John Scott’s death. Though you would think that having the last name Harrison and being buried in the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial would count for something. Apparently not.

Back then, as now, medical students studied anatomy by looking at actual corpses. But unlike now, there wasn’t an option for someone to donate their body to science. So universities made do. Where making do meant paying anyone off the street who just happened to turn up with a dead, not obviously murdered body (the fresher the better, no questions asked).

Because of the big bucks one could score from a freshly dead body, grave robbing became big business (and medical universities had a shady reputation).

Usually grave robbers stuck to cemeteries where the live relatives weren’t going to protest (usually poor, usually non-white. Because humans are terrible). In this case, the grave robbers got a little too aggressive.

The Harrison family noticed that a nearby fresh grave, belonging to Agustus Devin, had been robbed. Worried that the same fate would befall John Scott Harrison, the family built a brick and cement vault around his casket.

Then the Harrison boys set out to find those no-account grave robbers. First they got a warrant, then they stormed up to the Ohio Medical College in high dudgeon. Instead of young Mr. Devin, the John Harrison found his own father hidden under a trap door.

It seems that in the night after the funeral, someone had pried away stones at the foot of the coffin, and pulled the corpse out by the feet. The thieves had to have watched the family install the slab. Otherwise they would have tried (unsuccessfully) to get at the body from another direction.

The grave robbery set off a national scandal. If Harrison’s body wasn’t safe from grave robbers, was anyone’s? It didn’t help that the doctors didn’t seem ashamed that they’d stolen and nearly dissected a famous civil servant.

Thanks to the incident, 5 states increased penalties on grave robbing, and undercut the grave robbing business by allowing medical universities to use unclaimed corpses in their studies.

I Am Not Making This Up – The Pirate Queen Of Denmark

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 22•16

The start of the ladies hen night tradition.

There’s a sea chanty that repeatedly asks what you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning. It came to mind as I heard this story.

So what do you do if you’re a Scandinavian princess, locked in a tower and guarded by snakes? What do you do when your royal parents give your hand to a prince against your wishes?

If you’re princess Awilda, you get your best girlfriends to rescue you and you run away to become pirates.

Not much is known about Awilda. She lived in the 5th century, and her father was Synardus, king of Gotland. For whatever reason (we’re thinking to increase his swagger) King Synardus locked Awilda in the aforementioned tower of his royal palace and guarded the place with the aforementioned snakes (after all, nothing says “my daughter is marriageable” than huge “keep out” signs).

According to legend, Alf, the crown prince of Denmark (who probably looked like Chris Hemsworth in Thor) was so taken with the whole princess in a tower thing that he fought his way through the snakes to ask Synardus for Awilda’s hand in marriage. And, like Mjolnier to Thor, Synardus looked at Alf and said: you are worthy!

I wouldn’t say no.

But Awilda wasn’t impressed. So, according to legend she and a group of her ladies dressed as men, stole (commendeered!) a ship and sailed off to become pirates.

As luck would have it, the very first ship the lady marauders attacked had just lost their captain. The defeated guy pirates took one look at the victorious lady pirates and said: you’ll do!

Awilda and her coed Scandinavian pirate crew commenced raiding all over the Scandinavian coast. Whereupon the king of Denmark said “Pirates? Here? This will not stand!” (Or something equally kingly) and sent Alf the snake fighter to get rid of the pirates.

Alf and his men caught up to Awilda and her band of pirates and defeated them, but his skill in battle impressed Awilda. When Prince Alf confronted the pirate captain, she revealed herself to be his fiancée (probably the same way that Eowyn unmasked herself to the Witch King, by declaring “I’m no man” and jerking off her helmet to reveal flowing blonde hair).

And then she stabbed him in the face.

Alf and Awilda married right there on board the ship, according to legend and the two ruled happily as king and Queen of Denmark.

Hey, I may not be making this up, but someone else might have.