Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I’m Not Making This Up – The Titanic’s Boozy Baker

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 28•16

So what do you do if you find yourself stuck on an “unsinkable” ship going down in icy waters? You drink. And if you’re lucky, it might save your life.

As strange as it sounds, that’s what happened to the Titanic’s baker, Charles Joughin.

Joughin was off duty on the April 15, 1912 when the titanic struck the ice, but when he heard that people were evacuating the ship, he and his staff brought loaves of bread to provision the life boats, help load women and children into the boats and search out more passengers to fill empty seats. (Sometimes carrying women by force to the boats and throwing them in. Because who would want to get out into a rickety lifeboat in an icy dark ocean in the middle of the night when you could stay on that warm, unsinkable ocean liner?)

And though he was supposed to leave the ship aboard lifeboat 10, Joughin gave up his seat. Afterward, he went back to his cabin to have a stiff drink or six before the ship went down (as you do).

As people began jumping into the water and struggling to swim, Joughin left off his drinking to throw deck chairs over the side in the hopes that some of the swimmers could use them as flotation devices.

By the time the ship slid under the water, Joughin was one of the last passengers who hadn’t jumped (along with Kate and Leo). By his own account, he rode the end of the ship’s stern down into the water like an elevator and stepped into the water without getting his hair wet.

If you squint, you might see him up there.

And while typically being drunk gives you hypothermia faster while only making you think you are warmer, Joughin found his way over to Collapsable lifeboat B two hours later and hung onto the side until another life boat took him on.

Joughin eventually testified before the British Inquiry Board about the sinking, and helped Walter Lord write A Night To Remember.

If you watch almost any Titanic movie you can see Joughin there. He’s in the scene of the ship’s sinking, usually in a baker’s outfit, always either drinking or drunk and clinging to the rail.

If you see him, raise a glass in his honor: the world’s luckiest drunk.

My very spoilery review of Fantastic Beasts

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 21•16

I’ve been a fan of the wizarding world since the release of Goblet of Fire (which is about how long it took the phenomenon to reach me, as a barely-adult with no kids living in Arkansas).  But I’ve been hooked only slightly shorter on J.K. Rowling’s work than I have on Pratchett.

I think it’s partially because the work is so immersive.  It feels like if you were to leave Hogwarts, there would be a fully-realized world out there.

Fantastic Beasts let me delve into a world that I always suspected existed.

Spoilers below the space.









The movie opens with Newt Scamander, a traveling magizoologist (the magical version of a zoologist) as he arrives in New York City.  Whatever the reason for his trip, he’s quickly distracted when his niffler (klepto-platypus) gets out of his magical suitcase (which has an entire menagerie hidden inside it). While Newt is trying to retrieve the animal, he is seen by a muggle (sure, the American wizards call them No-Majs, but I’m sticking with muggle), named Jacob Kowalski. Before Newt can obliviate Jacob’s memories, Jacob takes off.  In the confusion, Jacob grabs Newt’s suitcase by mistake.  When Jacob gets home and opens the case, some of Newt’s Beasts get out.

As Newt tries to retrieve the missing beasts, his efforts are hampered by American wizarding politics.  Newt is automatically breaking the law by bringing Beasts into New York, and not registering his wand.  To make things worse, something that local aurors swear is a beast is tearing up the streets and risking exposing the wizarding world.  And a local, quasi-religious organization called the New Salem Philanthropic Society is looking to expose wizards and wipe them out.

Looming like an uneasy shadow over all of this is Grindelwald’s rise to power in Europe. (Remember him from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?) The big mystery posed at the first of this is where is Grindelwald now?


My thoughts on Fantastic Beasts. There are many.

Firstly, if you go into the movie expecting more Harry Potter, or Harry Potter the early years. You’re going to be disappointed.  This is a different beast. (see what I did there?) and it deserves to be judged on it’s own merits.

That being said, one thing I loved about the original books and movies was that they captured a sense of wonder. This movie didn’t forget that.  Early in the movie, Newt goes down into his suitcase/menagerie.  There we get to see that he’s built a work shed for himself, and a magical habitat for each of his creatures.  It’s really wonderous to behold. Remember in Goblet of Fire when Harry walks into a pup-tent only to find that the inside is bigger (TARDIS-style).  His reaction is “I love magic.”  That’s how I felt watching the suitcase menagerie scenes.


The creatures themselves are amazing.  There is a bowtruckle (which looks like a stick bug), a thunderbird which reminds me a lot of Buckbeak from Prisoner of Azkaban, an anmial called a screaming evil (which looks like a cross between a parrot, a manta ray and a yo-yo), a myrtlap (which looks like a half-naked hedgehog pig), an erumphant (which looks like a rhino with a firefly in it’s horn), a demiguise (think monkey with chameleon powers), an occamy (snake bird),  and the niffler I mentioned earlier.

These are animals that were mentioned in the Potter books, but here they are brought to life and given an amazing amount of personality, given that they’re CGI. Each beast has enough personality that I would consider them separate characters, rather than props.

And considering how much plot this movie has, the Beasts are in it just enough that they don’t overwhelm or take over.  They’re a sub-plot, but not the most important one.

Running parallel to Newt’s story is a detective story.  Newt is being chased by (and eventually aided by) a disgraced auror, Tina Goldstein. The detective story has a lot of familiar tropes in it.  Tina was an auror until she used her magic on the head of the Second Salem group and the whole group had to be obliviated.  Now she’s been busted down to the wand registry office and is eager to get her old job back.  To this end, she’s chasing Newt over his escaped animals, while at the same time trying to keep tabs on the New Salem group.

There is also a plot twist. Tina’s old boss, Graves, seems to be a follower of Grindelwald and is looking for a magic child among the New Salem kids. If a child suppresses his or her magic, the magic turns against them and becomes a dangerous creature (called an obscurus). That is the “beast” that is tearing up New York.  Graves overlooks an older, abused child, who in a twist turns out to be the magical child. The kid goes on a rampage, and the New York wizards (maybe) kill him to keep from being revealed.

At which point Graves is revealed to be Grindelwald (and he would have gotten away with it, if not for those darn meddling kids).

There are some interesting parallels between this story and book one of the Potter series. For one, Graves is Grindelwald in disguise, much the same way that Voldemort possessed professor Quirrel (presumably the real Graves is dead. Too bad. I liked Colin Farrell’s performance here.)

For another, the reveal happened right at the end.  Though thankfully without a villain monologue.

Also, Grindelwald is Johnny Depp.  Some people aren’t too happy about that, given the recent charges of domestic violence against him.  But Depp generally does well at immersing himself in weird rolls so that you get wildly different performances each time riather than the same character in every movie (looking at you, Keanu).  And he’s in it just enough that he dosen’t overwhelm the story.

Plot wise-it seems that Grindelwald took a break from world domination to find and harness the powerful magic from the obscurus.

There’s already a fan theory that Dumbledore’s little sister might have been one of these, and that’s how Grindelwald knows to go look for one, and why he’d take a break from his world-domination agenda to look for one.

I noticed from the bit of obscurus that Newt had in his suitcase, that it had some dementor-like qualities.  I wonder if that will be explored in the future.

You wouldn’t see this in a Harry Potter film.

I liked supporting characters Jacob and Queenie.  These two are very much the heart of the movie.  Jacob, being a muggle, is a sort of stand-in for us as people who haven’t seen magic outside of Hogwarts.  His introduction to wizarding is different from Harry Potter’s, in that he sees the adult side of wizarding.  Through him, we see a speakeasy, not a school.

Queenie is a legimins.  She seems particularly empathic and a little lonely.  She and Jacob have an instant connection.  In part, I think she attaches herself to Jacob because she can see enough of his thoughts to like what he sees.  Jacob tells her that there are tons of guys like him.  Given that Queenie reads every thought of any guy who looks her way, it’s a very telling statement when she says that there really isn’t another guy like him.

I love how when we see house elves and goblins, they’re using wands and the elves are wearing clothes, and no one comments on this.  Also, the backstory that is only hinted at.  The American wizards use nonverbal spells (to avoid drawing attention to what they’re doing? Because tensions post-Salem were that bad?)

And can I mention set design? Lady Liberty. The Woolworth building. The train station under City Hall. The partially finished Empire State Building. This felt like old New York.

The one thing that stung was seeing the American wizards portrayed as ‘Murcia wizards.  US Wizards (or MACUSA, as the movie calls them) hit all the eagle-land stereotypes.  (Trigger happy, bible-thumping, handing out the death penalty like Oprah hands out cars).

Although, given the time period, It’s sadly probably pretty accurate for non-wizarding American society.  We tend to forget that interracial marriage laws were still on the books in the US until 1967, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that there were laws barring muggles and wizards from marrying.

I would have liked to think that wizards were more enlightened (given the black female president and the house elves with wands and clothes). Mainly because I’m so enamored of the wizarding world. But Rowling hasn’t ever shied away from showing that her wizards had the same all-too-human failings as the muggles. Perhaps that’s why her world feels so real. Because it’s neither utopian, nor dystopian, but feels like a reflection of our own.

At any rate, there were beasts, it was fantastic. I do recommend. Also? Finally! Thanks to Newt, we’re hopefully going to get good Hufflepuff merch.  Bring on all the hufflestuff!

I Am Not Making This Up: Tycho Brahe – The Math Guy With The Nose (and The Drunken Moose)

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 14•16

Mind you, moose bites can be nasty.

Math is not my forte. I’m more of a writing gal. But my interest in the hard sciences might have been bigger (or there at all) if I had known about rock stars like astronomer Tycho Brahe.

Who was Tycho Brahe?

Brahe lived larger than life in his own time, along the way some of his antics would make the Kardishans’s antics seem tame.  

You could say that Brahe didn’t choose the thug life (and by thug life, we mean academic life. So pretty much the opposite of thug life) but you’d be wrong. Tycho had to buck societal expectations to become a scholar.  

In the time where he lived, nobles were supposed to stay out of the sciences to give academics a chance to shine (and stop using their stardom to suck up all that sweet patron money that would otherwise go to more deserving academics). 

And maybe only Fredrick II, the king of Denmark (Tycho’s cousin) was more noble. Tycho was one of 12 kids (eight of which survived to adulthood. Not bad odds for those days). He was one of a set of twins, but his twin brother died shortly after birth. 

They’ll Never Miss One

Tycho’ childless uncle must have seen something in Brahe (or possibly, like H. I. In Raising Arizona, he just saw that his brother’s family had a lot of kids and would never miss one), because he kidnapped little two-year-old Tycho and raised him as his own. (Tycho’s own parents were strangely ok with this.)

Tycho initially studied law, (his kidnapper/uncle wanted him to go into civil service). That changed in 1560 when he was 14 and he witnessed an eclipse that had been scientifically predicted. Tycho thought that predicting an event like this was audacious, but when the prediction came true it lit a spark in him to study astronomy. (Given his later life, Tycho would know from audacious.) 

Like Batman with a secret identity, little Tycho studied law by day and astronomy at night. In 1563 he made his first recorded observation: a conjunction (when heavenly bodies line up, like “the Great Conjunction” in “The Dark Crystal.”) of Jupiter and Saturn. When Tycho consulted his books, he found that they were all inaccurate (a nice way of saying wrong) about when the conjunction should occur.

At this point, Tycho said: forget paper pushing! Imma fix this! He then devoted his life to collecting astronomical instruments, making observations and correcting existing observations.  

The Thing With The Nose

One would think that devoting yourself to a life of scholarly pursuits means that you would live a quiet life. In the case of Tycho, you’d be wrong. In 1566 while at a wedding dance of one of his professors, Tycho got into an argument with fellow student, (Also a nobleman. Also, also his third cousin.) Manderup Parsberg over a mathematical point.  

The two of them decided to settle the argument with a duel.

At night.

It didn’t go well for Tycho. He lost part of his nose and got a scar on his forehead. For the rest of his life he wore a prosthetic nose. Stories say that it was made of silver or gold, but when Tycho’s body was exhumed in 2010, scientists determined that his everyday nose was made of brass (though he might have had a fancy dress nose made of precious metals and jewels). 

Tycho must not have held the loss of his nose against Parsberg, because the two men eventually became good friends. 

The Matter Of Family

The remainder of Tycho’s life would be a balance between seeking funding and providing for his family. The problem was that he fell in love with a member of the common classes (Kirsten Jørgensdatter, the daughter of a Lutheran minister). Under Danish law, if they married he would lose his status. 

The two had a morganatic marriage, which was similar to a common law marriage. This allowed Tycho to remain a member of the ruling class, but wouldn’t change his wife’s status or allow his children to inherit. (They had eight kids. Six of whom lived to adulthood. Again, good odds for the time.) Because most of Tycho’s family disapproved, they weren’t inclined to help the kids out if Tycho died.

Tycho inherited from his parents and his uncle (who died from pneumonia after saving King Frederick II of Denmark from drowning).  

The King of Denmark, Fredrick II, was also a patron of Tycho’s. At one point Tycho controlled about 1% of all the wealth in Denmark. This included his own island estate, complete with castle. Here he would build two observatories and a research institute.

He also used the island estate to build several industries, including a paper mill to print and distribute his scientific findings. 

But life wasn’t all sober scientific inquiry for Tycho and his family. He spent part of his fortune employing a little person psychic named Jepp. Because: why not?

Jepp functioned as a court jester. During meals, his job was to sit under the table, and talk “incessantly” while Tycho threw him table scraps.

The Drunk Moose

Tycho also kept a pet moose (in some accounts, an elk). In a letter to his mentor, Landgrave Willhelm of Hesse-Kassel, Tycho wrote about his pet moose.

His pet moose. 

The moose lived in the castle, trotted along beside Tycho’s carriage like a dog and liked to drink Danish beer. 

Willhelm responded by asking to trade Tycho the moose for a horse. To which Tycho replied that sadly, the moose died. The astronomer had loaned it out to a nobleman in Landskrona for a party. During the party, the moose got wasted, fell down some stairs and died. 

I don’t know whether to blame this on eccentric nobles or eccentric scientists.

Through his court contacts, Tycho got King Frederick II to agree to allow his heirs to inherit his property. Unfortunately Tycho outlived his king. The King’s son, Christian IV didn’t support the sciences the way his father had.  

Tycho gradually lost favor at court and entered exile. Two years later Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor offered patronage to Tycho, which prompted him to move his household to Prague. 

The move worked out well for Tycho’s family. For the first time they were treated like nobility, and after Tycho’s death they were allowed to inherit his property. 

In Prague Tycho collaborated with the not-yet-famous Johannes Kepler. Despite this, Tycho kept most of his research to himself. Over the years he’d had students and assistants try to steal his work and pass it off as their own.  

His fears weren’t unfounded. Part of why we know Kepler’s name is that after Tycho’s death, Kepler (by his own admission) stole Tycho’s notes and built on them for his own groundbreaking work. Kepler wouldn’t have had access to those notes if not for Tycho’s death.

His Weird Death

Tycho’s death was just as memorable as his nose and the drunk Moose. In 1601 he attended a banquet in Prague. During the banquet he refused to get up to go to the bathroom because he didn’t want to be rude. So instead he very politely contracted a bladder infection that prevented him from urinating, and died of a ruptured bladder. 

In 1901, scientists exhumed Tycho’s remains. They found high levels of mercury, which led to rumors that Tycho might have been poisoned. Suspects included cohorts of Christian IV (to cover up an alleged affair between Tycho and the Dowager Queen of Denmark) and Kepler (for access to Tycho’s notes).

In 2010 Tycho was re exhumed and scientists found that there wasn’t enough mercury (or any poison) to have killed him. The mercury, they concluded, could have come from alchemy experiments. This . . Er . . . Buried the murder theories.


I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 6 That Time the Catholic Church Put A Corpse on Trial

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 07•16

They never did this on Matlock.

If you think politics is bonkers now, you have no idea.  Compared to some historical political plays, the current election cycle looks like a church social.  Take the Cadaver Synod, for example: An event in history where a sitting Pope of Rome put a former (as in dead) pope on trial.

No, the former pope wasn’t tried in absentia.  They actually dug up the body (or pulled it out of the vault, actually) dressed it up like a morbid doll and put it on the stand.

Crazy stuff, man.

Date Night: The Hogwarts Experience Part II

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 31•16

Happy Halloween!  I hope you’re having an awesome day, and that you didn’t wait until the last second to finish your costume.  I had to run to Party City Friday night to get gloves for my kids’ costumes.  It was a real house of horrors, and not in the fun way. 

387ee892-ff16-448c-812c-1f19bf5a6694.jpgLast week I wrote about the food I served on my Harry Potter date night. This week, I’m going to show you how I made the house look like Hogwarts and link to my inspiration. I managed to do most of this for the cost of a dozen bottles at Goodwill, and an ink printer cartridge.  You can spend hundreds more if you want.  But I do things on a shoestring budget. 

It seems like most craft projects I take on start with the thought “I wonder if I could learn to make this cheaper.”  Then I proceed to find out the hard way whether this is possible or not.  Most of the time, I find that it’s not.  But I have an awful lot of fun learning,  and isn’t the journey important, anyway?

I first had an inkling that I wanted to decorate my house after seeing the photos of the dinner party put on by the blogger who runs Food In Literature.  This is an amazing website.  The blogger has recipies from most of my favorite books here.  Including hobbit food.  I served her robbers steak (a la Dracula) this summer, and hubby loved it. I would also reccomend Pintrest (just search DIY Hogwarts), and A Very Harry Halloween Tumblr blog. If I decide to do this again next year, and add to my decorations, I’m consulting this blog. 

The first thing I did to decorate was a lot of printing. Siriusly! You can’t make a Hogwarts without breaking a few printer cartridges.  Actually, the second thing I did was print.  The first thing I did was buy a pack of stiff, heavy paper, and another of parchment-style brown paper. I already had printable canvas leftover from a birthday party a few years back.

I’ll try to link to places where I found my images, but for a lot of it you can do a Google search and find the images yourself. Or Pintrest.  Chances are you’ll wind up there anyway.

The list of things I printed is:

Then I ran out of ink. I wonder why?
The Hogwarts express sign went onto our front porch, along with some decorative trunks, an old broom and a plastic trick-or treat cauldron with a Lockheart textbook in it. Ginny Weasley better not have an old diary in there.
86656d32-a1b2-4c9f-aaef-e5e4f55682a0.jpgThe paper craft owls required cutting and folding and pasting.  It took about a week, but when I was finished, I had 8 owls of various sizes for my kitchen owelery.  Including one I hung from monofillimant thread to “fly” over my kitchen island. The quibbler was glued to old copies of Southern Living, Daily Prophet was wrapped around old newspapers and tied with string. I assembled all that, along with an “owl post” box, a remembrall for Neville made from an old Christmas ornament, and an oragami howler that I also hung from the ceiling. 
For the Gryffindor common room, I hung the portraits, draped an old red blanket over our sofa, set out a chess set for Ron and set up a corner of the room with Harry’s luggage, which included a Gryffindoor scarf I bought last year at Wizarding World, the marauder’s map, copies of the quibbler and Daily Prophet, and an owl cage with Ron’s owl in it. 
I66b47ebb-6652-4496-abb0-b692f3a5fa70.jpg then took a trip to goodwill to buy interesting bottles and bits and bobs for decoration.  I found a silver bowl for a dollar that became Dumbledoor’s pensive.  The potions labels were glued to the bottles, and I filled them with colored water, spices, syrups and anything gels that looked potion-y, corked them and put them in my China cabinet.  Food In Literature suggested that I put candles behind them to make them glow.  That turned out well. They have a nice tutorial on how they did their own potions setup here
Hubby’s office became both Dumbledoor’s office and the transfiguration classroom. So the pensive went in there. I taped the transfiguration chalkboards to some already existing frames. I placed a little Russian Limoges white ferret of Hubby’s into my transfiguration classroom.  Looks like Malloy crossed fake!Mad-Eye Moody again. 

At Hogwarts, the students dine under a ceiling that has been transfigured to look like the sky outside with floating candles providing light.  I wasn’t willing to knock a hole in my ceiling.  They do make photo backdrops that look like a starry sky, but I tried to do my own crafty thing.  I opened a couple of trash bags and painted them with a wash of white acrylic to resemble a nebulae.  Then I taped battery-operated fairy lights to the ceiling to shine through the plastic like stars.  Over this I hung battery-operated tapers on monofillimant line to resemble the floating candles. Food and Literature’s version of the same setup is here.

You can’t have Hogwarts without a sorting hat.  So I made mine out of paper mache.  It lived in my entryway next to my goblet of fire (an old fishbowl with crepe paper in it), and my Hogwarts banners. My sunny plant windowsill got it’s own mandrake, which I made out of salt dough. He was cuter than the usual mandrake, so I call him baby groot. I also made a dragon egg for the bathroom out of an old Easter egg detailed with hot glue and painted gold. 

B4808c888-44f8-414f-b2c6-24cd46204df7.jpgy the end of the month, I was more than ready for this date.  It started out as a fun thing, and kept growing as I thought about one more thing, then one more thing.  It was worth it, though.  Hubby is still smiling in wonder at everything I did.  Especially the great hall with the starry sky and floating candles. 

If you want a relaxing computer background/white noise to help set the mood for your own Hogwarts date, I reccomend this YouTube channel, which is set up to look and sound like the great hall at Halloween. 

And if you want to watch the movies before Fantastic Beasts, Freeform (which used to be ABC Family) has all of them except for whichever one HBO has the rights to at the moment. 

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  And enjoy your trick-or-treating. 

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!