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We writers often lead a secluded, sequestered life. It is said many of us are introverts. We prefer it that way. Combine this with a WFH schedule, and I often find myself unprepared for April Fool's Day hijinx. I forget all about it date-wise, and therefore am easy prey for Internet scams, like the one promising the Firefly series would be revived on Netflix; or the one touting an X-Files TV series comeback (if you consider that fiasco a comeback, the joke's on you).

I never think of April Fools that I don't wring my hands over whether or not to include an apostrophe. And also over the family lore of the time my dad thought it would be hilarious to break up with my mom in high school and let her think it was for real until almost the end of the day. Pretty sure when he bopped up to her locker that afternoon and said, "April Fool!", he's lucky he made it home with all his teeth. Strangely, Dad is now known for his sense of humor and comic timing. I guess he was still learning the ropes back then.

I like a good laugh as well as anyone. Much of the April Fool's horseplay has always struck me as dominated by the adolescent male bathroom humor types. They're either too silly, too gross, or do a poor job of disguising their latent cruelty. I know that makes me sound like a sourpuss. But I can appreciate an April Fools prank if it's done well.

I fondly recall the time, 30-odd years ago now, that I was roped in by one of the greatest April Fool's pranks of all time: the Sports Illustrated story by George Plimpton that ran in 1985 about a phenom baseball pitcher. I devoured the entire article, mouth agape, which got very messy as I was simultaneously salivating over the thought of watching this kid play in the upcoming season. It never occurred to me that it was a hoax until I heard a few days later. And it was such a gloriously prepared prank, I wasn't even mad about it. I spent no small amount of time turning it over in my mind like a piece of journalistic pyrite, marveling over how they pulled it off. That's the kind of prank I like - something so original and well thought out and perfectly executed, so very Sting-like (the movie, not the singer) that you can't feel too badly about being hornswoggled. They set the bar pretty high. Somehow, Vaseline on the doorknob and plastic wrap over the toilet seat pale in comparison.

It's been a while since anyone Fooled me on April 1. No fake break-ups with the ensuing lawsuits and dental bills. No tiresome Whoopie cushions or rubber snakes. I keep waiting for another great fake article from those devilish tricksters at Sports Illustrated. I understand why they can't run one every year. But I haven't read this week's SI yet. There's still hope.

 

This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

I was born and raised in Texas. You might find some argument about whether Texas is South or West or some combination. But when it comes to southern expressions, Texas definitely qualifies as South.

I grew up listening to many of these expressions issue forth from friends and relatives. I thought nothing of it, until I once politely refused a second helping at a non-Southern soiree because I was 'full as a tick'. Jaws dropped. Eyes bulged. It was at that moment I realized I was, in fact, bilingual.

The great thing about learning to speak and understand southern expressions is that you don't have to learn a new language. You just have to rearrange some words from the language you already know.

Some southern expressions have gained widespread familiarity, like y'all (all of you, or maybe just you) and fixin' to (about to) and bless your heart (you're a moron).  But there are many, many others. Most require some translation. Here are a few of my favorites.

Let's do the dogs first:

that dog won't hunt - whatever you just proposed or suggested has fatal flaws in its logic

I've got no dog in that fight - I really don't care what the outcome is

don't get the big dog off the porch - leave well enough alone; sometimes rephrased in other parts of the country as 'don't poke the bear'

Okay, done with the dogs.

all hat no cattle - full of bluster; someone who is too full of themselves for no apparent reason

I don't know whether I'm washin' or hangin' - one of my mom's phrases to indicate she's crazy busy

colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra - one of my dad's jewels. Sometimes you hear the first part by itself, but Dad being Dad, he always likes to add the bit about the bra.

Speaking of cold: butter wouldn't melt in her mouth - she is a cold person; shorthand for bi***

Feeling twitchy? You may be nervous as a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory or a one legged man at a butt kickin' contest

not my first rodeo - both my husband and I are overly fond of this one. It just means you've done whatever it is you're doing before. Often used in a snippy tone in response to someone who may express doubts at your ability to perform the task at hand.

fish or cut bait - make up your mind; occasionally more crudely expressed as sh** or get off the pot


happy as a pig in sh** - believe it or not, I've probably heard this said about newlyweds more than I care to remember. Some people substitute 'mud' in polite society, but sh** is what they really mean.

 

that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee - whatever this refers to is worth zero zip nada

knee high to a grasshopper - Southerners hear this phrase about eight thousand times from older relatives when attending a family reunion or any time they haven't seen you since you were a kid.

It says something about southern culture that there are so many expressions for someone who is, shall we say, somewhat low in the IQ department:

not the brightest bulb
not the sharpest knife in the drawer
ain't got the sense God gave a goose
doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain
dumb as a carrot

In addition to the 'full as a tick' fiasco, I probably get the second highest number of quizzical looks when I use a Southernism to describe something that is diagonally across from something (kitty corner) or in disarray (cattywompus).

When I was a teenager, my dad sometimes said I would argue with a fence post. I thought it was a compliment.

If you're traveling with a Southerner and they say their back teeth are floating, you best pull over at first opportunity so they can use the facilities.

I get that he needs to look this way for a role, but yikes.

My cousin Nan contributed this one. Unfortunately I find myself using it frequently. For example, when watching the recent Academy Awards and trading red carpet attire critiques with my daughter via text, I told her Casey Affleck looked like Fido's tail.

If my brother and I happen to be out and about and observe the person walking ahead of us who is, shall we say, overly endowed in the posterior, my brother will inevitably whisper to me that her rear end looks like two beavers fightin' under a bear rug. And inevitably I will laugh my head off.

 

If you're like me and trying to embrace the new minimalist fad and get rid of too much stuff, here's another one of my brother's jewels that might help the next time you are tempted to buy more stuff: I need that like a hen needs a flag.

Photo by Ruth Hartnup on Flickr

My strategy when learning a new language is to pick one or two phrases that might fit in with your lifestyle and try them out, gingerly at first, until you get the hang of it. Maybe tell your loved one their new outfit is fine as frog's hair. Or tell your kids to quit playin' possum and get up before they're late to school. And if I might offer a suggestion: when dining out with non-Southern friends, don't mention ticks at the dinner table.

This post originally appeared as part of my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Sears shocks the horsey set by wearing pants to play polo. Would have been more shocking if she played without them IMO.

So I'm minding my own business, browsing my Twitter feed, when I see a tweet about a woman I had never heard of who was known as 'The Universal Female Athlete'.  For an amateur historian interested in women's studies, this is the ultimate click bait! I must know more! And click I did. This led me to the original tweet by the great folks at the National Womens History Museum. And on I went until my ultimate destination, an opportunity to purchase a biography of my quarry, Eleonora Sears.

Several links on Ms. Sears regurgitated the same handful of interesting facts. But the deeper I dug, the more great info I found.

It's only 47 miles

The original tweet I saw featured a photo of Ms. Sears at the polo fields. Her attire (wearing pants) resulted in strong criticism and pearl-clutching from the stuffed shirts and corsets in Newport. Sears was an expert horsewoman and polo player. She also won several tennis championships. But her athletic prowess didn't end there. Eleonora Spears was also expert at just about every physical endeavor she attempted, to wit:

Walking  - endurance walking was a thing in the 1920s. In fact a guy named Weston the Pedestrian was the Michael Jordan of his day. We're not talking walking two blocks to the local liquor store that seems like two miles when you run out of wine. We're talking dozens, hundreds, even thousands of miles. Sears once won a $1000 bet from a friend who bet her she couldn't walk the 47 miles between his house in Providence, RI and hers in Boston in under 15 hours. She did it in under 10.

  • driving - considered an extreme sport in her day. Come to think of it, still is in some sectors (yes, Dallas TX I am looking at YOU)
  • badminton
  • yachting
  • swimming
  • hockey
  • squash

Once when asked if she played squash, she replied, "No, but I could." She took up the game, and became the first female national squash champion in 1946. It's no wonder she earned the moniker, 'Universal Female Athlete'.

Sears was a real stuff-starter. There was nothing she liked better than being told 'no'. Women can't smoke at the club? Exactly why I didn't bring my ciggies - can I bum one from you? Women can't wear pants? Okay, see you at the polo field. Look for a woman wearing pants. Women can't drive? Tell that to the car dealer I just drove home from.

It didn't hurt that she was wealthy. Loaded. Old school, high society, related-to-the-Vanderbilts wealthy. She had the resources to do as she pleased. She chose to remain single, leaving plenty of time for pursuing whatever tickled her fancy. And what tickled Eleonora Sears was learning new things and becoming the best at them that she could. Sounds good to me.

This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Catching up on cleaning out my emails recently, and something happened that I often hope for but rarely experience: finding something outstanding buried among the detritus of newsletters and sales pitches I really need to unsub from. It was a link to a TED Talk by Adam Grant in which he discussed, among many other fabulous things, the science behind adding just the right touch of procrastination to the creative process.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the TED Talk for you because I really encourage you to take about 16 minutes and watch the whole thing. But to the point of procrastinating: Grant quotes Aaron Sorkin, the successful creative mind behind many hits including two of my favorites, The West Wing and Moneyball:

Grant, who is an organizational psychologist, shared some statistics indicating that people who procrastinate just the right amount (just a little bit), at just the right time (after the project has begun, not before), often have better results with their end product than people who don't. Because SCIENCE.

Now that we have permission from the creativity experts to goof off (like we weren't gonna goof off today anyway *snort*), I can feel A-OK about my procrastination activity of choice: cleaning AKA ProcrastiCleaning. I know some of you are out there shaking your head, wondering why in the name of all that is holy, if I now have permission to goof off, I'm wasting precious goof-off time on such a mundane activity.

I wish I had an answer. I don't even LIKE to clean. I mean, I'm not a hoarder or anything, but at my house on any given day, one might find a layer of dust or a carpet that needs vacuuming if one were to look especially carefully. I'll clean, but I don't especially enjoy the experience. Unless there's writing to be done. The closer the deadline, the better I like it. Then I'll clean like a banshee. And I don't mean dusting and vacuuming. We're talking major cleaning jobs, like detailing the car. Or taking a toothbrush to the knots in the heart pine flooring to get every bit of Sheetrock dust from a recent project out of there. Or possibly disassemble-the-plumbing-under-the-bathroom-double-vanity-to-scrape-out-the-mysterious-crud-inside-the pipes-under-my-husband's-sink (but not mine!) cleaning. Not that I would ever do that. In any case, ProcrastiCleaning is not for the faint of heart (or knee, or back).

Apparently, I'm not alone. I can tell by the number of 'Amen, sistah!' responses on social media any time the subject comes up. And those are just from the ProcrastiCleaners who are loud and proud and out of the cleaning closet. For each of them, I'm sure there are twenty more writers out there, still pretending they are actually straight-up cleaning rather than avoiding a deadline. Never mind they just spent forty minutes learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum so they can Hoover the funnel cloud of dust bunnies out from under the guest room dresser. BTW Rookie Mistake: dead giveaway that you're ProcrastiCleaning if you're considering learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum.

I know cleaning to avoid writing is weird (if not bordering on counter-productive). I can't help it. But I'm not about to give it up. I have my best ideas while doing mindless non-writing-related tasks. And they're not limited to cleaning. Once I almost punctured my trachea in my haste to write down a plot twist idea I got while brushing my teeth.

This month I'm trying to salvage the brain dump also known as last November's NaNoWriMo upchuck. Now that the plumbing project is done, I need to go fire up the hub's power washer. Thank goodness for pollen season, or I'd have no prayer of meeting my deadline.


This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

In honor of Women's History month, I want to give props to The State, our local newspaper here in Columbia, SC, for the fun article on South Carolina women they published last spring. The article was in a quiz format. Being relatively new to SC, I failed the quiz big-time.  I cherry-picked some favorites from the original 19 questions, just in case some of you are as woefully unaware of these cool factoids as I was.

Mary Chesnut. Photo credit: Ohio State University. What?? Not Gamecocks??

Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut was born on her father's plantation in 1823 in Stateburg SC which is between Columbia and Sumter. Chesnut is the 1860s female version of Jon Stewart - educated, opinionated, entertaining. Her claim to fame is her Civil War diary. An annotated version won the Pulitzer Prize. Ken Burns referred to it extensively in his Civil War documentary. I'm super pumped to get reading it as my kids gifted it to me on my recent birthday. One of hundreds of her pithy quotes regarded plantation life versus life in the big city: "These people have grown accustom to dullness. They were born and bred in it. They like it as well as anything else."

Mary McLeod Bethune. Photo credit: Talbot School of Theology.

I actually knew the answer to the first question in their quiz because I wrote a biography of her several years ago. But I had forgotten she was from South Carolina. Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 in Mayesville SC, a hamlet of a few hundred souls between Sumter and Florence. She was obsessed with education. Through a somewhat miraculous series of events considering her family's humble circumstances, she attended school and eventually earned her teaching degree. Bethune founded a school for girls and was one of the first of her race and gender to serve as a college president. This child of former slaves advised Franklin Delano Roosevelt and three other presidents.

Eartha Kitt. Photo credit: Daily Mail

Who doesn't love Eartha Kitt? So talented, so lovely, so purrfect. She's been described in more feline terms than the Pink Panther. Orson Welles called her 'the most exciting woman alive'. Apparently he also found her delicious, as he is reputed to have bitten her during a scene they had together in the play "Time Runs". She was born in 1927 the amusingly named North, SC, a small town south of Columbia. So many fun little factoids about her, it's hard to choose one (and that one about Welles is pretty tasty!) but I love that later in her career, she referred to herself as "the original 'Material Girl'". Take that, Madonna!

Althea Gibson. Photo credit: whiskymoods.com

Tennis Grand Slam champion Althea Gibson grew up in Harlem but was born in Silver, South Carolina (between Sumter and Lake Marion) also in 1927. She struggled in the classroom but was an athletic prodigy. Her tennis skills earned her a scholarship to Florida A&M University. Gibson was the first African American to compete in the U.S. Open; the first to win the French Open; and the first to win Wimbledon, in 1957- almost 20 years before the first African American man would win that title (Arthur Ashe, 1975).  Not satisfied with breaking barriers in tennis, Gibson was also the first African American member of the LPGA (golf). Is there any game she couldn't play??

Peanut Johnson

Have you seen that commercial envisioning the time when we see the first pitch thrown by a female in a major league baseball game? Well, it's sorta been done. Mamie 'Peanut' Johnson was one of the first women, and the first pitcher, to play in the Negro Leagues baseball league. She was born in Ridgeway, just north of the Columbia metro in 1935. She honed her pitching skills by throwing rocks at the crows on her grandmother's farm. Peanut played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s. She retired with a record of 33-8. All those wins from a player who was only 5'-3".

Linda Ellison aka Fabulous Moolah taking down an opponent

There are some wild and woolly tales floating around out there about Lillian Ellison, aka Fabulous Moolah. Even her birthplace sounds fantastical: 'Tookiedoo'. I have never heard of this place but apparently it is, or was, in the Columbia area. Moolah led quite a life. Sex, drugs, match fixing, racial tensions, sexism, feminism, fraud, midgets (their term, not mine) - name the issue, Moolah dabbled. Her favorite move: the 'flying mare'. "A flying mare is when you get a girl by the hair of the head and pull her over your shoulder, then slam her to the mat as hard as you can. And I love doing that."

She only lived there for two months before moving with her family to the

Viola Davis. Love the hair!

northeast, but South Carolina is not one to be swept up on a technicality, so that two months counts, by golly! Viola Davis was born in 1965 in St. Matthews, which is an easy drive down I-26 from Columbia. She's been in a ton of stuff, but here's a fun tidbit: it's her voice we hear grilling George Clooney in the first scene of Ocean's Eleven. She's got a hit with the TV show, How To Get Away With Murder. And she can now add an Oscar to her list of accomplishments.

I would love to see all of these gals at together at a Girls Night Out. I think Chesnut and Moolah would get along like a house on fire.

The original version of this article was published in March 2016.

Not to be outdone by Dr. Pepper's '10, 2 and 4' campaign . . .

A recent rabbit hole started innocently enough as I enjoyed an article about local foods/drinks that are not easily available outside their home geographic area. The North Carolina beverage Cheerwine was prominently featured.

When we first moved to the Carolinas several years ago, Cheerwine had me guessing. Is it wine? If so, why is it sold in a can like beer or soda? Of course the best way to get my questions answered was to try one. Turns out it's a soft drink, or as we say in Texas, it's a coke. Tastes similar to Dr. Pepper but is even sweeter IMO if you can imagine such a thing. Fruity, hint of cherry, hence the name.

I've always been curious about that name, so close to what it actually is, but just a little off (like using the Car Fox to shill for the Car Fax product. Still confused about that.). Shouldn't Cheerwine be Cherr Wine as in 'cherry'? But then maybe Chair Wine to get the pronunciation correct, because you know everyone would be pronouncing Cherr 'share'. The problem with Chair Wine is of course that we sacrifice meaning for pronunciation. No one would have a clue what it's supposed to be - is it so awful/amazing, you need to be sitting in a chair to drink it? Obviously way too many issues with Cherr/Chair, so they went with the next best thing: Cheer. That still doesn't explain the 'wine' part. . .

But I digress -

So I'm reading this article and my South Carolina hackles rise because we have our own local soft drink here, Blenheim Ginger Ale, so where's the love, dang it?? Blenheim was omitted from the article, but you know I won't leave it out of this post.

I did a little poking around and found some interesting stuff about the history of soft drinks. The term 'soft' is to differentiate them from 'hard' drinks, or drinks that contain alcohol. Soft drinks are non-alcoholic (or very low alcohol) and are often, but not always, carbonated and flavored. The soft drink biz is a $50 billion industry (flavoring and manufacturing combined) in the U.S.  Yes, billion with a B. Their popularity is linked to many serious health issues including diabetes and obesity. In other words, people can't get enough of the stuff!

The roots of this addictive habit can be traced to ancient times, when naturally carbonated mineral spring waters were prized for their healing properties. It's our nature to believe this stuff is healthy! But in ancient times, no festively decorated 18-wheelers rolled into your village and dropped off conveniently packaged cans of the stuff.  If you wanted some, you had to hoof it to the nearest mineral springs, the locations of which may have been the origin for the phrase 'few and far between'. Most folks just were not up for that, considering they were busy avoiding the Mongol hoards, Viking raids, the Black Death, and other delights of bygone eras.

So the trick to enjoying refreshing drinks was either to live near a mineral spring, or find a way to bring the mineral spring waters to you. In 1767, Joseph Priestly made this one step closer to a possibility. If you're thinking he was a master plumber of the Roman aqueduct school, not exactly. Running miles of plumbing pipes wouldn't have worked - the spring water would get flat by the time it arrived at your house. If you're thinking he invented glass bottles, wrong again by over a hundred years. No, what Mr. Priestly came up with was pretty ingenious - he figured out how to add bubbles to plain old water.

Riker's Drug Store soda fountain New York City 1923

Okay, great - now, with the right equipment, we have the potential for creating an endless supply of bubbly water on premises. And that's exactly what businesses did. They set up carbonation rooms and connected the bubbliciousness to a tap. Voila! Fizzy water on demand without all that annoying trekking cross-country to the mineral spring.

This was all well and good except for one small problem: the product didn't taste all that great. Appetizing ingredients required to create the bubbles such as sulphuric acid, calcium carbonate, and marble dust didn't translate well to the average palate. But not to worry: recall that the early mineral waters were consumed primarily for their purported health benefits, so the natural place to purchase them was at the local pharmacy. Also note: many early medicines were consumed in liquid form. Experienced pharmacists had long been in the business of making yucky liquid medicine taste good enough that their patients would actually take it. If it tastes good, they will drink. Light bulb moment! By the mid-1800s the great experimentation with adding flavors to carbonated water had begun.

Soda fountains also came in tabletop versions if you couldn't afford a big production like Riker's

Flash forward to the early 20th century. Soda fountains were popular, but bars were still their primary competition - until Prohibition came along. From 1920-1933, the soda biz exploded (literally as well as figuratively - explosions during the carbonation process were a known hazard). The trifecta of technology (carbonation process), increased demand (due to the addition of appealing flavors), and economics (Prohibition drastically reducing competition from the bar sector) resulted in a boom time for soda fountains. It was very similar to what we are seeing today with craft beers. As with all things, the soft drink boom did not last. Once the bars were back up and running, the soda fountain business flattened out. But a surprising number of these drinks are still around. Many have been gobbled up by conglomerates, but their hometown roots are still there if you look hard enough. Here's a great article listing the local brews from all 50 states.

Some fun facts

Because the soft drink boom was long before artificial colors and flavors existed, many early soft drinks relied on plant-based ingredients such as roots (ginger, sassafras, gentian), vegetables (celery), and fruits (grapes, cherries, lemons, limes) for their flavors. You're probably aware the original recipes for many popular drinks also contained ingredients that are now considered illegal and addictive. After all, Coca-Cola didn't get its name because the inventor had a stammer - it actually did contain a form of cocaine. Around the turn of the century, soft drinks were positioned more as health pick-me-ups, the forerunners of today's energy drinks. Ingredients were often touted to improve health in various ways, and early on, products from the coca plant were considered beneficial. Lithium was also included in some early recipes, notably 7UP, and of course caffeine. Lithium and coca were eliminated when their possible deleterious side effects were discovered. Curiously, the same cannot be said for sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and the various alphabet soup of chemicals currently in many sodas. Maybe some day we will all be reading one of my future blog posts talking about the olden days when people actually enjoyed drinking the gut-destroying concoctions known as 'soft drinks'.

New York entrepreneur John Matthews is known by some as the Father of the Soda Fountain. Not long after he emigrated from England and determined to get into the soda fountain business, the iconic St. Patrick's Cathedral had undergone a recent renovation. Knowing that marble dust could be used in the chemical reaction to create carbonation, Matthews bought up all the crumbled marble. It's estimated the holy scrap fueled 25 million gallons of soda water.

A passing resemblance

Ginger ales were far more popular in the early days of soft drinks than they are now. Many contemporary soft drinks available in a variety of flavors today such as Shasta, Polar, RC Cola, and Vernors have ginger ale roots. Literally. Ginger root has been used as a flavoring ingredient and as well as a health aid for thousands of years. When found to flourish in the Caribbean, ginger was readily available in the New World and as such, a natural to make the leap to flavoring carbonated water as well as many other types of food and drink. True ginger ale bears little flavor resemblance to the bland tasting stuff primarily used today as a background for mixed alcoholic drinks. My first Blenheim Ginger Ale was a delightful surprise. If you think you don't like ginger ale, and you have the chance to taste one of these heirloom brews, do it. You'll thank me. Beware the hot versions if you don't like spicy stuff. They're not kidding. Also beware that at a distance, to the South Carolina DNR (boat staties), a clear glass bottle of the golden goodness that is Blenheim looks very much like a clear glass bottle of Corona. . .

Speaking of beer: the various beer-named soft drinks of course do not contain alcohol, much to every child's chagrin. Who of us didn't feel a guilty pleasure/burst into giggles/think we were more grown up when allowed to have a root 'beer'? Root beer is the foundation for many soft drink dynasties such as Barq's, IBC, and the granddaddy of all root beers, A&W (interesting side note: California-based A&W was America's first franchised restaurant chain and the first restaurant to use drive-in and curbside service. Take that, Mickey D's!) The root used for 'root beer' originally was the sassafras root until one of its components, safrole, was found to be carcinogenic  - yikes! Nowadays the safrole is removed from the sassafras compound or an artificial sassafras flavoring is used. This is one of the rare cases when no one will be carping about going back to the original natural ingredient! Sarsaparilla is a close cousin to sassafras, and therefore root beer, in taste if not in taxonomy. Birch beer is flavored with an extract of tree bark, usually birch, and also tastes similar to plain old root beer.

Grape flavors have also proved popular over the years, as evidenced by Alabama's Grapico,

Arkansas' Grapette, and Louisiana's Delaware Punch (which is named for the Delaware grape, not the state). There's nothing like an ice-cold grape soda to give you a temporary but delicious soda mustache.

Arizona's orange-pineapple Cactus Cooler may not have as lengthy a pedigree as some drinks I have mentioned, but it's the only one I found that was inspired by a cartoon (The Flintstones).

Thanks to the bitterness of Maine's local brew's main ingredient, gentian root, it has entered our lexicon as a synonym for 'guts', as in, you have to have plenty of guts to drink it. The name? 'Moxie'.

Michigan's Feigenson brothers weren't pharmacists; they were bakers. Like pharmacists, their profession also lent itself beautifully to the soft drink biz. Icing recipes did double duty as inspiration for the many flavors of their in-house beverage, Faygo. Mmmmmm, icing . . .

As a kid, I grew up drinking Kool-Aid. One of the few bright spots of being hauled along on the drudgery of grocery shopping trips was being allowed to choose which Kool-Aid flavor packets went into our basket (Black Cherry was my favorite, and yes, my mom used real sugar when she mixed up a pitcher). But Kool-Aid wasn't always sold dry. Back when Kool-Aid was getting its start in Prohibition-era Nebraska, they briefly offered a bottled, carbonated version of the iconic powder mix.

New York's Dr. Browns figured out a clever niche for their product. They were one of the few, if not the only, early soft drinks that was Kosher certified. That may be why people continued to drink it, despite the celery they insisted on adding to their flavors. Celery was the hot new health fad once upon a time. Look for a blog post about that here soon.

No treatise on soft drink history would be complete without a mention of Texas' multi-ingredient, cherry cola-flavored Dr. Pepper. DP is one of the few drinks from the soda fountain heydey still going strong today. Invented in 1885 by a pharmacist in Waco, Texas, Dr. Pepper was light years ahead in the marketing game. It got a big publicity bump when it was featured at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. As a Texan, I have a soft spot for DP. Back in the 1970s Dr. Pepper earned my undying devotion when they introduced a diet version. It tasted great! At that time, the only other diet soda available in our area was an abomination known as Tab. Think carbonated cod liver oil. Diet DP was my morning office pick-me-up for years since I'm not a coffee drinker. Envision a hot summer day, walking in from the shimmering asphalt of the company parking lot, greeted by a blast of air frostily conditioned the way only Texans know how, and reach for that chilled bottle of DP straight out of the artic atmosphere of the behemoth coke machine. Heaven!

I don't drink much in the way of soft drinks anymore. I gave up my hardcore forty-year one-a-day Diet Coke/Coke Zero habit in November 2013, thank you very much. At the peak of my addiction, I would scoff at my mom's insistence that cokes just didn't taste the same without the pure cane sugar and the other natural ingredients she remembered from her youth. I was so busy counting calories, I wouldn't have dreamed of drinking a 'real' coke. My, how things have changed. I think that's why I enjoyed that Blenheim ginger ale. So much flavor, without the chemicals in most modern soft drinks that I can taste now that I've kicked the habit. It's definitely an experience I would like to repeat in moderation. What's the best soft drink produced locally in your area? And how can I get some?

The original version of this post was published in July 2015.

 

Martha Matilda Harper, a real-life Rapunzel, had a great reason for keeping her hair long: it was her livelihood

Raised in a Southern Baptist household, I recall it being said on more than one occasion that a woman's hair was her 'crowning glory'. I understood the words and concept. But like most children, the deeper meaning sailed over my head.

I certainly didn't see that principle practiced at home. My mom experimented with many different hair styles when I was growing up. There was the home perm, the 'Dorothy Hamill', the pixie cut, the peroxide blonde, even one phase of wigs! None of which were anything I would put in the 'crowning glory' category. Not that her hair wasn't attractive - Mom always took great pains with her appearance. But when I thought of 'crowning glory', I guess I had more of a Rapunzel look in mind, and believe me, Mom never reminded me of Rapunzel. I believe it is the Pentecostal faith that disallows women from cutting their hair, not the Baptists. If indeed it was a Baptist tenet, Mom sinned mightily.

In my former day job as a tennis instructor, I have students of all different cultures and faiths. One of my Muslim students was eager to share about her faith and its various precepts. From her I learned how much a woman's hair is revered in their faith, and why after a certain age (when they 'become a woman'; i.e., get their period) they cover it up. Apparently the logic goes like this: when it is so long and luxurious, it is a tremendously attractive temptation to the males. Best cover it up rather than invite unwanted advances. Keep in mind she was about 10 at the time, so something may have been lost in the translation there. Apologies if this is incorrect.

I understand why long hair on women was perceived as desirable and attractive back in the day. With the origins of Christian and Muslim faiths in the Middle East where long, thick, wavy 'Princess Jasmine' hair runs strong in the gene pool, I bet Princess Jasmine hair was pretty common. If I had hair like that, I wouldn't cut it, either! But much has changed. Genetic diversity has resulted in diluting the Princess Jasmine gene. For every head of Princess Jasmine hair, there are many that are more Phyllis Diller or Bride of Frankenstein.  Leaping into the breach, technology in the entertainment industry has made fictional hair do things no natural hair could ever achieve. I love long hair when it looks like Cher's. But it's so rare anymore to see hair in a natural state that hasn't been colored or processed or flattened or curled or blown out and sprayed to within an inch of its likely very damaged split ends to achieve, however briefly, the cartoon ideal.

Actress Louise Brooks sporting her 'black helmet'

The Roaring Twenties ushered in an age of follicle liberation. Someone, somewhere decided all that long hair and tedious braiding and brushing and pinning just wasn't worth the trouble. That someone was a man: Monsieur Antoine, by some accounts the first celebrity hair stylist. The Czech-born Paris resident claimed he was inspired by Joan of Arc, who was in the process of being beatified about the time Antoine got his inspiration (early 1900s). Joan claimed to be inspired by no lesser style icon than God Himself to cut her hair into a 'pageboy', a style worn by many male knights of her era. Didn't work out so well for Joan, but nearly 500 years later there was a decidedly better outcome for women around the world when Antoine's stylings set off a short-wave tsunami.

Short hair styles for women have come a long way, but we've got a ways to go. For every chic trendsetting Twiggy, there are three extension-wearing pseudo celebrities. Short hair is often depicted as a tragedy or punishment in movies. One exception, ironically, is reality TV, where spiffy short 'dos are typically part of the winning formula in makeover shows featuring 'real' women. I'll feel better when we see a blockbuster with a strong, smart, female lead whose prospects improve AFTER she cuts her hair. Hey - there's an idea! Sorry - gotta go - there's a niche that needs filling!

The original version of this post was published in March 2014.

Clover photo courtesy Irene Davila at Unsplash

I always felt a little bit of a sham celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Like a true Heinz 57 American, I assumed I had some Irish blood in me somewhere; I just didn't figure it would be more than a drop or two. We did the DNA test thing last year, and I was pleasantly surprised. I can't compete with my husband's 56% results, but 6% for me is about 5% more than I would've guessed. (How wrong I was about other aspects of my own DNA ancestry is fodder for another post.)  I should've guessed I had a little Irish in me based on how much I enjoy drinking beer.

It's 5% more than I thought I had 🙂

Beer is a pretty big deal in Ireland. This is not news. What was news to me, however, were the following little factoids I distilled from some Googling;

  • Beer has been brewed in Ireland for 5000 years or more. Hops doesn't grow well there, so early beers were barley-based ales. They were brewed locally by women known as alewives. Brewing was traditionally a female profession from ancient history until the Middle Ages.
  • Half the alcohol produced in Ireland is beer. This may be news for the whisky fans.
An aerial view of the Guinness distillery in Dublin
  • Stout used to be the leader but was overtaken by lager in the 1900s. Stout initially meant higher alcohol content. In the Irish stout world, Guinness is king, In 1756 Arthur Guinness secured a 9000 year lease on the brewery location at St. James Gate in Dublin. It is the largest brewer of stout in the world. It began brewing Irish dry stout, using roasted barley, to avoid paying the additional tax levied on malted barley.
  • Porter is a  dark colored beer resulting from roasting the malts, barley, and other ingredients. Guinness stopped making ale in 1799 to devote its attention to porter.
  • I'm not a fan of dark or heavy beers. My favorite Irish beer is Harp. Harp is a lager style, which means it is lighter in color. Lagers are cold processed which means the beer ferments at a lower temperature. Guinness developed the Harp brand in the 1960s.
  • Irish red ales Such as Killian's Irish Red get their reddish color from the caramel in the recipe. Ironically, Killian's is no longer available in Ireland. Coors bought the rights to the name in the 1980s.

And last but not least (did I bury the lede?):

  • Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day. Excessive revelry during Lent was frowned upon in the heavily Catholic country.

It's hard imagining a dry St. Patty's Day in Ireland! We often throw a party at our house, but this year we're headed downtown to celebrate with a bigger crowd. I'm hoping it's dry, but only meteorologically speaking. Drink responsibly!

Not being a country music fan, about all I know about Kitty Wells before listening to her obit on NPR is that she was a singer in that genre. What piqued my interest was that she was one of the first female singers to hit big.  Her first hit, 1952's "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", was an answer song to country music superstar Hank Thompson's version of "Wild Side of Life". Apparently one of the song's writers had been dumped, and wrote "Wild Side" to vent about what a tramp his ex was. "Angels" rebutted, basically saying if she was a tramp, it was probably due to some no-good man treating her bad. (Pardon my grammar - I am trying to be authentic with the topic here.)

First things first: are you telling me NO women were popular singers until the 1950s???? That just seems strange to me. But if it says so on Wiki, it must be true. Apparently record labels were hesitant to record solo women, thinking they would only sell if they were in duets or backup singers. Kitty Wells changed all that. Although it was initially banned by NBC radio, the Grand Ole Opry and others for its adult theme, people couldn't get enough of "Angels". With it, Wells became the first woman to have a number one song on Billboard magazine's country chart.

Note Thompson's song with the similar theme was not banned.

Secondly: to be honest I think I was more intrigued by the concept of the "answer" song. Apparently it was a popular trend in country music of that era. It has popped up in other genres from time to time. I wonder if there are more answer songs out there than we realize?

I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye
answer: Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who

I Want To Hold Your Hand - The Beatles
answer: Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen

Ain't Too Proud To Beg - Temptations
answer: Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye

Let's Stay Together - Al Green
answer: Beat It - Michael Jackson

Welcome To The Jungle - Guns n Roses
answer: I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor

Like A Virgin - Madonna
answer: Losing My Religion - REM

How Will I Know - Whitney Houston

I'm a sucker for a good singer-songwriter

answer: You Oughtta Know - Alanis Morissette

Yes, I am just having a little fun with titles. The true answer songs are 100% devoted to answering the original, beginning to bridge to chorus to end. Some answer songs are lame, simply turning a few of the original song's lyrics around to reflect an opposite viewpoint. Others are fully formed and could stand on their own. My favorite example of this is Lynyrd Skynyrd's angry, indignant "Sweet Home Alabama" in answer to Neil Young's "Southern Man". Extra points awarded when the performer is also the songwriter. Somehow this gives more authenticity to the 'answer'. It's not unusual for singers to perform songs written by others. In fact, it is the norm. But after all the hype about Ms. Wells' groundbreaking offering with "Angels", it was a letdown to learn she had not written the lyrics and was just called in to sing that day as part of her recording contract. Who even knows if she actually identified with the lyrics, and was striking a musical blow for women's rights? Unfortunately it is more likely she just came in to the studio, sang the song, collected her paycheck, and went home.

Whatever the circumstances, thanks, Ms. Wells et. al., for giving female performers a jump-start in 1952 and also to the writer of 'Wild Side', without which we would have had no need for an 'answer' song. Who knows how long it would have taken otherwise?

The original version of this post first appeared in July 2012.

Mother Nature dropped a bitterly cold nastygram on our doorsteps this week. While I abhor cold weather in all its guises, I admit I am crushing on the meteorological moniker sometimes bestowed upon these events: 'polar vortex'.

A NASA image of a past polar vortex. Image source here.

Polar Vortex.

Polar. VORtex.

I find myself swishing it around in my mind as well as my mouth, enjoying the feel of it as that V and that X come tantalizingly close to colliding, were it not for the abrupt intervention of R and T. I really don't care what it means (although I did Google - NERD). It's one of those great phrases I will be tossing around for as long as I can get away with it. Somebody please name a car and a lipstick and a Ben & Jerry's flavor after this thing ASAP. Marketing gold, I'm tellin' ya.

Which of course got me thinking about other phrases I enjoy saying, hearing, thinking, regardless of what they mean. In my favorites, the words just sound great together. Much like a fine wine, the individual components intertwine in a way that guarantees satisfaction. It's all about the perfect pairing of consonants with syllable count. Too many vowels, and you come off wheezy and ineffective. Too many syllables, and it's clunky and unpronounceable. And don't forget about a touch of emphasis at the proper time. In the above example, it must be the VOR; not the PO, not the LAR and certainly not the TEX.

Here are a few more of my favorites. Check out those consonants!

Battlestar Galactica - it's all about the 'ac', a little about the added 'a'. Battlestar Galactic would be fairly cool, but that extra 'a' is the cherry on top.

Big Bang - short and sweet, yet explains a complex astronomical phenomenon even a four-year-old can understand. And you can't ignore the sexual overtones here. Apologies to all the four-year-olds.

Event Horizon - maybe due to the perfectly wretched eponymous movie, but a shiver runs down my spine whenever I hear this phrase. It says Ruh Roh! in the classiest possible way.

Superconducting Super Collider - all those S's slamming around, describing something so smashing, one 'super' doesn't do the job!

Boom Stick - Originally intended for baseball bats, but I hijacked it for my tennis racquet. At my age this is a bit of a stretch to describe my game, but it amuses me, so it stays.

Seeing a pattern here. The science community must have a heckuva marketing linguist stashed away somewhere!

There is some science behind my amateur analysis of what makes words 'sound' good together. Turns out most people prefer words with a good balance of vowels and consonants. Words containing letters that make more noise ('plosive' to you linguists out there) attract more attention - the backfiring cars of phonetics. And as in most things, sexism also rears its ugly head. Some letters are perceived as masculine; others feminine. There is some overlap between the noisy letters and the masculine letters, as anyone who has raised boys could have predicted.

The cold is already receding from  my part of the country. I won't miss it, but I will miss hearing and reading about the Polar Vortex throughout the day. I know I can count on the wordsmiths to come up with a few more delightful word pairings to get us through the winter. A pity we also have deal with the not-so-delightful weather they accompany.

 

This post originally appeared in January 2014.