Saturday, January 12, 2019

Historical Trivia part 1 of 3

Have you ever wondered about those interesting expressions that have been handed down through the centuries?  Phrases that we all use without giving any thought to where they came from or, for that matter, what they originally meant?  Here's a list of ten such expressions a friend emailed to me.  Let's take a look at the historical origin of these expressions.

1)  God willing and the Creeks don't rise
This expression was originally in reference to the Native American Creek tribe and not a body of water and is attributable to Benjamin Hawkins, a late 18th century politician.  While in the south, he was requested by the President to return to Washington.  In his response, he wrote, God willing and the Creeks don't rise.  Since he capitalized the word Creeks, it was assumed he was referring to the Indian tribe rather than water.

2)  It cost an arm and a leg
Since there weren't any cameras in George Washington's day, the only way to portray someone's image was either through sculpture or painting.  Some paintings of Washington show him standing behind his desk with one arm behind his back while others show both arms and legs.  Prices charged by artists were often calculated according to how many arms and legs were being painted rather than the number of people in the painting.  Therefore, if the subject wanted both arms and legs in the painting, they were told, "Okay, but it will cost an arm and a leg."

3)  Here comes the big wig
As ludicrous as it sounds today, back then men and women took baths only twice a year (usually May after the cold winter and October after a hot summer). Women covered their hair and men shaved their heads and wore wigs. The wealthy could afford good wigs made of wool. Since the wool wigs couldn't be washed, they would hollow out a loaf of bread and put the wig in the shell, then bake it for half an hour.  The heat made the wigs big and fluffy, thus the term big wig.  Today we use the expression when someone appears to be powerful and wealthy.

4)  Chairman of the Board
Many houses in the late 1700s consisted of a large room with only one chair.  A long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining.  The head of the household always sat in the chair while everyone else sat on the floor while eating.  To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge and that person was referred to as the chair man.  Today in business, we use the expression Chairman of the Board.

5)  Crack a smile and other related phrases
One result of the lack of personal hygiene back then was that many men and women developed acne scars by adulthood.  Women would spread bee's wax over their faces to smooth out their complexions. If a woman began to stare at another woman's face, she was told to mind your own bee's wax.  If a woman smiled, the wax would crack, hence the term crack a smile.  And when a woman sat too close to the fire the wax would melt, giving us the expression losing face.

6)  Straight laced
Ladies wore corsets which laced up the front.  A proper and dignified woman wore a tightly tied corset and was said to be straight laced.

7)  Not playing with a full deck
Back in the day, a common form of entertainment was playing cards.  When a tax was levied on the cards, it was applicable only to the ace of spades.  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards and ignore the ace of spades.  Since most card games require all 52 cards, those people were thought to be stupid because they were not playing with a full deck.

8)  Gossip
Long ago, before the creation of mass communication such as phones, radio, and television (and certainly the internet), politicians sent their assistants to local taverns to get feedback from the public and determine which issues people considered important.  They were told to go sip some ale and listen to people's conversations.  The two words go sip were eventually combined into one word, gossip, when referring to the local opinion.

9)  Minding your P's and Q's
In the local taverns, people drank from pint and quart sized containers.  One of the bar maid's jobs was to keep track of which customers were drinking from pints and which from quarts, hence the phrase minding your P's and Q's.

And finally an expression that has often been misinterpreted…

10)  Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
Back in the day when sailing ships ruled the waves, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons that fired iron cannon balls.  It was necessary to keep a supply of cannon balls near the cannon while at the same time preventing them from rolling around the deck.  The best storage method was a square-based pyramid with one ball perched on four balls resting on nine which sat on sixteen providing a supply of thirty cannon balls stacked in a small area next to the cannon.  There was a problem, though—how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding out from under the others.  The solution was a metal plate called a monkey with sixteen round indentations.  But again, there was a problem.  If the plate was made from iron, the iron cannon balls would quickly rust to it, especially in the damp ocean air.  The solution to the rusting problem was to make brass monkeys.  But still a problem…brass contracts much more and much quicker than iron when it's chilled.  So, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey which means it was literally cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.  Not what you were expecting?  :)

Check back next week for part 2 of my 3 blog series on Historical Trivia.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

12 Top Secret Sites From Around The World

Just the words Top Secret conjure up images of intrigue, conspiracies, and clandestine operations.  These off-limits sites exist all over the world with the various governments keeping activities hidden from public knowledge…safely ensconced behind those closed doors and security fences.  It's a given that most of the secrets probably have to do with research for new weapons and defense systems.

A while back, I came across an article listing 12 top secret locations, certainly not the total number of these sites…not even close…but an interesting list.

Cheyenne Mountain Complex
This bunker near Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a relic from the days of the Cold War.  Located literally inside Cheyenne Mountain, it was originally designed as a combat operations center with its own water, electricity, air filtration system and built to withstand a nuclear blast [a 1960s size nuclear blast].  This facility has been given new vitality as a result of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  It currently participates guarding against ballistic attack, supports space operations, and assists in keeping American and Canadian airspace safe.  The U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Space Command, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Missile Defense Agency all maintain a presence at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex…and that's a lot of organizations devoted to secrecy.  But the secrecy of the location?  Well…there is a picture of it on NORAD's website and I recall seeing a kind of mini-tour several years ago on a television documentary.  But, with that many secrecy organizations involved, there's probably a lot more going on there than meets the eye.
Area 51
Undoubtedly the most famous…or infamous…secret facility in the world.  Even though its location in the Nevada desert was known far and wide and a topic of much speculation, the government refused to even acknowledge its existence until 1995.  And anything that secret is ripe for all kinds of conspiracy theories, some going back to Roswell, New Mexico, 1947 and the alleged alien spacecraft crash with the alien bodies supposedly taken to Area 51.  With many of the stealth technology aircraft tested there in secret, it must have looked like strange alien craft flying overhead.  And now you can see Area 51 via Google Earth.  Sort of takes away some of that mystique.

Site R
It's official name is Raven Rock Mountain Complex and it's an underground relocation facility for the Department of Defense, sometimes referred to as the underground Pentagon.  It's located in Pennsylvania about 6 miles from the Camp David presidential retreat.  There's speculation that a tunnel connects Camp David and Site R.  Like Cheyenne Mountain, this was a cold war era bunker given new purpose and life following 9-11.
The Capitol Visitor Center
Located on the east side of the Capitol, as the name implies its purpose is to welcome visitors to Washington, D.C.  But there is a theory that within or beneath the 580,000 square-foot building is a top-secret area for Congress to use in emergencies.  Giving credence to this theory are four bomb-proof skylights, a tunnel system large enough for vehicles to move around and a sophisticated IT infrastructure with thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable.

National Security Agency/Stellar Wind
According to Wired Magazine, the NSA is building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah.  This is where the NSA will intercept and inspect billions of calls, email, Google searches, travel itineraries, book purchases, and other miscellaneous digital information.  Stellar Wind is the codename for this surveillance program.  The NSA created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes.  While the CIA is better known as an intelligence gathering agency, the NSA is three times its size and costs more.  The NSA is considered the most powerful intelligence agency in the world today.

This program resulted in public disclosure by whistle blower William Binney in 2002 and more recently Edward Snowden in 2013.

Pine Gap, Australia
This is considered by many to be the Australian Area 51, the ground station for a network that intercepts telephone, radio, and data links from around the world.

Camp Peary
Located near Williamsburg, Virginia, Camp Peary (known as The Farm) is an area of 10,000 acres said to be where CIA agents receive covert training.
Mount Yamantau
Located in the Ural Mountains, the U.S. suspects this Russian site of being a large secret nuclear facility.  It's near one of Russia's last remaining nuclear labs and is part of their Dead Hand nuclear retaliatory command structure.

Liberty Crossing
Based in a complex in McLean, Virginia, this is home to the National Counterterrorism Center.  It utilizes experts from the CIA, FBI, Pentagon, and other agencies, to avoid large scale terror plots.  Each office is essentially a vault.

RAF Menwith Hill
This Royal Air Force station located near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, is said to be the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.  It is operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office and is part of ECHELON, created during the Cold War.

Negev Nuclear Research Center
Located in Israel's Negev Desert, the facility was built in 1958 and is widely assumed to be a manufacturing site for nuclear weapons.
Porton Down
This is a government and military science park located near Wiltshire, England.  Although the term science park makes it sound more like a children's learning-can-be-fun type of place, that's not even close.  In World War I, it studied chemical warfare.  With the passing decades, studies changed from mustard gas to nerve agents in the 1940s.  It continued to study biological warfare.

Planet Earth might be a global society out of necessity, but we obviously are not a harmonious global society.  And if the headlines on the daily news are any indication, we're a long way from achieving that goal.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep…and other miscellaneous end of year stuff

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke.  Every first of January we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2019?  Here's a list of several such resolutions.  I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered.  If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1.  Gain Weight.  Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks starting with Thanksgiving and continuing on through Christmas.

2.  Go Deeper Into Debt.  You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping.  After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3.  Spend More Money.  This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list.  Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4.  Don't Get A Better Job.  Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5.  Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine.  Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6.  Don't Go Back To School.  Look at your current life and time schedule.  Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new curved 80-inch 3D HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks.  Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7.  Drink More Alcohol.  Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new 80-inch TV.

8.  Smoke Like A Chimney.  When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9.  Stay At Home for your vacation.  If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10.  Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.
Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses.  Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason.  Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status.  At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem.  Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts.  It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…
While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover.  According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin.  And what are congeners, you might ask?  They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic.  They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste.  They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :)  And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning.  According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges.  The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail if you're driving a vehicle).  The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover.  The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

'Twas The Night Before Christmas…

Although many believe 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' to be the title of the popular Christmas poem, the actual title is An Account Of A Visit From St. Nicholas.  The long poem, written by Clement Moore in 1822 as a present for his three daughters, has become a Christmas staple.  Moore, an Episcopal minister, was initially hesitant about publishing his poem due to its frivolous content.

The poem, first published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, had been submitted by a friend of Moore's.  It was first attributed to Moore in 1837 and finally publically acknowledged by Moore himself in 1844.

Four handwritten copies of the poem are known to exist, three in museums and the fourth (written and signed by Clement Clarke Moore as a gift to a friend in 1860) was sold by one private collector to another in December 2006 for a reported $280,000.

Moore's poem is largely responsible for today's image of Santa Claus as a "right jolly old elf" who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer.  A rotund fellow who entered via the chimney and left toys for good boys and girls.
In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast used Moore's poem as the basis to create a likeness of Santa Claus that matches today's image.  The cartoon, which appeared in Harper's Weekly, depicted Santa with a full white beard, a red suit trimmed in white fur, and a large bag filled with toys.  He also gave Santa his North Pole workshop, elves, and Mrs. Claus.

Over the years, there has been some controversy about the authorship of the poem.  There are those who contend that Henry Livingston, Jr., was the true author.  Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.  But the general consensus continues to be that Clement Clarke Moore is the true author.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL

We all know Charles Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the three ghosts on Christmas Eve (four if you count the initial visit from his former partner, Marley).  A story of redemption—a miserly man whose concept of the Christmas spirit is "Bah, Humbug!"  Then his life is turned around after Marley tells him about his upcoming visits from the Christmas ghosts. The first one from his past to remind him of what was and the promise of what could have been, the second from his present to open his eyes to what he had become and how others felt about him, and the final visit from the ghost of the future to show him where he was headed if he didn't change his ways.

From a writer's perspective, it was the first time a story had been told from the point-of-view of a character within that story rather than an omniscient point-of-view of an unidentified narrator.  Point-of-view—something vital for today's writer of fiction.

The novella, first published in London on December 9, 1843, has been a staple of the Christmas season as a movie, television show, or play for well over a century.

This year, Hallmark's two cable movie channels started showing non-stop Christmas movies the first of November.  I wondered how many different versions of Dickens' story there were.  So, I did what I usually do when I want a quick answer to something…I Googled it.

And the results came as quite a surprise.  Things I knew, things I had known but forgotten, and things I never knew.  Twenty-eight films, twenty-three television productions, plus other miscellaneous offerings such as staged plays.  Live action, animation, a 3D computer generated images theatrical movie from Disney in 2009, one television movie version set in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and even a couple where the character of Scrooge was portrayed as being female.

The first filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was a fifteen minute silent movie made in 1908 followed by two other silent versions made in 1910 and 1913.  There have been the dramatic theatrical films, musical versions, and animated versions with favorite and very familiar cartoon characters taking on the roles of Dickens' famous characters.  Of the twenty-eight movies, ten were released under Dickens' exact original title of A CHRISTMAS CAROL as were six of the twenty-three television productions.

Even though all the various productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL tell Dickens' story of Scrooge and the visits from the Christmas ghosts, many had their own unique twist and flavor on the original.  I think my favorite is a 1970 theatrical musical version titled SCROOGE which stars Albert Finney as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who learns the lessons of the spirit of the Christmas season.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

THE MILLIONAIRE'S CHRISTMAS WISH—a conversation with Chance and Marcie

In honor of the season, I'd like to introduce you to Chance Fowler and Marcie Roper from The Millionire's Christmas Wish (available from Harlequin in ebook) and tell you a bit about their Christmas romance story.

Good morning Chance and Marcie.  I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.

Chance:  Thank you, Shawna.  It was nice of you to invite us.  So…what would you like to know?

My first question is for whichever of you wants to answer it.  How did the two of you meet?

Chance:  (Winks at Marcie) Do you want to take that one?

Marcie:  My pleasure.  I was minding my own business, doing a little window shopping on my way back to my car from the book store, when he came along and accosted me in broad daylight.  He grabbed me against my will then proceeded to kiss me.  I was truly shocked and also a little frightened.  I had no idea who he was or why he had forced himself on me.

Chance:  Wait a minute…in my defense that wasn't quite the way it happened.

Marcie:  (grins) My way sounds more mysterious…and more interesting.

Did he literally grab you on the street, a total stranger, and kiss you for no reason?

Marcie:  Oh, yes…that's exactly what he did.

Chance:  Well…not really…not like that.

Ah, ha!  What's the true story?

Chance:  I was being followed by another one of those tabloid photographers who were always trying to get candid pictures of me that they can exploit, things taken out of context and blown up into something they aren't.

As sole heir to the Fowler Industries fortune, an eligible bachelor leading a very high profile life including yacht racing and making the rounds of the club scene always with a beautiful woman on your arm, I can see where there would be an interest in your activities.

Chance:  Since I was on my way to one of my special projects, I had to lose the guy following me.  I was looking for a place to duck away from him…hide in plain sight, so to speak.  As soon as I rounded a corner and was out of his sight for a few seconds, I turned my reversible jacket inside out to a different color, but there wasn't any place for me to hide.  I spotted her standing in front of the store window. My intention was to put my arm around her shoulder so it would look like we were a couple window shopping together, but for some strange reason she objected.  So I did what I had to do.  The photographer ran on down the street without paying any attention to a couple kissing in front of a store window.  I tried to apologize, explain to her, but she ran off without giving me an opportunity.

Marcie:  It was later that I discovered who he was…Take-A-Chance Fowler, as the media referred to him.  Major playboy, always being photographed with different women, yacht racing, seen at all the trendy clubs.  In other words, a spoiled rich guy living off the family wealth who had never done an honest day's work in his life.

Chance:  Definitely not a very flattering assessment of someone she didn't even know.  I was determined to set her straight and change that erroneous assumption.

Take-A-Chance?  Where did that come from?

Chance:  One of those stupid tags the press pinned on me.  "Always willing to take a chance on some wild stunt."

Marcie:  I can't begin to tell you how embarrassed I was when he told me Chance was his legal first name, not some cute little nickname.  It was his mother's maiden name.  And the more I found out about the real person behind all those tabloid headlines, the more impressed I was and the more I liked him.

You mentioned your special projects.  What did you mean by that?

Chance:  I have several projects I finance and am actively, hands-on involved with, things I don't want the media to know about.  I don't want the other people involved to find their pictures and names on the front page of some tabloid newspaper.

What type of projects?

Chance:  (flashes a sly grin) You can find out all about them in the book.

Marcie, did you encounter any unusual problems when you began dating someone of Chance's…uh…notoriety?

Marcie:  (furrows her brow in a moment of concentration) Well, there were some uncomfortable moments with his family, such as the Christmas dinner at his father's house—

Chance:  (laughs) Merely uncomfortable?  That's an understatement!

Is there more to the family story than you're saying?

Marcie:  You mean other than his father being responsible for driving a wedge between us that nearly destroyed our relationship?

Chance:  My family is synonymous with the word dysfunctional.  They're the personification of that old joke…look up the word dysfunctional in the dictionary and you find their picture.  You'll find out all about them when you read the book.

I'd ask you to explain, but I already know what you're going to say.

Marcie:  (laughs) You have to read the book!

Thank you, Marcie and Chance.
Blurb:
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS…
When millionaire Chance Fowler first kissed the pretty stranger in his arms, he'd only meant to dodge the photographers who'd tailed him. Then she ran off—but he couldn't forget her tempting taste on his lips. So he sought out the tantalizing woman who'd ignited his long-dormant desire….

Lovely Marcie Roper was the first woman to close her eyes to Chance's fortune. And though she'd captivated the jaded tycoon, Marcie yearned for what his wealth couldn't buy—a man who would say "I do" and mean it forever. Could Marcie convince Chance that love—for the right woman—would last a lifetime?

Publisher Excerpt:
She was certainly different from the type of women he usually encountered. Her eyes sparked with the fire of emotion and her stance declared a very appealing independence. Yes, indeed. Marcie Roper was quite different—a breath of fresh air. He recalled the way she felt in his arms, the taste of her delicious mouth. He fought the almost overwhelming desire to pull her into his arms and kiss her again.

He watched her walk away from him—for the second time since he first encountered her. She had turned out to be a very intriguing woman. He already knew about the golden flecks in her hazel eyes, her soft pliable lips, her addictive taste and how good she felt in his arms. And now he knew she was certainly a challenge—and Chance had never been one to back down from a challenge.
****
Harlequin has reissued 17 of my backlist titles.  THE MILLIONAIRE'S CHRISTMAS WISH was originally released by Harlequin in print and is currently available in ebook.

THE MILLIONAIRE'S CHRISTMAS WISH, a Silhouette Desire by Shawna Delacorte reissued by Harlequin in ebook and available at http://ebooks.eharlequin.com.  Also available from Amazon for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook, and other online vendors.  Additional information and excerpts available on my website   www.shawnadelacorte.com   Information and excerpts from my other books also available on my website.