Wednesday, December 17, 2008


And now for today's moment of Zen...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sick, sick, sick...

Another inexcusable gap between posts. However, this time I have a legitimate excuse for the delay. My 16-month-old son suffered from stomach flu Friday night (early Saturday morning). His mess was so bad his sheets had to be thrown out - they were beyond salvage. Our 5-year-old daughter was next, with projectile vomiting Saturday night (early Sunday morning). My wife, thankfully, was spared, but I am slowly recovering from the horrid virus. I still have yet to eat anything substantial in the past 48 hours, but I at least got out of bed just now and have showered and shaved. With a renewed spirit, I hope to embark on a long-put-off project that has been my ambition for the better part of the last decade. I'm excited, but, as always, that blank, staring screen seems to mock me - daring me to commence with the first few words of my quest. I shall let you know more as I know more.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Old Poems

Digging through some old stuff recently, I came across a couple of old poems I had written years ago. It's kind of embarrassing to read these now - I'm certainly no Poe, or Tennyson, or Beaudelaire... but it's interesting to go back and see how I've progressed (or regressed!) as a poet in the past ten years. The first is an attempt to write a poem in the style of Rudyard Kipling, the second an ode to Stephen King's Dark Tower books in the style of Browning.


The march cry go, with a rattle of saber and steel –
We’ve trudged a frosty night to wake the jealous day,
Now toe in front of heel, I say!
Put that toe in front of heel!
The shout we do, with a clatter of hoof and horse –
It’s nay thar bows nor battle me think about,
‘Tis a lady so true, of course, of course!
‘Tis a lady so true, of course!
The chant we cry, with a smatter of bicker and whine –
Me lady’s named Laura she got that hair like silk,
With a smile make me heartstrings pine, Whoowee!
Yar hey they sure do pine!
These men do sob, as iron crunges hard to flay –
He’s got the strength of ten they whisper in tents,
I fight to see another day, HUP! HUP!
To see Laura again some day!
Me men will bay, as foot falls hard on road –
Our fighting brought us back to the place where we started,
Double-time shoulder that load, you dogs!
Let me help you shoulder that load!
These chiseled soldiers jaw, as home salts up their eyes –
Laura, sweet Laura is at the end of this road,
Me love has seen me through, I cry, I cry!
Me love has seen my through, I cry!


Teaching is futile, for thought it defies,
That spiraling mass of brown, even stone.
Tall twilight of space where all time is sewn,
Wherein anguish of friends is heard as cries,
And falsehoods are truths, and all truths are lies,
A black door ajar for you to enter alone.

Feeble minds of this world grasp only three,
Seven is claimed by the Olde World brethren,
Alternate planes preach the numeral eleven,
Dimensions like doorways vast but not free,
Continuum of time they allow you to see,
From chambers of Hell to arches of Heaven.

Infinity’s nexus and point of all time,
Its shadow cast long over a field of rose,
To enter means madness and all of its throes,
Grotesque evil married with beauty sublime,
Where thirteen tick-tocks the clocks all chime,
To display your fears and mock all your woes.

The truth of the matter is anti-matter,
Secret prayers – desires – it will menace as prey,
Endless chasm of night to blackest day,
Within your ear never ceasing to chatter,
Lost souls wither – time’s Tower grows fatter,
‘Til a mouth is pleading for the sun’s sweet ray.

Anomaly in fabric speaks not of black holes,
Yet eats of itself for furnace and fuel,
Passages are riddles both cunning and cruel,
Devouring each second the ultimate goal,
End-Times proclaimed when walls tumble and roll,
Existence shattered like a precious jewel.

Hard road lies ahead for time’s traveler grim,
Mind, body and soul make damnation’s key,
Devastation of sacrifice on sobbing knees,
Beware the darkness brought on by Him,
Recite dour creed when faith flickers and dims,
“There are other worlds than these.”

Monday, November 24, 2008


Following up my last post with THIS post seems kind of weird, but if you knew Michael Heagle at all, it makes PERFECT sense.

Many moons ago, Michael taught me a thing or two about video editing - a knowledge that I have found to be utterly useless. However, Michael ALSO taught me a thing or two about appreciating B movies (and sometimes C movies!) His love for offbeat genre films, horror schlock, and no-budget extravaganzas has lead to his latest project: TVTV!

I encourage you to stop by and check it out. If you've got a few extra bucks laying around in a coffee can in your pantry, why not spend it at their gift shop for some truly original Christmas gifts for Mom and Dad? Or how about just making a donation to a worthy cause? Seriously - they're hungry and could really use the money...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Never forget...

If we are to avoid history repeating itself, we must never forget the past. Take all AP stories - and similar nightly news reports - with a massive grain of salt. Oswald may have been involved, he may have even pulled a trigger (although paraffin tests indicate otherwise) but he did NOT act alone. Educate yourself. Learn more about what happened at Dealey Plaza that day. Don't accept the story that is printed in your High School history book.

If nothing else, question authority.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A few pics

Our tribal masks that went with our Indiana Jones-ish theme. Made out of cardboard and acrylic paint - we started these in late July. There were about a dozen when I got all done with them. I ended up using them as chair-backers - form follows function!

Here's a pic of the bats flying around our entryway...

My wife picked up these medical jars at Pier One. We ended up filling them with candy corn - which probably cost more than the jars!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sorry, I just lost my head for a moment.

After a much needed respite from the toils of Halloween and the rigors of having to dismantle the haunted house, the graveyard, and the decorations (inside and out) and store it all away, I am finally back.

Halloween was a tremendous success! We broke our previous record for Trick-or-Treaters - set last year at 75 - by giving out our hand-made treat bags to 101 TOTs! The treat bags this year were little treasure pouches tied with twine, each consisting of gold coins (gum), copper coins (chocolate), pearls (jelly-beans), and other various goodies. The weather held up beautifully with the temperature topping out at a balmy 65 degrees, with the low only coming in at around 50. I didn't even have to wear a jacket as my cape kept me plenty warm. There was no wind (a minor miracle in Kasson, MN) and no rain.

We were a little worried about vandals causing mischief that night, as long-time neighbors mentioned that kids get a little crazy when Halloween is on a Friday night. I had some trouble last year on Halloween with a couple neighborhood kids threatening to trash my graveyard after I went in for the night. I actually ended up taking most of it down that night, which wasn't fun. However, this year we had no problems at all, and everything ran very smoothly. The only problem we ran into the entire night was when my wife took our daughter out to finish up trick-or-treating and I was left with our son, Chunk. For 45 minutes during the busiest part of the evening I was holding his chunky butt while wearing a giant foam pumpkin on my head, running the fog machine, and handing out treat bags to TOTs. It was a little overwhelming, but I got through it. Hopefully next year Grandma and Grandpa can come up from Iowa to help out!

Other notes of interest: I used dry ice in the fog chiller this year rather than filling it to the top with regular ice. I wasn't sure how this would work or how long the dry ice would last, but I was extremely pleased with the results. A ten pound block of dry ice lasted the entire night and held the fog down low much better than regular ice. I will be using dry ice every Halloween from here on out! Also, the 'Tomb of Dracula' haunted house was a smashing success! While there is no official tally, we got quite a few kids (and grown-ups) to go through, and each thought it was pretty impressive. We got quite a few "you always have the best house in town" comments, and there were A LOT of cars dropping kids off just so they could trick-or-treat at our house (which we later learned caused some angst with a couple of our neighbors, as the kids hit all the other houses after they're done with ours - so these people had to give out more candy, boo-hoo...)

Anyway - it was a great Halloween night - one of the best ever - and definitely sets the bar high for next year. I promise I will get more pics up as soon as I can, and you have my word that there won't be such a long delay between posts from now on!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Is Halloween! This Is Halloween!


The temperature is 65 degrees with a slight northerly breeze and zero precipitation. You couldn't ask for a nicer day! I have the day off work (naturally) and all the pumpkins are carved and treat bags filled. I am busily putting the finishing touches on the haunted house and graveyard - I'll try to post more updates and pics later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


My humble apologies for the delay between posts - I am still recovering from the party and am finding it hard to focus on anything Halloween related at the moment. Our annual get-together is so big and takes so much planning, that when it's over it always feels like Halloween is over too. I am kind of feeling revitalized at the moment, however, because the local newspaper came out to do a story on us during the party, and the issue is in the racks today. And although they got our home address wrong (aaaaargh!) it was a very nice little piece and made it feel like all the hard work was worth it.

Speaking of hard work - it was almost all for nothing after this week. A huge storm blew through over the course of about three days, with winds at times gusting up to 60 miles per hour. I'm proud to say the majority of my tombstones held up remarkably well - I only had to chase down the Nick Drake stone which ended up in someone's yard about a block away - with only a handful being laid flat but still attached to their rebar posts. My metal gateway 'welcome' arch that is the centerpiece of my fence, however, did not fair so well. Succumbing to the wind, it ended up completely twisted and torn free, slumped over forlornly next to the nearest fence post. A metal peg used to anchor the arch into the ground was completely snapped in two.

With a little bit of elbow grease, my daughter and I braved the elements and put things back in order as best we could. Things are still slightly askew, but the weather is promising to be perfect for Halloween (sunny and 65 degrees with no rain, knock on wood...) so hopefully I can get out there and straighten things up a bit before the big night. In the meantime, most of the indoor decorations have been taken down and are in the process of being stored away. It's hard to believe that it's almost all over for another year...

P.S. The Hallowzing website has been updated! Check out this year's poem, invite, and new pics from the party! Also – a little something in the 'misc' section from a Halloween past. If you have the website bookmarked, you may need to refresh your browser to see the images.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dave's Not Here

Last night I went to the Cheech & Chong reunion show at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was amazing! A couple of my brothers along with two friends road-tripped up from Iowa to catch this long overdue reunion. After we found a place to park we stopped by the Rock Bottom Brewery for a couple pints before showtime. Tommy Chong's wife was the opening act and she was pretty good. But once Cheech & Chong hit the stage the place went nuts.

After a long, hard month of Halloween decorating and working on the haunted house and our party, etc., etc... it was nice to have a bit of a break and hang out with my brothers and do something fun. If you get a chance to catch this show I highly recommend it. It was hilarious - so funny I nearly fell off my seat!

Dave's not here!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pumpkin Princess!

Today is the fifth birthday of my little girl (not so little any more!) It's hard to believe that five years have gone by since she came home from the hospital; and yet here she is, off to school with her school bag – leaving behind her favorite 'blanky,' washed and stored away in the cedar chest for posterity.

I always tell her that she may grow up, but she will always be my little girl. And it seems like only yesterday that I was trying to convince my wife to hold her in just one more week so we could have a Halloween baby (her reply is unfit to print in this space). Of course, our precocious little girl was a trouble-maker from even before day one, turning around in the womb so she was breach just days before delivery. Five years later she is covering her kid brother with grass clippings, hiding my tape measure in her closet, spilling hot chocolate all over the counter top, and begging for candy at every available opportunity.

But of course, with one look at those bright blue eyes (with just a hint of Mumsie's brown around the pupils), all is forgiven and Daddy remembers just why his little girl is - and always will be - his one and only Pumpkin Princess.

Happy Birthday, Esmeralda Copperpot (GhostBlaster, esq.)!

A Spooky Read

Just a quick note about a book I recently finished up. Those who know me are familiar with my affinity for Stephen King books (I own a First Edition Trade Hardcover of all his books going back to 'The Dead Zone'). While he is no Mark Twain or John Steinbeck, King appeals to my lower class nature that thirsts for cheap scares and pulp fiction thrills.

King's latest opus, a tale of a construction worker who loses a limb and goes on to become the second coming of Salvador Dali, is called 'Duma Key.' While rather lengthy - remember we are talking King here - I never tired of reading the book, and was really engrossed up until the final act (which is to say the last quarter of the book). Up until that point, Duma Key was unlike any other King book I've read. However, once the monster is revealed, King resorts to his usual tricks. It was never dull, but rather predictable at the end.

With Duma Key now residing on my bookcase shelf beside his other King companions, I have moved on to a fascinating biography of Edgar Allan Poe. Which is kind of like going from Mad Magazine to Faust. While I like to think that I have a decent grasp of the English language, Poe's biography is obviously written by a man of great intellect who possesses a command of letters that I shall never achieve. What I'm saying is; I don't mind reading a book written by someone smarter than me, but it helps to have a dictionary on the nightstand...

Anyway – for those looking for a good literary thrill around Halloween, I heartily recommend either book: Duma Key by Stephen King, or Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy by Jeffrey Meyers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sweeping up the Confetti

Whew... It's all said and done (except for Halloween, natch). The party was a smashing success and I would like to think a swell time was had by all. We had some amazing costumes this year, which is always gauged by how terrified the wee ones are. My father-in-law took home the Best Costume trophy as a gorilla, my nephew took home the Best Kid's Costume trophy as a jedi knight, and my co-worker won Best Jack-O-Lantern for her 'Obama' pumpkin. Rest assured there will be plenty of pictures of all this coming shortly...

I dressed up as The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hallow, and I was very pleased with the end result. I got a lot of compliments, which is always nice when you are wearing a homemade costume and not just another flimsy, store-bought 'made in China' get-up. The most horrifying costume of the night, however, was my wife. As you may recall, I had no idea what she was going to be, so when she stepped out of our bedroom in a clown costume it was like she was stepping right out of my worst nightmare. Great costume, sweetie! Now promise me you'll never, ever wear it again.

There were a few set-backs, as all parties will have. Just seconds before I was to start getting my costume on, the over-sized bucket I use for the apple bob sprung a leak. So I had to empty that out and find a replacement at the last second (all the while my birthday girl is tugging at my sleeve, begging and pleading to put on her costume). There were also a few no-shows on our guest list that left us with a TON of left over food and beer. No big deal, but I guarantee you I won't be eating at Subway anytime soon after this week is over.

To make it all the more memorable, I ended the evening by reciting Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem 'The Raven.' I was terribly nervous, as I do not do public speaking at all; but I am proud to say that I made it through the entire poem without a single flub. I had a slight tremor in my voice when I started, but by the end I totally got into the spirit of it, and was told by at least one guest that it raised a few goosebumps. Hmmm, this may be the start of an annual tradition...

After the poem was finished, my niece's future hubby, Brian, and I hustled outside to set up the fireworks show. This was supposed to have been ready to go earlier in the day, so there was a short delay while we got everything in position. The fireworks, of course, were purchased in Missouri (slightly illegal in the Northstar state), so they were the real deal and really lit up the sky. So much so that a friendly police officer was waiting for us as we made our way back to my house. The officer took our names and numbers and then let us off with a warning, so the night ended with a little extra excitement, with my daughter delivering the best line of the night:

"Mom, the cops are here!"

Our most sincere thanks to everyone who made it. With the miserable state of the economy and high gas prices, we know it was a sacrifice for many of you to make the trek to our little neck of the woods. We want you to know that we deeply appreciate it. We hope you had a great time, and we look forward to doing it all over again next year!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Top Ten Horror Flicks

Just in time for Halloween, I figured I probably should list my Top Ten List of Horror Movies. This list should not be confused with the scariest movies of all time – these are just my personal favorites (and anyone who knows me well understands that most movies I like are typically frowned upon by the masses). They are somewhat ranked in order of preference, but the list changes all the time, so take it with a grain of salt. Okay, here we go...

10. Plan 9 From Outer Space

I know what you're thinking... Edward D. Wood, jr.? Arguably the worst director of all time? Really? Well, all I have to say to that is: watch it! The campiness, the cheap props, the horrible script, the terrible acting, and... Bela Lugosi! It's pure genius.

9. Army of Darkness

To many this may seem like a comedy, but to those who know, this is 'The Chin' at his finest hour. Bruce Campbell straps on his boomstick and kicks all kinds of Ash. Literally.

8. Young Frankenstein

Okay - so this one is a comedy. But who can deny that it is still one of the funniest movies ever? Hump? What hump?

7. Horror of Dracula

Hammer horror, baby! My main man, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing; Christopher Lee as the lord of the undead, Count Dracula – how can you go wrong? Great direction, great acting, great sets, and all that red, red blood splashing around.

6. Night of the Living Dead

George Romero gives us the first, and arguably the best, zombie movie. A chilling morality tale wrapped up in a gore-fest, Romero shot this thing on the cheap – but you would never know it. "They're coming to get you, Barbara..."

5. Psycho

You knew that I had to have Hitchcock on my list. Picking just one of his movies was quite hard, but Psycho stands out above the rest. Anthony Perkins as the creepy Norman Bates, Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, and don't forget mother...

4. Shaun of the Dead

Again, I know what you're thinking: how can you possibly put Shaun of the Dead ahead of a George Romero zombie opus? I understand the argument, but for my money, Shaun is a near perfect movie. It's hilarious, but it's not a comedy. It's scary, but it's not a horror flick. It's got a dash of emotion, but it's not a drama. Shaun of the Dead, quite frankly, is the best horror movie I've seen in the last decade.

3. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

Gasp! Another comedy? Hey... It's my list! The funniest movie of all time if you ask me, plus it stars the Universal Monsters (Bela Lugosi finally reprising his role as Dracula, Lon Chaney, jr. as the Wolf Man, and Glen Strange as Frankenstein's monster)! Watch it yourself and tell me I'm wrong. OH, CHICK!

2. The Evil Dead

This one is just pure nostalgia. The memories I have of first watching The Evil Dead will stay with me forever. As a 13-year-old kid battling puberty, I had no idea what I was in for when I first saw this film. The Necronomicon, the thing in the woods, the cabin, the blood, and, of course, Bruce Campbell doing what he does best. A classic by any definition.

1. Halloween

Was there any doubt? Naturally, I'm talking John Carpenter's 1978 original, and not Rob Zombie's 2007 red-neck gore-fest. Carpenter delivers what is unquestionably the most iconic, chilling horror film of all time, with the creepiest bad guy to ever grace the silver screen: Michael Myers. Jamie Lee Curtis debuting as Laurie Strode, and the superb Donald Pleasance delivering his greatest performance as Dr. Sam Loomis. The memorable musical score (also by Carpenter), the classic tracking shot that opens the film, and the fact that it takes place on Halloween all help to make this my favorite horror movie of all time!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Progress Report

A quick update on the progress of Zahn Manor. This past weekend I had the main goal of finishing up my costume, so on Sunday I had a costume fitting and ended up making a few minor - and one major - adjustments. I am still very pleased with the end result, even if it is not exactly what I originally had in mind. The one thing I always have to consider is the fact that we will have 30+ people in our house for our party (and possibly upwards of 50!), so my costume each year has to take being a host into consideration. You have to be able to mingle with the guests, down a few Pumpkin Spice Ales, and grab a bite to eat – all while looking as scary as possible. My costume this year will push the limits of being a polite host, but it's going to look so killer...

The inside of the house is nearing completion. We put up as many decorations as we are able, but we always have to take my wife's daycare business into consideration. There is the scare factor, true, but we must also consider the little hands that will grab, rip, tear, pull, yank, throw, and pretty much destroy anything they can get their hands on. This is through no fault of their own – children have an inherent need to learn, and touching and feeling things is a large part of that. So some decorations must wait until the very last minute, which means Thursday night and/or all day Friday, on into Saturday morning. It makes for a whirlwind of activity just before the party, but we are pretty much old hands at this, so it's not too big of a deal. I should also add that my co-worker and incredibly-talented artist friend, Katie Aguado, painted a giant prop for the party that turned out fabulous! It's one of those things that should probably have waited to be hung up, but it is so darn cool that it just had to take its place of honor in the center of our main living room wall. Thanks, Katie – I owe you a Pumpkin Spice Cappucinio!

Our daughter's costume came in the mail last week, and it is amazing! She is going bonkers having to wait to wear it – and who can blame her? I wish it fit me! Her Aunt Susan sewed it for her - as she does every year - and she has outdone herself once again. Thanks, Susan! Her little brother, Chunk, kind of got the shaft this year, as we simply ran out of time to have something custom made. He got a mail-order costume, but at least he will be who we wanted him to be, and not just wear a sheet with two eye-holes cut into it. I still have no idea what my wife is going to be. Can you imagine? I've never known her to keep a secret this long...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Indian Summer

Here in the Northstar State, we appear to be in the midst of a very enjoyable Indian Summer. Wiki describes an Indian Summer as: a period of sunny, warm weather in autumn, not long before winter. In the northern state of Minnesota, for example, warm Indian summer weather generally occurs earlier, in mid October rather than early November. And that is where we seem to be – basking in the sun's glow (most likely caused by global warming, but whatever...) knowing full well that the heat is fleeting and winter is just around the corner, but still loving every extra minute that we get to spend outside.

A snippet of a Doors song comes to mind as the sun sets on another glorious day, with the windows open and a soft breeze blowing through the house:

I love you, the best
Better than all the rest

That I meet in the summer

Indian summer

My wife and I are hoping that our good fortune with the weather will hold out for one more week, long enough to give us a pleasant day for the party. In year's past we've been blessed with pretty decent days for our shindig, and this year - according to the not-very-accurate 10-day forecast - looks like we have a 50-50 shot at a mild day. I certainly don't expect it to be in the mid 70's as it has been of late, but to hit 60 would be a delight – and no rain would be even better. Either way, it has been a magnificent autumn, and we are amazed each week when we get to watch the leaves turn golden while wearing short pants and t-shirts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jai Guru Deva Om

Today marks what would have been the 68th birthday of musician and peace activist, John Lennon. Our son was named after another John that I admire above all – my father – but I like to kid my wife that Lucas John was really named after the former Beatle. Unfortunately, I think our soon-to-be five-year-old daughter, and burgeoning Beatlemaniac, really believes me (although if you ask her she will tell you she was named after the album Abbey Road).

After eight tumultuous years of corruption, violence and war in our country, I like to think that a real change is coming in which peace and prosperity might actually be at hand. It is too soon to tell, as the presidential election is still a month away, but John's lyrics give us hope that justice will prevail, peace is possible, and love is always the answer.

Happy birthday, John. We're gonna have a good time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ghost Hunters

For those of you looking to up the creep factor in your television viewing schedule, I encourage you to tune in to Ghost Hunters on the SciFi Channel. My favorite show (and the only program I watch regularly and actually go out of my way to tune in to – I generally avoid TV at all costs), Ghost Hunters provides an hour of interesting investigations into the paranormal.

A new episode airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. Tune in and check it out – often times they find at least some evidence (although it must be said that they often find nothing at all), and every once in awhile they capture some very startling evidence that provides some compelling food for thought as far as the spirit world is concerned, and whether our energy continues on after death.

P.S. If you live in a neck of the woods that doesn't have many trick-or-treaters on Halloween night and you're looking for something spooky to watch, Ghost Hunters typically has an extended 'Halloween Special' episode that they air live!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lord, Help My Poor Soul...

On this day in 1849, poet and author Edgar Allan Poe joined his beloved Virginia in the realm of the great beyond. After several days of delirium, Poe finally succumbed to a 'mystery illness.' Newspapers from that time gave the cause of death as 'cerebral inflammation' or 'brain congestion' (nice ways of saying he drank himself to death). Other causes of death have also been thrown about, from rabies to syphilis to cholera to epilepsy. But as with much of Poe's life, his actual death remains shrouded in mystery.

It is said that Poe was never coherent enough in his remaining days to tell anyone just how he came to be in his wretched state, but several clues point to anything but a natural death. For one, he was not even wearing his own clothes when he was found in his dreadful condition. Likewise, it has been told that Poe repeatedly called out the name 'Reynolds' on the night before he expired. Who was Reynolds? A friend? A business partner? A figment of Poe's delirious mind?

Here is a short poem by Poe that seems very personal - I imagine he was writing of himself. It seems somehow fitting on this grim, dreary, overcast day:

"TO ____"

I heed not that my earthly lot
Hath —— little of Earth in it —

That years of love have been forgot

In the fever of a minute:
I mourn not that the desolate
Are happier, sweet, than I,

But that
you sorrow for my fate
Who am a passer by.

As many know, a mysterious cloaked figure in a wide-brimmed hat leaves three roses and a half a bottle of cognac on Poe's grave on the anniversary of his birth. But who remembers the death of this once-great poet? All medical records - including his death certificate! - have been lost, stolen, or destroyed. All remaining information about the life, and miserable death, of Edgar Allan Poe remains shrouded in mystery – such as the assertion that Poe's final words were: "Lord, help my poor soul!"

Lord, help his poor soul, indeed...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ghoul School!

Last night my wife and I went to a parenting seminar in a neighboring town. The talk was held at the local middle school / high school. Upon entering the building I was delighted to see many Halloween decorations, including ghosts, jack-0-lanterns, and black cats. Why delighted? Simply because so many schools these days are going the 'politically correct route' and banishing anything that may be interpreted as 'pagan.' As most parents know, it only takes one bad apple complaining to the school board to ruin it for everyone. Many schools these days are relegated to 'Fall' festivals and accompanying decorations (leaves, acorns, pumpkins - not jack-o-lanterns - Indian corn, and the like).

At this school, at least, Halloween appears to be alive and well. The same seems to be true of the local school here in town where our young daughter attends. I was equally delighted to see the October calendar she brought home. Printed on the orange paper in black ink were jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and bats. On the crucial day of October 31st, there are printed the words: "Costume Party - You May Wear or Bring A Costume For the Day!" Hurray! Thank goodness Halloween lives on in some schools! Their curriculum for the month also includes learning about scarecrows, owls, spiders, and bats.

When I was in grade school (grades 1-6) we had a Halloween party every year - not a Fall Festival - a Halloween Party. And it was huge, too - with lots of games and candy. In fact, one game involved a tumbling mat that was used for P.E., and you had to run past a teacher that was dressed up as The Devil and try to get by him. He would stand absolutely still - when you tried to run by him he would stick out his leg and trip you. He was very hard to get by, and a lot of kids were too scared to try! They also had a 'laboratory' back by the cafeteria kitchen where a mad scientist sawed real cow bones and let you touch 'brains' and other gross stuff. It was the best night of the year and something EVERY kid looked forward to.

The kicker... I went to a Catholic school - St. Thomas Aquinas. I have such fond memories of the Halloween parties my school held down in the basement cafeteria. It was a night to let loose and have fun - to just be a kid. I sincerely hope my own children get to experience something similar in their own schools as they grow older. For to be cheated out of something so full of wonder, that sparks the imagination of young minds in such a unique way, would be a true shame.

Long live Halloween in our schools!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tick... Tick... Tick...

The clock is steadily ticking, counting down the seconds until All Hallows Eve is finally upon us. I guess the phrase that comes to mind is: 'So much to do, so little time.' My darling wife, who surely will be cannonized a saint one day, is planning on taking the little critters to Iowa for the weekend, giving me almost two full days to work on Halloween stuff (with the provision that I clean the basement and get it ready for the party. Uggghhh...)

Last night I got most of the gravestones out in our front yard cemetery, with the exception of the four new ones, which need to have small holes drilled through them so black zip-ties can be threaded through. This is done to attach the stones to small lengths of rebar which I pound into the ground. I've learned from past mistakes that by simply trying to push the zip-ties through the foam core, they tend to go sideways and come out the back side at crazy angles. Also, when they come out, they pop out a chunk of the core, which looks unsightly. So this year I will be drilling pilot holes for the zip-ties in order to keep things nice and neat.

The foam core is salvaged from a trash bin at a construction site down the street. I did not alter the overall shape in the least. I kind of liked the rough hewn look. I simply cut out the epitaphs with a pattern and Dremel, painted them with a coat of primer, spray painted them gray (with a light dusting of black to 'age' them), and then hand painted the streaks and grime for added effect. Top them off with some moss and you have yourself some ancient gravestones! One of the tombstones I made this year can be seen above. By the way, for those who don't know who Edward Gorey is, you should check this out:

So the basement is going to take a ton of work, as it is a complete disaster. I plan on tackling that tomorrow night. But once that is done, I think I will get the remaining tombstones up and then devote the rest of my time to the garage haunt. As I've mentioned before, my original concept for the garage didn't pan out, so I've switched to Plan B. Now that I've had a few days to think about it, I'm getting kind of excited about Plan B. I think with enough time and imagination, I can take a fairly lame idea and turn it into something really creepy...

P.S. SAFETY TIP! Before you pound the rebar into the ground, call your electric or cable company and have them come out to mark your yard. Better safe than sorry - you don't want to hammer one of those right through an electrical cable, otherwise you may be buried in your own graveyard!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It Was Night In The Lonesome October

...of my most immemorial year.

So begins E.A. Poe's classic poem: 'Ulalume.' And what a poem it is! Often overshadowed by Poe's more famous works, such as 'The Raven,' 'The Bells,' and 'Annabel Lee,' Ulalume is a frightfully chilling poem that not only takes place in the month of October, but on the night of all nights in October... Halloween! With today being the first day of that melancholy month, I thought I would shine a little candlelight upon this under appreciated gem.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere--
Our memories were treacherous and sere,--

For we knew not the month was October,

And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)--

We noted not the dim lake of Auber

(Though once we had journeyed down here)--

Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,

Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

If you're looking for a spooky read this October that is a little off the beaten path, you can't go wrong with Ulalume. A tale of love and loss (aren't they all from Poe?) this gem contains some startling imagery and a bizarre, rather cryptic final stanza. For those interested but who suffer from a debilitating case of bibliophobia, here's a link to get your started:

Give it a read and tell me what you think!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Para Abnormal

Just in time for the haunting season!

For those with a like-minded (ie: depraved) sense of humor, I direct you to a web comic by Dave Lowe:

Some lame, some hilarious... all weird!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Aches & Pains of Progress

What a weekend! My beautiful, patient, generous, and loving wife (did I mention she's beautiful?) allowed me a full weekend to work on Halloween stuff, so I got a lot done on Saturday and Sunday. We took the kids to our local homecoming football game Friday night, otherwise I would have been working on Halloween projects that night as well! I am sore as all get out today from climbing ladders and crawling around on my hands and knees (plus I evidently tweaked my right ankle at some point because it is real sore and stiff today), but such is the sacrifice one must make when spookifying one's house.

I got a good start on the garage haunt, even though there were some setbacks. It may not turn out exactly as I envisioned, but it should be pretty cool for the little ones to see, and trick-or-treaters to check out on Halloween night. I would say I'm about 40% done with it already, and the hardest part - building the walls - is nearly complete. There is more construction on props to be done, and I'm not sure where to go with that. The key is not to invest any money if at all possible, so I hate to have to go buy material at Home Depot. There is a house being constructed down the street, which is where I snatched the throwaway foam core for my four new tombstones, so I might have to take a walk down there and see what they have in their trash bin.

With the 'help' of my daughter, we got the Halloween fence up on Sunday afternoon. We actually worked well into the night doing touch-ups and last-minute quick fixes. It's not perfect by any means - I never did find the finials I was looking for and I refuse to spend $6.99 for a two-pack when I need a dozen of them! So I cannibalized a pack of skull Halloween lights and put those on top of the posts. They're only held on by velcro and I'm not sure how that will stand up to the elements, but we shall see.

On Sunday we also made our annual visit to Seakapp's Orchard to pick up some giant pumpkins and yummy caramel apples. The kids didn't exactly cooperate (our daughter made a friend and wanted to play in the hay-bale maze, and our son is a teething one-year-old), but overall it was an enjoyable day out. The weather was beautiful and we did manage to snap a few pictures while the kids were still in frame for two seconds. Related to that, apparently late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, our 12-foot-tall scarecrow 'Pumpkin Jack' made a jaunt over to the farmer's cornfield which is about a quarter of a mile from our house. He left a nice stack of cornstalks on our front stoop. My daughter claims to have heard him in the night, but I didn't hear a thing...

More updates and pictures coming soon. Only 31 more days!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Progress Report

Well it's been awhile since I've had any kind of Halloween home-haunt progress report here, so I figured I'd better spill about what I've been up to lately. The main thing is that the invites are finally finished and are ready to be shipped out with our annual Halloween poem on Monday or Tuesday (after all the envelopes are addressed and stamped, of course...) Work on the inside of the house has kind of screeched to a halt. The reason for this is that my wife runs a daycare out of our home, so many of the decorations that aren't exactly 'kid friendly' are still boxed up.

On the outside of our home, work will begin on setting up the new cemetery fence this weekend. I still need to get some kind of topper for the fence-posts, finials or skulls or something, and attach them and paint them, but otherwise that project is a go. I kept my hay bail from last year, so I will dig that out of the shed, and, under light of the moon, sneak off across the field and cut a bunch of stalks out of the farmer's cornfield (now if that kind of mischief isn't in the true spirit of Halloween, I don't know what is!)

After much deliberation, I have finally decided upon a plan for the actual haunt. In year's past, I've always done something in my crawlspace in our basement. However, since that is now jam-packed with stuff that no longer resides upstairs (read: daycare) there is no room to do that this year. I have always wanted to do a garage haunt. The trouble is, there is only me, myself, and I to operate it come Halloween night. So it took a lot of thinking to devise a haunt that is pretty much self sufficient. Even though it will be quite small, it will require a lot of work out in the garage. I have a feeling there will be some late nights over the next three weeks...

In other news, we had a patio poured at the bottom of our deck. If the weather cooperates, we'd like to move some of our party outside this year. We've been very lucky in years past, and really have only had to battle with extreme cold some years and gusting wind in others. We have yet to be rained on (or snowed upon!) but I'm knocking on wood as I type this. It looks to be a busy weekend - I still have to piece together my costume and get that ready to roll. I haven't even had time to figure out just how I'm going to pull it off, but I'm hoping inspiration will strike as I get into full Halloween mode. My beautiful wife won't tell me what she is planning on being for the party! I have no idea - and I love it!

Have you figured out what you're going to be for Halloween this year?

What? You know there are only 35 days left, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

So the animated Star Wars movie ‘The Clone Wars’ has come and gone (for those who remember, I reviewed it at the newspaper I work at and gave it a paltry one star rating). What I anticipated to be a summer’s worth of repeat viewings on the big screen for my daughter and me only turned into two viewings of this very poor movie. Even die-hard Star Wars fans can agree that creator George Lucas seems to have sucked the life out of his once-revered franchise.

After the first time that we saw The Clone Wars, my daughter looked up at me and said: “Dad, can we go home and watch the real Star Wars?” I had to admit that I agreed with her. As much as I wanted to like this movie, nothing can ever compare to the scope and grandeur of the original (except for maybe The Empire Strikes Back, of course). So now our Summer of Star Wars has come and gone. Even our computer room, which had been converted into the archive of my massive Star Wars toy collection - which my daughter lovingly refers to as ‘The Star Wars Room’ - has begun to be dismantled. As my wife’s daycare business slowly takes over the entire upper floor of our house, it is time to face reality. While it was nice having my Jedi and Sith stuff displayed for a short while, our kids do need a place to sleep!

So the posters have come down and the toys are being gingerly tucked away back into their Rubbermaids. It’s a solemn process. I know that it’s not likely these toys will see the light of day for many years to come, and the look on my daughter’s face as the room is cleared out simply breaks my heart. But we will always remember our Summer of Star Wars – or at least I will. The spectacle of seeing the original for the very first time will fade like an old photograph, but interest in the fate of the Jedi will renew each year as she is allowed to watch another installment (next year it’s my favorite: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back!)

In the meantime, we’ll continue watching the original now and again, and I’ll smile each time I kiss her goodnight and tell her I love her and she responds with: “May the Force be with you.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Music They Make...

When it comes to music for the home haunting crowd, there is one name that stands above the rest: Midnight Syndicate. For those who've never heard of these guys, Midnight Syndicate produces gothic, atmospheric music for the Halloween season, although, I must admit, I tend to listen to them all year round when the mood hits me.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently picked up their latest release 'The Dead Matter.' While it is not their greatest work, it still stands decapitated head and shoulders above most of the other Halloween soundracks out there. These guys are clearly influenced by the work of John Carpenter (particularly his scores for the original versions of 'Halloween' and 'The Fog'), as well as Bernard Herrman ('Psycho' and many other Alfred Hitchcock films), and John Williams ('Jaws' and too many more to count). They make great use of sound effects interwoven with creepy music, all setting a scene and often telling a narrative, such as their masterpiece - and my favorite - 'The 13th Hour.'

If you're looking for spooky music to play on Halloween night, or want to give a unique gift at your Halloween party this year, you can't go wrong picking up a cd by Midnight Syndicate. I know I'm talking like I own stock in the company or something, but they really are that good. Take a listen for yourself and you be the judge...

They have re-released many of their older titles this year (I'm hoping to pick up a couple more before the season is over) and they can be found at most Party Stores, Party Americas, and Halloween Express. While they aren't in retail outlets like Target or WalMart, I have seen 'The 13th Hour' at Hot Topic. You can also order off their website.

So ends today's infomercial.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Prop A Day Keeps the Devil Away...

So I'm slowly finding time to chip away at a few props here and there. The four new gravestones received their final coating of polyurethane last night, and are only missing a layer of decorative moss on top before they are complete. I can't tell you how important it is to have new graves for this year. My old ones are a mixture of store-bought gravestones and homemade stones from the days when I didn't know what I was doing. I'm very pleased with the four new ones for this year – they look realistic, which is important to serious home haunters, are protected against the elements (we get a lot of rain in October in MN for whatever reason, so my older stones are really showing their age...), and they have that personal touch that make them uniquely mine. No graveyard puns, play on words, or silly sayings here. I used to go for that stuff a decade ago, but now I cringe whenever I see graves out in people's yards that say: "I.B. Dead," and "I Told You I Was Sick," and "Berry Alive."

Last night I also dug out our costume box and dug around in that for awhile. I'm looking for various items that can be used toward my costume this year. Since my costume has been, for the most part, homemade every year, I try to use what I have on hand while still showing up on the day of the party with a killer costume. I'm real excited about this year's costume, but there are still quite a few logistics to work out. If only I had more time! When people ask why we start putting up our Halloween stuff in mid-September - well, this is why! With two kids and a daycare, plus other commitments on the weekend that always seem to pop up out of nowhere, there is never enough time in the month of October to get it all done. In fact, I'm usually a lot further along with my costume by now... gasp! Oh well, such is the life of a home haunter.

But back to the costume. The lone prop I've purchased ($13.99 at Halloween Express, I found the exact same thing for $6.99 at Target!) has been given a very light coating of black spray paint. The colors were just too bold and screamed "fake plastic prop!" So I toned it down a little and will be hot-gluing some accents onto it this weekend. I'm hoping to gain some ground on the costume now, because planning for the party is always intense. When you throw a soon-to-be five year old with boundless energy and a crabby, teething one year old into the mix it's amazing that we get anything done at all.

But, this is what it's all about for me. The craziness, the urgency, and the panic are all worth it when the day of the party finally arrives and guests start walking in the door. Besides, my little girl is pretty good inspiration to keep her daddy motivated. The bonus is getting to do it over again (outside this time) two weeks later on Halloween!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Missy!

Today is my lovely wife's birthday – and I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world to have such a gorgeous and funny person to spend my life with. She puts up with an awful lot, and not just my passion for Halloween. I know I can be a stubborn mule sometimes, but she still finds a way to make me laugh every day; and that, folks, is priceless.

Since her birthday is on a Monday, we celebrated a day early. After nap time we dropped the kids off at the sitters (hats off to the Aguados!) had a pleasant (and quiet!) lunch at Timberlodge, and spent a wonderful day trekking all over Rochester scouring the stores for Halloween goodies. We didn't really buy much, but saw a lot of neat knick-knacks and 'someday' items. I was lucky enough to pick up the new Midnight Syndicate cd (more on that in a future blog post), as well as a killer prop for my still-secret costume, and a few little Halloween doo-dads at the Dollar Tree.

The rest of the weekend was spent pulling out our massive supply of Halloween props and decorations (my wife's birthday is the official 'start date' for Halloween at our house). We put up quite a few decorations upstairs, but the basement still looks like a bomb went off in a Halloween warehouse. I also got some quality time out in the garage where I nearly completed four new tombstones. All of them need a coat of polyurethane as well as a layer of decorative moss glued on (and the last one still needs the name and date Dremeled on), but otherwise that is one huge project in the can.

Not sure what is in store for tonight, as it's our daughter's first night of dance, but hopefully I can get out to the garage and finish up those tombstones, as my wife's folks will be coming up next weekend, so there won't be much time for home haunting. Anyway – happy birthday, sweetie! I love you very much – thanks for putting up with me!

P.S. I added a couple fun things to the 'misc' section of my site done by my nephew, Drew, from a few years back. If you have my site bookmarked, you will probably need to refresh the page to make them appear. Be sure to check them out!

P.P.S. The Pumpkin Spice cappicino from Caribou Coffee is too rich to finish, but ohhhh so good...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Nose To The Grindstone

What a weekend! The past two days have been a whirlwind of activity; I got more Halloween related projects done in the last 48 hours than the past two months combined. Here is a partial list of things that were accomplished:

1. Graveyard fence posts have been spray painted black.
2. Halloween Poems are 90% completed - a huge job that involved folding, tying, writing, and more.
3. Soffit and area above the kitchen cabinets have been cleaned and partially decorated - kudos to my wife for this!
4. Garage has been picked up and swept.
5. Found more blue foam core while on a walk - my kids held onto it in the wagon while I pulled it home - they were confused but excited to help.
6. Printed out name/date stencils for blue foam core, exacto-ed them and Dremeled three out of four of them.
7. Gave all the new gravestones a coat of primer.

All of this on top of following along on the internet as Iowa State whupped up on Kent State, watching 'Frankenweenie' with my daughter, battling the crowds at Mantorville's Marigold Days (for lunch on Saturday and a parade on Sunday), having a bonfire Saturday night - brrr! - mowing the lawn, doing dishes and laundry and other various household chores here and there, as well as poopy diapers, etc. It was a great weekend - the kind that I live for, and boy was it nice to crack open a cold Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale as a reward for all the hard work.

Only 53 days left until Halloween (40 until the party!) and the clock is ticking...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Man's Trash...

Is another man's treasure! Driving to work the other morning on trash pick-up day, I happened to notice someone had thrown out a hunk of pink foam core. An idea for a new tombstone flashed through my head! Unfortunately, I didn't see the foam core until after I had passed, and, as I was running late for work, I resigned myself to missing a great home haunt opportunity.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, on coming around the corner on my way back from work I should happen to see the exact same piece of foam core out in the street! Not letting another opportunity pass me by (or me passing by it, rather) I stopped the car and picked up my future gravestone. The foam core was broken in one corner, but I think that will add to the overall effect, and I'm looking forward to digging out my Dremel and getting to work.

Also on the same day I was on a walk over my lunch break at work and happened to spy a length of one-inch thick rope sticking out of someone's garbage can. Thinking I had found another great Halloween prop, I started pulling on the rope - ready to wind it around my shoulder and carry it home. Little did I know that this guy was throwing away about a hundred feet of rope. After about the first ten feet I opened up the lid to the garbage can and saw how much rope was left to come. After a quick glance around the neighborhood to see if anyone spied my folly, I hurried on back to work.

Personally, I think that found items can make the best Halloween props, and I'm always on the lookout for anything that can be made into tombstones, graveyard signs, or anything else Halloween related. As the saying goes: "One man's trash is another man's treasure!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

59 Days & Counting...

Where does the time go? We are officially under two months before the big day (and less before our annual Halloween/Birthday party). 59 days and counting! There is so much to do before then, but I actually feel like we have a pretty good handle on things at this point - my only concern being the state of the poems and invites. The poem is done, and its construction is a simple matter that only requires the most basic of supplies - thirty+ of them can be whipped out in an afternoon. The invite, on the other hand, hasn't even been conceived yet, much less constructed. There's a lot to do on that front, but, as always, I have complete confidence in my wife and know that they will be done on time and look amazing as usual.

Finally some good news on the graveyard fence (a picture of the old fence can be seen above - held together by electrical and duct tape - not one nail or screw used!) I sent a load of 2x4's to Iowa with my in-laws a week ago, and over the Labor Day holiday I was able to convince my father-in-law to halve them for me, sharpen one end into a point, and drill a hole into the opposite end for which to run a length of black chain through. There are 19 posts total (I may attempt to make more if I can find any scrap 1x2's laying around a nearby construction site), and there is not much left to do with them before they are ready to go. I have to give each a coat of black spray paint - I also am considering giving each a coat of polyurethane to protect them from the elements - drill a small hole into the top of each one for a spindle (which I still have to buy), and attach said spindles, which obviously can't be done until the posts have been pounded into the ground. I'm relieved that this part of the process is done, so now I can move on to other things.

One final note. My lovely wife surprised me this weekend with a 6-pack of Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, and it was like drinking Halloween from a bottle! I was actually kind of amazed that it is an Anheuser-Busch product, to be honest. The initial taste is very subtle, and it's not until the aftertaste hits that you really notice the pumpkin-y flavor (the spices, I assume, would be cinnamon and maybe nutmeg?) I don't care for very over-powering brews that hit you over the head with their taste, so this was just right for my peculiar palate. I would recommend it to anyone, even knowing it's an AB product - king of the bland beers. Hopefully, as the weeks progress, I will get to sample a wider variety of seasonal beers and ales and maybe find one that can match up to Jack's Pumpkin Spice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fight, Fight, Fight for Iowa State!

Put on your cardinal and gold and get ready to cheer! The mighty Cyclones of Iowa State kick off their football season tonight with what is sure to be a hotly contested battle with the fiesty South Dakota State Jackrabbits!

My little Cyclone cheer-squad has been at Big Grandmas all week, so I'm looking forward to seeing her and watching the Clones kick some Jackrabbit tail! It's not quite the same watching a Cyclone game without my daughter - she giggles and laughs at how worked up Daddy gets for the big game; with scrimmages being run on the living room floor, complete with tumbles, rolls, dives, and tackles. We put on our Cyclone t-shirts and Mumsie puts red and gold ribbons in her hair. It's a great day for hot wings and chili (or, as she calls it: 'snacks and juice'), and to enjoy the company of my little cheerleader.

Sing it with me!

O we will fight, fight, fight for Iowa State,

And may her colors ever fly.
Yes, we will fight with might for Iowa State,
With a will to do or die, Rah! Rah! Rah!
Loyal sons forever true,
And we will fight the battle through.
And when we hit that line we'll hit it hard every yard for I. S. U!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chipping away at the little things

Despite a lingering ailment that just won't go away (a persistent fever that comes and goes - I've had it for over a week now!) we managed to get some of the little things done. You know the things of which I speak: those minute details that leave you scrambling at the 11th hour to get everything completed, even as guests are arriving at your door.

The big thing was getting the television hung in our living room. My in-laws came up from Iowa and my father-in-law's task was setting the bracket into place on a stud so we could mount the flat-screen T.V. from downstairs and move the old T.V., and its bulky, accompanying cabinet to the basement. This was done to free up space for my wife's daycare, and I have to say, I really like how it turned out. There is about 6" of cable that shows on the right hand side of the set that will drive me crazy, but after awhile I'm sure I won't even notice it's there.

So on Saturday night our daughter went back to Iowa with her 'Big' Grandma and Grandpa ('Little' Grandma and Grandpa are my folks, because they live in a smaller house) and that left us with only our Chunky 1-year-old son to contend with. We actually got most of the way through a movie Saturday night (the spooky foreign flick: 'The Devil's Backbone'), and Sunday Mel went scrapbooking while I took Chunk to the zoo. Originally, she was supposed to start work on this year's invites - but she seems to be at an impasse on that front (I'm not worried, sweety - it happens every year!)

In the meantime, while Chunk was napping, I set about working on what will be this year's treat bags - which involved more cutting with scissors... uuuuuuugh!) I should also mention that for the time being the big T.V. cabinet that was upstairs is now in the crawlspace - so we had to move out all the Halloween boxes to make room. This is something we usually don't do until my wife's birthday three weeks from now. So... while everything was already out, and we didn't have a soon-to-be-five-year-old hopping about like a lunatic and getting into everything, we decided to just take a peak and see what new stuff we got last year. A little early, yes, but still a lot of fun. I had forgotten that we purchased a ton of neat stuff last year that was something like 90% off after Halloween! Ya gotta love All Saints Day bargain shopping!

I also found time to spray-paint a few props and loaded the lumber for my graveyard fence into my in-law's car so they can be cut into the proper size, which I will then pick up over Labor Day weekend. I got a few other things done as well, which is impressive considering I generally felt like crap all weekend long. I'm hoping to shake this bug soon, because work on Halloween stuff will begin in earnest in the next few weeks (not to mention Iowa State Football kicks off this Thursday!)

P.S. This one is for my folks: Mel says: "Who the hell is Joe Biden?"

Hee hee...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pink Moon

My musical tastes change by the season. When it comes to Fall and the leaves are beginning to show their colors and the air gets crisp, there is one album I reach for every time. You may have never heard of this fellow - he's long gone now, and never really made much of a ripple when he was here - but Nick Drake was a man ahead of his time. Although he recorded three records in his short life (Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon) the album of which I speak is his last effort; the barren, nearly perfect 'Pink Moon.'

Evoking images of empty landscapes and melancholy lives, Drake was singing of which he knew. He lived a life that was painfully shy (strange for a performer to be sure!) and his quiet nature and unassuming ways led him to stray from the public eye, even as he sought fame through his music. Complex and contemplative, 'Pink Moon' catches that rare brilliance of an artist that has created a masterpiece without even realizing it.

There is no doubt that this is an album for all time, for all seasons. But there is something about lyrics like this that seem to welcome the dying of leaves and the oncoming bleakness of winter:

Don't be shy you learn to fly
And see the sun when day is done
If only you see
Just what you are beneath a star
That came to stay one rainy day
In autumn for free
Yes, be what you'll be.
Please beware of them that stare
They'll only smile to see you while
Your time away
And once you've seen what they have been
To win the earth just won't seem worth
Your night or your day
Who'll hear what I say?

I've tried to pass along the wonder of this album to quite a few people, and if you've never heard it yourself I encourage you to check it out - especially as autumn approaches and serious work begins on Halloween projects and haunts. For more information on the life and work of Nick Drake, check out these links:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You Are My Sunshine

Jan's Window Fashions on Second Street (Main Street) is where my mom worked when I was just a little shaver, before I went off to kindergarten at Elm Park. This is pre-Star Wars, so I would go off to work with her - and later, my baby sister, too; who slept in the crib under the sewing table - with a Batman coloring book and action figure in hand and a head full adventures I would have that day in the 'BatCave.'

The BatCave wasn't really a cave of course, it was just a little storage space in the back of Jan's building, behind a partition, where she put empty cardboard boxes and various odds and ends out of sight of the customers. I would set up my fort for the day in the boxes, with the occasional reminder from mom to 'play quietly' and to 'stay out of the garage in back' (there was a neat motorcycle back there that had a side-car and looked just like the Bat-Cycle!) I was always easing open that door and sneaking peaks at the 'Bat-Cycle,' thinking that one day I would actually dare to get on it and ride off to fight crime, my cape fluttering out gloriously behind me...

There were a couple of bathrooms to the side by the BatCave at my disposal (with the occasional reminder from mom to 'not play in the water' and the ever-present reminder to 'not drink out of JC's cup!' JC was John, Jan's son. He had diabetes and had to pee into a cup every once in a while). John also had his special sugar-free diabetes candy that I was welcome to eat if I wanted it, but it tasted pretty gross, so I avoided it unless I was desperate. I usually didn't get that desperate for candy, though, because Dee's Cafe was just down the block, and if I batted my eyes and asked with just the right tone of voice (kind of a sigh with a hint of pleading), I could often talk my mom into a quick walk down to Dee's for a candy bar, and, if I was really lucky, a soda pop, too. Mom would chat with me - ask me how my day was going, and I would ask her who she liked better: Batman or Robin?

A short walk back to Jan's and we would be met by Patches, Jan's little dog (eventually replaced by Caramel, who smelled like mothballs...) and Jan's daughter Laurie would be there, too. I thought Laurie was the prettiest girl in the world, and would blush furiously when she would say "HIIIIIIiiiiiiii, Maaaaaarky...!" and blow me kisses. Paul McCartney would be on the radio singing 'Silly Love Songs' (because Laurie switched the station from KQWC to the Fort Dodge station), and on the white metal post in the center of the room was taped the picture of all the Ziggy-type characters laughing hysterically with 'Jan, Laurie, Mona, and Alice' written on the characters.

It was a great time to be alive, and I still look back fondly at that time in my life - remembering it like it was yesterday. At the end of the day, mom would tuck me into bed, sing me a couple of verses of 'You Are My Sunshine' (although I could usually talk her into one more song, which usually consisted of: 'Goodnight, Batman'). The lyrics are thus:

Goodnight, Batman,
Goodnight, BATMAN,
Goodnight, Batman,
It's time to go to bed.

Goodnight, Robin,
Goodnight, ROBIN,
Goodnight, Robin,
It's time to go to bed.

And on and on with various other superheroes. Then, with a kiss on the forehead and an 'I love you, Marky,' (and a promise to leave the door open a crack), I would close my eyes and drift off to sleep - all too eager to wake up and spend another perfect day with my mom.

Happy birthday, Mama! I love you!


Monday, August 18, 2008

T-Minus 74 Days and counting...

74 days... two and a half months until Halloween, and so much still to do. I kind of took a break from Halloween related activities this weekend, because 1.) I wasn't feeling the best - a slight fever and a bit run down on energy, and 2.) It's nearly impossible to get anything done with two kids - particularly with a soon-to-be five-year-old who is in trouble constantly, and a one-year-old who is teething. Add in the fact that the Star Wars 'Clone Wars' movie came out this weekend and it's a wonder I got anything done at all. As it stands, the only thing Halloweenish that I did was spray paint a few props on Sunday night.

My wife and I have a big 'to-do' list, that includes some Halloween stuff and some things that just have to get done. The big thing is getting our upstairs television hung from a bracket on the wall, so we can get rid of the big, clunky entertainment center that eats up a lot of space. We got an electrician friend lined up to help out with the wiring, and my in-laws coming next weekend to help with the installation of the bracket. Mel is also planning on starting work on the invites next weekend, and I hope to get the poems printed off sometime this week, so they will be ready for construction by the weekend.

In other news, I finally got all the way through E.A. Poe's 'The Raven' reciting it completely by memory. With enough practice, I think I should have it completely committed to memory by Halloween. Will I regale trick-or-treaters with a narration of Poe's poetry in the graveyard on Halloween night like I did last year? Hmmm.... maybe. We shall see. We shall see. Mmmahamamahaaahaaaha... [that's blog talk for a sinister laugh].

Friday, August 15, 2008

How do I love thee?

Holy carpal tunnel! See the picture to the right? Now multiply that by about 1,000 and you have one obsessive compulsive dad when it comes to Halloween! It must be someone pretty special for a guy to take a pair of scissors and spend the better part of three hours cutting strips of paper (that would be my daughter, who's upcoming fifth birthday serves as the springboard for our annual Halloween party). I won't reveal what, exactly, it is I am doing - suffice to say that it involved a lot of cutting, and I was very pleased with the end result. This should be a Halloween party unlike any other that we've attempted before.

In other news, the cemetery fence project came to a grinding halt, as I don't have the proper saw to halve 2x4's into 1x2's, and didn't really want to invest in one for what is supposed to be a fairly cheap project. The only expenditure I was planning on having was for black spray paint, finials, and black plastic landscaping chain. I'm hoping that my father-in-law, who is known to pick up a tool now and again, will come to my rescue and cut some boards for me. Otherwise, I may end up risking life and limb to cut them on a table saw (which I have already tried once and was happy to walk away from the experience with all my digits intact).

On the bright side, Mel and I (and the two little critters) happened to walk into a JoAnn Fabrics just for the heck of it to see what they had on sale. I was amazed to see shelves and shelves of stuff that was perfect for our party - and all marked down 70% OFF! We picked up a veritable treasure trove of stuff for a song, and now have the majority of our decorations for the party in hand. The best part is, much of our decorations and such are not of the terrifying/nightmare-inducing variety of years past, so we can actually put them up throughout the month of October and leave it up without traumatizing my wife's daycare kids for life. This means a lot less last second decorating before the party, which is huge, as we always seem to run out of time on the big day.

More projects are set for this weekend. As always, I'll try to take pictures and get them up here as soon as I can. Until then, happy hauntings...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

R.I.P Snot...

Wow. I just heard the terrible news that the great Joe Kudla, a.k.a. Thomas Snot, has passed away at the young age of 57. For those who don't know, 'Puke N' Snot' were a staple of the Minnesota Rennaissance Festival for over 30 years, as well as many other festivals around the country.

I was fortunate enough to catch their act many times over the years, and it was, in fact, my main motivation to keep going back to a festival that had grown kind of 'same old, same old' in nature. However, the main reason that this news has hit me so hard is that I was privileged to have conducted the very last interview with Puke N' Snot that they ever gave. During the last week of July, I was in contact with Joe's comedy partner and best friend, Mark Sieve (Puke) and had interviewed them for our 'Q&A' section of our paper. It turned out to be the very best interview I've done. Mark was extremely gracious with his time, and their answers were top-notch, smart-ass Puke & Snot material.

I have only just today e-mailed Mark, sending him my condolences and asking him what he would like me to do with the interview. We were literally set to go to press tomorrow morning when I heard the news of Joe's passing. As of right now, I don't know if this interview will ever see the light of day, but I know that I plan on writing a tribute to Joe Kudla in my 'Community Comment' column for this next issue. Please head over to:

to post your comments and memories of one of the all time greats. Joe will definitely be missed, and the MN Renfest will never be the same. But, for all that, Mark has insisted the show will go on, as Snot would have wanted. This is what Mark had to say on his blog:

"Phone calls have been coming in from around the country, I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words in remembering my best friend. We'll all get together when the time is right and send him off in a way he would approve, I'm talking large amounts of your favorite brew and stories no one would believe. Don't miss it. More later."

Fare thee well, good Sir Snot. We shall miss thee...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Halloween in Anoka

I've always wanted to take a trip up to Anoka, MN to check out the self proclaimed 'Halloween Capital of the World.' It's quite a trek from the SE portion of the state where I live, and since the festivities only run through the month of October, that pretty much guarantees that I will never see it (at least until my kids are fully grown and out of the house!) Still, I always thought that it's a town I should live in, or, at the very least, visit once in my lifetime.

It seems like the town of Anoka really 'gets it' when it comes to Halloween - unlike most around here where I live. If you're lucky, you'll see the occasional home haunter putting out a modest display of store-bought stuff, but no one seems to really bother with Halloween much anymore - at least not like how I remember from when I was a kid. People that go all out with homemade props and lighting and music and fog are definitely the exception, and not the rule. For awhile it seemed that there was a brief resurgence of Halloween enthusiasm, but I think with the economy in the tank and gas prices sky high, people just don't feel like being mischievous and having a bit of devilish fun.

Well - the crummy economy and getting raked over the coals by the oil companies won't stop the good people of Anoka. If you're in that neck of the woods, stop by and check it out, and then let me know what you thought of the 'Halloween Capital of the World.'

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tinkling on the tufted floor.

One of the many joys for me as summer draws to an end is digging out my book of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. His verses seem perfectly suited for the autumn season, and reciting them always helps to escort Summer to the door and usher in the crisp air and changing leaves of Fall. While I am in no hurry to get rid of Summer (I positively detest Winter), I find myself looking forward to Fall more and more each year.

Memorizing poetry is a trait I inherited from my father. When we were kids, Pops would regale us with recitations of 'The Cremation of Sam McGee,' 'The Charge of the Light Brigade,' 'Casey at the Bat,' and others. It was always such a treat when, sitting around a campfire, we could talk him into dusting off one of these classics. To be honest, I never thought much about reciting poetry – although it seems kind of natural, as I have always enjoyed writing it (something else inherited from my dad). I would try, from time to time, to commit a verse to memory, but nothing ever seemed to stick in my head.

Until I read Poe.

For some reason, the poetry of E.A. Poe made an impression on me - most likely because of its dark subject matter and macabre imagery - and I found myself reciting lines in my head without even trying. Thinking I might be on to something, I decided to start small and work my way up to the big poems. I chose Poe's humorous verse: 'Lines On Ale' as my starting point, thinking it would be a clever thing to use when out on the town with my pals.

Fill with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain -
Quaintest thoughts - queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today!

From that little verse (which Poe wrote in a tavern in Lowell, MA in 1848 to pay for a drinking tab), I worked my way up to 'El Dorado,' 'A Dream Within A Dream,' and to even bigger, more complex poems, like 'The Conqueror Worm' and 'Annabel Lee.' At the moment, I am just over 3/4's through Poe's masterpiece: 'The Raven,' and I have been enjoying it immensely.

I would not recommend, however, that anyone use my technique for memorizing poetry; for I piece them together in a kind of hodge-podge of verses – meaning I do not start from the beginning and memorize poems through to the end. A tip for you, though: try getting a poem on your iPod or on cd so that you can listen to it. This has helped me immensely when learning the longer poems like Poe's 'The Bells.' By listening to them in my car as I commute to work, I have found whole verses sticking in my head when I had made no conscious effort to memorize them. Another thing I do is carry a printed out copy of whatever poem I am trying to learn in my pocket. I know it sounds somewhat highbrow and studious (what my wife would call: ‘being a dork’), but having it right there to cross-check certain lines is invaluable.

So you may be wondering, why did I title this blog entry 'Tinkling on the tufted floor?' Well I had high hopes that my four-year-old daughter would one day be asking me to recite poetry around the campfire, but, whenever I get to this particular verse in 'The Raven,' she simply bursts into fits of laughter:

"Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor."

Ha ha ha... Daddy tinkled on the tufted floor!