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!