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!


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

With the latest Star Wars movie slated to hit the big screen later this summer (the animated 'Clone Wars' movie due out August 15th), I have been slowly introducing my young daughter to that galaxy far, far away. Two weeks ago we watched the original 1977 version of Star Wars - now dubbed Episode IV: A New Hope - and the reaction was just what you might expect: complete Star Wars mania. She wants to watch Star Wars, she wants to talk Star Wars, she wants to play Star Wars, she wants to read Star Wars, she wants to eat Star Wars for breakfast.

I have a bad feeling about this.

Okay, I might have created a monster with this, but I have waited four and a half long years to have someone in my family to share my enthusiasm for Star Wars. Now I have someone to duel with plastic lightsabers (although she somehow always wins), and reenact favorite scenes while driving in the mini-van (much to the annoyance of my wife, who is still in the clutches of the Dark Side of the Force).

Part One of our Summer of Star Wars was watching the original Star Wars for the first time. Part Two of our our Star Wars summer was going up to St. Paul to see the Star Wars exhibit at the Science Center. Our daughter did not know the nature of our trip, so when she saw the massive, three story Darth Vader plastered on the Science Center wall she nearly swallowed her tongue. It was great.

We practically ran from display to display, elbowing our way through the huge crowd of people to see original costumes and props from the movies. But it wasn’t until we were nearly done and getting ready to leave that the Sith hit the fan.

In walks Darth Vader.

I thought my daughter was going to go into convulsions. She jumped two feet off the ground, her eyes as big as saucers, and stammered: ‘there’s... there’s... there’s...’ It took a minute for her brain to catch up with her mouth, but she finally spit out: ‘VADER!’ We were waiting in line to go on the ‘Jump To Hyperspace’ attraction (something that Daddy really wanted to do), but my daughter was begging and pleading to go meet Darth Vader.

Well, the way the exhibit works is, once you leave the main hall you cannot return. This is done to keep the thousands of people moving along so everyone gets a fair chance to see the display. Of course, we had already left the exhibit when Vader made his grand entrance, flanked by two Imperial Stormtroopers. God bless the Science Center lady who was sitting at the end of the display. I explained to her that we had just left the exhibit, but my daughter was positively going to die if she did not get to meet Darth Vader, and was there any way we could go back through to have our picture taken with him?

This kind lady says: ‘Goodness, we can’t allow that to happen. You go on back through and meet Darth Vader, sweetie.’ To which I replied, quite naturally, ‘Thank you, and may the Force be with you.’

I’m such a geek.

So my daughter got her picture with Vader (and a high five! which kind of seemed out of character for a Sith Lord). I did miss out on the Hyperspace ride, but all was right with the galaxy just the same.

To be continued...

Monday, August 4, 2008

You wanna see something really scary?

My website that lead you to this blog is a clear indicator of my love for Halloween. You've read the stories, you've seen the pictures - you know the depth of my madness. But in the words of Dan Ackroyd in the 'Twilight Zone' movie... "You wanna see something really scary?"

If you thought that I was nuts about Halloween - you have to check out these websites. Now here are people who's love for Halloween is taken to a whole new level. This first guy not only loves the holiday, he loves the John Carpenter movie as well. I mean he really, really loves the movie. While I think it would be cool to see the actual Myers house from the movie, I can't say that that I'd actually want to live in it...

This next guy is kind of a legend in home haunt circles. Pumpkinrot makes the most amazing scarecrows and macabre props you'll ever see, and, not only that, his website was the inspiration for my own (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?) So hats off to to Pumpkinrot. Maybe one day I'll actually own one of his groundbreakers...

Last but not least is another legend in the home haunt world. Howloweenqueen is a Florida haunter that has a passion for October 31st that knows no bounds - she literally thinks about Halloween 365 days a year! If you don't believe it, just visit her website and take a look at some of the frightfully fun rooms she has designed. Talk about dedication:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Taking Quill To Paper

August 1st – the traditional start-date for our annual Halloween poem. I had tossed about a few ideas over the past couple of days for this year's poem, but I've had a hard time trying to force the poem into our 'kinda-sorta' theme. It's like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole - you can get it to fit if you pound hard enough, but it ain't easy.

Finally, after reading some Poe (that grand master of the macabre) in order to divine some inspiration, I struck upon a verse of his that planted the seed for this year's poem. As is always the case with our Halloween poem, once I got rolling, the poem seemed to write itself. It's a very rough draft and will need considerable re-working, but I'm pleased with it thus far and think it's not too apparent that I've forced it around a theme.

After a few more weeks of re-writes, I think it should be good enough to begin construction, which goes hand-in-hand with the invites. As for the invitations, my beautiful wife has assured me that this year's will be suitably difficult and time-consuming... so that's a relief! We wouldn't want an easy invite to put together forty times, now would we?

In other news - tomorrow I plan on scrounging up some wood from a nearby construction site to use for my graveyard fence-posts. Despite the oppressive heat that is forecast for this weekend, I hope to be able to at least get a good start on these. But with two kids in tow, I have to be realistic. Finding time between poopy diapers, naps, snacks, lunch, and tantrums can be somewhat difficult. Wish me luck.

Quoth the raven – 'nevermore!'