A Halloween Reading List


The witching hour is fast approaching and I thought we should start with my top 10 picks of the best Halloween books. These are sure to give you shivers and make you jump at all bumps in the night.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

2. The Shining by Stephan King

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker

4. Edgar Allan Poe

5. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

6. The Amityville Horror House by Jan Anson

7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

8. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

9. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

10. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin


Happy Birthday Wallace Stevens



On this day in 1879, poet Wallace Stevens is born in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Stevens followed the footsteps of his father, a Reading lawyer and teacher who wrote poetry on the side. Stevens attended Harvard but left after three years. He knew he wanted to devote his life to literature but early on decided not to “make a petty struggle for existence.” He worked briefly in journalism, then went to law school in 1904 and practiced law in New York for several years while writing poetry.

In 1914, Poetry magazine published his poetry for the first time. Stevens became friends with other New York poets, including William Carlos Williams (a doctor) and Marianne Moore. In 1916, he joined the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and moved with his wife to Hartford, where he lived for the rest of his life. He worked hard during the day and wrote at night and during vacations. In 1923, he published his first book of poetry, Harmonium. The book was a critical success, though fewer than 100 copies were sold. It contained poems that are still anthologized today, including “Sunday Morning” and “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” He didn’t publish another book for six years. In the meantime, he prospered at work and became a vice president of the insurance company in 1934.

The following year, he published Ideas of Order, and during the next two decades he published nine more collections. Only in his later years was this quiet man recognized as a major poet. His Collected Poems (1954) won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His work explored the meeting of the real world and the imagination in poetry and art. His writing was elegant, restrained, and funny. Although his poems are calm and disciplined, they celebrate the beauty and intensity of life. Stevens died in 1955 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Rock Hudson Dies of AIDS



On this day in 1985, Rock Hudson, a quintessential tall, dark and handsome Hollywood leading man during the 1950s and 1960s who made more than 60 movies during his career, dies at the age of 59 from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Beverly Hills, California. Earlier that same year, Hudson announced through a press release that he was suffering from the disease, becoming the first major celebrity to go public with such a diagnosis. The first cases of AIDS, a condition caused by a virus that attacks and destroys the human immune system, were reported in homosexual men in the United States in the early 1980s. At the time of Hudson’s death, AIDS was not fully understood by the medical community and was stigmatized by the general public as a condition affecting only gay men, intravenous drug users and people who received contaminated blood transfusions.

Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois. He rose to fame in the 1950s, starring in such films as Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and A Farewell to Arms (1957). Hudson’s good looks and charm were on full display in 1959’s Pillow Talk and several other romantic comedies he made with Doris Day in the early 1960s. In the 1970s, Hudson co-starred in the popular TV series McMillan and Wife. Early in the next decade, he began experiencing health problems and underwent heart bypass surgery. His final TV role was a recurring part on Dynasty from 1984 to 1985.

In July 1985, Hudson was hospitalized while in Paris. Some media reports indicated that he was suffering from liver cancer. However, on July 25, Hudson issued a press release stating he had AIDS and was in France for treatment. Hudson, who had a three-year marriage during the 1950s to a woman who had been his agent’s secretary, never spoke publicly about his sexuality.

Hudson’s death was credited with bringing attention to an epidemic that would go on to kill millions of men, women and children of all backgrounds from around the world. Hudson’s friend and former Giant co-star Elizabeth Taylor became an AIDS activist and rallied the Hollywood community to raise millions for research. In 1993, Tom Hanks received a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the director Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, the first major Hollywood movie to focus on AIDS.

Charles Darwin Returns To England



The British naturalist Charles Darwin returns to Falmouth, England, aboard the HMS Beagle, ending a five-year surveying expedition of the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Visiting such diverse places as Brazil, the Galapagos Islands, and New Zealand, Darwin acquired an intimate knowledge of the flora, fauna, and geology of many lands. This information proved invaluable in the development of his theory of evolution, first put forth in his groundbreaking scientific work of 1859, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Darwin’s theory argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called “natural selection.” In natural selection, organisms with genetic variations that suit their environment tend to propagate more descendants than organisms of the same species that lack the variation, thus influencing the overall genetic makeup of the species. His Origin of Species, the first significant work on the theory of evolution, was greeted with great interest in the scientific world but was attacked by religious leaders for its contradiction of the biblical account of creation.

Charles Darwin holds a special place in my heart. Part of my family’s heritage indicates that they knew Charles Darwin personally and enjoyed his work. Therefore, I have always felt an inclination to like the man.

Amish Community School Shooting

Middlefield, Ohio close to where I grew up.  My uncle remains on the Middlefield community support board, after serving as mayor for a number of years.

Middlefield, Ohio close to where I grew up. My uncle remains on the Middlefield community support board, after serving as mayor for a number of years.

I grew up thinking everyone lived in close proximity to the Amish. They were a daily part of my growing up. Now I realize that I grew up in quite a unique area of the country. Middlefield, Ohio is Amish headquarters and I grew up sleeping soundly under heavy Amish quilts, eating at sturdy Amish tables, and filling my belly with heavy Amish food. It remains the memory of their simple ways that sometimes keeps me grounded.

Today marks the anniversary date of one of the most heinous acts I can remember. Charles Roberts enters the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where he fatally shoots five female students and wounds five more before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver from a nearby town, entered the one-room schoolhouse at around 10:30 a.m. armed with an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, tools and other items including toilet paper that indicated he planned for the possibility of a long standoff. He forced the 15 boys and several women with infants inside the school to leave and made the 11 girls present line up against the blackboard. Police were contacted about the hostage situation at approximately 10:30 a.m. When they arrived at the schoolhouse a short time later, Roberts had barricaded the school doors with boards he had brought with him and tied up his hostages. Roberts spoke briefly with his wife by cell phone and said he was upset with God over the death of his baby daughter in 1997. He also told her he had molested two girls 20 years earlier and was having fantasies about molesting children again. At approximately 11 a.m., Roberts spoke with a 911 dispatcher and said if the police didn’t leave he’d start shooting. Seconds after, he shot five of the students. When authorities stormed the schoolhouse, Roberts shot himself in the head.

Roberts, a father of three, had no criminal history or record of mental illness. Additionally, his family knew nothing about his claims that he had molested two young female relatives. The Amish community, known for their religious devotion, as well as wearing traditional clothing and shunning certain modern conveniences, consoled Roberts’ wife in the wake of the tragedy; some members even attended his funeral. Ten days after the shootings, the Amish tore down the schoolhouse and eventually built a new one nearby.

I would just like to point out that the Amish are, in general, some of the most forgiving of all humans on the planet. For them to attend this killer’s funeral says a lot about who they are as a community. I would like to share this video (not only because it shows the forgiveness of the Amish community but because I think every teenager in America should watch it).  Please take the half hour to watch this documentary, it will seriously have an affect on how you drive!

My Bookshelf Becomes a Witch’s Apothecary



I have a knack or maybe it’s a need for going overboard with decorations for holidays. Halloween is absolutely no exception.  I love Halloween, it’s one of my absolute favorite holidays.  Since it is the first day of October, I thought I would share with you how to create a witch’s apothecary in your home for next to nothing.  I have in my home a large built-in bookcase and while most of the year it sits filled with family photos and books of all types, during the holidays it serves as a showcase for my decorating abilities. During Christmas it is filled with Santas of all shapes and sizes and during Halloween it becomes a witch’s apothecary. I always start this project out by finding in my home various items that can be used. These items do not need to be Halloween in nature but when put up there they make for a dark assortment of items with just the right touch of spooky. For instance in my home I was able to find:

  • Books about ghosts or the paranormal
  • A black apple that I used for a bookend in my kitchen
  • A large ornate key that hung on my wall
  • A black lantern that I use for décor
  • A lidded candy jar
  • A Halloween sign I had purchased years before
  • Two witch figurines that sat collecting dust

I started with this assortment and added on. When I’m decorating I always try to figure out what I can recycle and use in another way. The joy of decorating for Halloween is that you have the freedom of recycling just about anything and you can make it work! For instance glass jars, vases, and candle holders became various potion ingredient bottles. A coffee tin was painted to become a can filled with spider parts. A Fushigi ball and a candle holder became a crystal ball. Large hard covered kids books were covered in construction paper and then labeled to become spell books! As long as you have the imagination you can create just about anything.

The labels for the bottles and the potion ingredients themselves were the most time consuming parts. I visited a great site http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_potion_ingredients where I picked out the most disgusting sounding ingredients and made it happen. I had for my apothecary:

  • Armadillo Bile – green water and flour
  • Asphodel – broken twigs
  • Belladonna – dead flowers
  • Bezoar – rocks of various shapes and sizes
  • Black Beetle Parts – fake bugs
  • Crushed Snake Fangs – flour
  • Bubotuber – purple water and flour
  • Sneezewort – green water and enough flour to make it seem like snot
  • Scurvy grass – either dead grass or Spanish moss
  • Dragon blood – blue water with glitter
  • Fluxweed – Dead long grass
  • Frog Brain – red water with sponges

Now while these items might not be accurate in their look or feel, when they are up on the shelf they look perfect.

I purchased very few items and the total cost was less than $20. For the Halloween lights, spiderwebs, black rose, fake spider, cauldrons, gourds, fake cockroaches, fake rat, and fake snake I went to my local dollar store. I purchased every single item there.

All the signs and labels were created by me. The witch’s apothecary sign was made from a simple cardboard box. It was cut to shape and painted. All the book labels and ingredient labels were created on your basic white printer paper. I found the outline of the tags I wanted on the wonderful site http://www.homemadegiftguru.com/gift-tag-templates.html. After finding the shape I wanted I used photoshop to create the spooky skeleton and the surrounding scrollwork. After plugging each item into a word document I was able to get the wording just right. The book labels I hand wrote out. On all of them I used the same process to age the paper. While there are a lot of sites that use a combination of burning and baking, I find that method not only a major fire hazard but stinky. I use a very simple process. First you make some tea using tea bags. You let the tea bags cool outside of the water (note that the more they cool or dry out the darker the color will become). I then cut the edges of the labels to look like it had been ripped or torn. I then sat down with my tea bags ready and dabbed each label until I got the desired color. To curl the paper or give the paper that aged crispness I used a hair dryer on the hot setting while the tags were still wet.

I then put all the items up on the bookcase and strung some very cheap spiderwebs across the front. With very little effort and whole bunch of creativity I was able to create a witch’s apothecary for under $20!

Amiens, France Pays Homage To Jules Verne

Monument located in Amiens, France pays homage to Jules Verne

Monument located in Amiens, France pays homage to Jules Verne

Amiens, city, capital of Somme département, Picardie région, principal city and ancient capital of Picardy, northern France, in the Somme River valley, north of Paris. Famed since the European Middle Ages are its textile industry and its great Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of the finest in France. Known as Samarobriva in pre-Roman times and capital of the Ambiani (whence the modern name), Amiens became a Roman city, Christianized in the 4th century by St. Firmin, its first bishop. Its territory became the medieval countship of Amiénois, and its citizens profited from rivalry between bishop and count to gain a charter early in the 12th century. The Peace of Amiens (1802) marked a short pause in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1914, after a brief incursion into the city, the invading Germans dug in 18 miles (29 km) east; their final drive in 1918 was stopped 8 miles (13 km) from the city. In World War II, Amiens was occupied by the Germans. After serious damage in both wars, the city centre was rebuilt.  It also happens to the location where Jules Verne spent the last years of his life.  In fact it is nearly impossible to separate Verne and Amiens.  Matter of fact, a simple internet search revealed there are 1,149 locations in Amiens dedicated to Jules Verne.  These include:

  • University of Picardie Jules Verne
  • Maison de Jules Verne
  • Centre International Jules Verne
  • Cirque Jules Verne
  • Brasserie Jules
  • Centre Educatif Jules Verne

So, take a drive through Amiens, France and see all there is to see about Jules Verne!

Jules Verne Takes Us On A Wild Ride



On June 30 (I am surprised with all of the nautical details that Verne is not better at the chronology of his book) Land impresses the crew and Aronnax when he harpoons two whales at the request of another ship. His prowess makes Aronnax believe that he will be successful in capturing the monster. The sailors remain drawn to the waters, driven by the lure of money. Aronnax says that he is not propelled by the chance of winning the two thousand dollars; he watches only out of his own curiosity. Ned Land, conversely, spends most of his time reading and sleeping in his cabin–this behavior outrages Aronnax.

Land believes the claims of those who have encountered the monster: it is invisible and unbelievably fast. He tells Aronnax that if they consider the monster’s past habits, it is very likely that he is far away from where there are–the sight of the last incident.

After three months of seeing no sign of the creature, the crew becomes discouraged and skeptical. They decide to return home. The captain asks for three more days. On the third day, Ned Land spots the creature.

In the water there was phosphorescence that had been described by many other people who encountered the creature. The monster continued to give off light. It was much faster than the ship and swam around it and under it. The captain, fearsome of risking his ship against an unidentifiable creature, decided not to attack it but to wait for morning.

Ned Land told the captain that the creature made the same sounds as whales, yet much louder. When the creature appeared again in the daylight, Aronnax was able to observe it more closely. The creature was black and 250 feet in length. The water shooting from the creature’s blowholes reached about 120 feet high.

At Land’s suggestion, the ship continued full steam ahead, hoping to get close enough for Land to harpoon it. Five hundred dollars was offered to the man who could shoot the beast. A three hundred mile chase ensued; the only shot to hit the creature bounced off, as though it was coated in an iron case.

The monster disappeared, then later reappeared. Ned Land was able to hit it with a harpoon causing two enormous columns of water to fall over the deck of the ship. The Abraham Lincoln rocked violently. Pierre Aronnax was thrown into the sea.

I did find myself, at this point becoming rather intrigued by Aronnax. He’s actually quite an aloof character but at the same time his excitement at seeing the creature is palpable.

Chapter challenge: chapters 7-10

Happy October First!


I Believe I Found My Flow Chart

Taschen book: geek love