Today I Learned …

The word PEZ (as in the candy dispenser) comes from the German word for peppermint — PfeffErminZ.

Spirits of Christmas — For Free!

I’m delighted to tell you guys that Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays, is now available through Biblioboard, one of several library apps. It’s available for free to anyone in Illinois — you don’t need a library card. Heck, you don’t even have to log in or create an account. With Biblioboard, there are no holds, no waiting, and you can access any book any time you like. Just visit www.inkie.org or library.biblioboard.com, and search for Spirits of Christmas. When the book cover pops up, click on it, and it will download instantly to your device. (Seriously. I tried it. It’s instantaneous.) So give yourself the gift of Christmas ghost stories, and get something to read while you’re waiting in line to buy your Christmas presents!

SoC

Inadvertently Humorous Cemetery Art

I’m one of those people who enjoy wandering around cemeteries. In particular, I love seeing how people choose to remember their loved ones, both in the stones they choose and in the more ephemeral decorations they leave at the grave site. Most of these tributes are wonderfully touching.

But sometimes, the artwork sends … a different message.

 

As I wandered around Mount Carmel cemetery a few weeks ago, I noticed a beautiful little mausoleum near the end of the row.

MtCarmelInHumArt1

If you walk closer, and peer inside the tomb, you can see a gorgeous piece of stained glass artwork at the back of the structure — a picture of Jesus as the Lamb of God.

mtcarmelinhumart2.jpg

I walked around the mausoleum, and discovered to my horrified delight that if you look at it from the opposite direction … it looks like Jesus has landed Himself in the slammer.

Just in Time for Halloween…

My husband is a complete skeptic. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, or things that go bump in the night. He doesn’t even believe in an afterlife.

But he loves me, and that’s what counts. And because he loves me, he got me a present during his last trip to Goodwill.

ouija

That’s right … my dear, sweet, loving husband bought his ghost-hunter wife a Ouija board. It appears to be a Parker Brothers throwback from the mid-1980s, with suggested questions on the box like “Will I star in my own music video?” and “Does Taylor like me?”

Oh, and it glows in the dark. 😀 (So, his reasoning went, I can use it on investigations even if we’re lights-out. Good thinking, love.)

I know my friends are going to be, in about equal measures, intrigued and appalled that I now own a Ouija board of my very own. (I myself am intrigued and appalled in about equal measures.)

 

But it glows in the dark.

 

That’s going to give me the giggles for weeks.

October’s the Month for Scary!

So last night, I bundled up a blanket, an afghan, a thermos of hot sweet tea, and some picnic snackies, and went down the street to lay on the grass and watch the meteor shower. I didn’t see any meteors, but I spent an enjoyable twenty minutes or so listening to the old-time radio episode presented by Ron’s Amazing Stories.

This podcast features the most highly regarded episode of the old-time radio series Quiet, Please. It is called The Thing on the Fourble Board. This story has led both fans and OTR experts to label the episode one of the best radio horror programs ever broadcast. Richard J. Hand of the University of Glamorgan notes that “The Thing on the Fourble Board” is not only cited as the finest example of radio horror but occasionally cited as one of the best examples of radio drama as a whole. RAS401-Thing-100819.mp3

Ron says, “An oil rig worker discovers an invisible creature of unknown origins living beneath the depths of the earth. What happens to this man is horrific, and the ending is absolutely brilliant. If you’re alone, turn the lights down low and listen. It will help get you into a Halloween mood.”

So, you guys want to know what’ll freak me out? I was wondering the same thing. Last night, I found out. After listening to “The Thing on the Fourble Board” at night, by myself, I was quite thoroughly creeped out. Thank you, Ron, for giving me such a deliciously spooky experience!

Thoughts on the Afterlife

So the other day, at the library, I was checking books in, and I came across a book by a doctor who had clinically died, visited the afterlife, and come back to tell the tale. My first thought was, hey cool, here we have an actual sciencey-type person who can back up our theories on the afterlife. That’s great!

And then, I thought, why do we NEED someone to back up our theories? I mean, I personally believe in an afterlife. I know many people do not, and that’s their own business. I happen to believe in an afterlife the same way I believe that if I drop an apple on the floor, it’s going to fall down, and not float off sideways.

But WHY do I believe this? Why do I, and sooooo many other people, believe that death is not the end? Just to play devil’s advocate here for a second, evidence of the paranormal can be faked. Pictures can be faked. Ghost voices can be faked. I can sit here and tell you that I saw a full-body apparition in my bedroom. You may believe me, you may not. But you only have my word for it. Am I telling the truth? Or am I making up stories to get attention? (Full disclosure, in case anyone’s keeping score: I have never ever ever faked evidence. Any story I tell, is true as far as I experienced it.)

Here’s the thing my mind dropped on me as I looked at the book by the scientist: maybe we believe in an afterlife because we have evolved to believe in an afterlife. In the same way we are unique on earth in having opposable thumbs, and we cry with emotion, and we’ve developed religion, maybe we have ghosts because we have evolved to have ghosts. Maybe the human spirit is SO unique and SO powerful, some of that psychic residue sort of hangs around after that particular organism has died. And sometimes, the lucky ones among those that are left behind can see or hear or sense that psychic residue.

And that means we are not alone.

Book News!

Hello to everyone out there in electron-land! I hope you’re about to kick off a great weekend.

For fans of Fractured Spirits, and those who are waiting oh-so-patiently (or not-so-patiently) for Fractured Souls, I have some news. Someone has already ordered a copy from Amazon — thank you! And I did get a big box of preorder copies to send out to all you wonderful people.

But! When the books arrived, I looked through them, and they had egregious printer’s errors in them. You guys trust me to bring you a quality reading experience, and … this was not it. I’ve contacted the publisher, and we are working hard to fix this, and get you good-looking copies of the book — the book you all deserve.

This means, though, that the copy currently up on Amazon is also … flawed. Again, I got in touch with the publisher, and he says that he can’t make that one an un-book — all he can do is put up a corrected copy when it’s all fixed. Again, as soon as the corrected copy is available, I’ll let you know, and you can then feel free to order from Amazon. (And hey, maybe if you’ve already ordered a wonky copy, it’ll be worth buttloads of money someday! You never know…)

Meanwhile, I have a special gift for you guys. In a couple of weeks, Lights Out will feature a sneak peek into one of the men’s cottages at the PSH, the building that will soon become the permanent home of the Peoria State Hospital Museum. So, enjoy the look into Cottage B1, and I promise to let you know as soon as GOOD copies of Fractured Souls become available. Now go out and get this weekend started!

Today I Learned …

In World War II, US heavy bomber pilots would make ice cream by strapping buckets of ice cream mix to their planes before missions. The cold and turbulence of the flight would churn the mix into ice cream, and by the time they landed, it would be done.

Here’s the rest of the story. During World War II on the island of Peleliu, a Marine squadron was getting really, really bored waiting for the Japanese to come out and fight. So what do you do when you’re bored and there’s no enemy action? You make chocolate ice cream. Naturally. According to Air and Space Magazine, “(Squadron commander) Reinburg, determined to raise morale on a humid tropical island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, had a plan. His maintenance crew cut the ends off an old belly-mounted drop tank, strung wire at both ends, and mounted an access panel to the side. Into this panel, secured by the wires, went a waterproof can that ordinarily stored .50-caliber bullets. And into that, the mess sergeant poured a mixture of canned milk and cocoa powder. Reinburg planned to ascend to high altitudes, where temperatures are well below freezing, and return with a gift for his men: five gallons of homemade chocolate ice cream.”

On the first flight, the ice cream didn’t freeze properly, as it was too close to the hot engine of the Corsair. For the second flight, they mounted two cans in a different place (which also, happily, doubled the amount of ice cream to ten gallons). This ice cream froze nicely, but it just wasn’t as smooth as the commander would have liked. (The men ate it anyway.)

On the third flight, the maintenance crew stuck a propeller in each of the ammo cans, to churn the ice cream. This time, it came out perfectly. Many B-17s used this setup on combat missions, and P-47s were also used in various theaters.

Base Commander Colonel Caleb Bailey called the squadron and told them he knew exactly what they were up to. “Listen, goddamnit, you guys aren’t fooling me. I’ve got spies. You tell [Reinburg] I’m coming over there tomorrow and get my ration.”

The Boy in the Basement, Part 2

It’s time for another episode of Lights Out! Return to the basement of the Pollak Hospital with me and my psychic medium friend, Diane Lash Lockhart, as we have another conversation with Chris, the young spirit there. Learn how Chris and his family celebrated the Fourth of July before the turn of the century, and enjoy the mental image of me stumbling through the steps of a ragtime dance. https://youtu.be/PIeFOq6_DZI

It’s Not Nice to Mess With Mother Nature

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted any stories about the shenanigans perpetrated by my neighbors, Belinda and Clothilde. But the shenanigans do continue. Oh my, do they ever.

As an example, let’s take a look at my garden path,in my back yard. The fence denotes Belinda’s back yard. The path, at this time of year, is usually green and verdant, as is the rest of the garden. But!

The first picture is what it looked like two weeks ago. The second picture was taken just four days later.

Grass should not be brown and sere in mid-May in Illinois, is what I’m saying. Not with the rain we’ve been having.

So I took pictures, and I wrote a letter. And yesterday, a very nice, attentive, concerned gentleman from the Agriculture Department came out and took soil samples and photographs, and his lab will be testing for illegal pesticide use. I’m figuring Belinda took things just a wee bit too far and sprayed RoundUp over her fence onto my garden.

My garden. Where I grow things to feed myself and my family.

Not cool, Belinda. Not cool.

Today I Learned …

The piggy bank is an important fixture of any child’s room — and in some grown-up’s rooms too. Why choose a pig to keep your stash safe? In the 13th to 15th centuries, one of the most common places for people to store their money was in jars of orange-colored clay called “pygg”. This eventually evolved into “pig” or “piggy”. Around the 19th century, manufacturers began molding banks into the shape of pigs.

Today I Learned …

Ever wonder why the South is known as Dixie? It’s all about the money, honey. In the mid-1850s, French was the most commonly spoken language in Louisiana. One of the Louisiana banks issued a $10 bill, stamped with DIX on the front and back — “dix” being the French word for “ten”. The bill soon became known as a Dixie.

Food For Thought

So I’ve been doing paranormal investigation for a while now. I’m always interested in refining my techniques past the Scooby-Doo stage. And I’m also interested in cross-training … adapting things from other areas for use in investigation.

The other day, I was working on a batch of bread. I’ve been baking for decades — I don’t think we ever bought a loaf of bread while I was growing up, it was always homemade. My parents taught me how to bake starting when I was, oh, eight years old or thereabouts. I made mistakes when starting out, like we all do. Heck, I’ve made bad bread as an adult. I’ve killed yeast, I’ve not put enough flour in … I’ve done all sorts of things to make a batch of bread turn out badly.

But I also know when a batch is going to turn out well. I can put my hands on a bowl of dough, and feel that it’s going to rise into a beautiful loaf. Also, I can put my hands on dough and tell that nope, this is a lost cause, it’s not going to rise worth a darn.

The batch I made the other day was great. I pulled the dough out of the bowl after the first rise, gave it a few kneads, and started to shape it into loaves. I could feel the vitality and energy of the yeast under my hands, yeast eager to help the bread rise into round, gorgeous loaves.

Then it hit me. Is this a variation of what mediums or other sensitives must feel when they go into a haunted place and sense that spirit energy? And could I learn to sense that energy too, the way I can sense energy in a good batch of bread dough?

Laugh at my simplicity if you want to, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. If you’re a sensitive, do you have any hints on how I could develop my gift, spare as it is? Do you think this idea has any validity, the idea that life energy is all around us, even down to the yeast in the bread we eat? Comment away!

bread

Today I Learned …

When archaeologists were restoring colonial Williamsburg, they were puzzled to find that a part of the site was packed with thousands upon thousands of chicken bones. After some research, they realized that in the 1700s, the midden, or garbage pit, had been the local hanging spot. The chicken bones were the remains of countless picnics enjoyed by audiences at the public executions.

Today I Learned …

How do you make a proper cup of tea with milk? Do you brew the tea first, then add the milk, or do you put a bit of milk in the cup and then pour in the tea? The Queen of England prefers to fill the cup with tea, then add milk to the preferred amount. (For the record, so do I.) But it turns out there’s a reason she does it in this order. According the the British news site Express, “In the 18th century, English potter Josiah Spode decided china tea cups should be made using animal bone to ensure they didn’t crack under intense heat. From then on, Royals and the elite would pour the tea in first to celebrate their expensive china and demonstrate status, whilst people of lower classes would have to keep putting milk in first to stop their cheaper crockery from cracking.”

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 9: Io Saturnalia!

It’s interesting that all of these wonderful festivals of light — Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia — happen in the darkest time of the year. It’s as if our ancestors realized that everyone needs a good pick-me-up when the days are short and the nights are long, and cold.

As for me, I’ve started celebrating the Winter Solstice, which this year, falls on December 21, which is today. I find it a good time to reflect in the year that’s just passed, and to make plans for the coming year. Plus I have an excuse to have a bonfire in the backyard in the middle of winter, so I’ve got that going for me.

I’ve already stopped at the Christmas tree stand in town and picked up a tree end for a Yule log. And I’ve started to plan the refreshments for my celebration. (It’s just going to be me out there, I’m sure, but hey, if you’re going to celebrate, I feel you should do it up right.)

One of the things I’m planning on is this lovely festive braided bread. Note: the pictures are from the recipe I got out of the newspaper, which called for Nutella as the filling. For Solstice, I’m going to use apricot jam for the filling, as that just reminds me of sunlight and warmth.)

You’ll need: 3 or 4 cans of crescent roll dough, at room temperature; 2/3 c Nutella (or apricot jam); 1 1/2 t cinnamon; 1/2 c mini chocolate chips; 1/4 c powdered sugar; 1 T milk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the Nutella and cinnamon (or just plop some apricot jam in a bowl and stir it to get it to spreadiness. You could also probably sprinkle some cinnamon into the apricot jam, because why not?).

Form each can of crescent roll dough into a ball. Place on a lightly-floured board and roll into a circle. (If dough shrinks up, let rest 15 minutes.)

Place one dough circle on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently spread one-third (or one-half, if using three dough circles) of the chocolate mixture over the dough, going up to 1/2 inch of the edge; sprinkle with one-third (or one-half) of the chocolate chips. Place another dough round on top, and repeat the process. End with a dough circle on top.

Now comes the fun part. Put a small glass in the middle, and make cuts all around the edges of the dough. It helps to make four cuts at east, west, north, and south, then cut each of those in half, and each of THOSE in half, until you have sixteen sections.

Saturnalia2

 

Remove the glass. Take two sections that are next to each other and twist away from each other two times, then pinch ends to seal. Repeat with remaining pairs of triangles.

Saturnalia3It will look really cool when you’re done, I promise. Here’s the one I made today:

Saturnalia1The directions say to bake for 40 minutes, but this was smelling and looking done at 30 minutes, so keep a good eye on it. When it’s done, make drizzle frosting with the powdered sugar and milk, and slather it on there so it looks pretty. And you’re done!

Saturnalia4I made this one for a holiday get-together. I can’t wait to make one for Solstice (or Saturnalia, because I’m a Classics dork from WAY back) with apricot filling. If you’re lucky, I’ll even share!

And here’s a little something extra: a link to the Christmas show I did with Jim Harold, host of Ghost Insight. Enjoy! https://jimharold.com/category/the-paranormal-podcast/

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well here’s something interesting …

You guys know I’m always on the lookout for weird and strange facts. And we’ve talked before about how Christmas, in Victorian times, was kind of a mashup of Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Mardi Gras.

But did you know that Thanksgiving, too, was once an excuse for people to dress up and go door to door? And that this happened as late as the turn of the twentieth century?

Here’s an interesting article — and old photographs! — from the good folks over at The Lineup. Check it out! https://the-line-up.com/thanksgiving-maskers

Why I Keep Writing

This past weekend found me at Pekin’s Marigold Festival, enjoying the end of summer and watching the parade of people come past my booth. Some of them even stopped in to chat. That’s always my favorite part of the festival.

I’ll keep writing books as long as people want to keep reading them, of course. But every so often, I’m reminded of why I do what I do. Having someone come up to me and say, “Okay, I’ve read this one, this one, and … yeah, this one too. What have you got that’s new?” That’s a really powerful incentive to keep coming up with new books — and new ideas.

One woman came by with her young son. The kid was a bit distracted, running his fingers along the table and not making much eye contact. The mom bought the new book for the kid, and I happily signed it for him. She said, “Your books are the only ones he’ll read cover to cover.” Way cool!

Later in the weekend, another woman came up to the booth, and bought a book — this wasn’t her first experience with my books either. She confided to me that she has fibromyalgia. “Your stories just flow so beautifully; they really carry me along as I’m reading. Your book was the first one in years I’ve been able to sit with and read.” (I believe she was talking abut 44 Years in Darkness, if you’re interested in what title captivated her attention like that.)

It is such an honor to be able to touch people’s lives, and it’s a joy when they come up to me and tell me! Thanks for letting me share my tales with you all.