Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep…and other miscellaneous end of year stuff


New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke.  Every first of January we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2015?  Here's a list of several such resolutions.  I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered.  If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1.  Gain Weight.  Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks.

2.  Go Deeper Into Debt.  You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping.  After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3.  Spend More Money.  This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list.  Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4.  Don't Get A Better Job.  Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5.  Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine.  Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6.  Don't Go Back To School.  Look at your current life and time schedule.  Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new 80-inch HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks.  Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7.  Drink More Alcohol.  Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new 80-inch HDTV.

8.  Smoke Like A Chimney.  When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9.  Stay At Home for your vacation.  If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10.  Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.
 Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses.  Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason.  Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status.  At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem.  Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts.  It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover.  According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin.  And what are congeners, you might ask?  They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic.  They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste.  They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :)  And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning.  According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges.  The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail).  The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover.  The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Wishing everyone a happy AND SAFE New Year's Eve and a marvelous New Year.  May 2015 bring you happiness and health.

And Peace On Earth for everyone.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter.  They rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January.  In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire.  The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday.  Germans were terrified of Odin.  They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month.  It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink.  For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city.  Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.  In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday.  The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth.  Pope Julius I chose December 25.  The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.  By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion.  Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe.  In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence.  As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas.  When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell.  As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America.  In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston.  In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles).  Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany.  Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree.  Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season.  Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol.  Today's tinsel is made of PVC.  Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season.  And most of all—PEACE OF EARTH.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas
Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick's Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.
 A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, When Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and PEACE ON EARTH.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker


It's just a little over two weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a Christmas romance eBook available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an erotic Christmas romance novella at The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedule.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting, just like every year—the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I give him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced the previous April and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, especially when the personal is pleasure.

Parker:  My marriage had fallen apart a year before I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…was very leery about trying it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from priority to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.

***

OPEN IN PRIVATE an erotic Christmas romance by Samantha Gentry from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press) http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/wildcatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=182&products_id=955
Also available at Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook as well as other online vendors of eBooks.

BLURB:
As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."

***

Be sure to check out my website for more excerpts from OPEN IN PRIVATE and information about my other books.  www.samanthagentry.com

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Peace On Earth.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Infamous Black Friday Shopping Day

What in the world has happened to our sacred Black Friday shopping day?  To the tradition that signaled the beginning of the Christmas shopping season?

Thanksgiving has come and gone and so has the infamous Black Friday shopping day—the day THEY say marks the moment retailers have covered their expenses for the balance of the year and are operating totally in the black with everything being profit.  Or at least that's what it originally meant…in days gone by.

Since U.S. Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November, for the majority of people that equates to a Thursday through Sunday four day holiday weekend.  In the past, the long holiday weekend has marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season…commencing Friday morning.  It also signaled the time to put away the Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations and drag out the Christmas decorations and gift wrapping paper while turning our thinking to the jolly ho-ho-ho mode.

Originally (many years ago in the dark ages), the Friday after Thanksgiving had several stores opening a few hours early (like 7 or 8AM) with some items on sale to draw in the shoppers in order to take advantage of the situation where so many people had that Friday off work as part of a four day holiday weekend.  The big sales were the after Christmas sales commencing first thing the morning of December 26th where retailers wanted to get rid of any and all leftover inventory from Christmas and start out the new year with fresh merchandise.

But it seems that everything is different now.  Somewhere along the line Black Friday has become an almost bizarre ritual with all the trappings of an event type of happening.

Rather than stores opening a couple of hours earlier on Friday morning than normal as it used to be, each year for the last few years they are opening earlier and earlier.  People waiting in line outside for hours in the cold so they could be the first ones to rush inside the moment the doors were unlocked at 3:00AM.  Television news crews would do live reports on Thursday night from some of the larger stores showing hundreds of people with their lawn chairs, sleeping bags, and some even had tents.  Earlier in the evening it's a party type of atmosphere.  By the time the store unlocks the doors, it's a lot of very cold and tired people all trying to crowd through the door at the same time.  I suspect they want inside from the cold as much as to make that race to their desired bargain.

Then that earlier and earlier Friday morning unlock the doors time became midnight Thursday and finally any pretense of being closed on Thursday for the holiday officially disappeared.  Some stores opened at 5PM Thanksgiving (giving employees a few hours to have dinner with family) while others opened Thursday morning and stayed open continuously through Friday night.

Stores being open on Thanksgiving day and evening this year has produced an unexpected result.  The local 6AM television news Friday morning did a live report from a couple of the large stores, in the past very crowded at that hour with the early morning Black Friday shoppers.  This year's early Friday morning shoppers were greatly reduced in numbers although the shoppers crowded the stores Thursday evening.  Some stores advertised additional bargain prices starting at 7AM on Friday morning to make sure shoppers from Thursday would have a reason to come back on Friday.

Black Friday starting on Thursday morning—once it happens, it becomes tradition.

In recent years, the biggest competition to Black Friday bargains has been the internet and it's growing every year.  Shopping via computer rather than actually getting in the car and driving to the mall has been growing by leaps and bounds.  In fact, the Monday following Thanksgiving is now referred to as Cyber Monday and Green Monday.  And so many internet shopping sites offer the same Black Friday bargains as their brick and mortar stores, including additional incentives such as free shipping or being able to pick up your order at the local store instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

No standing in line for hours in the cold in the middle of the night.  Those same bargains are now only a mouse click away.  You get a good night's sleep and Black Friday is available for pursuits other than elbowing your way through throngs of holiday shoppers.

So, who braved the weather, lost sleep, and jostled your way through crowds to snag those bargain prices this year for no reason other than being able to take your purchase with you when you left the store?  And how many of you have now completed your holiday shopping?

And speaking of holiday shopping…how many of you noticed how early all things Christmas were out and on display this year?  I encountered Christmas items prominently displayed and Christmas promotions before Halloween.  Some as early as in September.  And I'm already hearing Christmas music on the radio.  Not to mention that the Hallmark cable movie channel started showing only Christmas movies early in November.  :)

How many of you preferred to stay home on Black Friday and enjoy all those Thanksgiving dinner leftovers while watching football?

And now I have a confession.  I did venture out to a store on Black Friday about 8:30AM, but not for holiday shopping.  I had to go to the office supply store because I was out of printer ink.  Only a few people at Office Max.  However, four doors north of the office supply store, Kohl's had a very full parking lot.

So…onward toward the Christmas and New Year holidays, followed by the retraining period to get back into a normal routine after three major holidays in less than six weeks.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Those Naughty Pilgrims

With Thanksgiving comes thoughts of the pilgrims taking up residence in the new world, landing at Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  The pious pilgrims certainly have a reputation for being a rigid and humorless group.  But there are a few surprises to be found.  Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink by men, women, and children.  The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual.  Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances.  They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple.  It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions.  Studies also discovered that in 11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was already pregnant.  The same study estimates that as many as 50% of the pilgrims engaged in premarital sex.  Definitely not an image that fits the staid pilgrims.

But what about the actions and activities of those naughty pilgrims?  As with so much in life, there's the fa├žade and then there's the underlying reality.

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe.  They tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time in history.  As time passed, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws and clearly demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith."  The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws (a biblical source that definitely predated Christianity rather than reflecting it).  Adultery?  Death.  A man has sex with his daughter-in-law?  Death.  Sodomy?  Death.  Bestiality?  Death.  Are you beginning to see a pattern?  :)

But interestingly, the pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses.  There was only one case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes.  It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the peak of his raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony.  The prim women weren't always so pious either.  Women were often caught since the evidence of their dalliances were babies.  The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another.  Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing.  Pre-marital sex was severely punished.  Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a lascivious carriage in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines.  If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing.  The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch.  Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell.  Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man.  Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations.  In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery.  William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment.  Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress.  (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!)  However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished.  Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage.  The pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations."  Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a pilgrim.  :)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thanksgiving Myths and Facts


We all know the often told story of how the pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom and finally settled in the New World at Plymouth in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  And how in 1621 they invited the local natives to share a dinner with them in order to give thanks for a successful harvest and surviving their first year.

From those humble beginnings have come many facts and just as many myths about the pilgrims and our Thanksgiving holiday.

I have some Mayflower myths to share with you, followed by some Thanksgiving facts.  And next week…those naughty pilgrims.

Myth:  The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact:  The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition.  In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday.  That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth:  The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact:  The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, a decision fraught with controversy.  The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth:  The pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact:  Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century.  Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.

Here's a list of facts that could be called Thanksgiving-by-the-numbers.

3,000—the number of calories eaten during an average Thanksgiving meal.

12,000,000—the number of whole turkeys Butterball sells for Thanksgiving.

2,000 - 3,000—the number of people used to guide the balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

214—the average number of miles driven for the family get together at Thanksgiving.

1939—the date the Great Thanksgiving Day calendar controversy began (when FDR declared the fourth Thursday of November to be the official date of Thanksgiving).

23.3—the percentage of Black Friday shoppers who arrive at stores before five o'clock in the morning.

40,000,000—the number of green bean casseroles made for Thanksgiving dinner.

72,000,000—the number of cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce sold for Thanksgiving dinner.

Next week I'll contradict the belief that the pilgrims embodied the very soul of purity and piety.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

9 DANGEROUS SCIENTIFIC WORK LOCATIONS

researcher working in tree canopy
I read an article a couple of months ago about scientists who work on location rather than in a lab…the ones whose labs are out there, in dangerous places and situations where most of us would never go.

So, in no particular order, here are 9 of these dangerous scientific work locations.

1)  Inside Volcanoes
When you think of geologists your first thought is usually the study of rocks and various landforms, something safe and basically stable. But for the branch of this particular science known as volcanology, things are definitely less stable and a certainly a little hotter. Having been to Mt. St. Helens, Washington, a few years after the explosive eruption and viewing the devastation first hand, I'm very familiar with the story of David Johnston, the 30 year old volcanologist who was on duty at the time and was 1 of the 57 people who died in the eruption. Volcanologists study the intense heat and chaos inside active volcanoes. Recently a team of three researchers descended inside the Marum Volcano on Ambrym Island off the coast of Australia to study lava flows inside. Wearing a heat-resistant suit, one of them descended 1200 feet into the volcano’s crater to capture video footage of the lava’s movement. Normally, scientists use robotic cameras mounted to small helicopters to do this extremely dangerous work.

2) Tornado Country
The movie Twister gave us a good look at what storm chasers do, and those who live in the part of the U.S. referred to as Tornado Alley see the results of their work on the news when the storm conditions are present that produce tornadoes. Collecting data on storms is a tough process. Getting close to a tornado is risky on a good day, and self-proclaimed storm chasers run that risk all the time. Even with such advanced technology as Doppler radar giving us the overall picture of a severe storm, some scientists claim there is some data that can only be gathered at ground level. One of the most noted tornado researchers, Tim Samaras, routinely drove in front of tornadoes to place cameras and pressure sensors to record the velocities of objects swept up by the storm. Unfortunately, in 2013 Samaras, his son and another storm chaser died in an Oklahoma tornado.

3) Biosafety Level 4 Labs
Laboratories that deal with germs and diseases that can be dangerous or fatal to humans are given a biosafety rating from 1 to 4. Facilities that deal with Level 4 are where the really bad stuff happens. One of the most notable is the integrated research facility located at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The laboratory is housed in a nondescript three-story office building—an airtight, pressurized environment restricted to only 30 researchers. The germs they work include epidemic diseases like Ebola. The facility has airlocks that separate it from the outside world and anything that leads outside the building, such as light fixtures or electrical outlets, is sealed in epoxy to prevent even a single germ from escaping. Scientists are given a seven-minute showering with virus-killing chemicals before they leave.

4)  Underwater Caves
The ocean is a massive mystery to humanity, covering the majority of the Earth’s surface. Even though it's part of our planet, we seem to know more about outer space than we do the depths of our oceans. One of the most interesting areas under the ocean's surface are what are known as blue holes, underwater caves that can reach as deep as 600 feet below sea level. These caves have difficult topography. They vary in size from massive, sprawling caverns to holes barely big enough to admit a human. Diving there can be very dangerous with unpredictable currents. Despite the dangers, scientific rewards are huge with both biological and archaeological finds waiting to be discovered.

5)  Tree Canopies
Forest ecosystems are made up of distinct layers, each with its own climate and variety of plants and animals. It’s a simple task to study the layers nearest the ground, but botanists have lots of questions about what’s happening up above. And that’s where canopy research comes in. Scientists at Humboldt State University climb to the top of trees that can exceed 350 feet in height, anchoring their bodies to the trunk. From that risky perch they can observe the canopy ecosystem…as long as they don't lose their balance. At the top of the trees, researchers have discovered a whole ecosystem of moss, lichens, and even whole new trees and bushes growing from dead stumps.

6)  Amundsen-Scott Station
Originally built by the United States government in 1956, the Amundsen-Scott Station sits squarely on the south pole. With temperatures ranging from minus 13.6 degrees Celsius (minus 56.48 Fahrenheit) on a nice day to minus 82.8 degrees Celsius (minus 181.04 Fahrenheit) when winter is in high gear, it’s one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet. Even though blizzards and intense winds are common, astronomers spend months at the station because the six months of total darkness during winter makes Amundsen-Scott a perfect place to observe the night sky. Other researchers study the movements of the Antarctic ice sheet—the station itself moves about 33 feet a year as the ice drifts.

7)  Aquarius Lab
Operated by the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration, this deep-sea science station comes with a little twist. The human body is only capable of staying underwater for a short period at a time because decompression sickness (commonly referred to as the bends) can cause incredible damage when gas bubbles form and disrupt tissue. Some scientists have long-term research projects that need to happen in deep water, so they do it at the Aquarius Lab. This facility rests on the sea floor outside of Key Largo, Florida at a depth of 50 feet. Researchers spend up to 10 days underwater at a time, studying the nearby coral reefs.

8)  Inside Hurricanes
Here’s another meteorological condition where some scientists like to get a little too close. The National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration employs a number of flight meteorologists who take airplanes into the eyes of hurricanes to gather data on the storm’s strength and direction. They use two planes—one is a Gulfstream G-4 that has the easy job of circling the storm’s funnel, the second is a smaller propeller plane that actually penetrates the fast-moving wind to fly right to the eye of the storm. In addition to using Doppler radar on the plane’s tail, they also release a device that transmits pressure and humidity data.

9)  Outer Space
And finally…there is literally no environment as hostile to the human body as the vacuum of space. Long-term weightlessness has negative effects on muscle tone, bone density and the immune system. Exposure to radiation in low-earth orbit comes at levels 10 times higher than the normal dose on the Earth’s surface. And there’s also the fact that outer space doesn’t have any of that oxygen stuff our bodies need to function. Experimentation in outer space has led to a number of fascinating discoveries in fields as diverse as astronomy and cancer medicine.

And there you have a sampling of dangerous locations some scientists refer to as their lab (minus those white lab coats, of course).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fifty-four Years After Emily Post


Four years ago, I did a blog commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of etiquette expert Emily Post.  On that anniversary, Vanity Fair polled 18 – 44 year-olds and found that forty percent of those queried had no idea who Emily Post was or why she was famous.

Emily Post would have turned 142 years old last week, so I'd like to do a bit of an update on that blog.  She was born on October 27, 1872, in Baltimore, Maryland.  At the time she was growing up, well-bred women were discouraged from working. By becoming the nation’s expert on manners as well as a self-made career woman with books, a syndicated newspaper column, and a network radio program, she defied the dictates of that time.

Society has changed quite a bit in the fifty-four years since her death.  So, how relevant are Emily Post's etiquette rules to modern life in today's fast paced society of five second sound bites, social media, and instant global communication?

Some of the topics she covered in her 1922 book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, seem totally irrelevant today.  Subjects such as one of my favorites—how to keep your fan, gloves, and napkin on your lap at fancy dinner parties.  That skill has always been a stumbling block for me at the many fancy dinner parties I routinely attend, especially those fancy/formal occasions held in those many appropriate venues that are NOT air conditioned thus requiring that I carry my folding fan.  :)  Some of her other advice, however, is still relevant today.

Fashion:  While her advice for men is no longer relevant—she recommended suits for everywhere and all occasions except what she referred to as "the country."  When on a country outing, breeches and polished leather riding boots were acceptable.  Her thoughts on female style are, thankfully, a little more relevant.  She said most women were fashion sheep, that they should take trends and personalize them.

Conversational Skills:  This is something that seems to be eroding in today's society of instant communication consisting of 140 characters on Twitter.  After you dismiss all the complicated stuff about when to doff a hat or curtsy, a lot of her advice is still common sense today.  Things such as—will what you have to say be interesting to those around you, don't repeat yourself, let other people talk, and don't pretend to know more than you do.

At a Live Performance:  Her book has lots of advice about things like how to dress and whether it's acceptable for a woman to attend with a man who is not her husband.  Keep in mind that by "live performance" she was referring to the theater, opera, or the symphony.  Rock concerts in massive arenas were still a long way off.  Her two biggest rules are one hundred percent relevant today—shut up and be on time!  And I'm sure in today's society she would have added turning off your cell phone.

Introductions:  She apparently loved all the formalities of meeting new people, presenting calling cards, and how to properly address each other.  In today's society it's very common for people to know each other even without having been properly introduced face-to-face.  We're friends on Facebook, I saw your video on YouTube, I read your tweet.  I imagine that would have thrown Emily into quite a tizzy.  :)

Mustn't:  Emily Post had lots of mustn'ts.  Here are a couple of examples.  "A lady mustn't carry a bundle of anything on the streets, but if she has to, a man must carry it for her."  She apparently didn't have a rule covering what to do if it was imperative to move that bundle from one place to another and you didn't have a man available to carry it.  "If a man doesn't enjoy the conversation a lady has offered, a woman mustn't be offended, but rather keep fishing for topics he might find agreeable."  This sort of reminds me of that magazine article from the mid 1950s about how to be a good wife.  Definitely advice to make today's woman cringe.  What if she doesn't enjoy the conversation a man offered?  :)

Houses:  Her advice in this area seems the most outdated and indicates that her advice was apparently a luxury for the wealthy.  She advised that a house must have servants on hand to collect a visitor's things when they visit.

It's easy to make fun of etiquette rules published ninety-two years ago, but Emily Post's most basic rule is as necessary today as it was back then.  "Never do anything that is unpleasant to others."

Here are four more of Emily's thoughts on etiquette (and I'm sure she would cringe at my informal use of her first name when we had never even met let alone been friends):

1. "Never interlard your conversation with foreign words or phrases when you can possibly translate them into English; and the occasions when our mother tongue will not serve are extremely rare."

We all know someone who casually throws around the foreign phrases as an affectation we find very annoying.

2. "Who does not dislike a 'boneless' hand extended as though it were a spray of sea-weed, or a miniature boiled pudding? It is equally annoying to have one’s hand clutched aloft in grotesque affectation and shaken violently sideways, as though it were being used to clean a spot out of the atmosphere. What woman does not wince at the vise-like grasp that cuts her rings into her flesh and temporarily paralyzes every finger?”

A limp, dead fish handshake is definitely bad news.  Also beware of the handshake ball (a gathering where everyone is constantly shaking hands with everyone else).  That gets real old real soon.

3. "Lack of consideration for those who in any capacity serve you, is always an evidence of ill-breeding, as well as of inexcusable selfishness."

This includes such things as the man who yells at the taxi driver or the woman who brusquely dismisses a waiter or waitress as a nobody.  In Emily Post’s eyes, that type of action labels the person as definite low life and still applies 100% today.  Don’t be that person.

4. "Life, whether social or business, is a bank in which you deposit certain funds of character, intellect and heart; or other funds of egotism, hard-heartedness and unconcern; or deposit—nothing! And the bank honors your deposit, and no more. In other words, you can draw nothing out but what you have put in."

Many of the world’s most successful people are simply committed to service.  Figure out what you want from the world.  If you expect to get it, be prepared to first give it.

And that, for Emily Post's 142nd birthday, is Emily updated.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10 Halloween Superstitions


Superstitions flourish in all countries and all cultures.  Some of the origins are so obscured by time that no one knows when, how or why they came into being.  Friday the 13th always brings out superstitions and the rituals used to thwart them.

And then there's Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

Here's a list of ten superstitions that seem to apply specifically to Halloween.

1)  If a candle goes out on its own on Halloween, it is thought a ghost has come to call.

2)  A burning candle inside of a Jack-o-lantern on Halloween keeps evil spirits at bay.

3)  You invite bad luck into your home if you allow a fire to burn out on Halloween.

4)  A person born on Halloween can both see and talk to spirits.

5)  Seeing a spider on Halloween could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.

6)  If you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween, don't look back because it could be the dead following.

7)  Don't look at your shadow in moonlight on Halloween night.  Otherwise, you will die within a short period of time.

8)  If a bat flies around a house three times, it is a death omen.

9)  Ringing a bell on Halloween will scare evil spirits away.

10)  A bat that enters a home may have been let in by a ghost.

Do you have any superstitions that apply to Halloween?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Most Haunted Cities in America


With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to occasionally dwell on ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.  For the third of this year's four Halloween blogs, I'm talking about America's most haunted cities.

There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order.  Here's one list of 10 cities that recently came to my attention.

10)    Portland, Oregon:  Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest.  It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the participants refuse to leave.  One of the most famous…or more accurately, infamous…historical haunts are the Shanghai Tunnels.  We've all heard the expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning to be abducted.  This is where it originated.  In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members.  Local middlemen drugged pub goers, dropped the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held captive until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each.  These ships were quite often headed for China, thus the term being Shanghaied.  Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels.  Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.

9)      San Francisco, California:  A city of many haunted locations and happenings.  One of the most interesting is Alcatraz.  The island was a military prison during the Civil War.  It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good.  Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways.  Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz.  Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.

8)      Chicago, Illinois:  Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.  Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground.  There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity.  Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery.  She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.

7)      Charleston, South Carolina:  The downtown area known as The Battery was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War.  The area is known for its ghost stories.  The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings.  The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso.  The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for reasons unknown, jumped off the roof and killed himself.  The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War.  There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.

6)      St. Augustine, Florida:  The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement on our shores, dating back to its founding in 1565.  Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon.  The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build.  Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported.  It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.

5)      San Antonio, Texas:  The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas.  Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793.  It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years.  On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission.  The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation.  Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.

4)      New Orleans, Louisiana:  With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city.  Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country.  New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings.  Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still in service cemetery has been the setting for many Haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome.  But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.

3)      Salem, Massachusetts:  This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities.  Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there.  It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.

2)      Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:  The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted in fifty-one thousand casualties.  It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity.  Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee.  In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.

1)      Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology.  The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground and also the site of the Civil War capture of General Sherman.  Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that all of these cities offer ghost tours.  Have any of you ever had any first hand experience with hauntings?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

9 Lessons Learned From Horror Movies


My blog last week was about classic horror movies for the Halloween season. This week I'm talking about the lessons we can learn from those movies.

In addition to fun and entertainment, all sorts of valuable tidbits of information can be garnered from horror movies—especially important lessons about ghosts, monsters, and evil things lurking in the shadows. Those mysterious things that go bump in the night.

Here are 9 important lessons Halloween movies have taught us.

9)  When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.

8)  If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination with blood, glowing eyes, or increasing hairiness, get away from them as fast as possible.

7)  Do not search the basement, especially if the power has just gone out (even if it seems to have been knocked out as the result of a storm).

6)  If appliances start operating by themselves, move out.

5)  Stay away from certain geographic locations such as: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog, the Bermuda Triangle…or any small town in Maine.

4)  If your children speak to you in a language they should not know or if they speak to you using a voice not their own, be afraid…be very afraid.

3)  When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER pair off or worse yet go it alone when searching the spooky old mansion for the source of the strange noises.

2)  As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to hell.

And last, but not least…

1)  If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it.  Take the hint and stay away!
And have a Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Classic Horror Movies For The Halloween Season


A thought struck me the other day.  It was not anything earth shattering nor a profound realization, but a thought none-the-less.  I haven't seen much in the way of promo on television for the October theatrical horror movie releases typical of the Halloween season.  Did Hollywood run out of ideas for this year's tribute to the spooky, macabre, and gruesome?

And, as if I just spoke/wrote too soon about the lack of new horror-type movies this Halloween, there's a movie trailer on television right now for a new film opening this Friday titled Dracula Untold, complete with big time special effects.

What happened to the scary horror movies from the past that traded on the atmosphere of fear rather than the visual of spurting blood and flying body parts?  The tingling sensation that made the hair stand on the back of our necks and gives us goose bumps on our arms as our imaginations ran amuck.  The spooky ground fog that slithers over and around the tombstones, cloaking the cemetery in an eerie silence.

I'm talking about the traditional horror classics like Frankenstein from 1931 with Boris Karloff's brilliant performance as the monster.  Also from 1931, Dracula with Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the vampire as both elegant and mesmerizing which properly left the horror to the imagination of the viewer.  In 1932, Boris Karloff gave us another classic monster character with The Mummy.  Then came 1941's The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., as the stricken Larry Talbot.

True to Hollywood tradition, these classic horror movies spawned numerous sequels—Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter.  And as long as Hollywood was on a roll, they added to the profit factor by capitalizing on the popularity of the characters by having them co-star in such movies as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  Then there were the myriad remakes that came over the ensuing years, some serious attempts and others totally ludicrous.  Each one pushed the envelope in its own way in order to hopefully make it better (as in more box office dollars) than its predecessor.

With all four of these original movies, the remakes never really captured the essence of the originals…in my humble opinion.  Of course, the remakes from the last approximately 20 years (and most certainly those much newer) had super special effects, but the original fear factor was missing…that internal emotional quality that can't be conveyed by special effects.

The award for the most remakes, versions, and variations over the years goes to Dracula.  Some were serious films and others were more on the ridiculous side with titles such as Dracula's Dog.  Even Sesame Street has adapted the character in Muppet form with The Count, and General Mills manufacturers Count Chocula breakfast cereal (along with Franken Berry).

Each October Turner Classic Movies cable channel airs a selection of movies featuring horror, monsters, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other creatures that go bump in the night to celebrate Halloween.  October 2014 is Thursday Night Ghosts featuring a classic array of phantoms, apparitions, spooks and specters.  They've broken them down into 5 categories—Unfinished Business, Supernatural Romance, Ghost Comedies, Gothic Ghosts, and Haunted Houses.

And in addition to the Halloween fare sprinkled throughout the month of October, this year their 24 hours of horror for Halloween starts at 6:00AM (Eastern time) on Friday, October 31st, and includes:  London After Dark (1927), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), The Devil Doll (1936), I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Cat People (1942), The Tingler (1959), Spine Tingle! The William Castle Story (2007), Dementia 13 (1963), Carnival Of Souls (1962), Repulsion (1965), Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Curse Of The Demon (1958), House Of Wax (1953), Poltergeist (1982), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Eyes Without A Face (1959).

And that should be enough to satisfy anyone's need for a horror fix until the next time we come up against a dark and stormy night…

Sunday, September 28, 2014

MURDER AT THE MUSEUM—For Real Or Just A Game

Metropolitan Museum of Art--New York City
Murder At The Museum—it sounds like the title of a movie, a play, a television show…perhaps even an exciting book.

Or could it possibly be an interactive murder mystery game or murder scavenger hunt played by real people in a real museum?

I've participated in interactive murder mystery games with various themes and locations.  One of them was a three day event starting in Chicago, moving onto a train, and ending in New York City.  Many such events are held in historic old hotels, quite often purported to be haunted, where the atmosphere and surroundings fit the activity. They were all fun activities that I thoroughly enjoyed.

And because of my experience with that, an article I saw a couple of years ago really caught my attention.  It was about a company that organizes murder mystery games and scavenger hunts.  There are several companies that stage these type of events, but this one is a little different.  Their venues consist of major museums in large cities with the characters and clues relating to that museum's specific collections.  The article talked specifically about a murder mystery adventure scavenger hunt that took place inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—not exactly a small, out of the way museum.

The storyline for the particular adventure mentioned in the article has an assistant museum curator questioning the authenticity of a Leonardo da Vinci painting the museum is about to acquire.  He is murdered, but before he dies he leaves a code on his appointment calendar [a tip of the hat to The Da Vinci Code? :) ] in addition to cryptic clues connected to secrets hidden in and on specific works of art in the museum…clues that point to the identify of the killer.  The participants are given 4 suspects (the chief curator who is about to announce the acquisition of the Da Vinci painting, a multi-millionaire who put up most of the purchase money, the wife of the dead assistant curator, and an art dealer who specializes in Old Master paintings) and need to determine the killer and the killer's motive.

For this particular game, there were 40 people who paid the fee to participate in the museum murder mystery.  They are split up into 10 teams and given 22 questions linked to 22 works of art in the museum.  They're given directions and a map of the museum's galleries.  A traditional scavenger hunt has the players going from house to house collecting specific items on a list provided to them such as a potato peeler or a red pen.  But with the museum game the teams are collecting 22 bits of information about specific pieces of art that answers the questions given them.

Each team headed in a different direction, moving in and out of the numerous galleries in a 2 hour competitive hunt.  The clues and questions are tailored specifically to the museum's collections.  That game storyline can be used in any number of museums with questions and clues changed to fit that museum's collections.

Those participating in the event at the Met all agreed that in addition to being fun, it was very educational.  Those playing the game didn't need a knowledge of art to be involved and they all agreed that they learned several things during the course of the game.

With the success of the museum murder mysteries, the company has recently expanded their menu to include a scavenger hunt for Harry Potter lovers and history themed scavenger hunts in historic locations such as Salem, Massachusetts.

As I said many paragraphs ago, I've participated in several interactive murder mystery games and thoroughly enjoyed them.  And the idea of a scavenger hunt and/or murder mystery game in a major art museum or historic location sounds like a truly fun time.

Have any of you ever been involved in one of these?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remakes Of Successful TV Series

With the start of the fall television season (at least the start for shows on the broadcast networks), I thought it might be a good time to look at the shows the television industry has presented over the years that have been remakes of previously successful series.  I guess it's the concept of if it worked once it obviously will work again.

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two primary reasons.

1)  The network has a current hit and wants to capitalize on that popularity by creating a spinoff.

Spinoffs have long been a popular and successful (for the most part) tactic for the networks.  Some shows have been so finely crafted that they were the genesis of several spinoffs. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY gave us THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, and GOOD TIMES. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW gave us LOU GRANT, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And we can't overlook the entire LAW AND ORDER franchise, L&O SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and L&O CRIMINAL INTENT.  Then there's the highly successful CSI franchise that included CSI MIAMI and CSI NEW YORK.  And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS LA and this season the new NCIS NEW ORLEANS.  And, of course, we can't overlook the highly successful STAR TREK franchise…the original TV series (three seasons 1966-1969) was very low in the ratings so that only a concerted viewer write-in campaign got it renewed beyond the first season.  That three season, low-rated series gave us a string of very successful theatrical movies and more television series such as STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, etc.

2)  The network is looking for a ratings boost so it turns to hit series from the past and hopes that reviving them will be a ratings winner.

And in that department they have come up with some significant blunders when trying to capture that elusive lightning in the bottle for the second time. Far more remakes have been total disasters than once again successful series. Some of the remakes that have worked are HAWAII 5-0 which kept the original iconic and immediately recognizable theme music and also the style of the opening main titles. Some other successful remakes include BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DALLAS, and V.

But it's more fun to take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all, some of the blunders.

DRAGNET (2003):  LAW AND ORDER kingpin, Dick Wolf, tried to bring back Jack Webb's classic cop drama. It wasn't a bad idea. The original Jack Webb series had a very specific style that was totally Jack Webb's vision right down to the almost wooden dialogue as personified by that iconic phrase—"Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an individualistic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives which resulted in a jumbled mess.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2002):  An attempt by UPN to remake one of the most creative and interesting series on television was a colossal failure. Without the guiding hand and creative genius of Rod Serling, including his physical presence as the host introducing each episode, it was a dismal failure. They even went so far as to replace those great musical notes that made up the theme song.  All you need to do is come out with the first eight notes and the theme song is not only recognized but its message is clear.

GET SMART (1995):  Fox brought back the classic spy spoof comedy originally created by the comedic genius of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with original cast members and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart having bumbled his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous (apparently the powers that be must have decided Don was too old to reprise the role), the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son played by Andy Dick which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt. The remake lasted only 7 episodes.

THE PRISONER (2009):  The original classic British series starred Patrick McGoohan as Number six in The Village…a place that seemed to shift and change before our eyes and before the eyes of the main character so that not believing what you're seeing was the only rule that seemed to be true. The original had a subtext that said it never really took itself seriously. The remake had a bigger budget, larger cast, and better production values but somewhere in there it lost the feeling of the original.

THE FUGITIVE (2000):  CBS thought they could not only cash in on the highly successful original series, but also the hit movie starring Harrison Ford. But with the original television series and also a successful movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was already known—who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome for Dr. Kimball and the one-armed man. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. In spite of the popular Tim Daly from WINGS in the starring role, there were no surprises, no edge-of-the-seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.
FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't try to duplicate perfection! There were only twelve episodes made of John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS and each one was the epitome of what a sitcom should be—brilliant writing, marvelous characters brought to life by an excellent cast. There have been so many attempts in several countries to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it couldn't be done.

With successful American translations of British sitcoms (All In The Family from the British Till Death Do Us Part, Sanford And Son from the British Steptoe And Son, and Three's Company from the British Man About The House), we obviously thought we could strike gold again. The first attempt starred Harvey Korman and Betty White. Despite proven and popular talent in the leads, it never got beyond the pilot stage. The second one tried a switch by putting Bea Author in a female Basil Fawlty role and it was cancelled after one season. The third attempt starred John Larroquette, fresh from his successful and popular role in NIGHT COURT, in a remake attempt that copied the original plots but not the characters. Another failure. The original FAWLTY TOWERS was done in the late 1970s and is as funny today as it was then. I have the twelve episodes on DVD and each time I see them I literally laugh out loud even though I know what's coming.

Some other major blunders in the remake department are: the 2011 CHARLIE'S ANGELS which lasted 4 episodes, the 2008 KNIGHT RIDER, the 2007 BIONIC WOMAN, WONDER WOMAN which never made it past the pilot, ROCKFORD FILES which never made it past the pilot, and the 2013 attempt at a remake of IRONSIDE which lasted only 3 episodes. My personal opinion on the IRONSIDE remake—colossal blunder moving the setting from San Francisco to "the gritty streets of New York" (as the publicity release referred to the location).

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing? Or surprisingly enjoyable? Any series you'd like to see revived with a remake attempt?