Get ready to put up the Halloween decorations!


halloween countfdown 5 updated

Only five weeks until Halloween!

Show your love of Halloween and drive your friends crazy by sharing the above image on your social media sites this week.

Okay. I completely forgot to write a NEW post, to tell you that I updated the old one on Friday … I’ve added more than a dozen new ideas (with instructions) to the collection of (mostly) easy, cheap, and great-looking options for DIY decoration projects.

Click here for:  Halloween Decor ~ easy, inexpensive haunts for the house and yard (plus some wow-projects.)

PS: Come play with us at 2014: The Paranormalist’s 1st Annual Halloween Photo Scavenger Hunt 

To access the Halloween Countdown homepage / index of articles, click this image wherever you see it in the blog, or find the link in the header.

Start planning your Halloween activities with a printable calendar.

halloween countdown 6 final

Today, September 19th, is just 6 Fridays before Halloween.

Show your love of Halloween and drive your friends crazy by sharing the above image on your social media sites this week.

The last time I checked in with you guys, I was running away for the weekend. I had a marvelous time exploring the city of Mankato, MN.

hubbard house mankato

We toured a mansion that our guide insisted did NOT have a reputation for being haunted … despite multiple deaths which occurred in the home. In truth, I was able to find only one reference to a Hubbard House haunting on the interwebs. (From Haunted Mankato: “At night you can hear a horse and carriage come up to the front steps, hear a man and a women get out and hear the stairs creek as they walk up them, and silence.“) I certainly didn’t feel anything but the weight of history while I was on the property, so I guess I’ll believe the guide.

We also visited a graveyard, a massacre memorial … hmmm. It’s starting to sound like I should do a post about the trip.


pooka creations steampunk set

In other news, my daughter, Pooka, just added a new necklace set –  which I think is gorgeous – to her Etsy shop, Pooka Creations. ‘Just thought I’d share her nifty presentation of it. The set costs $23 plus shipping.



Now a new weekend is beginning, my Ogre has come home from work, and it’s time for the two of us to go have a drink and start planning our next six weeks. Just in time, I’ve updated this week’s Halloween Countdown post.

  • I’ve created a new, appropriately-dated, printable, planning calendar. (Preview above.)
  • I’ve double-checked all the links.
  • I’ve found a couple of new-this-year resources for Halloween events.
  • (Including a 48 hour horror film-making challenge.)
  • I’ve updated the dates of Minnesota events, and added a few new ones.

Click here for: Finding Halloween events & celebrating autumn: haunted houses, apple orchards, ghost tours and more.

PS: Come play with us at 2014: The Paranormalist’s 1st Annual Halloween Photo Scavenger Hunt – I’ll be uploading some pictures this weekend!

To access the Halloween Countdown homepage / index of articles, click this image wherever you see it in the blog, or find the link in the header.

Halloween Countdown: creepy reads for the Halloween season

halloween countdown 7

Today, September 12th, is just 7 Fridays before Halloween.

Show your love of Halloween and drive your friends crazy by sharing the above image on your social media sites this week.

My son, who has been working at the coffee shop (his first job) for three weeks now, tells me that people have started to order pumpkin flavored everything. No matter where I go shopping, Halloween merchandise displays are going up. The weather here in Minnesota has turned cold, windy and damp. (That’s supposed to be temporary … please, oh, please let it be temporary.)

Halloween is undeniably on its way.

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been a rough start to the season for me. I’ve been sick for over a week. (I am getting better, I think, and it was nothing serious.) When I haven’t been working at the hotel or sleeping, I’ve been dealing with a variety of scheduling challenges. What I have NOT been doing is enjoying the season.

That has to change.

To that end, I’ll be taking my own advice this weekend. Ogre and I are taking off tomorrow morning, armed with:

and, by God, we’re going to check off some boxes.

The one thing I HAVE been doing to fulfill my need for seasonal inspirations and creepiness is reading. I’ve got so many books going right now that I’m in danger of getting the plots confused. (Not really.) In honor of the season, I’m listening to the Audible edition of Stephen King’s IT when I’m folding laundry at work. (Yep. All 44 hours and 57 minutes of it.) Next to my bed, I’ve got another favorite King going: Bag of Bones. In odd minutes, on my phone, I’m reading Jonathan Janz (who is featured in this week’s countdown post) and – for a little non-fiction – Winslow Eliot’s Writing Through the Year (The Four Seasons).

That’s the best segue I can come up with tonight.

To continue with the Halloween countdown, check out the freshly updated post:

Creepy reads for the Halloween season: good horror authors, old & new.


To see  my overall plans for the 2014 season, and to catch up with the countdown so far,

please visit The Halloween Countdown Homepage, which is also freshly updated.

halloween countdown main fridays

To access the Halloween Countdown homepage / index of articles, click this image wherever you see it in the blog, or find the link in the header of the blog.

Celebrate Halloween with a fun, free, photographic scavenger hunt.


halloween countdown 8 ivan

Last year, in a post called Celebrating Halloween for couples, families and / or just a few friends: dates, games and activities, for smaller social groups, I included an idea for a simple photographic scavenger hunt. This year, because it was so much fun to do, I’ve decided to expand on that idea and give it its own post.

Most of us have done a regular, item-gathering, scavenger hunt at some point. Such a hunt can be fun, but thanks to the proliferation of the cell phone camera, the classic game can be raised to a whole new level. In a photographic scavenger hunt, you don’t need to approach strangers to ask for random objects.  You don’t have to buy (much of) anything. You don’t have to manage a growing collection of bits and scraps as the game goes on. You don’t have to race to an object before anyone else gets it.

Instead of counting on luck and the power of persuasion to do well, you can rely on your intelligence and creativity. (If you lean toward being introverted, or have friends who skew that way, this is the scavenger hunt for you.)


The Halloween season is ideal for a photo hunt. In most parts of the US, September and October are the months most likely to give us gorgeous, temperate days that make us want to get outside and do something. Why not use the hunt as an reason to get out and enjoy the season? After all, the landscape itself showcases objects and vistas that are iconically associated with Halloween. Starting in early September, shops begin displaying seasonal merchandise. By mid-September, towns and neighborhoods may start to decorate. By October first, many of us are fully immersed in a world painted in autumn colors and populated by monsters, ghosts, witches and other Halloween-y creatures.

And, if you read this blog, you love it all. Maybe you already take a lot of photos at this time of year. Participating in a scavenger hunt will give you an excuse to take more, and an opportunity to share your best shots with others.

(Especially if you join The Paranormalist’s Official 1st Annual Halloween Scavenger Hunt,  which you’ll learn about below.)


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Organizing a scavenger hunt may be the easiest way to entertain during the season. Because the hunt happens outdoors, in a public area, you don’t have to clean your house or cook. And you don’t need a big group of people to make it fun.

All you need is a list of inspirations, a digital camera or cell, some friends to “compete” with, and whatever amount of time you all agree to dedicate to the hunt.

To make it even easier, I’ve created a printable list of inspirations for you:

scavenger hunt image

Click for a larger, read-able display.

Click here for printable PDF of Original Halloween Scavenger Hunt

This list is appropriate for all ages. When you print the scavenger hunt list, you’ll find several blank lines at the bottom. Allow teams to add their own found items, or customize the list ahead of time, to suit the location where you will play. (Here in White Bear Lake, MN, many residences and businesses display polar bear statues and signs, so it would be logical for us to add a bear to the list.)


Create your teams.

  • I suggest keeping the teams small – 2-3 players – and making multiple teams, rather than dividing a large group into just two.
  • Also see the VARIATIONS section below.

Define the time frame.

  • See the VARIATIONS section below.

Determine your rules.

  • How far in advance can participants see the scavenger hunt list? (I suggest each team member have equal time access. If you know everything on the list, you’re already thinking about how to capture some items. Don’t be a cheater; let others think ahead too.)
  • What are the boundaries of the search zone?
  • What method(s) of transportation are acceptable while on the quest? Is it okay to use a car, or will you restrict travel to that which can be done on foot or by bike?
  • Are purchased props acceptable? How much money can be spent to obtain a photograph? (We had set an allowance of $10 to facilitate shots, but we only paid a few cents for an aluminum pie plate during our hunt.)
  • Are videos allowed, or just still snapshots?
  • Please note that if you intend to post your results publicly online you should NOT include pictures taken of strangers for the “probable _______” section of the list.
  • Also see VARIATIONS section below.


#1 – The Simplest Version – In X hours.

~For anyone.

This is the most spontaneous way to do the hunt. You only need a few people, a nice day, and a couple of hours. (Plus, of course, enough photo-capable cell phones so that each team has at least one.)

  • Depending on the weather, a hunt could last anywhere from two to six hours.
  • Confine the hunt to a small town, a defined section of a city, a neighborhood, or the site of a seasonal attraction (like an autumn fair).
  • Set up a meeting place to begin and end at the appointed times.
  • If you will be out for longer period of time, considering also setting a meeting time and place, for a shared lunch or snack, in the middle of the hunt.
  • At the end, get all the teams together, tally checked-off items on each team’s list, and share favorite photos by passing phones around.
  • If you need to proclaim a winner, base it on total number of items checked off.
  • For extra fun, have everyone send their pictures to one person who will create a digital album or slideshow that can be sent to all participants later.

The following video is from my family’s scavenger hunt last year:

#2 – The Extended Version – In a weekend or other multi-day period.

~For far-flung social groups and/or adults who want to range farther, over a longer time, or who want to create more elaborate pics.

I intend to challenge my daughter and The Beau (who live 1,500 miles away from us) to choose a 48 hour period during which they will complete the hunt … Ogre and I will do it in the same time-frame. Then we’ll swap our results. It will be fun to see what Halloween season looks like in both North Carolina and Minnesota on a particular weekend … Yes, Pooka, this is me, calling you out!

  • This variation is not about getting together with a group, but rather about working closely and creatively with your partner(s).
  • Teams will share / compare results after the fact.
  • Make sure all teams know what the goal of the hunt is — Completion? Creativity?
  • This extended version may lend itself to more elaborate photographs, set-ups, costumes, makeups, etc. Make sure teams are on roughly the same wavelength.
  • Emphasis may be placed on satisfying the requirements of the right-side column of the list.
  • Be clear about the length of time for the hunt AND the length of time before photos should be submitted to “opposing” teams. (Make a deadline.)
  • Decide if digital photo manipulation is acceptable.
  • Alternatively, teams could text or email photos to each other as they are taken, through the course of the hunt.

ALL NEW IN 2014:

#3 – The Paranormalist’s Official 1st Annual Halloween Photo Scavenger Hunt

~For you, no matter where you are or who you hang out with.

I’m opening a COOPERATIVE, PUBLIC scavenger hunt for my interweb friends & readers this year.  I’ve created a homepage for the 2014 Halloween Photo Hunt at:

You can also find the page by clicking the HPH link in the header of my main page.

Here are some of the highlights of this all-new project:

  • The duration of the 2014 first annual open scavenger hunt is September 5th – November 1st
  • I will create a gallery for each participant / team on the HPH homepage.
  • I’ve created a Gmail account to accept submissions:

The printable list for this project is based on the original Halloween Scavenger Hunt List, but it has been modified as follows:

  • This list will print in pocket-mod form, with which you can create a small, portable booklet.
  • The “Simple Objects” section has been expanded.
  • The right-side column items from the original list have been revised so that posting pictures to the web will not infringe on the privacy of you or others.
  • A new section, called “Challenge: concept words” has been added.
  • To preview and print the modified & expanded list, and to learn the rules, visit the project homepage.

You Guys, I’m really excited about this. Check out the page, then send an email to to “register” for the hunt. (In other words, just let me know you’re in.) You will have eight weeks to contribute to your gallery.

Come play with me!


halloween countdown main fridays


Posting in sick.

Hey, Folks. Today is eight Fridays away from Halloween and I’ve spent the better part of the last four days either working at the hotel or sleeping. I am currently – slowly – working on the countdown post for this week. I expect I’ll get it up sometime this weekend. (It doesn’t look good for the Paranormal Deck of Cards post though.)

By the way, I’m replacing the Etsy post that held the 8-weeks-to-Halloween slot last year with something totally different. So at least there’s that.


halloween countdown 8 ivan

1:26am: See? It’s coming.

Macabre Media: John Barleycorn by Steve Winwood & Stephen King’s ancestry.


Here it is, the first of September, the end of Labor day weekend. There will still be hot summery days, and thunderstorms, but harvest season has come. In that spirit, I’d like to share a harvest song:

Here are the traditional lyrics of this British folk song which pre-dates the 17th century:

There were three men coming out of the west
their fortunes for to try
and these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed him in
they harrowed him in
threw clods all over his head.
And these three men they swore and vowed:
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time
till rain from heaven did fall.
And little Sir John sprung up his head
and so amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer’s day
he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John’s grown a long long beard
and so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
to cut him off at knee.
They rolled him and tied him ’round the waist
and served him barbarously.
Then they sent men with pitchforks strong
to pierce him through the heart.
And the loader served him worse than that
for he’s bound him to a cart.

They hired men with crab-tree sticks
to cut him skin from bone
the miller served him worse than that
and ground him between two stones.
And little Sir John and the dark brown bowl
and he’s brandy in the glass
and little Sir John and the dark brown bowl
grew the strongest man at last.


Stephen King will be featured on PBS’s celebrity ancestry research show, Finding Your Roots.  His episode – the first of the season – is In Search of Our Fathers, and it will air Tuesday, September 23rd at 8/7c.

As usual, I’ll give you a heads-up a little closer to the broadcast on my Twitter / Facebook / G+ feed.

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

Paranormal Deck of Cards – Eight of Mysteries

pdoc 8 of mysteries sailing stones corrected

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

When I was formulating the idea for this PDOC series, I began by creating a list of 52+ potential topics which intrigue me. Then I divided them into four categories: creatures, psychopaths, haunts and mysteries.

I’m still trying to fill out the list of haunts that I want to explore, but I had no trouble immediately coming up with (more than) 13 mysteries. I always knew that the mysteries suit would be my catch-all for things that didn’t fit neatly into any of the other categories. I also knew it was likely to be my favorite suit. I am fascinated by odd occurrences, strange places and perplexing objects.

In my initial brainstorming stage, one of the first things I jotted down was the Sailing Stone of Death Valley. At the time, I did not expect the phenomena would be definitively explained before I could even write about it.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I certainly did not plan for this project to be about debunking, dismissing, or solving my beloved mysteries.  Like many of you, I enjoy knowing that I can’t know everything. I appreciate being wonder-struck and baffled. But I also like to learn new facts and gain increased understanding of how the world works.

So I guess it’s all good.

If you’re tapped into the same (or similar) sources of information that I am, you may already know that the phenomena of the Death Valley Sailing Stones has been scientifically explained in the current issue of the journal, Plos One. If you are not connected to such sources, however, you may not even know what all the fuss is about.

Let’s start there … with what was known about the stones before a crack team of scientists, armed with the latest technology, figured out was going on.

Racetrack-Playa-Death-Valley-2” by Daniel Mayer – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here
first upload in en wikipedia on 04:23, 28 October 2002 by Maveric149. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


In 1915, a prospector named Joseph Crook is reported to have discovered a remote, flat area in Death Valley where stones appeared to have left trails in the desert as they traveled across the barren ground. The mechanism of the stone movement was a mystery.


The area Crook discovered is a playa, which is a dry lake-bed. It is a little less than than three miles long and a little more than a mile wide. The playa is extremely flat, with its southern edge being about one and a half inches lower than the northern. Interestingly, the stones often seem to move up the incline, from south to north. The trails inscribed by the wandering stones “are often tens to hundreds of feet long, about 3 to 12 inches wide, and typically much less than an inch deep.” (Wikipedia) Many of the trails are long and straight, but some curve, zig-zag or double back on themselves. These trails are not etched in dust or sand, but in hard-baked clay. One can walk out to the stones to examine the engraved trails and not leave a mark on the ground. Though no one (until 2013) had observed the active movement of a stone, periodic checks on the locations of  individual rocks revealed that the they were moving and leaving new trails.

The stones have been “sailing” – without apparent interference from humans or animals – for at least a century. I’ve listed several notable scientific investigations that have been conducted at the playa below, but one specific study was of particular interest:


In a study that began in 1972, the location of thirty stones, (with what appeared to be fresh trails,) were marked. Each stone was given a name. Over the next seven years, changes in the stones’ locations were recorded.

Ten of the stones moved in the first winter. One, named Mary Ann, moved 212 feet. In two of the next six winters, multiple stones moved. By the end of the seven-year study, 28 of the named stones had moved. The smallest stone to move had a diameter of 2.5 inches; the largest was 80 pounds.

One stone – estimated to be over 700 pounds – was named Karen, and it did not move during the monitoring period. It was believed that its original trail, which was 570 feet long and very straight, may have been drawn when it originally tumbled onto the playa.

After the study was complete, however, Karen seemed to disappear from the playa. It was rediscovered in 1996 by a geologist who located it about a half mile from its 1972 position.


Over the years, multiple theories had been advanced to explain this phenomena. Modern, conventional, scientists has always believed that some combination of water, ice and wind were responsible. It is likely that the inaccessibility of the area during winter months prevented the first people who studied the rocks to think along such lines. The earliest scientific theory was that there was a magnetic anomaly in the area, but this was proved to be unlikely when the rocks themselves were revealed to be entirely non-magnetic.

The playa’s relative proximity to Area 51 led some theorists to the conclusion that the phenomena must be connected to alien activity. My absolute favorite theory in this category is detailed in a blog called, Villains & Vaudevillians. I’ve provided the link to the full article below, but here’s a snippet from it:

Are the sailing stones pieces of a spacecraft that met its untimely demise during prehistoric times? Was the object that the crashed in Roswell, New Mexico really an extraterrestrial salvage vehicle sent on another mission to located the long vanished spacecraft, only to succumb to the same fate. Is the wreckage at Area 51 giving off a beacon in the form of a magnetic field to call its lost brother home?

It really is a must-read, if you have a few minutes to spare.


It turns out that the modern scientists were right — this is a phenomena caused by water, ice and wind.

The following set of photographs was published in a paper entitled Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion, in the journal PLOS One.


“Image acquired with a handheld digital camera on January 9, 2014.”

Take a look at the stone indicated by the red arrow and compare its position as it changes – in less than 30 seconds – in relation to the two (non-moving) stones indicated by the blue arrows.

This was not the only movement observed by this team.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the paper which explain quite well how the stones sail:

Observed rock movement occurred on sunny, clear days, following nights of sub-freezing temperatures. Steady light winds and morning sun caused floating ice to break-up near mid day, accompanied by widespread popping sounds from fragmenting ice panels. Ice initially broke into floating panels tens of meters in size that became increasingly fragmented and separated by open rippled water as melting continued. Floating ice sheets driven by wind stress and flowing water, pushed rocks resting on the playa surface, in some cases moving >60 rocks in a single event.


A necessary condition for the rock motion we observed is the existence of a playa pool deep enough to submerge the southern section of the playa, yet shallow enough to leave many rocks partly exposed at the pond surface. Other repeating features of rock movement events that we observed include the presence of floating ice, temperatures and sunlight sufficient to create melt pools in the ice, and light breezes that are steady enough to drive floating ice. Although the ice breaks up around rocks, even thin moving ice sheets can generate sufficient force to drive rocks across the pool. All observed rock movement events occurred near mid-day when sufficient ice melting had occurred to allow ice break-up. Creation of rock trails is difficult to observe because trails form below the ice-covered pool surface where they are often not evident until the ice has melted, and liquid water has been removed. In addition, rock movement is slow and relatively brief—our GPS instrumented stones traveled at speeds of 2–5 m/minute for up to 16 minutes—so casual observation is likely to miss rocks in motion. Weather station data show that the freezing temperatures necessary for ice formation, and winds in excess of 3–5 m/s are common phenomena at Racetrack Playa during the coldest few weeks of winter. Therefore, the extremely episodic occurrence of rock motion (years to decades) is likely due to the infrequency of rain or snow events sufficient to form winter ponds.

Citation: Norris RD, Norris JM, Lorenz RD, Ray J, Jackson B (2014) Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion. PLoS ONE 9(8): e105948. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105948 (Please find link to full article below.)


First observed / reported:
Mystery solved:
2013 – 2014

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California
Coordinates: 36.6813°N 117.5627°W
NOTE: Racetrack Playa is approx. 140 miles from Area 51

Racetrack Playa from space.jpg
Racetrack Playa from space“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Geography (from Wikipedia):

“The playa is in the small Racetrack Valley between the Cottonwood Mountains on the east and Nelson Range to the west. During periods of heavy rain, water washes down from the Racetrack mountain area draining into the playa, forming a shallow, short-lived, closed-system lake. Under the hot desert sun, the thin veneer of water quickly evaporates leaving behind a surface layer of soft slick mud. As the mud dries, it shrinks and cracks into a mosaic pattern of interlocking polygons.”

Climate & meteorology of the area:

Daily summer temperatures can reach 120 °F (49 °C). In the winter, the temperature can plunge to 15 °F (−9.4 °C), though the average winter night temperature is closer to 39 °F (4 °C). Annual precipitation is 3 to 4 inches.

Notable Scientific Investigations:

  • 1948: two geologists mapped the area’s bedrock and mentioned the sliding rocks in a report in the Geologic Society of America Bulletin
  • 1952: a National Park ranger detailed observations of trail lengths, widths, and courses
  • 1955: a geologist published a paper discounting the prevailing theory that winds were strong enough to move the stones, even when the ground was wet
  • 1972: a long term project was begun to track the movement of the stones over seven years
  • 1995: a research group determined that at least some of the stones were moved in a large, contiguous ice-floe
  • 2006: a NASA scientist developed a “table top model” that suggested small ice rafts formed around individual stones and reduced drag so that even light winds could trigger movement
  • 2013: actual stone movement was recorded with GPS sensors and time-lapse photography

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley in the Media:

  • The World’s Weirdest Places by Nick Redfern (at GoodReads)
  • Mysteries of the Unknown: Inside the World of the Strange and Unexplained (at Amazon Books)

Note: That second book is actually scheduled to be released on Sept. 16th, 2014. I wonder what they are going to do about the chapter on the Sailing Stones.


–Lots of great photographs of the stones and their trails.

2) Jon Sullivan’s commentary from a trip to Death Valley on 08/23/2003
–I have no prior knowledge of Mr. Sullivan, but in my research, I found his first-person account of a visit to the playa interesting.

3) The Mystery of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing’ Stones from The Weather Channel
–31 excellent photographs and some outdated information about two former theories.

4) Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion 
–The published scientific paper at PLOS One.

5) Weird History: What are the Sailing Stones By CURTISRX
–the source of the re-assembling, pre-historic, spacecraft theory I mention above.


Weird or What? (embedded below.)

The following video is one  episode of a series called Weird or What?, which airs on SyFy and is hosted by William Shatner. This episode is currently available for viewing online, courtesy of the YouTube channel, Documentary Hub.

The Sailing Stones are covered in the first segment of this episode, which runs for approximately 15:38 minutes.

(Video availability on the internet comes and goes, so if the above viewer doesn’t work, try searching for “Weird or What sailing stones.” Because this has been internationally broadcast, the season and episode numbers are conflicting, depending on which version of the show turns up in the search engine.)

Note: right now the search engines are flooded with the news that this mystery has been solved. If anyone knows of a documentary made BEFORE the announcement, please leave a comment so I can track it down.


Click for PDOC homepage.


This is an early entry in my PDOC series. I’m working on creating the deck’s homepage. If  the image above doesn’t yet link to a new page, it soon will.



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