Halloween Scavenger Hunt: our results.

2015 UPDATE: The 2nd Annual Halloween Photo Hunt is up and running HERE.

A few weeks ago, I developed a photographic scavenger hunt intended for smaller, slightly less “social” social groups. (I admit, I had selfish reasons. My little nuclear family is made up of introverts. When it comes to public outings, none of us want to beg actual items from strangers.)

We got a chance to give the game a full on test run last Friday. We played parents v. kids, in two teams of two. It was chilly, so we limited the game to two hours.

We had a blast. I’d play again in a heartbeat.

While the simple items from the scavenger hunt list are still on display, have a go at it yourself. I’ll bet you can come up with even more creative shots and poses than we did.

My favorite photos:

And here’s a video collage of the whole thing.

Print your scavenger hunt list here.

blogher Blogroll_Large_Oct_2013

Friday Night Picture Show: 1894 Hinckley, MN Firestorm

This is the first entry in my new blog feature, the Friday Night Picture Show.

In the future, I expect to post a photograph or photo set most of the time, but it seemed right to start things off with something weightier, to anchor the feature.


blogher Blogroll_Large_Oct_2013


Friday Night Picture Show


Graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries: spending an afternoon with the dead.

 For me, time spent in a cemetery is peaceful and conducive to introspection at any time of the year. My favorite season to visit a graveyard, though, is autumn.

In the northern hemisphere, at some point in September or October, a well-treed cemetery will become one of the loveliest possible places to view the colors of fall’s changing leaves. The park-like nature of the grounds make it likely that these brilliant reds and golds will be displayed above, against an azure sky, and underfoot, against an emerald lawn. A graveyard in the fall tends to be a quiet place, with few other people around to intrude on one’s thoughts. As a bonus, autumn’s cooler temperatures reduce the number of mosquitoes that often seem to love old, shaded cemeteries as much as I do.

Besides all that, the season of All Hallows Eve, Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos just feels like an entirely appropriate time to spend an afternoon with the dead.


In another of my Halloween articles, I provide a printable checklist of things to do in the weeks leading up to October 31st. One of my favorite suggestions in the booklet is to adopt a grave and tend it through the season.

This is something I’ve been doing casually for a long time, but when I decided to elaborate on the activity for this Halloween-themed post, I set out for the graveyard so I could get some photographs. At the time, I was just thinking about gently sweeping away debris and leaving a flower.


As usual, there were all sorts of touching and appealing candidates for grave adoption, but the moment I saw this little stone I was caught by the heart. It sits at the foot of a larger marker which is engraved with Frances’ full name, life dates, and a dedication from her husband. She was 31 when she was buried in 1904.

Based only on the foot stone, I assume she and her little one died in childbirth.


The grave(s) lie in what is now a graveyard, but was once a churchyard.

Until recently, I didn’t know there was a difference, but there is – even if the distinctions are subtle:

  • churchyard: the yard or ground adjoining a church, often used as a graveyard
  • graveyard: a burial ground, often associated with smaller rural churches, as distinct from a larger urban or public cemetery
  • cemetery: an area set apart for or containing graves, tombs, or funeral urns, especially one that is not a churchyard
  • In modern usage, the words cemetery and graveyard are interchangeable.

In this case, the resting place of Frances and Little One was once the site of the first church built in White Bear Lake, Minnesota – St. John In the Wilderness Episcopal.  (So named because it was located thirteen miles north of St. Paul, the state capital. According to church records, the first interment was in 1861. At that time, the area really was wilderness.)

Though this burial ground was once a churchyard, it became a graveyard in 1874, when the church building itself (see below) was picked up and transported over the ice of White Bear Lake, so it would be more conveniently located for parishioners. A graveyard that continued to serve the church was left behind. (No churchyard exists at the site where the church was moved to.)

red church

The graveyard of St. John in the Wilderness is only 152 years old… which is nothing compared to those that can be found on the East Coast … which is nothing compared to the churchyards of Europe.


In the introduction to his fascinating book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson relates the following conversation (which I have abridged):

    “Have you ever noticed,” Brian asked as we stepped into the churchyard, “how country churches nearly always seem to be sinking into the ground?”

I allowed … that I had no idea.

“Well it isn’t because the church is sinking.” … “It’s because the churchyard has risen. How many people do you suppose are buried here?”

I glanced appraisingly at the gravestones and said, “I don’t know. Eighty? A hundred?”

“I think that’s probably a bit of an underestimate,” Brian replied with an air of kindly equanimity. “Think about it. A country parish like this has an average of 250 people in it, which translates into roughly a thousand adult deaths per century, plus a few thousand more poor souls that didn’t make it to maturity. Multiply that by the number of centuries that the church has been there and you can see that what you have here in not eighty or a hundred burials, but probably something more on the order of, say, twenty-thousand.”

In the book, Brian Ayers – retired county archaeologist of Norfolk, in the East of England – goes on to explain how centuries of burials causes the land to rise over time. I encourage you to read it – it’s full of fabulous stuff like that. (Of course. It is, after all, by Bill Bryson.)


Here in in the state of Minnesota, I haven’t yet found a churchyard that matches the image that Bryson creates in my head. A bit of web searching, however, turned up this photograph from Old Pine Churchyard in Pennsylvania.

Old Pine Street Church yard

By John W. Schulze
shared via Creative Commons

In the summer of 2014, I did get the opportunity to visit an American churchyard, in Beaufort, North Carolina. It was beautiful and I made a video tour to share with you.

For more information about the cemetery, visit

Gorgeous Graveyards: The Old Burying Ground, Beaufort, NC


The Minnesota churchyard / graveyard of Frances and Little One is not nearly so crowded. There is space between each monument, and I can believe that most of the 621 recorded burials there are accurately represented by tombstones.

Which is a good thing.

You see, while I was getting this post ready today, I ended up finding a new hobby, and a new reason to spend time in cemeteries.

find a grave banner

When you go to this site, a world of interesting graveyard-related information and activities opens up.  At Find A Grave, you can:

  • ” Find the graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials, add ‘virtual flowers’ and a note to a loved one’s grave, etc.”
  • Search for the graves of famous people by name or location (check your state for possible pilgrimage destinations)
  • See photographs of interesting and unusual memorials
  • Read interesting epitaphs


As I explored Find A Grave, curiosity made me enter my dad’s name into the search box. I discovered that a distant cousin on my mother’s side has located and virtually adopted my dad’s grave. (My father died when I was 9, and is buried hundreds of miles away from me. I am not in contact with anyone from his side of the family. Until today I wouldn’t have known how to even find the site.) My cousin also started a online memorial which I can now add to. This discovery brought tears to my eyes.

I sent a note of thanks to my cousin, and left virtual flowers on Dad’s memorial page.


Then I really dug into the site.

If you go through a quick, free registration, you can also:

  • Add burial information
  • Volunteer to fulfill requests for photographs of grave sites
  • (once you are registered you click “Contributor Tools” then look for options in Photo Volunteer)


In the space of one day, I was able to:

  • register at Find A Grave
  • find and claim a request for a grave site photo that I thought I could fulfill within 14 days
  • locate the grave, photograph it & leave flowers (This grave was not at St. John in the Wilderness, but it was still an easy drive.)
  • return home and click “fulfill the request”
  • see the deceased’s existing online memorial (Which I could have done before I left to find his grave, but I didn’t know that.)
  • read some posted information about him (He died in 1902 and was the oldest man in White Bear Lake at his death.)
  • upload 3 photos to fulfill the request (with my notes about the grave site)
  • leave virtual flowers for him
  • AND receive a gracious thank you note from the person who placed the request

Update: The requestor of the grave photo has given me permission to share the link to Joseph Marcotte’s memorial to show how Find A Grave works.

If you click on any of the pictures credited to Renae Rude, you can see what notes I added. In this case, I was lucky – the tombstone was almost completely illegible, so I fulfilled the request with what I THOUGHT was likely Joseph’s grave. Because she had seen it years ago, she was able to confirm we’d found the right one.


I don’t suppose locating and photographing lost graves will always be that easy and fast, but it was a perfect introduction to my new reason to spend inordinate amounts of time prowling graveyards.


Of course I checked Find A Grave for additional information about Frances and Little One. There isn’t much. Someone uploaded a photograph of the main stone and transcribed the inscription. Whoever did it doesn’t appear to be a family member, but rather a person who was cataloging the whole graveyard. I added my photo of the small foot stone to the listing.

I googled Frances’ name, to see if I could find an obituary, but nothing popped up. My next stop will have to be the microfiche at the local historical society. I’d like to find more information about her, so that I can add it to her online grave site listing.



There is a wealth of information available at The Association for Gravestone Studies.  I encourage you to explore the site thoroughly when you have time.

If you’re feeling inspired to get up and out the door NOW, I’ve cherry-picked some important and/or fun info for you:

1) It is NOT okay to do gravestone rubbing willie-nillie.  If this is something you’d like to try, start by reading the guidelines here:

2) The symbols carved on tombstones, and the design of the headstones themselves, often have cultural meaning. (Though we can never be CERTAIN of why any survivor wanted a grave to appear a certain way.) For printable (PDF) guides to some common symbolism, click on either or both of the following links, which are provided by The Association for Graveyard Studies.

BONUS: My favorite graveyard song. (I also think of it as sort of my theme song.)



Setting inspiration for the novel Legacy Falls: Oliver H. Kelly Historical Farm, Anoka County, MN

I’ve been a bad blogger this week, but a good writer.


There are still 10 days left of July, and I’ve blown past my month’s novel-writing goal of 90 hours. As of today, I have spent 101 hours doing hands-on-the-keyboard revision. For the last week, however, I’ve been starting to get a little crazy – the work was blurring and I couldn’t pull myself away from it. Yesterday, the heat wave we’ve been having broke, Ogre had the day off work, and I needed a break. I couldn’t really abandon the novel-writing headspace entirely, so I opted for a sort of working holiday.


Every setting in my novel, Legacy Falls, is inspired by a real place, in or around the town of Anoka, Minnesota. The house where Lizzy, Will and the kids live (and where another family of spirits roam) is based on the Oliver H. Kelly Farm. I have take huge liberties with its location, size, floorplan … well, with just about everything. And I’m okay with that. Now that I’m in the revision draft, though, it’s time to get some half-remembered details right. 



From chapter 1 of Legacy Falls:

Now, as she surveyed the area, she was surprised to find her sense of satisfaction waning. The cellar looked too empty, even barren.

Ought to be full, oughtn’t it? This late in the season.

Heat flushed Lizzy’s cheeks. Despite the chill, she felt sweat welling from her scalp and along her hairline. In the span of a blink, she imagined the room as it should be—the bins overflowing with potatoes and onions, the shelves lined with jars of pickles and preserves.

Apple butter. ‘Should be a dozen pints of apple butter put up by now.

With all this beautiful space at her disposal, why had she never taught herself to can the vegetables she grew in her gardens? Sure, she had been known to blanch and freeze a few Ziplocks full of green beans, but—

But this is just wasteful, idn’t?

A drop of perspiration ran down her temple and into the corner of her eye. When she raised a hand to rub the sting away, she realized her palms, too, were oily with sweat. Instinctively she moved to dry them on her apron … then stopped in mid-motion, with her hands hovering over her stomach. Of course she wasn’t wearing an apron. She hadn’t worn an apron since she was a kid, playing house.

Lizzy knuckled the salt from her eye, pressing hard enough to make phosphenes dance behind her lids. Dizziness flared, then turned into a surge of cold that flashed from her head, through her torso and along her arms. She reached for the counter to steady herself. For a second, she thought she had missed it, but then her fingertips caught the edge.

A small dust-devil—carrying more golden leaves than dust—tumbled down the short flight of wide steps from the yard. All but invisible, it whirled directly toward Lizzy, raised the hair from her sticky nape, then collapsed at her feet. A scent engulfed her, something warm and sharp and pungent. The earthy odor had a bracing effect and her knees steadied.

You should be resting in this heat. Think of the babe.

Apple butter? Apron? Babe? Where were these thoughts coming from? She coughed. Straightened. Wiped her hands down the thighs of her jeans. Still the scent clung to her. Out loud, she asked, “What is that smell?”

Manure, Schatz. Just good manure.

Lizzy stood still. She tried to believe the words had sounded not in her ears, but somewhere in her head. She listened to her own breathing until she heard a squeal and hiss from beyond the cellar door. The school bus had arrived.



July 2013 WriMoProg: 101+ 54 = 156/145
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]

Welcome to this stop on the BVZW – Anoka MN’s 1st Annual Walking Dead Pub Crawl

I suppose it was growing up in Anoka, that warped me into a horror writer. For that, I am grateful. I don’t live there anymore, and I’m happy in my adopted home of White Bear Lake, MN, but I will always carry a certain affection for Anoka. It pleases my little dark heart to be able to post this tribute to the newest event to spawn from my hometown’s creepy cradle: Anoka’s First Annual Walking Dead Pub Crawl – October 13th, 2012.

Halloween has always been a big deal in Anoka, MN – the official Halloween Capital of the World. (In 1937, the town persuaded the United States Congress to award the title.) In the last few years, though, I’ve noticed a certain tameness creeping in to the season – the disgustingly healthy Gray Ghost 5K run comes to mind. This year, celebrations took a decidedly gruesome turn … finally!

Anoka has at least six bars and restaurants in a couple of square blocks. It’s an ideal place to host a zombie crawl.

As a creature of habit, I have always tended to patronize the older bars, the bars more familiar to me, like:  Billy’s Bar and Grill, Serum’s Good Time Emporium, and the ever-changing, latest incarnation of the bar where I used to work (which was called Patty’s Pub back then and is currently known as as Beer Belly’s.) The official host bar for the crawl, however, was River City Saloon, a place I had never visited.

My Beloved and I weren’t sure which bar to choose as our base of operations, so we called some friends who still live in Anoka. They were kind enough to scout out the scene and find a table before we arrived. We met them at about 5:30p.

By the time we got there, my friend – Trish – who had been watching the zombies come out, was wishing she had dressed up for the event. After some discussion, I convinced her that I could do a quick makeup on her for less than $20 – if she was willing to to walk over to Party Papers with me.

The total came to $19.25. We could have skipped the putty/wax, which would have brought the total under $15.00. We bought the basics for a passable zombie and settled in to a corner of a hallway. Fifteen minutes later, we had done this:

I think we should have bought the next size up of the bottled blood. One of my favorite memories of the night involved standing on the sidewalk outside Party Papers, with me throwing handfuls of blood at her … as the Ghosts of Anoka Tour was guided past us. (I wish I had a photograph of that, but I was afraid to touch the camera long enough to hand it off to someone.)

In her simplicity, I think this was my favorite zombie of the night. She was just a little thing, and she absolutely invoked the mood of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.

Check out those contacts!

The Zombie-killer half of this duo is Jenny Johnson, creator of the event. I touched base with her a couple of times through the night. She was, by turns, excited, hopeful, overwhelmed and pleased by the success of her brainchild. (She also participated in the Thriller-dance flash mob that happened at 9p.)

I was photographing in the ambiant light of the street lamps. Sorry for the blur, but I kinda like the effect.

I hope, next year, they figure out how to make the music louder.

There’s something pretty awesome about watching a zombie grab some meat … for a quick dance.

I think the convict / guard pair was one of the cleverist ideas I saw.

Two of the loviest walking dead.

Look at the detail work on that hand!

A Ghost-Buster style wagon drew crowds wherever it parked. I liked the way the walking dead all streamed away from it at the same time in this shot.

Just a good ole boy and his woman. Some of the sweetest folks I met all night.

A lovely, elegant couple … but it’s the guy in the top hat that I adore.

Zombies Everywhere
Halloween Blues
The Southern Northerner
Martha’s Journey
Annie Walls
GingerRead Review
App’y Talk
Kweeny Todd
Jenny’s House of Horrors
Bubba’s Place
Fictional Candy
herding cats & burning soup
Author Sherry Soule Blog
Paranormal research Group Blog
Adult Urban Fantasy by Sherry Soule
Moonlight Publishing Blog
Candid Canine
Ghost Hunting Theories
Above the Norm
A Dust Bunny In The Wind
Faith McKay
Zombob’s Zombie News & Movie Reviews
Flesh From The Morgue
The Living Dark
Some One Else’s Cook
Stumptown Horror
Forget About TV, Grab a Book
Zombie Dating Guide
Strange State
The Paranormalist – Renae Rude
Idée Fixe
Random Game Crafts
WhiteRoseBud’s Tumblr
Book Me!
Carmen Jenner Author
Sarasota Zombie Pub Crawl
Not Now…Mommy’s Reading
Love is a Many Flavored Thing
Its On Random
Ellie Potts
Attention Earthlings!
Horror Shock LoliPOP
The Spooky Vegan
The Story In…
DarkSide Detectives Blog
Something wicKED this way comes….
Julie Jansen: science fiction and horror writer
Author/screenwriter James Schannep
The Zombie Lab
Creepy Glowbugg
Sharing Links and Wisdom
Midnyte Reader
This Blog Has A.D.D.
Carol’s Creations
Jeremy Bates
Vanessa Morgan