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For those of you grumbling over the oooginess of this Hallmark-driven holiday, I share with you a short profile of the day’s history, that I researched back in 2009.

I did a little googling to determine the origins of the event.  I recall from ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ that they were toasting St. Valentine long before Hallmark was a gleam in the greeting card industry’s eye.  So it’s truly NOT just a Hallmark holiday.

Knock me down and color me pink if I didn’t discover that is actually a pagan holiday (gotta love the pagans).  Per the National Geographic news site, it originated as an annual Roman festival called Lupercalia in which naked men spanked young women with goatskin whips in order to increase their fertility.  I’m not sure that a goatskin-whip-spanking would do much for me except piss me off, but to each his own.  Naturally, with the advent of Christianity, this kind of celebratory revel became totally unacceptable (although who knows what the early Christians did behind closed doors) and the date on which the festival occurred became linked with St. Valentine, who was executed on February 14 for performing marriages in secret, defying the ban on soldiers marrying that had been imposed by the emporer Claudius II.  Rather different from whip-snapping naked pagans, but that’s Christianity for you – kind of takes the fun out of a lot of things.

So if you’re lamenting today – or celebrating Single Awareness Day (which has the unfortunate acronym of SAD, although Valentine’s Day has the even less fortunate, though perhaps more apt acronym of VD) – take heart (no pun intended). It’s not all it’s whip-cracked up to be.  And remember that everyone loves someone and everyone is loved by someone.

Image source: http://resobscura.blogspot.com

(And as a heartfelt postscript, I hope my beloved Christian and Pagan friends take no offense.)

I love color.  It’s so nice that I have scarlet and turquoise in my living room now.  Pat’s house, while panelled in wonderful old knotty pine, is all beige.  Why is it that men like beige so much?  Is it just easier to make a decision about beige?  Does it just require less thought?

I just discovered that there’s a “Dark Shadows” Festival in July in Burbank. (Burbank?!)  Now, I don’t know if I would really fit in there.  My fan status was the same as many people my age (including Johnny Depp, who is hoping to play Barnabas in the planned Tim Burton movie version of the ’60s daytime gothic soap.  And it would be worth going just in case Johnny Depp is there in person, wouldn’t it, ladies?)  Anyway, back to my fan-dom —  we used to hurry home from school to watch this wierd, quirky show every day, and even as unsophisticated as we were, were astounded by the poor cinematography, entertained by the perilous mistakes of live television, amused by the fact that Julia ALWAYS had her mouth open, and annoyed by the fact that Barnabas could never reconnect with his true love, what with constantly changing centuries and incarnations.  Yes, folks, vampires and werewolves were popular long before the Twilight series.  But I’m not one of those people who can recite every line, dress in character, or even explain the progression of beings that was Daphne-Maggie-Angelique-Cassandra (or something like that.)  So maybe I wouldn’t fit in at the festival.  But it might make a good story.  And it would definitely be a unique experience.  Hmmm.

I am coughing so much that it’s making me throw up — probably TMI — sorry, but it’s random.

My new website for my new business is up and running – still need to add some samples, but it looks pretty good.  A friend helped me toot my own horn more, as that’s always been tough for me, and the first version was too shrinking violet.


Kendra and I have finally exchanged the last of our Christmas presents.  Oh wait, I still have to send some to E-Bro.  Darn!

I was coughing so much last night that I only got about 3 hours of sleep.  The only good thing about getting that little sleep is that you have a pretty good shot at getting a better night’s sleep the next night.

There’s a bar in Nanjing, China called the Rising Sun Anger Release Bar.  You can drink, break glasses and beat up the staff.  Really.  And most of its customers are women.

Today is Unique Names Day, and here’s a doozy for you:  Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeunds
orgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerschei
nenwanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwische
nsternartigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurass
evonverstandigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurcht
vorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfs vonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior.  That’s not going to fit on the name badge.

I am one of those unfortunates whom Nyquil makes jittery.  Hence, I look like the disgusting sick people in the Nyquil commercials even when I am awake.  Sigh.  Snort.

When someone says “Sweden”, what do you think of first?  Blondes?  Moose?  Blonde mooses (meese)?  The Swedish Chef from the old Muppet Show?  Meatballs?  Well, there’s a lot more to Sweden than what you would expect.  I’ve not been there yet, but I’ve been doing a bit of investigating, and want to share some little known facts with you that prove without a doubt that Sweden surpasses all stereotypes and has some surprises to offer.

So, let’s get started.

Sweden is one of several areas above the Arctic Circle that is known as “the Land of the Midnight Sun,” a place where the lines between day and night become blurred.   For one or two months at the height of summer, the sun never sets; night is just a dimmer day, which can make hiking a wonderful experience, since you never have to worry about darkness falling.  You can even play midnight golf.  On the down side, however, having constant daylight can cause something called hypomania, which is characterized by a high level of creative and productive energy, a flood of ideas, euphoria, irritability, and elevated moods, but fortunately without the psychotic symptoms.  And as you might expect, in the winter, you get a corresponding period of darkness.  That’s the one that would do me in.

midnight_sun

The Swedes have the longest life expectancy of all Europeans, with an average death age of 80 ½ years.  I can’t seem to find out why, though.  Perhaps it’s the fish. 

swedish fish

I can’t imagine that the population’s cardiovascular health is spectacular because Sweden has the highest number of McDonald’s per capita in Europe. 

mcnavigator2

All of the Tsars of Russia were of Swedish Viking descent until the last one, the unfortunate Nicholas II.

CzarNicholasII

Stockholm, the capital city, was home to the first jumbo-jetliner-turned-youth-hostel.  What a marvelous idea for reusing decommissioned airplanes!  It looked clean and inexpensive, and even retained its oxygen masks, but unfortunately only lasted about a year.  It’s currently up for sale if there are any takers out there.

jumbo-jet-hostel-takes-off

The Stockholm Archipelago is one of the finest (though I would imagine chilliest) sailing spots in the world.  With over 24,000 islands, and only 1,000 of them being inhabited, in a 100km span, it would be easy to find privacy for years on end.

stockholm archipelago

Expanding on the watery theme, Sweden has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster.  Lake Storsjon reportedly is home to a huge sea serpent, appropriately nicknamed “Storsie”  that has been sighted hundreds of times since 1635.   

Storsjon

Now instead of water, let’s talk about ice.  There’s certainly no ice shortage in Sweden.  In fact, one of the things on my “Yet to be done” Life List is to stay in an ice hotel, and the most famous of the ice hotels is rebuilt annually in the area of Jukkasjarvi, near the Torne River.  This distinctive lodging has beds made from snow and ice, covered with reindeer skins and thermal sleeping bags, and an Ice Bar that serves beverages (vodka being a favorite) in glasses made of ice.  (They offer a souvenir glass made of ice to each guest, but I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to get it home.)

ice hotel bar

icehotel-main

This will be the 20th year that artists from all over the world have participated in its construction from 1000 to 2000 tons of ice.  Obviously, it melts every year, which must be mixed blessing.  I’m sure the architects, builders and proprietors are sad to see a work of art flow back into the river every year, but at the same time, there must be a sense of relief and accomplishment, a soulular connection with nature and the river, and excitement at being able to rebuild a more splendid place the next year, after a good summer off.

There are other truly unique places to visit that are off the beaten path in Sweden.  Ladonia is an excellent example.  An independent state in the Kullaberg Nature Preserve, Ladonia is a triangular-sized plot of land of about 1km, and is ruled by a queen and numerous ministers, including the Minister of Things Under Rocks, the Minister of Animals Especially Cows, the Minister of Harley Davidson Motorcycles and the Minister of Headphones and Bad Jokes.  Ladonia is a micronation, with all of its 14,000 inhabitants being nomadic and taxes being paid by donating creativity.  The structures that make up Ladonia are amazing.

ladonia-3

The Car Cemetery lies in a forest about 2km north in the city of Ryd.  Years ago, people started taking their cars to an old gentleman who liked repairing them for little or no money.  Well, he eventually found his way to a nursing home, but there were hundreds of cars around his property in the forest, covered with moss in the summer.  In exchange for leaving the cars in their final resting place, as they very much reflect the heritage of the country, all signs directing people to the Car Cemetery have been taken down, so one must inquire of locals for directions.

carcemetery_terje_enge

But rest assured, if it takes you a while to find it, they have exceptionally clean toilets in the middle of the woods in Sweden.

Swedish outhouse

And very cool phone boxes – but you probably won’t find one in the woods.

swedish phone booth

Or here, for that matter – if this place exists.

According to the Swedish Travel Board, directions to Chako Paul City have lately been much sought after by Chinese businessmen visiting Sweden.  Reportedly founded in 1820 by a wealthy man-hating widow, Chako Paul City houses 25,000 sex-crazed lesbians.  The city is guarded by a pair of blonde amazons, and women are only let out of the city to have brief liaisons with men (which makes no sense if they are lesbians.)  Most of the women in town are employed in the foresting industry, and sport wide belts of woodworking tools.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the town is a myth.  But the search for it has helped boost tourism in northern Sweden.

sweden-map-chako-paul-lesbian-city-is-fake

Regardless of your reasons for visiting Sweden, here are a few customs that you should be careful to follow:

–           Always, always, always be on time.

–          It’s the custom to take off your shoes when entering a Swedish home, so be conscious of the condition of your socks.

–          Do not put your coat on before you step outside the doorway of a Swedish home, as it is seen as rude and an indication that you are anxious to leave early.

And make sure you are aware of a few unusual laws:

–          Prostitution is legal, but it is illegal to use the services of a prostitute.

–          You can own your own land, but only to a depth of a half of a meter.

–          You may not repaint your house without the government’s permission.

–          If you release pigs into a jointly-owned beechnut forest, and you have exceeded your quota of allowed pigs, you will have to pay each other owner a fine for each excess pig and fix any damage that the excess pigs caused.

On another lawless note, a Christmas tradition is the victim of violent crime nearly every year.  Every year since 1966, a huge straw goat (Gavleblocken) has been built at Christmas in city of Gävle.  And almost every year, vandals have destroyed the goat – the poor thing has been burned (numerous times), run over by a motorized vehicle, and thrown in the river.  Starting in 1988, gamblers were able to place bets on the fate of the goat with English bookies.   The goat is guarded by police, volunteers, fences, webcams, and the Goat Committee that has been appointed to look after it.  The only year of its history in which nothing happened to the poor goat was 1994.  Its reprieve was only because, in this year, the goat followed the Swedish national hockey team to Italy for the World Ice Hockey Championships.  (I would have dearly loved to see the goat on the move.)  The goat’s most unusual demise occurred in 2005, when he was fired by a gingerbread man shooting a flaming arrow, and burned by vandals dressed as Santa.  Can’t wait to see what happens this year! 

straw_goat_big

The Swedes seem to have a bit of a thing for large replicas of farm animals.  The world’s largest wooden horse, or Dalahast, painted bright red, is to be found in the Swedish city of Avesta.

dalahast

Well, because I love them and because I can’t let all of the Swedish stereotypes go unaddressed, I have saved the best for last – the Swedish moose.

There are over 200,000 moose in Sweden.  Moose signs are common on the roads, and you must watch out for moose particularly on the smaller, less-travelled roads, around 11:00 pm.

Moose-Sign-sweden-553113_75_66

The safest way to observe moose is a on a visit to….the MOOSE GARDEN!  The Moose Garden in Orrivken, is home to Elvira, Blenda, Bettan, Nordis, Helge and Beppe, and the owners hand-produce eco-friendly paper from moose poop. 

beppe

 You can pay a virtual visit to the Moose Garden via the “Moose Cam” (here), which is, according to the Moose Garden website, “a web cam in which you can take a look on our beatyful mooses.”  After all, hade första hornet ifjol och var då en 6-taggare, vad månde bliva?? (which I pulled from the Moose Garden site and makes absolutely no sense when translated into English.)

mooselick

So, ha en lycklig kvall – which means “have a happy evening”.

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday, and I can’t say why.  I’ve always liked dressing up, I don’t mind a good scare, and I believe in all things paranormal.  Maybe that’s part of it, that somewhere inside me, I take it seriously, and have a sense that the current festivities are somehow disrespectful.

Be that as it may, it’s Kelsea’s ULTIMATE holiday.  She’s always loved it and loves to be scared.  This year, she’s going as Hannah Montana’s true self – the Hannah Montana outfit and long blonde hair – with a red demon mask – representing another pop icon that has become the scourge of little girls of our society.  She’s going trick-or-treating with her best friends today, and then to The Asylum, one of Denver’s scariest haunted houses.  I’ve never been in a haunted house (other than the ones I have actually lived in), and have no intention of going, so it’s a good thing her friends’ mom likes those kind of things.

As for me, I’m in hiding for the weekend.  No trick-or-treaters for me.  I’ve taken off for a couple of nights to parts unknown and unnamed.

As my treat for you today, I wanted to share a few Halloween tidbits.

First off, let me apologize for failing to alert you to last night’s holiday – Haunted Refrigerator Night.  It was your chance to clean out all the scary stuff that has been lurking in the fridge for who-knows-how-long.  I suppose the curmudgeons among us can then throw all their spoiled food at unwanted trick-or-treaters tonight.

elmira-northstarboo_kc_121208

2009’s most popular costumes are….Swine Flu and Michael Jackson!  Zombies are also quite chic this year.  And you could combine all three to create something very interesting.

If you see a spider on Halloween, it is the spirit of a loved one watching over you.  So for heavens sake, don’t step on it!

giant-house-spider

Samhainophobia is an intense fear of Halloween.  I wonder how it expresses itself?

Halloween is believed to have its origin among the Celts.  I’ve always like the Celts and all things Celtic.  Before it was cloaked in more Christian-friendly garb, this night was considered to be the time when the border between this world and the other became  transparent, which allowed spirits to freely cross over from one side to the other – and not just good spirits either.  People wore costumes and masks to keep the harmful spirits at bay, the thought being that disguising oneself as a harmful spirit would fool the harmful spirits into thinking that no good was to gained from that person, that it was just another bad brother.

According to Wiki, bonfires would sometimes be built side by side on this night, and people and livestock would pass between the two as a cleansing ritual.  I suppose that the livestock that wandered a bit too close to either blaze would then be served as dinner.

The bonfire thing seems to have fallen by the wayside, but the whole costume concept is (as you know) still going strong.  Since I have not truly partaken in a costume in — oh, let’s say almost forever — I am perhaps more objective about available costume choices than more enthusiastic revellers might be.  And after shopping for costumes with Kelsea this year, I have come to the following conclusions:

– Men want to dress as:
      a) Disgustingly gory, bloody, gross creatures
      b) Giant pieces of food
– Women want to dress as:
      a)  slutty witches, pirates, nurses, soldiers, police officers, storybook characters, astronauts or vampires
      b)  anything else slutty not mentioned above

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sluttiness as fantasy-fun, and I definitely think there’s a place for it in our society.  But c’mon, it’s not every woman’s dream Halloween costume!  Give us a little credit!  And at least 60% of women probably can’t carry it off – those costumes are not for the generously proportioned.  So what is the rest of female America supposed to do – stay home?  Wear a sheet with the eyeholes cut out?  (I did that one year as a child.  My parents weren’t big on Halloween either.)

Boo'd_Ghost

Departing from the costume rant, I’m going to quote freely (read plagiarise with credit) from Uncyclopedia here, because I find it just classic:

“For those children too young to skank-out, a series of rituals were created to get them out of the house and on the streets, so that older couples could enjoy each other’s costumes in “private”. Some of these rituals and customs are listed below.

  1. The egging of trees in white wrappings – To ward off the ancient mummies of Egypt.
  2. The spraying of white foam on one another, and road signs – To disguise their scents from the foaming rabid werewolves, and to keep the werewolves from finding their way through town.
  3. The beating of one another with socks filled with flour – To create puffs of flour, allowing them to see and avoid passing by spirits.
  4. The throwing of eggs at one another and at houses that give crappy candy – To symbolise the life and death of the spirits. The egg represents the birth, the throwing represents the life, and the splattering and the pain on impact represents the death… and the stinky rotten egg smell represents the undeath and haunting.
  5. The giving of empty hot-dog casings (“hollow weenies”).
  6. The ringing of doorbells and dashing off into the shrubbery – to confuse stalking demons inside houses.
  7. The playing of bobbing for apples with the local neoconservative dynasty.”

My childhood Halloweens were spent trick-or-treating up and down both sides of two blocks of Buchanan Boulevard.  (Once or twice, we ventured a block west to Lancaster Avenue, but one block made a huge difference in the neighborhood back then.)  Apparently, ours was such good trick-or-treating ground that kids were bussed in from other parts of town to trick-or-treat there.  I remember the sidewalks being quite crowded.  I went with my brother, and we were required to stick together.  Most years, one parent would go with us, for fear of us getting lost, stolen or poisoned.  The tradition of trick-or-treating was in its own adolescence then, having originated back in the 1940’s, and trick-or-treat-for-Unicef, where we went around asking people to put coins in those impossible-to-assemble orange cardboard boxes, was a relatively new thing.  I never liked it much, I’m ashamed to say, because the grown-ups would give us EITHER candy or Unicef money, but not both.  I was a selfish little beast with a sweet tooth.

Trick_or_Treater

I stopped trick-or-treating at a pretty early age – I preferred to stay home and hand out candy, instead of dressing up.  I went freshman year in college with a bunch of friends, at their insistence, thinking it would help heal a heartache.  It didn’t.  I felt like a total idiot and attracted the attention of a very bad individual, resulting an even worse experience several weeks later.  Talk about a heaping helping of heartbreak.

After that, I worked every Halloween night through college.  In those days in Boulder, the Pearl Street Mall hosted the infamous “Mall Crawl”, which incidentally some people have been trying to revive this year.  Clearly, they never experienced it in its heyday, and don’t understand the wisdom of its forced demise.  Back then, I was making pizzas, and Halloween was a zoo in the pizza place – wall-to-wall people, we cranked out more pies that night than any other week in the year.  And made more tips.  The crowd outside was dressed wildly, drunk as a submarine crew on shore leave, and packed as tightly as the proverbial can of sardines.  The first couple of years, it was fun and energizing.  The last couple of years it was bad-scary.  The crowd would take it upon itself to sway, and since smaller people like me could barely put their feet on the ground, we’d be caught up and carried along.  People would climb lamp-posts, break windows, trample flower beds, pick fights.  It got really bad.  And so the town stopped it.  They put up roadblocks coming into downtown, and stationed police officers to keep anyone in costume away from the Mall.  It worked.  The Mall Crawl died.

pearl street

I have accompanied Kelsea on many a night trick-or-treating, but never really dressed up.  Sometimes we just went around our neighborhood, but most years, we went to one of our friend’s houses, as she was tight with their daughter.  The wives would take the girls for a few blocks, then circle back to their house and trade off with the husbands.  It was fun.  Their daughter is in high school now, and I lost those friends in the divorce, so that’s done with.

And now, it’s now.

No pumpkin for me this year.  We never have had much luck with them.  I always come within a hairs-breadth of cutting off one of my fingers when carving, and then the squirrels quickly decimate anything I might have created.  So while trips to the pumpkin patch are always fun (we used to do our family picture in the pumpkin patch every year – guess that’s off now too), I no longer go to the expense of purchasing one.  Nicer just to look.

PumpkinPatch15LR

Here’s an abbreviated version of the legend of the origin of the Jack-‘O’-Lantern:  A drunken Irish gambler named Jack met the devil on the road one night.  He tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree, then trapped him in it by carving a cross into the tree trunk.  The devil was furious, and when Jack died, he exercised his revenge by denying him entrance into hell (where Jack had a reservation) and condemning him to wander the earth at night for all eternity, carrying a lighted candle in a hollowed-out turnip.

(In an interesting cultural variation, in certain African countries, Jack is known as “Big Sixteen” and is refused entry into hell by the devil’s widow, for having killed the devil.  And on a side note, why do we capitalize God but not the devil?  Does capitalizing something automatically give it more power, importance, or validity?) 

It would be disastrous to give every costumed reveller a lighted, hollowed-out turnip in this day and age.  Thankfully, it’s too challenging to carry a lighted, hollowed-out pumpkin, especially when trying to juggle a bulging bag of candy and pounding on doors.  Not that I’ve tried.

In closing, for those of you partaking in Halloween – have fun, practice safe celebration, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.  That pretty much leaves the door wide open.

door

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.”  — courtesy of the Scots

To pee or not to pee, that is the question. 
It hurts either way.

This could already be TMI, but I have to expel something about kidney stones, even if it’s not the actual stone itself yet.

The combination of pain and painkillers has me walking around work like one of the undead.  It started two days ago, with a familiar twinge, a pressure that I remember all too well from earlier this year, when I had my first stone.  That one started with back pain – this one didn’t.  I guess it’s a case of  ‘to each stone, it’s own’.

My Mother used to get kidney stones.  I remember her first one.  Her friend Nancy picked me up at school and told me what was going on.  We drove past the doctor’s office where she was being treated.  When she passed the stone and came home, she told me how awful it was.  A tough woman – childbirth hadn’t hurt, but the kidney stone sure did.

In my experience in January, passing the stone was the easy part.  It was all the pain leading up to passing it that was intolerable.  But once it was gone, I felt miraculously, immediately better. 

There’s no average amount of time, as far as I can see, that it takes to pass a stone.  One source says the typical time for passage is from 4 to 30 days.  Kind of a wide range there.  Again, each stone to its own.

To distract myself, I did a little research for some kidney stone trivia that I’d like to share with you:

  • Carnelian stones are said to help heal kidney stones.  I am going to assume that means wearing carnelian stones as opposed to eating them.  Diamonds are also said to help prevent kidney stones, which begs the following question – Do married/engaged women have kidney stones less frequently than single women? 
  • Saw palmetto, rose hips and dandelion tea may be helpful in healing kidney stones.
  • Scottish Highlanders believed that drinking the blood of wild goats could dissolve kidney stones.  An English remedy from the 1700s involved roasted hedgehog skin and powdered pickle.  (How do you create pickle powder?)  I am very glad that those treatments are not currently in vogue.
  • Muslim folklore believes that the ash of a scorpion will cure kidney stones.  Again, I am not exactly clear on what you do with the ash, and I’m not in the mood to go around setting scorpions on fire just now.
  • The Indians used watercress to cure kidney stones, but in Crete, watercress is considered an aphrodisiac.  Kind of a conflict of interest, eh?
  • The largest kidney stone ever removed was 2.5 pounds and the size of a coconut.  All things considered, I feel quite fortunate.
  • William Shatner auctioned off his kidney stone for $25,000; Gene Simmons kidney stone only fetched $15,000 at auction.
  • Chris Pollman has written a parody of the AC/DC song “Givin’ The Dog A Bone” called “Gettin’ A Kidney Stone”.  The lyrics are available here:  http://www.amiright.com/parody/80s/acdc26.shtml.
  • And finally, according to www.azocleantech.com, global warming will cause an increase in kidney stones.  Isn’t it wonderful how we can blame everything on global warming?  And the Kidney Stone belt (of which I was unaware) that currently encompasses the southern states, will raise up north like an old man’s trousers.

Well, those are the stone-cold facts. 

Maybe if I sit very still and am very quiet, it will go away.

But probably not.  Oh well.  Time will tell.

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