Category Archives: Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff

How the Great Backyard Bird Count made me a birder

GBBC 1

My first ever bird journal!

Lots of birders recall their “spark bird” – the sighting that gave them the bug to bird – fondly.

I don’t have a spark bird. I have a spark weekend.

There’s this neat bookstore in the nearby town of Bethel called Byrd’s Books. In this do-or-die time for independent book sellers—there’s a lot of competition out there from Amazon, mostly, but from other large outlets that sell books at a cut price as well, such as BJs and Costco—they constantly have to invent new ways to keep themselves alive.

One of the ways Byrd’s does this is through the creation of community. Alice works hard to host a number of interesting events. In late January, her newsletter heralded an introductory session to the Great Backyard Bird Count—an annual event that takes place around President’s Day Weekend. It’s when birders everywhere count the birds in their yards or anywhere else they visit, and make reports each day. The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology then use these reports to create a real-time snapshot of local bird populations. In prior years, this count has been exceptionally helpful in noting increases and decreases in certain populations and, for example, how changing weather patterns have affected them.

GBBC Confirmation

I signed us up immediately—Nathan has been a birder for years, and I’ll admit I never understood the appeal of it, but it would be an interesting date for us. I was excited, because I knew Nathan would be; I also love going to lectures on just about anything, and I love participating in citizen science. Besides, maybe I could figure out what the heck it is he loves about sitting out on our back porch for hours watching birds.

Whatever it was Read the rest of this entry

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Unique perspective: GoPro films inside lava flow…

GoPro Lava Screenshot

I’m not one to go crazy over viral videos. But due to my fascination with volcanoes–and my being traumatized as a child by certain movies (i.e., Devil at 4 O’Clock) when I found this it made my blood curdle, so I had to share.

The first-person perspective while the lava consumes the camera is disturbing–there’s something about feeling hopelessly trapped as the flow moves toward the camera, the relentless crackling of the beast itself, and the flames consuming us while we watch.

https://nypost.com/2017/11/15/gopro-keeps-filming-after-being-engulfed-in-molten-lava/

 

The truth is out there: I called THIS one when I was 14…

Ralos Paper Art

My 9th grade science teacher, Mr. Coleman, gave us an assignment to “create our own solar system” and “describe each planet, its atmosphere, and geological/geographic properties.” Something like that, anyway—I don’t really remember the exact parameters.

I loved doing homework, and I especially loved projects (my home life sucked, so anything that could help me mentally escape—and have an excuse to not do ridiculous chores—was a win). I threw myself into this one whole hog, but strayed a little bit from the hard-core science paper by adding lots of fiction and poetry (like, seriously? Who does that? Who even thinks it’s a good IDEA to do that?) So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Mr. Coleman called me in to “discuss my paper” because it “was of some concern.” I don’t remember the conversation as a whole, but I do remember, word for word, a few things he said, among them, “I mean, planets moving back and forth like clocks? Planets that don’t spin at all? It’s ridiculous!” and also, that what I had dreamed up was scientifically impossible.

I remember thinking, as I left the classroom to go to—lunch, I think it was—that while he was a science teacher, he was kind of not too swift. Yes, it’s true, I didn’t give him what he asked for, but I mean, why couldn’t planets move in ways we’ve never seen? Wasn’t it true that there were whole expanses of space that had never been explored? Didn’t we just get done learning in biology class that a long-extinct fish called the Coelacanth had turned up in someone’s nets in Madagascar?

Later on, I felt stupid: Of course not, silly. Of course planets can’t move contrary to whatever we’ve already seen. It’s laws of physics.

I never forgot that conversation, but I kept my admittedly cringe-worthy paper.

I never dreamed the day would come when it would be proven that some of what I’d dreamed up was not only possible, it existed. I recently read that scientists had discovered a planet (known as 55 Cancri e) with a permanent day and night side—which means the planet doesn’t spin as ours does. You can read more about this place—which they now think might even have an atmosphere—here: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2017/11/nasa-scientists-debate-alien-planet-55-cancri-e-does-it-have-an-atmosphere-like-earth-venus.html

We’ve still yet to discover a planet that moves back and forth like a clock, but…you know, I’ll keep hoping.

If you’d like to read my really bad science paper, I’ve included it below—you can judge for yourself if I really deserved that 19/25 (which works out, I think, to a B+, if each grade is worth five points…I guess he didn’t hate it that much?)

9th Grade Science Paper — Ralos

 

Eight films with immersive abandoned settings

If you’ve been following me on any social media or have read some of my work, you know I have a thing for all things abandoned. On a recent Dark Discussions episode, we reviewed the 2001 film Session 9—it has some small issues, for sure, but you can’t beat the atmosphere; it was shot in the real former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, which today is home to luxury apartments (yes, really).

I decided it might be fun to pull together a list of my favorite movies that are set in abandoned locations. I didn’t include films that have one or two stunning scenes in such places—believe it or not, the animated love fest Happy Feet would rank high on that list, with its most disturbing scene playing out in an abandoned Antarctic whaling station—only films that are almost entirely set in them.

Please note: The only thing these films have been judged on is the quality of the abandoned setting. Check out your favorite review venue if you want more detail on the film’s other aspects before watching.

8 Abandoned Session9

David Caruso stands amidst the ruins in SESSION 9.

Session 9 (2001)

An asbestos cleaning crew takes on a big contract at a crumbling, abandoned asylum, not realizing that they’re going to get a lot more than they bargained for when they find cassettes of a patient’s hypnotherapy sessions. Many people consider this one of the most terrifying movies of all time, but I maintain it’s because of the claustrophobic setting. Shot at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts (before it was gutted and became Bradlee Danvers Luxury Apartments—check it out here), this is a fine example of how setting is sometimes the biggest player in what makes a movie scary. Watch Session 9

8 Abandoned Ghost Ship

An abandoned state room in GHOST SHIP.

Ghost Ship (2002)

A salvage crew thinks they’ve hit the jackpot when they find a passenger liner that went missing forty years ago—one that had long been rumored to harbor massive treasure. But it also harbors something else: ghosts for sure, but I’m thinking more along the lines of splendid furnishings corroded by four decades worth of exposure to the salt air. For most of us, this is as close as we’ll ever get to exploring a derelict liner. The set is so ably rendered it’s easy to envision the grandeur that must’ve been. Watch Ghost Ship

8 Abandoned Reincarnation

Something’s amiss in the surprisingly bright abandoned resort in REINCARNATION.

Reincarnation (2005)

A filmmaker and his crew go to an abandoned hotel twenty years after Read the rest of this entry

How to celebrate Poe’s birthday: fun, last-minute and on the cheap!

My Poe action figure. I can’t write without him around!

January 19 (TODAY!) is Edgar Allan Poe’s 209th birthday—and it falls on a Friday, the most popular night of the week to party! Can’t make it to any of the myriad of Poe-related events in Baltimore, Virginia, Philadelphia or the Bronx this weekend, but still want to have some fun? Here are five instant, easy, low-cost ways to mark the occasion. Read the rest of this entry

CREEP, CREEP 2, DARK DISCUSSIONS and the most unsettling Christmas present EVER

Peachfuzz 1

There are some Christmas gifts that are just so personal, clever, and awesome it’s unlikely they’ll ever be forgotten. I came home from a particularly rough one and received just that—and so did my friends Eric and Phil.

 

Most of you know that I’m a part-time co-host on a horror film podcast called Dark Discussions. The five of us—Phil, Mike, Eric, Abe, and me—tend to be irreverent and do a lot of laughing. A year or so before I joined them, they discussed an unsettling 2015 indie gem called Creep. Much joviality surrounded one of the movie’s more outlandish moments which was a little on the dirty side, if you get my drift.

You can listen to the DD episode on Creep here and the one on Creep 2 here…and you can watch the films here:

Creep

Creep 2

Creep Episode 195

The masthead for DARK DISCUSSIONS Episode 195, CREEP. Look at the picture bottom left–yup, it’s the stuffed wolf! Collage by Philip Perron.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The Creep franchise focuses on a serial killer; but, much like a narcissist, he likes to toy with and manipulate his victims first in a series of bizarre emotional ploys. He first cons his victim—in both movies, an aspiring filmmaker—with the lure of cash to film him for one day, evoking sympathy with one sob story after another as things get more complicated. What’s key to my anecdote, though, is that at one moment in the original film, he dons a wolf mask he calls “Peachfuzz.” That dirty moment I referenced? He touches himself while murmuring Peachfuzz’ name, later explaining to his victim that he thinks of himself as a wolf—tough on the outside, tender and loving on the inside.

After the victim leaves to go back to his life, our serial killer regresses to mailing strange packages before doing him in. The contents of at least one of the packages always contains a stuffed wolf.

As far as my scary little package, we’re still not sure which co-host did it; nobody’s owned it yet. Or even better if we never know. Because the brilliance of this isn’t only the reference to all the fun we have on the show, it’s got that creep factor: I could, indeed, be this guy’s next victim. Oh, Peachfuzz…

Creep 2 Episode310

The masthead for DARK DISCUSSIONS Episode 310: CREEP 2. At the top left, you can see the Peachfuzz mask. Photo collage by Philip Peron.

Rent at your own risk: why you should skip renting a car from Enterprise

Enterprise Rent-A-Car Bill Ripoff

I’m hoping that by sharing this it’ll help someone avoid lots of hassle.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car has a new policy: charge for the whole day/rental period even if you decide not to take the car. It’s not on any of their paperwork, but this is, apparently, the way they are doing things now. That’s what I was told by the Danbury, CT store on Federal Road.

Here’s the brief version: Nathan and I rented a car. I ended up getting sick, and we cancelled the order. Unfortunately, I had signed the paperwork. We offered to pay a fee. The delivery person said, “no problem, we understand, we’ll cancel it.”

Nope, they didn’t. They charged my credit card for a full day’s rental–$108. When I called to complain, the gentleman explained this is their new policy because “well, for those couple of hours, we couldn’t rent the car to someone else.”

Let me make this clear: I don’t mind paying a fee. I’m not paying for 24 hours when I had the car “tied up” for only two or three.

Because Enterprise wouldn’t reverse the charges, I reported it as fraud to my credit card company. They investigated—and agreed. At which point, Enterprise sent me a bill with a threatening note that it will compound interest and fees.

Just be aware of this new policy they have and rent at your own risk. #enterprisewellripyouoff

The Bronx Zoo’s Extinct Species Graveyard

Extinct Species 1 - Headstone

The Extinct Species Graveyard at the Bronx Zoo’s BOO AT THE ZOO Event was fascinating–and sad.

Nathan and I love to visit the Bronx Zoo, which is just about an hour from our house—it’s like being on vacation for a day, and it could be said the zoo is part of our lives (we’ve “financially adopted” many of their animals over the years, everything from a bat to a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach we named Mountain King). Since we’re members, we try to make it down for the zoo’s special events throughout the year.

October brought Boo at the Zoo: weekends full of activities such as a beer garden, pumpkin carving demonstration, not-really hay rides, marshmallow roasting pits, candy trails, a corn maze—and my favorite, a Haunted Forest in the abandoned World of Darkness Building. Little known fact about me? It was my first-ever walk-through Haunted House, and I did pretty well!

It was lots of fun to see kids in costume.

Look who I ran into in New York City!

…and to visit our hissing cockroach, Mountain King.

The exhibit that struck me most was the Extinct Species Graveyard, which was set up in a little-used grove of trees next to The Mouse House. It wasn’t there for a Halloween thrill, nor was it there as just another decoration to fill up space; it seemed part educational, and part memorial. I was surprised by the profound sense of sadness I felt as we wandered through the headstones.

Here’s a tour!

Extinct Species 6 - Falkland Islands Wolf

Officially discovered in the late 1600s, the Falkland Islands Wolf’s tame nature spelled its doom—it hadn’t learned to fear humans, so settlers could easily trick it into coming close enough to kill it. They were hunted for meat and fur, and were considered threatening to sheep. The last one was killed Read the rest of this entry

Happy Halloween!

My Ouija Board costume. It’s missing the leggings in this photo–I only got the leggings so that it would be more appropriate in certain situations; it’s a little short, and HALLOWEEN IS COLD SOMETIMES!!

I’m too old to Trick or Treat and we live in an isolated spot where no costumed reveler would venture, but I still like to wear a costume every year…I go to the day job and pass out candy to everyone in the building. I have so many costumes that most years I don’t have to put together or buy anything—I just go in and yank from my stash.

This year was different. My sister came down for a visit, and we decided to hit up the mall for some retail therapy. We wandered into Halloween Spirit, where I was drooling over Day of the Dead accessories (I’m always looking for more to go with my wedding gown, which I’ve used as a costume on occasion). We went to the check-out, and I saw a Ouija Board costume display.

Ouija Board Costume Display

The Ouija costume display at Spirit of Halloween in the Danbury Fair Mall. The dress I bought is on the top left; the leggings (which I went back and got later) were on the lower right. Too bad they didn’t have a hat or a bag!

After a lifetime of being told that Ouija was evil, I defied all that in college and tried one – and ended up having a very bad experience. I will never touch one again. So no one was more surprised than me that this costume struck me as fresh, different, creative—and my choice for this year’s costume.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Off to write at Rudyard Kipling’s Carriage House

I’ll admit it’s not been a great year for me. To put it plainly, I was sick most of the year with bouts of nausea that turned out to be the result of an out-of-control ovarian mass. Taken care of…a week before one of the busiest Septembers of my  life. In fact, I write this on August 25, two days after surgery. I’m dreaming of Thursday, September 7, when I’ll be leaving to go up to Rudyard Kipling’s Carriage House in Dummerston, Vermont, for a much-needed writing retreat with my friends Meghan and Stacey.

As you’re reading this? I’m picking up Meghan at the bus station and we’re on our way! You can take a photo tour and get a feel for our visit last year here: https://kristipetersenschoonover.com/2016/09/27/the-landmark-trust-properties-for-writers-the-perfect-quiet-places/

Although it says it “sleeps four,” we really feel that it more comfortably sleeps three, as one of the rooms has an old-fashioned full-sized bed (which is really close quarters for two people to sleep on). There is ample room in the living room, I suppose, to throw down an air mattress, but the couches aren’t something you really want to sleep on, either.

Last year, Meghan had to unexpectedly cut her stay short by one day, leaving me and Stacey in the house alone for the last night.

That’s when things got a little weird. I’ll leave you with Stacey’s rendering of it–way better than mine–here: http://staceylongo.com/my-blog/retreat

 

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