Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Broads of a Feather – Year in Review!! By C.P. Stringham

Top: Our first meeting. Bottom: Our talk on
being Indie Authors.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better blog partner than my cohort Robin Janney. We gel. We relate. We keep each other motivated—and, honestly, I wasn’t going to be able to maintain a weekly blog without her. Best relationship I have ever had. We’ve never argued or even disagreed slightly. We are “Yes!” women. Dare I even admit we finish each other’s sentences/chat statements sometimes?! Seriously! She gets a lightbulb moment and then mine turns on and vice versa. It’s writer’s kismet! On January 8th, we will be celebrating our One Year Anniversary!!! Happy Anniversary, Robin! (Picture me flailing my arms Kermit the Frog-style and spinning around.)

It has been a great year for us at the Broads of a Feather blog. We have followers! And not just nationally, but internationally!! Hello to our readers from the UK, Poland, Germany, the Ukraine, Turkey, and Canada! I am delighted to have you join us with so much regularity. You never realize the reach of your voice online until you get a glimpse at your blog stats. Thank you for visiting with us weekly!
Not only did our blog start a year ago, but Robin and I got to finally meet each other in person at the Spalding Memorial Library on Saturday, February 1, 2014. Then we met up there again when we were invited back on April 5, 2014 to give a talk as Indie Authors. Even though we were scared to death, we managed to relax and have fun. Talking books and writing is always fun—even if it’s in front of strangers. Between the two of us, we published three books in 2014. Robin’s much-anticipated sequel to Farmer’s Daughter, Ring Of Fire – Book Two of the Country Music Collection, and books two and three of my Ellis Springs Series; A Moment’s Rest and Rest in Peace, came out.
Three books in 2014!
While Robin was hampered by health issues with her foot for several months, she managed to knock off her sequel before the year ended. Nothing like being on medical leave from your day job in order to concentrate on your work-in-progress. She’s back to work, but surgery is in her near future as well as another leave of absence. Can we expect Book Three, Robin? As for me, 2015 means I need to buckle down and finish two books, Overcoming Sarah and Objects at Rest – Ellis Spring Series Book Four. I’m finished with senior photo sessions, the holidays are over, and my daughter is finished with college tours. If I can manage to stay off of social media (Damn you, Facebook!), I just may manage to get some writing done.

News headlines ranged from triumph to tragedy. Thirty-six states now permit same sex marriage. ISIS beheaded hostage James Foley an American journalist. Two slogans rang out reminding us that America still has a long ways to go in race relations: “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t Breathe.” The entertainment world lost actor/comedian/humanitarian Robin Williams to suicide and our nation mourned as we recalled his most memorable roles for this funny man truly touched our lives. Unfortunately, tragedy seems to happen all too frequently and consumes our minds. But we persevere. It’s mankind’s nature. We take the good and the bad and hope that each experience helps to shape a positive future.

With that said (and I think this is my shortest blog post ever), cheers to you, 2014, and a hearty welcome to you, 2015! We can’t wait to see where you will take us next. Robin and I would like to wish all of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! 

We'd love to hear what your favorite memory is from 2014. Feel free to post in our comments section! 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Surviving the Holidays by Robin Janney

Here is it the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day in some countries.

I did have a post mostly written for this week, but I decided I didn't like it so I scrapped it and decided to start over.

A lot of people have had a hard holiday season.  Some were dealing with grieving the loss of  loved ones from earlier in the year, others dealing with divorce, others in our area still dealing with the blow of losing their homes in a block fire.  I even saw where a man lost his life late Christmas day in a car accident.  Not exactly a "merry" Christmas for everyone.

But even when things are good, sometimes the holidays can be hard to handle.  Especially when you start adding to the family.  And when you marry, it's hard for you and your spouse to be in two different places at once.  Although my family only celebrates Christmas and New Years, I imagine some of our issues must be somewhat universal.  Usually, if we do it right, Christmas can be celebrated on more than one day...but that's not how it worked out this year.  So my husband and I spent a few hours with his family. then spent a few hours with my family.

It was a good day.

Honest, I had nothing but coffee to drink
at this point.  Maybe some Pepsi.
Crowded at my mothers, but we managed.  We fit 11 people in my mother's small trailer.  Although my one brother left shortly after we got there to go to his second party, so then it was only 10.  Thankfully this group wasn't all adults, 4 were little boys.  Sadly I didn't get any pictures there, and the only one that turned out at my in-laws was the selfie I took and the one I took of the one dog.  I enjoyed the ribbons on the packages almost as much as I did the presents itself!

And I didn't do too bad eating on what I considered my "free" day.  I've been doing a good job at lowering my weight and my blood sugar recently, but decided it wouldn't hurt me to loosen up a bit for one day and enjoy the rich food.  My sugar was acceptable this morning, still a little high but well within a good range.  Of course, we brought some leftovers home along with some desserts so I'll have to be careful the next few days not to continue the trend.  I'm sure my husband will have no trouble helping me out by eating most of it for me, even though he ought to be watching his food intake as well.

Today is Boxing Day in some parts of the world.  My company gave today to us off because of how close Christmas was to the weekend, but we'll make up for it by working tomorrow.  Which is why my second cup of coffee today is decaf.  Hopefully the small amount of caffeine in it won't be enough to keep me up too late tonight - 4:30 AM comes way too early.  I like having two days off at Christmas though, it's far more relaxing.  Too bad we can't celebrate Boxing Day here in America as well!

Since New Years is now just around the corner, it's also a time to look forward.  I don't do resolutions anymore, but I do set goals for myself.  Like getting a real social media strategy worked out for the new year; hopefully that will eliminate late posts like this one.  One gift my mother gave me was a pocket 2 year planner.  I plan on using that to map out blog posts.  All subject to change should something interesting and blogworthy happens in the world at large or in my own little corner of it.  One thing I've noticed is that on my own blog, the more personal posts get more views than those on other topics.  I also plan to have book number 3 finished.  My upcoming surgery on my foot should help with that.  I also need to do some more research on writing non-fiction and biographies as I've had one friend ask me to write her story.  I really have very little idea on how to write non-fiction for anything longer than a blog post or essay, and know even less about biographies.  But I'm a smart girl and I'll get it figured out.

What holidays do you celebrate this time of year and how do you celebrate?  I love hearing about different traditions!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Season of Giving Back: Community Service

A little holiday fun with my very willing husband.   Who
doesn't love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!?!
It’s so easy to get caught up in the holiday moment. You can get lost in all the myriad of tasks you need to do and the places you need to go; decorating, finding or putting up a tree, gift shopping, wrapping presents, baking, festivals, family dinners, and work parties. If you have younger children, it also involves school concerts and parties, even a visit to Santa as well. At times, it can be truly overwhelming being stretched so thin. As some of our Broads of a Feather readers know, I worked in retail management once upon a time. Back then, I’d have to work those extended holiday mall hours and deal with some pretty rude customers who waited until the last minute to shop for gifts. They couldn’t understand why we no longer had the size or color they wanted when they were in a month earlier. Blamed us instead of accepting their failure to purchase the item when it was in stock. I’d come home late, after closing out registers and cleaning up a trashed store, totally keyed up from the day, and crack open a bottle of wine to relax. It was the only way to come down enough to go to bed—only to get up early to open the store and start it all over again. It was rather difficult maintaining a positive Christmas spirit while working in retail. I did my best for the sake of my children. When I took my early retirement to be a stay-at-home with my youngest, I decided to make up for my years of poor enthusiasm. I went from Bah-humbug Mom to Martha Stewart Saves Christmas Mom. And my girls loved it!
Family favorites: making cinnamon ornaments, watching Elf, and Christmas tree shopping! 

I’m having a difficult time getting into the Christmas mood this year. I’ve really tried, but to no avail. Money is beyond tight and my family and I have had to cut back on our Christmas shopping list. Those closest to us are getting mostly homemade gifts. Others, we’ve had to explain to them that we are unable to do our normal gift exchange with them. At least this year. I guess I’ve allowed our financial shortcomings to influence my mood this season. We’ve decorated our house inside and out. The atmosphere screams Christmas, but we’re still lacking the holiday spirit. My oldest told me she hates Christmas and my husband admitted to me today that he is feeling completely blah. We’ve attended a Christmas parade, the Near Westside’s Homes for the Holidays tours, bought our tree, and went to see The Nutcracker and Junie B. Jingle Bells Batman Smells with complimentary tickets. In all honesty, we should be having the “Hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny f*cking Kaye!” like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We should be thankful. I know it. As my husband likes to remind us, we have heat, an income, a roof over our heads, groceries, our health, and our family. And that’s what really matters when it comes down to it all.
This year, Kenzie put together a gingerbread house kit and did a lovely job! Last year, Sydney made Christmas "crackers" for everyone to open before dinner. One of my favorite ornaments--a gift from our friend Jamie! IMAGINE - John Lennon
I guess my funk stems from the fact that I miss simpler times. Christmas has changed so much. Yes, I embrace technology as much as the next person. But I miss how things used to be and I think that's taken a bigger toll on my mood this year than a lack of funds. On-line shopping. Corporate retail that's made mom and pop stores extinct. Stores open on Thanksgiving!! What the hell is up with that?!? I remember when it was hard to find a gas station open on Thanksgiving. I know because I always had to leave my parents' house, shortly after our family dinner, for my four-hour drive back to Southeastern PA. That was so I could be up early to work on Black Friday. I had to fill my car's tank up after arriving in my parents' town on Wednesday evening. One year I forgot  and had to wait until I was on the Turnpike to refuel at the Hickory Run Service Plaza. I think I cruised in on vapors that time. I know I was white-knuckling it for the last five miles. My gas light began flashing!! It had never flashed before. Do you remember giving and receiving homemade gifts? Neighbors visited and brought baked goodies with them. Community folks went around caroling. That never happens anymore. We have flash mobs in crowded malls which takes the personal touch out of it. Caroling allows you to visit home-bound elderly folks and brightening their evening with some Christmas cheer. My grandparents loved receiving carolers! I just wish we could restore some of our old holiday traditions. The commercialism KILLS me. 
Lesley and Sydney waving to cars during their donation drive. Best friends since kindergarten. Our friend, Caitlin, dropping off supplies and Dunkin' Donuts beverages for the girls. Yay, Cait!!! It was a damp and chilly day. 
 A little of my faith was restored this past weekend when my daughter and her best friend fulfilled the requirements of their mandated senior project. Since they are both animal lovers, they put together a donation drive for our local Humane Society. They advertised it using Facebook. On Sunday, they set up outside of our house to accept supplies and monetary donations. They decided not to solicit outside of a store like beggars, guilting folks into donating. They wanted people to stop because they wanted to help. For six hours, they held signs and waved to cars. It was something to pass the time as they waited for items to be dropped off. Complete strangers stopped to put money into their donation jar. They raised $106.00 that way. Friends and family mailed checks to support their project. Many dropped off supplies and others made arrangements to drop things off throughout the week. Even one of their teachers from middle school has used her Facebook page to spread word about their donation drive. We’re meeting on Wednesday to collect from her. I love the fact that my daughter is doing something to give back to the community. Supporting a cause she feels strongly about. She told me it’s a well known fact that many students fake their way through their senior projects and that they don’t get caught because there are too many kids for the school to personally verify the validity of their projects. It’s a shame really. Community service is very rewarding. The only cost for the girls was to pay for poster board, a thick Sharpie, and their time. I’m so proud of them for doing something to make a difference. Something all of our youth should aim to do. Adults, too.

My goal was to make our Monday blog post deadline this week. I may just squeak by this time! I hope each and every one of our readers are enjoying the holiday season. I wish you all the Happiest of New Years, too!! To steal a line from my favorite elf, Buddy, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some of my Favorite YouTubers

I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I can lose hours on YouTube watching videos.  It can be almost as bad as reading a good book, only instead of "One more chapter" it's "Just one more video."  I shouldn't be watching them right before bed, because the screen of the phone gives off the wrong kind of light to induce sleep, even with the brightness lowered, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

I have several people I have subscribed to, and I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you.

WatchMojo.com I have no idea who the people behind this channel, but they "Top 10" all sorts of goodies in pop cultures.  "Top 10 Movie Depictions of the Future" which I almost embedded; "Top 10 Superhero Duels" was another I enjoyed.  They've also done videos in Gaming, Wrestling, Commercials.  They are open to suggestions from their audience.  I love to watch for the movie clips, even if I don't always agree with their ordering of the Top 10.

Another YouTuber who does Top 10 lists is Matthew Santoro (his second channel is here).  He comes up with some of the most interesting facts to bend your mind. Like "The Top 10 Creepiest Gifts Ever Given", "The Top 10 Fictional Places That Actually Exist" (See below) and "10 Craziest Laws in the World."  He has a sense of humor I appreciate, and obviously puts time into his videos.  He has recently released some personal ones stating that there are going to be changes coming to his channel, but that's no big deal.  Whatever changes he makes, his true fans won't mind a bit.

Another I like to watch is CinemaSins.  No movie is without flaws, sins, and they show no favoritism in pointing them out.  They can be a bit harsh sometimes, but watching their vids has actually helped me improve my writing.  They've even done a video on their own sins!  Unfortunately, it has had an effect on how I watch movies now...kind of like how reading as a writer changes how you read.  Not completely though.  I still love a lot of the movies they've tallied the sins in.  Divergent, Hunger Games, and even older movies like the Wizard of Oz.

The last one I'd like to mention is Brittney T.V  She's a delightful young woman whose videos are full of energy and positiveness.  She lives in British Columbia, and I'm friends with her on Facebook.  She is very good at encouraging people, whether it is through her vlogs, or her Facebook page.  She also interviews differently celebrities, such as Cameron Radice and Aaron Lamont - a budding film director and an author, respectively.

The video of hers I'm sharing is one of those encouraging ones.  Like she talks about, my life isn't exactly the way I thought it was going to be growing up.  It's had a lot of twists and turns I never counted on.  And while my books aren't exactly taking off like I thought, it doesn't matter because I am where and when I am supposed to be and my books are out there, a lasting legacy long after I'm gone.

Unless the internet crashes.


You can purchase my new book Ring of Fire at these links: Kindle and Paperback

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Tis the Season! By C.P. Stringham

My homemade evergreen decorations! 
'Tis the season and I’m behind for my turn at the Broads of a Feather blog. I know. Big surprise! I was on time a few times. It escapes me exactly when those instances occurred, but they did. I could tell you I've been sick or busy writing or away on some secret spy mission—like I live a double life. Only I haven’t been doing any of those. It seems like life is always on fast-forward this time of year. Since it’s Saturday night and my post is a week late, I’m going to keep it short.
After finishing up my write-ups for the Near Westside Neighborhood Association Homes for the Holidays tour brochure, I started pulling out our totes of Christmas decorations from the garage. Instead of using string lights and such for the exterior of our 1950’s home, I decided to make my own primitive decorations using fresh evergreen. I spent two days crafting garland using white pine and made several wreaths. Last year, I made the garland for our small front porch and added simple deep red burlap accent ribbons. This year, I went grander. God only knows what I’ll concoct for next year! I just love teaching myself new ways to be creative. When I started making the garland and posted pictures on Facebook, my friends began posting the same horse head wreath picture, on both my wall and my daughter's, telling me I should make it. After the fifteenth posting, I decided to make my own version using real evergreens and hung the finished product outside of my equestrian daughter’s window. She came home from school and told me she loved it! Ironically, even after I posted a picture of my wreath, I still have folks posting the other wreath! Either they didn’t like my version or they missed the picture of the finished product.
I also can say that I’ve taken my last batch of senior photos. I’ve had the pleasure of taking pictures for several of my daughter’s classmates—kids I’ve known since kindergarten. Add to those sessions a nice engagement photo session with our friend’s daughter and her future husband. I take a ton of pics so it takes me a long time going through them. I delete bad shots right off the bat. No sense giving them space on my computer. Then I go through and pick my favorites. Not always an easy task. I cover blemishes, bleach teeth, and add my watermark. Sometimes I crop because I love close ups!! My favorite part is taking the edited shot and then trying different finishes. I may take one photo and finish it ten different ways. I like giving my clients lots of options. Thank you, Lesley, Shannon, Colton, Austin, Brittany, and Kory for allowing me the privilege of capturing a very important milestone in your lives! I still have Kory’s edits to finish and then I’m done!
Last Saturday night, we headed to Corning, NY for their annual Parade of Lights that kicks off their Crystal City Christmas celebration. We normally go to their Sparkle Christmas evening the following Saturday, but couldn’t due to Sydney’s Winter Ball at school.  So, we opted to attend the parade and Syd’s friend, Lesley, joined us for the evening. We arrived two-and-a-half hours early—as was suggested to us and totally unnecessary. To waste time, we walked six blocks for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, stopped by the outdoor ice skating rink, and went through stores on Market Street. The parade got under way at 6:30. Long after we were frozen solid and Syd found out why it isn’t a good idea to chug two large coffees back to back. Needless to say, my husband left with her to find a nearby restroom and they missed Santa’s float at the end of the parade.
Today, Saturday the 6th, we went as a family to the Clemens Center and watched The Nutcracker ballet. Quite a lovely production and, if Tchaikovsky doesn’t put you in the mood for Christmas, there’s no hope for you! Still humming it as I type this blog. Sunday is the holiday home tours. Looks like we’ll get our Christmas tree next weekend. Not enough time left in this one.
 I hope all of our Broads of a Feather readers are enjoying their holiday season!! 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Holidays by Robin Janney

It's that time of year again.

Turkey's, and deer season, and Christmas lights.

Personally my favorite are the Christmas lights.  When I was younger, and my dad was still alive, all seven of us would pile into the car and Dad would take us cruising around the countryside for no other purpose than to look at the Christmas lights and decorations.  Part of the reason why he liked to go out and look at others' displays was to get ideas for our own home.  Dad was always big on decorating for Christmas, and it's something I really miss.

Some years we would have real trees, chopped down from the farmer's field across the road.  Nothing beats the smell of fresh cut pine.  Sometimes they'd be nice and full, other times more like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.  A few years we had an artificial tree.  Not as nice, but easier to clean up after and take down.  We always had a mix of homemade ornaments and store bought on our tree.  Pretty normal, I guess.

Dad built his own light forms.  The ones I remember best are the star and the cross.  Nothing fancy, just wooden frames he'd staple the lights on.  One package of lights he didn't even take out of the plastic form because he liked the designs they made as it was.  So he just found a spot and hung them out like that.

Even though Christmas is a few weeks away still, Thanksgiving always makes me think of my dad because every once in a while his birthday (Nov. 23) would land on the big day.  He's been gone for almost 20 years, but there are some things the heart doesn't forget.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  Between our slip and slide the other day in the nasty weather, Thanksgiving, and pushing to get my second book ready for publication I've been very distracted.  The Kindle version should be going live sometime during the night, I'll edit this post later and share the link once I have it.   In the mean time, my first novel Farmer's Daughter is on sale for a few days at $.99.

I can't begin to relate just how excited I am.  Now I can shift gears and start tearing into the third book in the series.  It'll help keep my brain occupied as I return to work next week.  At least for four hours, but it's a start and I really do kind of hope that my foot can handle it.  The tear in my tendons is still there, and it still hurts, so I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed.
This right here, one of the best holiday cartoons ever

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  I spent the day with my in-laws and it was a good day.  Good company and good food make for an awesome combination!

What are some of your favorite holiday memories and traditions?  Another of mine are the holiday cartoons.  Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, Garfield...kid stuff maybe, but we're never too old for it.

We're just getting started with the holiday season, so I hope you all have good ones.  And I hope you still find time to read a book or two ;)

Edit as promised.  You can buy the Kindle version of Ring of Fire at this link.  Paperback version also available (Amazon's selling it for $10.35, over a dollar off - I have no control over the price of the paperback on their site - so get it while you can.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas and Community History By C.P. Stringham

The newly unveiled cover to my upcoming e-book!
Time is counting down at an alarming rate. It seems like the first day of the 2014-15 school year was only a week ago. Alas, it’s mid-November. While we have a multitude of routines and events going on with our family of four, the undertone, to everything we do, involves my oldest daughter’s pending high school graduation this coming spring. For parents who have already gone through it, you know what I’m referring to all too well. We’re lucky in the fact that our daughter is pretty organized—more so than I was at her age. She’s visited campuses, picked her top five, and has her applications out. Most colleges have promised to send The Letter within the next two weeks. Yikes!

As usual, I’m behind the eight ball getting this week’s Broads of a Feather blog out. It is Friday after all. Before you know it, my partner-in-crime, Robin Janney, will have her week’s installment up. I’d like to say I’ve been preoccupied by working on both Overcoming Sarah and Objects At Rest – Ellis Springs Series: Book Four, but I’m not. I’ve written a little for the sooner and created a cover for the latter. Progress nonetheless.
The Jennie Fassett House of  459 West First Street.
For the past three years, I’ve been volunteering my writing skills to Elmira’s Near Westside Neighborhood Association. In 2012, my friend Laurie, who had been serving as a board member for this nonprofit group, asked if I could help with their Homes for the Holidays brochure. The person who had done it in years past, had things going on in her life and needed to split the workload with someone. The job would entail visiting three of the homes participating on this Christmastime self-guided tour event, interviewing the homeowners about their home’s history, the renovations they’d completed, and their decorating from antique pieces to some pretty impressive works of art. All of this gets done a few weeks in advance which gives us time to compose an informational write-up to go with each house. Those attending the event purchase tickets, available at several different locations throughout Elmira, and then receive a brochure that includes each write-up and offers a map to get to each house participating in the tour. The event is traditionally held on the first Saturday of every December and proves to be a popular fund-raising event for the association. Last year, I was asked to do the write-ups for the entire brochure. It’s a labor of love since I like history and architecture. Writing about it? Pure bliss. Don’t get me wrong, it is time consuming, but so worth it! This year, I offered to do it again and they accepted. 
Elmira has some of the most beautiful collections of old Queen Anne Victorians, Greek Revivals, Colonial Revivals,Tudor Revivals, and many others. The well-known architectural firm of Pierce & Bickford designed most of them. Since 1983, the neighborhood has been designated as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Previous owners include some of the most prestigious names from Elmira history including the Langhorne family and their son-in-law, Samuel “Mark Twain” Clemens. Mark Twain, folks!! Totally cool for a literature fangirl like myself. In fact, Clemens’ final resting place is located in the historical Woodlawn Cemetery. Sounds kind of macabre, but I visited his grave site recently and have to say it was a very sacred moment for me. I liked the fact that other visitors had left him little gifts like flowers, cigars, and a mini bottle of bourbon—the booze bottle was empty so I assume his visitor toasted his grave before tossing it back, but a small part of me hopes Samuel got to enjoy it.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt leaving 610 Edgewood Drive.
My daughter, a history buff, loves going with me and meeting the homeowners ahead of time and receiving the private tour. One of the homes, from last year’s tour, was built for the former superintendent of the old Elmira Reformatory. The Tudor Revival was said to have been built using the labor of select prisoners. And why not. The reformatory was set up to teach them skills to help integrate them back into society as contributing members after their sentences were served. The program worked well, too, and received national recognition as a success story. A big proponent of the system was none other than former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt who visited the superintendent and his family at their residence and had dinner.  The homeowners are very proud of their home's history—and I have to say I was completely jazzed about it as well. Eleanor is at the top of my all-time favorites list of American first ladies.
Councilman Brent Stermer's house at 318 West Clinton Street--a holiday showstopper. 

Many of the homeowners pull out all the stops and it takes them weeks to decorate their homes for the Christmastime tour. Some, like Elmira Councilman Brent Stermer, displays unique theme trees in almost every room of his Queen Anne Stick-Style. He also boasts to have over 10,000 ornaments. That would be an accurate count from my observation. Another homeowner blends their holiday decorating with priceless works of art which lends a tasteful museum feel to the house. My favorite artwork was a set of original sketches displayed in the formal living room by the late surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. Other homes held ancient Chinese vases and Hudson Valley River artist paintings among vintage Lladro’s and Hummels’. Many have intricate collections of stemware and dishware such as: local Steuben Crystal, Depression Glass, Gay Fad, Blue Willow, etc. Treasured antique furniture from Empire, Chippendale, Shaker, and Mission—pieces that go from elaborate to functionally understated.
Capriotti Properties' great rehabilitation success story - The Gillett House at 378 West Church Street.

Most notable about these houses is the fact that many of them have had to undergo extensive and costly rehabilitation projects because, as with many old neighborhoods, economic decline led to disrepair. The majority of homes were also affected by the flood of 1972 that was brought on by the relentless rain of Hurricane Agnes. As single families moved out, slumlords snapped up properties and went willy-nilly by fixing them in the quickest, cheapest manner possible in order to satisfy turnover into rental properties. They hacked, removed, and covered over most of the unique character each of these homes offered. Painting over intricate hardwood trims and paneling of quarter-sawn oak, bird’s eye maple, chestnut, and mahogany as well as covering floors with glue for linoleum and commercial carpeting. Decorating horrors that cause a blow to the heart of any true admirer of old residential architecture. Slumlords seldom reinvest in their properties once they do the initial work and, before long, after the wear and tear of numerous tenants, the homes are once again in desperate need of help. As years passed, the Near Westside Neighborhood Association was formed in an attempt to draw attention to the history of the homes of Elmira’s Who’s Who of generations past. Due to the commitment of those individuals, the historical designation was earned and instead of razing homes, they have slowly created awareness and raised funding through State and Federal grants as well as through local organizations and residents. A turnaround in decline has happened. Houses are being rehabilitated into the grand splendor of yesterday. Historically accurate colors and materials are used, when possible, to make it happen. People have taken notice and, thank God, are embracing their city’s rich real estate heritage.
My daughter, the old soul, in the upper gallery of 
The Gillett House.

As I finish this week’s blog, I’ll be back to work on my write-ups. Three down, three more to go. I also have interviews with homeowners scheduled for this afternoon and Monday afternoon. Can’t wait to see their houses! Aside from the historical community aspects each year, I leave this event charged and inspired to start my own holiday decorating. It seems to just seal the magical feeling of the season for me.
For more information about the NearWestside Neighborhood Association, click on this link. If you’re feeling extra generous, please make a tax-deductible donation to the cause and help protect our historic homes of Elmira’s Near Westside! And this is the link for their 30th Annual Homes for the Holidays tour event. If you live locally, come on out and support this wonderful fundraiser and enjoy these old homes while they are decked out in their holiday glory! Stop and say hello if you see me during the tour!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Adventures in Cooking Creatively by Robin Janney

For the past three years, I've been living in a situation where I had no choice but to learn how to cook creatively.  Now, I'm not talking about making centerpieces out of fruits and vegetables...I wish!  I would love to have a talent like that and the need for it!  For the life of me, I can't find a free photo of a cool centerpiece.  Google "carved carrots" sometime and you'll find plenty of "food porn" to look at.

No, what I'm talking about is a lack of cooking fuel, in our case propane, and the need to learn to cook everything on electric appliances.  Stuff like the microwave, slow cooker, deep fryer, and an electric griddle.  One thing I haven't bought yet has been a hot plate, instead relying on an old electric frying pan.

I don't do a lot of soups or stews, instead I make pasta dishes in my slow cooker.  Ever since I went to a Pampered Chef party that had crock pot lasagna as a dish, I've been making my own.  Ok, I only made the lasagna once.  It was pretty good.  But I make a lot of spaghetti and goulash in my slower cooker.  Using both the tomato sauces and Alfredo sauce so we don't get tired of the tomato.  Not to mention that we have to watch our tomato consumption anyway because of our acid reflux! The one dish I seem to have a lot of trouble with is macaroni and cheese.  I haven't figured out what I'm doing wrong there.  I usually end up with paste.  :/
The Great Pumpkin they are not...

And it can get a bit monotonous at times.  I alternate using beef burger, tuna, hot dogs, sausage, in my pasta dishes.

This past month, I had a fit of nostalgia for the time I remember making homemade pumpkin puree with my mom one year.  I just remembered how nice our kitchen smelled while they simmered down, and how good the pies and pumpkin breads that holiday tasted.  I thought maybe I could do the same in my slow cooker.

So what do I do, I go to one of our local farmer's stand (Farmer's Fred - if you live in the area, check them out!!) and bought four smallish pumpkins.


What was I thinking?

Because I do things in about 5 minute stretches in an effort from tearing my foot tendons any further, it took my 6 hours to cut up and process 1 pumpkin.  Of course, I was overlapping at the end of the first day...cutting up the next pumpkin while the first one cooked.
I had no idea what lay ahead of me...

This is 1 of the two pumpkins
pictured at the start...
I only put in 1/4 of the second one.

The worst part was cutting the pumpkin up.  My butcher knife gave me grief while trying to cut the stem off.  Cutting it in half after that was a bit troublesome too, but I managed it with a bit of seesawing the blade and pumpkin.

It got a bit easier after that.  The halves cut in half a lot quicker.  And scooping out the guts was no problem.  After that, I cut the sections into smaller and smaller pieces before cutting of the rind and the spongy inside where there were a few strings attached from the guts.

As you can see from my picture, I cut them into really small pieces. Probably the biggest reason why it took me so long.  As it was, it took over an hour for the pumpkin to be tender enough for me to drain it.  The third batch I did, pieces slight larger as I was getting tired of pumpkin, took almost an hour and a half!  I still haven't cut up the fourth one yet.  There's always tomorrow!

Because I kept the lid on while this was boiling, it didn't create that house filling aroma I remembered from my youth.  But then are our memories ever accurate?  I could very well be romanticizing this!  But once I drained the pumpkin and smashed it, I sure did get a face full of that steamy goodness.  It was enough to help  me overlook the fact I had lightly scalded the backs of my fingers because I had the pot angled wrong.

Nice!  And yummy!
I used an old potato masher, and then because I don't have a food processor, I pulled out my electric mixer and ran the beaters through the smashed pumpkin.  I'll admit to sampling the pumpkin both before and after mashing it.

And this was the easiest part.  All I did was scoop out a cup of the puree and slap it into a plastic bag.  I laid them flat as I pushed the air out so that they would freeze quickly and stack nicely.
I have about 15 or so of these in my freezer!  :D
 Even though I am about pumpkined out, I'm still going to go ahead and process that last pumpkin.  Because it makes me feel soooo good to have those little baggies in my freezer.  Even though I can't do anything with it right now, it's just a satisfying feeling to know that it's there.  I did this, even though I could have taken the pumpkin to a friend or family members house and shortened the cooking time by using their stove, I was able to do it on my own.  It might have taken me longer using my slow cooker, but that's ok.

I am glad that I have the electric appliances that I do, and that I've learned how to make so many things in them for me and my husband.  Many people don't even have this much!  If I'm feeling crazy enough, I might try applesauce next.  Maybe.

What's the most creative you've had to be to cook a  meal or dish?

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Night My Dad Was Saved From Zombies By C.P. Stringham

Looks as if my Broads of a Feather blog post will be on the shorter-side this week. So many events came up since my last post that I figured I’d have numerous topics to write about. But I got nothin’. Maybe everything is all log-jammed up. So much going on that I wouldn’t know where to start—or end for that matter. I’ll wedge one of those metaphorical logs free and see which topic wins out…
Christmas past with my parents.

My dad recently spent two weeks in the hospital. What started as a nasty bout of pneumonia (which can be life-threatening to those of advanced age and diabetic), turned into something else entirely within the blink of an eye. His initial ER blood tests revealed elevated cardiac blood enzymes. The doctor said they were in what they referred to as “the gray area” between normal and heart attack. Further tests revealed it was the infection that caused irreversible damage to his heart. Monitoring also revealed he was in arterial fibrillation or A-Fib. From the Cleveland Clinic Webpage:
 What happens during AFib?
Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles. About 15–20 percent of people who have strokes have this heart arrhythmia.
It’s possible my father was having symptoms of A-Fib for at least two months before he developed pneumonia. He had complained about being tired all the time which led to inactivity and brought the onset of infection. While in the hospital, he told my mother he had felt winded lately. Hindsight. The pneumonia left relatively quickly after juggling IV antibiotics. However, the medication prescribed to regulate his heart rate was unsuccessful. His team of cardiologists recommended electrical cardioversion, but a transesophageal echocardiogram revealed a blood clot in his heart, so they couldn’t do the procedure at that juncture.
He’s home now. My mother is monitoring his medication vigilantly since he has a habit of forgetting whether he’s taken things or not—which can’t happen anymore. His blood sugar is another issue. They are working with an endocrinologist to regulate his insulin intake. In four to six weeks, they will have him in again for another TEE to see if the medication he was prescribed eliminated the blood clot while trying to regulate his heart rate the best they can.

My kind of hospital stay! Web photo.
Dad’s hospital stay didn’t go without incident. The normal hospital-related stuff went on. Getting the family all on board, making potentially dangerous decisions for treatment, and just the normal grind of everyone’s life being disrupted from commuting back and forth to the hospital. The most bizarre incident came about with my dad’s first roommate on the cardiac floor. He’d had open heart surgery to repair a heart valve. Nice guy. Loved reading. Although we don’t share an interest in the same genres, we talked books. He loves horror and, more specifically, all of the zombie-based stories that are out. All in all, he was a nice guy. My dad’s second night of sleep was interrupted around 2am when his roommate had a night terror. Scared the hell out of both of them. By the third day, as my husband and I were leaving before lunch, he said to me, “Your dad’s roommate is going through withdrawal.” I didn’t see it, but my husband has seen addiction behavior before in a family member. He told me about everything he’d witnessed that helped him draw his conclusion. All of which made sense. That evening, after a particularly hard afternoon at the hospital, my mom stopped in on her way home. Part of her anxiety was explained as she told us how Dad’s roommate was brought beer because the surgeon “prescribed” it with his lunch. The patient had apparently revealed to his nurse that he was an alcoholic and having a difficult time with it as he convalesced. That meant he was detoxing while recovering from heart surgery. He was given another beer with his dinner. At one point, since he wasn't eating and had only drunk his medicine, he started falling and my mother had to rush to catch him. Otherwise, he would have fallen against his bed's footboard. God forbid he crack open his chest! What my mother described sounded like something from an episode of House, MD.  My mom didn’t get the reference because she’s never watched the TV series. As my husband and I explained to her, the medical team had to treat his heart recovery and that couldn’t be done while he was detoxing. Withdrawal would make everything more difficult. From a Huffington Post article:  
"Doctors sometimes order beers for patients who are going through withdrawal. The kitchen staff places on the trays whatever doctors order, and sometimes they order beer. A lot of patients get it, said the staffer, because doctors think they need it. Not usually throughout their whole stays, but at least at first."

Meme based off of The Walking Dead from The Nerdy Nurse Webpage
The next morning, we arrived early so we could see my dad off before his TEE since the game plan was, if the TEE revealed no clots, he’d receive the electrical cardioversion. Only, when my mom, who got to the hospital ten minutes ahead of my husband and I, found my dad’s hospital room was empty. My dad’s bed was even missing. Panicked, she searched for a nurse. The nurse told her my dad had to be moved to another room and took my mother to him. After the nurse left, my dad proceeded to tell her how his roommate had a very bad night. Fact of the matter was, his roommate was almost delusional. At 11pm, he woke my dad up to tell him that he was going to save both of them and that there was nothing really wrong with them. The hospital was holding them there and they were going to be sacrificed in the morning. They were going to throw them into a fire and burn them. He assured my dad again that he would save him because he knew what to do. Then, he began sneaking around the room to look for zombies. Checking behind curtains, in closets, and the bathroom before locking himself inside. Dad said his roommate was so sincere that, at one point, he was starting to question the whole zombie thing. My dad is always able to joke in a time of crisis. He rang for the nurse, told her what was going on, and then she got others to come and help coax his roommate from the bathroom—although it took forever. Meanwhile, two nurses came in, grabbed Dad, bed and all, and wheeled him into another room. Preferably, one that was zombie-free. What a night!
                           (Video clips from Fox TV's House, MD)

I know what you’re thinking; I made it up. I assure you, this really happened. Truth is stranger than fiction as the old cliché goes. Do any of our Broads of a Feather readers have a crazy hospital stay story? Robin and I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Say BOO! by Robin Janney

Nothing good can come from this omen...
It's that time of year again.


Perhaps one of the most controversial holidays in existence.  I say this because of one paragraph I read in the Wikipedia article about this fall holiday.  While I realize Wikipedia is not always a reliable source, I found the article to be absolutely intriguing.

The word Halloween translates as "Holy Evening".  The holiday we have now is a far cry from its origins, first as Samhain, the Celtic festival celebrated from sundown on the 31st to sundown on the 1st.  Samhain directly translates as "November" and marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark days - It should come as no surprise that Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend and we switch back to standard time.

This time was marked with moving heard from the higher pastures down to the lower winter pastures, and choosing which animals would be slaughtered for the upcoming winter.  It was a time for bonfires and feasting.  Many times the hearth's of homes were doused previously so they could be rekindled from the new bonfires.  Different places had different customs, which remains true today.  This time of year was believed to be a special time of year when then the fabric between dimensions thinned.  Because of this believe there were also many rituals performed during Samhain.

As early Christianity spread across Europe, they influenced the Celts and began to celebrate All Saint's Day the same time as Samhain.  All Saint's Day was originally May 13th, but was later moved to November 1st.  Whether it was because of the two holy days' similarities or as an effort to "combat" the pagan traditions, no one can agree.  There is even the possibility that the church in Rome ordered the change because the city became over crowded during the feast in the summer, especially with the Roman fever a danger.

Graveyards are spooky no matter what time of year it is!
Trick or treating, bobbing for apples, carving jack-o-lantern's are just a few of today's traditions that have been passed down through the years.  Traditions still vary from place to place.  I remember trying to bob for apples once, I wasn't very good at it!  I was 18 when I went trick or treating for the first (and only) time!  And had my fingers shut in a car door for my trouble!  I've never been toilet papering, but I helped a lawn grow plastic forks once...but that wasn't for Halloween...it was an out of season prank.

It's a time for pumpkin everything and scary stories.  There is a lot of emphasis on the departed.  One thing that has lost emphasis in my corner of the world is the remembering and honoring of the departed.  I mean, I've never been to an All Saint's Day service.  I have been to a funeral at this time of year, as my oldest brother died on Halloween 3 years ago.  When the phone rings at 4:30 in the morning, the news is seldom good.

The reason why I call this a controversial holiday isn't because of the mixed attitudes Christians have toward it.  This is a holiday that no religion can agree on.  Some Jews won't celebrate it because it is in violation of a commandment to not participate in Gentile (non-Jew) customs.  Islam is just as split, lumping Halloween in the same category as Christmas and Easter.  Some Neopagans and Wiccans don't participate in the secular version of the holiday, preferring to stick to Samhain traditions.

I used to fall on the 'Halloween is evil and shouldn't be acknowledged' side of the Christian argument.   I wouldn't even participate in church held evangelizing outreaches on the night of trick or treating. Then I switched to the camp of 'Let's shine our light in the darkness.'  Partly because of subtle pressure from the pulpit.  Partly because the pulpit was making sense.  If there's darkness, the light will will push it back.  But since leaving the church, my mind has changed on a lot of issues.  I no longer regard God as this scary judge sitting in heaven taking notes on everything I do.  Life is too short to live in fear that dressing up as a princess or ghost will be held against you after your death.  I myself doubt it would even register on a list of things to be judged.

In many ways, I have to agree with the author of this blog post on the subject.  It's not about whether or not we celebrate Halloween, but how we treat people.  Dressing up as that princess or ghost won't damage a person's faith anymore than dressing as a telephone booth damages his daughter's faith.  The truth is, all the holiday's have become secularized and commercialized to the point it's easy to participate in without subscribing to the beliefs that started it.

Halloween isn't the same without waiting for the Great Pumpkin!
I might even buy some candy and answer the door on Sunday when our community holds trick or treating.  Because it's fun.  I saw trick or treaters in town as I returned my library books, and wished I had kids so that I could have joined them.  Or course, that's still a few days away and I am just as likely to buy a pumpkin and try to cook it down in my slow cooker just to see if I can do it.  Because I love the smell of a pumpkin being cooked down to be used in pies and bread later for Thanksgiving.  Depending on how I'm feeling, because right now this chick just wants some chicken soup and a warm blanket.  I'm settling for warm ginger ale and a sweater until I sign off here.

Enjoy your Halloween, no matter how you chose to celebrate it.  Be safe and have fun.

Do you have any favorite Halloween memories you'd like to share?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn and Things That Go Bump in the Night: PART TWO

Bradford County in full autumn splendor.
Halloween is only ten days away and the TV is full of scary movies and animated holiday favorites. Eateries and coffee joints are offering customers all sorts of pumpkin flavored treats. The only drawback at this juncture is our fall foliage in the Northeast is well past peak season. With that said, here’s hoping I still have your interest for Autumn and Things That Go Bump in the Night: Part Two. I don’t know if Robin Janney has recovered yet. If you haven’tread Part One, here’s the link.
Who ya gonna call? The original ghost hunters.
(Image from Flavorwire.com)
After our experiences following Easter, my husband and I knew we needed to get to the bottom of what was happening. It may seem crazy putting ourselves through it, but we took to watching shows like Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters while this was going on. Gluttons for punishment? Not so much. Viewing those shows helped us feel not so crazy because there were others out there having similar experiences. I decided to email the folks from the semi-local Paranormal State to see if they could investigate. They never responded. As weeks passed and we experienced more activity, I took to the internet looking for other Pennsylvania-based ghost hunting organizations. My husband and I were concerned, more than anything, for our children’s safety. In July, I sent an email to HOPPS: Heart of Pennsylvania Paranormal Society. I liked the fact that one of the founding members, John Herr, was retired military police. Within the day, I had a response from them. John thanked me for contacting them and asked me to call so we could discuss matters. After the call, a date was set up for their investigation and he told me there was no charge for their services. Their only goal was to obtain irrefutable proof of the afterlife.
On the evening of Saturday, August 1, 2009, John and Crystal drove up from the Williamsport area to conduct an investigation. As safety precautions, they requested our children and dog not be home. It was early evening and they asked to be shown around while it was still light outside. They walked our yard, including where our children’s play area was and a sight of previous paranormal activities. Unaware of the details of our experiences, including the fact that Harry’s ashes were spread in our backyard, Crystal, who prefers being called a sensitive versus a psychic, picked up her first impressions of the investigation. Her discomfort was palpable, but my husband and I didn’t feed into it. We moved into the house where John began taking baseline readings of ambient temperatures and electromagnetic fields. We were thoroughly impressed with how professional and scientific he was. In all honesty, while John was kind and empathetic to our concerns, he was completely neutral. As he explained to us, his job was to debunk or prove our experiences both scientifically and by recording the events through their investigation. It was an unspoken message of “We’ll believe it when we see it” thing.
My Gal Friday was with us since my husband was going in that night for overtime. There was no way in hell I was going to be home alone for the investigation or alone afterwards! Viv wasn’t scared at all. In fact, she was a total skeptic. She’d lost her older sister during her twenties to a rare type of cancer and Viv said that, if there was such a way to come back, then her sister would have done it because they had been so close. When they finished with baselines—and John had already had an unexplainable spike in Mackenzie’s room that left him scratching his head—I offered to go on a fast food run. My husband and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and we were starving. John and Crystal declined anything and said that they would begin setting up their cameras and recorders while Viv and I were gone. My husband, a skeptic about psychics, took a seat on the sofa and watched as everyone went their separate ways.
When Viv and I returned with two value meals and her McFlurry, we found the house completely dark except for the full moon outside. We’d only been gone forty-five minutes, but it was evident the investigation was already in full swing. Once inside, my husband admonished us for taking so long. He was markedly upset. In fact, he sounded a lot like Scooby-Doo after he and Shaggy come into contact with their latest specter. Apparently, it only took the well-prepared ex-military cop ten minutes to set up five night vision cameras and two or three handheld digital recorders. As he began telling us that things began happening shortly after they went “lights out,” John and Crystal returned to the living room to join us. John was in an extremely jovial mood and told us that, since becoming a paranormal investigator, he’d never experienced a house come to life as quickly as he had with ours. There was no mistaking his professional excitement. Crystal, who had been very talkative earlier in the evening, wasn’t as chatty. The best story of their shared experiences came from my husband—whom seldom talks about the paranormal even though he’s had his share of experiences. Here’s what he told us:
He said that shortly after we left, John and Crystal began walking from room to room doing EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) sessions while he stayed glued to his seat on the sofa in the living room—in the dark. He could overhear John introducing himself and encouraging any spirits present to show themselves or speak to him or <gulp> touch him. By the time John walked into my oldest daughter’s bedroom and Crystal stood in the doorway of it, my husband’s skepticism over Crystal’s abilities was quickly obliterated. As I said, the moon was full and it spilled plenty of ambient light into our house. It was easy for him to see a dark shape emerge from our youngest daughter’s bedroom and come down the hallway to stop directly behind Crystal. Since she was standing in the doorway, my husband could only see her backside. Being critical, he didn’t say anything about what he was seeing. Not a word, gasp, or anything. His feeling was, if Crystal is a sensitive, then she should know something was behind her. That’s when Crystal exclaimed, “There’s something behind me right now!” She turned on her little flashlight and spun around to illuminate thin air. My husband said that was when his doubts about her abilities disappeared. The event completely unsettled him.
But that wasn’t the only event of the night. John had unexplained EMF spikes and he and Crystal had both heard noises they were confident would show up as EVP’s during the analysis. As they told Viv and me what we missed, we ate in the dark while clustered around the coffee table. What happened next, was the most unnerving experience for me up to that point since everything began. While kneeling on the floor and eating my Big Mac, John’s EMF spiked and held. He consulted the temperature gauge. It had dropped. Crystal became uneasy as she shifted in place across from me where she was kneeling. I was straining to hear or see something when my left foot went ice cold. It didn’t stop there. The sensation slowly moved up my leg. It was like being immersed in ice water. I was afraid to say anything. My husband and I had mocked folks on paranormal TV shows for complaining about a cold spot. We would always laugh and say something like, “Yes, it’s a nervous system reaction to fear. That’s your chill or cold spot, moron.” That moment changed my beliefs forever. Not long after the cold sensation hit my left side, I was touched. Three distinctive fingers stroked down my back between my shoulder blades. I say distinctive because it was impossible to call it anything else. I came unglued. That fight or flight reaction people talk about? My response was flight. I had to put my back to something so I could turn and face it. I felt completely vulnerable where I was. Somehow, after shouting a long expletive phrase, I got over/around/under the coffee table and planted my buns on the sofa between Viv and my husband. I have no recollection how I arrived there, but I do recall shaking like a leaf and almost hyperventilating. I had never been so afraid in my life. The unknown. Some unseen force in my house had touched me. Viv told me my reaction pretty much convinced her that something was going on inside our house. She’d never seen me freak out in such a way before. I hadn’t even realized I was shaking until she told me.
As the night went on, light anomalies were seen, John was unable to debunk any of our personal experiences we’d had prior to their visit, and other personal experiences happened. At 2:30am, John and Crystal THANKED US for inviting them into our home. He told us it would take at least a week to go through the many hours of footage, but he would get back to us as soon as he could with the analysis.

Instead of a week, I heard from John the following Monday. He called to ask me, what he called, a sensitive question. I had no idea where he was going. John asked me if my husband or I had lost a child. I told him no. He asked if I’d had a miscarriage. I told him no. He then explained that the camera set up inside my oldest daughter’s bedroom had picked up a very distinct EVP and he wanted to see if it had any relevance to our family. He was sending me an email with the sound bite as an attachment. While he wouldn’t give me details about what I was actually listening for, he did offer me two tips: for best listening, wear headphones and that the EVP came up shortly after he said, “I’m gonna show you something.” He left the rest up to us to decide on what we heard. A short while later, the email arrived and I did as instructed. The first time listening, I could hear the EVP just fine, but not enough to be able to discern what was being said. I listened a second time and knew, without a doubt, what words were spoken; “Mom, I love you.” An all too chilling revelation. Only, it bore no direct meaning to me other than to strike a chord with my maternal instincts because the voice was very childlike. The thought of a child spirit broke my heart. My husband came home from work and I played it for him without giving the content away. It took him until the third time to hear it. His reaction was similar to mine. It made us anxious to see what else HOPPS was able to pick up during their investigation.
The following week, HOPPS’ analysis packet arrived. Inside it was multiple DVD’s labeled with the room information of the camera placements. We took all of them to my parents’ house that evening since they have a ginormous big screen and digital surround sound. The first DVD was coverage from the living room camera. Although it showed multiple orbs, John is not one to jump on the orb band wagon. For him to even begin to consider it as an authentic orb, it has to meet the following criteria: self-illuminating, avoids obstacles or makes discernible changes in path, able to be photographed without aid of illumination. Otherwise, John chalks it up to dust, reflection, or even an insect. Nothing stood out and we only had time to watch the one disc. The following night, my parents viewed the disc without us. At 9:30pm, our phone rang. Caller ID said it was my parents. Right away I thought something was wrong. My parents always turn in early. Instead of delivering news of a health emergency, my mother said, “We’re watching the DVD from Mackenzie’s room and you won’t believe this shit!” She then went on to tell me how my father noticed it first. Halfway into the investigation, the camera begins to pan, very slowly from side to side, turning on its tripod. You can even hear it making a clicking noise. Now, I need to dispel the doubts from the skeptics reading this. The camera was set up at the rear wall of her room and pointing at the front of her room—where the door is—the only way to access her room. No one entered her room at any point during this phenomenon. In fact, when John and Crystal passed the doorway while doing another EVP session in another room, all activity with the camera came to a stop. And then started up again after they returned to the living room. Only, this time, the camera began moving up and down. Very chilling to see and hear when we went to their house the next day to watch it. I phoned John the following morning to tell him. He explained that, while doing video analysis, he will often have it on his computer with a split screen so he can watch multiple videos at the same time. It stood to reason the incident with the camera slipped by him since the movement was so slight. We also discussed the second video EVP they captured in which he asked, “Can you touch me?” and a female responds, “Yes.” He said there were other EVP’s picked up, but he was unable to make out what was being said. To be considered a true EVP, John will only report them if they are unquestionably clear.

Their investigation eased our fears. Nothing malicious was picked up. Crystal didn’t sense anything malevolent. If anything, they were able to reassure us that we could live in co-existence with whomever was residing in our house. They told us they were only a phone call or an email away if we needed further help. While they don’t perform house blessings or such, they could provide us with the proper people to do it through their massive network of professionals. We had one other visit by HOPPS the following year. John and Crystal returned with four other members of their team. They were eager to use it as a training session with the hopes of collecting more evidence and answering the question of who or even how many spirits were in our home. Overall, it was a great experience working with HOPPS and a longstanding friendship has formed with John. He and I keep in touch through Facebook since we share similar political views—and we both appreciate sarcasm as a second language.
One of our friendly orb photos in this family photo.

Over the years, my family and I have learned to coexist with the things that go bump in the night. Don’t get me wrong, when things happen, it is still disconcerting to experience, but we have come to accept it. We have no explanation for the spirit activity. Our initial experiences tied in with the original homeowners, but disappeared after having the house blessed and asking them to move on. What started happening around Easter 2009 cannot be explained. It has been suggested one of our family members is a psychic beacon and that spirits are drawn to them. I happen to believe this theory. It would explain the almost transient spirit feeling we get. It’s almost like they are passing through. The holidays usually bring on increased paranormal activity. Like John is fond of saying, “As we do in life, we do in death.” Holidays bring families together. We just have a very different extended family.
While this blog post is a very condensed version of our experiences, I hope it was enough to bring on a little Halloween chill for you. If you’ve had any ghostly experiences, jump on the comment section and share it with our Broads of a Feather readers. We’d love to hear about your paranormal experiences! Well, maybe not Robin so much.