Monday, December 23, 2013

Let's Go Boxing!

 A Lasting Tradition

In England and in Canada  it is customary on December 26 to give  “gift boxes" to mailmen and servants. Although origins of the name are uncertain, the tradition is known as the day collection boxes in churches was opened so the contents could be distributed to the poor.

Additionally, Boxing Day customs included preparing those boxes began about 800 years ago in the United Kingdom. A national holiday it was also when servants celebrated Christmas with their families. 

Here's  a well known Boxing Day carol:

“Good King Wenceslas”

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas

"Patridge in a Pear Tree"...

The "Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol that lists a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days which begin Christmas Day and last through January 6th. The song was first published in 1780 England and had no rhythm to it. The version that we all know was later established in 1909 by English composer Frederic Austin.

In Christianity, the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrates the visit of the Three Wise Men to meet the baby Jesus.

During the Middle Ages, England celebrated by feasting and creating their own merryment. In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night was made popular in William Shakespeare’s famous stage play, Twelfth Night.

In Western Christianity each day’s feast is in memory of a Saint or event associated with the Christmas season. On the fifth day, there is the feast for Saint Thomas Becket.

If you would like to sing along this season to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" here is a list of all twelve days:

1. The partridge in a pear tree

2. The two turtledoves 
3. Three French hens
4. The four calling birds
5. The five gold rings
6. The six geese a-laying
7. The seven swans a-swimming.
8. The eight maids a-milking
9. Nine ladies
10. The ten lords a-leaping
11. Eleven pipers piping
12. Twelve drummers drumming

Enjoy you holidays season!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Believe It or Not

It’s Robert Ripley’s Birthday!

 Robert Ripley was a man who had the ability to illustrate any image, turning it into something magical. A cartoonist, entrepreneur, and amateur anthropologist, he was born 123 years ago in Santa Rosa, California on December 25. Considered also by many to be a true American folk hero, he was a Renaissance man in many ways.
He was most famous for his cartoons and text about ‘unbelievable’ facts that ranged from sports feats to little known tidbits of information about unusual and exotic sites. He made these little known facts popular when he created Ripley’s Believe it or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, and television show.
Ripley once said, “You must carry along with you a lively imagination and plenty of romance in your soul. Some of the most wonderful things in the world will seem dull and drab unless you view them in the proper light.”
This was one of Ripley’s better-known quotes, which was just a part of the wonderful legacy he left us. In the wake of his shared discoveries there at about museums and theme parks around the world dedicated to his work.
If you would like to learn more about Ripley, you can read an  interview with author Neal Thomspon, who recently wrote A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!”

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Yule Log

An Ongoing Christmas Tradition

The December holiday season for Western Europe would not be complete with the yule (Christmas) log. Originally an entire tree, it was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony because it provided the home with much-needed warmth during the dark, cold winter. In some European traditions, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room.

As is the case with most folk traditions, this Christmas Eve activity which included special ceremonies and prayers changed over time to accommodate modern needs. For example, it now refers to burning of the largest log possible.  In some regions of Ireland, for example, a candle, rather than a log is now lit.

Historically, it is believed the practice dates back to before medieval Nordic-Germanic paganism. The tradition spread all over Europe with each country using their native trees. For example: oak in England, and birch in Scotland.

The phrase yule log has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as  as Bûche de Noël.

Here are two tasty Bûche de Noël recipes:


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Heavenly Folk Heroes

Remarkable Bejeweled Catholic Martyrs

I once had the remarkably good fortune to see some remains of Carmelite Nun St. Teresa of Avila. This 17th century Spanish mystic  was being housed for a short while with Carmelite Nuns  in Northern California who were gracious enough to invite me to see her before she was made available to the public. Her presence during this American tour drew thousands and thousands of people. 

Children with disabilities were held before the bejeweled glass case and   men and women sobbed and prayed in her presence in the hopes that the Carmelite reformer would touch their bodies, hearts, and souls.
Honoring beloved Catholic saints has long been a rich tradition. 16th century European Catholic churches preserved and bejeweled what they believed were catacomb saints. Roman corpses that were dug up from underground cemeteries in Rome are considered catacomb saints. These skeletons were celebrated as a way to boost the communities morale after the Protestant Revolution.

To identify if the body was a martyr Smithsonian Magazine explains in an article written about Paul Koudounaris’ Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs (Thames and Hudson Books)  , “If they found ‘M.’ engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome.”It is not guaranteed that these skeletons really are the bodies of the people they are believed to be, but the extraordinary detail and art put into the bejeweling of these bodies make them remarkable nonetheless. 

While many of these bejeweled bones were destroyed in the 18th century, some still exist today, such as the 10 fully preserved bodies in the Waldsassen Basilica in Bavaria. Koudounaris described the skeletons he saw as, “The finest pieces of art ever created in human bone.” These beautiful forms of art, celebrating beloved folk heroes  were a monumental piece of many European Catholic churches in the 16th century, and can still be found today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dance + Environment = Perfect Partners

Dancing to the Music of Nature

Add the wind in the trees to choreographed feet on the ground and what do you get? 
The Soundscape Project is Sonoma State University’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance fall dance concert.  Three unique interdisciplinary dances move with and through the sounds of Sonoma County’s natural world November 21 through to November 24 in Rohnert Park, CA.

The concept of a multi disciplinary approach isn’t new. Dance has long been an important part of ceremony, rituals and entertainment. Archaeologists have recorded traces of dance from as far back as 9,000 years ago. The old Bhimbetka rock shelters paintings in India and Egyptian tomb paintings depict dancing figures from c. 3300 BC. This form of physical expression has also been part of healing practices and remains a popular story telling vehicle. 

But Soundscape Project  - which brings together theatre, dance, engineering and environmental studies - has something new and important to tell and show us. Moving in sync with the symphony of nature – bird calls, wind rustling through trees, crickets at sunset – remind us of how rich our environment is. Perhaps, more importantly, it can inspire us to connect the dots between our physicality and that of the world we live in.

The unique dance piece, featuring the sounds of the Sonoma State University’ Nature Preserves, was created with the collaboration of professionals working with university students.

Some say it is the perfect merger of art and science because it blends video and acoustic recordings by world renowned bioacoustics expert, Dr. Bernie Krause, with new dance pieces. Krause has been recording wild soundscapes -- the grunting of a sea anemone, the sad calls of a beaver in mourning, the subtle sounds of insect larvae -- for 45 years. Already assured a place in pop culture canon thanks to his musical resume which includes Stevie Wonder and The Byrds, he documents the fading voices of nature that have made our ecosystem complete.

Soundscape Project is choreographed by Christine Cali, Kristen Daley and student dancers and original music is provided by Jesse Olsen Bay.  The work of noted guest choreographers Lisa Jaroslow and Rogelio Lopez will also be featured.

More Info: The performances take place 7:30 pm November 21-23 and at 2 p.m. November 24  at Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, CA 94928. Ticket prices are $10-$17 and do not include $5 parking fee. 
Photo courtesy of SSU Dept. of Theatre Arts & Dance.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Champagne Lies

FolkHeart Press Q/A with Champagne Lies Author

The sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France was the preferred drink of royalty who enjoyed luxury and power in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.  Since then it’s become a favorite choice for the masses.  Today the everyday man and woman have access to this bubbly for a variety of festive occasions.

In Champagne Lies, author Wendy VanHatten*, whose credits also include writing the Max and Myron series and Editor of Prime Time Living Magazine writes about other champagne moments… mysterious ones that include secrets and murder.

I recently asked her about her latest book. Here’s our conversation:

What is Champagne Lies about? Champagne was going to help with their decisions. But it didn’t. From San Francisco to Italy, Stacie can’t figure out how and why things keep happening. Throw in a few murders, a secret vault, a husband she thought she knew, a mystery woman in Italy…and it all ends up in a villa. With enough twists and turns to create some confusion, Stacie is positive she is done being surprised. Guess not…

What inspired you to write your first book? My dad taught me to write travel journals as a kid. My mentor inspired me to move forward and pursue writing.

Do you have any advice for other writers? Keep writing and never give up. Mental blocks are only temporary.

What do you write and why? I write travel articles, children’s books, and mysteries…for the most part.

Are you working on anything new? I am working on the seventh book in my children’s series (Max and Myron) and on a second mystery.

Do you have any hobbies other than writing? Traveling and cooking and wine tasting.

Where can readers find you and your work? Amazon and my website.
Wendy is also a copy editor who has worked her copy editing magic on several FolkHeart Press Books! 


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Father of the Encyclopedia turns 300

“Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things” (Denis Diderot).

Denis Diderot, an 18th century French philosopher used his great passions to achieve, at the time, a revolutionary ambition. A boundless pioneer during the French Enlightenment, Diderot became the driving force for an encyclopedia that many believe changed the course of history. The ideas circulated in the Encyclopédie as the French would say, and helped lay the foundation for the French Revolution. This month marks his 300th birthday, and reminder of his most influential work.

A philosopher between Rousseau and Voltaire, Diderot had a hard time making a name for himself. Today, his image has shifted, and scholars and writers abroad have praised him for his work.

Diderot devoted 20 years and 100 writers to build his first 28-volume encyclopedia.  Three hundred years later, his first leather bound encyclopedia is still displayed in the Sorbonne library.  In an interview with the library’s director, National Public Radio’s Christopher Werth gains some perspective on the impact of Diderot’s work,“Today everybody knows Google. The major invention of the Encyclopédie is the same system: The cross- reference is a way of making a kind of web out of the knowledge.”

 Diderot’s passion and devotion for his work has been evident to many. Caroline Warman, a French scholar at the University of Oxford sums its up best. The simplest of entries can lead readers on a wild journey.  There really is nothing more we as readers could ask for, and thanks to Diderot we can take those adventures whenever we like.   
Today, we celebrate and honor Denis Diderot’s memory and wish this folk hero a Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vampires Uncovered in Bulgaria

  Perperikon Site

 Archaeologists working on Bulargia’s Perperikon site have found the skeleton of a vampire; in fact, they have found 100 vampire skeletons. Thought you didn’t believe in vampires? Tis the season for scares, surprises and vampires so boo!

Vampires are folkloric beings who date back to prehistoric times. They are used in our scary pop-culture as creatures that would prey on children and feed on their blood. What makes vampires even spookier is that they are living creatures regardless of whether they are dead or not.

In Bulgaria, a team of archaeologists discovered the Sozopol vampire last year making news throughout foreign media. The most recent skeleton was of a male buried with a ploughshare in his chest. Professor Nikolai Ovcharov already believes it to be a ‘twin of the Sozopol vampire.’

Still spinning at the thought of vampires, even if they are remains? Artifacts on the bodies such as coins led archeologists to believe the remains dated back between the 13th and 14th century, so you can take a breath, they are long gone.

The site was inhabited during the early Iron Age and well into the medieval era. During this time period, there was a group that was suspected of being warlocks communicating with Satan (the ‘vampires’). A group of highly superstitious and medieval Europeans accused them of using their magic and killed these so-called ‘vampires’ by driving iron stakes or ploughshares directly through the hearts to prevent ‘undeath’.

The remains found in the Perperikon site appear to be the first publicized ‘vampire’ remains discovered. Ovcharov, one of Bulgaria’s best-known archaeologists, has lead the digs at Perperikon for over 13 years and earlier this spring said he hoped to finish work on the Perperilon acropolis this season.

As on can imagine, the Perperkion has become a popular tourist attraction. The team is planning for new projects after the spring, ensuring this long-term archaeological work will continue to unveil new discoveries.

Ready to explore this archeological gem for yourself? Find out more about the vampire folk history here, but just make sure to leave the lights on and  the garlic out! If vampires aren’t your Halloween treat, explore our top picks for the scariest haunted houses in America!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It's Haunted House Season!

FolkHeart Press' Scary Picks!

If there is one haunt that you won’t want to miss, it will be our exclusive ‘crème of the crop’ list of the most haunted houses in America. From the famous Old Dent Schoolhouse, to haunted asylums and psychiatric hospitals, to even an abandoned meat packing plant knows as “Hell’s Half Acre”, these horror entrenched places are sure to frighten the Halloween right out of you.

For many, Halloween is a time to carve pumpkins, listen to the classic spooky stories and participate in some good old fashion costume dress-up and maybe, even trick or treating.

However, for the more extreme Halloween enthusiasts, it is a time to travel to the spookiest haunted house for a good scare or two. These are a few places that take ‘a good scare or two’ up about ten notches. Enter these top picks at your own risk.

First is a haunted house located in an Asylum in Denver. It is the longest running haunted house featuring two levels into Gordon Cottingham’s Hospital for the Mentally Insane. The Asylum is infested with spiders, rats, snakes, and has damp musty smells that will lingerie with you for days. Not only is it a prime location for the screams of tortured souls, but it creates all the visuals for a trip down hillbilly horror lane that you can only take if you dare.

Next is “Hell’s Half Acre", which is a 100-year abandoned meat packing plant in a section of Fort Worth. As they advertise, “the meat packing plant is back in use, but this time it’s being used for human flesh!” This high tech torture whole will feature 32 animations, 26 sets and an array of massive creatures on the roof. The haunted hearse ride around the building is awaiting you.

The third pick has been recognized as one of the top haunted attractions in the country, with award-winning scenic artists, set carpenters, lighting and sound technicians, special effects and more. The 13th Gate is a 40,000 square foot haunted house that will take you through 13 frightening themed indoor/outdoor sets where the unpredictable is their specialty and your worst nightmares can come true.
Now if these three haven’t done enough to convince you that there are new levels of horror you have yet to experience, then this most unusual and ghost filled graveyard will be sure to suffice. Gettysburg, where the scene of the Civil War's bloodiest battle is still etched in many Americans minds is our final pick. The place where 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded from July 1 to July 3, 1863, and  also the location of the Hunterstown Battlefield, the Gettysburg Engine House and the National Soldier's Orphan Homestead. Tred carefully around this historical landmark, and at your own risk!

Happy Halloween and may the ghosts of folklore fame be with you!