If you love haunted houses at Halloween, here’s a haunt that may be the genuine article.
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif., regularly features a haunted house in September and October for spooky season lovers who want to enjoy Halloween in an elaborate Victorian house with a creepy background. The story: A fabulously wealthy widow gone mad with grief who communed with the dead. They say she was a recluse, acting on the predictions of a psychic who told her she must never stop adding on to her house because the moment construction ceased, she would die.
Sarah Winchester moved to California after the death of her husband, William Wirt Winchester, in 1881. With an inheritance of the modern-day equivalent of half a billion dollars and a monthly income of nearly $1 million in today’s money, she bought an 8-room farmhouse on 142 acres and started building. She built day and night for 38 years. Construction only stopped when she took her last breath in 1922.
She didn’t have a building plan. She didn’t have an architect. But she did have a small army of craftsmen to build anything she wanted. At her direction, they created an enormous, eccentric house that at one time was seven stories high.
In the house are mysteries: Staircases end at the ceiling — was it an attempt to fool the spirits? Are doors open to solid walls — was she trapping ghosts? Stained glass windows hang where no light can shine through. Windows were installed inside the house. Despite the massive 24,000 square foot construction, there was only one indoor toilet in the whole house during her lifetime.
You can hear the whole story and take a virtual tour at winchestermysteryhouse.com.
$pecial $weets for your Valentine
If your lover loves chocolates, then maybe any heart-shaped box will do, but if you have a cool $14,000 around, try the Gargantua by The Ross.
Packed in a hexagonal box of pure volcanic glass is a collection of just six chocolate pieces. That’s more than $2,333 each if you are counting, but if you are, you won’t be buying. Each piece represents a natural element, including an octahedron for air, an icosahedron for water, and a dodecahedron for ether. The pieces are wrapped in gold leaf. Hurry! They only make 1,000 boxes, making it the ultimate vanity gift.
There are many expensive types of candy for gifts, each with a special claim to fame.
Slightly lower on the expense scale, but still pretty salty, are Fran’s Salted Caramels. If your sweetie really loves caramels, buy 160 pieces for $275. You get a lovely wrapped box of caramel with milk chocolate sprinkled with sea salt that has allegedly been smoked over oak. And not just any oak — Welsh oak. You can also get 17 pieces for a sweeter $17.
For the bonbon lover, try Dandelion Chocolate Company, where $65 buys 21 pieces in the Classic Box of Chocolates. The big draw: You’ll know where this single-origin dark chocolate comes from. You won’t associate with any pedestrian chocolate in this box containing flavors like passionfruit and pistachio.
For a treat that transforms your “chocolate into a powerful force,” try Vosges Chocolate’s Prima Materia Truffle Collection.
For $95, you get 20 truffles shaped like little colorful planets and packaged in a round, earthy box. In every box, you get a tasting and breathing guide to appreciate flavors like Cornish Apple and Armenian Apricot fully. They also make a Grateful Dead collection, another powerful force.
Understanding fair trade
Do you buy locally grown food whenever possible but want to ensure you’re doing right by the environment when it comes to imported goods? If so, look for fair trade products at the grocery store.
What it means
Fair trade is a term that describes international trade practices that support just working conditions, improve livelihoods and protect the environment. Keep an eye out for products with the certified Fairtrade logo to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.
What items are available
There are a variety of fair trade goods available at most grocery stores. Here are 16 of them:
7. Olive oil
8. Coconut milk
Learn how to identify fair trade products and add them to your shopping list.
The tragic tale of the CIA’s spy craft cat
In what sounds like a kid’s movie plot, the Central Intelligence Agency once tried to turn a fluffy cat into a secret agent feline.
In the early 1960s, the CIA spent around $20 million on “Project Acoustic Kitty,” rigging a poor cat with a radio antenna in its tail, a microphone hidden in its ears, and a transmitter installed at the base of the skull.
The hope was that the cat could get close enough to unsuspecting people to eavesdrop on them. Perhaps the most important skill for the typical spy is to blend in. Yet no matter how inconspicuous a person is, they’ll still draw some attention. The guy delivering flowers or the janitor mopping up a spill could be a spy eavesdropping. Is the cat sitting on the windowsill? No one expects Mittens to engage in spycraft.
On paper, cats might sound like the purrfect spies. They’re stealthy, can see in the dark, can easily surmount high walls, and perhaps most importantly, people tend to ignore them.
In practice, it turns out that cats make terrible spies. Ever heard the expression “herding cats?” While felines can be trained to understand some basic commands, whether they actually listen and perform those commands is another matter. Cats are also easily distracted; sadly, they don’t have nine lives.
Ultimately, Project Acoustic Kitty ended on a sad note. During an early trial deployment, the CIA released the spy cat from an unmarked van and directed it to spy on two people in the park. Tragically, the spy cat was struck and killed by a taxi while crossing the road.
Technology has both grown more powerful and become much smaller since the 1960s. If a modern intelligence agency decides to rig up another spy pet, it would probably be much easier these days.
A sweet history of breakfast cereal
Is the best part of waking up cereal and milk in your cup? It turns out dry cereal has quite a fascinating history, and while it’s common today, it’s also a surprisingly new invention. Before modern times, dry cereal wasn’t really a thing. Folks might enjoy warm porridge or oatmeal, but not the cereal staples that now fill the breakfast aisle.
Cereal offers a relatively nutritious, easy-to-make breakfast invented as a digestive aid.
In 1863, a diet guru, James Caleb Jackson, invented a kind of granola that is often considered the first manufactured cereal. Before being eaten, however, it had to be soaked in milk for several hours. In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg devised a similar cereal, which he dubbed Granula, which is not the same as granola. Kellogg also developed and patented a tempering process vital for making flaked cereals. Thus, Corn Flakes were born.
One of Kellogg’s patients, C.W. Post, also jumped into the nascent cereal market with Grape Nuts. To this day, Post and Kellogg’s rank as two of the largest breakfast cereal producers in the world. More cereals were imagined in the early 20th century, including Wheaties and Rice Krispies. Cheerios, another classic cereal, was invented in the 1940s.
Demand for kid-friendly foods skyrocketed during the baby boom that followed World War II. Further, more people were leaving farms and heading to offices and factories for work. With folks pulled away from home, demand for quick, easy breakfast cereals rose.
As modern society unfolded, cereal companies continued to expand their lineup. They also targeted kids with sweeter cereals like Count Chocula. Despite cries that cereals have too much sugar, revenue in today’s breakfast cereal market is enormous, amounting to about $21 billion in 2022.
According to Food Manufacturing, National Cereal Day occurs on March 7, but the highest cereal consumption is in January and February.
In 2021, the top ten kinds of cereal were:
1. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
2. Rice Krispies
3. Frosted Flakes
4. Lucky Charms
5. Honey Nut Cheerios
6. Raisin Bran
7. Fruity Pebbles
8. Special K
9. Corn Flakes
10. Life Cereal
The top four of these were nearly equal in demand.
Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil ignores the experts
Groundhogs have been said to predict spring weather for hundreds of years, but Punxsutawney Phil (and his predecessors) has been doing it professionally for 136 years.
He isn’t all that accurate, but what do they know?
According to Live Science, Pennsylvania’s star of the Feb. 2 festival has been right about 39 percent of the time.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil cast a shadow 108 times on Feb. 2, which heralds six more weeks of winter. He has also predicted 20 early springs. The club doesn’t have records for Phil’s predictions for some years before 1899, and Phil didn’t make any predictions in the war years of 1942 and 1943.
However, checking Phil’s prediction against weather records indicates that his predictions have been correct about 39 percent of the time. But if you take his predictions for an early spring (when he doesn’t cast a shadow), he has a 47 percent accuracy rate. Human weather analysts claim an accuracy rate of 60 percent.
However, Punxsutawney Phil’s Inner Circle claims a 100 percent accuracy rate.
Hibernating animals have been associated with Feb. 2 and the length of winter for centuries. The special date of Feb. 2 is known as Candlemas, a celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. According to ancient lore, you don’t need a hibernating animal to predict the weather. The date alone will do it. Here is a common rhyme that describes the scheme:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, winter won’t come again.
Why you should try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Praised for its practicality and efficacy, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is simultaneously a sport, a self-defense system, and a fitness program. It’s an accessible sport that provides the benefits of staying in shape while improving your ability to react to an adversary if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
Unlike other disciplines that rely primarily on brute strength, Jiu-Jitsu relies on leverage and technique to subdue the opponent. This approach makes it accessible for men, women, and children. It’s no wonder this martial art continues to grow in popularity.
Total body workout
Jiu-Jitsu is a full-body workout. It improves overall health, fitness, flexibility, muscular endurance, and strength. It also helps burn fat to promote weight loss.
On top of being good for your physical health, Jiu-Jitsu has many other positive benefits, including:
• Improved confidence
• Elevated mood
• Increased energy
• Better concentration at work or school
• Healthier lifestyle
• Deeper sleep
What are you waiting for? Find a martial arts school that offers Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in your area.