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Everyone thinks of Santa Claus as a jolly elf that wears red and has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, with a long white beard and flying reindeer. But long before Coca Cola introduced that image there was a long history behind the Main Man of Christmas.

The origin of Santa begins with a Bishop by the name of Nicholas of Myra, born in Asia Minor, or Turkey.

Nicholas of Myra was granted Sainthood due to many miracles that were attributed to him by the faithful. One legend holds that Nicholas was traveling between Myra and Alexandria where he was attending school, and he saved a sailor whi fell from the ship’s rigging from from certain death In Germany, he is the Patron Saint of Mariners, who place a piece of sailcloth along with their votive candle offerings to ensure a safe voyage.

Another paints a picture of Nicholas being not only a miracle worker, but also a grand detective. During a time of famine in Greece, a despicable butcher murdered three children and brined their remains to be sold as ham. Nicholas was in the region bringing food to the hungry populace, and saw through the horrific deed the butcher had committed, not only bringing the criminal to justice, but also bring back the young victims from the dead through his fervent prayers.

Of course, the most famous legend and the one that lends itself to the evolution from Saint Nicholas of Myra to the Santa Claus of today is that when the Bishop heard that a parishioner was so poor that he could not provide dowries for his three young daughters and they would have no suitors to wed. Bishop Nicholas decided that he was going to do something to help this family, and he dropped a bag of gold coins down the chimney of the man’s home. By some accident of fate, the bag fell into a shoe or stocking left drying by the fire place.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.

But how did the name Santa Claus come about? Well, the Dutch had a different name for Saint Nicholas, they called him Sinterklaas. Sint-Nicolaas is the Patron Saint of Children in the Dutch tradition. After immigrating to the “New World” of North America, the Dutch retained their customs for celebration and religious symbolism, and this included the legend of Sint-Nicolaas, or Sinterklaas.

As already mentioned, the legend of Saint Nicholas has spread around the world. As befitting a Canonized Saint, in 1087his relics were furtively transferred to Bari, in southern Italy. Because of this transfer, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.

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Some of these stories made the news and some didn’t, but here’s a round up of the dangerous, heroic and the just plain bone headed work place weirdness for 2008, courtesy of MSN News….

1. Firefighters in Florida revived several dogs by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after they were rescued from a house fire. The dogs were taken to local hospitals. (Source: Local6.com)

2. A Pasco, Washington man took calling in sick to new extremes after he had his friend shoot him the shoulder so he could miss work. The man told deputies he was shot in a drive-by while jogging before work. He later revealed that he’d asked a friend to shoot him so he wouldn’t have to take a drug test at the office. (Source: MSNBC.com)

3. The police chief of a small Kansas town was convicted of stealing beer after a surveillance tape showed him taking it from the fire department’s refrigerator. It wasn’t disclosed how much beer he pilfered or why it was in the fire department. He was suspended without pay pending an appeal of the conviction. (Source: Fox News)

4. Two crocodile farm workers in northern Australia were collecting crocodile eggs by a river bank when a crocodile grabbed one of them by the arm. The second man shot the crocodile, which caused him to release the victim. The second shot the man fired, however, hit the injured man in the same arm in which the crocodile grabbed him. The injured man survived. (Source: CNN.com)

5. Barry McRoy, a South Carolina fire and rescue director, was leaving a Waffle House restaurant when two men came in fighting over a gun. The gun went off, hitting one of the struggling men, shattered a window and hit McRoy, who didn’t realize he’d been shot. The bullet hit a DVD McRoy had in his pocket; he suffered only a bruise. No word on what the title of the DVD was. (Source: MSNBC.com)

6. A Vero Beach, Florida, McDonald’s cashier received an indecent proposal when a drive-through customer offered to pay for his meal with marijuana. The cashier called police, who found drugs in the customer’s car and arrested him. (Source: MSNBC.com)

7. After being robbed three times in one year, a New Hampshire convenience store is now requiring customers to be “approved” and identified by the store owner before coming in. The store will keep its doors locked and customers are refused if the owner can’t recognize them through the glass doors. (Source: WISHTV8.com)

8. A 66-year-old Florida mailman doing his rounds was bitten by a poisonous snake when he put mail inside a mailbox. He told authorities he beat the snake against his car door to loosen its grip. He continued his rounds for the next 30 minutes before seeking help. The snake may have been an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. (Source: MSNBC.com)

9. Two former security employees at a Neiman Marcus in Illinois are suing the department store. They allege they were illegally videotaped while having sex at work. The two claim they were secretly videotaped on a hidden video camera and were fired because of their interactions. They also allege that a store manager shared the videotape with several others and on a nationwide online database of security personnel. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

10. Two brothers employed at a Maryland restaurant argued over their job duties, which resulted in a knife fight. One brother reportedly told the other to mop the floor, which enraged him. Both brothers suffered small cuts, but only one was charged with first-degree assault. This was the second report from the same restaurant involving fights where one worker attacked another with a knife. (Source: Baltimore Sun)

11. A San Diego man allegedly stabbed a barber who gave him an unacceptable haircut. The man attacked the shop owner at closing time and slashed him twice in the face. The motive? The man was unhappy with a previous haircut and wasn’t going to let the second one go unavenged, according to authorities. (Source: 10News.com)

Sometimes you just want to watch something that isn’t slick and big budget. You know the movies I’m talking about: Killer Bs!The movies that have such bad dialog, special effects or just such a silly concept that you can’t help but love them.

Personally, I am a fan of the hokey 80’s movies, like Convoy and Mother, Jugs and Speed. There is something to be said for the complete silliness of movies that probably shouldn’t have been made.

Jay and I have a fried who produces and directs the most salacious B movies ever released. Movies like The Flesh Merchant, Cannibal Taboo and Feast. Granted, these are a little too bloody and weird even for me, but I like a House on Haunted Hill or just about anything with Vincent Price in it. I like the Mothra, Godzilla and Frankenstein schlock jobs. I like movies that so funny that you laugh out loud when you watch them, even though the story line was never intended to be funny!

We are having the kind of weather in Los Angeles when you really want to grab a handful of these kinds of DVDs and settle in for a cheezy flick night. Put some popcorn in the microwave, snuggle down with a blanket and the cats and watch something that makes you laugh until your sides hurt.I think I might have to put an order in for some of these titles before the weather changes back to hot and sticky. It’s LA, we do have seasons here, they just all take place in one day.

Through all of your campaign Mr. Obama, you have stood as a real beacon of change for this nation. Fortunately, those with a level head, a belief in how great this country can and should be and the passion to try and get us back on the right track prevailed and elected you to office. It was a very proud day for this nation, and it deeply touched me that we did the right thing in electing you. voting with our hearts and heads, and not from a place of fear or hopelessness, as the Republican ticket wanted us to do.

For myself, I believe that while it will be a very long and hard road to complete the changes you envision, it will be done in a slow and precise way, which will create a better future for all of us here in the US and abroad.

I have read your plans on changing the taxation levels for Americans, and I agree that the upper 10% need to pay their fair share, along with the lower income brackets. However, have you considered doing something that had the potential to  shore up our economy and possibly help everything that has slid so far into this coming depression?

If you truly want to help the middle and lower income families in the US to survive the recent economic disaster of failing banks and credit institutions, please consider abolishing the Federal Income Tax for a two year period, while this country recovers.

The most recent attempts to put band aids on the economy in the form of “free money” with Bush’s incentive to spend plans have not worked, for obvious reasons. Many people like myself just put that money towards our income tax payments or mortgage payments that we are increasingly finding harder to meet each month any way.

By abolishing the Federal Income Tax for a brief period, you would be returning direct money to those who are suffering the most, and even those that make a quarter of a million or more each year, would have the ability to put their money into the stock market, the banks and lenders, and even potentially into new businesses and create new jobs which would truly help to turn this country around in a very short period of time, compared to what the situation is right now.

I know that this nation survives on the taxes it collects. Right or wrong, that is the way it has been for hundreds of years. But at this time in our history, maybe the money that the citizens are earning from their own, individual, hard work should be allowed to shore up the individual, which will keep this nation stronger in the long run.

I have always been proud to pay my income tax… it meant that I was doing well if I didn’t get anything back, or had to pay more from my business income. However, even with pre-payments and taxes withheld from my second job, it may mean paying my income tax this year could cause me to lose my home.

You can say that was poor planning on my part, and I would say honestly it wasn’t in my ability to do more, and I had to pay my income taxes on my credit card to meet the deadlines, just as I had to pay my taxes on a credit card last year, even though I spent almost as much as I earned, I still owed taxes!  “Self employment taxes” of all things! With the price of gasoline, food, state and local taxes, interest rates and an assortment of other things that the average US citizen is dealing with and has been dealing with for the past 8 years, I didn’t have much of a choice. I am not alone in this predicament, I know of more than 100 people just in my five mile radius that are facing the same thing.

Oh – don’t worry – we will pay our taxes. We will be honest. We will try and tell ourselves that we are helping our nation. But the truth is that helping our nation may well ruin us individually. I guess that will be the legacy of the last 8 years of the Bush administration, and the beginning of your own legacy…. Bailing out the corporations that caused a lot of this mess, while the individual citizenry struggles and fails to survive individually, while providing the money that is needed to bail those companies out in the first place.

The Sun is reporting that what is believe to be a “Little Person” dressed as a gnome is stalking the streets of Salta, Argentina.

A teenager video taped the gnome, and reported the sighting to Argentina’s national newspaper, El Tribuno. Described as wearing a pointed hat, displaying a distinctive “sideways” walk and being generally creepy, this unknown visitor is keeping the citizenry inside at night. Video and story at The Sun site.

Now is this report the beginning of an ARG? Could the Travelocity “Roaming Gnome” be hanging out in Argentina? Is the world ready for an influx of gnomes? I wonder if he’s related to Bridget the Midget, who’s a wonderful gal? These and other questions remain to be answered….

I love hauntings! I can’t help it. Ghosts, spirits, paranormal activity… whatever it is, I love this stuff. If you are a fan, you probably already know most of these already. This list just popped up on MSN, and I wanted to share it, with a few comments of my own.

And don’t forget that tonight – Halloween Night – ‘Ghost Hunters’ has a LIVE 7 hour event at Fort Delaware, so while we are all passing out candy or just passing out in front of the TV, we should be in for some fun with Jay, Grant and the team.

1. The Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA

Now, this is a toss up for me… I have been on the tour since they started pushing it as a “haunted attraction”, and I can say that there is something there that doesn’t like what they’ve made it into. Unfortunately, most of the stuff that takes place on the tour is hype and special effects, so I have to discount all of that. But the reports long before the theatrical mess started of seeing wet footprints leading away from the empty grand pool, seeing people in vintage clothing on deck and at the pool and the encounters with thumps, bumps and apparitions in the engine room do make me think there’s some there there. Like I said, if you happen to be sensitive and go on the tour, pay attention as you leave the exhibited stateroom and enter the hallway to the inner corridor. That’s where you will sense a presence that is entirely not happy at having “her” home turned into a tourist attraction with Hollywood FX. They have a yearly Halloween blow out, and more information is available through http://www.queenmary.com.

2. Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, CA

I will be the first to admit that I have never been there. Everything from apparitions to disembodied voices and footsteps have been reported in this place, and it is believed to be the spirit of one Kate Morgan that haunts the place. She was found dead four days after Thanksgiving, after checking into the hotel with a man, who was said to be her fiancée/new husband the night before Thanksgiving.  If you’d like to do some ghost hunting of your own, the hotel website is http://www.hoteldel.com.

3. Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

Al Capone and Willie Sutton were among the citizens at this giant “wagon wheel” shaped prison, that is over 170 years old. The prison was closed in 1971, but it has been labeled a hot spot of paranormal activity by many people that have visited. I have no personal experience with this one, but I think Ghost Hunters did a show there a year or two ago. For your own creepy caravan, check out http://www.easternstate.org, but be aware that they do a big theatrical thingy for Halloween, so go for fun then and real paranormal investigation at another time of the year.

4. Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon

If you don’t want to encounter apparitions, or experience moving objects, avoid rooms in this place that end in “03”, is the tale. Legend has it that a former guest commited suicide from an upper level jump, and is still hanging around. This is a new addition to my “want to go” list, especially since we may have a new business client in Portland! The hotel website is http://www.heathmanhotel.com.

5. New Orleans French Quarter

Long a place that is rumored to host all kinds of haunted spots and free roaming spirits (of the actually dead, not just brain dead variety), the French Quarter is the hot spot for most ghost hunters in New Orleans. My bet would be on the Cemeteries in the area, and especially the ones like Saint Louis Cemetery #1 where Marie Laveau’s tomb is visited regularly by Believers that place three Xs on her tomb, while offering please for her intervention in their personal matters. If you want to do the tour thing, there’s a man named Sidney Smith that offers both general haunting location tours, as well as a special “Vampiric Murders” tour, with more information on these at http://hauntedhistorytours.com. I so need to finally make it to N’Orlans…

6. Port East Martello Museum and Gardens in Key West, FL

This is a new one on me, but it also seems to be all about a haunted doll named “Robert”. The doll is said to giggle, tap on the glass of his case and appears to change expressions.  “Robert” is a straw stuffed doll in sailor suit, that many claim was created as a Voodoo doll. I’m not a fan of dolls myself, and as far as I’m concerned most of them are evil, but if you want to meet Robert, more information can be obtained at http://www.kwahs.com/martello.htm.

7. The Haunted Mansion, Disneyland in Anaheim, CA

No, I’m not kidding. I know this sounds like a joke, but it is real. I have never been able to convince myself that I wasn’t just picking up on the theatrical presentation of the place, but I have to say that I am not alone in believing this place to be haunted for real. There are reports that three spirits haunt the place; an elderly man that died of a heart attack there in 1970, an elderly woman who may be the source of the hair pulling and hand touching that has been reported in the area where you go through the “attic” and into the graveyard setting, and a yound boy who may be the sighting of a person running up and down the stairs of the grand staircase and running footsteps on the loading platform. For me, the area right outside the place is always where I sense something looking out the windows on the upper and lower floor, and I usually have to stay as far away from the walls of the house as I can to get through that area, without being too creeped out to go in. It’s not a happy presence to say the least, it’s much like a very spiteful spirit that would love to make you commit suicide. There are other areas of the park that have reproted hauntings, including the Matterhorn, It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Carribean and Tom Sawyer’s Island. For the happiest real haunt on earth, visit http://disneyland.disney.go.com.

8. Toys R Us in Sunnyvale, CA

Sylvia Brown went there, as have many others, but most of the time the ghosts don’t perform on cue. Toys move around, people have witnessed balls rolling down the aisles with no one nearby and employees truly believe the place is haunted, as well as a lot of customers. Yelp has reviews, and it looks like some ghostly images too – http://www.yelp.com/biz/toys-r-us-sunnyvale.

9. Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii National Park

This isn’t your ordinary haunting by any means. Not a human spirit, but an actual Goddess haunts this volcanic area. The Huna Volcano Goddess Madame Pele is said to appear wearing a red muumuu, walking along roads and in forrested areas, accompanied by her small white dog. The witnesses include the normal Park Rangers and tourists, but alledgedly even scientists studying the volcanos have reported seeing the Grande Dame of Fire and Brimstone in this area. Here’s the geographical data, http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/maunaloa/.

10. Bannack Ghost Town in Bannack, Montana

This is another one on my list of haunted vacation destinations… The Meade Hotel is home to at least two different ghosts, while the rest of the town has its own assortement of haunted places. One more that actually has a name is the Amede Bassette House, which housed the children and infants duringthe small pox plague. Babies are heard crying in this structure, where 14 infants died during the outbreak. I believe I’ll pass on that particular building, but the hotel sounds like it would be interesting! The town website is http://www.bannack.org/.

Now for the tried and true that they didn’t mention and I have personally experienced:

The Whaley House, San Diego, CA

What were these people thinking? You put your children in a room that is directly located in the spot where the hanging post stood and wonder why you hear ghostly boot steps in their room at all hours of the day and night? Poor Mrs. Whaley must have been driven to distraction and is still aware that something just isn’t right in her domicile… Stand outside the glass from either the front room, or the master bedroom and if you have any sensitivity to the paranormal, you will begin to feel sorrow, despair and the brush of wind fro a completely unknown and inexplicable origin blowing by you. You can even hear the sound of the air, mixed with small sighs of a very unhappy presence. Want to give it a try? This is the official website, http://www.whaleyhouse.org/. Interestingly, they don’t seem to be holding any Halloween festivities here, but there’s a Christmas thing going on. Maybe they were just thinking they’d get ahead of the game and take down Halloween today. My advice would be to go for the Spring Equinox on March 21, or September 21 for the Autumnal Equinox.

The Winchester House, San Jose, CA

Say what you will… I know this place has had it’s share of “paranormal investigators” (and I believe the Ghost Hunters went there as well) and the coverage has ranged from the routine “nothing there” to the ridiculous, with charlatans practicing vaudeville quality “hoogidy boogidy” tricks to try and get something out of it… But if you enter quietly and Sarah takes a liking to you, don’t be surprised if you feel her tiny hand on your arm, while she gives you a spirited “personal” tour of her fine estate. I can definitely say that she doesn’t like her “Seance Room” any more, and she’ll show you the fastest way across the floor to the actual hidden exit. Maybe someone will have the good fortune to get her to tell you where that treasure trove of priceless wines in the lost cellar is located? Who knows what may happen if Sarah Winchester takes you on a personal tour…. Here’s the official website! – http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com

I have a few more spots that I could mention, but honestly most of them I couldn’t begin to point you to on a map. I have had the most intense experiences in the middle of the Arizona desert at a place called the Scotch Well (I think?) and on a bluff overlooking Zuni, NM. Like I said, I couldn’t begin to tell you where they are on the map, but I am a firm believer that paranormal activity isn’t only confined to structures and historic monuments. It’s possible everywhere.

Good luck, have a boo-tiful Hallows Eve and happy haunting fellow ghost hunters!

Along Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Sin City, is a sign pointing to the town of Zzyzx. So many people have passed it without paying any attention, that it’s a surprise to even consider it might still exist. But if you aren’t in too big a hurry to debauchery of some sort or another, take the time to get off the 15 and travel the four and a half mile southward drive to visit the site of a long lived health fad and huckster carnival in California’s Mojave Desert.

Curtis Howe Springer made a name for hismelf as a radio enagelist in the 1930’s, and then pulled up stakes in Pittsburgh to plumb the spirits and wallets of his followers with the creation of Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health resort. First he filed a mining claim for 12,000 acres in the mosquito swamp of the Mojave, and then he started work on a new town at the foot of the Soda Mountains, boasted a chapel, a cross shaped swimming pool with soaking tubs alog side, an artificial lake and a 60 room hotel and an airstrip he names Zyport!

Once the construction was finished, Springer went into high gear promoting  the hell out his Utopia, as the final word in health and  vitality for ailing spirits. A day at the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health resort would begin with a breakfast of goat’s milk and Antedeluvian Tea, followed by meals featuring the self sustained local delicacies of rabbit and goat, and trucked  in vegetables, all wrapped around your leisurely soaks in the healing mineral waters and twice daily sermons piped over the booming PA system from good man Springer.

The dream came to an end in 1974, when the bureau of Land Management caught wind that Springer had begun to sell parcels of land on neighboring properties to his resort. Land that he had neglected to buy before selling these allotments. Springer was evicted from his property, along with a few hundred of his remaining followers, and died at the age of 90 in 1986. At the time of his death, he was in a Las Vegas jail serving consecutive terms for a variety of felonies.

Today, California State University’s Desert Studies Center occupies the site, and Zzyzx was officially entered as the official geographic name of the place in 1984. It seems Springer did get the last word.