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"Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something thatís on its mind and canít make itself understood, and so canít rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving." - Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Hello, everyone! Did you wonder whether I'd fallen off the edge of the planet? Well, over the last few weeks, sometimes it felt like it, but I assure you that I'm here, and everything is fine... I'm just running a little late with the GroveZine. There have been a number of distractions, however, and they've kept me a little busy - from promoting my new book The Midnight Saint to a few minor disasters that we've had here at the house (more on that in a moment). As the summer moves on, we've been enjoying the last of the daylilies blooming. One of the final ones of the season is in this photo - it bloomed in front of the house to greet our guests.
I'll start with a Grove story, but it doesn't involve ghosts... although it did freak us out. One Friday evening a few weeks ago we were both in the house, going about our business, my wife in the den and me in the kitchen. Suddenly I heard a crash - I called to her, "What happened? Are you all right?" I walked into the den as she said, "I thought that you'd done something!" We checked on the bassets, and having confirmed that everyone was all right, we started walking through the house to find out what had caused the crashing sound. We got our answer as we got to the front of the house, stepped into the dining room and looked over at the parlor. The photograph shows what we saw... the ceiling had collapsed. I thought, well, this certainly doesn't happen every day...
Since there were boards everywhere, including hanging down, and more threatening to fall, we immediately got on the phone and started canceling Saturday's tour. I think that this was only the second time in our history that we did a last-minute cancellation of a tour - the other was several years ago when we found an opossum in the house a few minutes before the tour (that's back in the GroveZine archives somewhere). After that I called the only contractor that we use on the house; we love his work, and the house must as well, because he's never been bothered by the spirits here (unlike some others, that I'll tell you about shortly). To make a long story short, he came by after he wrapped the job he was doing that day, surveyed the situation, and we came up with a solution. Thankfully there was no structural damage, so he would come back on Saturday and more or less put a bandaid on it, and then schedule us in for a more permanent solution in the next month or so. He did just that, and we were even able to have our Sunday tour. It's all part of living in an 1861 home, I suppose.
The next thing that happened was just as bad, although in a much different way. It was a typical Friday morning at The Grove: the alarm went off and we got up, my wife started getting ready for work, and I started cooking breakfast. A short time later I got her out the door, then fed the basset hounds and the cats. It was then time for me to go to work, so I sat down at my computer, turned it on, and as it started coming up, it froze. All that I could think was, "this CAN'T be a good thing..." As I sat there helpless, suddenly the screen changed, and I saw something that I haven't seen in years: the Blue Screen of Death. I thought that MicroSoft had gotten rid of it. Anyway, it had some writing on it that basically said that a horrible, terrible, nasty problem had occurred, and that information would be written to an error log and the computer would be shut down. Which is exactly what happened. After that, the computer wouldn't come back up. It was dead. I had to go out and buy a new one, which to my delight had a terabyte drive - that's just under a THOUSAND gigabytes! Wow, I remember when I bought a computer with a single gig - I thought that was almost science fiction... and now a terabyte?!? Well, it made up in some small way for my computer crashing, but the reason that I'm telling you this story is that I didn't lose a single thing - not a file, not a byte of data. That's because I use an automatic backup program called Carbonite that continually encrypts your data files and backs them up to the cloud. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a commercial for them; I don't own stock, or get anything if anyone signs up. But they're an outstanding service, and I just had to share it with the GroveZine readers... because it saved my butt this month. I have friends who buy a USB drive with the intent of backing their files up every week, but that turns into two weeks, then three, then a month - face it, life gets so busy that backups are easy to ignore. Carbonite does it automatically without you even thinking about it, and if you have a crash, just get a new computer, log on to the Carbonate.com website, click on the restore button, and in fairly short order the data files on your new computer look exactly like your old one. For a few bucks a month, there's a lot of security in that. Just sayin'. Anyway, I did have to restore the programs themselves, so I was down for a few days but thankfully everything's back to normal.
Okay, as long as I'm talking computers, I have one more thing to mention (I promise that we're getting to ghosts and other cool things in just a moment). It seems like every few weeks you read in the news that some big consumer site got hacked. It happened to Target stores not that long ago. Last week, a news story came out that a Russian mob had built a database of a billion-and-a-half username/passwords from around the world. That's "billion," with a "B." Is yours on that list? Is mine? There's no way for us to know. But for the most part, hackers are counting on one simple rule: most people, including me, use the same username/password on every site that they log into. These days the username is typically your email address, so people re-use the same password because it's easy to remember. Many folks actually use the word "password" - it's one of the most popular. With that in mind, if a criminal hacks a site and steals all the username/passwords, they'll have an automated program to start trying them everywhere: Paypal, Chase Bank, American Express, you name it. It's SO easy to protect yourself if you simply use a different password for every site... but it's a total pain to try to remember them all. I have a good friend who's a super-techie, and he came up with a great formula. Every one of your passwords will look like this:
Now here's the formula. The first four numbers NEVER change - pick four that you'll always remember. If your first house was at 6228 Pine St., use "6228". If your childhood phone number was 766-2399 then use "2399". Just pick something that is ingrained in your brain. The next three characters are letters, the first upper case, the next two lower case, and are the first three letters of the website that you're logging into. www.paypal.com would be "Pay"... www.netflix.com would be "Net"... and so forth. Those three characters change with every password, and they're the only ones that do. The next two numbers is a pair that you will always remember. If you got married in 1996, use "96". If you were born in 1969, use "69". These never change, so pick two that are memorable. Finally, add an asterisks "*" or an exclamation mark "!" at the end. That formula will satisfy the constraints of most any website, and it's really easy to remember: 4 digits important to you + the first three letters of the website name (1st capital, others lower case) + two more digits important to you, and then the symbol. Some of you may be saying, "Hey, but if a hacker breaks into Paypal, won't they be able to see that they only have to change three letters to break into Chase bank with my username? Sure, if they were to sit down an analyze your solitary password and the site that it came from, but that's not how they work. They steal hundreds of thousands at a time, and then start using them on other sites, hoping to find a large number of people that take the easy route and have the same password for every site. There are plenty of those, so the ones that don't work will just be ignored. Okay, lecture over... it's just becoming such a problem that I wanted to share that with you. As Sgt. Esterhaus used to say, "Let's be careful out there." (wow, does that one date me or what) Anyway, I spent some time updating all my passwords, so now I feel at least a little safer. All that said, let's move on to some fun stuff!
Hey, another Blood Moon! We were out of town for a few days, staying in a cabin in the countryside out of Guthrie, OK. On the first night we were there, we looked outside in the night sky to see that the moon was blood red. You may remember that I wrote about the "blood moon" phenomena in a previous GroveZine - it is happening four times in two years on Jewish religious holidays, which some see as a harbinger of the end times. In the Bible, Acts 2 says: "And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord." Whatever the case, it was a very intriguing - and beautiful - site that evening.
The Overholser Mansion, Oklahoma City While we were in Oklahoma, we toured OKC's first mansion, which was built in 1903 by Henry Overholser (many call him the "father of Oklahoma City"). It is three stories, beautifully furnished with period pieces, and preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society. We enjoyed the visit very much, and the tour guide allowed everyone to roam the second and third floors on their own. When we were up on the third floor, we walked into one area that had a number of closets for storage and both went, "Whooooaaaaaa!" My wife looked at me and said, "DO YOU FEEL THAT?!?" I did - it was a tingly feeling all over, something that we run across at The Grove all the time. There was definitely a supernatural presence there. When we got back downstairs, we cautiously asked the guide if she ever encountered any spirits in the house. She smiled and said, "Oh, I believe that Mr. O walks around the third floor all the time. We told her what we'd experienced, and she regaled us with her own supernatural encounters in the house. The mansion is definitely worth a visit for its beauty and history; but while you're there, pay attention on the third flood... you may run across Mr. Overholser there!
Meanwhile, at The Grove We had a lady on the tour recently that had a couple of interesting stories to share. The first was at the beginning of the tour while the group was in the parlor; she wrote me later to say: "I was standing the far left corner, near the fireplace, and I kept feeling like something was crawling on my shoulder. I brushed at it a few times but didn't see anything, so I moved over to the area near the blue settee and didn't feel it anymore. This wasn't alarming to me until you mentioned the presence that is often in that corner. I thought that was a little freaky..."
But she had more to tell... "At the beginning of the tour you mentioned that we might be waiting for one more guest, but after a few minutes you chose to continue without the late arrival. My husband, who is/was a huge skeptic was totally bored and uninterested. I had already dragged him on the ghost walk the night before and he was a little disgruntled that I was dragging him on another. His attention was turned more towards the architecture of the home during the tour, and his eyes and mind were wandering around the room when he saw a man walking down the length of the porch from the side of the house closest to the garden. He assumed it was the late guest, so he stepped to the door to let the man in... when apparently the man disappeared. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but then he claims to have seen the same man flash three times in and out focus as if walking from the door to the area near the stairs. As we made our way into the game room he told me that he was ready to leave. I thought it was due to his disinterest and I wanted to stay, so he stayed close by me the rest of the tour. After it was over I had a few questions I wanted to ask, but he was ready to get out of the house ASAP. Once we were off the property he told me what he had seen. I wanted to go back and share it with you, but he said I would have to e-mail you or call you because he was not going back in the house - or even on the lawn. I am not sure my husband will be returning, but I can't wait to come back!"
I'd mentioned earlier that we have one builder that we use at The Grove - he's been under the house, up on the roof, and everywhere in between. I think that the house is happy with him, because he's never had a problem - in fact, he's never encountered any supernatural activity here at all. That hasn't been the case with all contractors, though. Back in 1990 when Patrick Hopkins owned the house, he was building a staircase up to the attic and was using a fellow out of Marshall, Texas. One morning the guy told Patrick that his assistant kept seen strange things around the house, and had finally quit on the spot and left abruptly.
Over a decade later when we purchased The Grove, we hired a guy to paint the house. There were metal screens on the windows, and since they weren't to period we told the guy to remove them. He took them all off and stacked them against the house. Later he told us that he'd climbed up a ladder to work on scraping the old paint off the house, and once he was at the top of the ladder the screens all fell forward onto the ground. Figuring that a gust of wind knocked them over, he climbed down the ladder, leaned them against the house, and climbed back up. He heard a soft "thud" as he got back to the top of the ladder, and saw that they'd fallen over again. This time he thought that he hadn't leaned them up at a steep enough angle, so he climbed down, increased the angle that they were against the house, and started back up. To make a long story short, this happened a few more times, and the last time he had leaned them over so much that there is no way that they could have fallen away from the house... yet they did. The painter just assumed that the house was glad to be rid of the metal screens and didn't want them touching it, so he just left them on the ground. He never worked on the house again.
As we bring a very late GroveZine to a close, I have two more quick things for you:
The first is to mark your calendar! This coming May, The Grove is going to be on Jefferson's Historic Pilgrimage 2015! That's right - it's been over a decade since the house as been on Pilgrimage, so the first weekend in May we'll be joining three other historic, antebellum homes here in town for what is sure to be a memorable tour. The theme this year is "Muskets & Magnolias." It's a great weekend to visit Jefferson, because there is a Civil War re-enactment, a quilt show, a heritage plant sale, and much, much more. Of course, I'll be playing the role of that mean lawman, Sheriff John Vines, in the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial play. Make your plans and get your rooms booked early - the town fills up quickly. We hope to see you that weekend!
The other is The Midnight Saint. I can't express how much your comments have meant to me. I get great feedback on all of my books, but this one is really something special. People share their hearts, their feelings, and their innermost thoughts after reading it. Looking back at the story, I'm shocked that I not only wrote a work of fiction, but one that seems to touch people so deeply. I ran into our local Episcopal priest at a restaurant recently, and he told me that he was looking forward to reading my new book. He asked if it was another non-fiction dealing with the supernatural, and I just smiled and said, "No, this one's fiction... and it is about the ultimate supernatural!" If you've read it and emailed me, thanks so much for your comments. If you'd like more info, just click the book cover. I'd love to hear what you think about it.
Here's what's coming up around Jefferson...
10/4/2014 - Cypress River Airport Fly-In
10/10-10/12/2014 - Burn Benefit Motorcycle Rally
11/1/2014 - History, Haunts & Legends Paranormal Conference
11/7-11/9/2014 - Medieval Wine Faire
11/29/2014 - Christmas Tree Lighting in Lions Park
12/4-12/6/2014 - Candlelight Tour of Homes
12/11-12/14/2014 - Candlelight Tour of Homes
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