#31SpookyStories: October 2020 Reading Challenge

Photo by Grayson Savio on Unsplash

I asked my friends on Instagram if they would be interested in bringing back #31SpookyStories and the response was more than expected. Let’s do this! 🎃

Last year, many committed to reading 13 or 31 spooky short stories during the month of October. This challenge is not only doable, but it is accessible as I provide free resources. I find this tradition an excellent way to introduce yourself to new writers, folklore, genres, and more.

When choosing the next story for this challenge, I usually grab one of my favorite short story anthologies and randomly pick a story. I usually read nonfiction pieces and I never go a challenge without reading M.R. James. Your reading style, interests, and availability may be different than mine, so I gave the challenge additional options:

  • You might read from one anthology/story collection or multiple anthologies/story collections.
  • You might double, triple, or quadtrouple stories on slow days or makeup days. Hell, you could read 31 stories in one week. I find I read most my stories on the weekend.
  • You might choose to read fiction and/or nonfiction spooky stories.
  • You might not have time for 31 stories, so let’s swap the numbers around and make it 13. I’m cool with that. I’m actually doing that this year, because I am setting the bar low during a pandemic.
  • You might choose to participate with your children (I sprinkled in some children’s books below).

Make this challenge your own. I look forward to seeing what you do with it and what stories you recommend! 👻

Join the Fun on Instagram

Some challenge readers (me included) will be sharing our daily reads on social media. Follow me (@notebookofghosts) for fun Story templates, my daily reads, available anthologies from some of my favorite online sellers, and more! 

We’ll be using the hashtag #31SpookyStories!

Documenting Your Reads

You can keep a list of what you read in a planner, journal, or notebook. You don’t have to be public about it.

But, if you would like to share your reads on social media, here are some ways:

  • Post your daily reads (story, story writer, book title, and book editors) on Twitter or in your Instagram stories. Instagram users: I made you templates. Just check my highlights! You might also create your only highlight to archive your daily reads!
  • Share a picture of your book piles periodically.
  • Share your method for picking stories.
  • Write down and share your favorite stories.

Recommendations for Fiction

(That aren’t already in the Free Section)

Recommendations for Nonfiction

Free Stories

Below are links to some anthologies online. I haven’t read all of these, so I’m sorry for the lame ones! Please note: Most of these links take you to Project Gutenberg, which gives you multiple formats to read it in. HTML is best for reading on your computer. You can also send it to your Kindle (I use this email method). 

Keep Notes in a Commonplace Book

Commonplace books are an excellent tool for writing down your favorite quotes and excerpts! To learn more about commonplace books, read this post (and this post). To learn more about keeping a Halloween commonplace book, read this post.

I look forward to reading along with you. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below!

Happy Reading!

Using Commonplace Books to Study (Save?) Halloween

Photo by Andyone on Unsplash

This Halloween will definitely be interesting as we create new traditions in response to COVID-19. What is great about Halloween is that it has always adapted to societal challenges and in impactful (and sometimes questionable) ways. Did you know that haunted houses have roots in the Great Depression? Instead of lamenting the fact that some traditions might be put on hold (i.e. trick-or-treating), let us celebrate the fact that this Halloween’s adaptations may inspire new traditions and activities.

With that said, I have an exercise that will (1) aid in exploring the history of Halloween, (2) help with inspiring new traditions for your own family in quarantine, and (3) introduce you to a new hobby. I am asking you to start a Halloween commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book? I explain more in the next section, but commonplaces books “serve as a means of storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work” (Harvard University Library). I sometimes describe them as DIY textbooks with one reader in mind: you.

Now, before you are scared off (Boo!), commonplace books are accessible to everyone. You simply need the desire to learn. You will not be tested on the material. There will be no final paper! You are simply researching and documenting for the sake of learning.

You can start a commonplace book on any topic, but today I challenge my spooky friends to study Halloween. By looking back you might feel rejuvenated in a time when everything seems “on pause.” History reveals, though, that nothing is really dormant.

In the following post I briefly introduce the topic, explain how to start one, and list general tips, topics, and resources to get you going. Also, please check back to this post at a later date. I will update it with more information and resources as it comes up.

What is a Commonplace Book?

The commonplace book, not be confused with a journal, organizes information by topic (rather than by date) so that it can be easily accessed at a later date. This information includes research notes, clippings from newspapers, printed articles, collected quotes, readings notes, images/photographs, drawings, and more. Think of it as a repository.

These do not need to be beautifully designed and handwritten. Organized chaos is welcome here! So don’t feel pressured to make everything look neat. This book is meant for the individual’s learning.

I have always loved learning new things and have found commonplace books an effective tool in archiving that information just in case my memory fails me. We all absorb so much information each day, especially due to social media. Why not take time to learn something new and really sit with it? Commonplace books give me the opportunity to (slow down and) document and reflect on topics I am passionate about. In some ways, it is an act of self-care.

I have written about this topic at length before. I have covered the history (with pictures!), addressed how tech-savvy people can use commonplace books, and given so many tips on starting and maintaining your own. If you would like a detailed introduction, check out these two posts:

Starting Your Commonplace Book

I am going to explain how to start a physical commonplace book, but you can definitely make a digital version. I just prefer the “paper and pen break” from technology. Again, I have written about this topic at length, so check out those blog posts linked above. They even include photographs of commonplace books as examples.

  1. Find a notebook. You can use whatever type of notebook you like. I prefer sturdy, beautifully decorated notebooks. Picking out my next commonplace book is always a fun experience. I have a commonplace book for each subject. For example, I have a commonplace book just for spooky topics. You might have one strictly for Halloween, another for Literature, Occult History, Witchcraft, whatever!
  2. Create a Table of Contents. Save a couple of pages in the beginning for the Table of Contents. You will be adding entries as you go.
  3. Number your pages. You can number all the pages at once or you can number as you go. When you start a new entry, you will put the title and page number on the Table of Contents page.
  4. Start archiving! Sometimes I start an entry with a topic in mind. Sometimes I watch a show or find an article I want to take notes on. Sometimes my entries are just entire articles printed and pasted into my book for future reference (with all the citation information of course). I take my book along to paranormal conferences to take notes. The possibilities are endless, really.

This commonplace book will explore the topic of Halloween. What is it all about? What are its origins? How has it changed over time? Through the study of Halloween, you might feel inspired to create new ways or bring back old ways of celebrating the holiday (safely!). For example, by researching vintage postcards, you might feel inspired to design your own and send them to friends. And, Halloween has a long history of games you can bring into your own home as well. Maybe adding entries to this very commonplace book will be a new tradition.

An Example of a Table of Contents Page
An Example of an Entry

General Tips

Here are some general tips. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. I will address them in this section as well.

  • Your note-taking style will be as unique as you. My notes are truly inspired by my work in academia. I use lots of bulleted lists, highlighting, and tables. I sometimes create sidebars and text boxes (like a textbook). That’s just me though! Take notes in a way that works for you.
  • Make sure to write down where you get your sources. Do not worry! You do not need to follow the citation style taught in school. Just make sure to write as much information as possible so that you can find it again (if necessary).
  • Get creative if you want! I usually just fill my book with text. Sometimes I feel especially inspired and will add flourishes on my page with stamps, stickers, and colored pencils.

Possible Topics and Resources

Here are some possible topics to start with.

  • Origins of the Jack-o’-lantern
  • Origins of Trick-or-Treating
  • Interesting Halloween Festivals Across the United States
  • The History of the Haunted House
  • Halloween Postcards

Here are some possible resources to start with.


If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. This is a “living” blog post and I will update it if something comes up (a question, new resource I come across, etc.). Don’t hesitate to ask questions! I love talking about commonplace books. 👻

Interview with Leigh Paynter, Author of the The Pine Barrens’ Devil

Leigh Paynter provided me a copy of her book, The Pine Barrens’ Devil, to review. I enjoyed the book so much that I asked Leigh for an interview and I am thrilled she agreed. The Pine Barrens’ Devil is a collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, each set in a different time period. In Leigh’s book, the Jersey Devil is an intelligent, seductive, and manipulative being able to pinpoint and use the insecurities, desires, fears, and misdirections of his human prey as an opportunity to pounce. The devil, in this book, does not pull humans apart with his teeth or claws, but with psychological mind play.

The Jersey Devil is not the only central character of the book, but it is also the vast, confusing forest. The forest is a living being that seems to suck in the human visitors of each story. Get lost in the woods and you might find yourself trapped in another dimension, like a mouse in the Jersey Devil’s cage. After reading each story, you might find yourself reaching out for something tangible (a wall, a chair, your dog) to ensure you were not absorbed into the Pine Barrens as well.

The book, less than 150 pages, is a quick and spooky read, perfect for a stormy night or while sitting outside on a cool autumn evening. You could read it while camping but, after reading the book, I recommend you “Stay out of the forest!” (My Favorite Murder). With digital and print format under five dollars, this book is a spooky bargain.

I was excited to learn more about Leigh’s book and writing process. Enjoy the interview below and then check out the book for yourself!

For those unfamiliar with New Jersey, could you explain what the Pine Barrens is (and is like) and your experiences with the area? 

The Pine Barrens is 1.1 million acres of relatively untouched pine and cedar forest that stretches across the middle of New Jersey. The soil is sandy, so it’s not good for farming, but the water, despite being brown in color, is chemically pure. The U.S government describes it as being like glacial ice water.

Having grown up near the Pine Barrens, it can be scary because it’s very easy to get lost in it if you are not following the river. Adding to the creepiness are several abandoned colonial and mid-1800 era villages.

My favorite location is Batsto Village. It’s an old ironworks village from pre-Revolutionary times that has most of the original buildings still standing and is beautiful during the fall.

Who is the Jersey Devil? And, how much does the Jersey Devil permeate the culture of New Jersey? Your life?

Most South Jerseyans grew up hearing about the Jersey Devil. The professional hockey team is even named “The New Jersey Devils.” The legend says in the 1700s the Jersey Devil was born a beautiful boy to a Mrs. Leeds, who didn’t want to have a 13th child. She cursed him during childbirth. Shortly after he was born, he started to turn from a chubby, blue-eyed baby into a demon who flew out the chimney and into the Pine Barrens.

The stories of missing livestock, strange tracks, odd noises and bizarre creature sightings all direct back to the mysterious Jersey Devil. There have been multiple newspaper articles written about the Jersey Devil, a few movies and books, and a diner called Lucille’s Country Cooking that has a wooden statue of the Jersey Devil outside.

My younger brother and I loved being scared and we would seek out books on cryptids and monsters at the library when we were kids. We both experienced night terrors and I started using those nightmares as inspiration for campfire stories.

In your stories, the Jersey Devil is sort of a chess player and the humans that wander into his woods are his pawns. What made you portray the Jersey Devil in such a way? 

My mother first told me the legend of the Jersey Devil and perhaps because of the way she told it – she sounded so sad when she said his mother didn’t want him – I always grew up seeing the Jersey Devil as a sympathetic character and more man than creature.

As a kid, I loved Washington Irving’s stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and I gravitated to the idea that the protagonists were not heroes, but flawed people.

While writing The Pine Barrens’ Devil, I used real people who had been in the subject of national news as inspiration. I’ve always been curious about what people are truly capable of – is evil something that will inevitably come out or does it take an experience, an opportunity, or a test to reveal itself?

What inspired you to write these stories? And, since each story is set in a different time period, what type of research did you do? How much were you inspired by Jersey Devil folklore? 

I first started telling these stories as a middle school-aged kid to entertain my little brother. Chapter Four I created in high school. They were always oral stories, but my brother asked me back in 2012 to write them down for him. He died in 2014 after a long battle with veteran’s PTSD.

Translating an oral campfire story into a written story required a lot more work, so these are not exactly as my brother would remember them. I needed to build out the characters and provide more detail for someone not familiar with New Jersey or the legend.

Being from New Jersey, I know that New Jerseyans would be very insulted if I did not accurately portray the history and geography of the state. I spent a whole year gathering research on what actually was around during certain time periods: what the towns’ original names were under British rule, dates of certain historical events, and how tall trees in the Pine Barrens could grow, for example.

I did change the original legend, because I learned that Benjamin Franklin may have made up the whole story to tarnish the reputation of Titan Leeds, a rival publisher. The strange sightings also predate Benjamin Franklin and the legend.

This is your first book (right?), could you share the experience of writing your first book for those that may be interested in doing so in the future? 

I never intended to be an author. This was a gift to honor my late brother, Jared. The whole process took two years, but mostly because I needed to do so much research on New Jersey’s history.

I wanted to keep it short for a first book, so it’s novella length – just slightly longer than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

For new writers, I highly recommend hiring a freelance professional editor. I hired two through Reedsy – the first was an editor from Simon & Schuster, who gave me an editorial assessment. Then after I made revisions, I hired a second editor from Penguin Random House to copy edit and proofread. I also hired a digital artist, who I discovered on Instagram to do my book’s cover art.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I saw an opportunity to get my book out right away by self-publishing through Amazon and hopefully reach people bored sheltering in place. Amazon has a user-friendly platform and you’re able to make changes and market on the website and Kindle. Amazon also did a great job on paperback publishing.

I set up a website to help further promote my book, but since the pandemic shut down many events this year such as cryptid and horror cons and Halloween book readings, the best help has been to find influencers that can introduce the book to a bigger audience.


If you are not already, follow Leigh on Instagram at @tainted_candy. Leigh also has a website: leighpaynter.com.

You can purchase the book on Amazon in both Kindle ($2.99) and print ($4.99) format. 

I’m Back! (& Haunted Post Offices)

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Hello! Thank you for your patience as I was launching my Patreon page. On my Patreon page, patrons pick a tier, pay a low-cost fee ($1-$5 a month), and receive exclusive content (more haunted history!). This was my first time doing such a thing, so it took more planning than expected! The experience has been great thus far and, now that I have an idea what I am doing, I can return to blogging my usual (free) content as well!

To thank you for your patience as I got my life together (😆), my latest Patreon post is free to the public. Click here to read about haunted post offices!

I have some great things planned for September and October, so keep this page bookmarked!

Thanks for sticking around and for your continued support!

-Ash

🖤

Ghosts in My Family Tree (Part I)

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My mother and I have recently started to build our family tree and my first thought was: Ohhhh. I wonder if I’m related to an actual ghost?! In this two-part series, I explore two haunted stories I came across during my genealogy research. We will start with The She-Wolf of France.

About the She-Wolf

I will briefly touch on the life of Isabella of France as (1) I am still learning about her and (2) much of her biography is contested. Isabella of France (1295 – 22 August 1358) was queen consort of Edward II of England and played a key role in his disposition in 1327.

After King Edward II’s favorite Piers Gaveston (earl of Cornwall) was murdered by a jealous baron in 1312, Isabella tried to make peace between the king and the rest of the barons. Instead, Edward started hanging out with the Despenser family and Isabella was not a fan. In 1325, she refused to return to England after taking a trip to France (with her son, Edward III) to handle a dispute. During her time away, she became Roger Mortimer of Wigmore’s mistress

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Isabella landing in England with her son, the future Edward III in 1326 // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1326, Isabella, her lover, and some barons invaded England. The Despensers fell and Edward II’s throne was taken away. Edward was eventually murdered and Roger Mortimer (and Isabella) were implicated. During this chaotic time, Mortimer basically ruled as king and made a lot of people angry. In 1330, Edward III (King Edward II’s son) had him seized, put in the Tower, named a traitor, and hanged.

Edward III basically sent his mother into retirement, ending up at Castle Rising Castle in Norfolk. It is a common misconception that Isabella was a prisoner. She actually roamed around and enjoyed “regal splendor” (Jones 74). According to legend, she was “racked by violent dementia” (Jones 74) and/or possibly had a breakdown due to the death of her lover. This is where the haunting comes in. 

Her Ghost

Although she died at Hertford Castle (also haunted), Isabella haunts Castle Rising where “the echoes of her last troubled years are still said to rebound through the corridors of the Castle” (Jones 74). Visitors have heard hysterical laughter. The village nearby has also heard screams and laughter coming from the castle in the early morning hours.

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Engraving of the ruined keep in 1782, by William Byrne // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I hope I can stay in the village someday and wake up to the sound of my very distant grandma’s ghost screaming into the morning.

Sources

Encyclopedia Britannica 

Johns, Richard. Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland. London, New Holland Publishers, 2005.

More Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

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I recently shared two haunted cemetery statues on my Instagram during my weekly #humpdayhaunts post. This took me down a spooky rabbit hole on the internet.

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I know, I'm very late with #humpdayhaunts. SImply put: I've been tired! But I'm here now with two haunted cemetery statues from Texas (see my Stories for images). Flora Charlotte Kemp (1890-1910) is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her grave is marked with a beautiful monument of a woman walking down a short set of stairs. Local lore says Flora died on her wedding day when she tripped, fell down the stairs, and broke her neck. Local records say she died of typhoid fever. Regardless, the statue is called "The Crying Bride" and it is rumored to cry. 👻 In Forest Lawn Cemetery of Beaumont, Texas stands a life-size statue of a couple hold each other's arms and looking towards the sky. If you are brave enough, take your car to the drive behind the cemetery at night. Then, shine your brights on the statue and wait. According to Weird Texas: "Witnesses have reported seeing the girl's face turning sideways toward her lover as his white marbled arms reach around to caress her back and the two share a long, spectral kiss." According to one internet comment: after the statues kissed, the man turned and looked at the witnesses. Sweet and spooky! 📖: Find a Grave, Weird Texas (online) 👻 I added a link in my Stories to a blog post on haunted cemetery statues if you’re interested! 👻 . . . . . #halloween #halloweeneveryday #halloween365 #ghost #ghosts #haunted #spooky #halloweencollector #autumn #fall #october #hauntedplaces #october31st #halloweencountdown #trickortreat #pumpkin #halloweenobsessed #autumnnights #autumnvibes🍁 #bookworm #booknerd #ghoststories #texas #cemetery_lovers #cemetery #taphophile #graveyard #paranormal #supernatural

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I have covered this topic before on the blog, but I thought I might quickly share some more haunted cemetery statues. I got a lot of these statues from one of my favorite websites: www.hauntedplaces.org. This website allows users to submit haunted locations and other users can share their experiences, ask questions, and/or share their perspective. My favorite feature of the website? The Random button. Click it and you will get a random haunted location. Mindless spooky fun.

With that said, I always try to find other sources to verify the legend (making sure it was not pull out of nowhere, that it has been established as lore). Regardless, it is a fun and interactive archive of ghost stories.

Some (More) Cemetery Statues

  • A statue of a woman comes to life and drowns herself in the nearby lake at La Belle Cemetery (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin). Legend says she died the same way. Some say the statue’s hands drip blood.
  • In Logan Cemetery (Logan, Utah) a statue of a woman weeps for her eight children. Legend says they passed after their father cursed them. Others say she lost her children to illness.
  • If you stand under a certain angel statue in Evergreen Cemetery (Judsonia, Arkansa) and stare into her eyes, they might turn red.
  • In Brunswick, New York’s Forest Park Cemetery (Pinewoods Cemetery), a decapitated statue bleeds from the neck.
  • A mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery (Muscatine, Iowa) holds a statue of kneeling woman with her right arm stretched forward. The statue is called the Blue Angel because a cobalt blue window behind her sometimes gives her a blue glow. Some say if you see the blue light hit the statue, you will receive good luck. If she comes alive, you might die. Some say she comes alive to chase away vandals. Her right hand is missing and it once held a rose. It was believed that if you witnessed her drop the rose at midnight on Halloween, you will die. Allegedly, someone took matters into their own hands and cut off the hand holding the rose. Although, visitors report still seeing the hand holding a rose.
  • A statue moves around at night in the back of Memory Gardens (Rensselaer, Indiana). The statue’s head, arms, or entire body will move to keep watch on people walking by. Maybe the statue is protecting the graves. Be on your best behavior!

For fun, here’s another cemetery statue from an old #humpdayhaunts.

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#humpdayhaunts | If you visit Elmwood Cemetery in the small town of Centralia, IL at night, you might hear sweet violin music. This otherworldly music is from “Violin Annie,” a full-sized statue of a young girl standing atop a large memorial. She holds a violin and bow (though I’ve read the bow has been broken by vandals). 🎻 The monument was built for Harriet Annie Marshall (Sept 7, 1879 – Sept 30, 1890), a girl that died of diphtheria at age 11. During her short time on earth, she was always attached to her violin. Some say she was the best violinist in the area. 🎻 The specifics of her hauntings depend on who you ask. Sometimes she only plays for a certain hour or on a certain day. Some think her statue glows on #Halloween night. One internet user complained that Violin Annie, like the 7 Gates of Hell, is a complete waste of time. 🎻 The cemetery was originally called Centralia Cemetery and was established in 1877.

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Stay safe my friends!

Related Post: Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

 

Photo by Haley Owens on Unsplash

Indiana Cemeteries: James Moon & His Guillotine

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TW: Discussion of Suicide

I recently visited the grave of James A. Moon, a “fighting quaker’ in the Civil War, a farmer, a blacksmith, and an inventor. Yet, his legacy is attached to his final deadly invention.

On June 10, 1876, Moon drove a wagon away from his two-story house he shared with his wife and two children and headed towards downtown Lafayette, Indiana. Loaded in a trunk were the following, which he eventually carried (with help) into his room at the Lahr House: “Five 30-inch lengths of 1-by-6 lumber, a wooden soapbox, assorted screws, leather straps, a dowel, a brace and three bits, a wrench, a screwdriver, a candle, a few yards of lightweight cord, matches and a pencil” (Bob Kriebel, Journal & Courier). Such contents would be used to create a deadly device.

The next day, June 11th, a beheaded James Moon was found in his room by hosterly staff. It seems he had ended his own life by constructing and using a guillotine, which was activated by a cord and candle:

One end of the jointed wooden arm — fashioned out of the 1-by-6 lumber — swung on a hinge screwed into the floor. The two-inch thick iron bars bolted to the broadax weighted the far end. Moon had measured things precisely then strapped himself so that the ax would fall upon his throat. (Bob Kriebel, Journal & Courier)

The coroner’s jury ruled he died by his own hand. To learn more about the event, I recommend reading Bob Kriebel’s article. To read a collection of newspaper articles that describe the aftermath (patent issues and prior behavior), I suggest you check out Chris Woodyard’s Haunted Ohio.

James Aaron Moon is buried in Farmers Institute Cemetery in Shadeland, IN. I suggest visiting the cemetery and the historic Farmers Institute up the road. 

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My Morning Tarot Ritual Box

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I am going to stray from my usual ghost content to share a part of my morning ritual. As someone who deals with anxiety, I like to have some type of self-care routine in place. In a time of COVID-19, taking care of yourself is especially important.

In this post, I’ll describe my morning ritual, which involves tarot, meditation, and journaling. I’ll also discuss how I organize my materials.

The Box

What you (could) need (adapt to your style and beliefs):

  • A box or basket
  • A tarot deck (there are also free apps and websites that let you “pull” a daily card if you don’t have a deck available)
  • Candle + matches/lighter
  • Journal + pen
  • Extras: cloth bag, crystals, tarot cloth

So why put everything in a box? First, it saves me time gathering supplies in the morning. Second, by making this ritual mobile, I can move it outside easily when the weather permits. Third, I have always loved the idea of having multiple altars for different purposes. Of course, you can do this ritual (or your adaptation of it) without a box. 

*I linked the stores I purchased some of the items from in the list above. 

The Ritual

  1. I usually make some tea (I like CBD Chamomile or Cup of Calm) before I start (I like writing with fluids around, I don’t know).
  2. I light a candle and say: Peace surround me, I am present in the moment (from Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s The Witch’s Book of Self-Care)
  3. I mediate 3-10 minutes (usually using a guided meditation).
  4. I then pull a card for the day. Sometimes I’ll ask a specific question, but I usually just pull a card.
  5. I write down or doodle the card, along with a brief description of its meaning. This exercise is also helpful for learning tarot card meanings and interacting with your desk’s design and symbolism. 
  6. Then, I journal. I usually ask myself: What is this card telling me? Does it apply to something going on in my life currently? Sometimes I’ll create an affirmation for the day (based on what comes up during the reading) and write it down in my planner. 
  7. I close my session with a statement of gratitude: I thank the universe for my many opportunities to reflect and explore my spirit. May I always be blessed (from Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s The Witch’s Book of Self-Care).
  8. Then, I put out my candle and start my day!

If the morning is rushed, I’ll set a timer when I’m journaling or do a truncated version of the ritual. I understand mornings are difficult especially with complicated sleep schedules, children, long commutes, etc. This can easily change to a weekly ritual. Pull a card for the week on Sunday!

Maybe this my inspire you to start a new daily/weekly ritual!

I hope you and your loved ones are well during these trying times. ♥

 

My Commonplace Book Routine

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This blog began as a way to share the contents of my commonplace book. I thought I might discuss my routine for keeping a commonplace book. If you are new to commonplace books, I recommend reading my post “A Brief Guide to Keeping a Commonplace Book.” It provides a brief history and introduction, along with tips for starting one. 

Now, I use the word “routine” lightly. Sometimes I stray from my usual routine. Sometimes, I’m not feeling it. Your process for keeping a commonplace book will be unique to you as a writer, reader, thinker, notetaker, and learner. I am sharing my process merely as an example; a process which took years to develop. I am very scattered generally, so I need to have habits in place. 

The Sorting Weeks

During the sorting weeks, I gather preliminary research. I write about topics of interest to me. I email myself links. I take screenshots of tweets (especially during #FolkloreThursday). I take notes during public lectures, television shows, movies, etc. My method is chaotic and I have “notes” floating around everywhere. I takes notes on whatever is available. 

At the end of the week (usually Sunday), I sit down with my pile of notes. I sort through them; placing them in four separate piles

  1. Purgatory: Topics that need further research, but are placed on the backburner
  2. In Between: Facts and bits that don’t need their own section heading
  3. Finished: Full articles or finished notes
  4. To Pursue: 1 – 3 topics to pursue in the following week

I first put the purgatory topics on post-its and then place them inside the cover. I’ll return to those another day. 

During the process of filling in my commonplace book,  I’ll often begin entries before finishing prior ones, so I have to guess how much buffer pages I need between entries. I don’t stress about guessing correctly, because any leftover pages are perfect for those “random bits”: facts, new words and definitions, images of paintings I love (with artist name, date, etc.), quotes I love, and more. Those interesting enough to make the book, but don’t require its own entry (or listing in my table of contents), are called “In Between” pages (creative, I know). I usually put these in the book directly after obtaining them, or wait until the Sunday of a sorting week to write them in. 

Sometimes I find articles that are so great that I want to keep them for future reference. Or, I took notes from a book that does not need further research.  I put any finished or full-length articles in the book, making sure to update my Table of Contents. I just cut (if necessary) and paste (with a glue stick or tape) the articles into the book. 

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The Research Weeks

During the research weeks, I pursue a topic(s) of study. There won’t be a test at the end of this, so I’m merely pursuing a topic for the love of it. These topics have their own individual heading/section and are placed in my table of contents (my first blog post breaks down what an entry might look like). 

What Commonplace Books Do

Commonplace books help with the following:

  • Establishing habits of reflecting on interesting things you learn each day/week. 
  • Inspiring you to pursue a new area of study at any stage in your life 
  • Documenting and (loosely) organizing new knowledge sometimes lost in the inundation of daily (especially online) information 

Commonplace Books for Lifelong Curiosity 

Even after leaving academia, my desire to be a student, teacher, and researcher stayed with me. While I do have dreams of writing a book someday, I also love the idea of researching for the hell of it and with no final destination. I have always thought my time on earth would be best spent shoving as much knowledge into my head as possible. This is a worthy endeavor, but my brain can only hold so much. Enter: my commonplace book. 

I love school. I love the process of solitary learning: reading/listening, taking notes, reviewing notes. There’s something about writing down what you just learned, like making a pact with history. I don’t think such habits or pursuits are just for academics or scholars. If you have a desire to learn, grab a blank notebook and start writing. 

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Commonplace Books as Ritual 

Writing in my commonplace is a Sunday ritual. I light my favorite candle, make a cup of tea, and tidy up my workspace. Sometimes, I’ll do a quick 3-minute meditation. I have a playlist for this intellectual endeavor (Usually classical music. So, predictable right?). It is my time to focus on intellectual curiosity. When you want something to happen, you carve out time for it. 

Commonplace Books in a Digital Age 

I, like my reading habits, use a mix of digital and print during the process of commonplace booking. I read digital sources and I take notes using digital tools (emailing myself links, using iPhone Notes to collect info, voice recorders). I also take notes throughout the week using post-its and  scraps of paper. My commonplace book ritual is a mix too. I cut, draw, write, turn the pages, pull books from my shelves. I also use the internet to research or print accompanying pictures. 

You can  keep a digital commonplace book (using programs such as Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Mac Notebook, etc).  

For me, I enjoy the ritual of physical book. It’s a time to step away from the screens for a bit. 

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Some Tips

I want to make one important point: commonplace books must not be pretty. 

And by pretty, I mean those beautiful bullet journals you see on Instagram. Of course, you can make your entries a piece of art (I sometimes draw pictures or add stamps and stickers). Just don’t feel pressured to have the final product meets a particular standard. Don’t worry if your handwriting is not perfect. Enjoy the process of building a repository of knowledge! 

If you do make a huge mistake, just glue some paper on top of it and make it a fun text box. 

Find different ways to organize and highlight your data.  

I love organizing complex information. I will organize content into tables and graphs to make the information easier to find later. I will also highlight, circle, or underline key terms or phrases (sometimes during a second reading). Other design elements you might incorporate: bullets, pull quotes, text boxes, sidebars, endnotes, footnotes, mindmaps, etc. 

Don’t be afraid to  “continue on page ___.”

My commonplace book can be rather chaotic. I’ll return to subjects later, only to find there’s no room left to continue that endeavor. Thus, I’m often continuing on future pages. Embrace organized chaos, just put guideposts along the way. 

Your book should have your personal stamp. 

Everyone learns differently. Maybe a commonplace book isn’t for you? Maybe you want a purely digital one? Maybe you want it a bit more organized than mine? Your book will be a representation of you, so do you! 

 

If you start or already have a commonplace book, I’d love to see it and hear about your methods. Comment below or tag me on Instagram!

In My Commonplace Book: Grave Bombs

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When visiting any cemetery, I like to do my research. My research on Mount Hope Cemetery of Logansport, Indiana revealed an interesting bit of history. Yes, I have heard about the various methods used to protect graves from graverobbers, but I never knew graves were sometimes protected with bombs. Yes, bombs.

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From the 1939 article in the Pharos-Tribune (From Newspapers.com)

According to an 1939 article in Logansport’s Pharos-Tribune, gravediggers found a bomb  in Mount Hope Cemetery that had been buried with Catherine Grabel Huntley in 1885. The article explains this mechanism:

It is understood that metal were placed beneath the surface the burial lots and wires, attached to the mechanism, were stretched across the grave so that when “grave ghouls” attempted to dig into the freshly made mound to procure a body, their shovel or spade would come in contact with one of the wires, causing the to explode.

During the “reign” of the “grave ghouls” many such devices were placed in cemeteries of the county by relatives of deceased persons as a protection against possible loss of the newly buried body.

The bomb found in Mount Hope was turned over to the family, then eventually handed over to police to “tap” the device so to avoid any dangerous explosions. A hole was drilled into the bomb, exposing a black powder. The powder, having lost some of its effectiveness, still would have burned. The bomb eventually ended up with Cass County Historical Society in Logansport.

Sources

“Grave Bomb is Located in Cemetery.” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 15 Dec 1939, LINK.

Kirk, Mitchell. “Blasts from the past: Bombs once necessary to protect area’s graves.” Kokomo Tribune, 1 May 2105, LINK.