Thursday, March 29, 2012


    Horror films have been a part of American (and international) culture since the very beginning of cinema. In the last 40 years alone, we have seen so many new icons of horror; from Freddy to Jigsaw, and Jason to Pinhead. But are these nightmarish juggernauts also the stuff money is made of? We’ll see, as I present to you the top 10 most financially successful (highest-grossing) horror film franchises (Note: Many of these films are 15+ years old, so the amounts of money shown are in 2007-2011 U.S. dollars, and the amounts of money are only the profits of films (not TV shows, video games, etc.); also, there are some spoilers!):

1. “Friday the 13th” Series

Main Villain(s): Pamela Voorhees; Jason Voorhees; a crazed ambulance-driver; Freddy Kreuger
Number of movies, etc.: 12 (including the remake, and “Freddy vs. Jason”); 1 TV show; 1 video game
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $380,637,525 (not counting the TV show and video game)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $31,719,793.75

    Neither Jason–nor this franchise–can be stopped! With 12 films (2 of which, don’t even feature Jason as the villain), a relatively unrelated television show, and a mask that will never leave the memories of camp-counselors everywhere, Jason isn’t just a fierce, unrelenting killer: He’s also a very wealthy, fierce, unrelenting killer!

2. “Saw” Series

Main Villain(s): John “Jigsaw” Kramer; Jill Tuck; Detective Mark Hoffman; Dr. Lawrence Gordon; Amanda Young; and…well…technically, many of their victims (considering how many of the victims were given a choice as to kill or be killed…if you haven’t seen the film(s), it’s kind of complicated…)
Number of Movies, etc.: 10 (including a direct-to-DVD release, the short film the first “Saw” was inspired by, and a fan-made film); 1 video game
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $342,510,598 (not counting the fan-made film, short film, direct-to-DVD release, and video game)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $34,251,059.80

    The most recent horror film franchise in American cinema is also one of the most successful! “Saw” turned horror cinema on its ear, by creating a horror movie icon who doesn’t kill his victims directly, but rather gets them to kill each other! Brilliant!

3. “The Exorcist” Series

Main Villain(s): Pazuzu (the demon that possesses Reagan); several others (I have not seen “The Exorcist II: The Heretic” in a while, and I haven’t seen “The Exorcist III” yet)
Number of Movies, etc.: 7 films (4 of the original films, 1 prequel, 1 director’s cut, and 1 hardcore porno called, “The XXXorcist” (no joke))
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $331,592,458 (not counting the porno)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $47,370,351.14

    “The Exorcist” is unique, in that the villain of the story actually possesses the heroes/heroines. It is by far one of the most terrifying series of films in history; so terrifying was the original “Exorcist”, that famous Christian Billy Graham claimed that the reels of film themselves were possessed by demons!

4. Halloween” Series

Main Villain(s): Michael Myers (although, his father was also a villain in the remake, if you think about it…); a creepy old guy who makes killer masks; a satanic cult; the orderlies who raped that poor girl in the remake; the guy who bails Michael out of prison
Number of Movies, etc.: 10 films; 1 video game
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $307,729,650 (not counting the video game)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $30,772,965

    Michael Myers is one of the oldest–and most recognized–horror movie icons in American history. Whether it was John Carpenter, or a suddenly competent Rob Zombie, “Halloween” has always been the deadliest–and one of the most profitable–of holidays!

5. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” Series

Main Villain(s): Freddy Kreuger; Jason Voorhees; the dream-demons
Number of Movies, etc.: 8 films; 1 TV show; 1 video game; a 900-number that you could call to get scared over the phone (no, I am not joking)
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $307,420,075 (not counting the video game, TV show, and 1-900 number-profits)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $38,427,509.38

    Freddy is one of the most recognizable faces (or lack thereof) in cinema history; he is also one of the most creative, twisting dreams to suit his needs. His terror spread from Elm Street, to Hollywood (“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”), and then to Crystal Lake. If those numbers are any indication, his reign of terror will continue to be very well funded

6. “Scream” Series

Main Villain(s): Stuart; Billy; Mickey; Debbie Salt; several others (I haven’t seen “Scream 3″ in a while, and I have yet to see “Scream 4″)
Number of Movies, etc.: 4 films
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $293,553,139 (not including Scream 4)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $97,851,046.33 (not including Scream 4).

    “Scream” is one of the few horror-film franchises that is satiric in nature. It is also one of the few in which each film has a completely different killer(s). While it’s only #6 on this list in amount of money grossed (to date), it has one of the highest amounts of money grossed (per film)!

7. Paranormal Activity” Series

Main Villain(s): An unnamed demon/spirit
Number of Movies, etc.: 2 films
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $192,671,717
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $96,335,858.50

    While many may say that “Paranormal Activity” is not quite a franchise yet, it has certainly earned the same amount of money as one! These revolutionary films–inspired by classics, such as “Cannibal Holocaust”, “[Rec]“, and “The Blair Witch Project”–have already proven themselves as a contender in the league of horror cinema!

8. “Amityville Horror” Series

Main Villain(s): Well…a house; a doll-house…yes, a doll-house; the people who originally lived in the Amityville house, before the Lutzs; several others (I haven’t seen all of the movies yet)
Number of Movies, etc.: 9 films (including 3 original movies, 1 remake, 4 direct-to-video films, and 1 made-for-TV movie)
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $170,533,321 (not including the sequels not shown in theaters (.i.e.: the made-for-TV movie)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $42,633,330.25

    The “Amityville Horror” anthology is one of the most underrated, under-appreciated horror film franchises on this list. Spanning over 30 years, this exercise in terror is truly for the ages!

9. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Series

Main Villain(s): Leatherface and his family; some shady organization (from part 4…I really don’t know how to explain them)
Number of Movies, etc.: 6 films (including 1 remake and 1 prequel; also, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” was released into theaters twice); 1 video game
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $164,925,750 (not counting the video game)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per movie: $27,487,625

    One might think that such a classic sequence of horror films would be higher on this list; however, due to financial issues with the first “Massacre”, and the terrible 4th film (which was released a second time to cash in on the new-found fame of Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger), Leatherface will have to settle for 9th place. I sure hope he doesn’t have a bone to pick with me…

10. “The Omen” Series

Main Villain(s): Damien Thorn; Damien’s followers (AKA: Thorn Industries); Satan; Satan’s followers
Number of Movies: 5 (including 3 original films, 1 made-for-TV movie, and 1 remake)
Amount of Money Grossed, to date: $162,520,100 (not counting the made-for-TV movie)
Average Amount of Money Grossed, per film: $40,630,025

    Ah, the Anti-Christ, born from an evil as old as time. What better horror film icon than one who has been over 10,000 years in the making?


Peanut butter brittle adds crunch to this decadent, eggless chocolate cake. No, it's not a mistake. This cake really doesn't contain any eggs. The oil in the batter makes the cake moist; the rest of the ingredients provide enough structure to give the cake a great crumb.



  • Vegetable oil
  • 1cupsugar
  • 1/2cuplight corn syrup
  • 1/4cupwater
  • 1cupchopped lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1teaspooncreamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)*
  • 1/2teaspoonbaking soda
  • 1/2teaspoonvanilla extract


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3cupsall purpose flour
  • 2cupssugar
  • 2/3cupsifted natural unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted, then measured)
  • 2teaspoonsbaking soda
  • 1teaspoonsalt
  • 2cupswater
  • 2/3cupvegetable oil
  • 2tablespoonsapple cider vinegar
  • 2teaspoonsvanilla extract

Filling and frosting

  • 4ouncesimported milk chocolate, chopped
  • 5tablespoonsheavy whipping cream
  • 2 1/4cupspowdered sugar
  • 1 1/2cupschilled heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4cupcreamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)*
  • 3/4cupchilled mascarpone cheese**



  • Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil; brush with oil. Bring sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, swirling pan occasionally, about 10 minutes. Immediately stir in peanuts and all remaining ingredients. Scrape out mixture onto prepared sheet; spread out to about 13x9-inch rectangle. Cool completely. Coarsely chop enough brittle to measure 1 cup and finely chop enough to measure 1/2 cup. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Store in separate airtight containers at room temperature.


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line pan bottoms with parchment paper. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Whisk 2 cups water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Gradually add water mixture to dry ingredients, whisking until batter is smooth. Divide batter between prepared pans (scant 3 cups each).
  • Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs still attached, about 28 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Cut around cakes and turn out onto racks. Peel off parchment and cool.

filling and frosting

  • Place chocolate in medium bowl. Bring 5 tablespoons cream just to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Pour cream over chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand until thick enough to spread, whisking occasionally, about 30 minutes.
  • Beat powdered sugar, 1 1/2 cups chilled cream, and peanut butter in large bowl just until blended. Add mascarpone; beat frosting just until thickened (do not overbeat).
  • Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread milk chocolate filling evenly over; sprinkle with 1/2 cup finely chopped peanut brittle. Spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Cover with cake dome and chill 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before continuing.
  • Sprinkle 1 cup coarsely chopped brittle over top of cake and serve.
  • *which peanut butter to use

    For this recipe, we used creamy (smooth) all-natural peanut butter. To make sure you're buying the right stuff, check the label. There should be only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. This style of peanut butter may have a layer of oil (from the peanuts) on top. If it does, chill the jar for a few hours, then slowly mix until smooth. Don't use freshly ground peanut butter: It can have inconsistent flavor and texture.
  • **An Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets and at Italian markets.


   Beer and wine have been called many things: delicious, evil, holy, unholy, addictive, and so on, but there is no doubt that one of the most beloved of all human inventions is beer and wine. Therefore, you should know more about it, and thus this list was born: 10 Interesting Facts About Beer and Wine.

10. Wine (and Beer) is Good For You

   This item may be familiar to most avid Listverse readers and has been presented on numerous lists, but I found that I still had to have it in somewhere, as there seems to be the instant stereotyping of relating wine and beer to unhealthiness. However, over the course of a ten year study, wine, and specifically red wine, has been found to possess great cardiovascular benefits (aka: it helps your heart!). This has been attributed to antioxidants called flavonoids, which are present in the skin and seeds of grapes, and reduce the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol and lowering blood clotting. Further studies have even shown that red wine may inhibit the growing of tumors for certain cancers and assist in the treatment for neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. However, despite all this, and as with any food or drink: do not over-consume. Experts say for men to drink two servings of red wine a day, and for women, one (a serving is 4 ounces) in order to experience maximum benefits.

9. The World and Alcohol

   The age at which people can legally drink varies from country to country, continent to continent. In most of Europe the drinking age is set at 16, in Canada it is 18, Asia 20, and of course, it is 21 in the United States. The three top beer-consuming countries per capita are the Czech Republic, Ireland, and Germany; the three top consuming countries of wine are Italy, France, and Switzerland; the three top producers of beer are China, the United States, and Russia, however it should be noted that Germany has the largest number of breweries in the world with about 1,200 (USA only has about 350); and finally, the top three producers of wine are Italy, France, and Spain. On another interesting note, the top three countries with the highest tax rates on beer are Norway, Finland, and Canada.

8. Who has the Best Beer?

   This was difficult to research, as this is a heated topic of debate and multiple countries claim to reign supreme in producing the most delicious beers for consumption. The European Beer Star awards breweries with the most impressive beer based on taste and quality, and the most recent results came out with Belgium ranking as #1, followed behind by Germany and the United States. These results interestingly contradict the results of the next entry…

7. Who has the Worst Beer?
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   In a survey conducted in over 80 countries, 2,000 people were questioned on which countries have the world’s worst beer. The results listed the United States as #1, followed behind by China, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Italy. Budweiser was ranked as the #1 worst brand in beer by the takers of the survey, however it should be noted that the USA received gold awards for 50 of their brands and breweries of beer, none of which include Budweiser. This is due in part to the fact that Budweiser is relentlessly advertised, and people seem to believe this is THE beer of the United States, as it is the most widely available and distributed beer in the world. Fortunately, even though it is second in American beer consumption (Bud Light ranks first), the USA definitely has other good brands, such as the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the Samuel Adams Boston Lagers, and the Samuel Adams Seasonal.

6. Best Wine Regions

   The number one world-renowned region responsible for producing the world’s highest quality wine is Bordeaux, France. It consists of 284,320 acres of the best vineyards available. The region can make up to 960 million bottles of wine per year, ranging from everyday table wine to some of the most expensive wine in the world, with brands like the Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Cheval Blanc selling for tens of thousands of dollars. A 1947 bottle of the last wine listed (I don’t won’t to write it again) was sold at auction by Christie’s in Geneva – being previously owned by a Swiss collector – and is considered to be the greatest bottle of wine Bordeaux has ever produced. The cost? $304,375.

5. Bizarre Beers

   Breweries and manufacturers are constantly adapting and changing to the huge number of consumers who drink beer today, and will often try to invent innovative ideas for expanding their revenues and fan-base. Sometimes, however, breweries take this a little too far, such as in Cambodia, a popular beer is a Tarantula Brandy, containing rice liquor and “flavored” with dead tarantulas. Another example would be the Korean Baby Mouse Liquor, which is made with distilled rice spirits, blended with dead mice, and fermented for one year. Yet another example of bizarre beers is the Kwispelbier brand, produced from a small brewery in the Netherlands, and advertised as “a beer for your best friend.” Yes, it is a non-alcoholic beverage designed for dogs after Gerrie Berendsen, the inventor, wanted to refresh his dog after a day out hunting.

4. More stupid Wine Brand Names

   Swinging back over to some more facts about wine, these are some of the most bizarre, and perhaps offensive, brand names given to wine. One is a French wine produced and distributed by the British. Its name? Fat Bastard. Another is the Australian brand called Bitch, and as an added joke the name is printed 77 times on the back of the bottle for the lucky drinker. Other names is the French brand (Oops) (yes it is in parentheses, and now I am explaining that in parentheses), which was named so because the grape type was mislabeled for years on the original bottle, so the humorous producers decided to call it (Oops). More bizarre wines from France are the La Vin de Merde (Wine of Shit), the Elephant on a Tight Rope brand, and the delicious Frog’s Piss.

3. Disadvantages to Beer

   Yes, despite all the praise and admiration, beer of course still has its ill health effects. One such is dubbed “beer belly,” in which over consumption has been shown to increase obesity rates in men. The drink harbors strong stimulants of gastric acid secretion and can cause gastro esophageal reflux, aka heartburn. Beer can also lead to an increase in blood pressure, as well as causing dehydration (beer is a dehydrating agent, even thought people often drink it after a hot day or work), and it acts as a downer, reducing activity in the central nervous system and leading to a hangover. It also has many well known negative effects on the liver and can cause liver cirrhosis after prolonged and heavy drinking. And finally, one of the deadliest effects drinking has is the impairment of driving skills, as motor accidents are the #1 cause of death for adolescents and cause up to 40% of US accident-related deaths every year.

2. Random Facts Time

- Over half the hospitals in more than 65 of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States reported that they offer alcoholic beverages to their patients.
- Alcoholic beverages often contain no fat or cholesterol, but have a high concentration of calories.
- In the United States Pharmacopeia, alcohol is listed as a medicine.
- All 13 minerals necessary for human life can be found in alcoholic beverages
Hangovers in other languages:
- The French call it ‘wood mouth.’
- Germans refer to it as ‘wailing of the cats.’
- Italians call it ‘out of tune.’
- Malaysians call it ‘lo.’
- Norwegians identify it as ‘carpenters in the head.’
- Spaniards call it ‘backlash.’
- Swedes refer to it as ‘pain in the hair roots.’
Methods to “curing” hangover include:
- Ancient Greeks ate cabbages.
- Ancient Romans ate fried canaries.
- Some present day Germans eat a breakfast of red meat and bananas.
- Some French drink strong coffee with salt.
- Some Chinese drink spinach tea.
- Some Puerto Ricans rub half a lemon under their drinking arm.
- Some Haitians stick 13 black-headed needles into the cork of the bottle from which they drank.
- Russians drink Vodka.

1. Beer Saved the World

   According to the Discovery Channels hour-long documentary called “How Beer Saved the World,” beer was responsible for the birth and development of human civilization, and is the “greatest invention of all.” It outlines how the agriculture revolution was started because of the need to make beer, which led to many inventions such as the plow, the wheel, and irrigation. Cities were built in an effort to produce more beer for the growing number of people who craved it. Other lesser known inventions were math, which needed to be mastered by farmers as their fields grew and needed to be quantified, as well as written language, which was vital to keep records of the expanding beer trade. The documentary goes on to demonstrate that every invention, innovation, and milestone of human history was, at the core, because of the human love for beer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


   In this East Coast-style breakfast treat, a tender sour cream coffee cake is topped with a thick layer of cinnamon-scented streusel.

New York-Style Crumb Cake



  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, warm
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour


  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract



  • Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add warm melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss with fork until moist clumps form (topping mixture will look slightly wet). Set aside.


  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat room-temperature butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and beat just until blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until incorporated after each addition. Transfer cake batter to prepared baking dish; spread batter evenly with rubber spatula or offset spatula. Squeeze small handfuls of topping together to form small clumps. Drop topping clumps evenly over cake batter, covering completely (topping will be thick).
  • Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 1 hour. Cool cake in dish on rack at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
  • Cut cake into squares and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.


Britain has a long and varied past – it has been conquered repeatedly, it has conquered others, and it has colonized half the planet. Through its history, many strange traditions and festivals have arisen. This list looks at ten of the most unusual.

10. Gurning

   The Egremont Crab Fair – one of England’s weirder events – gets its name from crab apples rather than the marine variety. It started back in the 13th century when the Lord of the Manor gave away crab apples to the populace. In fact, to this day, the Parade of the Apple Cart, where apples are thrown into the crowds on the Main Street, is part of the fair. There are a host of other non-mechanized, traditional events – greasy pole climbing, a pipe smoking contests, a talent show, Cumberland wrestling, a hounds trail. But lets face it, the reason Egremont makes the news every year is the gurning competition. Home of the Gurning World Championships.
   Gurning, involves a rubber-faced skill that is totally bizarre and unique to this part of England. Contestants put their heads through horse collar or braffin while they create the ugliest, most grotesque faces they can manage. A certain amount of skill is involved but a lot of beer and a certain amount of toothlessness probably has an impact as well. Celebrities occasionally have a go and the national news usually features the winning gurners. If you are in Cumbria visiting the Lake District, nearby, in September, stop in at the Egremont Crab Fair. You won’t see anything like this anywhere else and you won’t soon forget it.

9. Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill

   The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester in the Cotswolds region of England It is traditionally by and for the people of Brockworth – the local village, but now people from all over the world take part. The event takes its name from the hill on which it occurs. The 2010 event has been cancelled due to safety concerns over the number of people visiting the event but it is hoped that it will be held on the late May Bank Holiday in 2011. Due to the steepness and uneven surface of the hill there are usually a number of injuries, ranging from sprained ankles to broken bones and concussion. Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling has been summarized as “twenty young men chase a cheese off a cliff and tumble 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital”.

8. Maypole Dancing

   Maypole dancing is a form of folk dance from western Europe, especially England, Sweden, Galicia, Portugal and Germany, with two distinctive traditions. In the most widespread, dancers perform circle dances around a tall pole which is decorated with garlands, painted stripes, flowers, flags and other emblems. In the second most common form, dancers dance in a circle each holding a colored ribbon attached to a much smaller pole; the ribbons are intertwined and plaited either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons.

7. Pearly King and Queen
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   Pearly Kings and Queens, known as pearlies, are an organized charitable tradition of working class culture in London, England. The practice of wearing clothes decorated with pearl buttons originated in the 19th century. It is first associated with Henry Croft, an orphan street sweeper who collected money for charity. In 1911 an organized pearly society was formed in Finchley, north London.

6. Guy Fawkes Night
Lewes Bonfire, Guy Fawkes Effigy

   Guy Fawkes Night (or “bonfire night”), held on 5 November in the United Kingdom and some parts of the Commonwealth, is a commemoration of the plot, during which an effigy of Fawkes is burned, often accompanied by a fireworks display. The word “guy”, meaning “man” or “person”, is derived from his name. Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), also known as Guido Fawkes, the name he adopted while fighting for the Spanish in the Low Countries, belonged to a group of Catholic Restorationists from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Their aim was to displace Protestant rule by blowing up the Houses of Parliament while King James I and the entire Protestant, and even most of the Catholic, aristocracy and nobility were inside. The conspirators saw this as a necessary reaction to the systematic discrimination against English Catholics.
   The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby, but Fawkes was put in charge of its execution. He was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion, during a search of the cellars underneath Parliament in the early hours of 5 November prompted by the receipt of an anonymous warning letter. Basically it’s a celebration of the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

5. Ascot Ladies Day
Ascot Ladies Day 6

   Ascot Racecourse is a famous English racecourse, located in the small town of Ascot, Berkshire, used for thoroughbred horse racing. It is one of the leading racecourses in the United Kingdom, hosting 9 of the UK’s 32 annual Group 1 races, the same number as Newmarket. The course is closely associated with the British Royal Family, being approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, and owned by the Crown Estate. Ascot today stages twenty-five days of racing over the course of the year, comprising sixteen Flat meetings held in the months of May and October. The Royal Meeting, held in June, remains a major draw, the highlight being the Ascot Gold Cup. The most prestigious race is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes run over the course in July. What makes this so special is that every year the fashion, specifically the hats get bigger, bolder and damn right weirder as the photo illustrates.

4. Bog Snorkeling
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   Yes indeed, you read correctly, bog snorkeling. If any of you ever doubted that us Brits are mad, this should make up your minds for you. Basically participants dive into a bog, wearing goggles, a pair of flippers and a snorkel, they then proceed to race each other along a 120ft trench filled with mud. Held every year the participants come from all over the world and raise lots of money for charity.

3. Straw Bear
Whittlesey Straw Bear

   Straw Bear (Strawboer) Day is an old English tradition held on the 7th of January. It is known in a small area of Fenland on the borders of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, including Ramsey Mereside. This day is believed to be traditional start of agricultural year in England. A man or a boy wears a straw costume covering him from his head to toes. He goes from house to house where he dances. As prize for his dancing people give him money, food or beer.

2. Worm Charming
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   Worm charming is a way to of attracting earthworms from the ground. Many do it to collect bait for fishing. But there are also those who do it as sort of sport. The village of Willaston, near Nantwich, Cheshire is the place where since 1980 the annual World Championships have been organized. The competition was actually initiated by local man Tom Shufflebotham who on the 5th of July, 1980 charmed 511 worms from the ground in only half an hour. The competition has 18 rules. Here are just few of them. Each competitor competes in the 3 x 3 meters area. Music of any kind can be used to charm worms out of the ground. No drugs can be used! Water is considered to be a drug (stimulant).

1. Morris Dancing
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   A Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.


History of the Cherry Blossom Trees and Festival

   Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.
   In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. Between the governments of the two countries, coordination by Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a world-famous chemist and the founder of Sankyo Co., Ltd. (today know as Daiichi Sankyo), Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eliza Scidmore, first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and First Lady Helen Herron Taft, the trees arrived in Washington.
   A first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but did not deter the parties. Just two years later in 1912, new trees arrived and were planted. These are the trees that now turn the Tidal Basin into a cloud of pink each spring for all to enjoy.
   In 1915, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. A group of American school children reenacted the initial planting and other activities, effectively holding the first “festival” in 1927. The Festival grew again in 1935, sponsored by civic groups in the nation’s capital.

   First Lady Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 more trees in 1965. In 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle. Japanese horticulturists were given cuttings from the trees to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed in a flood.
   The Festival was expanded to two weeks in 1994 to accommodate a diverse activity schedule during the blooming period. Today, more than a million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and attend events that herald the beginning of spring in the nation’s capital.

2012 Centennial

   A Once In A Lifetime Celebration

   In 1912, an incredible gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees was bestowed on Washington, DC by Tokyo, Japan. Rooted strongly and surviving outside elements, the trees have withstood the test of time – and nearly a century later, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is preparing for an unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
   The epic 5-week spectacular, from March 20 – April 27, 2012, will unify and electrify the city, the nation, and the world. Washington, DC and the region will be abuzz with excitement. Creativity and innovation will permeate signature Festival events elevating them to new heights, and ground-breaking Centennial exhibitions and programming will amaze and delight. Timeless traditions. Rich culture. Renowned artists. World-class performers. The community at its best!

2012 Bloom Watch

Average Peak Bloom Date: April 4
2012 Peak Bloom Date: March 20
2012 Blooming Period Forecast: March 18 – ???
   Exactly when the buds will open is not easy to predict and it is extremely difficult to give an accurate forecast much more than 10 days before peak bloom. National Park Service horticulturists monitor five distinct stages of bud development and provide timely forecasts and updates.

   The Peak Bloom Date is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are open. This date varies from year to year, depending on weather conditions. The Blooming Period is defined as that period when 20 percent of the blossoms are open until the petals fall and leaves appear. The blooming period starts several days before the peak bloom date and can last as long as 14 days, however, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period.
Visit the National Park Service‘s website with links to the Blossom Cam, cherry blossom photos, and information on how to donate to the Cherry Tree Replacement Fund.
   The following is a comparative record of past bud development. The date listed is when 70 percent of the buds have reached each stage:
  1. Green Color in Buds: Mid to late February – Early March
  2. Florets Visible: Early to Mid March, Av. 16-21 days to Peak Bloom
  3. Extension of Florets: Av. 12-17 days to Peak Bloom
  4. Peduncle Elongation: Av. 5-10 days to Peak Bloom (Frost Critical)
  5. Puffy White: Av. 4-6 days to Peak Bloom

When will the cherry blossom trees bloom?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is planned to coincide as nearly as possible with the blooming of the trees. Peak Bloom Date is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees are open. The date when the Yoshino cherry blossoms reach peak bloom varies from year to year, depending on weather conditions. The mean date of blooming is April 4, but nature is not always cooperative and the National Park Service horticulturists cannot make an accurate prediction much more than 10 days prior. The blooming period starts several days before the Peak Bloom Date and can last as long as 14 days; however, frost or high temperatures combined with wind and/or rain can shorten this period. See more information about the blooming period.

I want to see the cherry blossoms when they are in bloom. Which days should I plan my visit?
Since a close-to-accurate prediction of the blooming period cannot be made until early March each year, the Festival advises that you take stock of the other activities you want to engage in during your visit. For example, if attending the Parade and Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival are a priority, plan your visit for that weekend of the Festival. Fill your itinerary with all you want to see in Washington, DC and do at the Festival; and include walking around the Tidal Basin among them.
The various stages of bloom on the trees are wonderful each in their own way, from the vivid pink of the buds about to burst, to the softer pink of the blossoms on the trees, to the snowy white environment of the petals falling off the trees. So no matter when you visit Washington, DC during cherry blossom season, you’ll see something memorable happening at the Tidal Basin.

When is the best time of day to see the cherry blossoms?
Anytime is a good time to see the blossoms. However, visitors should be prepared for heavier crowds on weekends and when the trees reach their peak blooming period. There is no guarantee, but there are often fewer people during the week, early in the morning, and in late afternoon/early evening.

Where are the cherry blossom trees located?
The cherry blossom trees currently grow in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point), and on the Washington Monument grounds. For information on which varieties of cherry blossom trees are located in which park and maps, see the National Park Service cherry blossom page.

How do I get to the Tidal Basin?
Visit our Visitor Information page to download helpful documents that advise you on how to drive, bike, and walk to the Tidal Basin.

Are there any tours (led or self-guided) to see the cherry blossom trees?
For led tours, there are several options. Here’s a complete list of cherry blossom-specific tours.
The National Park Service and the National Cherry Blossom Festival publish a pamphlet for visitors to use on a self-guided tour. This map can be picked up at the Information Stations located on the north side of the Tidal Basin (grounds of the Washington Monument) and the south side of the Tidal Basin (adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial), which are in place throughout the Festival.

Are there wheelchairs available for rent at the Tidal Basin?
The National Park Service has a limited supply of wheelchairs available for rent at no charge. Wheelchairs may be checked out from either the World War II Memorial or the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Visitors can sign out an available wheelchair on a first-come first-served basis by leaving a form of ID (i.e., drivers license) but wheelchairs must remain at that memorial site. They are not permitted around the mall. Upon return of the wheelchair, the ID will be returned.

Can I bring my dog with me to the Tidal Basin?
Dogs are allowed on the National Mall and Memorial Parks but the owner must keep the dog on a leash 100% of the time. Never is an owner allowed to let a dog run freely in any of these locations. Also the owners are NEVER allowed to let the dog “go to the bathroom” in the Reflecting Pool or in the pool at the World War II Memorial. The National Park Service has had and continues to have problems in this regard and are making best attempts at educating the public.

What else should I know about the cherry blossom trees?
The plantings of the cherry blossom trees originated as a gift in 1912 from the people of Japan to the United States as gesture of friendship and goodwill. Since then, the number of trees has expanded to approximately 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on National Park Service land.
For the most part, the care of the Japanese flowering cherries has been entrusted to the members of the Tree Crew for National Capital Parks-Central. These individuals are professional arborists who posses technical competence through experience and related training to provide for the care of the trees.
As hard as members of the Tree Crew work year round, there are things you can do to assist in the maintenance and longevity of the trees when you visit:
*Please do not climb the trees or pick branches.
*Be aware of walking around the roots of the trees as ground compaction causes damage to the trees.

I want to hold a large picnic or wedding under the cherry blossom trees. What do I need to do?
Please call the Office of Park Programs/Permits Office at (202) 619-7225. Large picnics can only be held at Hains Point and a permit is only required from Memorial Day through Labor Day. All other times are on a first-come first-served basis.
An approved Special Use Permit application is required to have wedding ceremonies on or near the National Mall. Advise the office personnel that you would like to apply for a permit to have a wedding ceremony. A Special Use Permit application can be picked up or faxed to you. Completed applications should be mailed to the Office of Parks Programs, at the address on the application, or faxed to (202) 401-2430. An application fee may be required for this permit. There are certain site locations in and along the National Mall where wedding ceremonies are allowed. Please ask for available site locations and required fees. The Office of Park Programs will help you find a location for your wedding so that it does not interfere with other groups who already have a permit.

How can I get my own cherry blossom tree?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, in conjunction with Arbor Day Foundation, has cherry blossom trees available for purchase. Here are the details.

Who can I contact for specific cherry blossom tree questions or questions about National Park Service property?
Send an e-mail to the National Capital Region Public Affairs Office or call (202) 619-7222.


What is the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is Washington, DC’s and the nation’s greatest springtime celebration that annually celebrates the gift of the cherry blossom trees and their symbol of enduring friendship between the citizens of Japan and the United States. Timed in conjunction with the peak blooming period of the trees, the city-wide event attracts visitors and area residents to hundreds of events in partnership with more than 30 local organizations.
The Festival is organized by the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the beauty of nature and international friendship through year-round programs, events, and educational initiatives that enhance our environment, showcase arts and culture, and build community spirit.

What sorts of events occur during the Festival?
The Festival features creative and diverse activities that promote traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty and the environment, and community spirit and youth education, the majority of which are free and open to the public. Signature Festival events include Family Day and the Opening Ceremony, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade®. There are over 150 daily cultural performances by local, national and international entertainers, sports competitions, and so much more. Browse the Event section by category or date for event listings and additional information.

Where does the Festival take place?
Festival events and programs take place throughout Washington, DC and its suburbs. Browse the Event section for event listings and their locations.

Are tickets required to attend the Festival?
Many Festival events are FREE and open to the public. However, there are a few exceptions. Events that require paid admission are indicated with a Dollar Symbol ($) next to their listings. Browse the Events section for event listings and to see which events have admissions fees. .

How can I get more information about the Festival?
The Festival website has the most current information available and is constantly being updated. If you would like a printed version of the Calendar of Events, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your request to: National Cherry Blossom Festival, 1250 H Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005. The current year’s calendar of events is available in late February each year.
You can also retrieve Festival information once in Washington by visiting Festival information centers. There is a Welcome Area located on the southern grounds of the Washington Monument, and Information Kiosk located on the west side of the Jefferson Memorial. There is also an official Festival Headquarters at Union Station with information and official merchandise.

How can I get more information about the Parade?
Download the Parade FAQ sheet.

Where should I stay for the Festival?
The Festival partners with numerous Washington, DC hotels that are located both within the District and the surrounding areas, providing visitors with numerous options and deals when selecting where to stay during your trip. View the list of participating hotels.

How can I get more information about Washington, DC or assistance in planning my trip?
To get more information about Washington, DC while planning your trip, see the Visitor Information page, or call the Festival Hotline at (877) 44BLOOM to address specific questions regarding information on area airports, recommended hotels, etc.

How do I get in contact with the Festival organization to address specific questions?
E-mail or call the Festival Hotline at (877) 44BLOOM.

What are the future dates of the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
The 2011 Festival is March 26 – April 10, 2011; with the Parade on Saturday, April 9.
The 2012 Festival (100th Anniversary of the Gift of Trees) will be March 20 – April 27; with the Parade on Saturday, April 14.


How can I volunteer to help the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is always looking for volunteer assistance. If you would like to volunteer, here’s more information or contact us at (202) 661-7595 or send an e-mail.

What performance opportunities are there at the Festival?
There are numerous performance opportunities available during the Festival, mainly at the Parade, Performance Stage at Sylvan Theater, and Festival Stage on Woodrow Wilson Plaza. Here’s more information about the opportunities and how to apply.

How do I get in contact with the Festival regarding sponsorship or promotional opportunities (including sampling)?
E-mail Maria Barry, Development & Corporate Sponsorships Manager, or call (202) 661-7564.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


   We have already mentioned food myths on a variety of lists – but until now we have not made a food-specific misconceptions list. This list explores some of the most common myths we have about food and (no-doubt controversially) debunks them. In the case of the more controversial topics, I have included sources.

10. Fat Free – Lose Weight
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   The Myth: Fat free food is calorie free
   This is a very common myth – so common that food manufacturers market to it. The misconception that fat free is better is the reason that so many products are labelled “fat free,” “low in fat,” “fat reduced,” etc. So many people who want to lose weight will chow down on all of these “low fat” foods thinking they are going to lose weight – even worse, they often tend to eat more of the low fat food than they would have if it were full fat. What really matters when trying to reduce weight is calories – eat fewer calories than you burn and you will lose weight. When fat is removed from food a lot of the flavor is removed as well – consequently extra sugars and chemicals are often added to give back the flavor – fat free food can therefore be far worse and fattening for you than regular full fat food.

9. Eat The Salad

   The Myth: Fast food salads are the “healthy option”
   A 2005 report by the Independent said: “[a]n investigation of the food sold by the “big four” – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut – found that [...] five out of eight of the salads used as “evidence” of their embrace of healthy eating had “high” salt or fat content.”1 It is all too common to see dieters who crave a little something naughty, ordering salads or other “healthy choices” from fast food joints – but what they usually don’t realize is that the salads can be as bad as the regular food and they would be more content if they just ate a Big Mac. For the sake of comparison, I looked it up: 1 Big Mac has 540 calories and 1,040 mg of salt; 1 premium southwest salad with crispy chicken and dressing has 530 calories and 1,260 mg of salt. The Mac is healthier.

8. Protein Power

   The Myth: When trying to gain muscle, you should eat copious amounts of protein
   According to the Mayo Clinic, 10 – 35% of your daily dietary intake should be protein – whether trying to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain weight. Most of this comes from our regular food and we seldom need to take protein supplements. Even more damning for this myth are two recent studies by independent sport medicine journals in which various people (including bodybuilders) were given varying extra quantities of protein each day; summing one study up, Dr Richard Krieder from the University of Memphis said: “Although it is important for athletes to get an adequate amount of protein . . . consuming additional amounts of protein does not appear to promote muscle growth.”

7. Fresh Fruit Is Best

   The Myth: Fresh fruit is better than dried fruit
   This myth is true in only one regard: if you are looking for vitamin ‘c’, then fresh fruit is best, but other than that, dried fruit contains just as many nutrients and sugar for energy as fresh fruit. If you subscribe to the notion that you should eat 5 fruits a day, then you only need one tablespoon of dried fruit per portion – so five tablespoons of dried fruit fulfills your daily need. The same is true of canned or frozen fruit. Fruit juice is also able to be used as a daily fruit portion but only one per day should be made up of juice only.

6. Six Mini Meals Are Better Than Three
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   The Myth: It is better to eat six small meals during the day instead of three larger meals
   First off, this can be okay – but only if you are extremely good at controlling your portion sizes; it is all too easy to turn six small meals into six large meals. This myth again comes down to the whole “calories per day” rule. If your three large meals contain as many calories as your six small meals, there is no difference at all. For the majority of people it is easier to put the time aside for three meals – so this is still the best choice for most. As we have discussed on a previous list (item 1), the time of day that you eat does not have a bearing on weight gain or loss.

5. Celery = Negative Calories

   The Myth: It takes more calories to eat a stick of celery than are contained in the celery itself – making it a negative calorie food
   This one is so popular that even Snopes believes it – and it is rare for Snopes to be wrong. But the problem is, the numbers don’t add up. One stick of celery contains around six calories2. A female weighing 150 pounds, aged 35, and 65 inches tall, burns 30 calories per hour3 eating whilst sitting. In the interests of science I ate a stick of celery (which is no mean feat considering I hate raw celery) to see how long it would take: 2 minutes and 14 seconds. If the female described above takes as long as I do, that means she can eat just under 30 sticks of celery in one hour – totaling 180 calories. That leaves an excess of 150 calories still not burned. Granted, there is some calorie burning involved in the digestive process as well, but there is no way these numbers allow for negative calories; on average you burn 62 calories an hour just existing4 (this includes digestion) – that still leaves an excess calorie count of 88. No matter which way you look at it – celery does not result in negative calories.

4. Decaf Has No Caffeine
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   The Myth: Decaffeinated coffee contains no caffeine
   International standards require decaf to be 97% caffeine free (EU standards are a little stricter at 99.9%). The process of removing caffeine is a long one and it also means that many other chemicals (up to 400 in fact) that are essential the taste of coffee are lost. If you have an allergy to caffeine, you should probably keep away from all forms of coffee – decaf included. But for those who can cope with caffeine – unless you really can’t stand the slight “high” produced by it, you will have a nicer tasting drink if you just opt for regular coffee. And if that hasn’t convinced you – the chemical often used in decaffeinating coffee beans (dichloromethane) is also used as a paint stripper.

3. Stark Craving Madness

   The Myth: Craving is your body telling you it needs something
   When we get a craving for certain foods – such as fruit juice, we often think it is because of a lack in our body of a certain nutrient. Interestingly, scientists who put this to the test found out that it wasn’t true at all. In the study, a person who craved chocolate, was given a cocktail of chemicals that contained all of the essential components (minus taste) of chocolate, and another cocktail containing chocolate flavor but no components of chocolate. The craving was satisfied when they took the chocolate flavored cocktail – but not the essentially flavorless chocolate. This strongly suggests that cravings are simply emotional. We crave certain foods because of the memories and emotions relating to that food in our lives.

2. Salt Increases Blood Pressure

   The Myth: Excess salt increases your blood pressure
   This is a myth that originated in the 1940s when a professor used salt-reduction to treat people with high blood pressure. Science has since found out that there is no reason for a person with normal blood pressure to restrict their salt intake. However, if you already have high blood pressure, you may become salt-sensitive in which case you should reduce salt or increase your potassium intake as it is the balance of the two that really matters. Furthermore, people who suffer from hypertension should be careful with salt as it can have an impact there. Ultimately, eating more potassium is probably more important than reducing salt. Potassium rich foods are spinach, broccoli, bananas, white potatoes and most types of beans.

1. Fast Food is Bad

   The Myth: Fast food is bad for you
   A very wise man once said: “all things in moderation”. This ancient phrase applies to most things in life – including fast food. A moderate amount of fast food is no worse for you than a moderate amount of home-cooked meat and vegetables. A constant diet of nothing but fast food may not be the healthiest choice you can make, but then again, eating macaroni and cheese every night is not very healthy either. Variety and moderation are the key to good eating and health. If you feel like a cheeseburger, eat one.