Clarissa Johal: January 2019

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

#Paranormal Wednesday - #Haunted Theatre #ghosts

Victoria High School of the Arts, 1962
This week I'm going to share my story of a haunted theatre (cue in scary over-the-top theatre music). Specifically, a school theatre in the Victoria School of the Arts located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I graduated from this high school in 1982. Back then, the school was known as Victoria Composite High School and was just that; a school divided in half.
The newer half of the building was dedicated to vocational students, while the other half, aka the "old" building, was where the theatre students were relegated. We didn't mind. The old half of the building was cool and we loved it.

Our theatre arts department housed not one, but two stages; a main stage and smaller "black box" theatre. Under the main stage in the basement, was the make-up, costume and dressing rooms, plus several storage rooms for props. Spooky? You bet. Especially if you had to go down there alone.

The main theatre and basement were notoriously haunted and rumors abounded as to whom the ghost might be. One rumor said a student was killed in an accident involving a stage light, another said they hung themselves in one of the dressing rooms, and yet another said they'd slit their wrists in the bathroom. Regardless, there were several incidents that fueled these rumors.

Early one Saturday morning, our cast was rehersing and the only ones in the school (yes, we were that dedicated). While standing at the back of the theatre to see how the stage lights looked, we saw the stage trap-door rise and fall with a bang. We ran downstairs to see if someone was in the basement. With only one set of stairs down and no other way out, we would have come face-to-face with someone had they tried to leave. There was nobody down there. All the prop, costume and dressing room doors were locked, including the door with access to the stage trap-door. Needless to say, any treks into the basement that Saturday were put off until later. Not that we were scared or anything... 

Even though the basement held a spooky vibe, we'd often hang out in the dressing rooms during lunch. We were "supposed" to be rehersing and we were...80% of the time. The other 20% we were doing what high school kids do - talking, napping, sometimes we'd even catch up on homework. Once, we smuggled an Ouija Board past our teacher and spent the afternoon trying to contact whatever would listen. Yeah, we were that dumb.

The girls dressing room and ajoining bathroom seemed to be the hub of activity in the basement. The bathroom shower would turn on-and-off by itself (the first time this happened, I ran to catch the culprit but the water turned off as soon as I entered). While studying lines in the dressing room, out of the corner of my eye, I'd see someone behind me, floating about two feet off the ground. I'd find out later that this same experience happened to many of the students. Because of that, I always felt the rumor of someone hanging themselves in the dressing room was plausible.

On-stage during rehersals, I'd see someone sitting in the back right corner in the audience. If I stepped to the apron to get a better look, the person would disappear. It wasn't a shadow due to stage lights because I'd see the same when house lights were on during non-dress rehersals. Several other students experienced the same phenomena.

There was a brick hallway where students as far back as the early-1900s had signed their names with quotes from plays they'd been in. It was a genuine piece of history and, not to be forgotten, I signed mine too. But if I stood for any length of time to read the other signatures, I'd always feel someone standing behind me. It would become so uncomfortable, I'd have to leave. Again, I found out later I wasn't the only person who'd experienced this.

The school has gone through many changes and by what I see on their website, been upgraded to a performing arts school only. Maybe some day I'll visit the school again, just to check it out. If any current students come across this blog post, leave a comment! I'd love to hear if the ghost/s stuck around. 


Monday, January 28, 2019

#MeatlessMonday - Butternut Squash with Mushroom Gravy #vegetarian

Butternut Squash with Mushroom Gravy

Ingredients 

1 large butternut squash, about 3 lb.
4 tablespoons of clarified butter
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup coconut milk

16 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
½ tablespoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Halve an unpeeled butternut squash, remove seeds and place both halves face down on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking oil. Roast in a 450-degree oven until soft, about 35-40 minutes.

In a large skillet on medium high heat add 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter and minced garlic. Sauté the garlic until lightly browned. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for about 5-6 minutes until they are soft and begin releasing their juices. Add the rosemary and nutritional yeast. Stir in ¾ cup of the coconut milk. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove about 3 tablespoons of broth and whisk in the one tablespoon of flour. Whisk mixture back into gravy. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until thickened.




Once the squash is cooked, carefully remove the skin. In a bowl, mash squash with 2 tablespoons of clarified butter and leftover 1/4 cup of coconut milk. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the mashed squash with mushroom gravy on top.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Frightening Friday -- Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls)

Photo courtesy of Esparta via Flickr
Dolls. I've never been a big fan of dolls because I think they're creepy. Their blank stares, frozen expressions, predatory smiles...yeah, it's creepy.

Just south of Mexico City and between the canals of Xochimilco, there is a small island known as Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls). As if one doll wasn't creepy enough, here you have a whole island of decapitated doll heads, arms and bodies; weathered by the elements and home to spiders and everything else. Oh, and did I mention? The dolls that populate the island have been put there to appease the spirit of a dead little girl and are reputedly haunted.

Don Julian Santana Barrera was a hermit who lived on the island. The story goes that he witnessed a little girl who drowned and was unable to save her. Seeing a doll floating in the canal, he hung it in a tree as a way of showing respect for her spirit. Shortly thereafter, Don Julian claimed he was haunted by the little girl and began hanging more dolls in an attempt to appease her. After 50 years of collecting dolls and hanging them around the island, Julian was found dead, drowned in the same spot where he found the little girl. 

After Don Julian’s death in 2001, the island became a tourist attraction run by members of his family. Local legend says that the dolls move their arms, heads and open their eyes. Some witnesses claim to hear the dolls whispering to one another. There are even those who claim the dolls have lured them to visit the island. 

Here's a short video to get an idea what the island looks like now. A trip to the Isla de las Muñecas is not on a regular tourist route. If you want to visit, you'll have to hire a private boat and the trip takes about two hours. Any takers?




Monday, January 21, 2019

#MeatlessMonday - Tofu Burritos #vegetarian #vegan

Here’s a recipe you can start several days ahead of time and pop in the oven when you’re ready. This recipe can be vegan, just omit the sour cream and use vegan cheese for topping. Easy-peasy. Enjoy!

Tofu Burritos

Photo courtesy of Zlatko Unger via Flickr
Ingredients

1 package of extra-firm tofu

Marinade:
¼ c. soy sauce
¼ c. apple cider vinegar
2T. brown sugar
4 tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. cayenne
½ tsp garlic
½ tsp. cardamom
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. cumin

Mix ingredients together to make the marinade. Drain and rinse tofu. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Marinate tofu for 2-3 days.

When ready to bake, pour off marinade. Lay tofu on an aluminium foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 375F for 30 minutes or so, turning with a spatula a couple of times.

Wrap tofu in warmed tortillas with rice for a complete protein. Add tomatoes, fresh spinach, and top with avocado, grated cheese and sour cream.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hello #NewOrleans

I recently took a trip to New Orleans and fell in love with the city. Their history is fascinating, there are lots of things to see and do, and the people are wonderful. The city has a definite "live and let live" vibe. 💓

We stayed in the French Quarter.- there's nothing better than waking to the sound of live jazz and tugboats. I felt more than a little guilty I was there to have fun, though. Homelessness is a huge problem in New Orleans, as it is in most cities. There’s a distinct demarcation between frivolous tourists and those trying to eke out a living. This year, I'm going to donate my July birthday royalties to a New Orleans homeless shelter rather than my usual animal-related charity. My thoughts keep going back to the people I saw on the streets.


You could literally spend an entire weekend shopping in the French Quarter but what I found more intriguing was the vibrant street art & music community. Every morning, they'd set up along the streets. Every night, they'd pack their wares and walk back to their homes. Art is never easy - in any form. It was obvious these artists were busting their butts just to make a living. One morning, we left our hotel at 6am and walked through Saint Louis Cathedral Square. There weren't many tourists out yet but a street performer was already playing his guitar and singing his heart out. When we walked back to our hotel around 7:30pm, he was still there. Kudos to this guy and the rest. Following your dream is never easy.


If you're wondering about the Voodoo Scene there are plenty of voodoo shops for the tourists, much like Salem and its "witch" shops. My advice is to do a bit of research so you don't embarrass yourself. Don't be "that" tourist and go crazy stocking up on voodoo dolls and gris-gris bags without knowing what they are. I saw too many tourists making asses of themselves and being flat-out disrespectful. It was weird. Voodoo is a polytheistic ancestral religion. A religion - not something to make fun of or screw around with because you think it's "spooky." Just my two-cents. 
The cemeteries are a photographers dream. There are many photo opportunities but again, don't be "that" tourist. Be respectful of the deceased and their families if you go tromping around. In the Garden District's Lafayette Cemetery there were plenty of tourists climbing the headstones and oddly, a street vendor selling Ouija boards to contact the dead. (I get everyone is trying to make a buck but it made me wonder who would buy one!)




Cemeteries aside, let’s talk ghosts. New Orleans is noted for its hauntings and given its history, including Hurricane Katrina, I can understand why. From a paranormal writer's perspective, this leaves the door open to all sorts of writing inspiration. This wasn't a writing trip, however, it was my daughter’s birthday. She doesn't like ghosts. I know, I know. Go figure. I honestly made an effort to book a hotel in the French Quarter that wasn’t haunted. In a city that prides itself on hauntings, it was almost impossible.


We stayed at the French Market Inn. I’m reasonably sure the landing where this photo was taken (above) was occupied by the ghost of a dead soldier. Every time I walked past this particular area, it felt like I'd walked through someone. I felt light-headed and got an image of a man wearing a military uniform. At night, I woke to the sound of someone pacing our very small room. There was no living person, of course, and the hotel grounds were silent. Another thing - I usually don't have nightmares but, yikes! I had several in which I was drowning and a very intense one where I lost my memory. That particular one still haunts me.

Walking the streets of the French Quarter, there were only two places that gave me pause for thought. After exiting the Voodoo Museum, my phone battery was completely dead (it was charged before we went in). In the Pharmaceutical Museum, there was an old bed that felt "off" to both my daughter and myself. In my mind's eye, all I could see were bloodied sheets and as you can see by my photo, the sheets were clean.






Photo courtesy of Darjeelingtea at English Wikipedia
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
To end on a (lighter) foodie note - 'cause New Orleans is known for its cuisine - it was difficult to find vegetarian eats! Lots of seafood but I don't eat fishies. C’est la vie. I lived off grits and pasta. I tried King Cake for the first time and loved it. I’m not a cake person but omg, I’m going to have to try and make it myself. What’s not to love about a rainbow-iced cinnamon cake with sugar sprinkles? Laissez les bon temps rouler!