Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a mom, teacher, and blogger. Her blogs include Autumn in Virginia, Cool Yule Blog and You Can't Make This Stuff Up, among others. She is also the creator of "Living Well With Autism," an online resource for caregivers of children, teens, and adults with autism and related special needs.


Happy Halloween, my dears

Happy Halloween and Happy Samhain to those who celebrate it!

This is a magical night. The one time of the year to explore another side of ourselves through costume and disguise.

However you celebrate this holiday…by watching scary movies, reading spooky stories, giving out candy or having a party, I hope your whole day and evening are fun!

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you’ll join me to celebrate everything that is wonderful about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s on my other seasonal blog, Cool Yule

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Leaf raking 101

low light photography of dried maple leaf

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on

Let me just be upfront about this. I DON’T like leaf blowers.

They’re noisy. Nothing worse than trying to sleep in and the leaf blowers get going.

I used to have a large lawn and even bigger back yard and I really enjoyed raking leaves.

That said, I suppose leaf blowers have their place. I live in an apartment now and the maintenance staff does a great job with them.

But I miss raking leaves. It was good exercise. I saw my neighbors. And there was frolicking in leaf piles when kids were involved. Good times.

Some say mowing the leaves into the grass is the way to go. They say it is good for the grass. But I had huge amounts of leaves to contend with so that wouldn’t have worked for me.

If you have a bunch of leaves to rake, the recommended technique is to use a rake and a tarp. You will rake the leaves over the tarp. Try not to a twisting motion, protect your back. Plant your feet, center your weight and bend your knees slightly. Let your arms do the work instead of reaching over by bending your back.

You should take frequent breaks. Stop every 20 minutes to stretch your  back. You do not have to do it all in one day. If you’re not in good shape, hire someone reliable to do it for you. I would get references from your neighbors, if you can. Sometimes, strangers go around offering to rake leaves but I would not hire strangers to do work around my home, including snow removal.

But if you have a healthy back, why not make it a family activity? Buy as many good quality rakes as you have family members (or toy ones for the very little ones). Have some cold cider and pumpkin bread for brakes. That is how you take tasks and turn them into memories.

When your tarp is full, drag the tarp(s) full of leaves to make big piles on the street or curb (NOT where people have to park) so Fairfax County can come and vacuum them up on designated leaf-vacuuming days.

That’s fun to watch, by the way.

You can tell when they are coming to your neighborhood by signing up for email notification or looking out for the posted notices in your neighborhood. They come three times and if you miss the third time you have to bag your leaves and put them out for collection.

If you have to bag your leaves, I recommend this handy contraption to hang your bag on. It’s metal and it folds up, so it’s easier to store. Harbor Freight calls this a folding trash bag stand and sell it for $8. The Leaf Buddy (the one I got) is similar, maybe a little bit bigger and is available on Amazon. Using a bag stand makes the process much easier, and you can really squish the leaves down into the bag this way, which saves bags and lugging.



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Magical self-care for Halloween

Ready for a little self care? Get in the spirit of Halloween with these magical and relaxing rituals.

Candle Magic

Photo by Breakingpic on

Have you ever blown out a candle and made a wish? That is a version of candle magic. Jack o’lanterns? Originally created to chase away evil spirits.

Just as with stones, the colors of candles are associated with particular intentions. You might light a green candle to attract wealth, a black one to banish negativity and a pink one to bring love into your life. How about a delicious smelling, pumpkin orange one? That is said to help you focus and sharpen your intellect.

Often now, if I want to get in touch with my creative side or remove a little writer’s block, I light a candle and just pause for a moment.  I really find that this harmless bit of “magic” works for me.

There are a number of spells in Gillian Kemp’s book, The Good Spell Book.  Here are a few…

  • For money: light a green candle.  Let it burn for five minutes, then snuff it out.  Rub your hands in the smoke and imagine money coming to you.
  • To find your lucky word: light a white candle, take a dictionary, and face south.  Close your eyes and turn the book around several times.  Keeping your eyes closed, fan the pages until you feel ready to stop.  Let your finger explore the page until you feel ready to stop.  The word under your finger is your magic word. Whenever you need a boost of luck or energy, say this magic word. Snuff out the candle.
  • For love: on a Friday night (dedicated to Venus, Goddess of Love) take a new, never used pink candle. With a pen in your favorite color and white piece of paper, clear your mind of distractions and write your name and your loved one’s name.  Draw a circle around both names. Close your eyes and visualize the two of you happy together. Then watch over your candle for a short while. Snuff it out.

Burning Sage

Another simple spell is to cleanse a room of bad vibes by burning sage. You can purchase white sage bundles at Whole Foods and crystal stores for this purpose. Native Americans have been burning sage for who knows how long.

I complained once to a friend that I could not seem to get the smell of my ex out of my apartment. She burned some sage. Poof! The lingering odor disappeared…and I felt as if we had scrubbed his nastiness and bad humor away.  A simple ritual but it made me feel a lot better. Try burning sage if you’ve had an argument and want to move on in a positive direction.

Salt Spells

So you know about the superstition of throwing salt over your left shoulder to undo the bad luck of spilling salt? That’s a salt spell! Salt is reputed to have magical properties, especially purification and protection.You can rinse something in salt water to purify it of negative energy or get it ready for a spell — crystals, coins and keys are rinsed in this way. Or you can sprinkle some salt in the corners of a room to purify the space (for example, if you had an argument or bad dream while in that room). Throw a handful out the door after a person leaves so they can’t come back and bother you. I imagine some of you surreptitiously sprinkling salt in the corners of your cubicles and offices at work! But, seriously, try it. It feels empowering and it’s not expensive.  A ritual like this can help you affirm to yourself that you are not going to let toxic people (or bad energy) mess with you.

Divination Spells

There are many divination spells — that is, spells that foretell the outcome, or provide a “yes” or “no” answer to a posed question.  The apple and nut divination spells associated with Halloween party games (bobbing for apples, peeling apples, roasting nuts) are age-old examples of Celtic pagan divination traditions.

Try to peel an apple without breaking the peel. Then throw the peel over your left shoulder. The peel may form the initial letter of your love’s first name.

How about palm-reading? Learn some basics in this video…




You’re up late! Let’s watch Nosferatu (1922), full movie

NosferatuShadowThis strange and dream-like German silent movie is an adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, (1897), with several changes incorporated. For example, the vampire character is called “Count Orlock.”

According to Wikipedia, Nosferatu is an example of the artistic movement German Expressionism, as is another famous silent film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. German Expressionist directors and artists employed dreamlike, moody effects, fantastical settings and purposely distorted, unrealistic portrayals. The rhythmic pacing was intentional: the director used a metronome during filming.

My personal favorite parts of the film are the eerie use of shadows and the unintentionally comic scenes of the vampire carrying his own coffin through the village, like a suitcase.

In the original script, Harker’s wife, Ellen, sacrifices herself to Count Orlock to ensure his doom, as she read it was in her power to do. The 1979 German remake of Nosferatu the Vampyre makes this sacrifice more explicit.

The producers neglected to seek permission from the Stoker estate to create the film and they were sued. Although the film was ordered to be destroyed, some reels survived. The 1922 movie was banned in Sweden — for being too scary! — until 1972. This version has been restored and features the adapted Hans Erdmann score.

The original, black-and-white version of Nosferatu is in the public domain.

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Fun Facts: It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs tonight at 8 p.m. Did you know?

  • It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was the third Peanuts animated television special.
  •  It aired for the first time on CBS on October 27, 1966, and thereafter was aired on television annually through 2000.
  • The director, Bill Melendez, also plays the part of Snoopy.
  • The theme music is by Vince Guaraldi (who also did the theme music for A Charlie Brown Christmas)
  • The 10-year-old child actor who was the voice of Charlie Brown has a dog named Snoopy.
  • Children all over America felt sorry that Charlie Brown got a rock in his trick or treat bag and actually mailed in candy.



Horror Movie Week! Let’s watch Werewolf of London (1935)

“The Werewolf of London” wasn’t the first werewolf movie ever made (that was the silent film, “The Werewolf,” in 1913) but it predated the more famous “The Wolf Man” by 6 years.

It is worth a view for its interesting story line, elegant leading lady, some very humorous scenes and its more spooky elements.

Both movies — “The Werewolf of London” and “The Wolf Man” — were produced by Universal Studios, but the latter became more well known.

You can rent it on YouTube. Here’s the preview that links to the full version.

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Celebrate Her-o-ween! Fun events (for everyone) in Northern Virginia on Saturday, October 26

You’ve heard of Galentine’s Day, right? Well, a lot of Halloween fun is happening this Saturday, October 26 all over Northern Virginia.

I think we should call this day “Her-o-ween.”

Her-o-ween is the chance to go out with your squad on the most fun day before Halloween occurs and make some memories. With combined efforts, your costumes, makeup and hair are going to be fabulous. Instagram-worthy.

And if you don’t want to celebrate with your gal pals, here are some family-friendly events, as well.

Check out these fun events happening in Northern Virginia on Saturday, October 26. For even MORE events on October 26 and other days, check out my full Halloween month calendar.
29.99 witch

10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Family-friendly event! Pumpkin Palooza festival in Herndon.

10:30 a.m. – Halloween Spook-a-Sana Yoga and after-class beer at New District Brewing Company in Arlington. $20 in advance; $25 at the door.
11 a.m. – 1 pm. Family-friendly event! Dulles Town Center Mall-O-Ween mall-wide trick or treating, magic show and crafts.

12 Noon – 6 p.m. The First Annual Witches’ Market and Healer’s Open House takes place at Samskara Yoga in Sterling.

12 Noon – Spoons, Toons and Booze comedy show at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. Enjoy Halloween episodes of throwback cartoons and an all-you-can-eat cereal bar.

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Halloween Zumba-thon at Daventry Community Center in Springfield. $20; includes water and healthy snacks.
trick or treat candy

4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Family-friendly event! Olde Towne Winchester Halloween Faire with screening of Hocus Pocus at 7 p.m.
6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Family-friendly event! Sensory-friendly. Arctoberfest Halloween Extravaganza at the Columbus Club in Arlington. Sponsored by the ARC of Northern Virginia, this is an all-ages event for people with and without disabilities. $25.

7:30 pm – 10 p.m. – Cox Farms Fields of Fear in Centreville. Advance purchase of tickets recommended.

8:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. Jimmy’s of Old Town 23rd Annual Halloween Bash and costume contest in Herndon. DJ and no cover.

12 midnight – Rocky Horror Picture Show at University Mall Theatres in Fairfax, $6.

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Fun stuff to do this weekend in NoVa Oct. 25 – 27

Betty Grable

Friday, October 25

  • Cox Farms Fall Festival. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. $11.
  • DIY Candy Jar Workshop (adults). 11:30 a.m. Reston Regional Library. Reston. (free, but advance registration is required and opens October 11).
  • Herndon Spooktacular (kids ages 3 – 8 and their parents/guardians). Magic show, treats and more. Herndon Community Center, Herndon. $15 at the door.
  • Ghost and Graveyard Tour. 7:30 p.m. Old Town Alexandria, $15.
  • Fields of Fear. 7:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Cox Farms, Centreville. $20 – $35.
  • Jack’s Pumpkin Glow jack o’lantern outdoor display. Lake Fairfax Park, Reston. $23.

Saturday, October 26

Sunday, October 27

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Horror Movie Week! Let’s watch Brides of Dracula (1960)


Campy, creepy, over-the-top Hammer horror films. Gotta love ’em.

The lush colors of the sets! The amazing costumes! The technicolor red blood! The impressive decolletages! The hard-to-place accents! The cheekbones of Peter Cushing!

Yvonne Monlaur is so fetching in this movie. She really was French, a model and a ballet dancer. You can see the ballet in her the way she moves. It’s like she’s a veela from Beaux-Batons.

We watched these movies as kids and they scared the pants off us.

Halloween is about scary movies. You can rent this one on YouTube for less money than a pumpkin spice latte. Here’s the trailer. Turn out the lights and enjoy!


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Horror Movie Week! Let’s watch The Wolf Man (1941)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr.,  Claude Rains and the inimitable Maria Ouspenskaya, this Universal film was a great favorite of mine when I was young.

Maybe another actor could have portrayed the Wolf Man. Or his father. But there is only one Maria Ouspenskaya, who played the role of the gypsy, Maleva, and the tiny actress RULED this film!

I liked the blessing Maleva pronounced over her son.

The way you walked was thorny
Through no fault of your own.
But as the rain enters the soil,
The river enters the sea,
So tears run to a predestined end.
Your suffering is over, Bela, my son.
Now you will find peace.

Bela Lugosi played “Bela” by the way. What are the odds? And this one…

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.

Spooky! You can rent this one on YouTube. Make some popcorn and enjoy!


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