HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

October 31, 2013 in On Writing

 

Doom gloom

Witch’s broom

Streaks across the sky

 

Dark night

Vampire bite

Kiss your life goodbye

 

Fair scare

Spider’s lair

Tangled in a trap

 

Breakdown

Psycho clown

Gives your neck a snap

 

White fright

Ghost delight

Haunting all your dreams

 

Swift prowl

Werewolf howl

Relishing your screams

 

Graveyard

Souls on guard

To lure you to their scene

 

Eat sweets

Trick or treats

Happy Halloween!

HALLOWEEN READS

October 28, 2013 in Book Reviews

From October 1 to October 31, I read our collection of Halloween books to my kids. (Click here to see some of our favorites.) This year, I decided that I should adopt the same tradition for myself! Melanie Cole has been doing the same thing on her blog, and I love the idea.

I started with The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (read my review here) and followed that up with another Shirley Jackson novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which Melanie also read this month. This novel is about a small family of three: Constance, the eldest sister, who hasn’t left the grounds of their home in six years, Merrikat, the youngest sister, and their Uncle Julian, who is obsessed with the details surrounding the night that resulted in the deaths of five of their family members and put him in a wheelchair.

Constance was tried for the deaths and acquitted, but the citizens of the small town don’t believe it. Since Constance won’t leave the house and Uncle Julian can’t, it’s up to Merrikat to go into town twice a week to do the grocery shopping. The sidelong looks, the whispers, the cruel remarks spoken both in her presence and directly to her are all the more awful considering she is only 18 years old. However, she narrates in a voice that seems much younger, almost as if she has been suspended in time for the past six years.

When a cousin comes to town threatening the snow-globe-of-a-home Constance, Merrikat, and Uncle Julian have established, events are set into motion that result in another tragedy.

It’s a mystery, but it is also a heartbreaking tale of how damaging social ostracization and self-imposed isolation can be. Stuck in their own little world, Merrikat can create whatever reality she wants, and Constance, who won’t leave the house, indulges her and even joins in herself. These coping mechanisms have made it impossible for them to escape their situation. When horrific circumstances lead to the loss of almost everything they hold dear, they remain trapped in their bubble.

I wouldn’t classify it as scary or creepy, or even Halloween-esque, but I was definitely haunted by the cruelty of the townspeople towards this small family. This is definitely a good read.

I also read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I can’t remember where I read about this little ghost story written in 1898, but it promised ghosts, two creepy kids, and a governess rattling around an old mansion, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Henry James’ writing style is dense, convoluted, and dare I say, rambling. His sentences are all like this:

“But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connexion with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, the vision of whose angelic beauty had probably more than anything else to do with the restlessness that, before morning, made me several times rise and wander about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect; to watch from my open window the faint summer dawn, to look at such stretches of the rest of the house as I could catch, and to listen, while in the fading dusk the first birds began to twitter, for the possible recurrence of a sound or two, less natural and not without but within, that I had fancied I heard.”

Yes, that is all one (boring) sentence.

The story is of a young woman charmed into taking the post of governess for two small children, Miles and Flora. Their previous governess died under mysterious circumstances, and Miles has recently been expelled from his boarding school under mysterious circumstances. It is as frustrating to watch the governess tiptoe around exactly what Miles did to get himself expelled as it is to close the book and still not know. All that is revealed is that he said something. What was said or to whom is never explained. While this may have been scandalous in 1898, it seems a little silly now.

There are ghosts that seem to want to possess the children, and there is the hint that perhaps the governess is going mad. She’s certainly in denial, frequently referring to Miles as “angelic” even though he was expelled from school and escaped onto the grounds in the middle of the night just to show her he could be bad if he wanted to.

The ending, meant to be shocking, is merely confusing.

If you’re a Henry James fan, you might like it. Otherwise, there are plenty of scary Halloween books out there that I would recommend ahead of this one. Like Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. Stay tuned for my review!

 

 

 

WHEN DID HALLOWEEN GET SO SCARY?

October 24, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Reflections on Pop Culture

Warning: This post contains disturbing images of deranged clowns.

Photography/movie credit: My middle son, who does not appear to be scared of deranged clowns at all.

In all the years I dressed up for Halloween, the scariest costume I ever wore was that of a witch. In the photograph I remember, my little sister was a bunny, which was probably the scariest costume she ever wore.

Maybe it’s a girl thing, or perhaps it’s a generational thing, but nowadays when I take my boys to the costume store, I am horrified by some of the options that are available in kids’ sizes. On a recent Halloween shopping excursion, our conversation went something like this:

ME: Here’s a pirate costume. Anyone want to be a pirate?

SON: How about this weapon? It has blood in it!

ME: Um, gross. And no. Hey, what about a cowboy?

SON: I want to be a scary clown!

ME: No scary clowns.

SON: Why?

ME: I’m scared of clowns. (Thank you, Stephen King.)

SON: So?

ME: So no scary clowns! A caveman would be fun.

SON: What about this mask?

ME: No way.

SON: Mom! You’re saying no to everything!

ME: I’m not! What about being a policeman?

SON: Mom, you’re so lame.

Ok, my kids didn’t really say that last line, but I could tell they were thinking it.

This year, we went to a new Halloween store called Spirit. The first thing we encountered upon entering the store was a spooky display of scary clowns that moved and cackled menacingly when innocent people walked by. This did not bode well for me.

IMG_1866

If you didn’t watch your step in the store, you could accidentally trigger a spider to jump out at you, or a zombie to emerge from behind a gravestone, or a werewolf to start howling. They had every conceivable weapon you could imagine (except a pick axe, which did not help us), and over half of them were dripping with blood. The mask selection was phenomenal, if you like masks with blood, cuts, stitches, extra eyeballs, or spiders stuck to them. But the worst was the display in the back: Asylum. Creepy kids, psychotic people, a scary clown hanging upside down from the ceiling wrapped in a body bag…I couldn’t even look at it. I was disgusted, appalled, and yes, freaked out.

My sons ate it up.

Is this a normal trait carried on the “Y” chromosome or do we need to seek the help of a therapist?

I love Halloween and dressing up in fun costumes, like the time a group of us went as the characters in Gilligan’s Island or the time I dressed up as a candy cane. I don’t even mind a good Darth Vader or Count Dracula costume. But the blood and slasher gore is just way too much for me.

In the end, we compromised. Plastic weapons were ok, dripping blood was not. No creepy masks or any costume that depicted the inner parts of the body, such as the disemboweled doctor. And absolutely no deranged clowns.

Stay tuned for my sons’ Halloween costume selections!

 

 

 

 

I HEART TIM HOLTZ

October 21, 2013 in Random Thoughts

 

I’ve been flying under the radar lately because of a gentleman named Tim Holtz and his Creative Chemistry 102 online workshop.

If you don’t know Tim Holtz and you are into scrapbooking, card making, or vintage, steampunk, industrial, or mixed media art, then you are missing out. Seriously.

Tim Holtz is doing some of the most innovative art out there because not only is he an artist, he is also the Creative Director for Ranger Industries, which means that if he can dream it, he has the ability to develop it for the rest of us.

He is also an excellent teacher. He travels the world teaching people about his products, his techniques, and his ideas. Right now, he’s in Italy—I am so jealous!—but he also hosts a variety of workshops throughout the United States, although I have yet to see Seattle on his calendar.

Fortunately for me, he has come up with a solution: an online workshop! Last year, I signed up for his Creative Chemistry 101 class. He didn’t just teach techniques, although there were plenty of those. He taught the actual chemistry of the paints, stains, inks, and powders we were using. Imagine being able to manipulate water-soluble materials with misting, splattering, and flicking droplets of water on their surfaces, and then turning around and choosing a water-insoluble ink to create an image that is permanent. It is a course concerned with the science behind the products: what makes each product different, when you would use certain products instead of others to achieve a particular look, and what techniques will show off each product to its maximum effect.

I loved everything about Creative Chemistry 101, so when Tim announced his roll-out of Creative Chemistry 102, I signed up in a heartbeat. In this course he covers some new product lines, like Distress Glitters, Distress Embossing Powders, and Layering Stencils, while diving into some old favorites, like Alcohol Inks. (I LOVE Alcohol Inks. The effects you can achieve…wow.)

For the last 2 weeks, I let the phone roll over to the answering machine, I turned off the TV, and I let the house go so I could immerse myself in creating with my inks, paints, stains, embellishments, and glitter. I walked around with stained fingertips and clothing. I went out in public not knowing my shirt was covered with a fine coating of glitter, and I made the biggest mess ever in my tiny crafting area. In other words, I was really happy!

I spent the first week taking the course, and the second week experimenting on my own in the spirit of Halloween:

Embossing Paste plus the Eye Chart Layering Stencil, which I love!

Alcohol Inks Ombre Technique plus Photo Tinting

(Photograph from Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.)

I love this stamp set from Stampers Anonymous The Chemist!

So if you need to spark your creativity, head over to Tim Holtz’s blog and prepare to be blown away by the amazing effects he can create on his signature #8 manila tags. Or take the plunge and sign up for his now-archived Creative Chemistry online classes! You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

TWO BOOKS THAT CAN EACH BE READ IN ONE NIGHT

October 14, 2013 in Book Reviews

I recently read a fascinating book that contained within its covers the tantalizing names of 100 books that the authors claimed could each be read in only one night (read about it here ). Could it be true?

According to my (so far limited) survey, I’d say they’re about 50/50.

BOOK  #1:

 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

Premise: A memoir in the form of the collected letters between an American writer (Helene Hanff) and a book dealer in England (Frank Doel) who tracks down Helene’s esoteric book desires.

Summary: Helene is a fairly eccentric New York writer who openly chastises Frank, the poor, formal book dealer from Marks & Co. when she deems him too slow in finding the specific books she wants. At first, I was taken aback with her letters, but it soon became apparent that her rants were actually quite humorous, and there was no mistaking the fondness she came to have for Frank, his co-workers, and his family. It’s not long before she’s writing letters to everyone and they’re writing her back, begging her to come visit. She can’t; she’s strapped financially due to her profession. But that does not prevent her from sending tins of delicacies to her friends in England still living on rations from the war. For twenty years, the correspondence between Helene and Frank continued, ending only when Frank dies, never having met Helene in person.

Can it be read in one night? Easily. This is a compilation of letters that are rarely more than one page each. I read it in one sitting.

Is it good? Oh my gosh…did you read the summary? I was in tears by the end. These people are utterly charming, and I fell in love with them all. It broke my heart that Helene and Frank and his family were all so close through the postal service, and yet never had the opportunity to meet in person. If you’re a book lover or a lover of tales of friendship, this slim memoir has everything you need to settle in for an enjoyable hour or so on a rainy evening.

BOOK #2:

 The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

Premise: Dr. Montague, studying the paranormal, has found his next site to investigate: Hill House. He invites two women, Eleanor and Theodora, with demonstrated pyschic gifts, and the heir of Hill House to live there for three months, hoping this is finally the authentically haunted house he needs to lend credibility to his chosen field of study.

Summary: Hill House comes with an appropriately sinister history: the patriarch of the family loses two wives on the premises, his two daughters fight bitterly over the house, and a suicide is committed. There are also some odd occurrences, but in some cases they can be explained by the unusual angles of the house. For example, none of the doors stay open because the floors are slanted, so they swing closed seemingly by themselves.

But soon there are other (scary) events that cannot be explained, and Eleanor, singled out by the house, begins to exhibit some strange behavior. Is the house haunted? Is Eleanor becoming possessed by the house? Or is she simply spiraling down into mental illness which, combined with her telekinetic abilities, means that she is the one causing the eerie nighttime activities?

Can it be read in one night? No way! This book should never be read at night. I read it only during the daylight hours well before dusk, and I am not sure I would recommend reading it in one sitting if you’re planning on sleeping at night.

Is it good? Absolutely! It’s hailed as one of the best literary ghost stories, and part of that comes from the mastery with which Shirley Jackson withholds information. The hauntings are told with a “less is more” minimalism that lets your mind run away with itself, creating much more fear than if she were to explain everything in black and white. It’s a mystery of sorts as well, as you try to figure out what (or who) is causing these spooky events. It’s scary, it’s intriguing, and it still has me thinking about it many days after I finished the book. I would read it again in a heartbeat…but only during the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCHARFFEN BERGER’S CHOCOLATE ADVENTURE CONTEST

October 10, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

 

Do you like chocolate? Baking? Creating new delectable confections in the kitchen? Then here’s the contest for you!

Scharffen Berger is sponsoring their annual  Chocolate Adventure Contest and this year’s challenge is to Create A Bar.

Their definition of a “bar” is wide open: baking bars (like brownies or layered bars), no bake bars, cookie-based bars, ice cream bars, chocolate bars, or even chocolate bark are acceptable.

The bar must contain a form of Scharffen Berger chocolate (chocolate bar, chunks, cocoa, or cacao nibs), and at least one of the these adventure ingredients:

  • Bourbon
  • Oat Flour
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Carrot
  • Pomegranate
  • Peppercorn
  • Hibiscus
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Pandan Leaf or Extract
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Fresh Croutons or Crostini
  • Coconut Milk, Cream, Butter, or Oil

Hmm. Anyone else think these ingredients are better suited to a savory appetizer? I’m thinking a little olive oil, some ground peppercorn, maybe some toasted sesame seeds on a nice crostini…

But no. We’re here for bars.

Last year, I attempted this contest and failed miserably (read about that here), but a lot of my problems stemmed from the fact that I waited until the last minute. This year, I have a new strategy. I’m starting early, I’m going to do a lot of research (what exactly is Pandan Leaf?), and I’m going to step out of my comfort zone (instead of using the safe turbinado sugar and oat flour).

If you need to be inspired, check out the fabulous Bakerella’s blog. She’s a judge again this year and she gives a beautifully photographed send-up of the contest.

And if you need more incentive, there’s a $25,000 prize on the line for 1st Place!

The deadline is Jan 2, 2014, so there’s plenty of time to join me on this Chocolate Adventure. Let me know if you’re up for the challenge!

 

 

 

 

CHOCOLATE INDULGENCE TOUR IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE

October 7, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

Yesterday my mom and I went on an adventure in downtown Seattle: the Chocolate Indulgence Tour by Savor Seattle Food Tours.

We met our tour guide, the charming and informative CJ, at  Cupcake Royale , a cupcake and ice cream store near Pike Place Market. We dove in immediately to the tasting: a vegan Triple Threat Chocolate mini cupcake with a tiny scoop of dark chocolate ice cream. I’ve never had a vegan cupcake, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have even suspected it was vegan had I not been told. It was quite good, but the dark chocolate ice cream was out of this world. In fact, their ice cream flavors in general looked divine, like the Honey and Snickerdoodle and the Salted Caramel Cupcake flavors. They may be known for their cupcakes, but I will be going back for their ice cream.

Our next stop, Chocolate Box,  was right next door and was my favorite stop of the day. Not only was the chocolate sensational, but the staff was so friendly and enthusiastic about their chocolate that it was a pleasure just being in their company. I credit Chocolate Box with introducing me to sipping chocolate. We tasted two varieties: a Belgium/Swiss European and a Venezuelan Black sipping chocolate, and I wish I could describe how warm and thick and rich and decadent this chocolate was. I bought a tin of each for those notorious cold, gray, rainy Seattle days.

But yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in Seattle, so it was a treat to walk to our next destination, Kukuruza Gourmet Popcorn. We were there to try chocolate popcorn, but it would definitely be worth a stop in the future to try some of their other flavors—although I think I’ll pass on the Buffalo Bleu Cheese. We sampled Dark Chocolate Kettle Corn, Rocky Road, and Cinnamon Bun with drizzled white chocolate, which was my favorite.

Fran’s Chocolates is somewhat of a Seattle legend. Fran Bigelow is considered one of the best chocolatiers in the nation. After tasting her Salted Caramels, I can believe it. They were the perfect blend of caramel and salt, which is amazing when you consider that Fran doesn’t like caramel—unbelievable, I know. There is a picture of her granddaughter on the wall in her store. Look closely and you will see that it is composed entirely of Fran’s Chocolates!

The Confectional, across the street from Pike Place Market, had me at the quotation on their sign: “Forgive me chocolate for I have sinned. I have not yet had my daily confection.” They specialize in handheld cheesecakes with flavors like Pumpkin, Lemon White Chocolate, and Seattle’s New York Style. Unfortunately for me, we were given the Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake to try and I don’t like raspberry. My mom, however, raved about it. They also had their own version of a sipping chocolate doctored up with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper, and it was so good! I’m telling you, sipping chocolate is my new favorite thing!

By this time, my mom was just about chocolated out. She’s a salty girl, so she does not have the sweet stamina that I do. As we were walking up the hill to our next destination, we passed by a little restaurant with outdoor seating where a young man was enjoying his meal, which just happened to have potato chips as a side dish. My mom zeroed in on those potato chips like they were a life raft. I’m not sure what transpired conversation-wise, but the next thing I knew my mom was reaching over the railing and helping herself to one of his potato chips!

I would bet money that my mom would say that potato chip was the highlight of her tasting tour.

Next up was the Perennial Tea Room, a sweet little shop with an amazing variety of teas, including the Soho Chocolate and Coconut we tried. We learned a lot about where tea comes from, and that per person, Ireland consumes the most tea per day, which I never would have guessed. They also had a selection of teapots and tea wares. If you’re a tea lover, you have got to check this shop out.

Our final stop was Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Bakery , adjacent to Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge, across the street from Tom Douglas’s Lola and around the corner from Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie…well, you get the picture. Tom Douglas owns a lot of restaurants in Seattle, and rightly so since he beat Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in 2005’s Wild Salmon Battle and won the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2012. We tried a chocolate crinkle cookie (yum!) and a warm beignet that was absolutely delicious.

I would highly recommend the Chocolate Indulgence Tour. It was great to walk around downtown Seattle and get the inside scoop on some of Seattle’s most delicious specialty shops, learn the history of chocolate, and above all, sample some of the spectacular chocolate desserts that Seattle has to offer. And if you’re on a diet, this is the place to be! As much as I love chocolate, the last thing I want to eat right now is anything sweet. I am actually craving salads and green vegetables. Here’s hoping that lasts.

Thanks for a great adventure Mom!

 

 

MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS

October 3, 2013 in Random Thoughts

 

I have 3 complete sets of measuring cups and spoons. That’s right: 3, and sometimes I need even more. You would not believe the number of times I reach into my drawer only to discover that all 3 of my ½-cup measuring cups are in the dishwasher.

“Wow! She must cook…a lot.” Not so. I hardly ever cook. But when I do, I use my measuring cups. I am not one of those cooks that can just toss things in a pot and have the dish turn out edible. I need to measure, and measure carefully.

“Then she must bake…a lot.” And herein lies the reason for my measuring cup and spoon surplus: I do love to bake, and it’s probably because baking is a precise science. If you follow the instructions exactly, you can’t mess up. (In theory, at least.) Baking also yields the most delicious results ever: cookies, cakes, cupcakes, snack cakes…what is not to love about baking?

It occurred to me recently that I was in the market for a new set of measuring cups and spoons. One of my existing sets was looking a little battered, and I was ready to let loose with a style beyond simple white plastic. So I hit Pinterest and the internet to see what was out there.

You know what’s out there? Measuring cups and spoons in every possible design, and they are so adorable! Like this one that I would have bought in a heartbeat except that it’s no longer available:

How about this precious set that would bring a taste of summer to your kitchen all year long?

Given my love of Halloween, I couldn’t resist buying this set from World Market:

These sweet spoons from The Taffy Box were mine as soon as I laid my eyes on them, and it’s a good thing because it looks like they’re sold out now:

I realize they don’t match, and I can’t see keeping my Poison Bottle measuring cups out all year long, so I sense another measuring cup purchase in my near future!

I created a Pinterest page with all the different measuring cups and spoons I found, so if you’re in the market for a new set (or two), check it out, and Happy Baking!