Thursday, October 28, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Snick-a-loaf

Another short and sweet post for tonight: a video of comedian Tim Hawkins talking about Halloween candy.  He mentions the infamous popcorn balls that I discussed in one of my posts.  If you've never heard Tim Hawkins' songs or routines before, be sure to click on his other videos.  My particular favorites are "Chick-fil-a" and "Delilah".  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Trunk or Treat

I'm not sure when the whole Trunk or Treat thing started.  I'm guessing it was shortly after 9/11, because I remember everyone was afraid to let their kids go trick-or-treating in neighborhoods, and they were taking them to the mall, or to private parties. 

Trunk or Treats are, in my experience, usually put on by churches, but I think some schools also do it.  In case you've never been to one, here's how it works.  Everyone parks their cars in one lot, and the lot is then roped off, so that you don't have to worry about traffic and the kids can run freely from car to car.  This is much safer than kids running up and down residential streets, like they do with traditional trick or treating, with traffic or people backing out of their driveways.  Everyone opens their trunk, decorates the trunk and/or their whole car, and the kids go from car to car, trick or treating. 

Last night was my church's trunk or treat event.  It was a blast!  In addition to the decorated cars, we also had carnival games like a ring toss, cake walk, etc. and food.  That would be me, in the above picture, dressed as The Grey Lady (a common title for a female ghost) standing in front of my haunted abode.  I took a piece of cardboard from a TV box and, using poster paint, painted the house onto it.  Then I cut out the windows, so that the light from the trunk would shine through the windows.  The kids had to reach through the front door to get a piece of candy.  Even though there wasn't anything in the trunk to get them, I'd hint that something might get them, so they'd better be quick. (I only did this with the older kids.)  Funny how our own imaginations can give us the biggest fright.

I also had a game for them to play; a trick in order to get the treat.  They had to throw three squishy balls into the jack-o-lantern's mouth. (You can see it to the right of the photo.)  It was just a box that I also painted with poster paints, then cut the mouth out.  I sat the box on a folding chair so it would be at the right height.  I was surprised at how much this was a hit with the kids.  Although, maybe it was because I was hamming it up, in character, and talking about how my jack-o-lantern was hungry and needed to be fed...  We also played creepy Halloween music through our car speakers to set the mood. Again, it was a lot of fun.  In fact, I think I had just as much fun as the kids did.

Now I know this is going to surprise you, (Ha!), but when it comes to Halloween, I'm usually a traditionalist.  When I first heard of Trunk or Treat, I reacted thusly: "No, no no. Trick or treating is done door to door! Where's the fun in going from car to car? How can walking up to a car replace knocking on the door of a spooky dark house, not knowing who is going to open the door?"  But having experienced a couple of Trunk or Treats now, I'd have to say, they're growing on me.  It's nice that it's a controlled, safe environment, but I think my favorite aspect of it, is that I get to celebrate trick or treating and Halloween with 60+ of my closest friends and acquaintances.  I remember when I was little, my parents would drive me all over the neighborhood, just so I could trick or treat at our friends' houses, so they could see my costume, etc.  Well, now all your friends are just one or two parking spaces away!

What do you think?  Do you prefer Trunk or Treat over the traditional door-to-door approach? 

13 Days of Halloween - Creepy Kitchen

So I didn't get this posted yesterday because I had a loooong night and was exhausted by the time I got done.  I had to make decorations for our car, then had to make candies and use them to decorate a two tiered Halloween cake, all for tonight's Trunk or Treat festivities (more on that, including pictures, will be posted after the event tonight).  I thought it might be fun though, to do a quick little tutorial on how to make your own molded candies.  They are super easy and always make for a great reaction from your party guests or candy recipients.

I use Wilton Candy Melts when making molded candy (see picture above).  They melt nicely, are easy to use, and come in a variety of colors.  You can also purchase candy flavorings if, say, you want to tint the red candy to have a cherry taste. You can get Candy Melts at Michaels, JoAnns and speciality stores. I also bought a bag of Brach's Autumn Mix, since I needed small pumpkins, and the pumpkin mold I had was too big for the scale of the cake. 

For this particular project, I melted my candy three different ways.  First, I knew I was going to use a lot of milk chocolate, so I fired up this little baby: Wilton's Chocolate Melter. It's a big time help when it comes to making candy. There's no messing with a double boiler, no having to reheat your pan of chocolate when it starts to get cold and sets up on you, and no separating chocolate because you got it too hot.  You can dump in a whole bag of the candy melts and it melts them all down, then you can change the setting to warm, and it keeps the chocolate at a perfect temperature.  You can lift the pot out of the warmer too, so you can hold it over your molds or whatever you're working on.  I also use this when I'm making chocolate covered oreos.

Next, I melted just a wafer of each of the three different colors that I was going to be using to paint details on the molds. I melted them in this little palate thing I have made for that purpose.  I also put some white chocolate wafers, dark chocolate wafers and black chocolate wafers into three plastic disposable piping bags.  All these items went into the microwave and I started melting them down at 30 percent power, at 30 second intervals. After each 30 seconds, I'd need the bags and stir the little paint pots.  This slowly melts the chocolate, so that it doesn't separate.  You just keep doing this until all the solids are melted and the mixture looks smooth.

Using a decorating brush, I painted the details on the candy mold.  Candy molds can be purchased at Michaels, JoAnns, some speciality stores and online, of course. My favorite place to shop in the Valley of the Sun is ABC Cake Decorating.  They have a huge supply of candy molds for everything imaginable, and lots of awesome cake making supplies too.  I let that candy set up, which usually takes no time at all, since it's a thin amount of candy.  Then I went back in with the piping bag with the next color I wanted.  For example, for the bats, I painted red on their eyes and mouths, then went in with the piping bag and filled in the bat with the black candy.  Once it set, I spooned out milk chocolate from the warmer, and filled the rest of the mold until it was level.  You almost have to think backwards, or in reverse.

Here's a key step, so pay attention - you need to gently tap or shake the mold, to get all the bubbles out and to make sure the candy has seeped into every crevasse of the image.  These molds are surprisingly detailed, but it can ruin the detail if you've got air bubbles or missed filling in a spot. I hold the mold up and look underneath to see if I've gotten rid of all the bubbles.  For stubborn areas, I take a toothpick and insert down into the chocolate and get rid of them that way.  You have to be careful when you do that, because even though you let the other colors set up first before filling in with the milk chocolate, the heat from that chocolate will re-heat the other layers and you could smear your colors together.

Although, in the case of my little tombstones, I wanted to make a marbled effect for the stone, so I piped in white and black directly in the mold and then swirled and mixed them with a decorating brush. The experiment paid off and it made a streaky, marble gray.  You can leave your candies out to set up in room temperature, but that takes forever.  I slide my molds into the freezer, just until the bottom of the mold appears frosty or the candy is firm to the touch (just make sure the molds can sit flat in the freezer, otherwise the chocolate won't set up level and you'll have slanted candies). You can tell by looking at it if it's hardened.  Then just turn the mold over onto some wax paper and they usually pop right out with little or no coaxing.

Below is a picture of my finished candies, which I then used to decorate a cake (again, there will be more pictures posted tonight).  You'll also notice the roof and side pieces of what looks like a house.  This is one of my favorite molds.  You put the four sides and two roof pieces together, using melted chocolate as the glue, to make a haunted house, which I used as my cake topper. How cool is that?  Also, the bat molds are actually shaped to be like cake picks.  You know - those little plastic decorations they stick into cupcakes - but instead, you can eat these ones! Again, how cool is that?

Sorry I didn't take more pictures while I was working; I was under a time crunch.  Maybe for Christmas or Valentine's Day I can do another tutorial on how to make filled candies, truffles, drop candies and dipped items (like oreos, pretzels, etc.) How about you - do you make candies for the holidays?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Trick-or-Treat

Here's a little interesting tidbit about the tradition of Trick-or-Treating.  It actually dates back to the middle ages, when it was common for people to dress up in costumes and beg door-to-door for food or treats on holidays (similar to Christmas caroling or wassailing). It wasn't originally called trick-or-treating but souling, when children and the poor would go from house to house on Hallowmas (Nov. 1) and receive food in exchange for promising to pray for the souls of the dead for that homeowner, on All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  This stems from the Catholic tradition that souls in purgatory can be prayed into heaven by living believers.

It wasn't until much later, in about the 1920s, that trick-or-treating became more of a thing that was solely for children, who would go to the shops in town and to their neighbors and sing little rhymes or recite poems in exchange for fruit or nuts.  So the "trick" was actually a mini-recital. It wasn't long after, that the tricks soon became harmless good-spirited pranks, similar to toilet papering someone's house in today's time.  And the nuts and fruits were replaced with candies.

Out of all the candy sold throughout the year in America, one quarter of it is sold during October, for Halloween.  How much is that?  Try 600 million pounds of candy!  I think I got a cavity just from researching that on Google.

So, let's talk about candy!  Leave me a comment and let me know... What is was your favorite candy to get at Halloween? (KitKats. I also loved getting Bazooka bubble gum, anything chocolate and tootsie roll pops or charms blow pops.) Did you have any neighbors that gave out full size candy bars? (I didn't. I did have a neighbor who gave out those little paper treat bags, stuffed with hand-selected candy. She was awesome.)  How do you feel about candy corn? (I love them.)  What about popcorn balls? (I've yet to try one that didn't feel and taste like eating Styrofoam.)    Do you prefer hard candy over chocolate? (Depends on my mood, but chocolate usually wins out.)  What is the weirdest thing you ever got in your candy bag when trick or treating?  (For me, it was probably a pencil with a Halloween design on it, or a religious tract.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Quoth the Raven, Nevermore!

Since I'm busy with all my crafts and assorted errands in preparation for all the Halloween activities this week, I'm going to keep this post short and sweet tonight, (or should I say short and creepy?). I love Edgar Allan Poe - he was an innovator of poetry and the mystery/thriller genre. He was an amazing, albeit tortured, author. I don't have the words or the time to go into it here (maybe another post for another time?).  I also love Vincent Price. I could listen to him read the phone book. He has a beautiful, eloquent and yet sinister voice.  And his films will also take a rightful place in horror movie history.  So combine the two together...ah... pure genius! 

And yes, that picture above is me dressed as a raven from Halloween a couple years ago.  I went around quoting "The Raven" all day (and probably driving everyone in my office nuts).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - The Cat Came Back

Today I was moving some boxes around in my garage, getting out some more Halloween decorations.  I had the garage door open to let in the beautiful crisp fall air, which we are finally starting to experience here in the Valley of the Sun. As I was working, I saw a shadowy flash out of the corner of my eye.  I walked around the side of the car, and there was my neighbor's black cat (the one that uses my yard for her own personal litter box and has screeching cat-fights in our backyard at 2 AM), her creepy yellow eyes staring at me.  I hissed at her and she scooted out of the garage. Not but a few minutes later, as I was getting ready to shut the garage, I saw her along the wall, sneaking up to the nook where our water heater is located, so I had to shoo her out again.  I thought to myself, "That darn cat came back!" and for whatever reason, this triggered a long repressed memory in my brain, and it came back to me, as clear as yesterday...

When I was in elementary school, around Halloween, we would sing creepy Halloween songs in my music class. One of the songs we would always sing was called, "The Cat Came Back".  As I pulled it up on YouTube, I wondered why in the world my music teacher would have us sing this at Halloween, let alone have little children sing about violence towards cats.  Ah, I suppose, it was the golden age of cartoon violence, a time when Tom and Jerry beat each other up every afternoon. I guess it was harmless. And black cats are a traditional image around Halloween. "The Cat Came Back" is a folk song from the 1800s, but here is a pretty funny version courtesy of the Muppet Show.  (Keep reading down after the video - I have two more songs to share.)

There are two other songs that I remember singing.  One was "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", an ode to the ghost of Anne Boleyn by folk band The Kingston Trio.  Again, I am somewhat amused and mystified that we were allowed to sing these songs as little kids.

If you think those two songs were a bit twisted, just wait until you hear this one. This is the last song that I remember singing in our Halloween-themed music class. It's called, "The Hearse Song".  The fact we were allowed to sing these songs probably explains a lot about me and the way I am today... ha ha!  Below is the only decent version I could find of it on YouTube, but he does change the arrangement and the lyrics a little.  Below the video are the original lyrics as I remember them.  If I remember correctly, this is an American folk song that originated with soldiers in the Civil War.

The Hearse Song
Well don't you laugh as the hearse goes by,
For you may be the next to die.
They wrap you up in a big white sheet,
From your head down to your feet.
They put you in a big black box,
And cover you up with earth and rocks.
All goes well for about a week,
Until your coffin begins to leak.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout.
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose,
They eat the jelly between your toes.
A big green worm with rolling eyes,
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes.
Your stomach turns a slimy green,
And pus pours out like whipping cream,
You spread it on a piece of bread,
And that's what you eat when you are dead.
So next time you see the hearse go by,
Watch out!
For you may be the next to die!

Friday, October 22, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Browsing the Book Table

I live in a two-Kindle household. My husband and I are voracious readers. We have adapted to e-books and electronic media, mostly to combat our storage problem, since we have a great big love for books but an itty bitty living space to store them all. However, there is still something to be said for physical books. I continue to frequent PaperbackSwap for used books and Barnes & Noble for new books. There's just something about the tactile feel of a book, the smell of newly pressed pages, and the illustrations and cover art, that adds to the reading experience. I also get a bit giddy whenever I walk into a bookstore and survey the aisles upon aisles of new worlds just waiting to be explored.

One of my favorite things about going into a bookstore is browsing their seasonal tables, especially around the Halloween season. Sure, Amazon has "If you've read this, you might like this..." recommendations it offers, and you can see recommendation lists from other Amazon shoppers, along with user reviews. I have found a couple of books that way, but I don't think anything can replace just physically browsing through stacks of books and having a title or cover illustration jump out at you. You pick it up and investigate it, read the back cover, open it and scan the first paragraph and either keep it in your hand or set it back down.

Around Halloween, most bookstores have a whole table of books themed around the holiday displayed in a prominent area (usually near the entrance) - one table of non-fiction, costume ideas, party games, etc. and one table of fiction, such as scary stories to tell in the dark, kids picture books about trick or treating, and an assortment of horror-themed fiction. I love this table. Often the display consists of the latest blockbuster offering from Stephen King or Dean Koontz, which I don't mind, but I already know all about them. The good news is, the store's marketers or clerks usually pull some oddball, non-mainstream books to fill up the rest of the table space.

One year I found a little gem called 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories, a collection of short stories gathered and published by Barnes & Noble themselves. I thought I'd pretty much read everything there was to read on vampires, then I came across this hefty tome. It was only $7 and worth every penny. The stories in it are imaginative and run the gamut from frightening to humorous, exploring all creative aspects of the mythology. I enjoyed it so much, that the following year I went back and purchased 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, which was also a treat. Each story is as yummy as a bit of trick-or-treat candy.

This past year, I scored two books that actually made my "best of 2009" list. One was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge and the other book (which my husband actually found for me) was The New Vampire's Handbook: A Guide for the Recently Turned Creature of the Night by the Vampire Miles Proctor. The New Vampire's Handbook was one of the funniest books I've read in a long time, but then again, I think I was the target audience (i.e. someone who knows a lot about the vampire mythology and is somewhat disgusted by the modern turn the genre has taken). Written like an instruction manual for a newly made vampire, it is actually a send up modern vampire mythology and what pop culture has done to it. It was witty and smart.

An even better book, which I also found on the holiday table, was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. It's more of a novella in size, and I only picked it up because of the intriguing, detailed artwork on the front cover. I purchased it because it looked like a quick read, and because the price was right. I had no idea how much bang I was going to get for my buck when it came to this little novella. Wow. In fact, I delayed on finishing it, simply because I didn't want it to be over. The narrative style is unlike anything I've ever read. It's in your face, and addresses the reader directly, immediately making you a part of the story. The first line starts out: "A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there." When I read that, I replied, "I do? I was?" After that line, I was completely hooked. The book is a combination of an ancient fable, a 60s B-movie flick or Twilight Zone episode, and a spooky ghost story. In fact, here's the first paragraph of the novella, (also available on Amazon):

"A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there.

It’s Halloween, 1963… and getting on toward dark. Things are the same as they’ve always been. There’s the main street, the old brick church in the town square, the movie theater – this year with a Vincent Price double-bill. And past all that is the road that leads out of town. It’s black as a licorice whip under an October sky, black as the night that’s coming and the long winter nights that will follow, black as the little town it leaves behind."

"Black as a licorice whip" - don't you just love that?

My birthday is in late September and another one of my horror-loving friend's birthday is in October. Consequently, each year, we both know we're going to get books from that Halloween table for birthday gifts. This year he got me Werewolves: An Illustrated Journal of Transformation by Jessup and Haller that is filled with some wonderful free-form pencil illustrations and I got him Werewolf Haiku by Ryan Mecum, which looked like a pretty funny take on the trials of being a shapeshifter. I'm also looking forward to reading the collection Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Fiction. How about you? Do you still frequent bookstores or are you all about the Kindle? Do you ever check out the bookstore specialty tables? What is your favorite campfire ghost story? Or do you hate scary stores? Please leave me a comment and let me know, and to read my other posts about my love of books and bookstores, just click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - The Addams Family... Sings?

I love Charles Addams' comics. I've discussed them once before, here. He was doing things that paved the road for future comics like The Far Side. His humor was a little twisted, a little macabre and always surprising and ingenious. His comics were the basis for the Addams Family TV show that aired in the 60s and a feature film released in the 90s. Almost every one of the sight gags or jokes in the movie were taken directly from his comics. The picture above is how the Addams Family appeared in his cartoons.

As a child, I would hurry home from school to catch the television episodes. Not caring that they were in black and white, all I knew was that the show's humor resonated with me and I connected with their strange sensibilities. I was always a different, weird kid (Big surprise there, right?) so it was nice to see a family of people that I could relate to. (Yeah, that's right, I related to the Addams Family... paging Dr. Freud!) And I'm still a fan. I've collected all the TV shows and the film on DVD and have watched them more times than I can count. I've collected most of Addams' comics in book form as well. For the longest time, I had the TV show's theme song as my ringtone, and I might just admit that I have a secret desire to name my first daughter Wednesday. I feel like the Addams Family is a distant third branch on my family tree, and I always feel at home when I pop in the DVD or crack open a book. It really is like visiting old friends.

Just recently, I have received some disconcerting news that the Addams Family has been turned into a... brace yourselves... a Broadway musical. Hmm. Uh. Yeah. Not sure how I feel about that. I cannot imagine the Addams Family singing, unless it was the Mamushka, of course. The musical stars two very talented, funny people: Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. For the most part, I just can't seem to wrap my sensibilities around musicals. Perhaps I would like this one? But I just can't envision Uncle Fester or Wednesday breaking into Broadway song. Singing showtunes seems a little too cheery for this dreary little family. You can check out the website for the musical here. What do you think? Do you enjoy musicals or do you find them cheesy and a bit hard to take (like I do)? Leave me a comment and let me know. In the meantime, I'm going to go fire up the DVD player and visit my old friends. They're creepy and their kooky, mysterious and spooky...

13 Days of Halloween - Are You A Good Witch or A Bad Witch?

Pictured above is the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West, from the 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz. It seems like we often forget that Glinda is referred to as a witch. With Halloween approaching, images of witches are everywhere. It has prompted me to write a little missive (maybe even a bit of a rant) on the whole knee-jerk reaction some of us have to the topic of magic and witches. Before we start, I feel as if I must mention that this post is being written by a Christian, with other Christian believers as the target audience I have in mind.

Most of the books I've read and movies I've seen that include the use of magic or witches approaches it 1. as a literary device and 2. for the most part clearly presents two sides - good and evil (or at least, in my humble opinion, the good fiction does this). When I say authors use magic or witches as literary devices, I mean it is simply a fantasy tool used to tell a story. Magic is what helps transport the Darling children to Neverland, or the Pevensie children through the wardrobe (or painting, etc.) into Narnia. It's a way for the author to get the main characters into a fantastical land. Often, the fantasy land and its characteristics, inhabitants, quests, etc. all work as an allegory or are symbolic of the deeper message the author is conveying. Sometimes magic is simply used as a skill, just like fencing or horseback riding, that the characters use to complete their quests.

The same thing goes for witches. In the Wizard of Oz, witches are simply magical rulers over the different lands within Oz. Some witches, like Glenda, are good while others are evil, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Not only are witches being used as a literary device - the witches and their magic are used to further along the story, to present obstacles or to provide magical tools or helps for our main characters during their quest or journey - but they are also firmly established on the side of either good or evil. In fairy tales there are often witches (evil) and fairy godmothers (good). The literary character of a witch or the literary tool of magic is neither good nor bad, but is painted as one or the other by the author or film-maker.

Having said all that, let's talk for a moment about Harry Potter. I have had well-meaning individuals approach me and admonish me up one side and down the other and question my faith, simply for reading the Harry Potter novels because of the evil "witchcraft" and "magic" they contain, but these same individuals are fine with the Chronicles of Narnia stories or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Correct me if I'm wrong, but those stories all include a witch or wizard and magic, don't they? Yes, the queen in Narnia uses magic and is evil, but don't forget the Pevensie children also use magic. For example, Lucy is given a flask with a magical fluid of healing in it. We must take the thing, whether it is magic, monsters, fairies or witches, and look at the context. What is the author's purpose and goal? What is the author saying?

In the case of Harry Potter, magic is simply a skill, just like arithmetic or fencing. The Hogwarts school teaches the children to use their magic (i.e. skills) for good. There are witches and wizards who use their magic for evil and they are most definitely painted in a negative light and are even arrested and punished for the crime of using their magic for evil. The good witches use their magic to defeat the bad witches in battle. I'm not saying the Harry Potter series isn't flawed, or that it's the best work of fiction ever. I'm just saying it gets a unfairly bad rap by individuals who react to the content (i.e. witches and wizards) without taking the time to understand the context.

In my view, the Harry Potter series is no different in style or themes than the Star Wars films, where The Force is like a magical talent that certain people can tap into. Some people (i.e. Jedis) use it for good, while others (i.e. Sith) use it for bad, even calling it The Dark Side. These stories all tell of the eternal struggle of good versus evil, and don't we all love to see goodness prevail and triumph over evil? It satisfies an innate human desire to make the wrong things right. Furthermore, it is a pattern or shadow of the true story of our faith, in which Jesus, perfect, good and sinless, sacrificed himself and conquered death and sin, to bring salvation to sinful man and restore him to righteousness. (As a point of interest, J.K. Rowling has a Christian background and although I wouldn't call the Harry Potter books "Christian fiction", they have a decidedly Christian theme, especially in the final resolution of the series, where one man lays his life down in order to save others from ultimate evil.)

Now, I want you to hear me very clearly on this next point. I am not, in any way, shape or form, condoning actual, real life witchcraft. There is the realm of fantasy fiction, and then there's the realm of reality. I'm also not condoning anything that glorifies evil. For example, I'm okay with reading Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia and think they are fine as works of fiction, but I'm not interested in seeing films such as The Craft or Practical Magic, that try to present real life witchcraft as acceptable or something to be pursued. I've met and had long discussions with people who follow the Wicca religion and it is not anything one should be messing around with.

Furthermore, if someone used to be steeped in the occultic lifestyle or Wicca or satanism or anything of the sort, and have since come out of it, I can fully understand how any exposure to or any reference to witches or magic and the like might be harmful and disturbing or bring up a temptation for that person to return to that lifestyle. Each individual has his/her own comfort levels, and I fully respect that. For example, alcohol, in and of itself, is not evil. However, if you've battled with alcoholism, then you shouldn't be watching or reading things that make you want to drink and/or cause that temptation or sin to rise up in you. The same goes for literature. Although these literary devices may be harmless in and of themselves, if it causes you to sin or be tempted, then it's best to avoid them.

As Romans 14 says, "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." If reading about magic or witches bothers you or burdens your conscience, then I'm most certainly not going to badger you about how you have to read Harry Potter and keep dropping the books off at your house, and I won't judge you for it either. Conversely, if I don't have a problem with it and my conscience is not convicted by reading them, then I would hope you would refrain from judging me about it too.

At this point, you may be thinking, "the lady doth protest too much" and that I am being defensive because I'm trying to justify sinful behavior or pursuits. On the contrary, I am simply frustrated with the lack of consistency, education, discernment and thoughtfulness when it comes to Christians and the arts. (I've spoken about this issue before, here.) I think the bottom line of what I'm trying to get at here, is I would just like for us to have discernment in all things. Engage your brain. My goal is to read with a book in one hand and the Bible in the other, and to actively think about the literature I'm reading or the movies I'm watching. What is the author trying to say? Does it glorify evil, or tell the truth about evil and sin? Are witches and magic used simply as literary devices, or is it presented as an alternative path to God's Truth? If you have a specific problem with a work of fiction, then let's discuss it on its literary merits, and the context in which magic and witches are used, and, keeping Romans 14 in mind, if it comes to it, let's agree to disagree within the unity of Christ. What do you say? Deal?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Mickey's Halloween Party

It's that time of year again, my little Monsters and Ghouls; time for my countdown to Halloween!  If you'd like to read my previous Halloween posts, just click here.  To kick off the thirteen days, I'm going to start by talking about Halloween in Disneyland.  Yes, you read that right: Halloween and Disneyland, two of my all-time favorite things together in one place!  My husband recently treated me to a surprise trip to Disneyland to celebrate our anniversary.  Back in the day, my husband and I honeymooned there, so not only was this trip filled with Halloween festivities and Disneyland but it was also full of nostalgic, romantic warm fuzzies.

As an aside, those of you who know of my love for Halloween and all things Fall probably won't be surprised to know that I was married in October. In fact, I really wanted to get married on Halloween, but my mother was already so freaked out about the whole thing, I decided to save her sanity (and mine) by not pushing the "wedding tradition" envelope.

Starting near the end of September and running through the month of October, Disneyland decorates the park with Halloween and Fall decorations, and they have special Halloween festivities.  Additionally, the Haunted Mansion (my favorite ride) is converted over with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, which they leave up through December, since it combines both holidays.  (Are you doing the math? Halloween + Disneyland + Tim Burton = FUN!)
Disneyland is perfection, down to the last little detail, and their Halloween decorations were no exception to that rule.  Jack-o-lanterns were perched everywhere on Main Street, the bakery had bat shaped cookies and pumpkin muffins, the flowers and landscaping were done in Fall colors.  Frontierland had a pumpkin patch and scarecrows and Día de los Muertos decorations near the Mexican restaurant, while the French Quarter was decorated in classy, black decorations that matched the mood of the Haunted Mansion.  I wanted to take pictures of everything!  In fact, there's so much to see at Disneyland (whether it's at a holiday time or not), that I think I take pictures of different things each time I go.  There's so much detail to see, I always notice something new and different on each visit.  Even the costumed characters were dressed in their Halloween finest.  Minnie Mouse had the cutest orange and purple witch costume on, I wish I'd gotten a picture of it.

It was my first time going through the Haunted Mansion ride with its holiday overlay, and all I can say is, "WOW."  I'm not even sure how to explain it, except to say it was like actually being in the Nightmare Before Christmas movie.  My mouth hung open in awe for the majority of the ride.  The narration is different and the music is replaced with songs from the movie.  They even pipe in the smell of gingerbread in the ballroom to further enhance the experience of being in Jack's version of Christmastown.  We went through it twice in the short time we were there.  Space Mountain also gets a Halloween upgrade and becomes Ghost Mountain. It still looks like you're flying through space, but now there's a galactic ghost that chases you and pops out at you at different points throughout the ride. It was fun, but it didn't add much to the original ride experience.

On Friday nights in the month of October, the park closes at 7:00 PM and hosts Mickey's Halloween Party for those who want to attend.  When my darling husband was making the travel arrangements and found this out he said, "Well, of course we have to do that!" (I just love him!) Guests arrive dressed in costume and are given trick-or-treat bags. There are candy stations all around the park on a trick-or-treat walk/path.  Everywhere was spooky lighting and fun Halloween themed music was played through all the speakers throughout the park.  There were also little scenes with characters, such as a talking scarecrow.  The castle was lit in ominous colors and the Rivers of America was covered in fog for a very spooky effect.  There was a Halloween parade and then a Halloween themed fireworks show, complete with a flying Zero and talking Jack head that loomed over us, all set to the classic Halloween songs. Just check out this brief video of the night and the fireworks show.

I didn't want to leave and, in fact, asked my husband if there was any way we could live there.  Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth, and when they are celebrating a holiday, it just increases the fun. (I've been there during the Christmas holiday and it's magic to the tenth power. But that's another blog post for another time.) I'm so thankful that I was able to experience Disneyland while they were celebrating my favorite holiday. I'm even more thankful that I got to enjoy this magical, spooky time with my husband. Thanks sweetie, for such a special gift.  You made my Disneyland-dreaming, Halloween-loving heart happy!

To read my other posts about the magic of Disneyland and why I love it so much, just click here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Musical Interlude - When I Was A Fool

Hello, Gentle Readers.  I apologize, again, for the umpteenth time, for being such a tease. I constantly make promises on this blog to you (and to myself) and then consistently fail in meeting them.  I have the best of intentions.  Honestly, I do.  But you know what they say about good intentions.

You'll notice my Illustration Friday challenge flamed out after only one week.  How pathetic is that?  I encountered artist's block (I know of writer's block. What do you call it when you're stumped on visual art?) on the second assignment, then completely froze up beyond that week.  The longer it went, the worse it got, and self-doubt crept in.  Maybe I've completely lost the ability to be creative, to draw, to write. They say "use it or lose it"; and I have neglected this area of my life for so long, maybe I have, in deed, lost it. (I'm pretty sure I've lost it in the writing arena; I mean, look at how many cliched phrases and aphorisms I've already used in this post alone.) 

They say you can identify the things that are important in your life, by where you spend your time.  What does this say about me?  For the most part, the things that are most important to me are at the bottom of the list, with hardly any time devoted to them.  I barely have time to do the basics of life - go to work, fix dinner, do laundry, etc. What is wrong with me that I can't make time for the things that are important to me? I used to be such an organized, driven person.

Then, when I finally try to get back on the creativity horse with trying to do some artwork at least once a week, I fall flat on my face. I set some goals for my writing on my blog, and don't meet any of them. Some other, additional writing goals or opportunities were crushed recently as well. Then there's the whole thing about setting some goals about getting a job that is just a smidgen of rewarding, yet I continue to settle for a dead-end, un-challenging, desk job in cubicleland. If I wasn't feeling frustrated and disappointed enough in myself already, then came this week's Bible study. Normally, the Bible studies I participate in with my small group on Sunday nights are very edifying, but this week the topic stressed me out and made me feel even worse. In short, it was about making time for relationships, and taking the time to really be present with others and share God's love with them.  I can barely fit in time to pray and study the Bible, and already feel like I'm failing miserably in that arena.  Now here's another area where I'm not devoting enough time or energy. UGH!

If you've read this far, then I feel like I need to apologize to you again.  I know that no one wants to read or enjoys reading a blog where the author whines about being slothful, and I know I'm breaking an unofficial blogger rule here by self-critiquing and blogging about not having time to blog, etc. but I'm seriously trying to wrap my head around all of this. I'll be honest with you, Gentle Readers, and admit to you that I'm feeling pretty low tonight (as if you haven't already figured that out).  I'm in quite a deep hole, and I have no one to blame but myself for getting here.

I didn't write this to fish for compliments or platitudes or sympathy. (In fact, if I can figure out how to do it, I might just disable comments for this post.) I don't even know what I want to gain by writing all this. I'm completely at a loss - about everything.  I just feel like a walking piece of meat, sucking air, taking up space, and pulling a paycheck. (I'm just a little ray of sunshine tonight, aren't I?)  I know that's not true, but it's how I feel right now.

And on that cheerful note... (ha!) here's a musical interlude.  I don't have all the answers, but I do find some comfort in knowing other people struggle with these things.  I've always felt a connection to Johnette Napolitano (lead singer of Concrete Blonde) and her music. This song is actually written from a different perspective, about somewhat different issues (i.e. the dual-edged sword of celebrity, and fading fortune and fame as a rock star, etc.) but I can relate to her questioning tone, about what to do with this life we have. I just wish I could feel as strong, confident and victorious as she does by the end of the song.

When I Was a Fool
by Concrete Blonde
I re-read silly lines
That made sense at the time
Pages all stained with tears and red wine
And I walk through the
airport and see magazines
Every face that I see
So much younger than me
And I smile to myself how I
don't even miss
My glorious past or the
lips that I've kissed
And I think to myself
that how easy this is
Easy to breathe, easy to live
And I wonder why I tear myself in two
Over how to be, what to say and what to do
And I know you liked me better then
And I know you liked me
better when I was a fool
...I was a fool
...I was a fool

So I live in these days
But I still have my old ways
'cause the future,
somehow, has yet to arrive
And I see all around me the women on time
Kids and divorces and crisis in midlife
and do I surrender and give up my dream
for a brick in the wall and
a washing machine
grow up and get real
for a kid in their teens
who won't care what I've done
where I've been, what I've seen

And I wonder why I tear myself in two
over who to be, how to be and what to do
and I know you liked me better then
and I know you liked me
better when I was a fool
...I...was a fool
...I was a fool
...I was a fool

I'm free to a fault
I'm 45
I'm playing guitar
I'm living my life
Fly down the highway
Sun on my face
I belong to nobody
I belong to no place