Showing up for Halloween..what will you be remembering?

In high school my church youth group sponsored an outing to a local haunted house, billed as a safe and wholesome Halloween activity.  It was not for me! Once inside the dark, confined tunnel-like space I was immediately bombarded with shrieks and screams, ghouls in bloody garb– faces grotesquely disfigured by elaborate Hollywood makeup–brandishing large hunks of meat as clubs and weapons threateningly staged to maximize disgust.

Initially the actor-players were on display while we were ushered through the rooms theatrically staged with mock-guillotine scenes, boiling cauldrons with body parts strewn about, and an electric chair repeatedly executing the un-dead. But as the queue of onlookers moved deeper into the interior the actors began to leave their posts, ghouls and monsters popping out of dark corners waving bloody meat in our faces.  I don’t remember more because I think I nearly fainted.  My final memory is discovering upon exiting that somewhere along the way I’d tightly wrapped myself around some poor stranger who apparently took pity on a hysterical girl and must have guided me out.

This may explain why I don’t get into all the adult-sized goblin and horror thrills of Halloween, as do many of my friends, but I do enjoy experiencing the occasion with children. This year we won’t be with Sophia and Karina for Halloween evening, but we were the advance-team providing pre-Halloween warm-up.  I was able to camera-in-hand go trick-or-treating with Sophia’s preschool class.  Dozens of neighborhood businesses opened their doors to the costumed children and their parents, generously welcoming them in and distributing candy.  It was 85 degrees and the children were melting in their costumes, but it was fun!

Sophia loved the pink Bat Girl costume!
Karina charmed everyone announcing "Im the King of the witches!"

And then the annual carving of the pumpkins!  This is their grandfather’s annual specialty! Since the time our own two children were young he has enthusiastically claimed the pumpkin carving as his contribution to Halloween.  He easily enjoys it MORE than anyone else!

Papa has a very particular technique, and we have to occasionally slow him down, reminding him to watch the knives!  He is the consummate big kid…throwing pumpkin guts and pretending to eat the raw, stringy insides.  The girls laugh and follow suit.  There isn’t much attention to detail, and the jack-o-lantern faces aren’t artistically creative, but he speedily moves through the carvings and prepares each one for the candle.

A man on a mission!
The big kid and the pumpkin guts!
Job well done!

This year I was struck to hear something for the first time! Before the pumpkins were even completed he was directing Aimee to gather candles.  It was still light outside and the idea of combining flame with a two-year-old wasn’t high on her to-do list, but he was insistent enough that she complied. After only a few minutes he asked, “Don’t you love that smell?”  Uh, what smell?  He repeated several times how much he loved the smell of the inside of the pumpkin, warmed, or even a bit scorched, by the candle.

Really?  It didn’t smell like anything at all to us.  And that’s when decades of enthusiastic pumpkin carving with no particular attention to the faces but get-to- the- end result and put a candle in it made sense!  “I used to do this with my dad.  I always think of Genoa Street when I smell the candle in the jack-o-lantern.”

For a moment we were hushed.  Jay was ten years old when he lost his dad to an accident-related injury.  And for fifty years the Halloween pumpkin carving has apparently been a tradition memorializing a special father-son moment, emotions and memory triggered by the smell of that burnt pumpkin! It speaks to me of many things, but perhaps nothing more profoundly than the importance of being truly present for even the smallest of moments.  And I also learned that after 40 years of marriage you still could learn something new about your partner-in-life!

Happy Halloween and be sure to appreciate even the smallest of traditions!  Debra

Saturday Paws: Halloween boosts the already strong pet industry! What costume will your pet be wearing?

Have you been thinking of a small business to get into? Or maybe wondering what might be a surefire stock to invest in? Several articles in different magazines, newspapers and radio news blasts have caught my attention. During these rough economic times there is one sector that has risen pretty consistently–and not an area I would have bet on. Yup, the pet industry! Pet Services Industry | Recession-Proof Pet Spending.

Budgets seem to expand for gourmet and specialty foods, treats, snacks, beds, water and food dishware, blankets, bath products, toothpaste–and oh my yes–toys! Then there are the collars, leashes and grooming options. Don’t forget the wide assortment of litter and pooper-scoopers! Books, tapes, CDs/DVDs (for the stay-at-home pets) and clothing galore! For warmth, as well as fashion–coats, boots, and now for Halloween—you guessed it! Costumes!

Ruffles as a fairie
Ruffles tries on fairy wings!

Perhaps you picture costuming a cute little Pug or tabby cat, but think bigger! There are costumes for every size and kind of pet! Truly!

Mae-be--not so sure about these wings!

I’ve read in both the NY Times and St. Louis Today that no matter what a person may cut back on for themselves, pet owners are always eager to try out one new item–a treat, bed, harness or even organic food and bottled water for their favored pet. Pet Industry Booming, With Sales of Gourmet Treats –  There is always room in the budget for the pets’ comfort, fun, or hygiene!  People who won’t opt in for their own teeth cleaning will make sure their dogs receive regular dental care! And often pet medical or dental costs are quite high!

Kitty hotels, doggy day-care and home pet sitting (in-home or the sitters) opens new employment and career possibilities. Many conscientious pet owners prefer a trustworthy sitter come to the home to care for Smokey or Tiger, Bailey or Rex! Sometimes it’s less expensive than outside boarding, and most people report it to be less stressful for the pets to remain in their own home rather than carted off to even the best of places.

I like to pamper my own dear animals with play items, comfy sleeping and resting areas and quality care, too, of course! I don’t think I go too far out and I do look for sales, coupons, and discounted or clearance items (if the dates are still good!).

One thing I don’t invest in very often is clothing for my pets! For one thing, the cat gets out of his collars before I can say “Boo!” And a Boxer will accept almost any bandana or cute collar, but just don’t try too many funny costumes. I previously had a Boxer that hated the baseball outfit I tried on her one Halloween. Her look was murderous–I should have had the camera out for that one!

I like MY wings!

So this year I am trying a simpler garb—just a pair of wings for each dog—imagine butterfly or a woodsy faerie creature. Ruffles was at first confused when she couldn’t get into the dog house or under the bench!! But finally she gave me a big smile! Now Mae-be looked away. And it wasn’t until I removed the wings that she decided to make eye contact! Note to self – get Mae-be a bandana!

OK! If I must!

Spooky Wishes for a safe and sane Halloween! Beth and the Girls

Backyard circle of life…and lessons on the trail with two young children!

I had to swallow hard with the whole circle-of-life drama. Our hawk is definitely still hanging around! Jay and I had a rare moment to actually sit in our backyard and with no warning the rush of those powerful wings swooshed past our heads to make a strategic strike against the bird feeder.  Finches and sparrows scattered for the hedges sounding an immediate alarm and all we saw in those split seconds was a spray of feathers.

I may primarily be a city girl, but I do love our encounters with wildlife. They may be unexpected, but they’re not that rare! My well-being seems to boost with each addition to the list of visitors–although some have been rather inconvenient. We survived multiple seasons of skunks nesting under our house.  Although blockade after blockade promised hope of defense, these crafty characters fought back.  And they have a mean defense!  It’s humbling to sit in church listening to people mutter and sniff as they try to detect the origin of the strange smell we carried in on our clothing.

Then there was the fox that “took” our family bunny, the heron that sat on the roof eyeing the fish in our backyard pond, and the peacocks that visited the neighborhood for about three weeks, sunbathing on our roof and sleeping in our planter boxes.  Some of the neighbors vociferously complained about the subsequent garden destruction, but the birds were magnificent.  I wasn’t too happy with the neighbors!

Queen of the backyard

The other day a raccoon was in our pond and got to the fish.  Neighbors reported a driveway sighting, and although we didn’t witness his nocturnal deeds, we did discover the destruction—missing fish and shredded water lilies. The fish did not go down without a fight!

But nature’s backyard drama isn’t an entirely comfortable story for my two little gals! My overt enthusiasm has contributed to a climate of concern and lots of questions from Sophia.  She’s been very curious about wolves and coyotes.  I could answer “no” to the wolves, but there have been coyotes in the neighboring golf course.  “No” they aren’t in our backyard—at least not very often. Now when she spends the night she wants to make sure the gate is closed.  I think we’ve frightened her just a little bit.  Karina loves the squirrels and birds in the yard, and on occasion she reports an owl sighting.  She, too, has a great imagination!

So to add a little education and begin to dispel any misinformation we took a short field trip to Eaton Canyon–located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and only twenty minutes from home.  The girls are too young for all but the opening-hiking trail, but the Nature Center is a great way to begin talking about the animals that live in our local mountains.  They were less interested in the mountain lion, bear and opossum, but couldn’t get enough of watching the snakes in the terrariums.  One of the snakes was poised and ready to eat its goldfish lunch. To their disappointment he wasn’t planning to eat with an audience!

Snake with goldfish lunch...a matter of time!

It was a little drizzly and we weren’t dressed for much of a hike—that, and I also saw a sign that told us what to do if we encountered a mountain lion on the trail—so I wasn’t venturing too far with two small children.  But maybe another time we’ll sign up for a guided family hike.  It was beautifully serene and oh-so-quiet! Karina stopped in her tracks and with hushed tones commented, “Look at the pretty mountains.”  That acknowledgement from a two-year old made the whole effort worthwhile.


What preschoolers enjoy doing on a hike!

Scrub and the San Gabriels