We loaded up both our vehicles and headed west to celebrate one more holiday with the family in Ohio. Even though we won’t be moving for at least another month, the winter months get kind of crazy under normal circumstances with the holidays and unpredictable weather and road conditions, so as our international move looms closer, our window of time to do a visit like this gets smaller.
So my sister and I set our sights on Halloween to get all the grandkids together and make some memories. It’s been 20 years since the last time we canvassed the neighborhood together: the first time we headed out as parents ourselves. Halloween was always a big deal at our house. We share memories of homemade costumes, pillowcases full of candy, super late trick-or-treat times, and all kinds of fun. Continue reading →
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]O[/dropcap]h my goodness, what a weekend.
The weather was gorgeous, the colors were vivid. On Sunday, my friend Stacey had a booksigning event over in Winchester, Virginia, so Miss C and I hopped in the car and set forth to visit with her. Every time we crested a hill, the two of us screamed at each other about “OH MY GOD, THE COLORS!!!” as she went crazy trying to capture it all with the camera.
We also decided there needs to be an app for all those history markers along the side of the road because we passed so many, but who is going to stop on such a busy road just to read a metal sign, right? Later, when I got to my laptop, we learned there’s already an app for that.
OF COURSE there is. It’s a brilliant idea. I told Miss C we need to be a few years faster with these clever ideas as I paid and downloaded it. (Way to be, David Kocevski!)
Anyway, our friend Stacey and a few of her daughters were at the booksigning event, and even though we were at her house the evening before for a Halloween party, she and her posse greeted us as if it had been ages. Oh, to be loved.
But of course, I snagged a few signed copies of Haunted Stuff because not only as gifts for others, but I am giving one away for free to one of YOU — my lucky blog readers.
Just use the widget below to sign up with an email: you get an extra point by writing a blog comment about your favorite Halloween memory or haunted object experience, and then the raffle widget will pick a winner at the end of the week!
Julie’s Note: It’s back from the dead … my blog and the Guest Blogger Series, that is. Every now and then, I feature a guest writer, and this week, I’m so excited to feature my friend!
This post is for all those who WANT to write, but are too terrified to do so.
Take it from a horror writer … you can do it!
By Stacey Graham
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]I[/dropcap]didn’t choose the writing life — it chose me. After five kids and countless hours of rhyming “sugar” with anything but “booger,” I needed something sassy. I was in my (very) late 30s and didn’t want to start a new career, but what could compete with wiping baby butts all day?
The complete and utter feeling of failure after I’d sent out my first few pitches, that’s what.
Yet, that’s when I knew I was in the game and so, it was on like Donkey Kong. A few years later, I had published four books and a dozen short stories, and in the process, I identified a few things. A few scary things.
Admittedly, after fifteen years of picking up questionable underwear off the floor, nothing could rattle me. Nevertheless, here are five scary truths about the world of being a mother who writes.
1. Deadlines: Think of it as the homework that never ends. While working on deadline, the house goes, your love life is kaput, and your kids start calling your neighbor “Mom.” He hates that. Take a deep breath, Febreeze the laundry room, and tackle what needs to be done first to get you to stop muttering under your breath. You get a break, and your dog will finally stop peeing in the corner.
2. Coming up with new and fabulous ideas: You’ve heard about keeping an idea file either in notebooks or a board on Pinterest, but you’re not quite sure if that’s for you. Try using the voice recorder on your smartphone, favorite something you see on social media to follow up on later, or take a good long walk to clear your mind. Inspiration can be fickle, so when it strikes, be ready with your method of choice and get crack-a-lackin’. Need more ideas? Go outside and talk to someone. It’ll improve your social life and you won’t be known as that weird mom who hides in her office anymore. Ready for something new? If fiction isn’t your bag, try nonfiction. Share your interests with a wide audience, and I promise you’ll love it.
3. What if nobody likes it other than my mom? Big deal. Move onto the next fear.
4. What if everybody loves it and I’m on the hook for more books? Congratulations! Though now the real work begins. Being a debut author is awesome: You haven’t effed up yet enough to make people doubt your sanity and drinking habits. However, after the shininess rubs off the first book or article, it’s back to you fighting off kids in your cone of silence and not shaving your legs for a few months. I’ve found my most creative time is when I’m a week away from submitting a book. Suddenly the sky opens up and I have a bounty of plum ideas begging for attention – but I’m still a week away from putting the book baby to bed. Take the seed of those ideas and plant them. Write a synopsis, write a first few paragraphs, make a mind-map, outline the story, email yourself photos of characters you’ve found online. Just get.it.down. When your agent comes a’knockin’, you can tell her you’ve already got a few peas in the pot.
5. Just hit send: The most exhilarating – and terrifying – moment comes right before you hit the send button. You’ve edited the heck out of the piece, gotten friends to check it for stray words and plot holes, and are sure that this time you’ll reach super star status – or at least overcome the embarrassment of sending an editor the racy photos you were saving for sexting your partner. It happens.
Scary? Yes. But you’ve got this. Now go wipe the peanut butter off your ass and head to that softball game with pride.
But only because I’m so sentimental about this holiday that I can overlook the impatience and craziness displayed during costume prep.
We’re not the only family that goes through such grief before festivities, right?
It took me two hours to drive home from work, even though I left early, and kids were already walking around the neighborhood when I pulled in. The kids were anxious, Martin was a little panicked, and I was flustered (and hungry!), but fortunately, I did a costume trial run with the kids the night before, so I knew what needed to be done.
So it only took 30 minutes total to get all three kids ready. I spray-painted Miss C’s hair with bright red hair paint and then twisted a fork (aka dinglehopper) in her hair since she was the Little Mermaid Ariel.
Next, I pinned Lola’s hair into a bun, and covered her with spray glitter as Cinderella. I also wrapped a pearl necklace in her hair, and hung some ‘diamonds’ on her since a princess must have some bling.
Then I took an eyeliner pen and drew a mustache and goatee on my little pirate Jaz.
That meant I had only about 10 minutes to put myself together. This year, Martin and I repeated our costumes from 2005, when the three of us dressed like Snow White characters. All Martin had to do was put on the Prince Charming outfit.
Turning myself into the Evil Queen stepmother involved some white face makeup, black eyeliner (for the eyebrows and eyes), purple and gold eyeshadow, and red face paint for the lips. I was able to get it done pretty quickly, but of course, not without a chorus of “Moooooom! Let’s GOOOOOOO!” or “MOM! She won’t let me carry the pumpkin! I want to carry the pumpkin!” and Martin going, “If you two don’t stop fighting RIGHT NOW, we’re NOT going trick-or-treating!”
Ah, life with children..
Fortunately, once we hit the streets, it was all cooperation, smiles and fun. Miss C’s best friend and her parents (her dad dressed up too!!) just happened to be passing our house as we walked out, so we ended up canvassing the neighborhood together.
Even though it rained just a little bit, it was surprisingly pleasant outside. There were a lot of kids and families out together, and it was just so cute watching the kids scamper ahead of us, greeting their neighbors and friends, watching out for each other, and just having a great time.
Have I mentioned how much I love Halloween?
Sure, it’s kind of silly and messed up that kids are going around getting candy from strangers, but on the other hand, I love that this is an evening where neighbors open their doors, get out in the streets, and socialize with each other. I’m grateful we live in an area where something like this is possible.
But most of all, I love the memories we’re creating with our kids as a family, and I hope they look back and recall this with the same joy that I reflect on my childhood Halloween adventures.
When we got home, I took the traditional “candy and costume” photos of the kids and their loot. This is something my father did, and I’ve been doing it ever since our first Halloween as parents exactly 10 years ago.
But as one older lady told our group last night as we made our way around our neighborhood, “Isn’t it great we can have Halloween after all?”
Of course, she was talking about Hurricane Sandy.
Truth be told, I didn’t think Halloween was going to happen this year. Just before the storm arrived, everyone pulled in all the decorations. The weather forecasters predicted rain and cold temperatures for Halloween night. And once she rolled past our region, Sandy really left a mess.
It wouldn’t have surprised me if Halloween was canceled.
But I think since the schools opened up on Wednesday and the sun was shining, families took it as a sign. And by Wednesday afternoon, Halloween decorations were out again and people were shoveling up those soggy leaves and tree branches, and making the sidewalks clear for the kids.
Since I teleworked from home Wednesday to help Martin with the clean-up, I was home when Miss C arrived from school. She was disappointed: she and her friend were going to dress up as rock stars together, but her friend had to cancel, and Miss C was without a costume, since she was going to borrow her friend’s outfit.
I offered to make her a zombie. She wasn’t interested.
She suggested being a witch, but I pointed out she was already a witch. And isn’t it more fun being something new every year? I remembered I had some sponge curlers, and offered to make her into an old lady in a houserobe with slippers.
We went to her closet to brainstorm, and within seconds, I knew we hit the jackpot. For years, my First Communion dress from 1988 has hung in her closet, but never worn. We are members of a United Methodist church, so there’s never been a need for the girls to wear it. And it’s such a white, frilly dress, it’s inappropriate for anything else.
In fact, it’s always reminded me of a dress you’d see on a porcelain/china doll* and as I looked at Miss C with her fair skin and thick dark hair, I knew she’d make a perfect doll herself.
She was sold, especially when I pulled out one of my old porcelain dolls that was dressed in a similar outfit. I had her dress in multiple layers (to include about three pairs of tights) to stay warm before slipping the dress on her. Then, I rolled up her hair in hot rollers, found a white bow, put on a lot of pink blush and mascara, and pulled out a pair of black boots that are a little too small for me, and just a little too big for her (good lord!) … put all together, she definitely looked the part.
Next, we got Jaz ready. His outfit was easy: it was the little duck costume that Lola wore when she was his age just a few years ago. Of course, I dressed him in layers before slipping him into the duck outfit, which was thick and warm. Just as with Lola, Jaz looked simply adorable, although he was a bit uncooperative when it came to photos.
Since last Halloween, Lola’s planned on being Tinkerbell for Halloween, so there was no question. The outfit and wings are regularly used during playtime, so it just took a few seconds layering her up in warm clothing before slipping the costume over everything. She wanted to look like the real Tinkerbell, and luckily, her hair was just long enough to tie up into a bun on top of her head.
Then I had to pull out the heavy-duty make-up to cover her scraped and swollen bruised nose. Just two hours before trick-or-treat, she actually slipped on some wet leaves as she and Martin walked up to school to pick up Miss C. Martin said she did a complete faceplant, but jumped right back up, insisting she was okay as blood poured out of her nostrils.
She was completely unfazed, too, as she recounted the incident to me as I dabbed foundation and powder over her nose.
I swear, that kid.
By the time we were all ready, people were beginning to arrive at our door. We placed out a big bucket of candy on our porch next to our decorations, and then took off around the neighborhood.
Compared to previous years, there did seem to be less folks out and about. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the storm, because Halloween was in the middle of the week, or if it’s just the usual decreased participation I seem to notice each year.
But we had a great time.
And people just loved our costumes, especially when I walked around with Jaz on my hip.
Because, you see, I was wearing a huge, baggy, incredibly warm, and awkwardly-sewn chicken suit.**
And while Jaz was technically a duck, he looked like a little chick.
It was pretty adorable, avian-style.
Oh, and Martin was dressed as an ape.
And not just any ape … but an ape who is ape-shit about safety. At least, that’s how we explained the safety vest he wore so drivers would see him and our group.
While the girls usually rushed ahead of us, every now and then they slowed down to help their brother toddle up the sidewalk. During those moments, Martin and I just sort of hung back, watching the three of them approach the houses together, one of the girls holding Jaz’s hand while the other held his spider bag (which, by the way, is the same bag Miss C used when she was that age).
It’s totally possible there was a misty-eyed ape and a teary giant chicken on the loose in our neighborhood.
After two and a half hours, Lola herself declared she had enough, and asked that we head home. Miss C agreed. So we headed back and took the obligatory costume and candy photos.
We think the kids did pretty good.
*I didn’t know it until I linked to it just now, but apparently, porcelain dolls were first made in Germany. Awesome, right?
** I actually wore that suit two weeks before I gave bith to Lola in 2008, and it was definitely awkward to wear back then. The snaps are in weird places and there is material everywhere. But that didn’t stop me from wearing it on Halloween to my Air Force office near the Pentagon. My coworker Moe and I ended up going to the nearby food court to pass out candy. Ah, memories!
And let me say, once and for all, that women don’t need to wear those trashy little pieces of cloth they market as women’s Halloween costumes!
Martin and the girls decorated for Halloween over the weekend.
In years past, this was my job, but after getting hold of some pretty scary Halloween inventory, Martin decided to take the reins and get our home ready for the season.
This meant all of my autumn-themed baskets, pumpkins, and wooden crafts, in addition to all the freaky/scary monsters, skeletons, and ghosts displayed via window coverings, wall hangings, and such. Our windows are covered with opaque skeletons and the word “Beware” is scrawled in plastic blood on our door.
It also means our box of costumes is out and overturned. Lola spent the entire day today dressed in her clown costume.
The leaves on our trees are bright and colorful, too, but not as dense as previous years. The derecho earlier this year destroyed a lot of the thick branches on our backyard trees, and some of them had to come down.
I can totally tell the difference now. I miss my canopy of color.
Halloween is just over a week away. We’re finally ready for it!
Have you noticed the ads in the sidebar?
We’ve had them for a few years, but just recently realized that those ads sometimes link to other bloggers and every now and then, coupons or discount codes are offered. Martin was able to save on the paint for my powder room, and a bunch of canvas portraits I ordered. So keep an eye out when you visit our page, especially with the holidays coming up. 🙂
Halloween swooped down upon us like a bat in the night.
I knew it was there, sitting at the bottom of my October calendar. I knew we had set the bar kinda high in years prior with our coordinated costumes and late-night parties. I knew there would be three children looking to us for some spooky, silly fun.