Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I've mentioned a time or several that I wasn't permitted much in the way of sugar when I was a kid. This, combined with my family's tendency to go wild (in the best way) at every holiday, meant that on those occasions I was given free rein to indulge -- namely Halloween, Christmas and Easter -- I literally ate myself sick. I'll never forget the time I threw up all over my Shaun Cassidy glitter iron-on t-shirt and missed the rest of the day's festivities.

Clearly, I was flirting with danger whenever sugar came into play. And isn't that what Halloween is all about? Danger and sugar? During my peak trick-or-treat days, which coincided with the mass paranoia in the wake of the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, I was not unconcerned about razor blades in candy bars and cyanide powder in Pixie Stix. Of course, in those days my parents drove my brother, sister and me around the neighboring mountain communities -- in the dark of night -- to knock on strangers' doors and beg for candy. So my fears weren't completely unfounded, right?

Nowadays trick-or-treating seems to be a more hygienic activity that takes place in the light of day and among known entities. But what I love most about Halloween hasn't changed at all: pumpkin carving, adorable kids in costume, dogs in costume,  haunted hayrides... Everyone gets to be a kid and eat too much sugar and stay up too late.

Do schools still host Halloween carnivals? (I suppose they're called Harvest or Fall carnivals now?) I loved the carnival my middle school put on every year. My teachers dressed up as witches and zombies, the library was converted to a haunted house, and I tried my luck at bobbing for apples. But the best part was donning a costume my mom had spent hours making by hand especially for me.

I'm not dressing up this year, but the pumpkins are carved and the house is stocked with candy. I hope I get some trick-or-treaters, because otherwise I'm stuck with a bucket of candy. And we all know how that ends.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spooky Fingers

This weekend, when I got a blood red manicure and ended up with a bloody gouge on my thumb (white whine), I was reminded of a Halloween project I've been meaning to undertake (ha ha) for far too long: spooky finger-shaped cookies.

This time of year, these clever Halloween treats are featured in every lifestyle magazine and all over the Web, so I'll spare you an essay on how frightfully fun and eerily easy they are to make. Though I will point out that this would be a fun project to do with kids. It's tactile, messy and has a delightful gross-out factor.

I used this technique but relied on my own recipes for sugar and molasses-ginger cookies, which was a mistake. After I painstakingly shaped the dough into fingers, they spread as they baked and ended up looking like tombstones. Which is fine if you're making tombstone cookies, but I wasn't. Happily, I salvaged the mess by using my hands to roll and shape the still-warm tombstones into fingers. I actually quite like the way they look wrinkled and decayed. But do yourself a favor and use Martha Stewart's (or a similar) recipe for a dough that will hold its spooky shape.

Happy almost Halloween!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vertical Garden

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the most magical, sweet wedding at The Smog Shoppe. I'd heard about and seen photos of the venue -- a 25 year old automotive shop converted to a green event space -- but I wasn't prepared for how inspired it was up close.

Every inch of the 6,500 square foot indoor/outdoor space is decorated with an impeccably curated (ugh, I hate that word) collection of vintage and reclaimed furniture and objects, many of which pay tribute to the venue's origins. It's Anthropologie flagship store meets grease monkey.

I kind of want to live there (I'll keep the DJ booth but ditch the noise from the buses and traffic), and I definitely want to replicate my favorite element of the space: the vertical succulent gardens that climb the interior and exterior walls.

As much as I'd love to plant a vertical garden to camouflage the awful grey cinder block walls that surround my current rental, it's a rental. So, in the meantime ,maybe I'll hang a giant oil painting of a splendid cat in my bathroom, just like at The Smog Shoppe. 

Or not.

First and fourth images found  here and here. All other images courtesy my outdated iPhone.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mornings With the Old Girl

Saturday morning, 6 a.m. Her wet nose nudges my shoulder. Groggy with sleep, it takes me a moment to orient myself. My blurry eyes scan the room: ceiling, wall, morning light streaming through the window. Bedside table, lamp, a nose in my face. Floppy ears. Those soulful, imploring eyes.

I rise from my bed in a swift motion -- my least favorite activity of the day -- and wrestle a white t-shirt over my head.

She beckons me to follow her downstairs, let her out, fill her bowl with kibble. Her hips are cranky, her hind legs stiff with age. Her back paws drag ever so slightly on the carpet, making a scuffing sound like an old lady shuffling around in rubber soled slippers. She looks back to make sure I'm following her lead. Hurry up, mama.

In the kitchen, she dances with excitement as I scoop kibble from the bin and dump it in her bowl. Clink, clink, clink. The kibble bounces against the porcelain. Up on her hind legs, she jumps like a kangaroo, her advanced age temporarily forgotten. Defied.

I pop her daily medications into little pill pockets, brown and squishy and bacon scented. Drool pours from her mouth in anticipation of her morning treats. Boing, boing, boing. Again, she dances.

The kitchen floor is cold under my bare feet and I shiver. I put the kettle on and take a mug from the cupboard. Tea.

She shadows me as I go to work making breakfast in the tiny kitchen. 

"Excuse me," I say brightly, and she moves aside so that I can reach into the cabinet for the skillet. "Excuse me," I say again in a singsong voice, and she moves from in front of the refrigerator so I can get the eggs, butter, berries.

"Pardon me." She moves again and again as I move around the kitchen, all four steps of it.

She settles at my feet in front of the stove. Crack, plop, whisk, pour. I stir and swirl the eggs ever so gently over the flame. The toast pops up from the toaster and I slide the skillet to a rear burner on the stove. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Butter, knife, bread.

I slice berries into a bowl, portion the eggs onto a plate and crumble sea salt flakes between my fingers and onto the eggs. The sound reminds me of the noise at the beginning of a record, after the needle drops.

Elbows on the counter, I tuck in to the eggs and sip my tea. The old girl is at my feet, alert for any morsels that might come her way.

I move to the sink behind me (turn, step) and wash my plate. Warm mug in my hands, I take my tea to the sofa where the old girl hops up onto her blanket. She settles next to me, groaning with relief as she sinks into the cushions.

Feet up on the coffee table, mug in one hand, I scratch and pet her muzzle with the other, my fingers tracing her cheeks where teeth have been extracted. The recesses make her face look older, wan.

I twirl her ears in my hand and run my fingers through her fur, now more taupe than grey. It is soft and worn like a wool rug after years of foot traffic.

As has so often been the case this year, when I look into her eyes I see my mother in her distant gaze. And, as usual, the tears come easily and my heart catches in my chest.

These mornings are a lingering goodbye, a meditation on impermanence. Time is measured and fleeting. And yet. These mornings, time seems to slow a little.