The Ups and Downs of Halloween

It  is dark outside and the rain pours down.  We’ve completed a short trip around the block as a family, letting the little ones fill tiny buckets at neighbor’s homes.  Soup is on the stove and  happy noises carry from remote corners of the house.  Half eaten pieces of candy already grace the table and a trash brigade has hit the family room floor more than once.  Every once in a while the doorbell rings, and more people run to the door from inside the house than from without.  The older children pass out, the baby peers through their legs, and the middle group has chosen to perch on the landing above on the second floor, yelling “Happy Halloween!” to all our trick-or-treaters.

A tangible feeling of contentment settles over me unexpectedly.  I love this feeling of being safely gathered in.  After all the stress of Halloween week I’m almost giddy with the knowledge that all obligations have been fulfilled and now the night is ours, ours to use as we wish. That’s all I really want from this holiday, the chance to observe it simply.

A simple dinner of soup, salad and rolls  is eaten by some of us and picked at by the rest before the older crowd leaves for round two of trick-or-treating.  I should clean the kitchen but my heart calls me instead to savor the moment.  The younger ones and I gather blankets to snuggle together and watch a movie.  Ironically, the pouring rain has brought more trick-or-treaters than all the years we’ve lived here combined.  The candy bowl empties and we turn off the porch light, another Halloween (almost) over.

I can’t help but review the week as I snuggle with my little ones.

Every October I know Halloween is coming and I think I have until the 31st to get things in place.  The reality is, however, that both costumes and candy are requested at more activities earlier in the month every year.  The costume box has been open in my studio for more than a week, contents spilled all over the house as my children have tried on various items approximately 8,732 times in the past 7 days.   I can’t say I’ll be the least bit sorry to pack them all away; I really don’t mind the color of my carpet.

Honestly, I struggle with Halloween.   There is little about it that meets my family’s needs.  We don’t need a constant intake of candy.  We don’t need to wear a costume to every extra-curricular activity under the moon.  My budget doesn’t really need me to supply bags of candy for 7 or 8 different parties and my little ones don’t need me to be gone several times during the week to help at one party or another.  My older children don’t need to be tired and grouchy from lack of sleep and too much sugar.  We don’t need more arguments about which piece of candy may or may not have been eaten by so-and-so.  And yet all these things we didn’t need provide the commentary on how the week played out.  So many important things needed my attention and didn’t get it because of the time that was diverted to Halloween festivities. And all for a holiday whose real meaning couldn’t be further from what I want to teach my kids.

I’m learning something about myself as my family grows.  I have little patience for things that interfere with what I’m trying to accomplish in my home.   Price tags are higher than they used to be.  For every one thing that I do, there are a half dozen things I needed to do in addition.  I’m not talking about extras; I’m talking basics.  A glance around my house tonight is evidence of all the basics that went undone this week in favor of lesser things.  Dishes in the sink, baskets of unfolded laundry and a general feeling of clutter all testify to the extra time I spent helping children put together costumes and driving them to 6 different Halloween parties in addition to our usual commitments.  I’ve felt a little Grinchy about Halloween this year.

But children simply love it.  And because I have children, I go with the flow (in action, if not in heart).

As today’s scheduled activities melted into an empty slot on the calendar I realized that there are things I quite like about Halloween.  While I drag my decorations from the basement reluctantly, I don’t mind having them up.   I enjoy dabbling in some Halloween-themed recipes.  I enjoy watching my children concoct costumes.  A few years ago I announced to them that I’m officially done spending money on costumes and that from now on we get creative.  My oldest daughter is wearing her 4th costume of the week.  She has been a pirate, a corpse bride, a painter and a fairy.  One was borrowed, the rest assembled using supplies we have on hand.

Friday morning when the school kids left in costume, my four and two year olds started trying things on.  If I’d known when it started how many different costumes they would try on (over and over again) I would have taken a picture of each one and written down the time of day.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they stayed in each costume for less than 10 minutes and that they changed clothes non-stop for more than 5 hours.  Messy?  Oh, yes.  Creative?  Absolutely.  Tonight’s costume for my two year old was a princess dress paired with a Strawberry Shortcake hat.

The garage opens.  My big kids are back, bags heavy with loot.  We sit together in the family room with bowls of popcorn and watch the end of the movie.  We’re all together and it feels good.  It’s been a nice night and tomorrow I can pack everything up and move on.  I don’t have to do this for another year.  (Yippee!)

November, here we come!

Hopeful Homemaker

Halloween Decor (for the record)

I noticed this week that I posted pictures of my Halloween decor last year, and thought it might be fun to have a record of what I’ve done from year to year.  So, now that I’m ready to take it all down, here are a couple of shots of what made it out of storage.

I’m not sure why I love this crow so much, but I do.  I love the vibrant colors that he’s decorated with, and the way he stands like a sentinel over my table.

The dining room and front porch are really the only rooms in the house that get a touch of Halloween.  My favorite spider web tablecloth graces the table once more, but with a slightly different centerpiece.

This year it’s one of my favorite pewter pieces filled with colored leaves and paired with the crow, a white pumpkin and purple spider mums.  I enjoy hanging the bat from the chandelier.  As usual, my beaded spider webs hang from photos and from the silver cabinet.

Outside, my favorite Halloween banner spans the porch stairs.  I’ve hung the witch indoors for years, but this year decided to hang her on the front door.

I let my children make all the decisions about decorating the porch this year.  The thing I love about this last shot is the bright colors in it.  The blue and orange against the white makes me smile.  Isn’t color a miraculous thing!?

And so there you have it, the 2010 Halloween decor.  I wonder what next year holds?


Spiderweb Brownies

Need an easy Halloween themed dessert?  These brownies fit the bill.

Baked in round cake pans with spiderwebs drawn in a cream cheese mixture, they look fun and taste great.

You have two options: use a mix, or make them from scratch.

For this experiment  I tried a new homemade brownie recipe which I’ll share in another post.   This post is just to show you how to make them with a mix.

First, mix up a batch of your favorite brownie mix from a box, following instructions on the mix.  If you have a mix that will make a 9×13 inch pan, then you’ll get two eight inch brownie circles.   I also made these using 6 inch round pans and each batch made 3.

To be sure that I could easily remove my brownies from the pan, I traced the bottom of the cake pan on a sheet of parchment paper, then cut out the circle and placed it in the bottom of the pan.  I then lightly sprayed the sides of the pan with baking spray.  Repeat with the second pan.

Pour the brownie mix into two cake pans.

Now for the filling.
4 ounces cream cheese 2 Tb. sugar 1 egg yolk 1 Tb.flour Mix together and put into a frosting bag or ziploc bag.  Cut corner off bag and carefully pipe a circle in the center of your pan with more circles moving out to the edge of the pan, about 1 inch apart.

In the picture above I was using my 6 inch cake pans.  On the 8 inch pans I made a third ring around the pan with cream cheese.

Wet the tip of a knife, and beginning in the center, gently cut through the brownie to the edge of the pan.  This will pull the line toward the edge, making it look more like a spider web.

Repeat, going around the entire pan.

Now trace your cut lines with more cream cheese, and you’re ready to bake!

Baking time will depend on the recipe you used. I made a homemade brownie recipe (it’s a new one and it’s fabulous and I’ll post it soon) which was a little more dense than many of the box mixes.  Consult your mix and adjust baking time accordingly.  For mine, I set the timer for 20 minutes and then watched it every couple of minutes after that.  I found that both my 8 inch and 6 inch pans needed 20+ minutes.  If I was using a box mix I would probably set my timer for 15 minutes and go from there.  You can also test for doneness using a toothpick near the center.

Remove from oven and let cool in the pan. When the brownies are cool, carefully run a knife around the edges to release.  If you’ve used parchment paper, the brownies should easily slip out of your pan.  Remove parchment paper from the bottom and place on whatever dish you’re using.

I’ve been baking a lot of these little treats this week to use as gifts.  I found some cute green dishes at the dollar store that, alas, aren’t oven safe, but if I gently push on them I can fit a six inch brownie cake into them.

Wrapped in cellophane and tied with a black ribbon, they’re ready to go!

It’s a good thing they’re all headed to other houses.  I saved one for my family to eat on Halloween.

Happy Halloween!

Hopeful Homemaker

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