31 October 2008

A Halloween Story

Do you have your pumpkin yet? my sister asked our new neighbor.

What is that? Marianne replied.

A pumpkin! my sisters shouted. You have to have a pumpkin. And a costume for Halloween.

The little girl just stared at us. For the first time I realized that not everybody had the same culture as ours. I thought that maybe this place she came from -- Egypt -- not only sounded mysterious, but must have actually been so if kids didn't know about carving pumpkins, spending days creating costumes in secret so that nobody else would be dressed the same, and spending cold, rainy, Midwestern nights wandering the neighborhood filling up pillow cases with candy bars.

After dinner that evening the girl's mother called my mom, and, in her own combination of Arabic, French, and English, asked about this mysterious tradition. Mom volunteered that we would escort Marianne on Halloween.

A few nights later she arrived at our back door with her older brother and sister. She wore a store-bought Cinderella costume. I had never had a store-bought costume. I could hear what my mother had told us many times before:
It is more fun to make your costume.
Store bought costumes are tacky.
It will go up in flames if you get too close to Daddy's cigarette.
Confronted with Marianne's sparkling blue dress with sequined stars and a shiny tiara sitting atop her head full of dark curls, I knew my homemade costume that I had worked on for a week was inferior in every way to the spectacle standing before me.

I recovered as soon as I saw that she carried a pumpkin. An uncarved pumpkin!

What's that?

It's my pumpkin for trick-or-treating.

Laughter was stopped in its tracks, halfway past our vocal chords, by one look from Mom.

It's a wonderful pumpkin, Marianne. Leave it here while you go out with the girls and we'll carve it when you get back. Then it will be a jack-o-lantern. Go have fun and be careful that you don't run into any witches.

Off we went through the neighborhood. Marianne was unsure about the giant spider's web at the house next door. It reached from the top of the porch awning, over the walkway, down to the ground where it was rooted in shrubbery. Creepy music played while the lady with the treats reached her long, curled fingernails into a coffin to pull out candy. It took several attempts to convince Marianne that it was only make-believe, that there wasn't anything to be afraid of.

Soon it was dark, and after several doors, Marianne had caught on to the routine. She ran ahead of us once she realized that any encounter with a real witch would be rare. She knew that she was prettier than Snow White Stephanie, the Greek girl who had joined us, and she wanted to be near the front of every doorstep to hear the adults coo about the pretty girls. I was glad that I was a hobo; I knew that I couldn't compete with the Mediterranean princesses vying to get the first Hersey's bar at every house.

After about an hour, we were beginning to tire, but we weren't ready to give up yet. Our pace had slowed and we were walking lazily down a dark cross street, just a few houses from home. Suddenly, at the corner, a bulky, hunchedback figure jumped at us from behind a bush. Hands held up menacingly, the grizzled old hag leaned in close.

I'll get you my pretties. Hahahaha...

Her face was pockmarked and bumpy, an odd combination of white ooze and green clumps. She smelled strangely familiar but she was like nothing I had ever seen before.

She called us by name. I want your candy. It will give you cavities.

We all screamed.

She smiled, her lip curling upwards, and slide two teeth forward menacingly. We started giggling; we had recognized Mom's familiar trick of sliding her bridge out of her mouth to mimic a vampire. She had colored pieces of confetti stuck to her face with Ponds cold cream and an old pillow tucked into the neck of Daddy's raincoat. She was wearing my brother's snow boots and an old fedora she had found at the back of the closet. She had the best home-made costume that night.

We didn't have time to explain to Marianne. Terrified, she ran home as fast as she could. I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Cinderella had lost one of her shoes on the way. I don't think her pumpkin was turned into a carriage that evening, or even a run-of-the-mill jack-o-lantern.

26 October 2008

The Frost is on the Pumpkin

Suddenly, it is cold and windy. The air feels like fall. Last week, it was cool, but not cold. It smells like sleep today, a friend said. I understood: that cool, crisp air, retaining the heat of the day's sunlight, merely suggests that cold weather is on the way; it relaxes and soothes and makes you feel as golden as the sunlit leaves.

Today, though, it didn't smell like sleep. The air smelled like cold, wet dirt mixed with the advancing edge of a Arctic cold front, still three or four weeks distant.

Driving home the other night I was caught up in the setting sun's dappled light upon the trees on my street. The sun sparked amber lights across the tree tops while casting long shadows underneath. Today, I walked through the woods, listening to the leaves crunch beneath my feet. They provided a dry barrier on top of the loamy woods' floor. I'm glad I had my camera in hand. I'll share some of the pictures over the next few weeks.

This evening, before bed, it seemed like a perfect air for hot chocolate. Here (more or less) is my recipe for hot chocolate. Reading it I'm sure you'll understand why I'm not a baker.....

Take two mugs & fill with milk. Dump into pan. Add 3 - 4 heaping teaspoons of Dutch Process Cocoa (my favorite everyday cocoa powder is Penzey's) and some sugar (or about 4 packets of Splenda. Quantity dependent on sweet tooth.) Dissolve into the milk. Add a few sprinkles of cayenne pepper -- the secret ingredient of the Mayans -- and the bewitching heroine in the film Chocolat. Add a dash of salt -- just a teeny, tiny bit! Stir in a splash of vanilla extract and then heat, stirring constantly. A moment before it begins to boil, turn off heat, add about 1/2 mug of cold milk to cool and to take the edge off if too chocolaty. Pour into mugs and sprinkle 1/2 a dash of cinnamon on to top of each mug. Delight in sipping your yummy hot chocolate.

17 October 2008

This week's To-Do List, with pictures

To Do List:

* Get to airport on time. [Just barely.] a

* Make difficult decisions, such as:

Walk North a

Walk South a

* Take lots of naps.a

* Hug some trees. [metaphorically] a

Palm trees...

Swamp fig on cyprus


* Swim in the sea. a

* See the sun kiss the water. a

* Eat plenty of seafood (Grouper, Flounder, Shrimp, Oysters...) a

* Go to my favorite Audubon Sanctuary, Corkscrew Swamp and observe nature. [alligators, birds, anoles, frogs, plants, spiders, racoons. Heard a bear growl.] a

Red-Shouldered Hawk
Green Tree Frog (hiding)

* Ignore Blackberry. Let others work. a

* Stop and smell the flowers. a
Water Lily

Narrow-leaf sunflowers


Alligator Flag Blossom
White vine

* Lie on the beach under the full moon and stare at the stars. a

* Work on personal projects, not work projects a

* Observe two birds I haven't noticed before [Black Skimmers, Common Yellowthroat] a

* Read. a

* Favorite line of poetry this week:
...from what we cannot hold, the stars are made -- WS Merwin Youth

* Take pictures. Relax a

Old trees hold many tales....

02 October 2008

Just ONE question

Only two questions about global poverty have been asked in the history of modern presidential debates.

It's a shocking figure and in 2008, at the next Presidential debate on October 7, we need debate moderator Tom Brokaw to ask John McCain and Barack Obama Just ONE question on their plans to fight global poverty.

I just took action with the ONE Campaign and you can too. Please consider adding your name to the petition here.

Since this blog is supposedly about books -- though I haven't written much about books in recent months -- I'll refer you to a previous post here if you're interested in books on issues about global poverty and efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.