Friday, October 31, 2008

Paper Plate Skeleton


My version of the paper plate skeleton! Download the pattern!



I was trying to do a kindergarden style paper plate skeleton in Norway and came up with this design. I was a little disappointed when I looked up classic versions of this craft and found that they look nothing alike!


That’s me in a nutshell, I guess. I can’t quite do anything in a traditional way.


There was an upside. Knut gave away almost all of the Halloween decorations (which are rare in Norway) to his students. He made a little raffle system and guess what the kid who had first pick wanted? The skeleton.


I feel quite honored.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trail of Terror!!

I love old fashioned haunted houses. I’m not too keen on the very expensive, pounding heavy metal professional ones. I certainly have been in a few of those and while the effects may be technically better, they aren’t nearly so charming.


The first haunted house I was even in was set up in a garden center. I think I went with Indian Princesses and it was definitely old fashioned. In fact, I suspect that sort of house doesn’t exist any more. Most of the displays were static, and veiled by chicken wire. They were sets like coffins, mad scientist-like things in jars (an underused prop, I think. If you’ve ever been in a whole room that contained nothing but scientific specimens, IT IS CREEPY! It would probably be sort of cool to have a room in a volunteer haunted house with floor to ceiling specimens in mason jars- spiders, rats, dolls, body parts, lizards, snakes, organs, etc and have the light filter through the jars. A nice quiet creep before someone springs out at you), vampire dummies, skeletons. I don’t even recall there being any living people. It did have one part that was genuinely unsettling. It had a long maze of corridors in almost complete darkness, without any sounds or creepy music. It was all black walls and I distinctly remember having to feel my way out. Creepy.


I went to Peterson Park’s Trail of Terror last night, which was excellent as it is every year. It’s a wonderful mix of modern props and technologies (they had some fantastic large scale puppets this year. Really amazing.) put on by volunteers, including children. It is probably the most fun you can have for $8. I would love to know who plans the event, because they are so dedicated to producing a haunted trail that is absolutely a cut above the average volunteer haunted house.


There are two things that make volunteer houses special. There is nothing like the experience of being scared by someone who is wholeheartedly enjoying themselves in a nonaggressive way. At Peterson Park, many of the monsters are children and, boy, can they scare! They squeeze up into the tiniest little places and leap out at you! You don’t see them coming at all. They scream! You scream! You laugh and they’ve enjoyed scaring you so much they laugh too! It’s great. Last year had the best example I’ve ever seen of that phenomenon. Knut is a huge darling wuss and people always target him because he’s a big adult man. We went into one section that was carnival themed. I went in first and noticed a small girl (I have pretty good night vision) curled up almost behind a curtain. She wisely stayed put because she knew I saw her. However, when Knut came in, looking about four feet above her head, she leapt out screaming. He screamed at the top of his lungs and fell into the wall behind him and the two started laughing so heartily. He congratulated her on being so scary.


The other thing that makes volunteer houses extra fun is the sort of people who visit them. Most of them are not hard core scare freaks. They are not the type to harass or heckle and they scream (I know because I’m one of them. A kid in a gilly suit scared me almost to the loss of bladder control last night. He/she scuttled out from under a burlap curtain along a (I had thought) unmanned stretch of path) at EVERYTHING! Thus, we always end up hugging, hold hands, or holding on to jackets of people we haven’t met before. It’s great. Our little group of three merged together to become a group of six before the meat house section and stuck together the rest of the way. I grabbed the jacket of the guy in front of me, another guy held onto my shoulder, Natalie and another girl held hands, and Knut held on to everybody while we all screamed like crazy. Fantastic.

Our voices were hoarse by the end, so we had to recuperate with coconut fudge sundaes at Margie’s Candies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Rescue Gross Store Bought Pumpkin Seeds

Knut loves pumpkin

 seeds. As in, I leave the room and a whole bowlful has mysteriously vanished. So, when we went to a local pumpkin farm and spotted a

 bag of “homestyle” pumpkin seeds, we had to buy them. Famished after a hard day of picking pumpkins, hayrides, and haunted

 trails, we dug into them as soon as we were in the car. They were gummy, chalky, and very salty. We got into an argument about whether

 you’re supposed to eat the hulls or not. We still ate a quarter of the bag, but only out of desperation. They weren’t good.

So we brought them home and they sat around on the counter for a few days. I decided to rescue them. Here’s how I did it:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put the seeds in a colander and wash them thoroughly. This will get rid of the excess salt and prime them a little for roasting. I ran them under cold running water and then shook out as much water as possible.

3. Transfer the seeds to a bowl and gently coat them in 2 tablespoons of oil (I used olive, but I doubt it matters much). The oil is the difference between crisp, toasted, flavorful seeds and pallid dry ones. Don’t worry if they feel super oily. Pumpkin seeds are sort of naturally slimy when they’re wet. Don’t skimp on the oil.

4. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Kosher or sea salt is extra nice because of the big tasty flakes.

5. Toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Take them out and turn them every 5 minutes. If they’re not golden and crisp after that time, roast in 3 minute increments until they are.

Voila!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Requiem


There is a girl in one of my classes who looks so much like one of my best friends in Junior High. I stare at her sometimes and I hope she hasn’t noticed.

My friend was bright, daring, funny, and brave. We spend countless hours goofing around uptown, flirting with ridiculous boys we met, and generally getting into the sort of trouble you fondly look back on as an adult.

She was so adventurous. She would do anything on a dare like switching people’s lunches on the table when they weren’t looking or purposefully asking teachers embarrassing questions.

She was artistic too, especially when it came to sculpting in clay. She once made a teapot shaped like a knight’s steed that floored the class and teacher.

She was pretty, loved horses, and spoke fluent Polish.

We lost touch a little bit in high school because we took different classes, but always greeted each other and were delighted to find we were in the same lounges or study halls.

After school, she got married and moved to the West Coast. She didn’t really know anyone and was lonely, so she experimented.

Crystal Meth gave her a stroke at 24.

Her husband, who was so young, couldn’t deal and divorced her. Her parents took care of her.

I haven’t seen her, but another friend reports that she can’t keep track of a conversation anymore and she’s lost her prettiness. Her eyes are no longer symmetrical.

The strangest thing is that this girl in class looks the way she did in Junior High, before her slim glamour of high school. It’s very strange, indeed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oysters and Martinis

Season One of Mad Men contains this great scene where Draper and

 Sterling go out for lunch.  Instead of today’s American cheese quesadillas and ice tea, they go out for a proper New York executive lunch.   They drink martinis and eat raw oysters.

 

They’re in a gorgeous restaurant with funny little half moon booths just big enough for two.  The only place I’ve ever seen those for real is in the Green Mill in Chicago, a vintage jazz club beloved by Al Capone.  The booths in the Green Mills are aqua plush, unlike the red ones in Mad Men. 

 

The martinis they drink are in delightfully frosty 4oz glasses.  Many martini glasses now are 8oz or 10oz sizes (I suppose for Cosmopolitans and other super sweet mixed drinks), which contain so much alcohol that the dregs in the glass are warm and gag-inducing by the time you get to them.  Plus, the olives look super huge in small glasses.   My brother was quite charmed by a martini he ordered at the Brown Derby in Hollywood .  It was in the 4oz sized glass, but an additional 2 oz or so was provided in a chilled glass vial.   I feel pretty certain the Mad Men martinis are the classic gin and not vodka.

 

The oysters are equally delightful looking.  There were nine served on crushed ice on a silver platter.  They are accompanied but lemon wedges and wicked looking cocktail sauce.  I love oysters, but I’ve certainly never had them so elegantly presented.  We mostly have ours at home.  I told Knut I couldn’t love a man who didn’t know how to shuck oysters, so he dutifully learned.   While we make home made Oysters Rockefeller (the NY Times recipe number 2.   Alas, I learned from Big Secrets that ours is not an authentic version (it’s spinach based) but I’d just as soon not deal with oyster stock and four pounds of parsley.) we sometimes enjoy them raw with a squirt of lemon and a spoonful of Burhop’s horseradish cocktail sauce.   Good stuff.

 

I have no idea if this restaurant exists or if it’s all in a studio (probably).  We are planning to make a pilgrimage to the Oyster Bar inNew York ’s Grand Central.  I intend to flop down and clamor for shellfish like  a hungry seagull. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Elephant V. Donkey

The political coverage on television has gotten really distressing lately. I’m particularly bothered by the scary sounding audiences at McCain’s speeches. I don’t know why McCain/Palin are tolerated audience members yelling things like “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” I have absolutely no problem with people agreeing or disagreeing with candidates on a political or personal level, but it’s starting to get so violent.


My own views lean towards Obama, although I really liked McCain before this election started. However, I’m bothered by some of his actions as the campaign has heated up. Obama is pretty well regarded in Illinois.


One of the barbs that’s been sprung on Obama is that he’s academic and elitist. I think this is really peculiar coming from the GOP who most recently nominated George W. Bush, a transplanted member of a Mayflower family, a legacy Yale graduate, and a member of the Skull and Bones society. That essentially is as elite as it’s possible to get in this country. Obama comes from a nice family, but certainly not one so elite as suggested. Having so recently had student loans and work as a community organizer in Chicago makes me think he probably remembers quite well the sort of financial and social struggles most people face.


I actually do think that Obama’s academic qualities are a plus. Academia forces a person to base their conclusions based on physical evidence, in the case of sciences, or precedent, in the case of arts and letters. Basically, it forces you to look at the opinions of others, which should be a positive trait in the president, and then draw your own conclusions. A paper running along of the lines of “I think that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an Elizabethan variation of the Oedipus Rex because my gut says so” is probably not going to earn its writer an A. I think one of the greatest tragedies of the recent years is that of Colin Powell. He was charged with convincing the UN to attack Iraq based on what was later found to be faulty evidence. He said something to the effect that this was the greatest regret in his life. We need, as a nation, to really consider things and evaluate sources before we act. We have the power; we need to work on the responsibility.


McCain’s impulsiveness just doesn’t seem like a good trait in a president right now. As a senator, he’s very important. A straight talking person who isn’t afraid of party lines is a terrific asset in a large governing body. My concern is that he’s a better senator than president. His jumps like selecting the unknown Sarah Palin after one meeting and claiming he would suspend his campaign are strange and considering that we’re currently dealing with a terrible situations cause by impulse (the war, waged with insufficient intelligence and the failing banks, caused by giving morgages to people who couldn’t possibly pay them), more impulsive decisions doesn’t seem to be the right way to go.


I’m also distressed at his obvious personal dislike of Obama during the recent debates. He doesn’t look at Obama, doesn’t call him by his first name, condescends (“what Senator Obama doesn’t understand is…), and refers to him as “that one.” Some of the commentators say that that is just McCain’s style, but that is troubling. These are two American men who love their country and want the best for it, although their methods vary considerably. If he’s unable to put up a front of civility to a colleague, how will he be able to meet with unpopular foreign leaders like Putin or, heaven forbid, Ahmadinejad? Certainly, the president is the commander in chief of the military, but he must also function as a diplomat. This is an area where he clearly doesn’t live up to his idol, Reagan. Reagan was undeniably charismatic and able to control diplomatic situations, even with leaders with whom he certainly disagreed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

BEST HAUNTED TRAIL EVER!!!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Ah, my heart leap this afternoon when I saw the first banner for Peterson Park's Trail of Terror!!

It's AWESOME!!

It's run entirely by volunteers and they must have an absolute mastermind planning it. They also have local children help scare willing patrons. It's an event run by familes... to scare the snot out of other families.

Each year it's differently themed. We've been there for Urban Legends, Evil Circus, and Chicago Ghost Stories. The long wait is peppered with great posters in the theme, including fake newspaper stories, spooky music, and creepy guys in masks who sneak up behind you. There is also a little food stand that sells hot cider and hotdogs.

I simply can't believe this isn't a professional haunted house. That's how good it is.

Last year featured a scary walk through a miniature corn maze, an amazing inflatable tunnel, and the best use of small children EVER. Spoilers for that part below. Do not read the green print if you want to keep it a surprise, assuming they use it again.

SPOILERS!!!

You enter a square room lit only by one black light bulb. The walls are painted black, spattered with neon paint. It looks empty. As you walk through, expecting something to leap out from the doorway, monsters erupt from the very walls! Scared the hell out of me and I'm usually pretty good at seeing the monsters before hand. The trick is that they use small skinny kids wearing black clothing and masks with matching paint spatters. When they plaster themselves against the walls and corners, they are next to impossible to see. I watched one little girl go back into her position and it was like she had vanished.

END SPOILERS!!

They always target the biggest male in the group, which is extra fun. They have Knut pegged as a screamer too! And it is extra fun when it's a little kid doing the scaring.

Really, really awesome and they totally have my respect. I'll keep going back as long as I'm in Chicago.

Here's the website with this year's information: http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/news.archive/park_id/433b5e34-bd4e-4fe5-a74e-81dedbacc96d.cfm

Monday, October 6, 2008

Style and Function. Or Not.


One of my classes is at the Harold Washington Library.  At first, I was pretty excited about this since I hadn’t actually been inside it. 

 

Now I’m not too keen. 

 

I never liked the outside of the building.  It’s red brick with these peculiar green copper sheilds  that looks a bit like giant beetles are crawling the sides and a huga carriage lantern sort of affair.

 

When I walk inside, my first reaction is “Where are the books?”  It’s a large empty marble foyer with a big square reception desk.  Browsing seems an impossibility.  Off to the side, there’s a door to the “Popular Library.”  Is is all fiction?  Just Romance novels and Stephen King?  Who knows?

 

Find your way to a couple of escalators tucked into the side, mounted next to a couple of low wading pool type fountains.  The escalators lead up to the third floor.  After that, you have to go past the guards and ride escaltors in the center of the building or elevators at the opposite side.  Not especially handicapped friendly.

 

It’s just not very cosy or modern or friendly or anything really.  There’s not much about it that suggests it was designed as a library.  I am partially bitter that they chose that design over one by Helmet Jahn, but really, that design?

 

Friday, October 3, 2008

Plaaaaaaaaaay Ball!

The Cubs and the White Sox are in the playoffs.

I don’t think my nerves can take it.

In fact, I think I’ve actually gone into a semi baseball-related catatonic state since last year’s Cub woes. It’s simply too much to hope for that we might actually be in The World Series.

It’s like being told we might get to take a picnic on the moon next Saturday. Sure, it would be great! Sure, I’d love to go! But I don’t dare get my hopes up.

It’s a little different for the Sox fans. For one thing, they were in the World Series a couple of years ago. They basically spoiled it, though, by putting billboards in heavily Cubbie areas with the phrase “We haven’t won a series in, like, months!”

Cubs fans snickered as they proceeded to totally suck the next season. Not because we hate Sox fans (those who do are jerks. And vice versa.) but because we don’t need that sort of snotty attitude from our south side brothers.

I personally support our king, Mayor Daley. He loves the Sox. Everyone knows he loves the Sox. But he always always says “I root for Chicago .”

Huzzah!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vintage Halloween

Halloween will be upon us soon!

 

Kids in princess costumes and parkas will assault our doors!

 

Adults will somewhat inadvertently scare the snot out of them!  (Kids are scared by the weirdest things.  They seemed afraid of the jack o’ lantern

 Knut carved last year.  C’mon!  Parents, if your children are 

seriously frightened of a hollowed out vegetable, they need a little shaking up.)

 

I like those vintage Halloween decorations.  Those sort of na├»ve round eyes witches, owls, and cats popular in holidays past.  They have a unique cheerfulness that I really like.

 

In honor of that, I made these three: Devil, Owl, 

and Black Cat.   They’re made of paper weight polymer clay, acrylic paint, wire, and glaze with micro glitter. 

 

I orignally made them for myself, but decided to put them on Etsy in the spirit of the spooky season. 

 

Have fun!!