the ghosts of Halloween costumes past

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. I have always loved costumes, plus the goth in me¹ loves the dark and creepy trappings of the holiday. While I may not be able to tell you every costume I’ve ever worn for Halloween, I can sure remember a lot of them. What’s more, I’m a big fan of making my own costumes. While I do like to see so many people get fired up about getting into the holiday spirit, all those cheaply made polyester costumes you see in stores these days make me a little sad. Part of the joy for me is in the creation, or at least the assembly, of the costume.

You may well be wondering what great schemes I have devised for this year’s costumes. The sad answer is “not much.” I have been very focused on work and other life things. Having perhaps gone a bit overboard with last year (cf. last Halloween’s post: “Quiz: How compulsive are you? (Halloween costume edition“), I decided that I would try to meet Halloween with a better attempt at sanity.

Phoebe had decide a few months ago that she wanted to be a witch, and I heartily approved. I thought I might be able to make her a dress. But then I was shopping at the second hand children’s store (and no, they don’t sell second hand children), I found a witch’s dress and hat on the rack. In Phoebe’s size. Since I had made a point of not asking Theo about what he wanted to be (in part so that I could have a chance to run with a theme, and in part because I didn’t want to get stuck committing to something tricky when he’s not likely to even remember this costume by the time he’s 6), I didn’t have anything particular in mind for him. I thought I could go with another traditional Halloweeny costume (ghost, mummy, frankenstein, bat…), but didn’t find any such costumes on the rack in his size. I did, however, find a rather cute green frog. Theo likes frogs. And green. I bought it.

So, while one might be able to relate the witch and the frog in a more narrative way, I’m not really working with a theme. And I don’t have any schemes for a costume for myself that would tie things together. So be it.

Instead, I will have to console myself by looking back at some of the fun costume themes I have put together in the past:

  • butterfly (Phoebe), caterpillar (Theo) and munched-looking plant (me) (2010)
  • firefighter (Phoebe), dalmatian (Theo) and fire (me) (2009)
  • bunny (Phoebe) and carrot (Theo) (2008)
  • squirrel (Phoebe) and tree (me) (2007)

carrot squirrel

Other Halloween costumes that I have worn as an adult have included:

  • a witch
  • a spider
  • Morticia Addams
  • a ghost
  • a mummy
  • half man/half woman

At some point, I’ll have to dig up descriptions and/or photos of some of these. (Well, I already wrote about the mummy.) For the record, none of these were pre-fab or packaged costumes, though I did buy and assemble occasional pre-made parts. I’m rather pleased that some of my descriptions of past costume creations have been of use to others out there. I even once heard from someone who modelled her daughter’s squirrel costume after the one I made, and she and her husband were trees following my tree costume.²

I’m going to declare this post to be among the posts on Things I Like: I like costumes. This is only number 4 of the proposed 40 posts on things I like. I’ve realized that my slowness is in part due to my wanting to give each of the Things I Like its due attention, and in part to my having trouble deciding how to sort out the things I like into individual posts. (There is often overlap. I mean, I like costumes, and Halloween, and Halloween costumes, and themes, and themed Halloween costumes.) There is also this desire to have them presented in some sort of logical order. I need to get over that. (Screw logic!)

¹ The goth in me shares space with the hippy in me, the uptight schoolmarm, the curious 12-year-old, and a variety of other characters, including a short balding guy named Ned who won’t share his Cheetos with any of the others.

² If a tree costume falls in the closet, and nobody hears it, do you still have to pick it up? ³

³ No. But you may later need to rake.

distorted reflections

During my short visit to New York City last August, I left the conference to stop back at my friend‘s hotel room to collect my luggage. (She had been kind enough to put me up the night of my arrival.) The room was up on the 16th floor of the hotel, high up but still deep within the canyons of the tall buildings. I looked out the window, admiring the view, and was struck by the reflections on one of the buildings opposite. The glass of the windows revealed its subtle curves in the shapes reflected back to me. The hotel I was in, as straight-laced and straight-lined as you might expect from a Manhattan hotel, was rendered in improbably wavy and curving lines. It looked as if the building had been designed by Gaudí.

As the late afternoon sun lowered, the light reflected through the mazes and canyons of tall buildings shifted. The scene reflected before me changed, offering more and more architectural reinterpretations. I stood at the window taking photos, barely noticing the passage of time. (Though later I realized that I had been watching and photographing for at least 20 minutes.)

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As with many things that I really like, it’s hard for me to pin down why they appeal to me so. In the case of distorted reflections, I like the way reality is visually reinterpreted. I find it fun to recognize the lines and the forms, but rearranged. Depending on the nature of the distortion, the effect can be beautiful or ridiculous. Human forms are typically redrawn in ways that are both amusing and unsettling. Landscapes are often abstracted in pleasing ways, such as the look of bold brushstrokes from rippled water. The reflection on a small, smooth curved surface can show an intriguing miniature world.

I also find the term distorted reflections to be appealing in its own right, as it carries a double meaning. It reminds me of how our thoughts and perceptions of the world are always filtered through our own experiences and personalities. If you and I both witness the same event, we likely will both interpret it differently, as we each see it through our mind’s own lens.

Interestingly, I hadn’t listed distorted reflections on my working list of topics “40 posts on things I like,” which is surprising given that I had considered making it my theme for an entire year of project 365 photos. (I decided instead to spend only the first month working with reflections, and didn’t stick to distorted ones at that.)

However, I like distorted reflections so much, and have amassed such a large collection of photos with that theme, that I was compelled to finally start a Tumblr. If you are so inclined, please go have a look at distorted reflections.

(This post makes #3 in my planned series of “40 posts on things I like.”)

I heart artichokes

Having just posted pictures of artichokes two days in a row, I might as well go one further. In fact, I might as well come right out and confess: I love artichokes. My list of 40 things I like would be incomplete if I did not include artichokes.

I don’t remember the first time I tried an artichoke. I was born in California, where artichokes grow on trees. Well, not really. They grow from the ground in big spiky plants. (They are thistles, and the part you eat is a flower bud.) But in California, they do at least grow. And so it was that I got to have them on occasion. I loved them. They weren’t just my favorite vegetable, they were my favorite food. (You may recall my anecdote about being featured in a class newspaper under the headline “Girl Likes Artichokes.”)

I’m not terribly fond of marinated artichokes. They are okay, but not at all in the same league as fresh artichokes. My favorite way to have artichokes is steamed, accompanied by a small bowl of melted butter for dipping. (I’m even appending my own instructions.)

I can’t say what it is about artichokes that I love so much. I know what it is, but I’m not going to say. (No, not really.) They are just ineffably yummy.

Some people don’t understand the appeal of eating a vegetable that is so much work. (In case you’ve never eaten a fresh artichoke, the typical way to eat one is to peel off the leaves one by one, and scrape the small tender bit at the base of each leaf with your teeth.)

For me, the process is part of the appeal. You start of by eating the outer leaves, which are typically a bit tougher, and work your way in to the more tender and flavorful ones. Then you pick up speed, as the leaves get soft enough to bite through. Then you pluck off the ring of spiky inner leaves, and then scrape out the hairy choke with the utensil of your preference, finally reavealing the heart, which is worth all the trouble. I cut it up and roll the pieces around in whatever’s left of my little bowl of melted butter after I’ve dipped each leaf. Then I try to eat it as slowly as I can, because it is always over too quickly.

How I cook artichokes:

  1. Wash the artichokes
  2. Cut the stem close to the bottom of the artichoke. The stem, while close to the heart, is usually pretty tough and fibrous.
  3. Trim the spikes. I use a combination of a knife and kitchen scissors. With the knife, I saw through the tightly bunched tops of the artichoke leaves. With the scissors, I go around to the outer leaves and snip off the tips. Cutting the spikes off is not necessary, but may prevent bloodshed during dinner.
  4. Steam in a covered pan. I use one of those metal steamers that has sort of petal-like bits. I place the artichokes with the stem side down.
  5. To start, I fill the pan with water to just about the bottom of the steamer surface. Typically, I have to add water before the artichokes are finished. (It is not uncommon for the water to boil away.)
  6. The amount of time it takes to steam depends on the size of the artichoke. For a big artichoke, about 40 minutes is probably typical. I’ve had small artichokes take more like 20 minutes.
  7. You can tell that they are done by pulling at the leaves with some tongs. If a leaf come out easily, it is proabably done, but you should probably test it to be sure. You can also try poking at the bottom of the artichoke with a fork, but this involves lifting out the artichoke, which can be tricky.
  8. Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice. I vote butter.
  9. Share your artichokes with me.

A note of warning: whatever you do, wash your hands after you handle a raw artichoke. The residue is extremely bitter. If you, say, lick your fingers, you will get a nasty shock. On the other hand, some people may like this bitterness. I once bought a bottle of Cynar, the liqueur flavored with artichoke. I was curious, naturally. I can safely say that it was one of the nastiest tasting beverages I’ve ever tried. It tasted like licking a raw artichoke. (Not that I’ve ever done that.)

This post is the second in my generally unordered series of 40 posts about things I like.

shades of gray

The world is a complicated place. Many people find life easier to see good and bad as clearcut cases of black and white. I’m much more likely to see both sides of the issues, to see good in the bad, bad mixed in with the good. To see that both sides of a conflict can be both right and wrong. All of this has nothing to do with my affinity for shades of gray.

When I was a little girl, I loved bright colors. I liked to be surrounded by color. The more colors, the better. I even went through a rainbow phase. I still love color, love to find it in artwork and nature, but I’m less inclined to wear a lot of colors. Bright colors make me feel a bit too on display. Most often, I like to wear black and gray. Especially dark gray. Charcoal gray. Most of all, I love items that combine black and charcoal gray. Or black with varying shades of gray.

My affinity for gray and black clothing items sometimes borders on compulsion. I find myself wanting to buy any shirt I can find with black and gray stripes. I own, at this time, at least 3 shirts and 4 sweaters with variations of gray and black stripes. I have 2 winter scarves with black and gray stripes (but they have different widths of stripes! They are different!) and another scarf that is a plaid of grays and black. Okay, I have more than 3 scarves with grays and black. I’m not sure how many. (It’s fewer than 30. Really. Maybe only 6.)

There was the longest time that I was hunting for just the right charcoal gray and black scarf. I learned to knit at one point in part so that I could construct that perfect scarf. (But then I found 2 scarves that were close enough.) I’m sure that at some point, I will acquire more black and gray striped scarves, maybe one that is more gray and black than black and gray. (Have you ever watched Despicable Me? I coveted Gru’s scarf.) Sometimes I will buy items that are gray with white stripes, or gray with other color stripes. But these items always feel somehow lacking. They do not have the magic for me of charcoal gray and black.

Here I am wearing Theo, who is wrapped up in one of my black and gray sweaters.

This was a picture from yesterday with my current black & gray sweater favorite.

One thing I realized, while digging through my photos looking for me in my various gray and black clothing items, is that I have many very unflattering photos of myself in those gray and black clothing items. Those you don’t get to see. But I did find this cute picture of me that John took when we visited London in early 2005. Notice the charcoal gray jacket and black and charcoal gray hat. At that time, my quest for a black and charcoal gray scarf was as yet unfulfilled (though that was the trip when I found the gray plaid scarf). My scarf in that photo appears to be only gray.

(This is my first installment of a project to write 40 posts about things that I like.)