Monthly Archives: October 2013

31 Days of Halloween: Day Twenty-two

In Ireland, after Samhain was Christianized to become All Hallow’s Eve and the Feast of All Hallows (Saints), it didn’t much change the menu (if one had the food). All Hallow’s Eve became a day of abstinence, so no meat was allowed, but that did not exclude enjoying apples, nuts, and apple cake.

champAfter the potato came to Ireland, the starchy vegetable became part of the tradition. Colcannon—potatoes mashed and mixed with chopped kale or green cabbage and onions and cooked in a skillet—and champ—mashed potatoes, sweet milk, and chopped chives or onions—both eaten by dipping spoonfuls into a well of butter, also became favorites. Boxty pancakes were made of grated raw potatoes,baking powder, salt, egg, and enough milk to make a pancake-like batter. These were served hot and well buttered and sprinkled with finely ground sugar. The same recipe could be made into scones called farls and baked on a griddle.

Even good Christians evidently still respected the ancient powers. Neither blackberries nor apples should be picked after All Hallows as pookas were believed to spit on them on what once was Samhain. Others claimed it was devil who cursed the fruits. The old tradition of leaving food out for the fairies or the dead was still observed in many places. (Often a plate of champ with a spoon set at the foot of the nearest hawthorn or whitethorn or at the gate entrance to a field).

I wouldn’t try any of these dishes as treats to drop into a trick-or-treater’s bag, but you might enjoy making them part of a holiday meal. Recipes abound online for all.

[Most information taken from Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irish Food and Drink by Brid Mahon (1998, Merdier Press).]

Last chance to enter the Halloween: Magic, Mystery & the Macabre giveaway: midnight ET tonight!


31 Days of Halloween: Day Twenty-one

NPR reports General Mills’ line of “Monster Cereals”—Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Franken Berry—are back for a limited time only. Originally marketed in the early ’70s, the company decided in 2010 they would only be available during the Halloween season. This year, Frute Brute (formerly “Fruit Brute,” a werewolf fronted multi-fruit flavored cereal with lime-flavored marshmallows) and Fruity Yummy Mummy (about the same but with vanilla bat-shape marshmallows) are also available. (Frute Brute was discontinued in 1982; Yummy Mummy in 1992.) It’s the first time all five of of the monster cereals have been available at the same time.

ABC 23 (via Fox News) reported the cereals returned Sept. 30, and will be on sale until Halloween. But the food manufacturer will reportedly only sell the sugary cereals in retro boxes at Target stores, while offering them in updated packaging at other outlets.

General Mills points out the historic heritage of their products: Count Chocula was the first chocolate-flavored cereal with chocolate-flavored marshmallow bits… Franken Berry was the only strawberry-flavored cereal on the market. In 1972, along came Boo Berry, the first cereal that tasted like blueberries. They were created following the success of Lucky Charms, which also had marshmallow bits and were a consumer favorite.Frute Brute is considered by many collectors to be the most sought-after vintage cereal box… probably because it was seen in Quentin Tarantino’s films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Sadly, no glow-in-the-dark stickers will come in this year’s boxes.


31 Days of Halloween: Day Twenty

Here’s my new little pumpkin of a granddaughter with her “picker” mom, Allyson…
…and here’s Vayda’s dad, Mark, as a pumpkin for HIS first Halloween thirty years ago. (What you can see of him.) (And yes, I made the costume.)

Halloween costumes are easy the first couple of years. YOU get to pick what they will be (all four of my kids wore the pumpkin and, for their second Halloween, a cute comfy clown outfit.) Around age three, though, most kids start to have opinions of what they want to be. You get more creative!

And…just a reminder about this blog’s Halloween treat: You only have until midnight (US/ET) October 22 to “share” the news about Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre to be entered in the book giveaway: if you tweet about the book, that’s an entry! If you share about it on Facebook, that’s an entry. Share on your blog? Yup, that’s another entry. Even following me (#paulaguran) on Twitter will be an entry. The more you share the more chances you get to win. No, the people with the most shares don’t win…they just have more chances to win


31 Days of Halloween: Day Nineteen

Check out these cute (free) printable Halloween decorations from Mr. Printable. My favorite are these paper wraps for glasses that transform them into spooky candleholders, but there are others, too: for the more ambitious, a template for a haunted dollhouse with peg “dolls”; printable activities for kids; batty treat bags; and more.
Tatertots & Jello have a printable Halloween “eye chart” they suggest using on pillows, but I think they’d be better on walls. Kim at All Things Simple has three versions of simple-but-eye-catching printable “word art”.

Do you have any favorite new Halloween “paper” tricks you’d like to share?


31 Days of Halloween: Day Eighteen

Free fiction Friday here on the eighteenth day of our celebration!

This time a classic weird tale from Francis Marion Crawford. If you are interested, here’s an insightful personal essay on the story by Claire Armistead in The Guardian.

And, of course, bear with me for yet another reminder about Halloween: Magic, Mystery, & the Macabre and its new seasonal stories. It’s not too late for you to share the word about it and get a chance to win a free copy…but it will be soon!

The Screaming Skull
by F. Marion Crawford
(First published in two parts in Collier’s, July 11 and July 18, 1908 issues)

screaming-skullI have often heard it scream. No, I am not nervous, I am not imaginative, and I never believed in ghosts, unless that thing is one. Whatever it is, it hates me almost as much as it hated Luke Pratt, and it screams at me.

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that some one at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest. I have always blamed myself for Mrs. Pratt’s death, and I suppose I was responsible for it in a way, though heaven knows I never wished her anything but long life and happiness. If I had not told that story she might be alive yet. That is why the thing screams at me, I fancy.

She was a good little woman, with a sweet temper, all things considered, and a nice gentle voice; but I remember hearing her shriek once when she thought her little boy was killed by a pistol that went off though everyone was sure that it was not loaded. It was the same scream; exactly the same, with a sort of rising quaver at the end; do you know what I mean? Unmistakable.
Continue reading


31 Days of Halloween: Day Seventeen

Americans will spend about $330 million on pet costumes for Halloween.

Two of my grandpups Malcolm and Dewie actually love dressing up whether it is Halloween or not. Especially Miss Dewie, a born fashionista who, yes, has modeled profssionally! But then again their “mom” works in the pet industry… Here’s Dewie as a Devil and Malcolm as a giraffe and them both in outfits brought back from a work trip to China.

Yes, you may say, “Awwwww….”


31 Days of Halloween: Day Sixteen

I live in an old house with lots of surrounding vegetation. Spiders (well, most of the ones around here) are our friends. (Not that my daughter believes that. The only spider she can abide is named Charlotte.) So, even if you try, getting rid of webs around here would be almost a full-time job if anyone were to seriously undertake it—especially in the basement.

But you may not be lucky enough to live in a naturally decrepit dwelling like I do. If you want to enhance your (un)living room or bed (dead) room with creepy cobwebbing. Martha Stewart provides a quick, easy, and effective way to turn cheesecloth into raggedy webs for an entryway. She adds a macabre candelabra, some drooping lilies, pumpkins in faded hues, and a few more touches for the full effect.

And, of course, copies of Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre left here and there would be a most appropriate touch!


31 Days of Halloween: Day 15

sad-pumpkinYou knew this one was coming: That National Retail Federation annual forecast for Halloween sales I mentioned back on Day Three was, of course, released in September…before those tricksters in Washington, DC, decided to shut down most of the government. Since most Halloween spending happens by the second week of October, people aren’t spending for the holiday. According to Yahoo! Finance a Gallup poll shows the weekly drop in U.S. Economic Confidence for the week ending October 6th was the largest seen since 2008. A separate Gallup poll measuring the change in spending habits from month to month showed the drop from August to September was the largest on record.

So, even if the shutdown ends today—it won’t save save this year’s Halloween retail sales. Halloween spending is discretionary, and right now Americans simply don’t feel secure enough to spend.

So Halloween is dead and buried and the grinches may soon be stealing Christmas too.


Editor Roundtable: Wonderbook

The “editor roundtable” didn’t make it into Jeff VanderMeer’s no-doubt wonderful Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, but it is now up online as part of the Wonderbook website. It includes comments from Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Liz Gorinsky, James Patrick Kelly, Nick Mamatas, Ann VanderMeer, Sheila Williams, and yours truly.

One warning: if you DO download individual comments (at least mine), save the RTF file and view with Word. I don’t see my “track changes/review” comments unless I do.)


31 Days of Halloween: Day 14

halloween-filmUnlike providing a list of favorite books, it’s fairly easy for me to recommend my favorite films for Halloween. I’m not a big horror movie buff. Shock and gore isn’t scary to me, and as for suspenseful “surprise” endings—I tend to them in the first ten minutes. So, to be a personal favorite, a movie has to be one that I’m willing to watch more than once and still enjoy. In fact, many of my picks tend toward the macabre or darkly humorous or “just fun.” And, yes, I cheat (there are some ties).

1. The Crow (1994)
Flawed, yet perfect. Set on Devil’s Night/Halloween and a love story to boot: “If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn. People die. But real love is forever.”

2. The Haunting (1963)
The only black-and-white movie that ever held my kids spellbound (and also scared them). Sounds and shadows and suspense are scarier than blood and guts any day.

3. The Witches (1990)
A sinister black comedy, Roald Dahl’s novel is a super read and the movie is almost as good. Anjelica Huston is a wonderfully terrible Eva Ernst

4.(Tie) Sleepy Hollow (1999) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton is Halloween. The former is both eerie and enchanting and the latter is twisted and charming at the same time.

5.Coraline (2009)
A fearless young girl and a hidden door to an alternate version of her own reality, which, of course, is tempting at first, but turns terrifying. A visual treat, the story delves into a great deal that really scares youngsters. One of the few films that equals the original book (by Neil Gaiman).

6. (Tie) The Others (2001) and The Sixth Sense (1999)
Okay, I did figure both of these out before the endings, but it took more than ten minutes and M. Night Shymalan deserves major credit for making two incredibly suspenseful films. The Sixth Sense owes a great deal to the script as well as the performances. In The Others, Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of an overprotective with kids allergic to light, pulls you right in. Both are visually superb.

7. Dark City (1998)
Like The Crow, directed by Alexa Proyas. Very noirish exploration of concepts of reality, identity, and more. The obvious rip-off of Clive Barker’s cenobites is sort of a bummer, though.

8. Hocus Pocus (1993)
An absolute over-the-top blast of a movie with scene-chewing, laugh-inducing performances by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy—witches who return 300 years after executed in Salem. The three children who accidentally bring them back have to pull out all the stops to defeat them. Sure, there are tons of anachronisms, but it this one is for fun, not logic.

9. Ghost Busters (1984)
Who you gonna call? Three unemployed parapsychologists set as a ghost removal service and, of course, save New York from a unique threat, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (What else would a Sumerian demonic deity take form as?) And the toys were great!

10. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
Okay, it wasn’t really a movie, but a TV special. Who cares? A true classic of faith (the grst Pumpkin), the perfidy of life (“I got a rock), and imagination (Snoopy as a World War I flying ace).

And, of course, if you want to discover some fine new seasonal stories, you really should read Halloween: Mystery, Magic, and the Macabre—available in bookstores online and off!