Halloween Treats- Gruesome Ripped Ears

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after using the heart-shaped cookie cutter, take your edged knife (this is a pastry/fruit knife) and make a curl that will make the form for the inner ear. carry it all the way down

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The finished product

This is my other divinely gruesome treat. Ripped ears. It is made from the same dough that is in my recipe for Witchy Fingers. Since I’m sure you’d hate popping back and forth, I’m putting it below. This is far easier to create and form the ears–so once again, don’t be intimated. Let your inner spooky-self flow as you create these.

Requirements
Food coloring and a small paintbrush
If you have it, a heart-shaped cookie cut-out will make your life a LOT easier. If not, you can use a round one and modify it. OR, you can free form with a sharp, non-serrated edge knife.

Ingredients- Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature

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this is what it will look like after. make sure to take eat the center circle:)

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

 

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

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mold and shape the ear using your thumb and forefinger. Before this, I will typically pick it up and work it in my fingers for the basic shape, then put in on the Siplat cooky sheet and get it a little better.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Making the ears

Divide the dough into two halves. Put one half back in the fridge to keep it cold.

Roll out to be @1 cm thick. If you are going to err, make them a bit thicker. If the dough is too thin, it will tear and you have to start all over (e.g. chill, roll out then form).

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using the end of the paintbrush (or a toothpick) create a hole to represent an earhole (so you can make it black or colored later)

Use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Using a knife, make a basic ear (see the pictures). Lift one side out, then start to form the ear. The key technique here is to use the thumb and forefinger to create the ridges of the outter and inner ears. The bottom lob can be modified, but again, don’t make it too thin or it will rip and not hold its shape.

Tip: as with the witchy fingers, if you are going to ERR, do so on the side of overexaggeration. It’s better to have an ear that is thick and has form than one that’s too thin and doesn’t hold a shape.

Once this is done and the ear if formed, take the edge of a knife (I use a pastry end that has a ridge for texture) and make some ‘cut-lines’ in the inner ear–which is actually the ripped part.

Painting the ears is really the easy part. First, color the holes. This does nothing more than make it look ‘ear-like’ and gorey. The next painting is on the inner ear, the part that’s ripped. Play around with this. Brighter red makes the blood look fresh while darker blood (red mixed with some blue or green) gives it an older, burnt look.

The both taste great!

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food coloring in a little pie dish (I use these micro pie dishes that are only about 2 inches across) for convenience

Tip: wait for a few minutes before you brush on the egg white, and AVOID the painted parts, trying to get along the edges and in the depressed area.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. You should underbake these little because you’d rather have them moist than dry. They hold for 3 days in an airtight container. After that, they simply don’t taste that great.

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painting the inner (ripped) ear

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sometimes, after baking, the ear will raise, and you will want to counter this by using the edge of a spook or whatever is handy an press down along the inner ridge. This will give the ear the best shape possible. It holds, so you only have to do this once.

 

 

 

Halloween treats- Witchy Fingers

One of my two, personal favorite bite-size treats. The other is the gruesome ripped ears. Both of these are divinely gross and absolutely delicious. They are also made from the same dough. The only difference is the witchy fingers are cooked longer while the ripped ears are slightly undercooked. I might also add that these take a bit of time (about an hour and a half) but are great to do with kids. They are also big attention getters, which I also like!

Promise- people get intimidated by the nails (the almonds) and creating the actual fingers. This is super easy. My motto is: if I can do it, so can you. I’ll give you step by step pictures on this. You can do it!

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Took a picture to show what “just incorporated means.”

Requirements
Food coloring. A box will give green, yellow, red and blue. You will use all but the yellow.
A knife, rolling pin, and small paintbrush (to color on the blood and moldy ear slice).
Parchment paper

Ingredients (first, the nails)
Food coloring – you will use this last
30 blanched almonds

Directions
In boiling pot of water, dump the almonds. You may want to do more than 30, just in case a few split.
After 1 minute (exactly) remove and strain. Immediately run cold water (from the tap) is fine. Only need to do this about one minute.
Dump on a paper towel. As you start to rub the almonds, the peels will come off. Not all though–perhaps not even half. Don’t worry. With your fingertips (thumb and forefinger) you can easily rub once or twice and the shell slips off.
Place the blanched almonds on the cookie sheet (this is where you will paint them once fully dry)
At this point, stop and make the cookie dough. The reason is you will need to refrigerate the cookie dough. As this happens (about 30-40 minutes or longer) you will paint return and paint the fingers.

Ingredients- Finger Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Tip: For rolling out, divide in half. The reason is simple. It takes time to roll, parse (or separate) the individual dough pieces for fingers. then you must roll, detail and place the finger. The remaining dough will get too soft, and become gooey. So take out only as much as you can reasonably use before it gets warm, which is about half.

At this point, place the dough in the fridge and paint the fingers.

Painting the fingers
place red, green and or blue food coloring in separate bowls. holding the almond between fingers, paint both sides. Tip: I use a rubber glove so I don’t stain my fingers. It takes several days to come off and I hate that. Then again, it is Halloween so who cares? Let stand until you are ready to roll out the dough and make the fingers.

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this is the dough, already rolled out, then cut and formed into a 2-2.5 inch piece

Making the fingers
This fun. Don’t be worried. Just put on some good chill music and go for it.

Take half the dough and place the other half back in the fridge. Roll it out to @1 cm thick. Using a cutting utensil (I use a pastry spatula), cut the pieces into a manageable size (e.g. about the length of half a real finger. It will elongate as you roll it out.

Roll the dough out into @a 3-inch piece. Then using your forefinger and third finger, depress a little, which will raise the middle (to create the middle knuckle). Adjust the end tip, to resemble the end of the finger. Adjust as necessary– e.g. raise the center, depress the in-between parts (as they will raise slightly during baking).

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depress the center. this makes the knuckles. 3 simple lines will do it

Take one of the almonds and wedge it within the end. Don’t place on top, as this will ensure it falls off after baking (I’ve done this before and ruined the whole batch). Make sure you have a bit of dough above, below and on all sides.

Take a knife or other untensil and create the ridges for the knuckle. Walla! you have created your finger.

Tip: Create the entire batch of the fingers and then brush lightly with the egg white. If you do this too soon, you will depress the ridges on the knuckles and it won’t look that realistic.

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now you are ready place the almond as the fingertip

Tip: Err on the side of exaggeration. In other words, if the ridges and length of the fingers aren’t pronounced enough, the finger will come out basically smooth. So if you are worried, its better to have a finger that’s super bony rather than one that looks flat and normal. You don’t want normal!

For cooking
Heat the over to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats (French non stick baking mats are my preference).

Using a non-stick brush, brush lightly with egg white.

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this is what it looks like before its cooked. you can add as much dough around the edge as you want. for fun, I sometimes go back and make them scraggly, but it tends to gross people out then they won’t eat them!

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This is a row PRE- covered with egg whites. I forgot to take a picture of that, but they slightly glisten when covered with the egg white

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this is a pic of just the green-tipped ones. This year I made red, green and then black.

For the presentation, my favorite way to display for eating is sticking out from within a cauldron. That way they are reaching out to you, saying EAT ME!

 

 

 

Halloween Treats- Mummy Milanos

Easy. Fast & delicious.

Requirements
Milano cookies (every grocery store has them). Tip: get the dark chocolate. Every stinking time I get the milk chocolate, the inside is crumbly and the milk chocolate tastes old. Clearly, people prefer the dark chocolate. It holds up better and is fresh. And yes, this is a IRK.
Milk chocolate especially made for melting. I use Ghiradelli. It is fresh, melts well and delicious.
A spoon or knife (to drizzle the chocolate)
Either chocolate icing (with a tip) that can be had for @$2.50 at most stores

Ingredients
1 package Milano cookies
1 package Ghiradelli white melting chocolate
1 container chocolate icing (or little chocolate speckles for the eyes)

Tip: do NOT use the gel icing sold in the stores. I used this and it doesn’t dry, even after four hours in the fridge. They smudged when I tried to layer them. Next time I went for the fast-dry icing.

Directions
Arrange the Milano cookies on a cookie sheet.

Melt the chocolate according to the directions. Short version is place the white chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 30 seconds. Every 30 seconds, stir. It will melt. By minute 2, it will be completely melted.

Immediately dip the end of your spoon or knife in the end and drizzle according to your desire. Before the chocolate dries, add the sprinkles. If you are using the icing, wait until the chocolate dries before applying.

 

Best Caramel Apple Dip

After many attempts to perfect this recipe, I’ve yet again mutated it into a dip that gets completely devoured at parties. The reason is it’s not “too caramelly,” which is a way of saying the caramel is overpower. Personally, I hate things that are overdone, which is what the original recipes is. This isn’t. It’s perfectly balanced between the caramel, cream cheese and marshmellow. For those people (e.g. men) who claim to hate cream cheese, they can’t even tell. As in, my husband Roger, hates the divine, bovine created product. Even he loves it. This recipe is a winner.

Requirements
A beater with a three-pronged paddle. The creamcheese need to be room temperature (softened, but not warmed in a microwave. I’ve done this and it curdles the product, ruining it).

Ingredients
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese. tip: on this, don’t go light. go full cream cheese. the consistency is much better and creamier
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark has richer flavor, but I prefer the light brown)
1/2 cup caramel- I hate the liquid, ice cream topping this calls for. Most versions have a horrid aftertaste. Go for the kind in a container. it’s very thick and can be found an most all grocery stores.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow crème
3 medium tart apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, caramel topping and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the marshmallow crème. Cut apples into vertical thin slices–I actually use my fun, holiday cookie cutters just to be different.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and water. Toss the apples in the lemon juice mixture. Drain. (it prevents the apples from turning brown).

Tip for serving: you have a lot of fun options for making a simple dip look impressive. You can:

a) drizzle some caramel on the top
b) add nuts of any type to the top
c) put paprika on the top (don’t use Hungarian Paprika though. it’s too strong and will give a weird aftertaste whereas regular paprika won’t).

Lastly, on the color and flavor. If you want a darker look, simply add more caramel. This will enhance the flavor. Adjust to taste.

The billionaire’s secret weapon

Once, when I was giving a writers presentation to a group of high school students, I was asked by a teacher what process I follow for writing my books. “Is there one thing, or set of things you do prior to starting to write?”

“Yes, there is,” I responded. “I pray.” That was it, pure and simple. I didn’t even elaborate on what I pray for (which, btw, is clarity, the ability to write what’s in my head etc. and have it be congruent with my ideals and thoughts etc). You should have seen the look on this woman’s face. You would have thought I was advocating a new drug inhalation process for the illegal, not legal type. The irony of it all, was this was a parochial school, the place I where I actually felt safe giving this answer.

Over the years, the irony of the prayer-before-the-big-event thing has intrigued me. I’ve grown up with images of Madonna and her backup-dancers holding hands in a group prayer before a concert. Big football players kneel or bow their heads prior to kick-off, asking for health, strong hands and probably a win. Why then, I ask, is the big deal with saying a prayer (albeit silently) before a big meeting or when starting a sculpture or writing a book?

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slightly obvious. I actually prefer Roger’s quote, which he used for years with consultants (who wouldn’t shut up). “You can’t learn anything while you are talking.” I would have used that but I didn’t have the time to create a pretty picture with quotes.

I have long prayed when considering what clients to take on and which ones to pass.  I’ve said prayers before presentations in front of groups large and small, interviews with the press, before I’ve gone on television shows, prior to pitching the venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. In fact, pretty much any event of significance I’ve invoked my right to call above to the Almighty (or as Roger says: “whatever is out there in the Universe that’s listening”).

Ironically, I’ve been much more lax about praying on the personal front, but that too, is another story. It seems that when it comes to career, my red-phone bat line has been in constant use. It turns out, I’m not alone in this. Over the last two years, I’ve been interviewing 3 dozen hundred millionaires and billionaires that haven’t spoken to the press about their rise from poverty (nearly all) to a financially secure point in life. One of the common threads is faith (in self or God). Another thread is prayer. Even the few who claim atheism state they still say a prayer (to the universal energy that exists).

This call-to-arms as I’ve come to think of it, is a plea for all the thoughts, energy and desire built within to come to the forefront when it’s needed in exactly the right way, be it for that winning touchdown or the closing of the million dollar home sale.

Prayer circles aren’t as weird as they sound

Going back to the football scenario, where a bunch of men are on the field, eyes closed and heads bent—it’s a normal scene is it not? They are in a circle…a literal prayer circle. If this came up in casual conversation, can you even imagine the derision the topic would instill, not to mention the analogies to other sects, cults and who-knows-what off-shoots of beheading chickens and dancing around a bonfire.

Yet for athletes and Madonna, it’s done and accepted, business as usual. (I would, just once, love to have seen Ballmer hold out his hand at the executive round table, bow his head and say whatever prayer that man would have said –although I imagine it would have involved a strong desire for the stock price to go above 100 for a picosecond. Just once).

Going back to me and the writing process, or business for that matter, yes, I pray, but it is not done lightly or by rote. I won’t pray if I don’t feel worthy of an answer. Ergo, if I have a lesson to teach and I’ve not adequately prepared, I feel it’s morally wrong to ask some higher power to bail me out. Conversely, if I’ve done my part, studied, prepared my outline, readied the lesson and I still feel uncomfortable, then I know this means I’m missing something. A piece of the puzzle isn’t quite right in the grooves. It is then that I pray fervently to understand what direction I must go, what I must change and how I must communicate the message—assuming that my message is right in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times this very thing has happened, and when I’m on stage, I’ve had words, phrases or examples come to mind that I’d previously not thought of or considered, and it made all the difference in the world.

One billionaire, a seventy-ish man now retired and living in Colorado, used to be the president of one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country. In his “retirement,” he still owns three different entities in different industries. When I asked him how he makes many of his decisions, he was unapologetic when he said he prays.

“Yes, I listen to my advisors and I read the numbers, but most of the time, hiring people and making big business decisions doesn’t rely on numbers or resumes,” he said. “Those can be manipulated and represented in ways that won’t tell you what will truly happen six months, a year or five years out.” For that, he relies on a higher power.

And this blog? Do I pray before writing a blog? No, not usually, and honestly, my level of seriousness regarding my blog writing (and Instagram and Facebook accounts) ebb and flow with my mood. Sometimes I simply like a picture that’s interesting, fun or humorous. I’ve noticed that when it comes to thoughts of making a person’s day brighter, uplifting myself (or others) in some way, then yes, I actually do say a prayer to understand what I should write or post. The reward is often immediate and strong, producing positive feedback or responses.

Even those who don’t believe in a universal God or super being, the notion of universal “Karma” is alive and well. In other words, what comes around goes around, so it’s better to be on the safe side than send out evil vibes. If this holds true, then one could argue that prayers can only help, and never hurt, so “What’s there to lose?” (As my husband often asks). “It’s not hurting anyone and can only help.”

Keep that in mind the next time you could use a little clarity, support, wisdom or overall confidence. It’s free, there’s nothing to lose, and it can only help. Those are three mantras I can live by.

Halloween Treats – Meringue Bones

A light weight, gluten-free party favorite for all ages is bones. I’m talking meringue bones. It’s simple, fast and impressive. Most important, it doesn’t require a fancy icing tip. As a backdrop, I’ve tried a number of recipes from major sites, and I hated all of them save one, and even that, I modified. The following has a basis in the recipe from fishieking on allrecipes. My first round, I didn’t totally like the consistency of the bones (too mushy both in the better and final outcome). I increased the amount of cream of tartar just a hair and it was perfect.

Tip: make sure the Cream of Tartar (its a spice, just in case you haven’t heard of it), is within the expiration date. The first batch was ruined, and I looked at the culprit, which turned out to be 6 months overdue on the expiration. The next batch made with a brand new bottle turned out normally.

Requirements
Egg beater, big Ziploc plastic bag, parchment paper to line the cookie sheet.

Ingredients
6 egg whites (room temperature)
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1 1/3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used bourbon or Madagascar vanilla. it makes a huge difference)

Directions
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F (110 degrees C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (I prefer this to the tinfoil in the original recipe. it’s less sticky)

Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt with an electronic mixer until egg whites are foamy. Gradually beat in sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until the sugar dissolves in the meringue before adding more. Continue beating until the meringue is glossy and forms sharp peaks. Add the vanilla. At this point, the batter should be very gloppy (a technical term of course).

Spoon the batter into a Ziploc or pastry bag.

Tip: when I read this direction, I thought great. Reality is that I use a large KitchenAid mixer and couldn’t hold the bowl, and the Ziploc and spoon the stuff. I enlisted my husband, who held the bowl as I used a spatula to slide the batter into the bag.

Cut the end of the tip with a scissors.

Tip for formation of the bones.

Start at the upper left hand corner, draw down to the bottom of the V. Then go up to the right of the V. Quickly take the tip straight down for the long center. Then draw down for the lower left, then up to the base V then down to the lower right. Lift up the tip.

I made a few testers, which necessitated me changing the grip of my bag. It’s easy enough to push out, but half-way through, the bag will deflate and air bubbles will collect. To prevent this, stop, open the bag, squeeze out the air then resume.

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Meringue bones – gluten free party favorite

Key directions for cooking

Place the cookie sheets and bake for 1 hour. Do NOT open the oven door, not even to peek. I ignored this part of the directions (thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It did. They flopped). So, lesson learned. Leave it shut for an additional hour. (seriously. do not skip this).

When removing the bones, slide off the parchment paper onto a rack. Wait until cooled, then place in an air tight container.

Tip for storage

The original recipe didn’t give any commentary on storage, but I read that they could be sealed, room temperature for several days. I made one batch on Tuesday, thinking they would be fine for Saturday. Well, I checked on Thursday, and they’d become really brittle. By Friday, they were falling apart at the touch, with the exception of a few of the thicker ones. That meant I ended up creating a new batch, which I served the following day.

Pictures show the formation and the outcome.

By the way- I had these on a “gluten free” table, but all the guests had them- adults and kids (about 50 total). They were the first to go!

Halloween kid games (but work for adults)

Graveyard bowling

Graveyard bowling

Fourthings to do that work equally well for kids and adults, because really, when it comes to Halloween, adults revert back decades, dress silly, act sillier, and generally have no shame when it comes to what happens in the darkened rooms of a Halloween party.

Graveyard bowling

All you need is an empty space about 10 5-8 feet long. Carpet works, as does cement or wood. What you need:

  1. A sign. Pumpkin bowling. $3 bucks for the black cardboard. white spraypaint. tacks.
  2. old water bottles, 1/3 full of water and red food coloring (strip off the label).
  3. round, white cut outs on taped to the floor. 10 of them.dsc_0907
  4. smallish pumpkins.

Place the bottles on the floor. Behind the bottles, tack the cardboard. Walla. You are done. I was surprised how many adults wanted to play this bowling game. It was hilarious.

 

Mummy wrapping

This was a party fav two years ago with the kids & the adults had so much fun I ddsc_0901id it again. It’s easy. Teams of 2 or 3, and two rolls of toilet paper. One package from Costco means 2 rounds of ten-give or take, so the teams of two can each hav a chance to wrap and be the mummy.

Toss the finger & eat the earwax

This is easy, but unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the former and only one of the latter.

Tossing the finger means you get a bucket (we have a cauldron) and set it about 10 feet away from the kids (in a line) and they toss 3 fingers. The one to get all three wins the prize. Adults do this to. The cauldron can be on the piano, side-stool, inside or out. You’d be surprised how few people can get the finger in (or eyeballs work) in the cauldron!

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Earwax on a bone

The second game is awesome! This came about when I saw this Pinterest idea for earwax on a stick. I modified the idea by purchasing bones at the Spirit Halloween store (25 for $3.00). I then took a small marshmellow and stuck it on both ends of the small bones. After than, I melted Ghiradelli milk chocolate and dipped the ends in the chocolate. It looks like brown earwax…so grossly awesome. The game came about because the bones came with two small holes. I was able to run string (I used fishing line) through it, then hung the bones. The kids were able to see how many they could eat without the ear wax falling on the floor. Adults are way more grossed out on this game than the kids–no telling why.

Look for the recipe and other info on the earwax which doubles as a treat in other blogs.

 

 

Easy Halloween decorations

 “Make it spookier, Mom.” Famous last words. The last time I took my daughter’s recommendation, I had a jilted bride hanging by a noose off the deck, headless men in water, a two-headed baby strapped to a wall and a myriad of ancient-looking dolls that I’d morphed into something from a Victorian zombie apocalypse. It freaked out the parents probably more than the kids.

Even so, I’m in a new state this year, and that means a whole new community of parents to traumatize. My daughter, being the ripe old age of 11, insisted that her friends wanted spooky, and that the parents wouldn’t mind. I thought: hey, it is Idaho. Rog calls it the “Good luck state.” Practically no laws govern this place…helmuts for motorcycles? Nope. Gun laws? Not that we can find. And driving while talking on the cell phone? Go for it. Coming from the state of Washington, which seems as over regulated as Switzerland, this place is akin to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns free-for-all.

But I digress. Let’s get back to easy and relatively cheap (as in dollar-store cheap) decorations.

  1. Scary dolls. I love this! Hit goodwill
    spooky dolls

    Spooky doll nailed to the post

    or your local thrifts shop. I found half a dozen for about 2 dollars each. I took them home, painted the faces white (used my daughters paint set), then added some black and red. I then used some spray paint we had in the garage on a few just to make the dresses look a little beat up. Lastly, I wrapped a few up in spider web so I can could hang strategically. A few I left out (like the clown) and placed in plants–making them look like zombie dolls rising from the grave. This year, it was wet and we had the party in the outbuilding (e.g. shop, but in Idaho, it’s called an “outbuilding,” go figure), so I hung them within spider webbing.

  2. Crime scene tape. Rog gets crime scene tape for his hockey legging on line for a Off limits tapedollar. I found the same thing at the dollar store, but I chose Haunted House tape. This serves the purpose of cordoning off areas but also as a marker for down by the gate.
  3. Black tablecloth for backdrops. At the dollar store, these large rectangular table clothes are a thin plastic-like (but not quite) feel. I put them up anywhere I needed to shield out light, but also give privacy–such as to storage areas. Four bucks and the entire loft area was transformed.
  4. Window shields. I also used the black tablecloth to darken the windows and put some cracks in the fabric–resembling a rock being thrown through the window–or an old spooky window.
  5. Old-time windows. I then purchased several web/cloth like pieces of material. These tended to be about 4 dollars each, but had enough in them to cut into 2 pieces. From this, I made spooky window curtains. Hang these up with clear tacks-lots and lots of tacks.
  6. Webbing. Rule on this: not all webbing is created equal. If you purchase the webbing at the dollar store- it’s really sticky, which will adhere to most walls or wood. However, it doesn’t stretch well and isn’t strong enough to hold anything within. For that, you need to go to Target or Spirit Halloween and for this super-stretchy webbing and spend about $7 bucks on the real
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    white spider web on top of stretchy webbing- pumpkin above

    stuff. I get the 30 foot, or 75 foot length, which will stretch entire sections. This stuff is amazing. It will also go about 5-7 feet high, which makes it amazingly helpful. Colors are black, white and green. If you are darkening- go black. If you have a darkroom/house already, go white. I have one of the enormous webs that I stretched from my second floor to the ground–couldn’t find it in my boxes this year (half of which are still in storage) but it’s a super buy & for $24 it makes a great impact.

  7. Gruesome tablecloth & Spooky pics area. This is one of my absolute favorites. Two years ago, I had a table decoration idea that morphed into a cool feature. The idea was to take a table cloth I found at Goodwill (white, with a lace edge). I took red, grey and black paint and strategically cut slits in the tableclothe. For the party, I then put stands with food within the slits. It was gruesomely awesome! however, I had no such need Pictures or tablecloththis time around. As you can see from the picture, I nailed it to the back wall, and put a head through one of the slits and a two-headed baby through the other. When the kids came, they took turns (in groups) putting their own heads through, and they looked like headless people.
  8. Hands from the grave. Another dollar store find is to get old dolls, skeleton or bone hand, paint it white/grey/red (if needed) and put it within your pots at the house. Also do this with fingers or mice, which are easily and cheaply found (I’m talking plastic or rubber, not the real thing!).with heads!
  9. Transforming spooky pictures. Four years ago, I actually had to pay real money (e.g. 8 bucks) for these things. Now they are 1 dollar at the cheap stores. They are fun to do. For the outbuilding, I adhered them to the walls. When I had an adult party at my home, I used special tape to adhere them to my actual pictures- so they looked framed. It was super cool and it caught a lot of adults by surprise.
  10. Entryway canopy. The photo of the entryway was a find that I believe I purchased at the Spirit Halloween store years ago. It’s purple with spider webs. I adhere it to the
    img_8661

    Doorway canopy

    entryway with either tape or at my last home, tacks. This time around, I put a headless man above the entry way, attached to the light with spider webbing as the holder. You could replicate this same thing with an old sheet, some scissor rips and paint of anykind. Oh! makeup works! Just thought I’d throw that in.

  11. Large spider webs with our without lights. Over the years, I keep an eye out for super-large spider webs of all kinds. The material varies- from nylon to spiny/rubber-like feel. Some are white, others black but most come with some type of massive spider. I have purchased orange lights from the dollar store, but I always look out for post-Halloween sales to get longer, better made varieties from Target or wherever. Wrapping these around the spider webs really sets off the room.
    1. the tip on this is to strategically place the spider webs in the corners, for maximum impact.
    2. another tip is to place a scary doll within the spider web–ideally, with a spider coming to get it.
  12. Mummies and other hanging ghouls. I picked up a super cool mummy one year that always freaks people out. It twists and turns, and was about $25, so a bit more than I usually spend. It’s only gauze wrapped around wires of varying dimensions, with the shape of feet at one end and a head at the other. It can be made easily enough, but I don’t have that kind of time.
  13. Jilted bride. One of my absolute favorites. I purchased a wedding dress for $10 at Goodwill, took my scissors to it, then got out my red spray paint and made it gnarly. I then purchased a mask from Goodwill (a really freaky woman). I put this mask on top of a mop (I kid you not. rog thought I was nuts), then used a rope to keep the head on the post. More red spray paint covered parts of the rope, but the whole point was to make it look bloody, which it did. I then strung her up and hung her off the balcony. She greeted everyone. As you can imagine, I didn’t put this up for the 11 year olds (I don’t want to be responsible for future therapy sessions) because it even bothered the adults, who, in true form, said they loved it.
  14. Odds and ends. Little things like towels, bookends, skeleton napkin holders, hanging menus–these are all available at craft stores or wherever. Just keep an eye out for good deals. My serious Halloween gathering started 7 years ago, and has just been building. Lots of super cool things can be done with paint and a few items from Goodwill.

some kids games are up next. pumpkin bowling, bones in the bin and mummy wrapping.

The Reluctant Dad

As tempted as I am to write about all things Halloween, I can’t get the image of a man sobbing in the arms of my husband, and then turning to me when my husband says, “He just lost his baby. He needs a hug.”

To backtrack, we’ve known this slightly-built man in his mid-thirties about eight months. The time it has taken him and his crew to work on projects on the property. Over this time, I’ve learned several things: he hunts, he has two rescue pitbulls, he’s married to his high school sweetheart, he’s never really believed in dental work or caring much about what he puts into his body other than highly-caffeinated drinks and beef jerky. I’ve also learned and seen that he works tirelessly, can eyeball nearly any piece dimension at a glance (and is nearly always right after he measures) and has a hard-as-steel outward countenance and like most men with a tough outer shell, is equally as mushy on the inside. Oh, and he has always maintained that he never, ever, wanted children.

Then came the incident above. This was preceeded by a week-long all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, courtesy of his boss, the owner of the small business. It was the boss’s 20th anniversary, and he was treating the man I’ll call Travis and his wife for a week on the big island. When Travis showed up at our house, it was two Saturday’s following his return. Rog observed him from the kitchen window, noticing he kept going back and forth between sites, looking around and off into the distance. His pace was slower, his head kept shaking. Rog thought something was amiss. He went out to investigate. Not long after, I looked out, and saw the two talking. Rog didn’t have his normal, casual stance. It was a serious, stand-to-the-side pose, his arm up on the temporary chicken coop, then I saw him put his hand on Travis’ shoulder.

At that point, I’m not sure what is up, but it wasn’t good. It needed a woman’s perspective (or at least input). I go out, the typical smile on my face, ready to say hello for the day. I see Travis’ eyes are red and he quickly put his fingers up, shadowing his eyes. I look at Rog. His own eyes are a little glassy. I tell Travis it’s nice to see him, and that it must be a hard day. Rog looks at me and says bluntly:

“Travis’ wife was pregnant and she just lost the baby,” he says in typical Roger fashion. “Travis needs a hug.”

“You asshole,” says Travis as I come forward, wrap my arms around him and hold on. The man loses it, his shoulders shaking so hard and his gasps come ragged. I say what someone who’s been through a late stage miscarriage says: it hurts. It’s normal. We love you.

He cries harder.

Eventually, I release him and tell him he should have stayed home. His wife and her emotional needs take priority over anything at our house. Rog concurs, and eventually he leaves. Only later does Rog inform me that his wife had told him on the Hawaiian vacation, and at first, he was shocked, then freaked out, then, as all men who originally don’t want children (think Roger, for 7 years), he turned the corner.

A child. His child. A family. Together, the three of them. All the emotions that accompany the prospective of creating a life and new experiences together came rushing forward. He had all the joy of that ideal for two weeks. They shopped for baby items, started talking about names and then it was over. His wife had waited over three months to tell him once she learned she was pregnant.

Then it was over. Since this occurred, two and a half weeks ago, the doctors, and Travis and his wife, expected the baby to come out on its own. It didn’t. Yesterday, she had to go in, and the baby had to be surgically removed. I will spare you the details. It was horrible. Like another death, all over again. I think in some ways, for those of us who have experienced this, it’s worse than the fetus dying (when its that far along, I call it a baby, for everything is formed).

Once again, Rog got a call that he was going to come today, the “day after.” I said no. Roger pre-empted me, already telling Travis to stay home and be with his wife. He did, and we were both grateful for it.

The entire experience has caused me to repeatedly reflect on how the unexpected changes us, and then how those of us surrounding the one in pain are able to–and I think, required–to give love, empathy and support. It’s the benefit of going through painful experiences: helping others. Love comes around. Empathy can be universal. The unexpected hug can mean so much.

It’s also another confirmation point that we have no idea what is going on in another person’s life. When I was at Costco, the day after my brother died, I was standing in line, with toilet paper and tissues; we were out of both. Life had to go on, I was the mother, and the man behind the counter, with whom I usually bantered with, got very stilted when I didn’t smile or laugh or joke. He took it personally. I found myself going out of my way to be happy and what I thought was “normal” because I didn’t want him to believe I had taken a sudden dislike of him.

And therein lies the resulting change in my perspective over the years. When someone cuts me off, I don’t get mad. Maybe that person just lost his/her job or got dumped. When a person is mean in line, I think–maybe that person just lost his or her brother. We never know the lives, loves and heartaches of another, and I’ve learned that listening is a great gift and hugs don’t cost a thing.

 

Titles versus results – IOW- How to improve hits & sales

I’m always wanting to give my posts exaggerated, catchy titles, but author 101 dictates otherwise. The reason? Google and searching questions. “Spooktastic Treats” don’t get as many hits as “Wasy and impressive Halloween treats.”

This is not War and Peace, I know. But if you are writing a blog for the purpose of getting advertising revenue, or a book to receive a royalty check, it all starts with hits, then clicks, then views, then a purchase. But even general markets pushing a product–be it a software application, game or new brand of earphone, want to get to their target consumer.

For marketing junkie such as myself (that means 20 yrs of learning how to get people to buy), I struggle with my own desire to use a fun, catchy title, versus the reality that when in a rush, a person looking for the answer to a specific question will most likely type in that question, not the cool, marketing version of the exact same question.

Tip for bloggers:
1. Have a catchy title, but then the real-world sub-title that people will search
2. Make sure you embed high-impact (e.g. often searched) categories, products or phrases that will give you a higher hit count
3. embed the google AdSense or other advertising revenue generating form into your system. I personally stopped using that when I moved to WordPress because a) I found I was spending too much time on linking rather than writing and b) I don’t use a blog as revenue-generating mechanism. it’s my own personal therapy tool (for my personal side) and information dissemination center (for general business and writing topics).

Tips for authors/or business owners who are pushing a product:
1. same as above BUT try and categorize by topics and put the primary topic somewhere in the title, and multiple times in the body
2. link to and from other topics on the add value, not just sell the product. so irritating when its all about you and not the information at hand

time your promotions to fit your target demographic

time your promotions to fit your target demographic

For both, the final tip is Review and Assess. See what’s working and what’s not. Most apps have statistical data that shows what pages are being viewed and the time spent on each. Jupiter Communications puts out great info (that’s free) on the best pages, and times for posting. Specifically:

  • Posts get looked at the most on Wednesday at 12 pm PST (3 pm EST) and Friday at the same times–for the business crowd. why? Because east-coasters (in the US) are lolly-gagging around, killing time after 3, and west-coasters tend to stay put at their desks for lunch. Thus, if you are launching something that appeals to this category (workers at desks) post during this timeframe. I have technology clients- software companies, but also card-making companies that launch promotions during this time to great results.
  • Posts for the general consumer (either not working or off hours) are Sunday nights after 7 pm. why? The football games are over, the movies and soccer games done. People are finished with dinner, relaxing and not always by the television. The laptops are on the actual laps, in front of the tv!

 

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