......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

29 October 2011

A Proactive Halloween

The October issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine contains a letter from the editor, Pilar Guzman, describing how Halloween goes down in her Brooklyn neighborhood:

"...,,,,..there is something so pure and magical about kids' relishing their assumed identities and proudly participating in a costume parade within steps of our house.   I think I had to make three trips to the store last year to replenish the candy supply for the endless stream of kids coming to our door.

..............We take turns handing out candy......and taking our kids for short spins around the neighborhood.   In the midst of hanging out on our stoop and watching the throngs go by,  we duck in from the cold to load up on our friend Matt's beef chili.   I realize it's the idea of the ritual   -   the same group of kids,  more or less,  who have been trick or treating together since they were toddlers   -   that matters."

If I had read this two years ago,   I would have thought it was a warm, happy validation.   Yes   -   this is Halloween.   And it is good.

But I'm reading it this year..........and I get a catch in my throat.   A classic case of you-don't-know-what-you've-got-til-it's-gone.

Where I once had  "a costume parade of children within steps of our house,"   I now have a beautifully wooded neighborhood with no sidewalks and long, long driveways leading to dark houses.   Perfect for the privacy-seeking nature lover but not ideal for the trick or treater.

We have bad Halloween feng shui.

I felt it last year,  our first Halloween in New Hampshire,  when I went outside to check out the vibe..........and I felt nothing.   There was no excitement in the air.   No calm before the storm.   No vibration of hyper children too excited to eat dinner, trapped inside houses that weren't ready to release them.

We tagged along with some neighbors last year but it didn't take long for Liam to become mildly disenchanted and call it quits.   And I wanted to say,  "This is not how it works.   I'm supposed to say  'it's time to go home, it's way past your bedtime.'   And then you're supposed to cry and whine and beg for just one more block,  please, please, please just one more block.   And then I say  'ok, but just the even side.'   You're not supposed to ASK to go home."

I think the distance between houses and the long driveways just seemed like a lot of work for a fun-size Bit o' Honey.

And just a few days ago,  one of the neighbor boys told Liam that he was too old to dress up and he would not be participating.   AT 9 YEARS OLD!   Too cool for Halloween at 9!   And even if he doesn't follow through on this declaration,  the seed has already been planted.  Because Liam is also 9,   and I can see the wheels turning in his head and I'm like NOOOOOOOOO!

When I heard this,  I admit,  I may have overreacted.   I suddenly feared that Halloween was slipping away from us like afternoon naps or picture books or kisses on the lips.   Or the Backyardigans.   I really miss the Backyardigans  (damn you, iCarly!).

And I wanted to go find that kid and shake him and say,  "YOU'RE ROBBING US OF HALLOWEEN!!"

I think about Pilar in her Brooklyn neighborhood and I think about our old neighborhood in the city  -  which I just found out was voted the best trick or treating neighborhood in the city.  grrrr!   -   and I have a lightbulb moment:   a good trick or treating experience is highly dependent on density.   Lots of houses nestled closely together and full of kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids................can you see where I'm going with this?   Halloween fun does not exist in a vacuum;   we need other people parading by to make it fun.

My last Halloween in Minneapolis,  I went home overflowing with community pride;  the whole evening felt abundantly communal as we laughed with neighbors, both known and unknown, and accepted offers of road beers for our trek through the hood.   I was so grateful to the people in the spooky house for caring enough to create such an elaborate journey to the candy bowl (it involved clowns, dolls and chainsaws).   And I was so proud of the parents who wore silly wigs and witch hats and banana costumes and prairie garb (the banana and Ma Ingalls;  that's quite a couple)  and had no fear of embarrassment.

Last year,  my first in my new neighborhood,  I wore my Maid of the Mist rain poncho and went trick or treating as a tourist from Niagara Falls.   But no one laughed.   And I looked like the person who thought it was a costume party when it was really black tie optional.

But I will not have Halloween taken away from us.   So we are getting out of dodge.

I take my density theory and search for another neighborhood with more houses and more kids and shorter driveways.   I question Liam about his friends from school;   what are their costumes?   who seems the most excited?   Who else lives in their neighborhood?   And I start making phone calls........"can we trick or treat with you?"

Halloween is an opportunity to come out of your houses and be one with your neighbors, your friends, your community.   It's an American phenomenon  built entirely around fun.   And candy.

.........and I will not go down without a fight.

25 October 2011

A Graveyard Fantasyland

New England may not have cornered the market on apple orchards but I think they can safely claim victory in the graveyard department (ooh spooky! yes! I planned to do this during Halloween week! it's not a coincidence!).

People of the bury-in-the-ground-next-to-your-kin-and-erect-a-stone-marker variety started dying here in the late 1600's - long before your bury-in-the-ground-stone-marker types even arrived wherever you are. So we definitely have more dead people than you. Sorry to disappoint.

As a result, there are tons of graveyards here. I pass several every day; on the way to school - graveyard. On the way to the grocery store - graveyard. On the way to the health club - graveyard, graveyard and.......graveyard. Most of them are tiny and tucked away; I call them pocket graveyards because they're hidden by woods or tucked in between houses or nestled close to the edge of a road. They're positively cute. Seriously endearing. So much so that Liam asked if we could get a little graveyard for our backyard.

It helps that the gravestones are ancient and dark and crumbling, some measuring just 6 inches high - rather than severe and monolithic. The ground is usually heaving and covered in tangled vegetation - rather than manicured. And the trees cocoon the area so that it feels like a Grimm's fairy tale instead of a made-for-TV movie about Jackie Kennedy.

Pulling over and exploring a graveyard is a fun activity any time of the year - but especially at Halloween. And Liam is surprisingly game. I don't remember ever being excited about pulling into a cemetery as a child unless it was like that Hollywood cemetery where I will someday visit Andy Gibb's grave. But he loves these tiny gravestones and he loves finding the oldest one and he gets sad and introspective when he finds one whose dates indicate that a child has died.

Some of their surfaces are too old to provide any info. A date, an identity, worn away by centuries of inclement weather and salty air. The tiny, shoebox-sized stones are the most endearing but also the most troubling; I assume these are graves for babies. But then I question my assumptions...........like the size of the stone really indicates the size of the person buried underneath? Do tall people get really tall stones?

Jagged rocks stick up out of the ground and it takes me several visits to realize that these are remnants of one-time monuments; monuments that got tired of standing up and broke off and fell to the ground. Does the person still exist under my feet if their monument no longer memorializes?

So many things to think about.........

We call this one the Taco Bell Graveyard. I wish I could say this is unusual..........but it's not.
I hope Old Jedediah Candlestickmaker likes chalupas.

21 October 2011

Considering the Lobster Buoy

Continuing to check things off on our New England checklist, we did a ride-along on Uncle Oscar's lobster boat and helped him haul his daily traps (he's not my uncle. That's just his name).

This definitely wins first place in the New England Checklist Contest. It was just Uncle Oscar, his little buddy (didn't catch his name. Maybe Popeye), and our group of four wannabee lobstermen (no language parity in the lobster trade, yet). We motored 5 miles out into the Atlantic, hauled in the day's catch, motored back, docked the boat...............

................and walked our lobsters over to the tiny harborside lobster shack.

The lobster shack lady was waiting for us; she needed to make lunch for the fishermen and whale watchers at the harbor that day.

In about 20 minutes, these would be lobster rolls.

And, that, boys and girls, is where our food comes from.

Lobster is iconic in New England. And the lobster buoy is equally iconic in our little seacoast enclave. Every lobsterman is assigned a color and stripe combination to use on his buoys; this is how they know which traps to pull up. And those colors can be passed down through generations of lobster fishermen. Uncle Oscar's buoys are forest green with a yellow stripe.

But you don't just see buoys bobbing on the water, a symbol of yummy dinner trapped below - they are also used as decoration.

You'll find them strung in bright garlands along the outside of houses, garages, barns, clam shacks and lobster pounds.

They hang from trees like Christmas ornaments. And sometimes a retired skiff will be re-purposed as yard art, filled to the gunnels with a colorful mass of ancient buoys.
And it is said to be good luck if you find one on the beach.

Which Liam did.