Bookends: October 2020

During the pandemic, when each day seems to blend into the next, I’ve been trying to make holidays and birthdays stand out a little more. This is not an innate skill for me. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or perfectionism or if the thought of putting away and storing all of the decorations is so unpleasant that it saps the pleasure I feel in the decorations themselves, but it seems to take a lot of work for me to make things special.

I really tried this Halloween. I bought more Halloween decorations—lights for the front of the house, jack-o’-lanterns to hang in a bunch of our windows—and talked early and often with my children about costumes, virtual alternatives to trick-or-treat, and homemade treats to make up for lack of candy from strangers. But I don’t have enough interest in the holiday to carry the full weight of initiating everything, so when my children didn’t take some initiative things just kind of fizzled. I figured if they weren’t into it, I wouldn’t push it.

Then around 7pm on Halloween they looked up from the episode of She-Ra they’d just finished and said, “Man, I wish we’d done more for Halloween!” It was too late for most things, but not too late to carve pumpkins, so they did that just before going to bed. They turned out pretty nice, too.

We’ll toast up the seeds tomorrow and postpone putting away decorations for one night so we can enjoy the lit jack-o’-lanterns for an extra evening. Maybe they’ll remember this experience when it comes time to plan for winter holidays and will be a little more active with planning. I do think I need to put a little more effort into connecting them with family and friends, but it’s difficult. All of our family members live 2000 or so miles away, and most of them aren’t as cautious about COVID as we are so they get together with each other and with friends in person, and there’s not much room in their schedules for virtual get-togethers with California cousins. But since we’re not traveling for the foreseeable future, it’s probably a good idea to prioritize those second-best gatherings.

Now, books!

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Halloween Pie 2017

This Halloween continued the trend of child-led costume assembly that began last year. I’m all in favor because it appeals to my general laziness and to my “bah, humbug” attitude about holidays, especially holidays that don’t involve roast turkey.

So, my children took the reins with decorating and costume assembly while I served as a consultant and occasional assistant. There’s a lot less swearing this way.

My daughter used a white bedsheet to create a chiton (I helped with safety pins) and I put her hair in a bun, and she became a woman from Ancient Greece. She looked so tall and confident and womanish it made my heart hurt to look at her.

My son donned a black sweatshirt, black sweatpants, my red scarf as a sash, and two coffee filters around his neck as a 17th-century collar to become Albrecht von Wallenstein, whose army helped out Frederick II and the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years’ War. For more information about Albrecht von Wallenstein and the Thirty Years’ War, visit your local library or Wikipedia.

They hit the very quiet streets and came back with a decent haul, probably because our neighbors were, like us, desperate to get rid of their candy on a strangely kid-light Halloween.

As is the tradition here on Imperfect Happiness, here are the candy pies:

Daughter's Candy 2017

Son's Candy 2017

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Bookends: October 2016

I’m typing this from the stairs that overlook our front door, interrupted every few minutes by children dressed in costumes I can’t identify and begging for candy. Actually, it’s less begging and more demanding, and when I offer them the candy bowl, they empty a quarter of it with two handfuls. If the candy is going to last, I’m going to have to start handing it to them myself. Although if I let them take it all right away, I can turn off the porch light and ignore the door for the rest of the night. What a tempting idea…

These kids and their Halloween. They don’t seem to realize that last weekend was the real holiday: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas pale in comparison, and now that Dewey’s has been and gone, there’s nothing to look forward to until the next readathon in April. (Well, except maybe for this in January.)

I’ve read online about people who give books to trick-or-treaters. It’s an interesting idea, but I wouldn’t want to hand out picture books or middle-grade lit. No, this would be my chance to make a difference in the world outside my household by handing out titles like What Are People For? by Wendell Berry, Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, Living More With Less by Doris Jantzen Longacre, and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish. Or I could get into the Halloween spirit and share Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I’d bet their parents would really appreciate my promoting a love of reading in their children.

At any rate, here’s what I read (or stopped reading) this month before I devoted myself to being an active Halloween Scrooge:

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Halloween Pie 2016

It’s Halloween once again! This year to celebrate their third reading of The Lord of the Rings (including an audiobook and a read-aloud by each of their parents), my daughter dressed up as Legolas and my son dressed up as Aragorn. I provided transportation to the thrift store and the funds to purchase items, but the design and assembly of the costumes was otherwise all them (thank goodness; I am not a costume person, and this development dramatically reduced my Halloween-related stress).

The costumes might change, but not our tradition of charting their candy haul. Here’s how it all broke down this year:





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Halloween Pie 2015

Categorizing and graphing my kids’ candy haul has become an annual tradition. And my kids, as nerdy as their parents apparently, cheer more for making pie charts than they do for the candy itself.

Here’s how it all panned out this year:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.43.05 PM


Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.43.28 PM

As in years past, my more-selective daughter had less variety in her candy bag than her brother did, but for the first time, my son has more total candy than his big sister.

Here’s the trend since 2013:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 8.01.12 PM

Perhaps my son’s hands are closer in size to his sister’s this year, or maybe he’s less inhibited about displaying gluttony, or maybe people just like six-year-old sharks more than they do ten-year-old ninjas.

It’s also possible that our daughter’s relatively small haul is a reflection of her waning interest in trick-or-treating. As she said as I was tying the old t-shirt around her mouth and nose as part of her ninja costume, “I’m looking forward to trick-or-treating, but I’m just calm, not excited like I was last year.”

Then she added, once again proving that she’s my daughter: “And that’s good because I feel much better feeling calm than I do feeling excited. Feeling excited kind of makes my tummy hurt.”

Whether you like feeling excited or you prefer to feel calm, I hope your Halloween is as sweet as you’d like it to be!

Halloween Pie

1984. My sister was a tree. She had a nest and birds on her head, too.
1984. My sister was a tree. She had a nest and birds on her head, too.

When I was a kid, the month of October sounded like the whir of the sewing machine as my mother made Halloween costumes for all three of us kids. Not content to follow a pattern, my mom designed and made our costumes from scratch. In kindergarten, I was a butterfly with four-foot-wide foam-filled, hand-painted wings. Read More

ROW80: Halloween Check-in, Library Love, and Indigo Girls

I love library days (usually Wednesdays in our house). The kids and I trek to the library, pick up bags of books, and trek home. Used to be, we’d walk to the library every week. Now that it’s gotten rainier and our book bags have gotten too heavy for the under-basket of the stroller, we’ve been driving. The drive home is the best. The kids are too engrossed in their newly acquired books to care that their mother is behind the wheel in tears belting out Indigo Girls lyrics along with the radio (thank heaven for college radio stations, too).

Tidbit about me: Indigo Girls is the only band I’ve ever seen perform live twice. I stopped listening to them for several years because I was belting out their songs 15 years ago  just before I got a stomach bug and female voices harmonizing over acoustic guitars has made me a little queasy ever since. But then “Least Complicated” came on the radio today, and I didn’t feel ill at all, just flooded with pleasant memories of trying to harmonize with my college roommate in our dorm room or screaming out lyrics at choir parties. So, it looks like the kids get to listen to Indigo Girls!

Today is extra special because there’s the promise of an after-dark walk through the neighborhood with a kangaroo and a firefighter to collect junk food from our neighbors. I’m trying not to ruin the excitement by thinking too deeply about the six pounds of non-fair-trade chocolate I bought to hand out to the ghouls and Buzz Lightyears who come to our door tonight.

Of course, today is triply special. Not only is it Library Day and Halloween, it’s ROW80 Midweek Check-in! I am ecstatic to report that I have written every night so far this week, even Hurricane Night. I don’t know if it’s writing every night that’s put me in a fantastic mood or if the positive mood is what’s gotten me to write every night. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. It’s quite possible the fabulous mood is due at least in part to the anxiety that preceded the hurricane and the relief that came after when we were left relatively unscathed. There seems to be a feeling of celebration throughout our little city, but whether that’s just in my head or because of the hurricane or Halloween or two days off school or some combination, I am not sure.

Happy Halloween!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Hidden

This is my photographic response to this week’s photo challenge by The Daily Post. I like taking photos, especially for this type of challenge. I find it leads me to see the world differently. And seeing the world differently is something I always find enriching.

Kids’ Halloween Party (10/28/11)

Hidden Backyard 1 (10/30/11)

Hidden Backyard 2 (10/30/11)

Martha Stewart is no Friend of Mine

I don’t know if it’s country-wide, but in our neck of the woods, trick-or-treating happens on the 30th when the 31st falls on a Sunday. My Halloween experiences have given me a sneak peak of what I’m likely to experience throughout this fall and winter holiday season. And unless I can change my outlook, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve recognized for a number of years that I can’t reasonably accomplish all of the things I ideally would like to in relation to holidays. Since I’ve never been quite willing to give up my desire for perfection, however, I generally compromise by doing a half-assed job while feeling as tense and acting as irate as I would were I actually attempting to achieve perfection.

The past couple of years, we’ve gone trick-or-treating with our friends in their neighborhood. This year, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we’re on our own. Now that my daughter is old enough to remember Halloweens past and compare those with this year, I felt extra pressure to make this Halloween special for her. I’ve sought out every event involving costumes I could find, and we’ve been attending Halloween-related activities since the 21st. As a result, I’ve been burned out on Halloween for a week already and it’s not even officially here yet. And my daughter seems totally content with whatever we end up doing. Trick-or-treating? Great! Staying home and giving candy out to the kids who come to our door? Great!

I’m really at a loss as to how to reconcile my desire for traditional holidays (with things like decorations and special foods and gift wrap) with my desire for holidays that don’t involve my daughter very patiently explaining to my husband that Mommy tries not to yell, but that sometimes she does anyway. (“When she yells, I just cry and ask her for huggles. Sometimes she just says bad words without yelling. I think when she yells, she’s teaching me to yell.”)

Do I lower my standards even further, which would reduce our celebration of holidays to little more than a “Happy [insert holiday name here]!”? I would love to hire someone to do the decorating and planning while I just relax and concentrate on not criticizing the people I’ve hired for not doing things the way I would were I perfect. I don’t really see how I can do any celebrating at all while at the same time letting go of the perfectionist part of me.

I guess the nice part is that I’m thinking about this already and it’s just Halloween. This gives me hope for figuring something out by the time New Year’s rolls around.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we did:


Our Jack-o-Lanterns. Somehow I ended up carving them all myself (although I only chose the design for one). I let go of my desire for the perfect photo and let my husband take the picture while I made dinner.

This is the only reason I carve pumpkins at all.