Ghosts of Halloween past

It’s almost October, which means that we’re preparing to kick off some serious Halloween costume crafting. Back in late August, Jonah really wanted me to buy “spooky stuff” for the house, but it felt way too early even if we did put it all away till October. Then September raced by, and suddenly I realized that I only have five weekends till Halloween and I need to get cracking. Even though I’ve had a theme in mind for the kids’ costumes since March, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about the costumes we’ve done in the past, as well as some sources of inspiration.

I’ve mentioned before that Halloween was big in our house growing up. I grew up in a spectacular trick-or-treating neighborhood where, even now, folks say that you can easily hand out 700 pieces of candy by 6:30 p.m. My mom always made costumes for me and my sister, and my dad always took us around the neighborhood while my mom stayed back to keep the porch light on for the other trick-or-treaters. I don’t have vivid memories of my mom working on the costumes, but now that I do it for our kids I can only imagine that hours of work that she must have put in. My mom has a much more low-stress approach to crafts than I do (plus she’s crazy talented), so last year I loved being able to work on costumes with her at night (since we were living in their house).

Last year we did Octonauts, because the kids were all really into the show. I won’t elaborate on it because that one has its own post, but I wasn’t blogging in the years before that so I’ll share a few highlights from other Halloweens.

The previous year, Jonah set the theme by asking to be a John Deere tractor. I wasn’t really going to try to make him blend in with the equipment, so instead I sort of made him a tractor driver, or a farmer if you will. That led us naturally into a farm theme, so I made Jude a scarecrow and Vivi a chicken (a rooster, I suppose is more accurate).


I didn’t document the process for any of these, but for the most part they were all pretty simple. Not quick, but simple. While it’s hard to tell from the photo, Jude’s overalls had patches sewn onto them, with straw sticking out from a number of places. I made his hat from burlap and twine, put him in a flannel shirt and called it a day. Vivi got a TON of attention while we trick-or-treated. Her costume was actually just a feather boa loosely tacked around a white long-sleeved bodysuit, orange leggings, and some baby shoes hot glued inside kitchen gloves. My mom helped us to make her little hat with the comb on top. Jonah had a diaper box painted in John Deere colors (no, I didn’t pull any Pantone or RGB codes, but I chose as closely as I could from memory), with reflective tape for headlights and tail lights. He seemed pretty pleased with the result.

The farm was actually our second year of diaper box costumes, since the previous year Jonah wanted to be a bulldozer (once again, I went for “bulldozer driver/construction worker”).


I was pretty happy with the way this one turned out, especially since it was my first box costume. The bummer was that when it came time for trick-or-treating, he wouldn’t wear it. I carried it the entire time we were out. He only stepped inside once towards the end of the night to let me take a picture.


The year before that was Jonah’s first Halloween. He was eleven months old and had just begun walking, but was still in that in-between place where crawling was much quicker. He was also too young to choose his costume, so I made him an octopus.



I spent many an evening sewing buttons onto tights, and while he was too young to trick-or-treat, we did spend the evening with friends and I was proud of my efforts.

There are so many extraordinary costumes out there, and while none of mine have ever come close to that level of artistry or originality, there’s something important to me in the process of making them. Earlier this week I was actually looking up something Christmas-related and went back to a blog that was probably the thing that made me dream of blogging someday. While it doesn’t appear to be operational any longer, Sweet Juniper was one of the first blogs about parenting that I read hungrily, many years before I ever had children of my own. It was also a blog about Detroit, and a family that moved there from San Francisco, so while we were still firmly planted in New York it was a welcome glimpse of what it might be like to move away from a big city on the coast back to the Midwest of our youth. But maybe most of all it was a source of inspiration for the kind of parent I could only dream of being someday. It was written by a stay-at-home dad who created the most magical childhood for his daughter and son through exploration, endless curiosity, and a willingness to build or craft just about anything you can imagine. They were the kind of family that made all of their Christmas presents by hand (for real), so naturally their Halloween costumes were outstanding.

I hadn’t given much thought to Sweet Juniper in quite a long time, but as I poked around on it this week I realized what gratitude I owe that father for sharing his parenting adventures with the world. Even before becoming a mom I knew that creativity at that level was probably not in the cards for me, but I do have to say that parenthood has brought out my willingness to try, and to end up with something imperfect and maybe unimpressive, but to still feel great pride that I gave it a go.

This weekend Jonah and I have a date planned to shop for Halloween costume supplies, and he tells me that he’s going to help me this year. I’d worried that I hadn’t chosen costumes that are interesting or unique enough, but now I feel like maybe it’s the perfect year to let Jonah have some control of the process. Too often I’ve let perfectionism get in the way, but maybe what matters most is letting the kids see how much fun creation can be, no matter what we end up with.

The first weekend of “fall”

It’s been at least 90 degrees every day for the past week or so, which is ridiculous since the fall equinox was on Friday. Normally I love spending a good portion of our weekends outdoors, but the weather has been so unpleasant that I went into this weekend feeling a little bit grumpy because nothing sounded like much fun and we didn’t have a plan. I also knew that my 20th high school reunion was on Saturday night, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. I was determined to make some family magic happen somehow because I needed to balance out what might be an awkward Saturday night.

Although Kristin was less than enthusiastic about baking in the sun, I dragged everyone to the beach on Saturday morning. Although I have no photos, we had a really wonderful time. We swam, we played in the sand while sitting at the water’s edge, we took the kids to a great playground, and then we headed back home to get ready for the evening. My reunion was actually more fun than I’d anticipated, but Jonah was up really late while we were gone, so we knew that we ought not make Sunday too busy. We did, however, manage to make it to the Fall Fest at the Nature Center (which, again, ninety degrees). We only caught the last hour, but it was a pretty hour and given the weather it was uncrowded. I managed to snap a few beautiful photos of the kids exploring.









As we left (a little past closing time), I asked a staff member about a couple of terra cotta pots of cherry tomatoes that were sitting on a workbench by the entrance. “Take them,” he said, which thrilled Jude and Vivi because they pick those from the garden at school and the neighbor’s house across the street every chance they get. Then he gave the kids a golf cart ride to the parking lot just because. Jude and Vivi ate tomatoes the whole ride home.


I don’t know why I get so worried about not squeezing enough quality time and joy into our weekends. I guess the time just goes by so quickly and I see the kids growing faster than I can believe. Somehow though, most weekends at least, it all works out better than I could have imagined.

A snapshot from school

The teachers at the kids’ preschool take a lot of photos throughout the day, and they post them on Shutterfly for parents to view with a login. Last year I clicked through them periodically and asked Jonah who everyone was and what was going on in each one, but there were so many and most were unremarkable, so most of the time I didn’t even bother. This year they’ve started tagging kids in them, however, which is a lot more efficient. Yesterday I got an email that our kids had been tagged in photos, and when I clicked through I found such a wonderful image. It captured everything that I love about our school and made me so happy that we decided to keep them there this year, despite the cost.

Our preschool operates on a modified Montessori model, which we love, but what we love most is the outdoor space. The kids have tremendous freedom to explore and create and get dirty and take reasonable risks. I find the idea of forest preschools and even eccentric playgrounds like this one somewhat inspiring, and while nothing quite that edgy exists around here (to my knowledge) the freedom of the outdoor play at our preschool is largely why we chose it.

Back to the photo; I won’t share it here because it has other kids in it and I don’t have permission, so I’ll do my best to describe it. It was taken in a corner of the play yard where there’s a teepee like structure made of big tree branches, and a pile of old tires and logs sits off to the side. Jonah has his back to the camera, and taped to his back with masking tape encircling his middle is an upside-down Club crackers box. You can see that he’s talking to two boys, pointing to them and perhaps giving directions. They appear to be listening intently, and one is giving Jonah a thumbs-up sign. Both of the other boys also have masking tape wrapped around their middles with cardboard boxes attached to their backs. On the ground in the center of the three boys is a wooden plank, with one end slightly higher than the other. On the low end is a pile of what appears to be action figures of some sort. There’s no teacher in the photo, no one directing or cautioning them in any way. The teacher who shared it captioned the photo with the following:

“We are going to take turns. I am going to go first, then you are going to go, then you are going to go last, then I am going to go again, then you are going to go, and then you again, and yeah, that’s what we’ll do” -Jonah

I couldn’t stop smiling. I replied to the teacher and told her that I was dying to know what was going on, and she told me that they’d made a catapult out of the plank and a log, and were taking turns jumping on the end to launch the rescue heroes into the air. Jonah’s teacher told me later that she had to fish one out of a tree at some point. When I showed the photo to K later and mentioned the boxes taped to their backs, she said without any hesitation, “those are jet packs.” Obviously.

This is exactly the kind of raw, imaginative fun that I want them to have opportunities to engage with. There is so much about their every day that I’ll never know anything about; most of those details are lost, and by the time they come home they don’t volunteer very much when we ask what made them happy that day. It made my day to see this moment captured. It also made me sad when I started to think about Jonah starting public school next fall and all of this magic disappearing. I don’t have a solution yet, but I know that there must be a way for us to supplement what they’re doing in public school with more opportunities for creativity and risk-taking and getting out into nature, because this kind of magic can’t end in kindergarten.

Animal lovers

We found out on Friday that there was going to be a neighborhood picnic this evening just a block and a half from our house. One of the two churches that flank the elementary school hosted it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Families were asked to bring a dessert to pass, so earlier in the afternoon the kids and I picked apples in the backyard, and after their nap I made an apple crisp. Jonah is always eager to help bake treats, and I loved watching him help today because the light in the kitchen was just right and I’m loving his long hair these days.




We walked over to the picnic and the kids immediately went into a fun-scatter. I ended up separated from Jude and Kristin for awhile, so sadly I have no good photos of Jude with the animals. I did hand him a chicken at one point, but he got a little scared and wasn’t into it. Vivi and Jonah were the animal whisperers, however. I feel like the handlers kept handing critters to V, maybe because she’s tiny and that’s funny and adorable and also because it was clear how much she loved it.





I love this one (below) because she’s clearly talking to that tortoise.



And Jonah would have sat with that bunny in his lap all night long. He was in love.


We saw a couple of the kids’ preschool friends, and while many of our friends nearby didn’t make it, we made some potential new friends after being introduced by an acquaintance, so that was a lovely bonus.  I really love our neighborhood and events like this are such a nice surprise.

Summer’s last hurrah

We’re three days into the school year and the weather already seems to have shifted completely into fall mode. For a lot of people, September 1st is a time for celebrating permission to break out the fall tchotchkes and begin wearing boots and sweaters, but every time the seasons change it’s as if I’ve forgotten how to get dressed. I always end up floundering as I ask myself what on earth I wore the last time the weather was like this. So far this week I’ve managed to lay out out all of the kids’ outfits before I go to bed, but we’ll see how long I’m able to keep that up. I failed to do any back-to-school shopping for any of them, and so far we’re cobbling things together from their summer wardrobes, but the 50 degree mornings are calling for a bit more already. There is a giant pile of clean, unfolded laundry taking over our living room, and both K and I already feel way too exhausted to deal with it. A day or two ago I suddenly realized that we’ve been in our house for almost a year and there are home projects that we started last October that haven’t moved at all, and I was suddenly overcome with the urge to finish the trim, and paint and reinstall the fireplace doors before we reach that one-year mark. The start of the school year probably shouldn’t feel like such a dramatic change, but for some reason it does.

This week’s early mornings definitely have something to do with how I’m feeling, but so does our jam-packed Labor Day weekend. My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew came to town from Charleston, wrapping up a summer of wonderful visits from friends from all over. When we lived in New York we were frequent guests but only very occasional hosts. We just never felt as if we had the space to host a proper get-together, and we had lots of guilt about how unbalanced it felt to take advantage of friends’ homes so often and rarely give back. We always dreamed of having more space to spread out and make friends feel at home on our turf, and this summer we’ve finally been able to do that a bit. We’ve had friends visit from New York, Seattle, Detroit, Oakland, and now Charleston.

My sister is nothing if not a planner, and as a result we managed to squeeze a huge amount of activity into a long weekend. By the time K and I climbed into bed on Monday night Kristin said, “I feel like no one sat down for four days.” We were worn out, but it was an awfully good time.















My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the end of July, and since my sister and her family were planning to come to town anyway, she suggested that we throw a small surprise celebration. We invited some close family and friends nearby and Kristin and I were thrilled to finally be able to host. The funny part was that just days beforehand, my mom suddenly approached me with the idea of having a BBQ with all of those same people, and wouldn’t it be more convenient to have it at our house rather than theirs? Naturally we agreed to host, and lots of amusing back and forth ensued between my sister and I as we re-planned a BBQ that had already been planned, this time with my mom coordinating the menu and the guest list. The night before, one of our family friends accidentally ruined the surprise, but it worked out for the best because my dad ended up bringing along the actual banner from their wedding (who knows where it was all these years) and taping it up on our garage. It made everything feel more complete, and the evening was lovely.






On Monday, we squeezed in one more family outing before everyone headed to the airport.



Version 2





Last year when they visited we somehow managed to get such a cute photo of all of the cousins together (and believe me, we have some hilarious doozies from attempts in the past) but this was the best we could do this year. I still love it for its imperfection and chaos. When we’re all together it’s never quiet or still, but it’s full of love and lots of happy.