Halloween 2022: Descendants (and a sorcerer)

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written anything here. I don’t have a good excuse, except that we listened to a podcast that dug into the reality that not getting enough sleep will kill you and I started going to bed a whole lot earlier. I used to stay up and write until midnight; now I go to bed when the kids go to bed.

There’s been no shortage of photo documentation of our days, but a whole year of things has passed without me writing about it. I’m going to give myself some grace and start here, at Halloween, and see where things go.

Vivienne pointed out that she’s often the first of us to decide what she wants to be for Halloween, and I do think she’s right about that. She’s been responsible for setting the theme the last few years. To be clear, I don’t insist on or even really push for a family theme; I know how improbable that is with such a wide variety of interests and I want Halloween to be what the kids want it to be. But we’ve gotten lucky the past couple of years and it worked out again this year. Well, OK, to be honest Jude is never on theme, but sometimes he’s close enough that I can pretend he’s on theme. Two years ago we all did Neverending Story and he wanted to be an Earth Giant from Frozen 2, but that was awfully close to the Rock Biter, and last year we all did Harry Potter and he wanted to be a made up spider by the name of “Lightning Spider” but it was easy to pretend he was Aragog. This year all I can say is, “Surely there’s some sort of invisible sorcerer on the Isle of the Lost, right?”

Vivienne wanted to be Mal from Descendants. I hadn’t seen any of the movies and when I looked the character up I immediately thought, “there’s no way I can make that better or for less, so let’s just buy the costume.” I hate the idea of just buying the costume, but it was what she wanted to be. But then Jonah said that if Vivienne was being Mal, maybe he’d be Jay. It turns out you can’t buy a Jay costume, so now I had to think about how to make one. As I brainstormed this it occurred to me that if two kids were being Descendants characters, maybe I should join them (I think I’d seen a movie or two by this point), and then Kristin asked who she could be, and we had a theme. I would be Uma, Kristin would be Hades, and Jude was a character of his own creation with a specific costume in mind.

I decided to search thrift stores for faux leather moto gear, and ended up finding two jackets and a vest on Poshmark. All of them were pure black to start. I learned that you can paint faux leather with basic acrylic craft paint and that you can put studs on without any special tools (with only one or two stabbed fingertips in the process). I honestly had SO MUCH FUN making these jackets.

I used a couple of different colors of green color-shift metallic paint, plus gold, and hot glued beads onto my Uma jacket to create the textured sequin look on hers. It was time consuming, but surprisingly meditative.

All of the pieces were a little imperfect (the Uma and Hades jackets actually both arrived falling apart, chunks falling off, total garbage, but the kids said, “that’s OK, everything on the Isle is supposed to be that way!”). Realism for the win, I guess? I wasn’t totally happy with the way the yellow came out on Jonah’s Jay vest, but he loved it and that’s all that matters. Originally I had it a much closer color to the original, but he wanted it warmer and I feel like it ended up a little nacho cheese, but whatever. He also really wanted the cobra on the back, and I was not at all confident about hand painting a cobra. I couldn’t find an affordable stencil and don’t own a Cricut, so in the end I decided to make my own stencil by printing the image, putting it into a plastic page protector, tracing it with a sharpie and then using an x-acto knife to cut it out. It wasn’t perfect, but it absolutely did the trick. I touched it up after the fact and he loved it.

I did Hades last, and you might have assumed I would have been tired of all of this by now but I wasn’t; I LOVED doing this Hades jacket. The jacket we bought had no studs, and we needed it to have a lot of studs. I bought two different sizes/shapes on Amazon and it was slow going, but Vivienne and I put them on by hand. The large ones were easy, the tiny ones were a giant pain, but I was really happy with how it turned out.

After the studs were done, I got to paint the details. Lost souls, blue flames, and the words “Soul Stealer” across the back. It was tons of fun.

Jude’s costume was simple but it may have been the most challenging. For some reason I could not figure out how to make an easy hooded cape. I like sewing, but I am am amateur. We bought the morph suit, but he specifically wanted a hooded cape with stars/constellations on it. I found the perfect velvet and my mom bought a pretty purple satin lining, but when my mom came over one weekend to help me make the cape we spent HOURS searching online for a tutorial that felt reasonable. Finally my dad came over and joined the search and we eventually found a no-sew variety and merged it with something slightly more complex and pulled it together. I won’t even pretend to be able to teach you how to make a cape; this isn’t that blog post.

He also wanted the cape to be lit, and fortunately I had several strings of mini-lights in a closet. I poked holes in the fabric and wove the wires through between the cape and the lining. Unfortunately when he wore it to school on Halloween some kid stepped on the battery box and ripped it off, so on Halloween eve I had to re-string the whole thing with a new light strand in time for trick-or-treating. I added a pocket for the battery box this time.

I think that Jonah looked just like Jay, especially with his long hair.

I found moto-leggings at Goodwill and painted them the same colors as the jacket to make them more authentic (but it took about a dozen coats because acrylic paint just soaks into black fabric). I decided to add the pirate hat from Decendants 2 because I felt like it completed the character, and had fun adding gold trim and seashells and crab claws to embellish it. I also made a gold shell necklace and shell earrings because the kids insisted that I needed them.

And Hades – I think she nailed it. We had a hard time getting the wig to stay in a mohawk, but I think we got the general idea. I repurposed fabric from Jonah’s dementor costume to make a black dress/toga of sorts.

Vivi expressed a little disappointment that her costume was the only one that I didn’t make by hand, but it seemed like she felt entirely confident and excited about it by Halloween. She loved her wig, and I did end up having to do a little sewing to take in her leggings because they were way too wide. I think she looked great.

My parents and my sister said that they think this is my best year so far. There are so many costumes that I’m proud of looking back, but this year sure was a lot of fun.

Halloween 2019

I was so on top of Halloween this year. I knew that I was going to have more than usual on my plate this month (I promise to write about Pecha Kucha soon, because it was amazing), so I got an early start and finished a couple of weeks early. The weather forecast for Halloween isn’t looking good but today was gorgeous, so I told the kids that I wanted to take costume photos today just in case it’s pouring on Thursday. Continue reading

Halloween 2019: Space Men & a Mermaid


Halloween was yesterday and today I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on some of the quirky and challenging things that make me me. In particular the things that come out in high-stakes situations that I value deeply. It’s no secret that I love Halloween. It’s second only to Christmas (and when I was a child it might have actually been first). My mom poured love into every homemade costume, my dad took us trick-or-treating from block to block until late into the night (it always felt like 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. but maybe times have changed? Or maybe 8:00 feels a lot like 10:00 at the end of October when you’re a kid).  Continue reading

Hitting the creativity wall

For the last week or so I’ve felt like I was ahead of Halloween in a way that felt good. We baked cookies, I bought a few decorations (because for some reason we’ve never had any, and that suddenly felt like a problem I needed to address), I started playing the kids’ Halloween playlist on the way to school on Friday, and I was making what felt like great progress on Vivi’s costume and had a solid plan for the boys. Then tonight I realized that I needed to rip out a seam and move some things, and when I stitched the skirt together one side seemed totally off and I couldn’t figure out how to put in the elastic, so I decided to put it aside and start on Jonah’s costume, only to discover that I bought the wrong color duct tape. Suddenly I was overcome by a wave of panic and felt my confidence slipping away. Continue reading

Another Halloween in the books: Robots and Moana

It’s November 1st and I’m feeling a little bit sad because Kristin just left to spend four days in New York (the first time I’ve been with the kids alone for more than one night) and my parents are heading for Charleston for the winter first thing tomorrow morning. It feels a bit lonely, and then there’s always that slight twinge of sadness that comes after a big holiday for me. I can find things to get excited about many different times of year, but as Kristin said recently, October through December is kind of my jam.

I love Halloween; we’ve established that already, and this year I decided way back in the spring that I wanted to make robot costumes for the kids. They were really into this great show called Annedroids and I thought that it would be a really fun costume project. The first weekend of October Jonah and I went shopping for supplies, I started collecting boxes of specific sizes, and I started spray painting in the garage (which I knew would just remind me of the frustration of this project, but I just kept telling myself that the stakes were lower this time).

Almost as soon as I had the boxes painted, Vivienne announced, “I don’t like robots anymore. I like Moana now.” Despite having a killer robot voice that was part of my inspiration in the first place, she wanted to be her new idol, Moana, and was having none of this robot business. At first I thought that maybe I’d just buy her a cheap Moana costume and let her wear it to school and tell her that she still had to trick-or-treat as a robot, but the more I considered my options the less I liked that. I asked my mom (the queen of whipping things together without a map) if she thought we could make a decent Moana costume, and having only seen a single image of the character she said, “That looks easy enough.” My mom is always such a shining reminder that one way or another it will all work out, and I need that kind of energy in my life, especially when I’m DIYing.

I went to the fabric store one afternoon on my lunch hour on a mission to find the perfect fabrics. I was really pleased with what I found (after talking myself down from a $21/yard fabric that was more than a two-year-old needed for Halloween), and my mom came over that night to get started.


Meanwhile, in robot-land, I was searching for the perfect lights to make pretend buttons. I ordered these way in advance, and thank goodness I did because they took roughly a month to ship from Azerbaijan (literally) which I didn’t realize when I bought them. They turned out to be kind of cool though, so I’m glad we included them. Most of the lights, however, were these because they blinked which added a really fun element. The tricky part was that the only way to turn them on and off was to squeeze them from both sides, which meant that I couldn’t really affix them to the boxes in a permanent way. I ended up making a control panel out of a shoebox lid and zip tying only the top of it to the rest of the costume so that I could easily flip it up to turn them on. I zip tied the bottom of each light to the back of the control panel and cut holes the size of a Sacagawea dollar for each one.

A friend suggested that we ought to try to work fidget spinners into the costumes as well, which was a brilliant suggestion. They had crappy ones at the dollar store, and my dad helped by drilling a hole into the center of each one and fitting them with screws so that when affixed to the costumes, they would still spin. This was a huge hit while trick-or-treating; lots of big kids wanted to spin the spinners.

I also made each of the robots a set of rocket boosters with felt flames coming out, because why not? I saw it on Pinterest while searching for ideas and it seemed worth the extra effort. The boys were totally into it.


Late in the project I decided that Jonah ought to have a full robot head. Jude didn’t want a head covering of any kind, which was for the best anyway because I didn’t trust him not to trip and fall while trick-or-treating in the dark. I ended up just getting Jude a set of silver ball deelie boppers (that’s what we called them growing up, but I’m guessing that’s not universal?), and I think they made him look extra adorable. Jonah wanted a slinky on his robot head, so we added that along with a red light and cut out a couple of holes so that he could see and breathe easily and covered them with window screen. We ended up not attaching the head to the rest of the costume because most of the time it rested on the larger box anyway, but it also allowed him to take it off when he felt like he needed a break. I put some 2″ window A/C foam inside the box to make it fit a bit better.

For the boys’ arms and legs we used dryer vent tubing and bought the lightest weight stuff we could find (more like aluminum foil than sharp metal, but both types exist so go to the hardware store and feel it first). I zip tied the arms to the body box and made a set of suspenders out of elastic for the legs (attached to zip tie loops). Walking was a bit of a challenge, but honestly they did great once they got the hang of it (and we did a lot of hand-holding just to be sure).

Back to Moana – I didn’t feel like a midriff-baring shirt was acceptable for a two-year-old, so my mom designed a top based on another summer shirt of Vivi’s. She layered and trimmed the skirt fabric I bought to make a wrap skirt that went nicely around a cheap 12″ grass skirt I found on Amazon. We also bought the necklace on Amazon (because I suspect that making our own would have cost a lot more) and she’s worn it pretty much every day for the past three weeks, so I think we’ve gotten our money’s worth. I bought a few cowrie shells at a bead shop and we sewed them around the neckline. I bought some tropical-looking flowers at the dollar store and hot glued one onto a barrette that we already had, and I think that it made a lovely final touch.


When Vivi finally got to wear this to preschool she was probably the proudest I’ve ever seen her. Throughout the month of October we’ve been hearing from her teacher that some days she’ll only respond to the name Moana. Preschool was also the only place we let her wear this without pants and a leotard underneath (because Michigan).


We actually got incredibly lucky because it was supposed to rain on Halloween, and while it was roughly 40 degrees (or less) it was dry, and trick-or-treating was a huge success. Vivienne was chilly, but agreed to wear a cardigan and zip up hoodie (unzipped, of course) on top of her costume. The boys were pretty well bundled and the robot parts kept the wind off, so they actually seemed to fare well.



If Vivienne was the star of the preschool costume parade (if only because she spent a month getting into character), the boys were the stars of neighborhood trick-or-treating. I can’t even tell you how many kids and adults stopped us on the sidewalk to ask if they could take a photo or video. I got high-fives from parents I’d never met, and at one house Kristin walked away with a glass of wine after helping Jude up the steps. “Did my robot costumes earn you an adult beverage?” I asked. She said that they probably did.

I had to take a video once it was dark because the lights make it so much more fun. Check it out on Instagram.

It was a ton of work, but I only cried once during construction and I have absolutely no regrets about everything that went into it. It’s funny, in general I tend to be pretty pragmatic about a lot of things. I like things that are useful and practical, I don’t like spending money on things that won’t get a lot of use, I don’t do a ton of whimsy, but when it comes to Halloween all of that seems to go out the window. I spend an entire month (and always more money than I’d planned) working on something made of cardboard and glue that really isn’t built to last and that we’ll only get a few hours use from, but it always feels like the right thing to do in my mind.

One of my favorite bloggers wrote something recently that absolutely nailed it for me:

…let me also tell you that when you see stuff like this–fun parties for kids or holiday crafts and celebrations, for example–on my site or in my social media feeds, this isn’t about attempting to be a good mom. I don’t associate being a good mom with celebrations and details and parties. But I do associate being a good mom with doing things that make me happy and inviting my kids to witness my happiness and be part of it. This is more about me than my kids. Because I like creating things and celebrating parties and making space for the 10-year-old girl inside who never died. It makes me happy. And I think the best way to be a good mom is to do things that make you happy.

I think that’s really what this is for me. I do this for me, because for reasons I can’t entirely explain (tradition, I guess?) this is ridiculously important to me and I love doing it. The kids would happily wear store-bought costumes, but that wouldn’t be any fun for me.

The other night we drove by the elementary school where they seemed to be wrapping up a school Halloween party, and I suddenly remembered that my parents used to put a ton of work into our elementary school haunted house when I was a kid. My dad was Dracula in it, and a few other neighborhood parents who were like family to me were in it too. I went through that damn thing SO many times, giggling every time I spotted a family member or friend in costume. I’m sure no one strong-armed my parents into doing that stuff, they just loved doing it, and I remember it and it brings me so much joy even now. My mom pointed out that we now have a tradition three-years running of she and I collaborating on the kids’ costumes, and I love that it’s turned out that way. It honestly wouldn’t be as much fun without her, so I’m thrilled that my parents are willing to stay in Michigan through Halloween in order to see this effort to the end.

Over dinner tonight both Jonah and Vivienne began to tell me and Gigi and Papa Doc what they want to be next year, so my parents and I may already be passing this tradition along to the next generation, which makes me pretty happy.