Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Para Abnormal

Just in time for the haunting season!

For those with a like-minded (ie: depraved) sense of humor, I direct you to a web comic by Dave Lowe:


Some lame, some hilarious... all weird!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Aches & Pains of Progress

What a weekend! My beautiful, patient, generous, and loving wife (did I mention she's beautiful?) allowed me a full weekend to work on Halloween stuff, so I got a lot done on Saturday and Sunday. We took the kids to our local homecoming football game Friday night, otherwise I would have been working on Halloween projects that night as well! I am sore as all get out today from climbing ladders and crawling around on my hands and knees (plus I evidently tweaked my right ankle at some point because it is real sore and stiff today), but such is the sacrifice one must make when spookifying one's house.

I got a good start on the garage haunt, even though there were some setbacks. It may not turn out exactly as I envisioned, but it should be pretty cool for the little ones to see, and trick-or-treaters to check out on Halloween night. I would say I'm about 40% done with it already, and the hardest part - building the walls - is nearly complete. There is more construction on props to be done, and I'm not sure where to go with that. The key is not to invest any money if at all possible, so I hate to have to go buy material at Home Depot. There is a house being constructed down the street, which is where I snatched the throwaway foam core for my four new tombstones, so I might have to take a walk down there and see what they have in their trash bin.

With the 'help' of my daughter, we got the Halloween fence up on Sunday afternoon. We actually worked well into the night doing touch-ups and last-minute quick fixes. It's not perfect by any means - I never did find the finials I was looking for and I refuse to spend $6.99 for a two-pack when I need a dozen of them! So I cannibalized a pack of skull Halloween lights and put those on top of the posts. They're only held on by velcro and I'm not sure how that will stand up to the elements, but we shall see.

On Sunday we also made our annual visit to Seakapp's Orchard to pick up some giant pumpkins and yummy caramel apples. The kids didn't exactly cooperate (our daughter made a friend and wanted to play in the hay-bale maze, and our son is a teething one-year-old), but overall it was an enjoyable day out. The weather was beautiful and we did manage to snap a few pictures while the kids were still in frame for two seconds. Related to that, apparently late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, our 12-foot-tall scarecrow 'Pumpkin Jack' made a jaunt over to the farmer's cornfield which is about a quarter of a mile from our house. He left a nice stack of cornstalks on our front stoop. My daughter claims to have heard him in the night, but I didn't hear a thing...

More updates and pictures coming soon. Only 31 more days!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Progress Report

Well it's been awhile since I've had any kind of Halloween home-haunt progress report here, so I figured I'd better spill about what I've been up to lately. The main thing is that the invites are finally finished and are ready to be shipped out with our annual Halloween poem on Monday or Tuesday (after all the envelopes are addressed and stamped, of course...) Work on the inside of the house has kind of screeched to a halt. The reason for this is that my wife runs a daycare out of our home, so many of the decorations that aren't exactly 'kid friendly' are still boxed up.

On the outside of our home, work will begin on setting up the new cemetery fence this weekend. I still need to get some kind of topper for the fence-posts, finials or skulls or something, and attach them and paint them, but otherwise that project is a go. I kept my hay bail from last year, so I will dig that out of the shed, and, under light of the moon, sneak off across the field and cut a bunch of stalks out of the farmer's cornfield (now if that kind of mischief isn't in the true spirit of Halloween, I don't know what is!)

After much deliberation, I have finally decided upon a plan for the actual haunt. In year's past, I've always done something in my crawlspace in our basement. However, since that is now jam-packed with stuff that no longer resides upstairs (read: daycare) there is no room to do that this year. I have always wanted to do a garage haunt. The trouble is, there is only me, myself, and I to operate it come Halloween night. So it took a lot of thinking to devise a haunt that is pretty much self sufficient. Even though it will be quite small, it will require a lot of work out in the garage. I have a feeling there will be some late nights over the next three weeks...

In other news, we had a patio poured at the bottom of our deck. If the weather cooperates, we'd like to move some of our party outside this year. We've been very lucky in years past, and really have only had to battle with extreme cold some years and gusting wind in others. We have yet to be rained on (or snowed upon!) but I'm knocking on wood as I type this. It looks to be a busy weekend - I still have to piece together my costume and get that ready to roll. I haven't even had time to figure out just how I'm going to pull it off, but I'm hoping inspiration will strike as I get into full Halloween mode. My beautiful wife won't tell me what she is planning on being for the party! I have no idea - and I love it!

Have you figured out what you're going to be for Halloween this year?

What? You know there are only 35 days left, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

So the animated Star Wars movie ‘The Clone Wars’ has come and gone (for those who remember, I reviewed it at the newspaper I work at and gave it a paltry one star rating). What I anticipated to be a summer’s worth of repeat viewings on the big screen for my daughter and me only turned into two viewings of this very poor movie. Even die-hard Star Wars fans can agree that creator George Lucas seems to have sucked the life out of his once-revered franchise.

After the first time that we saw The Clone Wars, my daughter looked up at me and said: “Dad, can we go home and watch the real Star Wars?” I had to admit that I agreed with her. As much as I wanted to like this movie, nothing can ever compare to the scope and grandeur of the original (except for maybe The Empire Strikes Back, of course). So now our Summer of Star Wars has come and gone. Even our computer room, which had been converted into the archive of my massive Star Wars toy collection - which my daughter lovingly refers to as ‘The Star Wars Room’ - has begun to be dismantled. As my wife’s daycare business slowly takes over the entire upper floor of our house, it is time to face reality. While it was nice having my Jedi and Sith stuff displayed for a short while, our kids do need a place to sleep!

So the posters have come down and the toys are being gingerly tucked away back into their Rubbermaids. It’s a solemn process. I know that it’s not likely these toys will see the light of day for many years to come, and the look on my daughter’s face as the room is cleared out simply breaks my heart. But we will always remember our Summer of Star Wars – or at least I will. The spectacle of seeing the original for the very first time will fade like an old photograph, but interest in the fate of the Jedi will renew each year as she is allowed to watch another installment (next year it’s my favorite: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back!)

In the meantime, we’ll continue watching the original now and again, and I’ll smile each time I kiss her goodnight and tell her I love her and she responds with: “May the Force be with you.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Music They Make...

When it comes to music for the home haunting crowd, there is one name that stands above the rest: Midnight Syndicate. For those who've never heard of these guys, Midnight Syndicate produces gothic, atmospheric music for the Halloween season, although, I must admit, I tend to listen to them all year round when the mood hits me.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently picked up their latest release 'The Dead Matter.' While it is not their greatest work, it still stands decapitated head and shoulders above most of the other Halloween soundracks out there. These guys are clearly influenced by the work of John Carpenter (particularly his scores for the original versions of 'Halloween' and 'The Fog'), as well as Bernard Herrman ('Psycho' and many other Alfred Hitchcock films), and John Williams ('Jaws' and too many more to count). They make great use of sound effects interwoven with creepy music, all setting a scene and often telling a narrative, such as their masterpiece - and my favorite - 'The 13th Hour.'

If you're looking for spooky music to play on Halloween night, or want to give a unique gift at your Halloween party this year, you can't go wrong picking up a cd by Midnight Syndicate. I know I'm talking like I own stock in the company or something, but they really are that good. Take a listen for yourself and you be the judge...


They have re-released many of their older titles this year (I'm hoping to pick up a couple more before the season is over) and they can be found at most Party Stores, Party Americas, and Halloween Express. While they aren't in retail outlets like Target or WalMart, I have seen 'The 13th Hour' at Hot Topic. You can also order off their website.

So ends today's infomercial.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Prop A Day Keeps the Devil Away...

So I'm slowly finding time to chip away at a few props here and there. The four new gravestones received their final coating of polyurethane last night, and are only missing a layer of decorative moss on top before they are complete. I can't tell you how important it is to have new graves for this year. My old ones are a mixture of store-bought gravestones and homemade stones from the days when I didn't know what I was doing. I'm very pleased with the four new ones for this year – they look realistic, which is important to serious home haunters, are protected against the elements (we get a lot of rain in October in MN for whatever reason, so my older stones are really showing their age...), and they have that personal touch that make them uniquely mine. No graveyard puns, play on words, or silly sayings here. I used to go for that stuff a decade ago, but now I cringe whenever I see graves out in people's yards that say: "I.B. Dead," and "I Told You I Was Sick," and "Berry Alive."

Last night I also dug out our costume box and dug around in that for awhile. I'm looking for various items that can be used toward my costume this year. Since my costume has been, for the most part, homemade every year, I try to use what I have on hand while still showing up on the day of the party with a killer costume. I'm real excited about this year's costume, but there are still quite a few logistics to work out. If only I had more time! When people ask why we start putting up our Halloween stuff in mid-September - well, this is why! With two kids and a daycare, plus other commitments on the weekend that always seem to pop up out of nowhere, there is never enough time in the month of October to get it all done. In fact, I'm usually a lot further along with my costume by now... gasp! Oh well, such is the life of a home haunter.

But back to the costume. The lone prop I've purchased ($13.99 at Halloween Express, I found the exact same thing for $6.99 at Target!) has been given a very light coating of black spray paint. The colors were just too bold and screamed "fake plastic prop!" So I toned it down a little and will be hot-gluing some accents onto it this weekend. I'm hoping to gain some ground on the costume now, because planning for the party is always intense. When you throw a soon-to-be five year old with boundless energy and a crabby, teething one year old into the mix it's amazing that we get anything done at all.

But, this is what it's all about for me. The craziness, the urgency, and the panic are all worth it when the day of the party finally arrives and guests start walking in the door. Besides, my little girl is pretty good inspiration to keep her daddy motivated. The bonus is getting to do it over again (outside this time) two weeks later on Halloween!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Missy!

Today is my lovely wife's birthday – and I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world to have such a gorgeous and funny person to spend my life with. She puts up with an awful lot, and not just my passion for Halloween. I know I can be a stubborn mule sometimes, but she still finds a way to make me laugh every day; and that, folks, is priceless.

Since her birthday is on a Monday, we celebrated a day early. After nap time we dropped the kids off at the sitters (hats off to the Aguados!) had a pleasant (and quiet!) lunch at Timberlodge, and spent a wonderful day trekking all over Rochester scouring the stores for Halloween goodies. We didn't really buy much, but saw a lot of neat knick-knacks and 'someday' items. I was lucky enough to pick up the new Midnight Syndicate cd (more on that in a future blog post), as well as a killer prop for my still-secret costume, and a few little Halloween doo-dads at the Dollar Tree.

The rest of the weekend was spent pulling out our massive supply of Halloween props and decorations (my wife's birthday is the official 'start date' for Halloween at our house). We put up quite a few decorations upstairs, but the basement still looks like a bomb went off in a Halloween warehouse. I also got some quality time out in the garage where I nearly completed four new tombstones. All of them need a coat of polyurethane as well as a layer of decorative moss glued on (and the last one still needs the name and date Dremeled on), but otherwise that is one huge project in the can.

Not sure what is in store for tonight, as it's our daughter's first night of dance, but hopefully I can get out to the garage and finish up those tombstones, as my wife's folks will be coming up next weekend, so there won't be much time for home haunting. Anyway – happy birthday, sweetie! I love you very much – thanks for putting up with me!

P.S. I added a couple fun things to the 'misc' section of my site done by my nephew, Drew, from a few years back. If you have my site bookmarked, you will probably need to refresh the page to make them appear. Be sure to check them out!

P.P.S. The Pumpkin Spice cappicino from Caribou Coffee is too rich to finish, but ohhhh so good...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Nose To The Grindstone

What a weekend! The past two days have been a whirlwind of activity; I got more Halloween related projects done in the last 48 hours than the past two months combined. Here is a partial list of things that were accomplished:

1. Graveyard fence posts have been spray painted black.
2. Halloween Poems are 90% completed - a huge job that involved folding, tying, writing, and more.
3. Soffit and area above the kitchen cabinets have been cleaned and partially decorated - kudos to my wife for this!
4. Garage has been picked up and swept.
5. Found more blue foam core while on a walk - my kids held onto it in the wagon while I pulled it home - they were confused but excited to help.
6. Printed out name/date stencils for blue foam core, exacto-ed them and Dremeled three out of four of them.
7. Gave all the new gravestones a coat of primer.

All of this on top of following along on the internet as Iowa State whupped up on Kent State, watching 'Frankenweenie' with my daughter, battling the crowds at Mantorville's Marigold Days (for lunch on Saturday and a parade on Sunday), having a bonfire Saturday night - brrr! - mowing the lawn, doing dishes and laundry and other various household chores here and there, as well as poopy diapers, etc. It was a great weekend - the kind that I live for, and boy was it nice to crack open a cold Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale as a reward for all the hard work.

Only 53 days left until Halloween (40 until the party!) and the clock is ticking...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Man's Trash...

Is another man's treasure! Driving to work the other morning on trash pick-up day, I happened to notice someone had thrown out a hunk of pink foam core. An idea for a new tombstone flashed through my head! Unfortunately, I didn't see the foam core until after I had passed, and, as I was running late for work, I resigned myself to missing a great home haunt opportunity.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, on coming around the corner on my way back from work I should happen to see the exact same piece of foam core out in the street! Not letting another opportunity pass me by (or me passing by it, rather) I stopped the car and picked up my future gravestone. The foam core was broken in one corner, but I think that will add to the overall effect, and I'm looking forward to digging out my Dremel and getting to work.

Also on the same day I was on a walk over my lunch break at work and happened to spy a length of one-inch thick rope sticking out of someone's garbage can. Thinking I had found another great Halloween prop, I started pulling on the rope - ready to wind it around my shoulder and carry it home. Little did I know that this guy was throwing away about a hundred feet of rope. After about the first ten feet I opened up the lid to the garbage can and saw how much rope was left to come. After a quick glance around the neighborhood to see if anyone spied my folly, I hurried on back to work.

Personally, I think that found items can make the best Halloween props, and I'm always on the lookout for anything that can be made into tombstones, graveyard signs, or anything else Halloween related. As the saying goes: "One man's trash is another man's treasure!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

59 Days & Counting...

Where does the time go? We are officially under two months before the big day (and less before our annual Halloween/Birthday party). 59 days and counting! There is so much to do before then, but I actually feel like we have a pretty good handle on things at this point - my only concern being the state of the poems and invites. The poem is done, and its construction is a simple matter that only requires the most basic of supplies - thirty+ of them can be whipped out in an afternoon. The invite, on the other hand, hasn't even been conceived yet, much less constructed. There's a lot to do on that front, but, as always, I have complete confidence in my wife and know that they will be done on time and look amazing as usual.

Finally some good news on the graveyard fence (a picture of the old fence can be seen above - held together by electrical and duct tape - not one nail or screw used!) I sent a load of 2x4's to Iowa with my in-laws a week ago, and over the Labor Day holiday I was able to convince my father-in-law to halve them for me, sharpen one end into a point, and drill a hole into the opposite end for which to run a length of black chain through. There are 19 posts total (I may attempt to make more if I can find any scrap 1x2's laying around a nearby construction site), and there is not much left to do with them before they are ready to go. I have to give each a coat of black spray paint - I also am considering giving each a coat of polyurethane to protect them from the elements - drill a small hole into the top of each one for a spindle (which I still have to buy), and attach said spindles, which obviously can't be done until the posts have been pounded into the ground. I'm relieved that this part of the process is done, so now I can move on to other things.

One final note. My lovely wife surprised me this weekend with a 6-pack of Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, and it was like drinking Halloween from a bottle! I was actually kind of amazed that it is an Anheuser-Busch product, to be honest. The initial taste is very subtle, and it's not until the aftertaste hits that you really notice the pumpkin-y flavor (the spices, I assume, would be cinnamon and maybe nutmeg?) I don't care for very over-powering brews that hit you over the head with their taste, so this was just right for my peculiar palate. I would recommend it to anyone, even knowing it's an AB product - king of the bland beers. Hopefully, as the weeks progress, I will get to sample a wider variety of seasonal beers and ales and maybe find one that can match up to Jack's Pumpkin Spice.