Get Real

When I was young

I grew up in that age of development when the internet began to spread its web around the wide world. In 6th grade, I spent hours online at my aunt’s house reading poetry from the earliest forms of blogs. In 7th grade, I entered chatrooms. In 8th grade, we had the internet in our domain, our home. It was not until after college that I entered the social media age, sold on the idea that Facebook would help me to stay connected with classmates students living in the state where I no longer resided.

As a stay-at-home-mother, I joined the many women who learned from each other, stayed connected and sane during the wee hours of baby soothing and cuddling with other mothers, feeling a sense of community where our in-person community was lacking.

Living our virtual life

Years passed. Now, for my age group and younger, it feels like everything is online. I, and the mothers like me, began to learn on our own that, ultimately, social media is unsatisfying. It cannot stand in for real relationships or real community support. We mothers began to look elsewhere.

If any were under the impression six months ago that virtual connection held that promise, I suspect that now, so many months later, the illusion is breaking up.

A Zoom date does not hold the same quality as an in-person day, virtual is not the same as real. We are flesh and blood and unless we can interact in the flesh, a part of us is not engaged. The connection is less than it could be. Like letter writing and telephone calls, something is missing, only it was harder to realize it in this medium.

This discovery makes for hard decisions as we continue to live this modern pandemic, socially distant lifestyle. How will we cope?

Seeing one’s friends is not nearly as superficial as it was made to sound in March. Community matters. Connection matters. What we do in-person matters.

In our communities, there have always been certain traditions. In Hughson, there are many. Most of them were postponed or canceled in the face of the then-unknown risks of Coronavirus. Over summer people began to find their way. As fall began, I observed discussions relating that some questioned what they were willing to sacrifice and what they were will to not.

“Is Halloween canceled this year?”

Canceled. A term now used as slang to mean “no longer allowed, no longer in vogue, verboten, out of commission, no longer something we will endure.”

Events can be canceled. People and traditions cannot.

In this time of continuing uncertainty (will we reopen? Will we have to wait longer? What will reopening look like?) more than ever we need to hold fast to the traditions handed on to us. They are bigger than a bag of candy out of a trunk or pictures with Santa.

Now more than ever

We need to make the choice not to be guided by the storms around us, but to find the thing that anchors us to where we are, where our home is, who we have been and who we want to become.

The traditions matter because they speak not just to what is fun, not just to the overwhelming marketing of big business in a capitalistic society, but they connect us to the generations that came before us, the generations that come after us and a culture filled with individuals celebrating likewise.

Joined together with these traditions, we sense something bigger than ourselves at work. Something real, although abstract. Something transcendent, yet as ordinary as an annual holiday.

How we observe these traditions differs. It differs between families, religions, and over the years. This year will be no exception. But the importance remains.

Celebrate.

Our Halloween Plan this Season

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

The autumnal festivities are quickly approaching

Hughson’s Truck-or-Treat event at Lebright Fields on Halloween night, the Trunk-or-Treat generally held at the Assemblies of God Church, the Harvest Festival at the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This year, we have to consider our schedule carefully as we are no longer residents within city limits. 

Halloween decor on a brick fireplace

We are planning an early dinner-snack of fruit, veggies, and possibly some homemade butternut squash soup before donning costumes. The costumes this year are simple and nearly complete. My four children will dress as Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and with the star, our youngest, Peter Rabbit. We have bunny ears leftover from Easter, khaki pants, white shirts, red capes for the older three and a blue shirt with brass buttons for Peter, hoping it fares better than it did in the Beatrix Potter classic. 

The greatest challenge to costumes for us is inspiring them to pick a theme and stick with it. We’ve had failed pumpkins in the past, a train conductor accompanying Cinderella, and a missing Macbeth because he needed to go to bed. 

Boy in Halloween Jack-o-Lantern costume

This year, everyone is on board, though I question if their ears will last the night.

Our Plan

We plan to hit the Harvest Festival for free corn dogs, chili, and games. Then haunt our old neighborhood, frightening old neighbors with how much our children have grown in the six months since we left. 

As my tolerance for sugar-drugged children is low, we are not too strategic about Trick-or-Treating. We will hold as out as long as the youngest can, and with a young, bearded version of Mr. McGregor by my side, I feel we will make great strides this year. 

After dark, when toddlers go to bed, we will build a bonfire outside and try to focus our littles on why we celebrate Halloween: that death and darkness have no power over us.

In the morning we attend mass for All Saints Day to celebrate the souls who have gone to Heaven. During the following day, All Souls’ Day (also known as “Dia de Los Muertos”) we visit the cemetery to honor and pray for our loved ones who have died.

Life is cyclical

Small black kitten on a table with wheat in pitchers just in time for Halloween

As I plan all this, we have a little black kitten prowling about our house, looking for a piece of furniture, a set of toes, or a baby blanket to attack. In the front, a tree company cuts down an 80-year-old Deodar cedar perilously close to the power lines and road. We have a daughter whose gravestone decorates St. Stanislaus Cemetery, and I feel the pulsing kicks of a 27-week old baby inside me. Our garden bed now teems with bulbs and our mulberry trees’ overgrown branches look at us ominously. All around us, there is new life and life passing away.

Photograph of tree being cut down

It is sad, but it is as it should be. There is something cyclical to all things nature. The seasons change, circling back. The earth turns. The moon waxes and wanes. We grow older and new babies arrive. 

I like this stage of life when I live with both realities. Death is real but does not crash into my world the way it did when I was 13. As parents of a child with a chronic medical condition, we live with an elevated level of risk every day. 

Yet he grows taller and more willful and wilder. 

If we isolate ourselves with only those in our circle, only those with whom our lives mirror, who are in our age group, marital status, have the same number of kids or same career responsibilities, I fear we miss something of the richness available to us.

So what do we do?

For our part, we’ll knock on strangers’ doors Thursday night, say trick-or-treat, thank you, and explain our costumes. We will drive carefully, mindful of the children dashing across the street, enjoying the independence we had as children. We will smile at parents hanging back on the sidewalk because we are not ready to let our littles loose (because of that whole “dashing” risk). Halloween is not a spiritual event for everyone but it is a community event, a valuable event, and an event I wouldn’t want to miss.

Children sitting on a felled cedar log

Halloween Decor

I love a good mantle change. Once Miriam’s birthday passed, it was time to move into a more macabre motus.

Budget decorating: photographs I took and edited of a creepy house, almond wood cut from my parent’s trees and a couple gourds. It is a lost-in-the-woods sort-of motif.

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We used to host a party for All Souls’ Day/Day of the Dead. I saved the cards with prayers for the dead. You can see a detail of one of the photographs from the oldest Catholic Church in Stanislaus County with the most amazing cemetery.

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Pictures add big impact without taking up large amounts of storage space. I use the almond wood during various times of the year. My husband cut holes for candles.

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I could resist neither this wire basket nor drapey, black fabric.

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The broom was another consignment store find from Selective Antiques here in Hughson.

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I am so glad my husband conceded to my decorating the top of the piano. I keep it minimal…or try to. With children, all decorated surfaces must be up high.

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I kept our shipwreck items and with slight editing made it reference a haunted mansion.

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Themes are only references, not rules. They help a person pick colors, textures and shapes.

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The more time goes by, the more I love the colors I chose for our living room. The walls are neutral gray (Colonnade gray by Sherwin Williams) and the fireplace bump out, cabinets, and weird tv nook are all the same dark green. My dining chairs and an antique, living room chair are upholstered with the same.

I feel the colors I decorate with really pop against these two, along with making things appropriately moody if I so choose. Our fireplace tile is leftover from our kitchen backsplash and works well with the dark brown laminate floors. I miss our Victorian window/fireplace screen but after stealing its wood base for the mantle, we agreed to leave it out for winter to ease access to the fireplace.

The kids are not left out! We have a dancing broom bought from Keller’s that sings Shakespear (“double, double, toil and trouble), fake spiderwebs outside, along with a giant spider (made from rolled wool socks and pipe cleaners). We are playing with ideas for the exterior when Halloween comes.

 

All Souls’ Day Celebration

I love Halloween. I love the controversy and the conversations. For some reason, I’ve been comfortable with the macabre for a long time. Cemeteries were never creepy. Post-conversion, I thought it was beautiful to sit in a cemetery and just soak in the awareness of the souls in Heaven and the need to pray for those in Purgatory.

As a child living in the country, there was no trick or treating and how I longed for it. We dressed on our costumes, always homemade, went to mass, and went to the party after mass for games and candy. In vain my parents tried to appease my trick or treating desires, but alas, no one was home. The porch lights of those country homes were off.

Now I am married with children of my own. My mother makes the costumes and I put together my husband’s costume. Two years now we’ve done themes for him and the children. Last year, the Scarecrow, the Lion and Dorothy were represented.

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This year, Maid Marian and Friar Tuck joyfully joined Robin Hood (not pictured) for a rainy evening of trick or treating.

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Along with Trick or Treating on Halloween, on All Saints’ Day I managed to take the children on a Saints Pilgrimage. We drove to the nearest church and I explained the saints who were represented by the statues at that Church. The children seemed to enjoy it even though memories were a little thin at the end of the day. For the second time, our family hosted an All Souls’ Day Celebration on November 2nd.

The table features ghost and pumpkin cookies, chili, bratwurst, and clementine “pumpkins.”

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Of special note were the soul cakes made by my husbands. In centuries past, the poor went from door to door on All Souls’ Day and in exchange for praying for the family’s beloved dead, they received soul cakes, a slightly sweet treat (one of origins of our practice of Trick or Treating).

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The table features white, browns and orange with white mums all around.

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My husband also stirred up his “witch’s brew” in our brand new $5 punch bowl from the Hope Chest.

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The party was great fun. As the evening drew on, we built a bonfire (another tradition in All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls’ Day revelry), bobbed for apples and enjoyed some squash bowling (butternut squash as the bowling pins, likely not a centuries-old tradition).

When the sun went down, the church bells “rang” (digitally at least) and we prayed for our dearly departed:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

All: And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

There are so many fabulous and festive traditions out there! We could have made it more macabre without abandoning Catholic culture (Sedlec Ossuary, anyone?) but this year it shaped up differently. Looking forward to next year. Restoring Catholic tradition, one party at a time!