Archive for October, 2007

Deconstructing Halloween — Reverse Trick Or Treaters

When I lived in Foster City, every year at Halloween the house would be mobbed by kids trick-or-treating. It was a non-stop barrage of costumed kids, and required quite a lot of candy. I don’t know if things were organized, but Foster City is a very planned community, and my neighborhood was very residential (and very flat). There was a shopping center nearby and I once drove by on Halloween and saw the entire parking lot filled with trick-or-treaters. It seemed like other towns must have bussed their kids in. Perhaps they came from Belmont or San Carlos.

We lived in Belmont for the last two Halloweens and we ended up with a grand total of zero trick-or-treaters both years. After six or seven years of the Foster City mobs, this caught me by surprise. However, in retrospect, there were potentially a few reasons why this could have made sense. The biggest issue was that there really weren’t that many kids in our neighborhood. Second, our house probably felt a little out of the way for the kids, as it was either at the top of a big hill or partway down a hill that you would have to climb back up. So, it probably wasn’t worth it. Finally, that old house was huge and had been broken up into some apartments, so it wasn’t clear at all to visitors where the “front door” was — which may have resulted in a fair amount of confusion.

When we moved to San Carlos last month, even though it was only a mile away, I started to think that this year we would see plenty of kids. First of all, there are a lot more kids in the neighborhood. Many of our neighbors seem to have young kids. The house is walking distance to a bunch of schools, so kids are walking around here all the time. The biggest indicator though was the decorations. I mean, I’m used to seeing people gear up and go all out for Christmas decorations, but you usually don’t see that much effort (if any) going into Halloween decorations. Except here in our neighborhood apparently. It certainly wasn’t every house, but a noticeable percentage of houses had really involved and detailed Halloween decorations. There were huge witches and spiders and cobwebs. More than a few homes had their entire front lawns converted into fake graveyards (some with bones sticking out of the ground as well). Witches crashing into things (garage, telephone pole) were common. It was definitely impressive and it made me think that this neighborhood takes its Halloween seriously.

We bought some candy and I rushed home from meetings in the city to make sure I was around when kids came… and then… no one came. I think that something may have been going on at one of the schools nearby (I could hear the loudspeaker), but no kids stopped by at all. It certainly could be that it’s kind of a pain to get to our front door (you need to walk up a very steep driveway, and the front door is on the side of the house rather than the front). However, when I was a kid, things like steep driveways were never a deterrent to trick-or-treating. We had a pretty strict methodology: ring the doorbell of every house in the neighborhood. It was pretty effective. Perhaps, though, times have changed. One thought is that the lack of Halloween decorations was a signal not to bother.

We did finally get one knock on the door however. I was munching on a post-dinner apple and there was a tapping at the door. So I grabbed the bag of KitKats and swung the door open. It was our next door neighbors with their daughter (she’s probably around 2 years old or so). We’ve met them a few times and they seem quite nice. So I’m all set to give the kid a KitKat and they say “Wait, we’re here for a ‘deconstructionist’ Halloween — we have something for you!” And with that, our neighbor reaches into a canvas bag and pulls out two delicious-looking caramel & nut covered apples. Turns out that one of our neighbors a few doors down is a chocolatier, and made a bunch of these caramel apples. I’m not quite sure why the neighbor three doors down gave the neighbor one door down caramel apples to give out, but that’s what happened. And that was that. We didn’t give out a single piece of candy (most of the candy is still wrapped up, so we’ll return it), but we got two caramel-and-nut covered apples. Of course, since I was halfway through an apple already, it felt wrong to start eating the caramel one… so it’ll have to wait for another night.

In the meantime, it’s an interesting welcome to the neighborhood. Rather than giving out treats, we actually ended up with some.

“Don’t Fall Down!” — Sound Track For An Earthquake

So, we’re finishing up dinner tonight, and just as I stand up to pick up the dishes, the whole house starts shaking along with a low rumble. It sounded like a big truck was driving by, but the truck sounded really close and really loud… There was a brief discussion: “Is this an earthquake?” “Hmm… yeah, it’s an earthquake.” At which point my wonderful wife, still seated in her chair as I move towards the relative safety of a doorway, starts looking around calmly at the walls of our new house and repeating the mantra: “don’t fall down! don’t fall down! don’t fall down!”

It worked. The house did not fall down (yet).

We took bets. She thought there was no way it was more than a 4.5. I was originally going to say 5.1, but she talked me down to a 4.8. I think I was using the “Price is Right” strategy of going just slightly over, knowing that I’d “win” for anything higher. Turns out it was a 5.6, which someone said is the biggest since the big earthquake in ’89. In almost 10 years in California, this is actually only the 3rd California earthquake I’ve felt (I also felt one in NY when I was a kid).

Anyway, I know I’ve been meaning to do more music posts, and I actually have written a few good ones out in my mind, but they tend to be longer and I don’t have nearly enough time these days, so they’ll have to wait for a down moment. But soon after the earthquake hit, I suddenly started thinking about ska songs that used “earthquake” in the title (no, there’s no reason why… it just happened). I immediately hit on the Prince Buster song and the Crazy Baldhead song (which is actually called Heartbreak, but refers to a “California earthquake” in the chorus). I’m surprised it actually took me a few minutes to come up with the obvious one: Hepcat’s “Earthquake & Fire” which is unfortunately all too accurate of California this particular week. I thought the Aggrolites might have an earthquake song too, but I think the song I was thinking of was “Lightning and Thunder.” Not close enough…

So anyway, a short 3 song playlist to listen to when you’re hoping your house doesn’t fall down:

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Also, a random other note… while the Prince Buster song came to mind immediately, the tune I started humming in my head was actually “Shaking up Orange Street” rather than “Earthquake” (which also talks about Orange Street). But, for the playlist, I’m using the real Earthquake song, even if Shaking up Orange Street is a much better (and more accessible) song. Oddly, earlier today, after a random train of thought, I’d pulled out an old Madness live album and had been listening to the song “The Prince,” which is about Prince Buster, and mentions Orange Street. Also… in doing a search through my music files, I discovered I hadn’t converted Buster’s “Earthquake” to mp3 from CD, though I was sure I had it somewhere (I’ve got a ton of Prince Buster stuff around). I still haven’t unpacked my CDs from the move, and they’re currently scattered in a relatively large number of big boxes organized in no particular order. However, I took a chance, opened one box, and a Prince Buster CD containing Earthquake was right at the top of the box. Freaky. Maybe we can just assume that the actual earthquake shook it loose so it would be easy to find…

Anyone Got Recipes For Figs?

Well, my last request for help from all two of my readers didn’t work out so well, but I can’t resist trying again. As mentioned, as a wedding present, Audris put together a really cool cookbook with recipes (and stories and well wishes) from all our friends and relatives. We’ve actually been using some of those recipes (thanks!) but now we could use some more help. We moved into our new house and have discovered it has a cool fig tree in the front. So, for a couple of weeks, we’ve been eating fresh figs. But, plain old figs are starting to get boring… so, anyone got some good fig recipes?