Thursday, October 31, 2013

History of Halloween

As reported by the Boston Globe, "The history of Halloween," by Katharine Whittemore, on 26 October 2013 -- It’s that time of year again: Halloween, when we eat marinated carp, celebrate Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and put out bowls of butter to salve the wounds of the dead. Who doesn’t love Halloween, when we throw nuts into the fire to predict whom we’ll marry, and enter a house only after firing a shot over the roof and having the owner fire back? Forget Tootsie Rolls. Forget UNICEF boxes. Forget kids in ninja costumes. This bizarrely enigmatic, riotously evolving pagan-Christian-Celtic-American-Hollywood-hyper-retail-creepingly-global holiday is “undoubtedly the most misunderstood of festivals.”

Or so I learned in “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween” (Reaktion, 2012) by Lisa Morton, a leading authority on the holiday. Her book is my lively source for the guns (a Shetland Islands tradition) and butter (a German practice). But those are just two oddities out of many.

When reading about Halloween, it’s all strange tidings for an American holiday second only to Christmas, now, for over-the-top observance and marketplace wallop. Yet there’s a gap here. Or maybe a spooky chasm with a fog machine and polyester cobwebs: For centuries, Halloween’s great popularity resulted in scant analysis. Lucky for us, insights have been piling up in the last few decades, and Morton’s book is one of the more recent, mainstream efforts in the world of Halloween studies. (Yes, ghoulfriend, there is such a thing).

It follows in the slipstream of the first scholarly conference ever held on Halloween, which took place in Glasgow in 2006. The choice of city was no accident: Most histories of Halloween give the Scots top credit for kindling and stoking the holiday. Indeed, a century ago Halloween cards featured lots of plaid and thistles. It’s debatable whether our festival grew out of the Gaelic-Celtic harvest bash Samhain (for “summer’s end,” and pronounced “sow-in”). Samhain was full of bonfires and feasts. Fairies and spirits were said to thrive then too, though they could be evil so it was best if they didn’t recognize you. Thus, it seems some revelers took to wearing disguises. So when you’re at a Halloween party this year, and sidle up to Walter White or Daft Punk, you can tell them their couture is linked to a druidical sense of existential anxiety. Or something like that.

Just as the early Christian Church overlaid Christmas on a pagan winter solstice festival, and Easter on spring solstice, Halloween became tied to harvest time and All Saints Day, celebrated on Nov. 1 — “hallow” sprung from the Old English word for “holy” and “e’en” is a contraction of “evening,” thus “Halloween” for the night before. This religious heritage, however, has withered so much that many evangelical Christians today object to Halloween for its satanic overtones; they even hold alternative Hallelujah Nights on Oct. 31. Reach into Morton’s book and you’ll pull out oodles more informational candies: For a long time, Halloween was mostly about fortune-telling, and the “treat” stuff only kicked into high gear after World War II when sugar rationing ended. Also, it’s big in Scandinavia, but moribund in Australia.

Which brings us to “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween” (Bloomsbury USA, 2003) by David J. Skal. Modern Halloween, he says, is a “patchwork holiday, a kind of cultural Frankenstein stitched together quite recently from a number of traditions.” I particularly liked his treatment of the 1970s Halloween scares (apples with razors, bubble gum with lye), outing them as urban myths. He also talks about how fear is a money maker: many think a financially teetering Knott’s Berry Farm, for instance, was saved by annually adding a Knott’s Scary Farm attraction. And he covers how American exports like the “Halloween” slasher movie franchise have spread the holiday to a Europe that paid it little mind before. (In France, though, Halloween has not even un peu traction. They find it too ugly American.)

Skal also has some great stuff on Halloween pranking. In the Depression, the poor pranked the rich with near menace, and during World War II, pranks were frowned upon (why soap a car with rationed soap?). He quotes a Rochester, N.Y., school superintendent who pointed out how “[e]ven ringing doorbells has lost its appeal because it may mean disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.”

“Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night” (Oxford University, 2003) by a Canadian history professor named Nicholas Rogers moves more toward the multicultural. I especially liked the coverage of Halloween’s closest kin, El Dia de los Muertos, in which Latin American countries celebrate the night before All Saint’s Day by visiting the gravestones of their loved ones, bringing pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and reminiscing about those who’ve gone on. In Texas, a Latino-American hybrid has formed that incorporates Halloween pumpkins and candies into this family-centric commemoration. Lest we find this south of the border death talk morbid, know that elsewhere the mortal embrace got much tighter. In Naples, hundreds of years ago, the charnel houses were opened, festooned with flowers, and family members could commune with their loved ones’ bones and cadavers.

Americans seem pretty lightweight compared to that. Indeed, all our faux ghosts, mummies, and skeletons fall in the realm of “safe danger,” as Rogers writes. “Flirtation with fear,” is how Joanna Bourke puts it in “Fear: A Cultural History” (Counterpoint, 2007). This book has much to say about how children, especially, try out their dark emotions in a protected context like Halloween or scary movies and literature. It also talks about how Western cultures now know great inchoate anxieties about terrorism or spying or pandemics, but as individuals we have much less direct contact with death and dying than our forebears did, when infant mortality rates were higher and people died younger. As such, death in today’s Halloween (much less souls and saints) has become marginalized. Now it’s about providing “a space for social transgression and parody,” according to Rogers.

Transgression and parody light up Lesley Pratt Bannatyne’s “Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night” (Pelican, 2011). This is a quasi oral-history, with plenty of photos, and commentary from names like Garrison Keillor, native of Anoka, Minn., “Halloween Capital of the World,” plus endearing curiosities like a custom fang maker, horror movie actress, and several New Englanders, such as a Topsfield pumpkin grower, Halloween pranksters at MIT, and Boston’s own horror burlesque dancer, Devilicia. Bannatyne is quite the queen of the night herself, and though it’s dated, her “Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History” (Pelican, 1998) expertly traces how the Scottish and Irish brought pseudo-Samhain to Uncle Sam, reenergizing the holiday with each immigrant wave.

You know you’re in an academic book when a professor gushes about the “sheer polysemy” of Halloween. I had to look up the word; it means “many meanings.” Which is just what you get in “Trick or Treat? Halloween in a Globalising World” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009). It’s edited by Malcolm Foley and Hugh O’Donnell, professors at Glasgow Caledonian University, and showcases papers from that Scottish Halloween conference.

They’re all obscurely insightful, and often inadvertently amusing for their high/low-culture juxtaposition. Take “Halloween in a Situation Comedy: Postmodernity, Tradition, and Identity,” which analyzes a Catalan sitcom in which a fierce nationalist refuses to drink Halloween punch since it’s “an imperialist beverage,” and “Resisting Halloween in Slovenia: A Case of Anti-Americanism,” in which the local press sneers that this Yank import “is perfect for today’s meaningless consumer culture.” Which goes to show that whether you think Halloween is a treat or a trick, it’s scary how significant it is.  (source: Boston Globe )

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

In 1743, the son of Major John Boone planted live oak trees, arranging them in two evenly spaced rows. This spectacular approach to his home symbolizes southern heritage and will take root in your memory for many years to come. It would take two centuries for the massive, moss-draped branches to meet overhead, forming today's natural corridor and a scene that NBC Daytime television says is "a must see stop on any trip to Charleston, S.C.

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens


Slave Sculpture.  This is one of the sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens, in the rice field exhibit. Strking silhouette against he miles of marshy rice fields.

Four Monumental Sculptures created for Brookgreen Gardens
Unveiled Murrells Inlet, SC on April 22, 2006

Babette Bloch was commissioned to create four nine-foot-high sculptures for the quarter-mile Lowcountry Trail at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. Brookgreen Gardens was founded in 1931 by sculptor, Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Archer Huntington. It was America’s first public sculpture garden, and is located on a 9,000 acre former rice plantation. Bloch’s sculptures help to expand the education program that Brookgreen now has in place to teach about the history of the Lowcountry. They visually tell the story of the plantation owner, Joshua John Ward, his overseer, and the enslaved Africans who once lived and died working on this vast expanse of land in the mid-1800's.
“Before beginning drawings for this project, I immersed myself for six months researching the South Carolina rice culture, and consulting with experts in the field,” Ms. Bloch explains. “I envisioned the sculptures, set along Brookgreen’s Lowcountry Trail, as building a bridge — a bridge of hope, of healing, and a place for contemplation and understanding.”

allegorical sculpture, historical sculptures, monumental sculpture, outdoor metal sculpture, metal sculpture garden, Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen’s Vice President for Collections and Curator of Sculpture, Robin Salmon, shepherded the project. “When I first saw photos of Babette’s nine-foot-high sculptures, Pioneers, installed at an historic site in Michigan, I thought that her unique style and medium could produce ethereal figures that appeared to be coming from the rice field. The see-through quality of her figures keeps the landscape in focus, while reflecting it in the steel itself. Her figures are ghostly reminders of the antebellum past.”

“When the sun is behind the figures, they will read as silhouettes,” said Ms. Bloch. “And when the sun dances over the surfaces, the figures are a shimmering silver imbued with the hues of the surrounding landscape.”
stainless steel sculpture, monumental sculpture, outdoor metal sculpture, metal sculpture garden

Ron Daise, Brookgreen Gardens’ Vice President for Creative Education, added, “The sculptures, archaeological exhibits and interpretive signage displayed on the Lowcountry Trail will inform about Gullah history and culture and rice plantation heritage in ways unparalleled elsewhere. Visitors will find the trail contemplative and historical.” Mr. Daise is well known to the general public as the star and cultural consultant of Nickelodeon’s TV’s Gullah Gullah Island preschool series. As a fourth-generation Gullah descendent who grew up on St. Helena Island, he is an acknowledged expert on the culture that enslaved Africans brought to America.

The artist, in accepting the commission, thought long and hard about how best to present the subject matter. “These figures are portals to a time gone by, but they also are mirrors to our souls,” said Ms. Bloch. “I fully expect that viewing them will elicit a range of emotions, from pride of place to mourning, echoes of the lives lived at this historic site.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time; 
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Carrot Curls, How to Make

  • Cut carrot lengthwise into paper-thin slices, using a vegetable peeler.
  • Roll up slices; secure curls with toothpicks.
  • Chill in bowl of ice and water.
  • Drain and remove toothpicks before using as a garnish.

source:  Betty Crocker

Tea Sandwiches

Classic Tea Sandwiches

  1. Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches (recipe follows)
  2. Ham Salad Tea Sandwiches (recipe follows)
  3. Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches (recipe follows)
  4. Marmalade Tea Sandwiches (recipe follows)
  5. Cucumber Tea Sandwiches (recipe follows)

1 medium English cucumber, thinly sliced
  Carrot curls
  Packaged peeled baby carrots
  Seedless red and/or green grapes
1. Prepare tea sandwiches.
2. Arrange the tea sandwiches in a circle with points toward the center on a large decorative plate or a glass plate with doily. Fan out cucumber slices and carrot curls in the center of the plate. Garnish between each sandwich with baby carrots, grapes on frilly toothpicks or any other fruits and vegetables that you may have on hand. Makes 8 servings
  Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches:

Toast 4 slices thinly sliced firm-textured white sandwich bread. Using a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice of bread. Using 1/2 cup homemade or purchased deli egg salad, spread 1 tablespoon on each round. Top each with coarsely shredded carrot. Makes 8 bite-size sandwiches.
  Ham Salad Tea Sandwiches:

Place 8 slices thinly sliced firm-textured rye sandwich bread on a cutting board. Using a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice of bread. Using 1/2 cup purchased deli ham salad, spread 1 tablespoon on half of the rounds. Top with remaining rounds. Cut 4 pimiento-stuffed green olives crosswise in half. Top each with an olive half so that pimento shows. Makes 8 bite-size sandwiches.

  Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches:

Place 4 slices thinly sliced firm-textured whole wheat sandwich bread on a cutting board. Trim crusts. Stir 1 tablespoon purchased chutney (snipping any large pieces) into 1/4 cup purchased deli chicken salad. Spread 2 tablespoons chicken mixture on 2 of the bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices. Cut each into 4 rectangles or squares. Makes 8 bite-size sandwiches.
  Marmalade Tea Sandwiches:

Place 8 slices thinly sliced firm-textured white sandwich bread on a cutting board. Using a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice of bread. Spread a thin layer of orange marmalade, about a teaspoon per cutout, on half of the cutouts. Top with remaining cutouts. For each sandwich, add a small dollop of softened cream cheese on top and place a tiny wedge of orange slice in the cream cheese. Makes 8 bite-size sandwiches.
  Cucumber Tea Sandwiches:

Place 4 thinly sliced firm-textured white or whole wheat sandwich bread on a cutting board. Using a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice of bread. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened, and 1/4 teaspoon dried dillweed. Spread a rounded teaspoon on each round. Top each with a small wedge of cucumber and lightly sprinkle with dried dillweed or snipped fresh dill. Makes 8 bite-size sandwiches.
  To make ahead: Place sandwiches on a plate; cover with plastic wrap and chill up to 2 hours. Arrange on platter with garnishes just before serving.

  *Carrot Curls: To make carrot curls, peel carrot using a vegetable peeler. Using the same vegetable peeler, shave long thin strips from each carrot. Roll up each strip and secure with a toothpick. Immerse curls in ice water to crisp. Drain on paper toweling. Remove toothpicks and use as directed above.

Recipe source: Traditional Home Magazine

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Perfectly Pruned Roses

Careful winter pruning will get your roses off to a good start in spring. Take time in January to prune your hybrid tea and shrub roses (leaving plants that flower only once a year until late winter or early spring). Here’s a pruning how-to guide:

Use bypass hand pruners for the job, and be sure to wear long sleeves and thick gloves. Bypass pruners cut when the sharp blade passes by the anvil blade; this ensures a clean cut without smashing the stem. Bypass pruners come in different sizes—find one that fits comfortably in your hand. Bypass pruners are great for cutting stems no bigger around than your thumb; for larger stems, it’s best to use a short- or long-handled lopper, both of which come in the bypass style, too.

Jackson & Perkins Florence Nightingale

The first task when pruning roses is to tackle the three D’s: dead, dying or diseased branches. Cut these back to the next largest stem. Next, cut out crossing stems and all of those thin, twiggy ones: this will give your rose more air circulation and reduce its susceptibility to disease.

Now prune the rose so that it ends up half its original height. It’s a rose rule-of-thumb to prune back to an outward facing bud. Take a look at the stem and you’ll see small red nubs among the thorns. Those are the buds just waiting to break into new growth. Make a slightly slanted cut just above that bud, so that the new growth branches off naturally, without leaving a stub behind.

The advantage of pruning to an outward facing bud—which directs growth out, not towards the interior of the shrub—is that you end up with a vase-shaped plant. Sometimes it’s not easy to find a bud that faces out at a place you want to cut. If they all seem to face toward the center of the shrub, look above or below that place on the stem for the next bud that is facing generally outward.

If your roses suffer from black spot, which can show up on stems as well as leaves, you can prevent the spread of this disease by disinfecting your tools. Dip the blades in alcohol, then wipe them off (don’t use bleach, because it can corrode the metal).

source: Home Depot

Shrub Pruning Tips for February

Sunny February days are perfect for pruning shrubs that flower in summer. If you prune spring-blooming shrubs right now (azaleas, forsythias, lilacs), you'll cut off their buds. You can prune overgrown, summer-blooming deciduous shrubs (plants that lose their leaves in winter). Sharp bypass pruners make this gardening task easy.

(source: Home Depot)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chaka Khan-My Funny Valentine

My funny valentine
Sweet, comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Oooh, mmm

Your looks are laughable
Yet, you're my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little bit weak?When you open it to speak, are you smart?

Don't, baby don't, don't you change your hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay, stay little valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine's...
Each day is Valentine's Day
Stay, little valentine, stay
Stay, stay, yeah yeah
Each day is Valentine's...
Each day is Valentine's Da

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Understanding Rose Classifications: Miniature Roses

  • 1' to 3' tall
  • Petite blooms on compact bush with dense foliage
  • Perfect for tucking into rock gardens, edging a path or border, around taller roses or for elegant container gardening
  • Miniature roses are versatile, hardy and prolific
  • Maintenance-free nonstop summer-long color

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ham Hock and Cabbage

Jamie Oliver's Ham Hock and Cabbage