The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.

Ladysmith Oktoberfest

This past weekend I headed out with Thing 2 to the cottage that my parents were renting to help them clean it out for the season. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the same weekend as the Ladysmith Oktoberfest celebration, so we had to stop on by. I’m mostly of British, Irish, and Scottish descent myself, although heaven knows that our family tree hasn’t been tracked back very far, so it’s possible that there are many other nationalities mixed in there further back. My husband, though, has strong ties to German and Poland (close to the German border) through his maternal grandparents, so my children share this heritage as well. I thought it might be nice for Thing 2 to get a glimpse of this part of her family history.

Oktoberfest in Ladysmith is a pretty big deal locally. As of the 2016 census, there are only 448 people who live in the Thorne township; I would estimate that less than half of that population lives in Ladysmith proper. Nonetheless, when Oktoberfest rolls around, the hotel and nearby cottages are booked solid, and the fields and yards nearby are filled with campers and trucks and tents. People come to visit with friends, take in the entertainment, shop, dance, drink, and celebrate their cultural heritage. After all, a large percentage of the population thereabouts is of mixed British Isles and German descent — which is why, despite being in Quebec, the area remains predominantly anglophone.

For Thing 2, the highlight of Oktoberfest was the live music. Music has always been able to soothe this savage little beast. She sat, enraptured, as the Kyle Felvhaver Band did two sets. When the Ottawa Valley Step Dancers came in, she was enthralled by the rhythm that their shoes tapped out. And when the band played slow dances and waltzes, her eyes followed the dancers on the floor as they circled around the room. She enthusiastically proclaimed to me that when she is old enough to take music at school, she wants to be a drummer! With Thing 1 starting to learn clarinet this year (just like her dad did), I have a feeling that between the two girls, any peace and quiet we ever did experience at home is now a thing of the past. And yet I can’t begrudge them an instant of it.

Thing 2 also insisted that I take a picture of the decorations on the ceiling with all of the “fairy lights”.

Of course, Thing 2’s second-favourite part of the day was the Bratwurst sausages, which might just be her favourite food ever. She managed to eat a whole one herself, which was pretty incredible considering their size.

Sadly, the weather for Oktoberfest was not the greatest; it alternated between rain and shine all day. But this meant that before we left the cottage for the last time this season, we were treated to an especially brilliant rainbow over the lake. Not a bad goodbye, if you ask me.

Salt Dough Creations

A friend of mine bought me a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Treasury of Christmas Crafts & Foods for Christmas, and leafing through the project ideas therein brought back many memories of the kinds of crafts that I did when I was growing up. One of the ones that stood out the most was the salt dough Christmas ornaments. Although I never made any in the patterns suggested by this book, I did make some simple ones through Brownies and Guides, and I had a lovely little girl in a red dress as part of my ornament collection until she eventually fell apart. I thought that my kids might enjoy playing with dough that becomes a permanent creation for a change. (If your kids would basically like to do the same exercise but come away with something that they can eat, I would highly recommend Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough instead.)


Rolling out the dough and cutting it out with cookie cutters and Play Doh cutters.

I did my due Googling, and I discovered that although the style of ornament that people make has changed a bit over the years (especially when it comes to the choice of colours used), the actual technique remains the same. Multiple books and many sources on the Net stick to the basic recipe of:

– 2 cups flour
– 1 cup salt
– 1 cup water

Which you then knead together to create a stiff dough. You then cut out/shape your designs and lay them on parchment paper on a cooking tray. Advanced creations can take a long time, a lot of skill, and a great attention to detail. However, when you’re making crafts with younger children, quick and easy cookie cut-outs are the name of the game! As a bonus, since the dough is so cheap to make and is 100% biodegradable, if the kids proclaim themselves done after having made very few cutouts, it’s not too big of a deal.

Salt Dough 2//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After shaping, you put the salt dough creations in the oven at 200°F (93°C) for… Well, that’s where directions vary. I think it all really depends on the thickness of the final pieces. I’ve seen it anywhere from two to eight hours, so I kind of guessed at three, which worked out okay. I think that what everyone agrees on is that you don’t want to bake or brown the dough, you just want to remove all the moisture.

Then the cut-outs need to be cooled on a cooling rack, which doesn’t take all that long, really, since they weren’t terribly hot in the first place. We left them overnight to hopefully remove the last of the moisture. It’s not like you have to worry about them going stale, after all.

Then it was time for paint! I have what seems like a million colours of acrylic and many different paint brushes, all from the dollar store. If you don’t have a stash of paint and want to keep costs low, stick with red, yellow, blue, black, and white. The kids can mix any colours they want with the primary ones, and it’s a good lesson in colour theory.

To be honest, my girls ran out of patience with the fiddly details, so the painting will have to be completed another day. Since I had to make dinner, I didn’t get a chance to finish painting the ones that I made either, so we’ll have to sit down and do them all together tomorrow. I really liked how the ones with the impressions turned out, though. The girls used rubber stamps, carved rolling pins, and even leaves of plants to create textures.

Of the ones that I painted, I am particularly happy some of the simplest: the Easter bunnies, made using a cookie cutter and a little ball of dough for the tails.

The next step is to seal salt dough, which I’d prefer to do with spray-on acrylic, so that will probably have to be done out in the garage once it warms up a bit. I’m told it can also be done with Mod Podge or PVA glue, both of which I own, but I’d like to test them first to see how badly they smudge. Then the ones with holes will become ornaments, and the ones without holes will have a magnet (also from the dollar store) glued on the back to become fridge magnets.

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

Ditto

Taffy Lane in Orleans (a suburb in the east end of Ottawa) is well known throughout the city for its possibly-excessive number of Christmas lights. Traffic moves slowly on this residential street almost every evening throughout December as people walk and drive to check out the decorations. They’ve been doing this for over thirty years! My children and I love this street and make a point of visiting at least once a season — preferably after the snow flies, because the light reflected off of the snow makes everything that much more sparkly.

This year I forgot to bring along my good camera, but I had to snap a few photos of these two front yards:

1092 Taffy Lane, which is my kids’ favourite, and not only because of Santa in the outhouse.

And then 1094 Taffy Lane. Gotta love that sense of humor.

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday!

Halloween Aftermath

I hope everyone had a great Halloween! I took my kids trick-or-treating for two hours and saw all kinds of houses that were decorated to within an inch of their lives. The rain stopped before sunset, although it remained quite windy. The temperature went down to freezing by the time I turned off the porch lights, but we were all bundled up appropriately so our night wasn’t cut short. We all had a great time!

I’d wanted to wear my Discworld Death costume out to trick-or-treat with the kiddies, but with the stiff wind and threat of rain (we’d even had hail earlier in the day), I didn’t want to subject it to the weather. The head and hands are mostly paper mache, after all. Instead, I propped it up on an old camera tripod and put it in a window to loom over trick-or-treaters.

Pumpkin-headed Reapers remain one of my kids’ absolute favourite Halloween decorations, no matter where we see them.

And my kids had a fantastic candy/chip haul. Some of these treats just may “disappear”… I doubt the girls will even notice. In our house, candy is only allowed to be eaten for a week, after which point it is given away. If I didn’t do this, the kids would be snacking on sugar until well after Christmas.

It does make me wonder what the contents of trick-or-treat bags look like in other countries, though? I mean, obviously not everyone participates in this holiday, but a comparison with other countries that do would be interesting. For example, I know other countries don’t get Crispy Crunch bars…