Happy Halloween!

Today’s the day … ghosties, ghouls, and goblins beware. It’s a delightfully scary, spine-chilling night for youngsters and the young-at-heart alike, but where did it all begin?


Photo by Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot, USMC, via Wikimedia Commons

People have been celebrating All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) since ancient times, as a time to remember the dead, saints (hallows), and martyrs. It’s thought to have evolved from the Celtic holiday of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, and also seen as a bridge between the living world and the world of the dead. Celebrations included costumes and merriment, using humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.


“The Green Forest Fairy Book” by Loretta Ellen Brady, illustrated by Alice B. Preston, 1920.

Traditionally, All Hallows’ Eve was a day to abstain from eating meat. Seasonal dishes like apples, colcannon (potatoes with cabbage and kale), and potato pancakes were served instead. Bobbing for apples, anyone?


Bob Apples by Frederick Morgan (1856-1927)

During the Middle Ages, homemakers in Britain and Ireland would also cook up batches of “soul cakes,” little cakes they filled with sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger along with raisins or currants, and marked with a cross on the top to denote that they were offered as alms. “Soulers,” mostly children and the poor, would go door-to-door, singing …

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

… while saying prayers for the dead. Each little cake they ate represented a soul being freed from Purgatory. Trick or treat!


From a farm on Camp Dix, NJ 1914-1918, by Richard, Flickr.com.

Along with humorous costumes used to counterbalance the thought of death, a darker side of costuming also came into play. Dead souls were thought to wander the land of the living until All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Hallows’ Eve was thought to be their last chance to wreak vengeance on anyone who had wronged them in life. So those with a fear of retribution also wore costumes and masks to disguise their identities from the wandering spirits. Jack-o’-lanterns (carved pumpkins with candles inside to illuminate their scary faces) were carried to frighten the evil spirits away.

Lamp pumpkin for witch

Photo by Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re 9 or 90, a souler or a baker, a trickster or a purveyor of treats, this is the night to scare away the spirits and have yourself a big dose of costumed merriment.

Candy Corn

Festively colored and nearly bursting from every grocery-store shelf this time of year, candy corn harkens the arrival of Halloween. But aside from that, what do we really know about this little dentist’s nightmare? I went searching for answers and found out that it’s certainly the candy we love to hate; candy corn has been reported as the least favorite candy by consumers. But ironically, 35 million pounds of the confection are made and sold in the U.S. each year.


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Photo by Sony Mavica via Wikimedia Commons




Photo by Velela via Wikimedia Commons


Can you identify these decidedly Halloween-ish (ween-y? ween-esque?) creatures?

Here’s a hint:


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yup. Witch …


These wriggly, yellow, leggy-looking oddities aren’t actually withered fingers or a strange species of scrambling spider. They are the wonderfully fragrant, fall-blooming flowers of the native witch hazel shrub that last from October to December.


Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Despite its rather eerie appearance and oh-so-spooky name (which may derive from the historical use of the shrub’s limbs for dowsing, or water-witching rods), you’ll find nothing to fear from witch hazel. In fact, it is a veritable wealth of health and happiness.

“Native Americans used witch hazel leaves and bark as a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation. They also brewed witch hazel as a tea for conditions including cuts, colds, heavy menstruation, tumors, and eye inflammation. Witch hazel was taken internally to stop bleeding from hemorrhage,” reports AltMD.com. “The medicinal element of witch hazel [used today] is the hamamelis water that is distilled, decocted, or tinctured from fresh and dried leaves, and fresh and dried bark and twigs. Tannins and volatile oils are the primary active ingredients of witch hazel that contribute to its astringent benefits.”


Image by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897, via Wikipedia

Used topically, witch hazel extract reduces inflammation to ease the discomfort of abrasions, psoriasis, eczema, razor burn, ingrown nails, cracked or blistered skin, insect bites, and poison ivy rash. A cold compress can help heal bruises, headaches, hemorrhoids, and postpartum swelling. Cosmetically, witch hazel is used as a facial astringent to reduce pore size, remove makeup, and to reduce eye puffiness.

Practically a panacea, wouldn’t you agree?

I absolutely love the witch hazel extract sold by Mountain Rose Herbs. Unlike most commercial extracts that are distilled multiple times and contain more alcohol than actual witch hazel, MRH’s extract is only distilled once and contains 86 percent witch hazel extract and 14 percent grain alcohol. It is gentle enough to be used alone, but you can also combine it with fragrant essential oils and herbs. Try this Herb-Infused Witch Hazel Recipe from the MRH blog.

Of course, if you’d like to start from scratch and grow your own witch hazel shrubs, you can buy them now from the Arbor Day Foundation (fall order deadline is November 12 through 26, depending on your location). They thrive in Zones 3 through 8. Once you have flowers, you can learn to make your own witch hazel extract on a lovely blog called Handmaiden’s Kitchen.

a new appreciation …

for Lady Gaga. Now, who thought I would ever, ever say that?! I surprise myself sometimes.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Lady Gaga’s music—a little out of my wheelhouse, which includes traditional Irish dance music (think Riverdance) and soothing birdsong—but what I did know was that she had become rather infamous for her onstage and red-carpet antics, including showing up to the Grammys in a giant transparent egg carried by men in gold short-shorts and workboots, parading down the carpet in a raw meat dress, and recently having a performance artist vomit green goo on her as she sang a disturbing song called “Swine.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather watch Ella Fitzgerald standing regally still on stage while singing her heart out on a classic from the Great American Songbook.

Well, blow me over with a feather, but that’s just what Lady Gaga does on her new duets album with legendary crooner Tony Bennett! Carol, my magazine designer and a serious crooners fan, gave me their new CD, Cheek to Cheek, this week, overriding my hesitation about anything Gaga by saying she was sure I’d like it, and I must admit, I immediately found a new appreciation for Gaga!


photo by luigioss via Wikimedia Commons

Who knew she had a wonderful, full, rich voice well-suited to classic tunes like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Anything Goes”?

Her collaboration with Tony Bennett started back in 2011, when she sang “The Lady Is a Tramp” on his Duets II album. And this unlikely pair formed an immediate bond; not only did they have deep Italian-American roots in common, but Tony recognized a genuine love of jazz under all the crazy trappings of her public persona. “”She is actually a very authentic jazz singer,” he said. “She will turn a phrase, she will make it different, because of the moment that she is singing. And so, what happens is it keeps the songs alive; the interpretations become very intimate and everlasting.”


photo by Tom Beetz via Wikimedia Commons

In a documentary about the making of their CD, Tony said that Lady Gaga, who he sweetly calls “Lady,” actually might be his favorite person to sing with, and that’s saying a lot, since he’s probably sang with just about every wonderful singer in the last 78 years. Because that’s how long Tony Bennett’s been singing publicly. Tony, who recently turned 88, was already singing by age 10, when he performed at the opening of New York City’s Triborough Bridge next to then-mayor La Guardia, who patted him on the head. He’s gone on to enjoy one of the longest singing careers in history, winning 17 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his 100+ albums. And, at 88, he still sounds wonderful—smooth, soothing, and yes, even sexy. (It doesn’t hurt to know that he’s known as one of music’s nicest guys, as well, and as a passionate—and very good—painter.) Just listen to their rendition of 1947’s “But Beautiful” and see if Tony’s line, “And I’m thinking, if you were mine, I’d never let you go,” brings tears to your eyes, like it did to Lady Gaga during their recording session. (Watch it here.) The CD debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart, making Tony the oldest living artist to earn a number one album in the U.S.

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m kinda gaga for Tony and this version of Gaga!


ghostly sightings

Have you seen these spooktacular specters billowing around the Internet?


Photo courtesy of Shadow Manor



Photo courtesy of Wacky Archives

Oh, the chills, the thrills!

I love the “Wandering Woman” crafted by blogger Lori Nelson of Shabulous Creations:


Photo by Lori Nelson via Shabulous Creations

Crafted of good ol’ chicken wire (poultry netting), these ghostly figures and free-floating dresses are perfect decorations for frightening farmgirl fun on Halloween. Just imagine hopping on a hayride or wandering through a pumpkin patch at dusk …


Photo by Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons

When suddenly you spy strange, ethereal figures drifting through a darkening field …


Plowing at Dusk by Leon Bonvin, 1865, via Wikimedia Commons

Gives you the shivers, doesn’t it?

Whether you have enough acreage to host a hayride or are nestled on a tiny townstead frequented by trick-or-treaters, your visitors would be delighted to find fabulous femmes fatales twining though the twilit shadows on Halloween night. And, you have just enough time to rig up a few ghostly gals using the basic technique in this tutorial from P. Allen Smith (leave out the rebar and pumpkin heads for a simpler project):

Move over, Frank … it’s Pumpkinstein

In a laboratory deep in the heart of Fillmore, California, a mad scientist named Tony Dighera gave a face to a monster pumpkin … literally.


Photo by Tony Dighera

Tony’s monstrous pumpkins are organic, but that’s not the reason they’ll fetch up to $125 apiece. That’s because these pumpkins aren’t carved, they’re grown into little likenesses of their muse, Mr. Frankenstein himself. Tony came up with the idea to create plastic molds that fit around the pumpkin plant when the fruit’s still small.


Photo by Tony Dighera

But his vision wasn’t … small, that is. He grew over 5,500 pumpkins in his first season on his 40-acre organic farm near L.A. For over 30 years, Tony worked as a tractor operator for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But his real love was farming, and in 2003, he bought his small farm and struggled to make ends meet as an organic farmer. Then, inspired by a photo of a square watermelon grown in Japan, Tony got the idea to grow his vegetables in shapes, starting with square and heart-shaped watermelons, then imprinting logos onto melons for Whole Foods, then trying his hand at creating a monster. And that’s translating into a monster business … Tony sold his entire crop to suppliers for $75 apiece. Let’s see, roughly 5,000 x $75. Monster math, I mean, monster mash.

Fried Maple Leaves?

Fall is certainly one of the best times of the year for basking in the brilliant kaleidoscope of nature’s colors. I’ve spent many a recent morning doing just that, but as each sunrise grows chillier than the one before, my thoughts turn from the basking to the raking. With leaves on my mind, I went searching for alternatives to my annual raking and was intrigued to discover a snack craze in Japan, whose tradition is purported to be over 1,000 years old and provides an escape from autumn clean-up.


In Minoh City, Osaka, a concentration of beautiful Japanese maple trees have inspired shopkeepers to turn the flaming foliage into food. Leaves of the Momiji (Japanese for this type of maple tree) are collected and cured in salt for about a year, then dipped in a slightly sweet tempura batter and deep-fried until crispy. The leaves supposedly have no taste, but lend an interesting color and nice shape to the batter.


Photo of maple leaf snacks via Lens on Japan, lensonjapan.com.

Sounds interesting to me, but upon further pondering, I might just stick with the raking. Crunchy leaves in my mouth don’t sound quite as delicious as the crunchy leaves on my body when I fall into a freshly-raked pile of autumn softness.

A Different Kind of COWpanion

You know how I feel about backyard milk cows. Something a little, oh, like this:


Photo by Darian D. Smith, State Library of South Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

Go ahead and call it an obsession. I’ll own up to that. I mean, I did establish Heritage Jersey Organization, after all. There’s no denying my devotion!


But, would you believe that there are farmgirls in Russia who are just as passionate about milking …


Photo by Veronika Ronkos via Wikimedia Commons


Nope—I’m not pulling your leg. You might say that a moose has a face that only a milkmaid could love:


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

The woman above is a bonafide moose milkmaid with her favorite cow (yes, moose “cow” is the correct term) at Sumarokovskaya Farm (formerly called Kostroma Farm) outside the small village of Sumarokovo in western Russia.


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

What a lineup!

Living here in rural Idaho, I’m not unfamiliar with moose. They pass through now and again, jumping into my pond, nibbling spring shoots, and trying to get at my fruit trees …



but I must say that I’ve never really entertained the notion of milking one. Moose, as you may know, have a reputation for being more dangerous than bears when they’re feeling cantankerous—and a momma moose doesn’t take kindly to trespassers in her territory. “Territory,” I’m assuming, includes her udder (wink).


Photo by Alces_alces via Wikimedia Commons

Throwing caution to the cold north wind, a battalion of brave and enterprising Russians set out to domesticate moose in the 1930s. At first, they eyed these large animals as potential cavalry for use during World War II. That idea never really took off, but an experimental operation called Pechora Farm was established in the late 1940s with the goal of breeding moose for milk, meat, and transportation.


Photo of moose as pack animals in Pechora-Ilych Preserve, 1953, by O.I. Semenov-Tyan-Shanskii via Wikimedia Commons

Alas, the clever and wary nature of the beast thwarted attempts to employ it for meat or a consistently reliable mode of transit. Surprisingly, though, farm-raised moose conceded to milking without much of a fuss, and more farms soon undertook the mission.


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

Kostroma Farm opened in 1963, starting with just two calves (it now has about 30 moose). The farm’s milk is primarily purchased by the nearby Ivan Susanin Sanatorium, an alternative therapy retreat for people suffering from gastrointestinal diseases.

“This pine-scented delicacy is renowned in the area as a cure for peptic ulcers,” explains Tyler LeBlance of ModernFarmer.com. “High in butterfat (usually coming in at around 10 percent, compared to cow milk’s average 5 percent), loaded with double the amount of essential amino acids as cow’s milk, and chock-full of lypozyme—an enzyme that kills ulcer-creating bacteria—the slightly acidic milk has been used by [the sanatorium] as a treatment for an array of diseases and disorders for over 30 years.”

According to Alexander Minaev, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences who oversees the Sumarokovskaya Farm, the facility serves an equally important role as an ecological education center. “It gives the unique opportunity of immediate intercommunication between people and these intelligent forest animals,” he says. “But it is also a center of conservation, it allows reproduction, resettlement, and number restoration.”


Photo by Dieter Wirz via Wikimedia Commons

The Sumarokovskaya Farm offers guided tours seven days a week, 365 days a year. “During a standard guided tour, you will see moose of various ages and hear a guide’s narration about moose farming,” says Minaev. “All the rest depends on a season, an occasion, and your luck. The guide will take a pack of clean, cut carrots for you to entertain adult animals. Moose like carrots and usually wait for you to feed them.”

If you can’t rush over to Russia any time soon, take a virtual vacation via the many marvelous visitor photos at TripAdvisor.com.

And, if all this talk of moose milking is making you want your own pet moose, well …

As for me, I think I’ll stick with my gentle Jerseys. Although now I know I really can bring a friend or two indoors for a bit of TV, maybe a bite to eat before bedtime IN A BED.