Tag Archives: candy

Halloween

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Two Jack O'lantern Lamps

For the last four years Halloween has snuck up on me, and too late I’ve thought I should have written a post in celebration of the holiday. The problem is, none of my Halloweens memories lend themselves to a good story for a blog post.

I didn’t trick-or-treat much as a kid. There are photos of me as a tiny child holding a plastic jack-o-lantern that doubled as a treat collection device, but I have no memory of that night. The only time I do (vaguely) remember trick-or-treating as a kid was probably fourth grade. I don’t know why my parents let me and my sibling go that year. I do remember my “costume.” I pulled long white tube socks over my pants and up to my knees, carried my catcher’s mitt, and called myself a baseball player. It was enough to get me candy, so it was enough for me.

Woman Making Trick of Treat in Front of a Girl

There were Halloween parties through the years. My parents organized a Halloween party and haunted house for my Brownie troop when I was in first grade. Because I was present for the planning and setting up, I was privy to the secrets of the haunted house. The “eyeballs” in a bowl? Just peeled grapes. The mound of “veins”? Simply cold cooked spaghetti. The scary gorilla creature pounding on the door, trying to escape the tiny room that confined him? Only my dad in a rubbery mask with bad hair. I don’t know why the adults thought it would be a good idea to scare the bejesus out of little girls. My favorite part of the celebration was the costume contest where I won 2nd place for my portrayal of a nice witch.

Years later, on the cusp of teenagehood, the neighbor girl my age had a Halloween party and I got to go. I wore a strange dress, a hand-me-down from my older cousin. It was loose and long and somewhat reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie although I can’t say exactly how. Wearing that dress, along with the pink circles of lipstick my mother drew on the apples of my cheeks, I made a passable rag doll. I remember having fun, but I can’t recall a single game we played.

White and Black Panda Plush Toy

Of course there were Halloween celebrations at school every year up until junior high. Those parties were really just excuses to goof off for most of the afternoon and get sugared up before going home. I do have the vaguest recollection of wearing one of those costumes that consisted of a mask and a plastic smock at school. I was a ghost in some elementary school production, but I have no memory of a plot, and, appropriately for a ghost, I had no lines.

In college, after moving out of the dorm and into a place of my own, I started having Halloween parties. My dad helped me decorate for the first party by building a small coffin as a centerpiece. My best friend and I taped out a crime scene outline of a body in front of the entrance door. I dressed as a harem girl (ugh—cultural appropriation and the glorification of sex slavery) in a costume my mother must have made for me. My friends (and some people I barely knew) came over. We ordered pizza. We drank too much beer. I went to bed alone.

I threw other Halloween parties after I graduated. The year I was skinny, I

Photography of Cat at Full Moon

wore a pointy hat and a black slip with no bra and called myself a sexy witch. Again, there was too much drinking of beer. Again, I went to bed alone.

Eventually the Halloween parties stopped. I’m one of those hosts who gets really excited to throw a party. I like the planning stage. I invite everyone I know, buy a bunch of beer, make some food. Then on the night of the event, I get really anxious and uptight and wonder why I ever thought having a party was a good idea. One year I just decided I had enough stress in my life without throwing a Halloween party.

Halloween Candies

When my nephew was in elementary school, I visited his family one fall. My visit coincided with Halloween, so I went trick-or-treating with the family. My nephew was dressed as a mad scientist. I’d scored a mermaid costume at a thrift store, so my sequins sparkled and shined in the night. My nephew’s mother threw together a roller derby costume made authentic by the roller skates she carried slung over her shoulder. My nephew’s father got into the spirit (no ghost pun intended) of things by putting on a robe and shower cap and going as a guy about to take a shower. We walked around the neighborhood and admired the Halloween decorations while my nephew collected candy. The most fun I had that night was watching the boy who was usually limited to one “sweet thing” per day devour as many treats as he wanted.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a “red” Halloween party where attendees were supposed to either wear the color red or dress as a communist. I wore a long skirt, a Guatemalan huipil, and large fake flowers in my hair and called myself “Frida Kahlo After She Fucked Trotsky.” My costume pride was shattered when a wisp of a woman arrived wearing a vintage dress of Frida’s era and braids wrapped around her head. She actually looked like Frida Kahlo. As for the party itself, it was kind of boring, although I did enjoy spending time with the friends who had invited me. The refreshments were delicious.

Halloween-themed Jack-o-lantern Lamp Near October 31 Calendar

In 2016 my dad died on Halloween, and October became Dad Death Anniversary Month. It’s not that I couldn’t go out and celebrate Halloween if I wanted, but I really have been over the holiday for a while. Now at the end of each October, I find myself pondering the loss of my dad instead of looking for a party.

Oh my dad…

He never met The Man, but I think they would have gotten along. They could have discussed carpentry and car repair, shared the details of their latest projects. They could have talked about God too and discussed spirituality. Those two would have had some common ground for sure. I think they would have liked each other, respected each other.

It’s not like I spend time every day thinking about my dad being dead.  It’s not like I’m still mourning. But sometimes I want to ask for his advice or share a victory. I’ll be about to call him, then remember: still dead.

I have a photo of my dad taped to the refrigerator. I figure it’s only fair that I see him every day and remember him, as it’s only because of his death that we have this tiny home, these physical comforts.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-creepy-dark-darkness-619418/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-celebration-child-costume-220426/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-blur-close-up-dark-237205/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/light-landscape-sky-sunset-35888/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-candies-3095465/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-themed-jack-o-lantern-lamp-near-october-31-calendar-1480861/.

Candy Man

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When I returned from my ten-minute break, there were more people in the mercantile than I’d seen in the yurt all morning.

The store manager was trying to give directions to a young couple looking for the nearby Boy Scout camp, but she didn’t really know the area. She looked at me for help, so I pulled out a map and showed them two routes that would get them to their destination. Their thank yous said, they left, and I remained behind the counter.

A tiny child holding a red box of peanut butter M&Ms stepped up to the counter and looked at me slyly.

M & M's Chocolate Candies, Peanut Butter, 1.63 oz, 24-Count (Pack of 2)
He placed the box on the counter and continued to look at me with big brown eyes.

I looked around the store. While there were adults browsing, it wasn’t clear what family the kid might belong to. There were certainly no adults in his immediate vicinity.

That will cost $2.50, I said—not unkindly—to the boy. Do you have any money?

The kid never said a word, just took the box of candy from the counter and headed for the door. When he had one foot on the deck and the other still in the mercantile, I called out to him—again, not unkindly—Hey! Please don’t take that outside without paying for it.

This got his family’s attention. An older woman (Mom? Grandma?) and a younger woman (Mom? Sister?) both started hollering at the kid from across the store where they were looking at t-shirts.

George! Get back in here!

George! Put that back!

George turned around, returned the box of M&Ms to its place among the other candy boxes, then went over to stand with the women.

Sorry about that! one of the women called across the store.

No problem, I said. I handled the situation.

 

Ethel M Factory and Cactus Garden

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These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

Shortly before my first visit with The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, I heard about the Ethel M chocolate factory in nearby Henderson, NV. Wait? What? I could tour a chocolate factory. then eat free chocolates? I was in!

I didn’t make it to the Ethel M factory during that visit, or the next. Finally, on my third visit, The Activist, The Poet, and I made a trek out there.

I had been warned there isn’t much to the tour, but I hadn’t understood how very little of a tour there is. There’s a long hallway visitors can walk down. The Ethel M website calls this hallway the “viewing aisle,” which is a totally

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

accurate description. On one side of the aisle, behind a wall made mostly of glass, is the factory floor. Sure, I didn’t expect to be allowed to frolic on the factory floor, but i did expect to see some action out there. It was 12:30 on a weekday afternoon and there were no workers on 3/4 of the factory floor. Is everyone on lunch break? I asked The Poet.

The Ethel M website says,

From the viewing aisle, if you time it right, you’ll get a peek inside Ethel’s kitchen where we make pecan brittle by hand every day, as well as prepare our signature small batch fillings like satin crèmes, caramels, and peanut butter…

Also, to ensure that we always deliver on our promise of high quality, preservative-free chocolates, our schedule in the Factory varies. So from time to time, the factory may not be bustling with chocolatiers during your visit. Sorry.

I suppose we didn’t time it right.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

We saw an automated machine slowly moving along boxes filled with chocolate hearts. We saw a lone man messing around with a bucket. At the very end of the line, we saw a few more men doing the final steps in the packaging of the candies. Any preconceived notions of Lucy shoveling bonbons in her mouth in order to keep up didn’t last long. Everything on the other side of the glass wall that was moving did so virtually in slow motion.

There were words on the glass, explaining the process in each section of the factory. However, the words were written in white and quite difficult to read. Who thought white letters were a good idea for this application?

When the tour was over, I went looking for my free chocolate.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

We’d heard workers offering samples to other visitors, but no one offered anything to us. After asking around, we were directed to the man with the samples on lockdown.

The man gave each of us a chocolate disc about the size of a quarter. I tried not to wolf down my piece. It tasted good, but was not amazing. It was chocolate–of course it was good! But being of the mind that any chocolate is good chocolate, I’ll even eat the cheap, slightly waxy chocolate that comes out particularly at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The chocolate bearing Ethel M’s name was better than the cheapest, but not by leaps and bounds. My free sample was decent,

Wow! Small packages of chocolates staring at 20 bucks.

Wow! Small packages of chocolates starting at 20 bucks.

average chocolate.

Based on the prices being charged for the chocolate in the gift shop, one might think Ethel M’s chocolates are favored by the Mayan gods. Everything in that place was out of my budget!

The gift shop area is quite large. One can buy chocolate dipped bananas and marshmallows and apples. One can buy prepackaged chocolates ready to go. One can choose one’s favorites from rows and rows of confections on well lit display and have them boxed up in single or double layers. Ethel M offers a mind-boggling selection of filled chocolates (cherries! caramel! nuts! peanut butter! crème! truffles! crème liqueurs!) and perhaps those are the outstanding candies. Visitors can also purchase souvenir t-shirts, travel mugs, etc. or have a beverage or pastry from the Cactus Garden Cafe.

Everyone working in the gift shop was friendly and helpful in a How may I assist you with your purchases? sort of way. (There were lots of people in there making lots of purchases.) The entire area (including the women’s restroom) was sparkling clean.

Cacti and holiday stars

Cacti and holiday stars

After walking around inside and seeing everything there was to see, we decided to stroll through the cactus garden which was decorated for the winter holidays, meaning Christmas. I didn’t see a single indication of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Well, to be fair, I don’t know what decorations would represent Kwanzaa, Yule, Solistice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Maybe there were representations that I missed. Maybe the fake Christmas trees with the upside down peace sign decorations represented Yule and Solstice.

For someone who’s never seen a cactus (or maybe has only seen a few), the cactus garden must seem incredible, as it’s chock-full of cacti from all over the world.

Holiday Balls

Holiday Balls

I’ve seen plenty of wild cacti in Arizona and Nevada and California and New Mexico, as well as at the The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, so the garden was not extraordinarily interesting to me. More signs with information about cacti in general and the varieties on display specifically might have meant more education for visitors.

Since Christmas means exactly nothing to me, the decorations didn’t add any magic to the area. My friends and

I thought the decorations were kind of dumb. Isn’t it risky for inflatable decorations to be set up near cacti spines? One gust of wind depositing the decorations on a cactus and that will be the end of that. And what’s the point of putting inflated winter wonderland scenes in the desert?  Everyone knows that igloo isn’t real!

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when are there igloos or penguins in the desert?

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when do igloos or penguins reside in the desert?

Some of the displays were even weirder than penguins popping out of igloos. There were snowfolks reminiscent of scarecrows. There was an inflated helicopter with a lazily spinning rotor on top. The Santa in the pilot’s chair had fallen over on his side, giving the whole tableau a vibe of copter shot down in Vietnam War. Towering over the copter was a giant polar bear standing on its hind legs. Does the polar bear represent American imperialism? I wondered. Probably not. It probably simply represented poorly thought out American holiday commercialism.

I might have liked the whole exhibit more if I had gone at night and seen all the lights sparkling in the dark. I do have a soft spot for Christmas lights, but alas, it was daytime and the strands of lights simply looked like ropes binding cacti hostages.

As the holiday music blasted through the barely camouflaged speakers, my friends and I agreed we were ready to get out of there. We left the expensive chocolates and the questionable winter wonderland behind.

 

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

 

The Ethel M chocolate factory is #58 on the Jen Reviews list of 100 Best Things to Do in Las Vegas.

I took all of the photos in this post.