Thursday, October 31, 2013

Holiday Hits: Happy Halloween!

Terrifying! (from Horror Digital)

All Hallow's Eve has arrived!  Now is the time for children to swarm their neighborhoods in pursuit of candy, and for those who enjoy a good scare to watch a frightening film or two (or read a satisfyingly spooky book, if you prefer the old-fashioned way).  This year I have been focusing on devilish dolls movies, and I think I have saved the very scary best for last.  If you have never seen the "Trilogy of Terror" (1975) tale called "Amelia", be prepared for a horrific half hour as you watch the unfortunate title character (portrayed by Karen Black, who is the heroine of all three stories in this trilogy and who recently passed away) attempt to outwit a ruthless, vicious, and truly horrifying Zuni doll which has magically and menacingly come to life.  Despite the age of this film and the rather poor special effects, this little segment still has the power to scare me silly!  You can watch this tale on YouTube in three parts (or watch the entire movie here).  Below is the link to Part 1 (look for the other two parts entitled "Trilogy of Terror.  The One with the Doll.  Parts 2 and 3."):

This is another movie that many recall as being one of the most terrifying from their childhood days.  I did not see it until I was in my very early twenties, but I still find it quite horrific -- I can't imagine watching this one as a child!  Although the youth of today may be more blasé about horror films, I still would not recommend this as family viewing.

Happy Halloween, everyone -- may it be as fun or as scary as you like it!

On the Homefront: HGTV Design Happens Giveaway Winner!


Recently I was the lucky winner of a random drawing for the HGTV blog Design Happens Freebie Fridays Grandin Road Halloween Giveaway!  My prizes arrived on Monday of this week, and I lost no time in setting them up in our living room:

A bit overexposed!

A much spookier image!

Pay no attention to the sleeping Dalmatian in the corner
(how did she get in my picture?).

Close-up of the Halloween tray, candelabra, and spiderweb tablecloth.

The spiderweb tablecloth, spirit board serving tray (no longer available on the Grandin Road website), and gothic-looking candelabra added the right touch of old-fashioned spookiness to our otherwise modern and colorful room.  I am saving the wine and beer bottle labels for another time -- perhaps a Halloween party next year?  Thank you, HGTV, for the lovely gifts!

The next Design Happens Freebie Fridays giveaway will be tomorrow (November 1st), so be sure to check it out, and leave a comment to enter (hopefully they will have the "Comments" section fixed by then)!

On the Homefront: Haunting Halloween Table

One-Eyed Jack the Dalmatian looks fiendishly festive
in his Halloween finery!

Or is it Two-Eyed Jack?
(He's just a master of disguise!)

Halloween has arrived, and a devilishly delightful dinner is on the menu!  Holiday-appropriate colors of orange, black, and white dominate the bewitching Halloween table.  Skulls, Jack-o'-lanterns, black cats, and a few other sinister characters also grace the scene.  The settings are elegant but fun, and a ghoulishly good time will be had by all at my Halloween feast!

Black round woven placemat from Kmart; white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); orange salad plate by Waechtersbach from Tuesday Morning; Halloween appetizer plate from Williams-Sonoma (2011); stainless steel flatware; white napkin; clear glass skull votive; black-stemmed wine glass; orange water glass from The Cupboard in Fort Collins, CO.

A vampire bat!

A black widow spider!

A black raven!

A scaredy cat!

A gnarly Halloween tree surrounded by Jack-o'-lantern votives
makes a scary centerpiece.

Appetizers will be served on this smiley Halloween cat plate
from HomeGoods a few years ago.

When agitated, the eyes of this rustic Jack-o'-lantern
flash red and eerie sounds emanate from within!
Dessert will be served on these square Jack-o'-lantern plates
(from Homegoods a few years ago).

Clear glass skull votives glow wickedly at each place setting
and on the credenza.

Pumpkins dominate the menu for my Halloween dinner.  The crostini are my own creation and are really quite tasty -- don't be stingy with the pumpkin butter when assembling these appetizers!  The salad is based on one by Nigella Lawson, and any olive oil-based dressing will do.  The fettuccine is quite filling, but if you want to add a protein, either to the pasta or on the side, I certainly wouldn't object (some Italian sausage might be nice)!  Just be sure to leave room for the devilishly decadent Pumpkin Tiramisu.

Haunting Halloween Menu:

Pumpkin Butter-Prosciutto Crostini*
Avocado and Pumpkin Seed Salad/Olive Oil Vinaigrette

*Pumpkin Butter-Prosciutto Crostini

8 round baguette slices (1/4-inch thick)
Olive oil
Pumpkin butter
4 wafer-thin prosciutto slices
Gorgonzola cheese wedge
Toasted and salted pumpkin seeds

Brush baguette slices with olive oil to coat.  Bake at 400 degrees for five minutes.  Remove from oven and spread each piece with about a teaspoon of pumpkin butter.  Top with half of a prosciutto slice, folded to fit.  Top the prosciutto with slices of gorgonzola.  Bake for another three minutes until the cheese is melted.  Remove from the oven and top with pumpkin seeds.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

Lindt Lindor Truffles in peanut butter (orange) and dark chocolate (black) fill the pumpkin-shaped bowls:

The pumpkin bowl and spider web table runner
are from HomeGoods.

The credenza sports some Halloween accessories as well:

All Is Vanity optical illusion by Charles Allen Gilbert
(from Victorian Trading Co.)

Dalmatian WitchiePoo is always ready to celebrate Halloween!
Isn't she charming?

"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"
 ~Scottish Prayer

This 'n That Thursdays: Reading Aloud for Halloween

From The Cinematic Katzenjammer

Halloween is on a weeknight this year, which seriously limits the amount of time most people can spend celebrating this haunted holiday.  Those with children will probably be sending the little ones out for trick-or-treating, and a spooky supper may be served, but otherwise most will not be partying in a big way.  Many will probably watch a scary movie or two and then call it a night.  I would like to suggest a once popular pastime that few rarely consider any more, which is reading a good story aloud.  This is assuming you have an appreciative audience -- if not, simply cozy up in your favorite spot and settle in for a satisfying spell of solitary reading!

One suggestion for an aptly titled selection is The Haunted House (1859) by Charles Dickens (and others).  This work is a collection of stories, each chapter being written by a different author.  Dickens supplied the first, sixth, and last chapters, while the remaining five were supplied by various authors of the time.  Two of the authors, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell, are known to me, but I am unfamiliar with the other three (Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, and Adelaide Anne Procter).  Despite the book title, the stories in this collection are not at all scary, even though ghosts are the theme.  They range from the melancholy, to the romantic, and even to the slightly comical, so you can choose the best one for your particular audience.  The book is beautifully presented online by eBooks@Adelaide.  View their version here (be sure to check out the rest of their offerings as well).  Below is a list of the chapters from this site, with a link to each story:

1) The Mortals in the House (Charles Dickens)
2) The Ghost in the Clock Room (Hesba Stretton)
3) The Ghost in the Double Room (George Augustus Stretton)
4) The Ghost in the Picture Room (Adelaide Anne Procter)
5) The Ghost in the Cupboard Room (Wilkie Collins)
6) The Ghost in Master B.'s Room (Charles Dickens)
7) The Ghost in the Garden Room (Elizabeth Gaskell)
8) The Ghost in the Corner Room (Charles Dickens)

Savor these stories slowly by reading just one a night, or enjoy a feast of satisfying tales by reading them all at once.  I say we need to bring back the lost art of reading aloud, and All Hallow's Eve night is a great time to start!

From MovieMail

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Current Events: Tainted Jerky Treats for Pets Can Be Fatal!

From Doggie Care Resort

Recently the FDA issued a warning to the public about possibly contaminated jerky treats for pets that are causing illness and could potentially be fatal.  Since 2007, 3600 dogs and 10 cats are reported to have been affected, and 580 of those pets have died.  Even more alarming is the fact that, despite extensive testing, no causal agent has yet been isolated.  This means that there can be no product recall, so whatever is causing the problem is still available at your local stores with no warnings posted unless the vendor has a conscience.  Consequently, we as pet owners must be proactive, avoiding suspicious products and staying informed about any new developments.

According to the FDA, jerky treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes, and/or dried fruits seem to be the main culprits.  Within hours of eating contaminated products, a dog or cat may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

1) decreased appetite;
2) decreased activity;
3) vomiting;
4) diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus);
5) increased water consumption;
6) increased urination.

Other symptoms, such as collapse, convulsions, or skin issues have also been reported.  Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder, all of which can eventually be fatal.

Most of the suspect jerky treats have been made in China.  Also, remember that pet food manufacturers are not required to list the country of origin for all ingredients used, so while the main ingredients may indeed be made in the USA, additives may not.  This is of real concern as one ingredient in particular, called glycerin, is being being suggested as the possible culprit.  Glycerin is a plant-based product added to foods to soften texture.  Most food grade glycerin is safe, but glycerin made from the seeds of a shrub called Jatropha curcas is known to contain toxic substances.  Jatropha seeds are a cheap source of glycerin, since glycerin is a byproduct in the production of biodiesel fuel.  As long as it is labelled industrial grade even this product is not a problem, but should unscrupulous pet food producers decide to use this type of glycerin rather the food grade type a serious issue could arise.  Even worse, at present there is no test for tracing this contaminant, so affected products cannot be identified and the FDA would be unable to advise companies to issue a recall.

So what is a pet owner to do right now?  The best suggestion is to avoid all jerky-type treats for pets.  If you prefer to keep feeding these types of treats, check the packages for any "Made in China" labeling.  Be aware that these labels are sometimes very tiny.  Even for packages labeled "Made in the USA", if any of the products listed by the FDA are contained in the product, or if glycerin is an ingredient, be safe and call the manufacturer to confirm that all ingredients are made in the USA.  A toll-free number is usually printed on the package, or you can find one online.  Don't be satisfied if the customer service personnel tell you that none of their products have been recalled (remember, the FDA is unable to identify the causal agent, so they cannot advise a recall).  If you are not satisfied in any way with the answers you receive, let them know and/or discontinue use of their product (let them know this as well).  Go to this link for a list of recently recalled pet food items.  Please note that these recalls are not necessarily related to this particular problem, or if they are, the products are only being recalled because the manufacturers have voluntarily decided to recall them (and should be commended for doing so).

If you feel that your pet has suffered an illness due to the consumption of jerky pet treats, the FDA is asking that you submit any information you and your veterinarian may have about your pet's condition to the FDA.  This information could be crucial in determining the exact cause of this alarming trend, so please help this research endeavor if you are in a position to do so.  Losing a pet is always heartbreaking, but no one should have to suffer loss of a dog or cat due to contaminated food products, and the sooner this mystery is resolved the more pets that can be saved from this fate.

I am not normally an advocate of boycotting products from other nations.  However, there have been far too many instances of contaminated products, not just for pets but for children as well, coming from China and being recalled in recent years, so I have decided to purchase as few products from that country as possible.  Admittedly this will be difficult, as so many of the goods available to us come from China, but I will at least make a conscious effort to avoid all food products and any items such as dog toys which could be ingested.  We can only hope that over time all nations will be better able to regulate the safety of all products, but until then we must, within reason, do all that we can to ensure our own safety and that of our loved ones.

Wish List Wednesdays: Black Widow Spider Wine Glasses and Appetizer Plates

From Etsy

Start your Halloween party off right with these elegant Black Widow Spider Wine Glasses and Appetizer Plates created by MaryElizabethArts.  Available on Etsy, a set of four 20-ounce glasses costs $98 while four six-inch plates are available for $76.  These items are hand painted with non-toxic paints and are dishwasher safe.  What a great way to serve up your favorite creepy canapes and perilous potions on All Hallow's Eve.  Just don't invite the awful arachnid in the flesh, unless you are simply dying to host a truly ghastly gathering!

A most unwelcome guest! (from SICB)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Terrifying Tuesdays: Dolls (1987)

There have been so many movies made about evil dolls -- from the classic "The Devil-Doll" (1936), although technically the "dolls" are miniaturized humans, to the "Chucky" film series (1988-2013), to the relatively recent "Dead Silence" (2007).  Choosing just one to feature this week was not easy, but I finally settled on a movie called "Dolls" (1987).  Even though it was filmed almost 30 years ago, I had never seen this one until just a few years back, very late one night when I couldn't sleep and ended up clicking half-heartedly through television channels.  Despite its rather misogynistic tendencies (the goriest scenes all involve female victims), this movie was actually worth watching if you like scary movies, so I thought I would choose it today in case there are others out there who missed it as well.

In "Merrie Olde England", six stranded travelers take refuge from a ferocious storm in a strange old mansion inhabited by an elderly couple (Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason).  Only two of the six, a young man and a little girl, are even remotely pleasant, but the couple welcomes everyone in for the night.  The travelers learn that the old man is a doll-maker, and find the interior of the eerie home filled with dolls of all sorts.  As the night progresses, the true natures of everyone in the house are revealed, and these revelations seal the fate of each guest.  Even the dolls, of course, are not what they appear.  This movie has been called a dark fairy tale, and indeed it is.  I especially like the introduction, with images of creepy doll faces surrounded by blackness accompanying the credits.  Parts of this movie are brutal, and not for the squeamish, but the ending is, surprisingly, really rather sweet -- well, sort of!  Watch it if you dare, and judge for yourself:

Interesting Fact: The director, Stuart Gordon, considered making a sequel with the little girl Judy, the young man Ralph, and the unsettling old couple reuniting -- well, sort of!  It really is too bad this sequel never got made (and you won't hear me saying that about sequels very often).

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 4

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Picture Parade: Gardening on the Dark Side

From Beyond the Lawn

Inspired by the book "Black Plants: 75 Striking Plants for the Garden" which I described in my last Wish List Wednesdays post, I decided to explore the world of dark-hued plants suitable for the average home gardener.  I found a whole host of somber beauties that would look impressive in any garden, and positively spooky in a setting of all black plants.  Take a look at these images, and they may just move you to add some or all of these botanical specimens to your garden:

Tulip 'Queen of Night'

Elephant Ears 'Black Magic'

Bearded Iris 'Study in Black'

Bugbane 'Hillside Black Beauty'

Pansy 'Black Devil'

Bugleweed 'Black Scallop'

Petunia 'Black Cat'

Black Mondo Grass

Hollyhock 'Nigra'

Sweet Potato Vine 'Blackie'

Hyacinth 'Midnight Mystic'

Elderberry 'Black Lace'

Siberian Iris 'Black Knight'

Ornamental Pepper 'Black Pearl'

Black Rose (Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop')

Canna Lily 'Tropicanna Black'

Ninebark 'Diabolo'

Eggplant 'Black Beauty'


Do you dare to create a garden full of all black plants?  Or does the thought of a garden gone to the dark side fill you with dread?

From Behind the Thrills