Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows Eve ...

On this, one of my very favorite nights of the year, I will be holed up, eating candy, drinking mulled wine, enjoying my children (and my little niece - she did finally arrive), and, to top it all off, watching the next installment of American Horror. Two things, for your Halloween enjoyment.

Since, after all, this is Halloween.


And, last year's costumes.


Wait until this year (trick-or-treat was postponed until Saturday). Enjoy. Be devilish. Technically, you only get one night a year;). ~Alice

Sunday, October 28, 2012

She who wields the knife...

Tonight was pumpkin-carving night in the Alice house. I decided to get more adventurous this year. The Dremel tool even made an appearance. When all was said and done, I can attest that we might be the WORST pumpkin carvers on the entire planet. The absolute worst.

But we had fun. To learn how to carve a pumpkin the right way, visit this site.

This pumpkin had no chance.

The subjects.

Working hard.

Punching designs.

The one on the left is supposed to be a scarecrow, the middle is Lite-Brite Frakenstein, and the right is ghosts. Yeah, I know.
My little ghouls.
 
Nighty night. Alice

Friday, October 26, 2012

November Graveyard...

I'm on the lam. I promise I will post about the latest American Horror Story soon, but I am currently at IU Bloomington for the Sylvia Plath Symposium, a wonderful celebration of her life and work, meeting interesting people and seeing some old friends.

Outside of the room where I gave my paper this morning, there is a graveyard. Yes. An old graveyard in the midst of a college campus.  Complete with tilted gravestones, a twisted tree carcass sinking slowly into the ground, a row of stacked stones to form a wall, a chapel. Apparently, this graveyard, Dunn Cemetery, is both historic and haunted. How appropriate. The gods smiled on me this morning. I had to share.

findagrave.com
This cemetery immediately brought to mind a Plath poem that I have loved for many years, "November Graveyard."  Some lines:
Whatever lost ghosts flare,
Damned, howling in their shrouds across the moor

Rave on the leash of the starving mind
Which peoples the bare room, the blank, untenanted air.
 Until I return. ~Alice

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Time Warp (Tuesday Tidbits)...

Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab ...

Tidbit 1: I've been in a bit of a flashback mood today, stuck in a past dimension, which started me thinking of time warps ... again. For some strange reason, since I was my gangly thirteen-year-old self, I have loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My mom introduced me to this movie at about that age right around Halloween, and my friends and I used to watch it obsessively, learning all the lines, doing the Time Warp again and again. For some other strange reason, I only remember the first part of this film. I have utterly forgotten the second half. Probably because we used to put in the VHS tape late at night and I would fall asleep about midway through. To be thirteen again, in all its awkward, awakening glory.



Tidbit 2: If you are in the Pittsburgh area, check out Owl-o-ween at the National Aviary.  Per eventful.com: "Celebrate Owl-O-Ween and meet some of the National Aviary's spookiest residents. A special Halloween-themed free-flight bird show in the Rose Garden will add to the fun. Guests will also have the chance to trick or treat by collecting candy at each encounter they attend. Children 11 and under who wear a costume receive free admission."

So two owls walk into a bar...
Don't dream it, be it. ~Alice

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day...

Today is the kind of day when I want to just crawl into my nook and read a fantastic book that will take me away from all of my worries. Alas, I have promised myself that instead I will hang curtains.

Calgon, take me away ...
If you are a reader, you have a spot. A place to bed down with the latest thriller, classic, or kidlit sensation, any old book with pages will likely do the trick. These days, I rarely get to read for enjoyment. So much of my job requires reading - books, student papers, homework - that the last thing I usually want to do at the end of a long day is read some more. When I chose this career, I didn't realize that one of the side-effects would be that I would grow away from my books. My spot has become an extension of my workplace, which I find rather sad. I promised myself that I would take a half hour at the end of every night to read something I enjoy. Did that happen? Nope.

I always make these promises with myself that I fail to keep. I promised myself that I would work on my fiction for at least 20 minutes every day. Stopped in about a week. I vowed that I would take yoga twice a week. You can guess how that panned out. I promised myself that I would read one chapter a month of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and then try to create my own goals (I even bought a calendar to "chart" my progress; I'm an OCD person much like Rubin). I stopped in March. ... The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.


More about Rubin's book here.
The point to all of this is that I think we should be a little kinder to ourselves. I loved Rubin's book (well, the four chapters of it that I have read thus far), but the whole idea of a "happiness project" seems kind of ludicrous, when you really think about it. How happy can you be when you are working to be happy? Ah, well, tonight I'll make myself another promise. I'll take five. I will sit in my favorite chair and read for myself. Something that I enjoy and that I don't have to read for work, for a conference, for....anything. You should too.

Maybe I'll pick up The Happiness Project again - for old time's sake;). ~Alice

Friday, October 19, 2012

Crooked Books for Your Reading Nook ...

Something for your little ghouls and bats to get them in the Halloween spirit this weekend.

First, Runaway Mummy: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex, which makes my girls giggle.

The book is available here (some hard copies for a penny; yes, I said a penny!!).
"Once there was a little mummy who wanted to run away. "If you run away," said Mother Mummy, "I will get you! For you are my rotten little mummy!"

The Amazon Review: "A little mummy transforms into a series of incredible monsters in order to run away and assert his independence. His mother keeps coming to 'get' him, but this little mummy has a mind of his own. Filled with uproarious illustrations, another beloved classic gets a kind-hearted send-up in this utterly monsterized parody. Energetic art and a hilarious text will have kids begging to read this again and again."
~~~~~

Second, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat by Lucille Colandro.

Also available at Amazon.
Who doesn't know the premise of this story, based in the old nursery rhyme ("There was an old lady who swallowed a fly / I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die?"). Check out Judy Collins singing the song on "The Muppets" (one of my favorite shows of all time; hurdy dur).


~~~~
And, last but definitely not least, the opening lines of one of my favorite twisted poems from childhood, "The Spider and the Fly":
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to show when you are there."
Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."
Find the whole poem here.

Early cover design for The Spider & The Fly,Simon & Schuster, 2002

Enjoy your weekend!! ~Alice

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Asylum (Some thoughts on last night's premier) ...

Spoiler Alert: If you didn't yet watch the premier of American Horror Story 2, DO NOT read this. You will be sorry you did.

imdb.com


First things first. I didn't find this premier quite as terrifying as the last. Not as scary because more foreign/fantastic? Less realistic? For me, horror is much more terrifying when it comes home to roost, when it slinks up out of your basement, than when it drops down out of a spaceship or is confined to the wards of an insane asylum (the inside of which I hope not to see in this lifetime). Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying I didn't like the premier; I am saying that I was able to go to sleep after watching it without worrying what was in the shadows of my bedroom.

The Frankenstein Angle: Victor Frankenstein and his monsters are back again this season, in a new guise. This time, the good doctor is an ideologue of the worst sort, experimenting on his patients, trying to create, well, something. We're not yet sure what, but we came face to face with one of them at the end of the episode, and what we saw wasn't pretty. I do think the questions raised here about medical experimentation on unsuspecting, incapacitated mental patients are important ones. I've been reading a great deal about this kind of thing of late, and the Doctor's actions in AHS are unfortunately not as far-fetched as they might seem.

Mother Superior: I am absolutely fascinated by Jessica Lange's new role in this round. She is perhaps even more complex than her last incarnation; a woman who is devoted to God (and her monsignor, but in a whole other manner of speaking), but who also has a torture chamber of whips, canes, etc. She is a walking contradiction, a woman so enamored with her religious ideals that there is no end to her wrath. By the by, did anyone else note how she kept slipping into some kind of Jersey or New England-ish accent every time she became rattled or angered?

The Aliens Are Coming!!: Normally, I am not one for the alien/sci-fi schtick. But I am intrigued by the alien angle on this show. What the heck happened that night? What was going on in the surrounding areas that made "Bloody Face" the subject of a serial killer investigation? Is this a Shutter Island move or something more sincere? I want to find out.  

Star-Crossed Lovers: I found it interesting that many of the people "punished" in last night's episode were sexual transgressors: miscegenation, homosexuality, nymphomania, sexual experimentation (we knew as soon as Adam Levine's character strapped his girl into that chair that he was in trouble), depravity (if Tate's - oops, he's no longer Tate; that's going to happen alot - wife really was murdered at his hands) were the order of the day.  What do you make of this?

Finally, I think in the end all of these seasons will be connected somehow. I firmly believe that it's no mistake that Jessica Lange's character this time is a naughty nun on a mission and in the last series she was the grandmother of the antichrist. Also, -Frankenstein- seems to be a common theme between the two seasons.

Let's see where it goes next. More next week. ~Alice

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quoth the Raven, "Eat my shorts."

Tuesday tidbits. As I was waiting in line today at the campus Starbucks for my Americano, this little ray of darkness caught my eye: the TV episode "Pick of the Week" was none other than the Simpsons "Treehouse of Terror: The Original Episode." I scarfed one up; you should too on your next run.
 
Apologies for the poor picture quality. Today is not my best day.
An auditory taste of the Treehouse of Horror version of "The Raven." Pretty funny stuff.


Tidbit 2: This interview with Lane Smith about his latest children's book on NPR's All Things Considered sheds some light on the value of the "weird' in children's books.  Says Smith, "I've never subscribed to that theory ... that all children's books should be for all kids. When I was a kid, I liked odd and weird things, and I think I would've been insulted if someone gave me a book with, you know, happy little bunnies and a book on feelings or whatever. So throughout my career, I've always tried to, I guess, challenge the kid and do modern-looking artwork, to use a hackneyed term, I guess."


Smith's illustrations are reminiscent of Edward Gorey's (www.npr.org).
The premise of the book? A little girl finds Abe Lincoln's ghost in the White House and updates him on the State of the Union. Weird, but intriguing. Find the book at NPR.
Finally, the new season of American Horror Story starts tomorrow. This one ought to be good. DVR it now.


Nighty night all. Don't let the bedbugs bite. ~Alice

Monday, October 15, 2012

They're he-re...

Every day at work, when I walk back to my office after heating up my canned chicken-noodle soup for lunch, I face off with the ghoulish girl zombie from George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

flickr.com
We stare each other down. She usually wins.

To clear things up, my colleague has this poster hanging in his office. I saw it again today, just as I do every day, but today it really struck a chord. Think of all the children in horror movies. Damien in The Omen. The devil spawn in Rosemary's Baby. Carol Anne. The little Lutz girl. Malachi and his children of the corn. The little boy in Insidious. Danny and his "redrum." Firestarter. The wicked little things. Regan. Rhoda. And the one who terrifies me most of all - that girl who crawls out of the well in The Ring. After that film, I was afraid to turn on my TV for a month (which tells you a lot about my true character; I am a full-blown scaredy cat underneath it all).

Yikes. (thewolfmancometh.com)
To sum it up, many classic, popular horror films focus on the child as either a beset innocent or a cold-blooded killer, rarely anything in between. You do also get the cold-blooded killer who seems innocent, the terrifying child who is so good at maintaining the front of innocence that his/her prey are blind to the child's true intent; these kids tend to scare us most of all.  

The question, then, that's been rattling its chains in my brian all day (and one that I've asked a time or two before) is ... why? Why are children so often the life-blood of the horror genre?

I don't have an easy answer. But I do think that the child serves as a barometer of sorts. Horror films tell us what waters are choppy. Afraid of rampant capitalism? Watch out for the zombies at the mall. Worried about English imperialism? That handsome dude from Transylvania who just moved to London might make you a little nervous. The advances of modern science? Here's an arm and a leg and a head; assembly is required. Killer kids and their counterparts speak to our worst fears as a society. Regan is the perfect bogeyman for all of those 1970s parents whose kids suddenly started smoking a lot of pot, rebelling against authority, and wearing really tight jeans.



So, gentle readers, I'm curious. Who is your favorite scary kid?

As an aside, many of the segments of Night of the Living Dead were filmed in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. Supposedly, some of the scenes were filmed in the old house of one of my high-school English teachers. I don't think this is really true, but I like it;).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bunnicula...

I really wish I could have sat in on this book pitch. It had to go something like this:
So, there's this vampire rabbit. And he sucks the juice out of carrots, celery stalks, you know. He gets adopted by a family that finds him in a movie theater (rabbits at the movies; kids will love it!). The cat realizes that the bunny sucks vegetables, thinks he's a threat to the family, and sets out to kill the rabbit (think Fatal Attraction for kids). Fun ensues. (Oh, yeah, and the family dog tells the story.)
It's so ridiculous it had to work, and it did. The Bunnicula series, the first book of which was published in 1979, grew to be wildly popular, and the vampire rabbit continues to haunt bookshelves throughout the US. When I first read this book, a long time ago, I remember enjoying it immensely, even though that rabbit did give me a few nightmares along the way. What if he didn't like vegetables? What if he really liked tasty eight-year-old morsels?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a successful children's book, what guarantees that it will be a hit. While I truly think there is no guarantee, the best books do seem to share a trait of irreverence, of rebelliousness that thumbs its nose at the adult status quo. Much as Lewis Carroll ridicules adult mores and morals in the Alice books, successful children's books that have followed in Alice's footsteps pay more attention to what kids will appreciate than what their parents will.  I think Jeff Kinney, the creator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, explained this concept well in an interview a while back: "Kids can sniff out when they are being preached to and they don't like it," he says. "So while my books aren't amoral they are not infused with morals or a message either and kids like that" (Kinney interview). Bunnicula persists in my mind as a book of this sort; it may have a message and a moral, but it is largely about the fun of reading itself, of getting engrossed in a fantastical scenario and just having a good time. Here's hoping you dig into some fun yourself this weekend. Adieu. ~Alice


PS: This post is dedicated to my husband (let's call him the Mad Hatter), because we always tease him that Bunnicula was the last book he ever read ... when he was 7;).  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reading Rainbow a la Jim Morrison

Today is the kind of day when I seriously need a laugh. Maybe you do too. On that note, I give you Reading Rainbow a la Jim Morrison, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon. Hi-lar-ious.


Take a look, it's in a book, a reading rainbow... Hehehe... I really am laughing out loud.


Happy Wednesday! ~Alice

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome, foolish mortals...

“Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host – your ‘ghost host.’"

The Haunted Mansion has held a special place in my imagination from the moment I read about the attraction in Babysitters on Board: Babysitters Club Special, No. 1. 

I can tell you now, quite honestly, that no babysitting gig of mine ever made me this happy.
When I was a kid, my mom would let me pick out a new book from the Waldenbooks store every time we went to the local mall, titles from The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley High (I just recently learned that those twins grew up; see Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. Who knew? I thought they remained 16 forever, traipsing around in Jessica's red Fiat).  The local mall was over half an hour from the tiny coal-patch town where we lived, so trips there were fairly infrequent. As a result, I read each book I got over and over ... and over again. Subsequently, I read Babysitters on Board, oh, about 50 times.

For a kid who never ventured far beyond the confines of Main Street, USA, this book was serious adventure. Several days on an ocean-liner, followed by almost a week at Disney?! Seriously. I was so jealous my hair turned green (well, that might have been the chlorine from the local pool, but who's counting). The scene that stands out to me most in this book, however, is the girls' trip through Disney's famed attraction, a ride that began in the mind of Harper Goff, the famed Disney illustrator. Below, the black-and-white sketch that inspired the eventual construction of the first Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

http://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2010/07/mansions-known-and-unknown.html
What fascinates me most about the original conceptualization of the Haunted Mansion is that it was meant to be the "house at the end of [Main] street," that spooky, abandoned, decrepit former showplace that, in its demise, stood for all that had gone wrong with the American Dream. It's no surprise to me that the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is a plantation tucked into the corner of New Orleans Square.

Take a virtual tour of the Haunted Mansion here.
On their website, Disney invites you to "tour via 'buggy' the home and estate of a prosperous yet departed sea captain whose elegant 19th-century mansion in the New Orleans Square was once the setting for some of the most prominent social gatherings this side of the Mississippi." That way of life is as dead as the departed sea captain. Dead as a doornail. As it should be.

I think of this as an adult. As a child, I was the kind of kid who wanted to take a hitchhiking ghost home with me, as promised. Who wouldn't? That is, until the friendly ghost would have been an unfriendly one under my bed. My favorite part of the attraction (note, I've been to the one in Florida)? The woman in the jar.

http://www.zimbio.com/Disney+World/articles/MkkI-N1dFRN/lurking+Walt+Disney+World+After+Dark
For those interested in the evolution of the Disney mansions, a fascinating blog post filled with reproduced sketches, both concept work and elevations at the Long Forgotten Blog.

"...And consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows and no doors... which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! Of course, there's always my way...” Exit here. Alice

You'd be ready too if you were eight months pregnant at Disney in late August. Let's just say I was not "light in August" (hehehe).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

To my firecrackers...

My daughters were born one week apart ... six years apart. And they could not possibly be two more unlike beings. The oldest: responsible, calm, gifted, sensitive. The youngest: risk-taking, quick-tempered (in every sense of the term), gifted, stubborn. At least they share one trait;). I love them both dearly.

This week, I've been thinking about two poems of mine, each written during the months after or before these creatures came into the world.

I figured I would share them with you today:

"Birth" (for M)

From a glorious nothingness
you came

Your birth
was my death
as I became a new life
when you passed from that world to
this.

Both becoming
a new being.

Innocent
Fresh
Pink
Dazed

"Heart" (for S)

Soft Sophia stalks my thougts.

My body a bulb,
waiting for the orchid within.

A heart, pregnant,
a new cell
divides from the old.

The heart, a radiant phoenix
Peach-pink, fruit-full, a pomegranate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Going AWOL (Otherwise known as "Stuck in Grading Purgatory")...

So this week is a bust. Ah, well. Such is life.

I had to share, however, this great image of an owl/skull tattoo my sister-in-law sent me from http://samphillipsdesign.blogspot.com/.

If only I had the guts to actually get this tattoo;).

How cool is that? Send some traffic his way. He also runs a clothing label where you can buy his art on clothing at the Print Mighty webstore - http://samphillips.printmighty.co.nz. I gua-ran-tee I will be ordering this shirt. Adieu. ~Alice