Halloween 2009

I do really like having Halloween week to enjoy after my party is over, especially when I did NOT get sick this year! Unfortunately I still got too busy with other fun social events, including Margarita Friday in costume, and the Gourmet Chocolate Walk in San Francisco as “grownup trick or treating” on Saturday afternoon, so I still didn’t get the chance to carve a pumpkin after all…darn! Maybe next year…except that since Halloween will be on a Sunday, I’ll probably barely have party stuff cleaned up enough for the photo shoot while I get trick or treaters at my door… πŸ™‚

So, on with the Halloween 2009 Party Post-Mortem! Another fantastic big bash for Halloween at Castle Brittahytta! Numbers were back up this year to 54 including 6 kids ranging from newborns to teens, and I still absolutely LOVE the enthusiasm of my guests! That makes all the lack of sleep and hard work & pitfalls in party prep totally worth it! πŸ™‚


The Final Push of Party Prep

I took Thursday & Friday off of work as vacation, mostly because I was still trying to work on the gingerbread haunted mansion along with the final decor after the mid-week record-setting windstorm plus the fresh food, AND none of the quizzes were finished let alone with quiz sheets! After rolling & cutting dough Wednesday night until 5am and another 5 hours on Thursday I finally had all the mansion pieces baked & cooling, did the yardwork in daylight since mowing lawns before gravestones is so much easier, then my first house-elf Kael came for about an hour in the evening for his gelatin body parts certification & bringing dinner with him. πŸ˜‰ He mixed the new eyeball recipe and poured into the molds (much easier but needs more sweetness, so will be adjusted by next year), and made the heart & the brain, so at least those were well underway. After he left I started some Gingerbread Gargoyles since I realized I didn’t have many cookies for eating since I wasn’t planning on letting the mansion be destroyed during the party! After a whole batch that usually makes 5 dozen Christmas cookies only made 15 gargoyles because the cutter is so large, I tried some more character work for the mansion, then hit the brick wall around 2am, frustrated the characters weren’t going as well as I’d hoped. I was sure things would look better after some sleep.

My housecleaners came early, so the kitchen was still a disaster even though they nicely moved my mess around to clean counters underneath, and the rest of the house was nice & clean when they left…so wonderful for cleaning to not be on my personal party to-do list! Melanie came by to be another house-elf since she’d be out of town for the party, so she switched out the glassware in my china hutch for the spooky glassware, she started cutting the cheese slices into skulls, ghosts & pumpkins, and she helped with hanging the bookshelf wallpaper in the Steampunk Study…which also needed last-minute revising since the paper was too heavy to hang directly on the curtains, but once I got it up really looked fantastic! After some leaks & extra silicone caulk sealing earlier in the week, I did get the Skull Fountain finally working great with plain water and a thick wire brace to hold up the neck, and I left it running for quite awhile with my brewing sanitizer mixture to clean the entire machinery well…so at least that was a success! I did test an ice brain with the tube out the top & it looked great, but the running water melted the ice brain too quickly so I didn’t bother with that for this year.

I mostly finished setting up the lab & screened patio Friday afternoon, really pleased with the little vignettes & where the owls were hiding, then started the outside decor before it got too dark. All the gravestones were set out front & back, Pirate Corner was setup with the new booty in the treasure chest, and I put up the plastic gargoyles flanking the garage with my new giant skull padlock & chain “locking” the garage. Fog machines were tested, down to two working out of my three, but I still need to find a better arrangement, since the fog floats away too quickly in the front yard, so more experimentation for next year. I do love how the gravestones nicely nestle between my plants that have grown so much over the past few years! It reminds me of New Orleans style lush courtyard greenery!

Around dinnertime, some of the Margarita Friday crew offered to bring me dinner plus 3 house-elves! Well, it’s hard for me to organize my list for house-elf help, since certain tasks can only be done myself to my satisfaction, and I need the most help with fresh food I can’t do until the day of the party. Also, two of these house-elves were quite tipsy from their margaritas! I wisely gave them tasks impossible to mess up while I prepped the pastry brie, but one still poured Splenda through the funnel onto the floor instead of the lemonade jar! haha… Rubby (Ruth) finished the cookie cutter cheese slices & cut up several veggies, and they also helped with a last few decorations for the Steampunk Study, then left about 10pm, so I painted eyeballs & unmolded & setup the other gelatin body parts so they would be ready to serve even if I didn’t get around to painting them. It wasn’t until 2am I was finally ready to continue with the gingerbread mansion…

It was only 17 hours before the party when I decided there was no possible way I could decorate BOTH sides of each wall, assemble the house, decorate the yard AND still finish 4 more characters to my satisfaction before the party, let alone all of the fresh party food too, so I would rather postpone the project until I could complete it properly…so I hid the characters & stacked all the baked pieces carefully in the pantry. I was disappointed, especially with so much in progress, but it was the time to cut my losses. It was actually a huge weight off my shoulders, since that meant I was finally able to edit the sound clips for the music quiz, and I was able to finish the other Gingerbread Gargoyles that Rubby the house-elf had mixed earlier using the very last of my powdered ginger, then shower, put my hair in curlers, & sleep at 6am.

Oddly the kitties didn’t make any noise until I woke up at 9:45am, just in the nick of time before my next house-elf had planned to arrive! Lori brought chicken soup & a couple yummy biscuits, then started baking Savory Spider biscuits for me while I gave myself one hour to whip out all the quiz sheets & even my newspaper article for my costume! She swept the brick patio for me & arranged the extra chairs & fire pits while I was doing the last stashing of random chaos in the garage. I finished the outside cleanup, then as Lori was finishing filling the liquid reagents in the lab equipment, one of the most time-consuming tasks that can’t happen until party day, I jumped in the shower & got my makeup on. Lori left as I ran to the store for dry ice & normal ice, then since it was still too early to start cutting fruit, I quickly revised the Maniacal Menu sheets. Kael was able to come by around 5:30 for an hour, and that was very helpful, since it’s always getting everything fresh out & ready for party start time that’s the most difficult. He made the Freshly Flayed Flesh, arranged some cookies, got the ice out of my car & put the canned drinks in the big cauldron. I was finally able to carve the faces for both the Ferocious Fruit and Vicious Veggies! About 7:05 I put my costume on, after the Barbieris were already in pirate costume & Commander Kevin of the NCC-1701 had already arrived. Why do I always make costumes with bodice lacing that takes so darn long?!? hehe…

The Party

I got most of the food out this time, even with a limited menu from years past! Ashlyn helped arrange the Brittle Bones and crackers, while I finished setting out the Ferocious Fruit. Doug poured all the punch into the 12-quart cauldron, but the Skull Fountain had issues since I had no idea that carbonation affects the fountain pump! If that hadn’t been such a time-consuming pain of dumping punch out of the cauldron to lessen the carbonation ratio, the Vicious Veggies would have been put out, but by the time I was getting back to the kitchen, enough people had arrived I just gave up on the veggies this year…too bad since their vicious faces were already carved! The cream cheese Sinister Skulls weren’t set out either, but honestly, I am now glad the gingerbread mansion was abandoned, since the Creepy Cuisine table outside was so full, I needed the full dining table & lab for all my own food! The dry ice got used at least once during the party, but I never did get around to turning on the fog machines until after most everyone had arrived, so I just left them off vs. forgetting & burning out their motors. The Skull Fountain worked well for a few cool photos, but the wire neck brace I’d made that was fine for several hours with plain water didn’t hold and dumped the skull full of sticky punch all over the patio floor…at least it wasn’t on anyone or inside the house! No dry ice while the fountain was running, and I already have a new plan for a better brace that can be stylized into the cauldron shape for next year.

Since I knew I had my new music quiz, I could not let certain people leave without playing! When Dave told me he thought they’d need to leave soon, I ran around passing out music quiz sheets trying to gather people into the living room. I won’t go into the mess of technology I’ve had recently, but I sat with my laptop running iTunes to the stereo to run the quiz instead of a smaller portable audio device. The music had been running fine on AirTunes all evening, and through the first pass at the quiz, but the second time through playing the clips it died & stayed dead so no music the rest of the evening. At least the webcams seemed to work the whole night! Since I knew not all my guests know musicals, I made this a matching quiz, giving the list of possible musical titles to choose from for the 13 selections. I was surprised when not only Ben won with all 13 correct – not a surprise – but so did Rob! Way to go! Everyone at least had a chance, since what took so long selecting clips this time around was giving clues for those who don’t know the songs, but if they heard certain people sing or certain lyrics, they’d be able to guess from the list of titles. Now I have another Name That Tune theme to include in rotation, especially since I hear the Addams Family is opening soon on Broadway, so I can replace one of the others off the list!

Since people were starting to leave after the quiz, I decided to get as many costume votes as possible, so I ran around passing out ballots. After the tally, the Britta Dolls had won two categories hands-down, and even placed in Scariest! haha… It is much easier on me to let people choose their own prize from the treasure chest, but I often prod them like “How can you go wrong with an eyeball whoopee cushion?” That proved itself more fun than we ever expected, with uncontrollable giggle fits around the whole room!

Here are the contest results! *drum roll please…*

Scariest Costume: Sean the Executioner
Most Original Costume: Ruth & Gail the Groovy Girl Britta Dolls (really there is a Britta doll!)
Ultimate Costume: The Barbieri Pirates

Creepy Cuisine:
Skones with Blood Raspberry Jam by Tracia
“Dead” Cow Teriyaki Flank Steak by Kevin C
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake & Candy Corn Cookies by Maureen & Robert
Decapitare Pumpkinus Experimenti Exhibits A-J by Lyle & Galt (pumpkin yogurt with fruit & nuts in real hollowed-out mini-pumpkins)
Jack O Lantern Cheese Ball by Glen
Chocolate Chai Coffin Cake by Cyndee
“Demented Owls” Chocolate Covered Bacon by Ruth (sorry no photo but it was tasty!)

Since I had so much surprise house-elf help this year, I decide to publicly give House-Elf Honors too! Thanks SO much for all the help! πŸ™‚

House-Elf Honors: Kael, Melanie, Rubby (Ruth), Glenny, Hoppy (Gail), Lori, Ashlyn, Tracia

As is always the case, I kept focusing on how much of my crazy, overachieving list did NOT get done, but I did have a lot of new stuff this year! πŸ™‚

New Projects for Halloween 2009

Pumpkin Patch – My first attempt at growing my own pumpkin patch at this house didn’t do very well. I had struggling small vines that bloomed a lot, never any pumpkins, so it was rather silly-looking that such tiny vines had any chance of supporting the giant fake pumpkins I added since I had them in my collection. Next spring since I won’t be busy with kitchen work, I hope to prep the soil & area better to try again with seeds next time.

Mourning Glory Skulls – I have an invasive morning glory vine from a neighboring yard that is quite pretty when it blooms, but I have to keep ripping vines out every week in the summer or it’ll take over my entire backyard! This year I saved a bunch of the vines, stripped off the leaves & saved them in a spare plastic trash can with water. I only had the time to try making two skulls this year, so I think I’ll continue trying again next year. I like the idea of country-style floral wreath decor twisted into Eerie Elegance. πŸ™‚

More Spiderweb Lace – I found more of the purple spiderweb lace fabric I used for curtains last year, so I made a new lampshade cover, piano scarf, matching piano window curtain panel, and even a half-circle panel for my front door window for the spiderweb Undead Room. Those who didn’t notice the curtains last year noticed them as part of the overall web theme this year.

The Portrait Gallery moved inside, replacing my normal travel artwork in my hallway, and since the hutch is now out on the screened patio, there was even more wall space for the larger portraits I had stopped using in recent years. Yes, I’m a sucker for the lenticular portraits that have come out the past few years, especially now that I can find them even cheaper!

Haunted Pipe Organ Enhancements – My pipe organ playlist was looping on my iPod with portable speaker which never happened last year for the pipe organ debut. It was just the right sound level so it was obvious near the shed chapel, but not competing with the patio speakers playing the party music mix. I also painted the organ with black paint wash to blend in with the playable keyboard on the bottom. Since this wasn’t “new” this year, no one played it unless prompted by me…darn!

Name That Tune: Spooky Musicals – finally! I’ve been waiting since Phantom of the Opera & Nightmare Before Christmas to have 13 different spooky musicals to have in my annual quiz! This was slated for last year, but when my RSVPs told me that the ones who would most enjoy the quiz weren’t able to attend, I postponed until this year…

Pirate Booty – In Pirate Corner out front, the treasure chest was open & filled with sparkly pirate booty this year. 300 plastic gold coins hot-glued to a sheet of gold lame then draped over filler for the “full” chest of gold, with some random plastic jewelry sprinkled on top, looked pretty good!

Ogle the Owls contest – This was new for Halloween, but I reused the idea from the Hogwarts Celebrations. 21 owls from my collection were “hidden” around the entire party. 3 people found them all, but I wasn’t very good about letting people know about the activity. This is a good way to make sure people notice the details in your decorating, so it will recur from time to time if I don’t have a similar quiz to serve that function. I’d still like to have a treasure map hunt activity to go with Pirate Corner some year though… πŸ™‚

Gingerbread Gargoyles – When I splurged on my pumpkin face cookie cutter set last year, I also scored a really cool giant copper gargoyle cookie cutter, so instead of Luminous Lanterns or Ghoulish Gravestones for cookies, we had Gingerbread Gargoyles this year. No time for icing and they looked fine, but maybe next year some icing faces & accents can happen if I start them earlier. I didn’t realize until only a couple days before the party that there weren’t as many cookies on my menu as usual.

Glowing Ice Cubes – Online I found submersible floral lights in purple that gave off enough UV to make things glow, so I made some 50% tonic water ice cube skulls, and put them in an opaque container with the UV light underneath. They glowed very nicely! Funny thing is that I put the same light in a cauldron with normal ice cubes and they glowed just as well…guess no tonic necessary! I plan on investing in more colors of these lights for next year for more variety. πŸ™‚

Glowing Mojitoes – My Mojitoe recipe has been giving me grief, and could be because this year I tried adding ground up vitamin B-12 or tonic water to the mix to make them glow in UV light. They set okay but not with the same mold detail as before, and they did glow an eerie green in a glass bowl (on top of the oscilloscope) with one of the purple floral lights underneath the bowl. Even more experimentation needed next year, since now I have some really high-quality food-grade silicone molds to make a bunch at a time!

Miss Hermione G. Wells – Not just a costume this time, but an integrated part of the party atmosphere! This year the Maniacal Menu was revised not just for the lab experiments vs. other recipes, but they were all themed to Miss Wells’ experiments and explorations. Only the introductory newspaper column with photo was displayed this year, but I have plans for future years to update the costume & integrate the theme with even more decor, with plant labels showing what exotic location the specimen was collected, custom labels for the reagents in the lab, and old-style photos of her global adventures. This idea will give me fun projects for YEARS to come!

…and last but nowhere near least…the Steampunk Study! Finally my screened patio vision of bookcase walls was realized and it looked GREAT! People had a hard time believing it was just a screened patio! I had great fun “steampunking” things I already had in my collection from previous mad scientist labs & potions displays, a few new thriftstore purchases, plus almost anything that would hold still, even my ugly lime green plastic drinking straw dispenser! I finally splurged on a mini plasma ball (I’ve always wanted one but where to store the full-size version?), even modded my old oscilloscope, and made a fun contraption out of spare parts from my kitchen remodel and water heater replacement!

Halloween 2009 – Miss Hermione G. Wells in her laboratory at Castle Brittahytta

This year was interesting since there were so many different groups of people who all had fun together! My elementary school friend Debi drove over from Sacramento with her husband for a full Bay Area weekend away from their kids, more Margarita Friday people came, others brought friends I’d never met, and even a couple co-workers stopped by! There were way too many all at once for me to make introductions, so I’m glad everyone was comfortable enough to introduce themselves. I’ve seen a lot of new friending happening on Facebook this past week or so, with my party as the epicenter…haha!

Full photos are in Gallery as always…HUUUUGE thanks to Tracia & Kevin C. for getting great photos during the party! I am in the market for a new “prosumer” camera, since my current camera was frustrating me SO much, I actually charged up my ancient Nikon Coolpix 995 from 2001 to take better low-light photos of my decor, especially outside. Suggestions & recommendations are welcome, and a couple front-runners are the Canon G11 and the Canon S90…G11 might win since even though it’s larger to carry around, I can get an attachment to add filters…a polarizing filter for my next international trip would be VERY nice!

Now to clean up, put Halloween away properly, and get out Christmas decorations! I already have chosen the date for my holiday party in December… πŸ™‚

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7 Responses to Halloween 2009

  1. irielle says:

    Did you enjoy the chocolate tour? I went in July and loved it, but I wonder if they spiked some of the samples, because I’ve been obsessed with good chocolate ever since!

    Thank you for all of your party reporting. It sounds wonderful. I’ve got your book in my Amazon cart to purchase sometime.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Canon G11

    Hi Britta,

    The G11 is an awesome choice. I bought one just prior to your Halloween party in preparation to take on my Maui trip. It takes awesome photos. It’s has loads of features, both manual, full auto, and modes that are optimized to shoot in specific conditions such as Fireworks, night, portrait, sunset, indoors, etc.

    I had some flash synch problems that I need to look into since I’m back. It may have been one of those user error things. It has auto-stabilization and face detection. I had elected to NOT to pack my external flash that mounts on the integrated hot shoe and I regret not bring it as the flash seems to have a fairly short range when shooting out doors.

    You’re welcome to check out my G11 to see if it fits the your needs.

    I’ve read that the Canon G11 filter attachment is flimsy – supposedly there is a third party filter attachment that is much better.

    -Kevin C.

    • britta says:

      Re: Canon G11

      Ooh, was that the camera you used at the party? You got some really great photos! I would love to borrow it for some testing. I’m mostly worried about it being too big & cumbersome, so actually using one will let me know how that works. We’ll figure out how to coordinate that…welcome back from your trip! πŸ™‚

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Canon G11

        The only time I’ll need the camera for sure is for Thanksgiving, my upcoming party, Christmas and New Year’s. If you want to borrow it for a weekend other than those times, let me know.

        FYI: I was worried it was going to be bigger the camera I was using before, a Canon A620, but the two cameras are almost identical in size. I like the G11/A620 size in my hand because smaller cameras (to me) seem more difficult to hold The G11 uses secure digital memory cards (highest speed you can get is probably a good idea). The biggest physical difference between the G11 and A620 (other than 11 MP vs 7.1 MP) is that the MP11 uses a custom battery pack versus the A620 uses rechargeable AA batteries. You’ll want to buy a spare battery for the G11. Battery life (so far) on the G11 is fantastic. I only had to swap batteries once during my entire trip.

        -Kevin

        • britta says:

          Re: Canon G11

          SD card is nice since I have some fast ones already, and I’ve always had to buy spare batteries so that’s to be expected. Holding isn’t the issue for me as much as can it fit into the purse or pocket I’ll be wearing so that I’ll actually take it with me. πŸ™‚ The only time that’s really been an issue is a formal evening bag since those are always teeny-tiny. My big test would be my Christmas lights once I get them up, since I noticed previous cameras had as much trouble with those as Halloween decor. Can’t wait to try yours! πŸ™‚

          FYI, this is the filter/lens mount with some better reviews than the Canon-made one, but I haven’t done that much searching yet:
          http://www.amazon.com/Opteka-Adapter-Two-part-Powershot-Digital/dp/B001MRZM80

  3. Anonymous says:

    skull and crossbone ice cubes!

    Hey Britta,
    I thought you would enjoy these as much as I do. If the link does not work just search “bone chillers” on amazon.com

    http://www.amazon.com/Fred-Bone-Chillers-Cube-Tray/dp/B001526FCE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1262037392&sr=8-1

    happy new year.
    Cassie
    tannaleaf@yahoo.com

    • britta says:

      Re: skull and crossbone ice cubes!

      Thanks Cassie! A friend got me some of those before Halloween! Some of them were in the glowing ice cube containers…they are hilarious! Happy New Year to you too!

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