Trick or treat

Like pumpkin carving, the practice of trick or treating can be traced back to the Samhain festivals of Ireland and Scotland.In addition to carving turnips to ward off harmful fairies and spirits, people wore costumes to disguise themselves from the spirits. This tradition became known as Guising or Mumming. Often people went from door to door in their disguises, to collect food for the Samhain feast.

Finding the right attire for guising was the subject of much discussion and thought in our house almost as soon as we arrived in early October. The girls pored over the hundreds of costumes for sale on Target’s website and after much debate and discussion they settled on the two gorgeous creatures below…

Olive aka Frankie Stein from the Monster High series.
Edie aka Bloom from the Winx Fairies series. She was not happy with me when I insisted on the leggings and long sleeves underneath!

At about 6:30pm we joined our neighbours and began our march around the neighbourhood…well actually it was more of a sprint. The girls were so excited that they dashed from house to house, got their candy, blurted out a quick thank you and then dashed onto the next place. As I watched them I was struck by the thought that they had no idea why they were doing what they were. They are all too familiar with the visible traditions of Halloween but completely clueless when it comes to the history. I vowed to myself to make sure that next year we will do some talking about just why everyone dresses up, carves pumpkins and goes from house to house.

Hitting up Dad for our first treats.

I had planned to take many more photos but I was somewhat shaken up after Edie, in her furious attempt to keep up with Olive and M, tripped and fell head over heels down a set of concrete steps. Despite the fact she was sobbing and sporting a blood nose nothing could stop her from seeing out the rest of the night and, as it was the one night when a bit of blood on one’s costume  is almost the dress code, we valiantly continued. (After watching Olive pass out a few days earlier after having an immunisation at the doctor’s office, Edie’s tumble was just about the last straw! I very much wanted to run home crying to Mum!)

Some of the decorations we saw on our travels.
We saw a few of these!

We straggled in the door just after 8pm with very heavy pumpkins. Richard’s night had been on the quiet side. The doorbell had rung about twenty times and now we were left with all the candy I had bought in an effort not to be the clueless new nieghbours who ran out of candy.

Fortunately Olive had a wonderful idea – statistics with candy!

The girls diligently sorted every piece and then the next day we made a tally chart. And then the next day after that I put everything in a box and hid it!!
A few American classics in there.

As we tucked the girls into bed that night they were already asking when it would be Halloween again – I suspect we will still be eating this year’s candy haul when next Halloween rolls around.

Trick or treat!

PS I’ve finally added photos from our Summer holiday to my Flickr account. Click on the link and you can see what we got up to in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Trieste and Engelburg.

Carve it up

The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and one of the Samhain activities was making lanterns, often with a carved face, out of turnips. Fairies and spirits were said to be active at the time of Samhain and the purpose of these lanterns was to light one’s way home on Samhain night, represent spirits and other worldly beings or protect yourself and your home from these ghostly creatures. Strange lights seen around peat bogs at this time of the year were often attributed to fairies and spirits and became known as Will-o-the-wisps. Those of you who have seen the movie Brave might remember Merida encountering strange blue lights which guided her at important moments in the film.

Immigrants from Britain and Ireland brought the tradition of carving lanterns to North America. In America, pumpkins replaced turnips, as they were larger and easier to carve. The term Jack-o-lantern is another name for the will-o-the-wisps or strange supernatural lights. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.

But it is of course Halloween with which we now associate those typically monstrous faces lit from within the giant orange pumpkins. Pumpkins are everywhere in Winchester at the moment – on doorsteps, piled up outside the supermarket, artfully decorating the lobby in our new bank – they are even in the coffee. Yes you can order a pumpkin spiced latte at the Espresso cafe in town. Thus far I have desisted!

Because Halloween is celebrated in such a big way here, I feel it is important for us to get stuck in and do all the Halloween things that we can. On our first weekend here we drove out to a little apple farm – aptly named Richard’s – and the girls each selected a pumpkin. (As it was an apple farm we did get some apples too, but as I said before you can’t walk two feet around here without tripping over a pumpkin!) These have been sitting unadorned at our front doorstep until we were ready to attempt the big carve up. Last Saturday was the chosen day…

Everything the complete novice pumpkin cutter could need was easily available.
Getting down to business – note the IPad open to Martha Stewart’s handy web page, how to carve a pumpkin.
Edie gets started on her scooping….
but was soon happy to let Dad take over.
All scooped out and ready for a face!
Martha even had templates with different spooky faces on them.
Olive was determined to do everything by herself, and apart from a little bit of help starting off her cuts, her finished jack-o-lantern is all her own work.
Get a load of my pumpkin!
Olive, her jack-o-lantern and the view from our garage.
Here they are, getting ready to ward off all the supernatural beings.
And later that night with a bit of a glow.

Despite Hurricane Sandy’s best efforts, our two Jacks didn’t budge an inch last night, so we are feeling very well protected as we head into All Hallows Eve. The girls are beside themselves with excitement and I am worried that I don’t have nearly enough candy-yes I am already using American English! I spoke to someone today who lives not too far away from us and they had three hundred trick or treaters last year!

If you are doing anything to celebrate Halloween, hope you have a good one. I will be back here in the next few days to report on ours. Take care everyone and thanks again for all your love and messages over the past couple of days xxx

Welcome

Just over three weeks ago we touched down at Dulles airport in Washington DC. It was dark and late and we were all pretty shattered. After a very long wait at immigration our shiny new visas got the once over and as Non Resident Aliens – gotta love that label- we  took our first steps towards our new life. Richard’s steps were actually more of a sprint as he had to get to the rental car company before it closed it’s doors. Let’s just say it was one of those made it by the skin of his teeth situations. We all piled into the behemoth vehicle that was to be our car for the next wee while – I was already having nightmares at the thought of having to drive something so enormous, let alone on the wrong side of the road. We hit the road to Winchester and by midnight were browsing the frozen food aisles at Martin’s (our new supermarket) in search of pizza. And so our first meal in our new home was eaten out of a cardboard box whilst we were surrounded by cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked.

Three weeks later there are still unopened boxes but we are slowly starting to make our new house feel like home. And we have been very warmly welcomed wherever we’ve gone. Towards the end of our first day we met our neighbors who as luck would have it, have a seven year old daughter who had heard all about the two girls coming to live next door and was very excited to meet them. Olive started school at John Kerr Elementary on our second day. She was so excited that she was prepared to get on the school bus by herself but I of course was having none of that. We took her to the bus stop – metres from our house – so she could meet the driver and see what happened, then we drove her up to school. There she received a rapturous welcome from the principal and all the office staff, “Oh Miss Olive, we’ve been waiting and waiting for you to come. How y’all doing?” You need to imagine the southern accent that accompanied this – it’s very warm and inviting. I accompanied Olive to her class and met her teacher, she was swamped by all the children – only 15 of them – and she barely batted an eyelid when I said I was leaving. She rode the yellow bus home that day, absolutely thrilled by everything that had happened. Edie started Apple Valley Montessori the following week. (Cultural note – apples are very important to Winchester and lots of things have apple in the title.) We were also very warmly welcomed there. So much so that they rang a few days before Edie started and asked if she could please come down and be included in the class photo that was being taken – “she’s part of our class and we must have her in the photo”.

I’ve also been very warmly welcomed to the neighborhood. Our neighbor, whose daughter is now BFF’s with Olive and Edie, had me over for coffee and yesterday took me out for coffee with two other women from our street. Two other women from the street around the corner knocked at the front door one afternoon with wine from Australia and chocolates from Belgium. The real estate agent who helped us find our home hosted a party to welcome several new families to the neighborhood and we got to meet new and longtime residents of Winchester. And we have been Boo’d – read on – the boo story gives a good insight into the spirit of our new neighborhood.

Around eight o’clock one night the doorbell rang. Surprised to hear it ring in the evening, I opened the door to find nobody there. Looking down I saw…

Mmmmmm – this looks very interesting.

I got the girls out of bed and together we investigated the contents of the mysterious pumpkin bag.

First we found this letter explaining everything we needed to know about being boo’d. Basically under the cover of darkness you need to leave a treat for one of your neighbors on their doorstep – the goal being to get everyone in the neighborhood boo’d by Halloween.

The most important part of the task was putting the phantom in our window so subsequent booers would know that we’d already had a visit.

Ok everybody. We’ve been boo’d!

The it was time to explore the contents of the pumpkin bag.

Check out our loot. Halloween decorations, Martha Stewart Halloween crafts, stickers and of course candy!

The next day after school the girls and I roamed the aisles at Target collecting goodies to pass on to one of our neighbors. Fortunately their BFF next door hadn’t been hit by the phantom so it was an easy choice as to which house to pick.

I could write pages about the preparations for Halloween that we are observing. the displays and decorations in some of the front yards are amazing. I’m hoping to get out with my camera to capture them before Halloween is over – the definite down side of being in a car as opposed to being on my bike – less photo opportunities!

I’m going to stop there as I’ve been very aware that it’s taken me so long to start writing about our experiences here and I wanted to get something up tonight. So much has happened in three weeks that I could go on writing all night. Just know that we are all doing okay – the girls in fact are thriving. Richard is super busy – he’s in Belgium this week – but very much enjoying his work. As for me I find myself often humming or singing the lines from that wonderful song by Mr Gordon Sumner or as we all know and love him, Sting. “I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York”. Okay so I’m not an Englishman and I’m not, unfortunately (!) in New York but I do relate to the sentiment. I do feel very alien and it’s tempting to try and make myself try and be like everyone else. Then I remember the other lines in the song “be yourself no matter what they say”. And that is where I will leave you…doing my very best to be myself!

Love hugs and kisses to you all. Especially to my new nephew Alfie. We miss you all terribly xxx

Pride

Just over two weeks ago we touched down at Dulles Airport in Washington DC. One of the first things I noticed – apart from the heat – was a star spangled banner fluttering in the light breeze. I noticed several more as we located our rental car and started driving to Winchester and so I began to count. It takes about seventy five minutes to drive from Dulles to Winchester and as we reached the outskirts of the city I stopped counting. We had passed no fewer than 87 american flags!

I’m pretty sure there is a New Zealand flag flying from the top of the Beehive in down town Wellington but I’m racking my brains to think of where you would see another one, even if you did drive north of the city for seventy five minutes. Most of the flags I observed on the drive to Winchester were not positioned in front of civic buildings or large office blocks – the majority were out the front of ordinary homes. Admittedly we were in town close to the 4th of July Independence Day holiday, but I suspect that most of the flags we passed were on display year round (my American friends, please jump in and correct me if I’m wrong!).

I consider myself to be a proud kiwi – in fact I’d go so far as to say my pride has grown since moving overseas – yet I would never consider flying our flag outside my home. I’ve never donned a t shirt decorated with the southern cross or the silver fern. We do own a New Zealand flag but that was only purchased as a decoration for Olive’s children of the world birthday party. The most patriotic pieces of clothing in our house are the black t shirt emblazoned with a white kiwi that Richard bought to wear in the New York marathon, and the girls’ traditional Maori outfits.

We all know that the United States has a reputation for patriotism but seeing all those flags hammered home just how great that pride is. And it made me feel very foreign. Dorothy’s famous words seemed to reflect my feelings perfectly – “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Whilst I share a language with the inhabitants of our new home I do not share a culture, and I don’t say that to be negative. There will be many differences to learn about and explore, and hopefully I can share some of my culture too.

My kiwi above doesn’t look too happy does he! That’s not a reflection of how we are feeling. Whilst there is a good deal of stress and anxiety, there is also excitement and anticipation in our little family. Our mantra at the moment is most definitely “kia kaha” and we are counting on all your aroha and support as we embark on this big adventure!

Croadworks ahead!

If you’ve stumbled across this page – welcome. I’m in the process of creating a new blog about our family’s move to Winchester, VA in August 2012. Check back then to start sharing our adventures.