Ideas for a happier Halloween

Sunday, October 28, 2007
Masks lined the walls Thursday at Younghouse in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

Everything from telltale signs of ripe pumpkins to what's hot in costumes

Pumpkins

Perfection is in the eye of the pumpkin holder.

"In my opinion, everyone in their own mind has their perfect pumpkin," Donnie Beggs of Beggs Family Farm said. "Some people like short and fat and some people like tall and skinny."

No matter the shape of pumpkin you like, the techniques and telltale signs to pick a ripe pumpkin are the same.

"The stem is the key," Beggs said.

A good pumpkin will have a stem that is black and hard. One that you cannot twist. If you can twist a stem, he said, "that pumpkin's not ready."

If the stem is flexible, that means the pumpkin was taken off the vine before it had time to fully mature. When the pumpkin matures, the water runs through the stem and back into the vine. The stem turns black and dries out. It should be firm but not brittle.

"Then the pumpkin will last for a long, long time, even until it freezes," Beggs said.

The pumpkin will only last that long if it remains whole.

"Once you cut it the rules don't apply," he said. "If you get a week out of it, you'll be lucky."

Alternatives for carving a pumpkin are to display it with other festive decorations like hay or corn. Or, if you still want a holiday hint to your gourd, paint faces on them instead of carving.

Also check the stem and pumpkin for holes from insects. The bottom should be smooth and solid with no cracks.

Pumpkin carving

You picked the perfect pumpkin, be it tall and skinny or short and fat. Now you have to clean it out and dress it up.

The design can largely depend on the shape. A tall, skinny pumpkin will host a cat with arched back, while a rounded pumpkin is better for a large smiling jack-o'-lantern.

Most tipsters agree to trace a pattern or use a predrawn pattern and adhere it to the pumpkin to make the carving a little neater. Poke holes in key points in the pattern so you have a pumpkin-shaped connect the dots.

The pumpkin-carving Web site Jack-o-lantern.com suggests rubbing flour on the surface so the holes fill in with white and are easier to see. It also says to soak the paper pattern in water so it lies flat on the pumpkin skin for easy tracing.

Some pumpkins may not stand up straight for carving. Jack-o-lantern.com recommends cutting the bottom of the gourd instead of the top. Then you can simply put the pumpkin over a lit candle as opposed to dropping a flame into the fruit.

If you do cut from the top, make sure to cut in at an angle so the top won't fall into the empty pumpkin afterward.

Regular votive candles, placed in clear glass candle holders are the best old-fashioned way to light the jack-o'-lantern. But newer lighting inventions -- like strobes or electric candles -- can be found in stores and online to provide a safer alternative to flames.

Etching has surfaced as a good alternative to actual carving.

"That's been kind of the rage right now," said David Diebold, co-owner of Diebold Orchards in Benton, Mo.

Dremel makes etching tools, or you can find a kit in a craft store, but the regular jack-o'-lantern variety of pumpkin doesn't work well for this method. A pumpkin with more contrast between the skin color and the light orange flesh will work better in an etching situation.

"Orange on orange doesn't stand out very well," Diebold said.

Safety

Halloween, fright night, scary costumes, bloody masks. Just because fear is associated with the upcoming holiday, doesn't mean trick or treating has to turn into a frightening time for parents or children.

Sgt. Barry Hovis with the Cape Girardeau Police Department said a few extra officers will be patrolling that night, but you can help cut back on scary situations.

"Trick or treat in the area you're familiar with," he said. "That way you know the people you're going to."

Go in groups and have an adult in the mix of pirates and princesses.

"If they're very young they need to have an adult or guardian accompany them," Hovis said.

"It's contingent upon the child," he said. "There's no hard and fast written law on this."

If the child is 8 or 10, a parent should probably go along, he said, but if 13 or 14, they may be fine in their own neighborhood, depending on their level of responsibility.

"That's something that has to be evaluated by each and every parent."

If the child is going alone or without an adult, make sure the trick or treater knows which houses to go to and which to leave alone.

"If they don't have their lights on, they probably don't want trick or treaters," he said.

To keep track and be informed, have him or her leave the plotted course and a specific time of return.

Parents should inspect candy before the children eat it. Dumping a pile of candy on the kitchen table lets the trick or treater see how much bounty was won, and it lets Mom and Dad see if everything is safe.

Though it doesn't happen often, Hovis said if something looks suspicious you can bring it to the police station for inspection.

Costumes

Princesses, gorillas and walking pumpkins wander the streets on Halloween, but some of the more popular costumes come from movies.

"Pirates still are pretty popular," said Rob Younghouse, co-owner of Younghouse Party Decoration and Costume. "Maybe not like they were last year."

They have characters from the newest "Saw" movie and things to make girls look like Hannah Montana and "High School Musical" characters.

Superheroes like Superman and Spider-Man sell well and Darth Vader is always popular, he said. For women, 1950s attire like poodle skirts and Mary Jane shoes work well.

"There's some really crazy ones," he said. Younghouse has a Barbie costume that makes the wearer look like an unopened Barbie Doll.

Dressing up is one of the most fun parts about Halloween for people of all ages. But, certain cautions should be taken when getting into costume.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department advises costumes, beards, wigs and masks should be flame-resistant. Face paint is generally better because it does not disrupt vision. Some paints, though should be used with caution.

Certain paints are not safe to put around the eye area and others caution against use on children under the age of 10.

"Just like soap, some things are OK for your skin but not for your eyes," said Donna Sternickle. Sternickle lives in Jackson and runs a face painting/balloon decorating/clown business called Alotta Fun 4U2. She was trained in make up artistry by Warner Bros.

Even if the label has a picture of people wearing it around the eye, she said, it may not be safe for that use. Check the labels and fine print to see restrictions or age limits.

Checking the date on a product is important as well. Clearance items may have expired and should not be used.

"Don't use a product if it smells real bad," Sternickle said. A bad smell or if the paint is real oily when squeezed out of the tube can mean the product is past its prime and should be thrown away.

"You're better off to go to your cosmetics counter and buy things from there," she said. Eyeliner, lipstick and other approved beauty products can double as goblin paint.

"The most important thing is to wash it right off if there's any stinging or anything like that."

But be careful of what you use to wash the paint off. Some soaps can react with the paints and then cause a chemical burn.

"Baby shampoo works best." Actually, any mild shampoo is better than soap, she said.

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