Author Shares Tricks And Treats For All

It's almost time for Halloween, when many little goblins, witches and princesses will be out and about participating in the festivities. Matthew Mead, author of Halloween Tricks and Treats, joins a special Halloween edition of Mocha Moms, along with Jolene Ivey, Dilcia Stephens-Medley and Dia Michels. They discuss making Halloween fun for the whole family.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice. Today, we want to talk about Halloween. Yes, in a few days, your young person will probably want to be transformed into a Power Ranger, a mermaid, or maybe even John McCain or Barack Obama, whichever is scarier to you.

But in these tight economic times, how can you have a great Halloween without causing fright night to you budget? Style expert and author Matthew Mead has a few ideas. He's the author of "Halloween Tricks and Treats." And I'm joined by Jolene Ivey, and I'd like to welcome moms, Dilcia Stephens-Medley and Dia Michels to the program, and Matthew Mead. Welcome, ladies and gent.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel. Thanks for having us.

Mr. MATTHEW MEAD (Author, "Halloween Tricks and Treats"): Well, happy Halloween.

MARTIN: Well Matthew, I got to start with you. How do you become a style expert?

Mr. MEAD: Well, I work in the - mostly in the magazine industry, coming up with easy and simple great ideas that people can replicate at home. So, that's what I do, and I've been doing it for the last 15 years. So, I think we've got a lot of great style ideas out there for families.

MARTIN: You have previous books out on "Easter Eggs," "Cakes for Kids," "Gifts from Nature." Why Halloween?

Mr. MEAD: Because I think Halloween is such a great season. It's a really fun, colorful time. It's a good time to gather your whole family around to make some fun things, and you know, there's a lot of anticipation, you know, right after school starts for kids to get ready for Halloween. And I think a book about it is a great way to help them out.

MARTIN: Jolene, is Halloween a big deal in your house?

IVEY: It is a very big deal. And you would know it if you drove past my house right now. Several years ago, we went out and got a bunch of scrap wood and we got a jigsaw saw, and we made headstones. We painted them white with outdoor paint, and we got black and made little sayings on all of them. So, you know, to me they're fun. It's like, if you lived here you'd be home now, stuff like that. So, we have them all over the yard. And all we have to do now is go up in the attic every year, take them out, put them around. And if we're really organized, we'll get the fake spider webs and put them out.

MARTIN: Do you dress up?

IVEY: Well, I don't. I'm not as good a mother as Dilcia here, but I love to take the kids around. It's really, really fun.

MARTIN: Dilcia, I hear that you actually coordinate outfits with your nine year old. Is this true?

DILCIA STEPHENS-MEDLEY: That is so true. I have a nine-year-old son who's a miniature, male me. And basically, what we do, I don't get like Jolene and decorate the house because, you know, it's too much with our costumes. So, whatever my son is, I am his co-coordinator for him. So, like, last year, he decided he was going to be a warlock, so I was his familial, so I dressed up as a cat. I had a leash and he walked me around school because I do - I'm also a room parent at St. Ambrose School located in Cheverly, Maryland. And so, I coordinate with the parades and the parties that we have in the classroom.

MARTIN: And you make your costumes? Is she one of these frenemies that we all like...

IVEY: That we hate.

MARTIN: We hate you because you actually make the costumes and all that.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: I make the costume. I go into my closet and say OK, what's this? Because I'm too cheap to go out and buy one. So, I make it.

MARTIN: OK. Dia, what about you? Halloween a big deal in your house?

DIA MICHELS: Huge, huge deal. In fact, we always get the best house on the block award, and our house is full of bats, spiders, skeletons, gargoyles, blinking lights, inflated things, bouncing things. It's awesome. And we all dress up, and we make dry-ice punch at home, and it's really, really fun.

MARTIN: You know, in fact, picking up on something that Matthew's - kind of the trick to his book is that he's taking things that you probably already have and converting them. So, Matthew, how did you come up with this idea?

Mr. MEAD: Well, you know, I like to make things out of things that are accessible to people and, you know, items that you don't have to run to the store to buy. So, I always, kind of, try to reflect on what people might have under the kitchen sink, or on their garage shelf, and that's, kind of, how most of these ideas have been born.

MARTIN: One of the things I noticed is that you make judicious use of candy eyes and black-eyed peas. What do you do with all those black-eyed peas?

Mr. MEAD: Well, we use them as eyes for vegetables because I think, you know, a lot of times pumpkins are great to carve, but sometimes you want to do an easier project. And we just found all these vegetables at the grocery store and simply added black-eyed peas, and it brings them to life, it creates an other-worldly creature, and we have a whole chapter on it in the book. It's really quite fun.

MARTIN: It is fun. I was surprised at how easy it was. You take, like, little gourds, or little vegetables, and you just carve out a little, sort of space for the eye and you get - it's amazing how creepy that you can make them.

Mr. MEAD: Right. I was just going to say, my favorite one is the carrot-tapered candles where you just, you know, you take a fresh carrot, you add the eyes to it and then you position it in a candleholder, and it's like a candle come to life. It's really cool.

MARTIN: Some of your projects involved just taking prepackaged snack cakes and putting, say, candy eyes or, like, other sort of candy pieces, and sticking it on to make legs, and stuff like that. That seems like a lot of fun.

IVEY: He also does something that's really important to us, which is to be able to eat the things you make. So we carve pumpkins, we eat the pumpkin seeds. And he's got this spider web cake. It's basically a pound cake with a spider web on top of the glaze. But you get to make it, then you get to eat it.

MARTIN: Did you have any other favorites in the book?

IVEY: I love the mummy vases. And you basically take vases and cover them in gauze and put eyeballs on them.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: This is Dilcia. That was a really cool point that you made about eating what you make because my son and I, we looked through the book, and Matthew, you have one thing with eggplant. And nobody in my house eats eggplant. So, what we did was we bought green apples and decorated them according to how your book had it. So that was a good idea because I said I didn't want to waste anything.

Mr. MEAD: Right, and that's the really - I think that's the great idea about all the ideas in this book, which are - it's a guide book. It's for people to take the ideas and make them their own. And I think that's what's fun about it. There's so much in here that's adaptable to what you might have, or what you might enjoy eating afterwards.

MARTIN: Jolene, did you have any particular favorites?

IVEY: Well, I have to admit, a lot of this, even though Matthew is telling me it's easy, a lot of it looked a little too complicated for me. I'm not that Martha Stewart or B. Smith, you know what I'm saying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IVEY: But I like to have stuff that the kids can do without me having to be overly involved. And I'm encouraging them this year to do a haunted porch, like out on our screen porch. And you know, you boil spaghetti and you leave it in the pot, and then you have people come in and be blindfolded and they have to put their hands in and figure out what it is, you know, nasty stuff like that.

MARTIN: Yes, I was going to say, yes, nasty stuff like that.

IVEY: It's really fun. So, my stuff never looks pretty. I'm not really very good at the pretty part and this book is very pretty. I think that this is the kind of thing I'd put out on my coffee table, and let my guests think that I'm really that artsy when I'm really not.

MARTIN: But you raised a question, Matthew, how do you - let's say everybody is not going to be able to buy this book in time for Halloween, and we hope they will, but how do you look at something and make it something else? Is that something that you can learn how to do?

Mr. MEAD: Well, I guess, whatever the object is, or the item, I always try to re-envision it as two or three other things. It's just, kind of, part of my thought process. And I think in this economy it's a really great way to think because we all want to do these fun things, but we don't want to really spend a lot of money. So, you know, it's important to really look at the things that you have and say, you know, OK, that piece of fabric can be torn up to make mummy bandages, or that vase under the kitchen sink could be recycled as a candy dish. You know, it's like we have a lot of these things and I think we just have to ask ourselves the right questions.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with the Mocha Moms and Matthew Mead about fun and simple ways to create a great Halloween for the entire family.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: This is Dilcia. One thing that you did mention about having things on hand, I know in the D.C. metropolitan area, most of us are working moms and it's a time constraint, whether you do it part time, or full time, or if you're working at home. And as I was reading your book, which I loved, matter of fact, I started getting in my artsy section because all my friends are not creative and I usually have to give them ideas.

MARTIN: Not that you're bragging, Dilcia.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Yes, I am bragging.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Yes, I am. But the board that you had for the countdown...

Mr. MEAD: Yes.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: The first thing I thought of it that oh, that is so alive. But the first thing I thought of, oh, I have to go to Community Forklift, which is, you know, the different rehab stores and so forth that I would shop in because that's not something that I would have in the house.

Mr. MEAD: Right.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: So, it was just certain things. I guess it's the geographic area that you're in.

Mr. MEAD: Right,

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: That if you have the time or the resources ,what you have would be nice.

MARTIN: Well, that raises a good question, Matthew, which is time. Because one of the reasons, I think, this whole question of, do you make your costume or do you buy the costume, starts to be, kind of, a sore point with mom's who - maybe you grew up having mom start sewing your costume weeks in advance, whenever you figured out what it is that you wanted to be. And now, I don't know about you all because I can't sew. If I remembered, I mean, I used to know how to sew but I don't remember how to sew anymore. And I don't know.

IVEY: The place where I got stuck on this book - because the book, as we said, is so beautiful - is the marzipan. Because I don't do marzipan, I don't have marzipan in my house, and my kids don't eat marzipan. So we do our basic every year, which is spiders and Jell-O, because Jell-O is the ultimate Halloween food and we have it in our pantries. But we just take Jell-O, put plastic spiders in it. We use orange first, put in the refrigerator. The next day, we do black and put worms in it. The next day, we do orange again, and do eyeballs in it.

MARTIN: Is marzipan hard to work with, Matthew? Is it hard?

Mr. MEAD: No, not at all. And in fact I think the reason that we included a chapter like that is because a lot of people do at-home cake decorating, and marzipan and fondant are, like, really important in cake decorating. So, we wanted to give the people that do have that kind of thing at home other options, and other things to make with it.

MARTIN: Play-Doh for grownups. That's what it is. It's Play-Doh for grownups. Matthew, do you have a favorite item in the book?

Mr. MEAD: I love the chapter on the cookie monsters, which is basically taking pre-made cookies, and having a cookie-decorating party. What I love about this is that a lot of kids and parents want to participate in this kind of project. And taking away the baking aspect of it really allows them to have the time to think about all the embellishments that they could add. And I love the chapter on that because it's something that you can do as a family. And I think the photos really help the reader to be able to replicate these things successfully. And everything's really easy to find. Most of these decorating ideas take, basically, two steps or less, and it's a lot of fun. And you still get all that tradition, but we've showed you how to, you know, skip some of the prep time.

MICHELS: Actually...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

MICHELS: This is Dia. But speaking of accessories, the fun part of the book is seeing how many things he puts eyeballs on.

MARTIN: That's true.

IVEY: I like all of them.

MICHELS: You know, whether - we buy bubble gum and put it in our punch - but he's got eyeballs on walls and eyeballs on glasses and eyeballs on blueberry pie and eyeballs on everything. We have eyeballs all over our front door.

MARTIN: And you can buy those stick-on eyeballs at the craft store, which I wanted to - and Matthew, thanks. And you can chime in on this if you want, but I wanted to ask the moms, though, about how, just in terms of figuring out what kids are going to be for Halloween, have you noticed how sort of scary and disgusting some of the outfits are for boys? And, how - how could I put this in a nice way?

Mr. MEAD: Curly girls (unintelligible)

MICHELS: Trampy.

MARTIN: Trampy?

MICHELS: Trampy.

MARTIN: Trampy some of the outfits are for girls. And is there a line that you cross? How do you, kind of, decide what you're going to permit, Dilcia? Well, you make yours, so...

IVEY: She's got a boy.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: I have a boy so it's easy, but like you've said, gory is in and I have a strict rule. If it's violent, you can't be it. So, like, this year, he's going to be Batman, so that means I have to be Batgirl.

MARTIN: So, no knife sticking out of his head? None of that?

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: No, nope. We don't allow it.

MARTIN: Well, so the line is - well, Batman kind of jacks people up, though.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Of course, he jacks people up. But he's not swashbuckling.

MARTIN: He's not bleeding.

IVEY: And he doesn't do gratuitous violence.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: OK. So, the backstory has to be OK with you.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: Dia, what about you? How do you regulate this?

MICHELS: We use this word called "no."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHELS: Not to be too obscure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHELS: If it doesn't pass the prostitute test, it doesn't work.

MARTIN: So, have you ever had to?

MICHELS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. My oldest is 19, a 19-year-old girl. So, there were a couple of years where she wanted to be like her friends, or she wanted to be something really cute, and sometimes, you know, and the Halloween store's cute is often not cute, it's overtly sexual.

MARTIN: It is. I mean, I went online to, sort of - I'm not going to reveal my costume because I - it's too special.

MICHELS: It's a secret, but...

MARTIN: It's a secret, right. But if you look at how many adult women costumes basically involve being too cold to go out, excuse me. But that always, sort of, translates - but there's the time-honored, leave your costume in the bushes and change on the way out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: There's that classic maneuver.

MICHELS: I'm glad I didn't have to raise you, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, sorry.

MICHELS: See, I take the high road. I go for Athena because the costume fits large women. So, it's real simple. But also it's a nice, you know, goddess.

MARTIN: Oh gosh, oh gosh. Jolene, what about you? Have you ever had to draw the line on gore? And I have to say because sometimes kids come and help my kids, they're a little bit older now, but some kids would just scare them to death. And I'd have to ask them to take their masks off or something, you know.

IVEY: You know, maybe my boys just aren't that creative because they've never come up with anything that I just said no on. I guess part of it is we just use whatever's in the costume box, and pass down from generation to generation, basically, or boy to boy. So we only have a limited number of costumes and that hasn't really been an issue for us. And I have never had the honor of dressing a daughter for Halloween, and I wasn't aware of the slutty factor for the girls. I mean, I've seen it for the adults, and that's actually one of the reasons I haven't bought a costume. And I just don't have the time to make one. But the things I see in the store are not something that I think I would look good in if I went out. So, no, I'm not going to do that.

MARTIN: Was that where we were supposed to say, oh, no, sure you would?

IVEY: Oh, no, because you all can see me, and you know I'm telling the truth.

MICHELS: You could be naughty nurse if you wanted to be.

IVEY: That would require a whole lot of padding.

MARTIN: So, Matthew, what are you going to be for Halloween?

Mr. MEAD: I'll probably be a ghost because I'm somebody that doesn't have a lot of time, and I can easily, you know, grab a sheet, which could even be a floral or patterned sheet, and cut some eyeholes in it.

IVEY: He's Charlie Brown.

MARTIN: That's right.

Mr. MEAD: That's right. That's right.

MICHELS: You could get a plaid sheet and be a Scottish ghost.

Mr. MEAD: That's right.

IVEY: I can't believe this man wrote this book.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: I can't believe your (unintelligible 11:04).

MARTIN: Matthew, your cred is just, I don't know, it's just, kind of, it's just - the arrow is pointing downward on your cred. What's going on here?

Mr. MEAD: Well, the thing is, you have to remember that I'm, you know, I'm the mummy that cooked the dinner, and I'm the one that planned the owl party, and I'm the one making the ice cream treats, so the costume's got to be on the simple side.

MARTIN: That's spoken like a Mocha Mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You get your badge. You get your badge. Matthew Mead is a style expert. He's the author of "Halloween Tricks and Treats: Spooky Snacks, Creepy Crafts and More for the Whole Family." He joined us from Hanover, New Hampshire. The Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey, Dilcia Stephens-Medley and Dia Michels - joined us from our Washington, D.C., studios. Matthew, moms, thank you all so much.

MICHELS: Thanks, Michel.

STEPHENS-MEDLEY: Thank you for having us.

Mr. MEAD: Thank you.

MARTIN: Happy Halloween, everybody.

MARTIN: Finally, you've been listening to coverage of the presidential campaign for months. Now we want to hear from you. On Election Day, Tuesday, November 4th, tell us about your trip to the voting booth. We want to know how long you waited in line, what the atmosphere was like, was it tense between McCain and Obama supporters or was it just a love fest, and if your experience was smooth sailing or rough waters. We invite you to tell your story on air. You can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that number is 202-842-3522. Or you can send us a note by visiting our blog at npr.org and go to the Tell Me More page. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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