Monday, November 25, 2013

Second Look

Another blogger I follow uses "Because old posts like to be loved" as a tag line on days when he re-shares an old blog post.  He's a pro, with a HUGE following, so he actually gets paid to blog.  And sometimes he says something that hits a nerve and a post goes viral and then a year-ish later when the hoopla has all died down and been forgot he re-shares it with that tag line.  Well, I'm not so famous... but I did have cause this morning to sift back through my personal Facebook timeline and found some things I've shared in the past that made me react all over again and so, I decided they deserve a second shot at being seen.  Here's my first installment of Second Look.

Photo from the Facebook page for
The original story from KSL TV in Salt Lake City has dropped off their website now but in mid-May 2013 when it was fresh news I posted...

She must have wanted to quit pretty darned bad!! "Think you've heard of every way possible to quit smoking? Etta Mae Lopez came up with a new one: slap a cop and go to jail, where smoking isn't allowed." At least the officer has a sense of humor about the whole weird situation... his new Irish nickname: Nick O'Derm!

Click to read the entire article from
And filed in the "Ewww... gross!" category was this surprisingly interesting tidbit.  Even to me, it was interesting.  I am plenty smart enough and have the aptitude for it, but I wouldn't ever consider a medical career.  A lot of people assume it's the big traumatic stuff that's so off-putting.  Not to me!  Smooshed up organs, broken bones hanging out, blood and guts everywhere... doesn't phase me in the least.  But ask me to deal with pee, poop and puke and I am offended beyond belief!  I can hardly stand dealing with my own, let alone someone else's.  So, who gets stuck with the job I find disgusting above all things disgusting most of the time... cleaning up puppy  'accidents' in the house?  Yup, me.  And every single time it makes me want to run away from home and never come back!  I am THAT grossed out by it.

(Warning: important message... language gets a bit coarse)

"As long as our culture revolves around us versus them, conspicuous consumption, individual and corporate selfishness, and zero accountability, we will disintegrate as a nation. As long as people blame others for problems instead of being the solution, as long as neighbors remain strangers, and as long as the haves and the have-nots remain distanced, we will continue to decline and divide until someone else comes and takes away what little will be left." -- Justin Larson

The "best one raised eyebrow suspicious look at the computer while I silently sound out something silly" meme I've seen all year.  And we wonder why people say English is among the hardest languages to learn?

And... there you have it.
A few things I thought merited a Second Look.

Friday, November 22, 2013

People of the Georgia Dome

Last night, Derek and I gave his sister, Brittaney, her Christmas present.  Yes, I know it's not even Thanksgiving quite yet but what she wanted more than anything was to go to the Saints vs Falcons game.  And it's pretty much always held in mid-November.  And since the Falcons are having a year that could most kindly be summed up as crappy, tickets this game at The Georgia Dome were affordable.  So... early Christmas for her!

It was my first NFL game.  I had a great time!  The Saints won.  But at least the Falcons showed up for this rivalry game and made it fun to watch.  Final score:  Falcons 13 - Saints 17.

It's important to know that I've married into a family of fanatical Saints fans.  And have found their 'Who Dat!' and 'Geaux!!' terminology pretty amusing.  I wouldn't say it quite that way to them - they see the Saints, and really all things New Orleans, as a pretty big deal.  They all have team jerseys and wear them every game day.  Derek's mom even has a Christmas tree, that stays up all year, decked out in Saints colors and memorabilia.  So while they were there totally for the football, I had almost as much fun people watching some of the crazy fans a crowd like that attracts.  We were only steps from the car when a friendly gentleman asked "How you guys doing?"  Politely, I answered that we were fine and then inquired about him.  He paused and then said with the tiniest of stutters "I'm drunk."  Then he walked on up the sidewalk in the opposite direction from us with no telltale staggering.

He was far from the only person we encountered who'd over-imbibed during the evening!  See the top of a random stranger's head in the bottom of my picture?  He'd tipped back more than a few of whatever beer comes in blue aluminum bottles and, despite being a Falcons fan, was just incredibly happy to be there.  He hooted and hollered and danced in his seat whenever music played and at last call, tipped the beer concessionaire walking our section more than the bottle itself cost.  (And let me just say $7.50 for a bottle of beer qualifies as kinda sorta outrageous in my view!)

Righting the goal post
photographed by Cristi Ossim
At one point they had to pause the game for about 5 minutes to fix the goal post.  It was doing some drunken weaving itself...

Leaving the game, we were sucked up into a bigger huddle of Saints fans.  A lot of them had whistles and those party favors you blow into and were chanting "Who Dat?  We Dat!" and "Saints are goin' to the Superbowl!" all the way down the exit ramps.  It was fun to be in the middle of such a happy and excited crowd!

And I loved the costumes some people wore!!  Several of the women had these dainty little black lace parasols trimmed out with yellow and black feathers or had used gold glitter to make a fleur de lis on the fabric between each rib.  A few of the younger ladies donned gold sequined hot pants with their jerseys.  And one man, and both of his little boys, had long gold and black capes.

New Orleans seems to be more than a place... it's a whole different culture!  And those folks loudly and proudly carry it with them wherever they go!!

After we were outside and making our way back up to the car, a Falcons fan stepped in front of me.  He was decked out in head to toe red team gear, even with red facepaint.  He was complaining to his less flamboyantly dressed companions "I'm soooooo sick of always getting kicked in the teeth!!  Man... we're NEVER gonna win another game."  Then he went on to complain about the team's coach, who, according to the commentary on that sports talk radio channel Derek listens to, is too conservative with the plays.  (The primary example from last night:  At the end of the game, they were in a 4 and 15 situation.  He choose to try for a field goal that they missed.  Had they made it, they would have still been 2 points shy of winning.  Most fans and analysts think a better choice would have been to try for a TD.)

All in all, it was a GREAT night out!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tater Skins

Not long after Derek and I first got together, he came home with 'snacks' one night that included a couple of boxes of TGI Friday's Potato Skins.  I was flabbergasted!  They're almost $5 a box and you get like 6 or 8 skimpy little pieces with hardly any toppings.

Flabbergasted, I tell you!

And so I set out to remedy his spendthrift ways...  well, that's another post entirely but I did manage to convert him to my home-made Tater Skins.  Which is very cool because he didn't even know you could make them yourself.  So he was very very surprised at just how much better they taste, too!

In case you didn't know how easy this little treat is to make, here's my step-by-step instructions.

First, you need to bake some potatoes and let them cool.  I just wash them, wrap in foil, pierce with a fork and bake at 350F until they feel 'done.'  Then I set them aside until cool.  (In all honesty, you can go ahead and make Tater Skins while they're still hot.  It will work.  But you'll burn your fingers and they tend to fall apart more.)  Next you want to cut them into pieces.

The beginning cuts are just to make wide slices.  These are Idaho Russet #1s.  I guess they're supposed to be what passes as a baker these days.  That's the hazard of growing up in Idaho's Potato Capitol... you know how big spuds can really get and that the puny little things in the grocery store are a far cry from it!  Anyway, I cut these average-ish sized potatoes into fourths crosswise.

Then I cut each piece in half so I got 8 Tater Skins from each potato.  Yes, they are sticky.  And yes, your fingers will be a nasty feeling mess after just a few.

I used a teaspoon from my silverware drawer to hollow out each piece.  Leave about 1/8" of flesh attached to the skin so you get pieces that look something like this.

The flesh you are scooping out of the middle... is great for potato salad, baked potato soup or to chill overnight and cut up a bit more to make hashbrowns for tomorrow morning's breakfast.  Hashbrowns are the destiny of these beauties!

Arrange in a baking dish.  These are going in the freezer for later so I've set them on foil inside a plastic freezer dish to make it easy to lift out later and set on a baking pan.

I sprinkled with a bit of Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning (use your favorite seasoned salt), a little sprinkle of grated cheese, some bacon bits and more cheese.  I'll fold the foil all in on itself, snap the lid on and freeze.  When Derek is ready to cook them for his snack, he'll just need to pull the foil out and open it up on top of a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350F until heated through and the cheese has just barely started to brown.

Here's the haul I made tonight with approximately $5 worth of ingredients... one heck of a lot more than the 6-8 little chunks from the TGI Friday's box!!

There's a pan for us to munch on tonight and 4 snack boxes for later on.

And here's how they look after baking and right before you pop one in your mouth.  (I ran out of bacon bits... so these just have cheese but you get the idea, I'm sure.)

Mmmm... happy mouth!

But While...

20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison,
21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.
23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
Genesis 39:20-23 NIV

I've only ever studied from the King James Version of the Bible but I when read another person's comments on this verse from another writing it rung so true.  I had to find them and explore the idea a little more.  The key words are "but while" toward the end of verse 20.

"But while" denotes the passage of some period of time that Joseph was in the prison.  Obviously he was there long enough to come to the warden's attention.  God was working, either on something in Joseph (or in others) that needed refining before he could complete his life's mission or perhaps even that the time just wasn't right yet.  We don't know the mind of God or the many things He is working to bring about beyond our limited mortal vision.  Those are easy words to say, but hard to live.

I can't even begin to imagine what must have been going through Joseph's mind right then.  He'd just done the right thing and fled Potiphar's wife as she tried to seduce him and then she lied and he went to jail for it.  That doesn't sound much like God and you are on the same side...

From that perspective, maybe I can imagine.

For the past couple of years I've felt like I've been wandering in a spiritual desert.  No matter what I try to do right, I don't seem to be finding any favor with God.  I don't see His hand at work and I don't feel His presence or blessings that I so desperately want.  Life is hard in the dark.  Maybe I'm in some kind of metaphorical prison?  Maybe I'm just experiencing one of life's "but while's."  Maybe not feeling God's presence and blessings is coming from my side... my attitude about life's current circumstances.  Maybe I gave up on Him and started to quit believing.

Maybe it's up to me to fix that.

Photo from The Art Needlepoint Co.
I've always had a notion that I have some unique purpose here on earth.  Something big, perhaps even notable, to accomplish during my life.  Whether that idea is rooted in truth or my own blind sense of self-importance is yet to be seen because as much as I've felt that way, I've never been been able to figure out what purpose my existence serves.  Maybe God is wanting to refine something in me.  Maybe whoevers' life I need to impact isn't ready for it yet. Or maybe it's just not time for my part in God's plan to be played out.

Once in awhile, I get a fleeting glimpse that somehow seems like it's tied to my purpose.  Coincidental to this scripture about Joseph, I saw (and felt that connecting glimpse with it) this needlepoint.  I thought it was very interesting that the colors of his coat are depicted as people.  Maybe it's the people he influenced in his life or who influenced him?  We often think about the people around us as adding color, depth, or excitement to our lives.  Others have even described life as a tapestry where you can't see the light and bright colors without the dark to define them.

So...  "but while" I feel so much like I'm hidden from God's view maybe now is a time when I need to refocus on the people around me and, metaphorically speaking, spend some time sewing on my own neglected "coat of many colors."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gooey Cake

I love chocolate!

Really I do.  Except for those times that come up now and then when the mere thought of chocolate makes me want to gag.  That was tonight.  So for dessert I made a Gooey Cake.

Gooey Cake is also known as Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cake (surprising since in her heyday she was the queen of butter and this recipe calls for only a modest single cube) and Chess Squares (no clue where that name comes from) and Texas Gold (maybe because most recipes start with a yellow cake mix?) and maybe a few dozen other things.  My point is that there are already dozens of posts on blogs and cooking websites about making this cake and so I'm not going to do step by step instructions.

Just show you a couple of pictures.  After all, I do want you to be tempted...  And I'm going to tell you that it is delicious!  And very gooey.

Perfect for a cold autumn evening!

And I'll give you the very very simple recipe.

Before we get started, you can choose any flavor of cake mix you want to use.  Yellow seems to be pretty traditional, but white works.  So does vanilla, lemon, strawberry, orange or even chocolate.  I used a white cake mix this time.

So... here we go.  Let's make some cake!

Gooey Cake

1 Cake mix
1 cube of melted butter (not margarine)
1 egg

Mix together to form a soft dough and press into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13 baking pan.  Fingers work great to press it into place.

Beat together until well blended:
8 oz cream cheese, softened and broken into small pieces
2 eggs
4 cups of powdered sugar
(add up to 2Tbl of cocoa powder if you are making a chocolate cake)

Pour over the top of the cake mix dough and bake at 300F for 45-50 minutes or until just set in the middle.  I tend to over bake... and it's still tastey, just not so gooey.  Let cool before cutting.  Enjoy!

Like I said, I used a white cake mix.  And while it is yummy all on its own, it would be even better with some sweetened sliced strawberries over the top or even drizzled with chocolate syrup.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two Peas in a Pod

Lightning and Jack have become like peas in a pod... they act so similar to each other, play the same way, use the same vocalizations and will seek each other out for companionship.  The past few days I've been able to sneak up and snap a quick photo of them napping together and laying on the floor in the same positions just inside my living room.  This is their favorite hangout spot while I'm working in the kitchen or piddling around on the internet here at the table.

I love that even their paws are in the same position!

 These are the 2 that will click their teeth together at each other in the middle of a wrestling match.  Thunder and Gizmo take that as an aggressive act, but these two act like it's funny and do it toward each other all the time.  And their wrestling matches can stretch for hours with one on top and then the other as they roll and jump and twist and dive bomb each other.

Dos Amigos...

They are also the 2 who are most likely to lay their heads up over my legs to snuggle and nap for hours on either the couch or bed.  The other boys like attention until they are ready to sleep and then it's pretty much hands off.  But Lightning and Jacky... they like the physical contact with their human, me.

Lightning has been especially good at looking out for Jack since he was neutered on Tuesday.   They kept the play a little more gentle and let it escalate into their usual antics at Jack's pace.  It didn't take long.  He came home thirsty and very hungry but after getting his tummy full and a little more reassurance that we all still love him, he jumped right in!

He'll get his chance to console big brother soon enough.  Lightning is scheduled for a little snip snip of his own on Wednesday of this coming week.

Back to back this time, but still remarkably similar.

See that ring toy in the background?  Lightning finally learned to play tug with me using it.  He's the only one, so far, that will pick it up and pull against me when I hold the other end.  And then shake it mightily... sometimes so mightily that I think it's going to rip my arms out.  Yesterday and today, he's been teaching Jack to tug with him.

It's so fun to watch them together!

I love my boys!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remember the Bees

As often happens, something unusual catches my eye on Pinterest.  And then I start making associations to it from my life.  And then I end up here to tell you about it.  Well... grab your favorite beverage and settle in, my friend.

Photo from:
I remember visiting my dad's oldest sister, Wilma (named after their father, Wilford) in Afton, WY as a child.  Where and how she lived was so very different than where and how we lived and there were so many fascinating things to explore!  Until it finally rotted out and fell down, there was a big old barn where her milk cow lived.  I think once it probably held many other animals, but in my memory I only ever see the one cow.  She had at some point stored some household items from when Grandpa either sold the ranch, or maybe after he passed away, in the hay loft.  One of my cousins rescued a shoe box of his letters and pictures that no one else seemed to want for me.  I have it still and it is a treasure!

There was a little stream to one side of the house where, sadly, she'd lost a child to drowning.  I can't even imagine how hard it was to stay there and see it every single day.  With my childish oblivion to her pain its cold, clear, quick flowing water fascinated me and I spent many hours gazing into it hoping to see a fish or a crawdad or a frog.  I don't remember that ever happening, but I was sure that if I watched long enough I would see one.  And I recall that having me out there by the creek gave my mom loads of stress...

I remember Aunt Wilma's African Violets.  She had pink ones, and purple ones and white ones and if they grow in any other shades she probably had those, too.  I think their pots covered every table, counter top and window sill of her house!  And she had a pair of birds in her bedroom.  Some part of me wants to say they were Love Birds, but in all honesty I don't know.

Lately I've been thinking about her and trying to remember more.  I see a little bit of her in me... physically I'm reminded of it when I see the topmost knuckle of my 'bird' fingers starting to turn in like hers when age, hard work and arthritis had worked their gnarling torture.  I hope I can go forward with the same uncomplaining grace she had.

Yesterday I remembered that she kept a bee hive near where you would park just outside the fence around her yard. It seems like it might have started out as a wild hive but she provided them with boxes and good habitat (she kept a yard full of flowers and alfalfa fields surrounded her house) so they stayed.  I know she harvested the honey and used it in her baking.  It was that wonderful clover honey you get from those high mountain deserts out West.  If you've ever tasted it you know that it's different... And if that's what you grew up with, there is no other honey in the world that tastes quite as good!  That was where I learned not be afraid of the bees.  She said the bees could sense your fear and that's when they'd sting you.  In my mind, I can clearly see her standing, completely at peace and almost zen-like, in front of the hive with a cloud of bees buzzing around her.  I guess you could say, like the man described in that clipping, Aunt Wilma 'had a way with them.'

And so to her memory I dedicate the telling of this poem today.

Telling the Bees
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Here is the place; right over the hill
Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.

There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
And the poplars tall;
And the barn's brown length, and the cattle-yard,
And the white horns tossing above the wall.

There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o'errun,
Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.

A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,
Heavy and slow;
And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,
And the same brook sings of a year ago.

There 's the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;
And the June sun warm
Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,
Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.

I mind me how with a lover's care
From my Sunday coat
I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,
And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.

Since we parted, a month had passed, --
To love, a year;
Down through the beeches I looked at last
On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.

I can see it all now, -- the slantwise rain
Of light through the leaves,
The sundown's blaze on her window-pane,
The bloom of her roses under the eaves.

Just the same as a month before, --
The house and the trees,
The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door, --
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

Then I said to myself, "My Mary weeps
For the dead to-day:
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
The fret and the pain of his age away."

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

And the song she was singing ever since
In my ear sounds on: --
"Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

There's An App For That

Do you forage for food?

I'd never exactly put that word to it until recently, but I do.  I always have.  I grew up with parents who were foragers.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are fruit picking trips cleverly disguised as weekend family camping trips.  Not far outside of Shelley, ID (my... how far I've wandered!) you can, or at least you could 30-40 years ago, drive up into the mountains through Wolverine Canyon.  We did that a lot when I was kid because, looking at it with today's insight, it was both nearby and filled with resources.

I remember 'harvesting' these things in Wolverine Canyon:

  • Chokecherries
  • Elderberries
  • Currants (Yellow, Red and Black ones)
  • Oregon Grapes
  • Crawfish
  • Trout
  • Deer
  • Sage Hen
  • All kinds of fallen trees for firewood
  • Watercress

We'd bring one or more of these things home on any given trip.  The next day or two would be devoted to preserving (except the crawfish and watercress which were always used fresh) the bounty for later use.  Chokecherries, Elderberries, Currants and the Grapes were quickly turned into jams and jellies.  The trout was filleted and sage hens cut up and either frozen or canned.  Deer was usually processed at a local butcher who would do game meat.  And wood was chopped down into smaller pieces to burn as supplemental heat all winter.

A few times my dad cut Chokecherry branches that had naturally formed into a good shape for a cane or walking stick and then peeled back the bark, shaved them smooth with his pocket knife and, when they were well dried, oiled them so they are a luscious natural wood finish.   Later they were cut to height as he sold or gifted them away.  I still have the one he made especially for my mom and if I shrink the way she did in her later years one day it will be the right height for me, too.

It was just a normal part of how we lived.

Just like picking asparagus growing along the roadsides in the spring...  Or picking the extra apples, with permission of course, from a neighbor's tree for juice, jelly, apple sauce, pie filling and dehydrated apple chips.

Some day make your own apple chips!  Try dipping the apple slices in cinnamon and sugar before drying.  Or... my favorite:  strawberry banana jello powder.

Everywhere I've been after that it's a normal thing to mentally tally the resources around me.  Now there's an app that will track a lot of that for me.  I signed up on Neighborhood Fruit and took a look around this morning.  It seems like a pretty new thing that doesn't have a lot of information entered in for many locales yet.  But it's an interesting idea.  One I really like and will continue to check back periodically.

On Neighborhood Fruit, you can both enter information about fruit you have available to others who will come glean it and search for those opportunities for yourself.  Some estimates say that as much as 80% of the fruit growing in backyards around the country is not used while the fruit we do eat is grown in water-intensive orchards far from our homes.  That just doesn't make sense to me.  It's not sustainable or responsible.

In the spring, I have every intention of adding fruit trees to my yard.  And I know they'll produce more than I could ever hope to use myself.  I will be entering them on Neighborhood Fruit.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Is Halloween?

Last night was the annual celebration of Halloween for those who participate.  Not everyone does.  And I'm not saying there's anything wrong about that choice.  We do Halloween at my house and are already starting to put together ideas for next year's decorations.  After it came up in conversation a couple of times today, I decided maybe I needed to know a little more about what Halloween is.

There's a lot of disagreement about where the holiday itself originated, but the word Halloween is a contraction of the Scottish  phrase All Hallows' Eve.  The origin is Christian and it means 'hallowed evening' or 'holy evening.'  In Scots, eve, meaning evening, is often contracted to e'en or een.  Over time (All) Hallow(s') E(v)en evolved into Halloween.  All Hallows' Eve (also called Hallowmas) was a mass day for all saints and recently departed souls who had yet to reach heaven (still in purgatory) in the primitive Church.  Originally celebrated in May, the date was changed to October 31 at the behest of Pope Gregory IV in 835.

So the day, and the word, have been around for a long time.

On route home after a night's drinking, Jack encounters
the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking
Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping
the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his
soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry
to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses
to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of
hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed
out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his
lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.
An Irish Christian folk tale
The way it's celebrated in America today is a little more complicated.  Like many of our modern holiday traditions there is a mashup of Christian, Pre-Christian and Pagan ideas and celebratory activities from all over the world combined together and commercialized by clever marketing people.

For example, All Hallow's Eve honored dead loved ones and saints.  It was (maybe still is in some places?) a formal Church service that includes services and prayers dedicated to these people.  You can also find this same idea of a day set aside to honor passed on loved ones in the Latin world's La Dia de Los Muertos where families spend the night feasting and remembering their dead at gravesite.  You also see echos of this theme in the Pagan festivals, which mark the passing of the harvest season into the dark days of winter, of Samhain (Celtic) and Calan Gaeaf (Gaelic - specifically, Welsh).  Samhain/Calan Gaeaf were historically seen as a liminal time, when spirits or faeries could more easily come into our world and were particularly active.  It was (perhaps is?) also seen as a time when the dead revisited their homes and places were set at the table, or by the fire, to welcome them.  Sometimes candles burned in every room to help guide them home.

Household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one's future, especially regarding death and marriage. Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. Some suggest that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the "powers of growth" and holding back the decay and darkness of winter.

Souling was a Christian practice carried out in many
English towns on Halloween and Christmas.  It refers
to the practice of children begging for spiced fruit
cakes door to door singing this song (1891 version).

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.
Many of the festivals included 'guising' (at least since the 16th century) or 'souling' traveling house to house in costume and reciting verses or singing in exchange for food.  The costume is thought to be a disguise from the mischievous faeries who might wish you some harm.  There are many variations on this theme depending on the specific locale.

The modern images of Halloween draw from these traditions as well as works of Gothic and horror literature (Frankenstein, Dracula or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for example) and horror films (one would be the classic The Mummy).  Images like the skull, a reference to Golgotha in the Christian tradition, serve as a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life.  Likewise the back walls of many Churches and Cathedrals is decorated with a mural of 'The Last Judgement' complete with graves opening and souls rising to make their way to either heaven (filled with angels) or hell (filled with devils).

In short, there is no single answer to whether Halloween is good or bad.  To see the good or bad is an individual choice.  You can choose the see evil or find meaning in the religious symbology.  You can pick and choose what parts you want to observe, too.  Like most things in life, Halloween is customizable to your specific tastes and wants.  It is just what you make it.