Small Wonders: The tricks to good treats

It's the eve of All Hallows Eve. A special time around our house. It's the day we rush to the store to buy more candy because we've eaten all the Kit-Kats and Reese's.

We take our annual holiday purchases seriously at the Caneday house. As early as August, we start debating which Halloween candy to hand out. And when it comes time to buy it, we research which bags have the optimal combination and inspect them carefully, making sure we get just the right ratio of Milk Duds to 100 Grand bars to Whoppers.

We've been known to travel to farm country — OK, Ventura County — for the best possible selection of pumpkins and that always-memorable family-road-trip experience.

There was that one year we drove 100 miles for the privilege of cutting down our very own Christmas tree. That was the year we discovered that the pine trees grown for self-harvesting yuletide tradition in Southern California should more accurately be referred to as shrubbery.

Alas, times have changed. But we still try to impart a fair amount of ritual to our seasonal traditions. Getting our Halloween pumpkins is the official beginning of our holiday season. Last weekend, one neighbor bought some lovely little Jack-O-Lanterns-to-be from an independent local lot. Aside from a wide variety of organically grown pumpkins to choose from, they got the added benefit of a scary maze and a petting zoo with porcupines and ducks and boars, oh my. Grand total — $100.

Another neighbor came home shortly thereafter with two pumpkins, each the size of a Volkswagen Bug.

"Eight dollars," she told us as she struggled with her wheelbarrow. "Buy one, get one free at the supermarket."

"Get in the car, kids!" I hollered. Nothing says holiday tradition like a trip to Pavilions.

Though I like to wander rows of farmland searching for that special gourd that speaks to me like a virgin piece of marble does to Michelangelo, there is something so contenting about reaching into a 6-by-6-foot cardboard bin stacked chest-high with pumpkins and claiming the first one you can pull out. What in the past meant hours of indecision for an 8-year-old, is reduced to this simple rule: If you can reach it and lift it into the cart, that's the one.

The selection and purchase of the Halloween costume is of equal importance. Thing 1 and Thing 2 have been considering this since Nov. 1 last year. The last few months have been spent perusing catalogs, reviewing trends and analyzing popularity indexes like pork belly futures.

After much debate, final decisions were made last month: a certain lady wizard from Waverly Place and a stylish pirate wearing Capri pants and midriff-exposing blouse. With the unsettling memory of past years' last-minute changes still ringing in our ears, we began a new tradition. The wife drafted up this year's Non-Changing of Mind contracts and presented them to the girls for signature. Though legal documents signed by minors are unenforceable in the state of California, we find this a helpful deterrent to their adolescent ambiguity.

I didn't have that problem when I was a kid. At an early age I settled into wearing the same costume each year. I like costumes made from the items already in my closet — a dirty shirt, baggy pants, charcoal smudges on my face, Thunderbird on my breath. Starting at the age of 7, I was a bum. And I've been one ever since.

As a traditionalist and strong supporter of the intimate bonds in one's own neighborhood, I feel obligated to roam my home turf on Halloween. It gives me a chance to take candy from neighbors I've never met and probably won't again for another 365 days. Sadly, each year we find that fewer and fewer houses partake in the trick-or-treating ritual in our area; the festively decorated house is a rarity among our mostly darkened streets.

So this year we're shuttling ourselves to one of those neighborhoods that resemble Willy Wonka's world — the Tim Burton version. I'm told the parents there gather at one house with a cauldron of chili and endless cases of box wine while the kids wander safe streets in packs seeking ghoulish delights. I think we have another new tradition.

So here we are, the day before Halloween. I'm already ill from processed-sugar overload. The kids are begging for new costumes. The pumpkins we carved last week are beginning to rot. But the fungus inside their cavities brings an ominous and realistic feel to our Jack-O-Lanterns.

Maybe I'll keep them for pie at Thanksgiving.

PATRICK CANEDAY is so over Taylor Swift. He can be reached on Facebook, at and

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