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Bring out your dead

Steve's ShrineCounting down the days to our favorite holiday, Dia de los Muertos.  The kids and I have started to drag stuff out of the basement to make our family altar.  Some years we do it big and set everything on the dining room table pressed up against a wall, but it leaves us eating in the kitchen for a bit and so this year I think we’ll be using the space on top of the piano.  I start putting pictures up 1st, of our relatives who’ve passed away, grandparents and a special space for my uncle Steve who was a big fan of the holiday.  I tried to find some cool links on the net to connect Steve to, he was a UPI reporter for many years and worked for Westword Magazine in Denver as well as contributing articles to the Denver Post and now defunct Rocky Mountain News.  Thing is, Steve died in ’03 and most of his work is buried somewhere in microfilm.  Need to do more digging there I guess… We do have some of Steve’s ashes and those will go on the altar along with candles, and a bottle of Guinness and one of his favorite hats.

Over the next few days the kids and I will start making sugar skulls.  I posted a tutorial a few years back and you can link to it here. This year we’re making lots of extra skulls to sell at the Someday Lounge Day of the Dead party on the 1st.  100% of the proceeds from the sales will go to “Wheels for Henry” a fundraising drive for our buddy Henry who needs a new van which will hold his fab new wheel chair and walker.  Henry’s getting a bit to big for his mom’s old car and I think it’s on last legs.  We are very down with the “pimp Henry’s ride” idea and will have him and Chloe over for a skull making playdate this week.  I’ll also be selling the skulls on my Etsy shop for folks who can’t make it over to the party.

I’ll be posting altar pictures over the next few days, Crafty Chica is running a shrine contest on the CRAFT site, which looks pretty cool and I’m always up for more glitter in my life.  The contest runs through the 28th and they are looking for altar/shrine photos to be uploaded on their flickr site.

Dia de Los Muertos ’08

Someday Lounge Poster

Someday Lounge Poster

Well, last year’s Day of the Dead party was huge fun and my friends at the Someday Lounge in Portland Oregon agree!  We’re planning to do it all over again this year, with a free skull decorating workshop, a community altar build and procession through Old Town and the Park block areas.  We’re planning on starting the party at around 3pm.  Making the skulls is my favorite part of the day, something the kids really get into, especially with the glitter and icing.  We’ll have mexican hot choclate, face painting and watch short films too.  Many people came dressed up last year and we had a number of folks marching on stilts… Last year the alter was fairly small, but this year we’re sending out invitations to artists and crafters to participate, bringing mememntos of loved ones or other ephemeria to celebrate the holiday.

Dia de Los Muertos!!!!! Sugar Skull Tutorial

So my buddies at the Someday Lounge and I have been thinking about fun artsy/community things to do this year, and if there was ever a holiday screaming for a good party, this is it! The city is being super slow about stepping up to the plate with a parade permit, which is too bad since the Portland Hearse Club would like to lead our procession through Old Town and the Pearl District. We will have the Lions of Batucada a 25 piece Samba marching band, a few performance artists and my buddy Jacob and his troupe of stilts walkers, so I expect a good time will be had by all, even if we get rain, rain and more rain. I think I love Dia de Los Muertos even more than Halloween- I love the idea of inviting the dead to come party with us and community remembrances- it is a comforting ritual for an atheist who’s not looking forward to the release of this mortal coil. We’ll be hosting a community alter at the Someday- not sure how it’s all going to look- but I’ve got high hopes. We’ve been decorating sugar skulls for weeks, which is a delight. I’m including a tutorial- the most important thing is a good mold and using a dried meringue mix. I ordered the supplies on line from Mexican Sugar Skull. Next year we hope to order the custom designed papel banners made by a 76 year old designer from Oaxaca.

UPDATE!!!!!!!!! We’re having the celebration again (for the 3rd year running) in ’09 in Portland! Click here for more details!

bend-of-the-dead-016.jpg So along with the skull mold you’ll need sugar- if you’re doing large skulls go for the 10# bags, you can get about 6 large skulls and 20 smaller ones, and dried meringue mix.  Mexican Sugar Skull sells this also. They recommend not making on a rainy or humid day, but hey this is Oregon, there’s no such thing. You might notice the cheap wine in the photo, which is turning out like Hitchcock’s stomach, slowly making a cameo into the occasional craft photos- the wine is optional, use your best judgment.

bend-of-the-dead-021.jpg Mix the dry ingredients first, then slowly sprinkle in the water. When it feels the consistency of moist beach sand, you’re there. Put the sugar into the mold and press down hard, then flip over onto a small hard surface. I covered cardboard squares with tin foil. If the sugar sticks to the inside of the mold, you’ve used too much water, dump it back into the bowl, add more sugar and a pinch of the meringue powder. If it crumbles or breaks, it’s too dry, also dump it back in the bowl, this time try a bit more water. You’ll want to wash out the molds every five or six skulls, they get a bit sticky and the sugar tends to pull, make sure to dry the insides well before starting the next round.

bend-of-the-dead-023.jpg Let the skulls dry over night- If you’re making a larger two piece skull, you’ll want to hollow out the insides with a spoon after about 12 hours, leave about 3/4 of an inch boarder and don’t scoop down into the jaw. You can use the scooped sugar to make more big skulls or smaller ones, though you may need to sprinkle a small bit of water again.

The two piece skulls can be fit together using royal icing, unless you’ve got no patience- then go for the glue gun. Traditionally the skulls are decorated with royal icing, foil, beads, feathers and sequins- at our house anything is fair game. Buttons work great, little army men and lizards,check stubs- you’ll also want to write the name of the person you’re remembering on the skull.

bend-of-the-dead-002.jpg Xander is pictured here making a skull for Moka- the recently expired Guinea Pig from the preschool. Our icing was a bit of a mess- we used the dried meringue mix with powdered sugar and water and mixed on a high speed as directed for about nine minutes- we didn’t have dried food coloring and used tempera paint instead, which made the icing too moist and the pink looked like Pepto Bismal- A later experiment with dried tempera powder worked very well and is a great budget choice over something from the cake decorating specialty store. A friend tried to decorate the skulls with store bought icing which was also a disaster- it didn’t harden and ate into the skull, the water from the icing basically melted their hard work. Glitter glue also works well for decorating, but it does seep in a bit, so the embellishments tend to have a tattooed look rather than something raised. Here’s a few shots of the end results- they’re all going on the alters on November 1st and probably dug out again next year, though they are so much fun I know we’ll want to make more.

(Yet another update!  based on wonderful comments, I’ve tried substituting egg whites for the meringue powder and it works great. I don’t have precise measurements,  I add beaten whites along with a couple teaspoons of water to the sugar slowly until the mix takes on beach sand consistency. Seems to work just fine and is much cheaper!)

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