Frozen Pipes and Frozen Limbs

January brought us the worst cold snap that our part of the country has seen in more than twenty years. In fact, the snap was audible for two or three days as fingers, toes, and other extremities froze solid and snapped off like peanut brittle. It was nothing a little duct tape and superglue couldn’t fix, but it did make getting in and out of the car an adventure.
More worrisome was the damage the cold did to our plumbing. Contrary to the stereotype, the life-challenged do need water for bathing and cleaning. Keeping the smell of decaying flesh to a minimum makes it easier to sneak up on dinner, and I usually wash whatever the kids bring home from their adventures in the neighborhood. I’m not sure what’s worse: pet owners who don’t take care of their animals and let them get covered in fleas, or people who do take care of them and coat them with foul-tasting chemical yick.
So the pipes froze solid, which pretty much set the tone for the next few days. Cooking and cleaning became a major hassle, so we had to order food in for lunch. Unfortunately word must have gotten around about us, because our food arrived at the door covered in body armor and carrying a machete. He threw down a couple of boxes and ran for it, and my poor daughter shattered her tail bone trying to chase him down the icy driveway. I think he might have had cleats in his shoes, as well. So we were stuck eating pizza for the rest of the day.
The kids were grouchy and out of sorts after their substandard meal, so I decided to make things more fun for them by filling the bath tub with snow. I added a few bath toys, took out the bath mats so they’d stay dry, and let them go nuts. The little shamblers had a blast. They threw snow at each other, hid each other’s thumbs and noses in the snow, and they even used a couple of hands and feet to re-create my middle child’s favorite bedtime story about the Donner Party. I didn’t have to pry anyone off anyone else’s neck for almost an hour.
But it all went sour that evening, which I turned on the hot water to try to melt the snow away. The snow melted into the cold pipes and re-froze, blocking the drain completely. So now we had frozen pipes in the bathroom and the kitchen. I wanted to rip my own scalp off. Thank goodness for that superglue.
Thankfully a couple of days of pouring hot salt water down the drain combined with two or three days of temperatures in the positive solved our water woes. Recently I’ve been told that the frozen icy hell that engulfed our home for the two longest days of my unlife was caused by something called a polar vortex. I prefer to think that Mother Nature got tired of listening to people whine and moan every time a snowflake fell out of the sky, and she finally cashed in that age-old promise to give us something to cry about.

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It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year

This is the time of year that traditions are a hot topic. Family traditions, national traditions—in a world where change is the only constant, it seems to comfort people to fall back on doing the same old thing year after year.
Of course once you’ve gone eyesocket-to-eyesocket with the Grim Reaper, shaken his hand, played a hand of bridge, exchanged emails, and promised to keep in touch, you develop a new perspective on old habits. Over the years I’ve had time to really think about the things we do without thinking about them, and I have a few thoughts on the subject of family traditions.
Traditions can become burdens when two sets of rituals collide in one family, like after a married couple has children. Suddenly everyone on both sides has a vested interest in where you go and what you do every Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, or Zombie Je—I mean, Easter. Judgment is passed on an annual basis. How far one is willing to schlep three squalling, chomping shamblers becomes a measure of how much you love Grandma.
My advice? Lay down the law as soon as you can. If you spend the first two years carting your shamblers around to one set of grandparents after another (which can really add up when you factor in all the divorces, remarriages, infections, and shotgun mishaps common in today’s modern families) you’ll be expected to do it every year until the Grim Reaper finally takes pity on you and comes back for a final visit. Set your traditions right away, and ideally you should keep everyone’s expectations low. Then if one year you actually do want to drive your shamblers to six different houses in three days (which is unimaginable to me; I think I’d rather take a brain-destroying blow to the head) it will be a pleasant surprise instead of an expected obligation.
And don’t forget to create traditions within your own nuclear family. My little shamblers love making treats and crafts for the holidays. Some years they decorate a poster as a gift (I always have to go back to the craft store for more dried blood brown and gore green—they love self-portraits), and sometimes they bake lady fingers for Santa Claus. They best part is that Santa doesn’t seem to like lady fingers that much, so there’s always plenty for us on Christmas morning while we’re opening presents.
And speaking of presents, let’s talk a little bit about gifts for our shamblers. We want our kids to appreciate the non-commercial aspect of the holiday season—when we’re not trampling our neighbors to get at that Hot New Toy that’s selling on Ebay for three hundred dollars and will depreciate to twenty by February. Here’s a little tip: your kids only care how much you spend if you care. In my house a three hundred game system is no more loved and cherished than the severed head I picked up for free on Black Friday. Kids live up to their parents’ expectations, not the other way around.
So relax, enjoy your holidays, and don’t forget to keep an ear out for carolers. One final bit of advice: the ones who slur while they sing are easier to catch. They are slow runners and prone to falling down.

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My Biggest Little Shambler is Growing Up

My daughter made a grave announcement last week. With the holiest of holy holidays rapidly approaching, she had made a life decision that has rocked our family to its decayed, liquefied core.
She has decided that she is too old to go trick or treating.
I never thought this day would come. After all, it’s not as though we life-challenged actually age beyond the standard rotting and occasional loss of limb. But she has observed that the children of our breather neighbors are growing up, getting older, and are no longer dressing up and roaming the neighborhood in search of the Holy Grail (the one house that hands out full-sized candy bars; we know it exists.) And my daughter has decided that she will emulate them and stay home this year.
It’s nice in a way, because I no longer have to worry about coming up with a costume for her. Not that any of my children need costumes to scare people; my youngest throws his eyes at people for fun, and during the Halloween season he throws his whole face. But they like to emulate the other kids in the neighborhood, so that means costumes, even if it’s just a cheap ten-dollar hood and mask. My kids have a knack for making the most banal costume look new and interesting. Older Son’s zombie clownfish costume from the year he watched Finding Nemo is still my favorite.
But now my daughter doesn’t need a costume anymore, which eases one concern but raises others. How to make Halloween special without the standard candy-gathering ritual? This is the highest of holy days in our family; watching TV and handing out candy to strangers is no way to spend it. So I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own. These are some safe and fun activities for young shamblers who are too old for trick or treating but too young for turning off the porch lights and hiding behind the couch when the doorbell rings.
Volunteer activities. Local libraries often welcome strangers and young adults to come read to the children. There are a lot of fun children’s stories that are perfect for Halloween, like “That’s Not Your Mommy Anymore” and “Mommy, Why Did You Shoot Daddy in the Head?” Such lighthearted fare is sure to please the little ones at this special time of year.
There are other places to volunteer as well, such as the hospital or the nursing home. One year my husband visited our nursing home dressed as the Grim Reaper, but he wasn’t invited back. We think it was his choice of reading material. Apparently even people with dementia can’t handle sparkly vampires.
Host a party. This is not an activity for the faint of heart. In addition to the standard mess and damage that a houseful of teenagers are capable of, there’s always the chance that the party will be crashed by drunk breathers looking for free eats. On the upside, it has saved me from many an emergency trip to the store for more munchies, but on the downside, the shag carpet in our activity room will never be the same.
Decorate a house or local business. This one is probably my favorite. One year I helped decorate the local sports center for their annual Halloween shindig, and it was great fun. Nobody could get over how realistic the blood was, and not one person guessed at my secret ingredient.
When you mix the red food coloring with clear corn syrup, add just a drop or two of blue. It makes the blood darker and more menacing. You can also mix in bits of cotton if you want it to clot.
Happy Halloween to all, and to all a good bite!

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The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part Thirteen

It’s been nearly two months since Zombie Casserole premiered on Saturday August 17 at the Mascara and Popcorn Film Festival in Montreal.  John and I made the road trip up to Canada on the Thursday and Friday prior and met up with:

  • Bob Sadur – Kent Whiffley, Zombie Bob
  • Jim Poserina – Zombie #5
  • Mike Kendall – News Announcer (V.O.)
For Zombies At Mascara And Popcorn

John, Mike, Bob and Jim At Mascara And Popcorn

From that point on we spent the weekend eating, drinking and making merry with cool people we met at the festival.

Mascara & Popcorn Filmmakers

Mascara & Popcorn Filmmakers

It was the first time the film was being shown to a group of people who had nothing to do with the production, which was fairly nerve-wracking – but nothing that some well-timed malt pops couldn’t cure.  The screening went well, with people laughing in the right places – hint: this is a good sign for a comedy.

Fast forward to September 15, and we hosted a screening of the film for the cast and crew at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.  While everyone watched the film, John and I hid at the back cowering with our beers.  Once again, people were laughing in the right places.

Zombie Casserole Screening

Zombie Casserole Screening

Our next screening is at the Mensa Halloweem event in Chicago, followed by the Macabre Faire Film Festival in New York (January 17-19).

Official Selection Macabre Faire 2014

Official Selection Macabre Faire 2014

In the meantime, John and I are putting the final touches on DVDs and a bunch of other ancillary stuff, starting to script our next project, getting some podcast appearances scheduled and assisting people in other projects (including a comedy web series).

Did I mention that this last week, we got the first review of any of our stuff – EVER???  And yes – it was for Zombie Casserole.

It’s really been a busy few months, during which, over beers – which incidentally is what got us into this whole filmmaking thing (yes, it’s a theme) – John and I have reflected on how much our circles of friends have grown over these past two years and how unexpected it is to have people know us as filmmakers rather than all the other things we’ve been known for in our lives.  Not bad for a couple of grumpy middle-aged software developers.


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Happy Deathday, Daughter

My oldest shambler just celebrated her sixteenth deathday, and I feel like my brain is leaking out of my ears. (I mean, even more than usual.) Not only because it’s slowly dawning on me that she’s not a fresh corpse anymore, but every year it gets harder and harder to shop for her.
She doesn’t care about fancy clothes or jewelry. Few life-challenged do. Sparklies draw attention and make it hard to catch a bite to eat. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter what she wears; pale, moss-green skin can wear anything. I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother, either. The girl turns heads wherever we go.
She’s not one for gadgets, either. She likes getting new games and music, but her mild enthusiasm doesn’t justify the ridiculous cost. The life-challenged are masters at conservation. We believe in using something until it completely falls apart. Never once has my daughter complained about being stuck with last year’s phone, last month’s MP3 player, or last week’s brain casserole. She makes a mother proud.
Eventually I did come up with a gift, one she loved on the spot: art supplies. The girl is crazy about art. She draws and paints the most spectacular pictures, and she is constantly running out of certain colors. Against all odds I found an art supply store that carries Gangrene Green, Dried-Blood Brown, and Fresh Brains Grey. I cleared out their inventory. As an added surprise I left a couple of dead rats on her pillow. I can’t wait to see what she makes with them.
Her party is much easier to plan. She’s not a social butterfly, so her parties generally consist of a friend or two, a box of popcorn, and a stack of horror movies. She likes the ones with upbeat endings, like The Cabin in the Woods.
This year I thought I would do something special for her, something that hopefully will mean more than wrapped presents and fun movies. We signed her up for a zombie run. It’s a good way for her to practice her hunting skills independently, and with all the running and screaming going on around her, it’s the perfect setting for some real-life practice. I just hope she remembers to get her prey out of sight before she starts eating. There’s only so much you can blame on stage makeup.
Happy deathday, baby girl!

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