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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October Tricks and Treats: An Introduction

My husband loves Halloween. Loves it. He's the guy who can never wait until October 1st to decorate the house with pumpkins, witches, bats, spiders, and skeletons; who wants to plan an annual Halloween bash replete with monster-themed cocktails, Halloween music mixes, and a costume contest; who can't wait to settle in for a scary-movie marathon; who yearns to buy a graveyard full of creepy animatronic zombies for the front lawn.

And then there's me. Just kinda eh about the whole sha-bang. I don't mind some decorations--it's nice to be festive. But a party? Not interested. I'll sit through a screening of The Exorcist (his pick for scariest movie ever made) but I'd much rather watch The Skeleton Key and then go to bed. As for the animatronics, I finally came around a couple years ago and gave the go-ahead for a talking witch, but only because she recites lines from Macbeth.

5'8" Spell Speaking Witch Animated Halloween Prop
"Round about the caldron go; / In the poison'd entrails throw. ... / Swelter'd venom sleeping got, / Boil thou first i' the charmed pot! / Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and caldron bubble." Also, we call the witch Hecate, and named her cat Graymalkin. And I used a Sharpie to write those lines in the book she's holding since, disappointingly, it comes a blank page. WHAT? Missed opportunity, manufacturers!

Does that make me sound like a wet blanket? I'm not. I just happen to love different things, non-Halloween things. I love autumn. I love crisp air, leaves changing color, picking apples and pumpkins, wearing sweaters, wrapping chilled hands around mugs of steaming deliciousness, cuddling with my husband in front of a fire, lighting fall-scented candles, switching to vanilla-scented body lotions, celebrating my November birthday. Those are the things that put a smile on my face.

And our kids? Not surprisingly, they love it ALL. Especially Halloween. Really, though, what's not to like about Halloween if you're a kid? "Wait, I get to leave the house wearing whatever I want? I get to pretend to be someone or something else? People will...give me CANDY? Yes! Count me in!"

In 2013, on a whim, I resolved to actively try liking Halloween more. I mean, is there any reason witches and spiders can't have a place ON a steaming mug of deliciousness? Surely not. I decided to contribute to the festivities in my house in a way that also made it sort of exciting for me. What resulted was a month-long countdown, of sorts, to Halloween, wherein the girls and I would cook or bake or craft something either Halloween- or autumn-themed each day. When I started on October 1st, I didn't think long-term, didn't know I'd end up doing something each day. It just sort of happened. And, living in the age of Facebook, I snapped pictures of our creations and posted them there.

It wasn't elaborate stuff in most cases. Some days the girls and I painted little $1 crafts from A.C. Moore, or I'd leave them glue and leaves and a big sheet of brown paper to decorate as they wished. Other days I cut their sandwiches in the shape of bats or pumpkins. One day I forgot about it so I quickly sliced up a piece of American cheese and arranged it on a plate in the shape of a spider's web and fashioned black olives into spiders.

On days I had more time, I found fun recipes in magazines or online and made ghost meringue cookies or pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (those were FABULOUS!) Some endeavors were a big hit-- green candy melt-dipped peanut butter cookies decorated to look like "monster toes" and "acorns" made from Nutter Butter bites and Hershey's Kisses, par example-- and others were big misses -- the perhaps aptly-named "boo beverages" of orange sherbet, banana, and orange juice, for instance.

I hadn't planned on making the practice an annual thing, but last year my daughters started asking me in late-September what sorts of surprises I was planning for October. I didn't want to disappoint them, and remembered the fun we'd had the previous year, so I decided to go for it.

Interestingly, surprisingly, it wasn't just my family who enjoyed it: several of my Facebook friends told me they looked forward to my posts, enjoyed seeing what daily things I came up with. A couple people were inspired to make some of the treats with their own kids. Some people sent me links to projects or recipes they thought I might like to try. The daily posts connected me to people I care about in a way I hadn't even anticipated.

This year, my third, I've decided to bring that spirit to my blog. Here, I can share not just the picture of the finished products, but also the recipes and directions when appropriate. As I indicated, in most cases, I don't come up with the recipes or directions. I find them in magazines, on Pinterest, on blogs, through friends. As I post, I'll always credit my source, but they will all be in one handy place for your reference and mine, here on the 'ol bloggy blog.

Some of my favorite go-to inspiration sources and some new goodies I bought to cook up my themed fun in style
Pictured (clockwise from left): Taste of Home Special Editions 2013 Ultimate Halloween; Taste of Home Holiday Halloween August 2010; 
Better Homes & Gardens Best of Halloween Tricks & Treats, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Spider Spatula, HomeGoods; Halloween apron, Kohls
So I hope you will join me this coming month as I enjoy autumn and count down to Halloween, a holiday, it turns out, I DO like.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New and Improved? Well, New Anyway

It's a new season (yesterday was the first official day of autumn, after all) and I'm starting to feel better (from 2 back-to-back illnesses - first, bronchitis, and this past week, adenovirus) so I thought it might be time to get the ol' blog out of mothballs, so to speak. (Speaking of moth balls: seriously, are they not among THE most heinous odors out there? The cabin in the mountains we visited this summer had some in there and every time I got within a yard of that area I gagged.)

Anyhoo, I determined my blog looked old and tired so I gave it a makeover. I fiddled around with some of the settings and templates and font options (am I the only one who thinks font options are the bees knees? And yes, I just said "bees knees" and meant it. I think this is a term we should bring back. I charge you to use it in conversation today.) and voila! "New" blog. (If only it were this easy in real life to have a snappy new look in thirty short minutes. Alas.)

I was highly tempted to use the cool handwriting font I selected for the date (it's called Homemade Apples or some such--as I'm sure is the intent with such a name, I can picture it lovingly scrawled on a jar of homemade preserves with a wholesome, red swatch of gingham fabric on top tied off with a ribbon) as the main font for the body of the text. That way, the whole affair looked more like a hand-written journal than an electronic posting. Sadly, that's not conducive for easy-reading, so I selected a nice serif font and compromised by having the jammy font for my date. I chose books for my background because, hello, books! 'Nuff said.

Speaking of books, here's two I've read recently that I'd recommend:

1. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley -- I loved everything about this novel. The descriptions were beautiful and, particularly as I've visited many of the settings within the novel, I could vividly experience them anew as I read. The characters were well-drawn, and the premise was transporting. The heroine, Julia, feels drawn to an old manor house and, on a whim, decides to move there. Once she does, she is transported between her own life and Mariana's life, and she discovers why she felt so connected to this landscape and the people in it.

2. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior -- This is a fascinating non-fiction selection that outlines the ways in which parenting affects parents. Rather than telling parents how to parent, it explores the shifting roles of parents over the last century and how, with those changing roles, the entire experience of parenthood has changed. The mixture of anecdotes from real-life case studies interspersed with researched facts and statistics made for a compelling read.

Other new things in my life:

1. A new home office space. *This summer we did a little three-way switcharoobee wherein the former office slash guest room became my older daughter's bedroom (including the full-sized bed that was in there), her former bedroom became my younger daughter's bedroom (graduating her to a twin-sized bed), and my younger daughter's former bedroom became my new office (retiring the toddler bed altogether and moving in my three glorious bookshelves filled with books!) There is no longer any designated guest room space which, really, is no big deal because we rarely had anyone make use of that space in all the years it existed. The person who used it most was my mother-in-law, but, in classic grandparent fashion, she always ends up letting the girls sleep with her anyway, so I figured when she comes to visit, we can skip the pretenses and just set her right up in the bed with my daughter.  As with all things, the process seemed easier in theory than in practice, but over the course of several weeks and several gallons of paint, the transformation has been completed and every lady in this home is happy with her new space.

2. A new laptop. *My old one died. I received the dreaded fatal error message, the one warning me that failure was imminent and if I didn't back up immediately I risked losing everything on there. Pretty much the scariest message one can get on one's computer (with the exception, I suppose, of getting no message as it's already too late to receive a warning; thus, I count myself fortunate in the scheme of things.) As it were, we had time to do a full system back up and shop around for a good replacement for my needs. I had Windows 8 for 2 miserable weeks before upgrading to Windows 10. Another big whew for THAT! 

3. Two new additions to our family. *No, not people. As if! Kittens! We're adopting two in a couple weeks when they're big enough to be adopted. Right now, they're being fostered by lovely people who do this all the time for abandoned pets. Isn't that wonderful? I've never been a cat owner before (though my husband has) so I don't know what to expect, but we're all excited. Pictures and official introductions to follow, no doubt.

That's all for today. I have some exciting things planned for October, so I hope you'll check back in throughout the month for those. In the meantime, enjoy the bloggy face lift.