Holidays


The Tom-Foolery of Carving a Jack-O-Lantern

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 10/21/14 8:22 PM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Blog, Holidays

It started with the best of intentions.  It’s the week before Halloween.  We’ve been to the Gust Pumpkin Farm no less than five times.  We have a herd of pumpkins decorating our house.  So, the next step seemed obvious.  Time to carve those puppies up.

Afterall, it’s a tradition.

When I was a kid my parents would carve a pumpkin for each of their children.  I have memories of perching myself on a kitchen chair while my dad used an electric knife–later replaced with a jigsaw…he’s a power tool kind of guy–while my mom rolled up her sleeves gutting the innerds into the kitchen sink.  I’d bark orders about the shape of eyes, or the slant of a smile and regardless of how I wanted it to look, it always kind of looked the same.  Triangle eyes.  A toothy grin.  And if one of them was feeling extra crafty, a nose.

Of course, all of this occurred the hour before trick-or-treating so they could be promptly lit for the onslot of trick-or-treaters.

When Drew and Ryan came of age I tried to replicate the process.  I’ll never forget thinking it was oh-so-simple.  First, we’d carve.  Next, we’d illuminate.  Then we’d get into our costumes.  Finally, we’d enjoy the chile from the crock-pot before skipping our way out the door–all Norman Rockwell style.

Then reality set in.

Turns out carving a pumpkin without the help of a partner slows the process…a lot.  And, gutting a pumpkin with a kid who has a super sensitive sense of smell is less than optimal. And because the process was taking longer than the eight minute attention spans of my sons, the whole ordeal quickly became a chore while the boys tried to impale each other with a light saber and a ninja sword.  (I swear we bought costumes solely based on the weapons that came with them.)

Before I knew it, the entire process turned into one giant debacle that ended with me screaming something along the lines of, “fuck it”; throwing the half carved pumpkins on the porch; and grabbing a solo cup filled to the rim with wine to accompany my demon children while they pillaged for candy.

I swore I’d never attempt pumpkin carving again.

 

Then came the second cohort of kids.

Now let me preface this with something that I get…a lot.  As all of my readers know, the ages of our children are quite unique.  It’s not that having a  20 and 17 year old  is anything special.  Neither is having three—soon to be four—kids under the age of six.  But when a stranger asks how old our kids are and I render the answer–the entire answer— they all have the very same look of bewilderment.  I can practically read their minds and as a result feel compelled to explain that indeed, this is not a second marriage…they all have the same father;  and I usually add something about how we are really, really bad at timing.

Once the stranger collects themselves enough to form a sentence, many of them have the very same comment.  “That would be so cool.  Like a do-over.”  Which, is true in a way.  We’ve already managed to get one out the door and into college and another will fly the coop next year.  As it currently stands it appears we managed not to screw up our first two kids but there are definitely things we’re doing differently this time around.  Some of the do-overs are major.  We’ve chosen a different educational setting for our younger kids and we realize now that over scheduling a child in activities/sports really…REALLY…doesn’t make a damn bit of difference when college application time rolls around.  Some of the differences are more trivial.  Like trying to rekindle the tradition of carving pumpkins.

Turns out some of the stuff that stunk the first time around…still stinks.

Fast forward to this past Sunday afternoon.  After doing some Pinterest research and finding a way to “preserve” a pumpkin to keep it from rotting before Halloween, I decided that my first mistake, oh-so-many-years-ago, was trying to get the carving done on the actual day of Halloween.  Now that  I knew how to keep the pumpkin fresh for a week or two, I could devote the time to the process needed to make it stress-free and fun.

So off to the farm we went to pick out three pumpkins for the deed.  We decided on the four dollar variety (which, by the way, would cost no less than $15 at the super market.  I LOVE the Gusts!).  They weren’t to big yet big enough to easily, so I thought, get the deed done.

When we arrived home I covered the kitchen table, put the girls to work “washing” the pumpkins, and prepared my carving utensils.

Now… here’s the thing.  Remember how I said my dad used tools?  I think there may have been some brilliance in that because all I had was the $3.99 carving kit from Meijer which I quickly realized was like trying to cut a pumpkin with a spork.  That’s when the frustration started.  As the girls sat there patiently waiting for me to work my magic I quickly abandoned the spork for a kitchen knife.  And, after a few more minutes my plans for a Pinterest inspired templates were aborted for the triangle eyes, and toothy grins of my childhood.  And, after about fifteen more minutes I realized the girls had lost interest, and there I sat.  Alone.

To which I asked myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?

*****

My plan was to carve a jack-o-lantern for each of my kids.  I stopped at three.  Even though none of them are intricate, they do make me smile because the girls actually do love them.  More importantly those pumpkins have taught me something important.   I know now that there are some things that I didn’t do so well the first time around that I still can’t do so well fifteen years later.  And that’s okay.

Most of it doesn’t matter, anyways.

*****

If you are looking for the recipe for pumpkin seeds that I talked about on 101.5 The River click HERE.

If you are looking for tips on how to preserve a carved pumpkin click HERE.

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No-Spill Mason Drinking Jars – DIY

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 04/2/14 7:30 AM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Blog, Holidays

When I was coming up with ideas for MK’s princess party I realized that one of the things I hate the most about corraling several young children at a dining table is spills.  Given the fact that a dozen small princesses are capable of creating quite a mess,  I figured I should go with drink boxes or some other no-spill option.  But Mary Kate doesn’t drink juice.  (None of my kids do.  It’s one tooth-rotting delicacy I’ve managed to squelch from their palate.  Trust me when I say we make up for the lack of juice consumption in other tooth-rotting food groups.)

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This is after the princesses had partaken in the royal feast. You’ll note some of the girls opted for pink stinky lemonade from their jars. Thank God for this no-spill option or I would’ve been de-sticking my dining room for months.

Anyhoo…

I wanted to come up with an idea that would allow milk or water to be sipped out of something that wouldn’t spill. And, that my friends, is how I came up with this nifty little idea.

No Spill Mason Drinking Jars

Materials needed

  • Mason Jars with screw on lids.  Any size would work but I used a smaller size.
  • Drill and drill bit (the bit has to be big enough to render a hole large enough for a straw)
  • Spray adhesive
  • Material cut into 8″ by 8″ squares.
  • Elastics (rubber bands) large enough to fit the circumference of the lids.
  • Scissors
  • Ribbon

Directions

  1. Screw lid securely onto jar and drill hole through the center of the top.  Remove lid once hole is drilled.
  2. Spray lid with spray adhesive.
  3. Place lid (adhesive side) down on center of one 8″ square of fabric.  Let dry for a minute or two.  (Doesn’t take long.)
  4. Screw lid (with fabric now stuck to it) onto jar.
  5. Secure elastic/rubber band around perimeter of lid over the fabric.
  6. Tie ribbon around perimeter of lid covering the elastic/rubber band.  I secured the ribbon with a bow but if you don’t want a bow, I’d use rick rack and tack it down (on top of the elastic) using a glue gun.
  7. Use the sharp end of your scissors, or knife to poke a hole through the fabric for the straw.
  8. Poke straw through top.
  9. Trim the excess fabric from around the perimeter of the jar.
Wah-lah!  Your no-spill mason drinking jar is ready for a party!

Wah-lah! Your no-spill mason drinking jar is ready for a party!

**These are reusable.  After the party I removed the elastic/rubber band, peeled off the fabric, and washed the jars and lids in the dishwasher.  They are currently being stored for the next time I need a dozen sippy cups that don’t look like sippy cups.

Brilliant if I do say so myself!

A Sixth Birthday Party or parties

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 03/31/14 11:12 AM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Blog, Daughters, Decorating, Focusing on The Joy, Glass City Parent, Holidays, thankful

Mary Kate’s birthday is officially over and I’m exhausted.  You see, after a series of parties dedicated to her 6th our middle child may have the rather demented impression that her seventh birthday should rival the Queen’s Jubilee.  It all started innocently enough.  This was going to be a “party year” for her.  We don’t have big birthday parties every year in our house.  There’s always a family celebration but the shindigs with friends and stamped invitations are reserved for the big years, and in our home “6” is a banner accomplishment.

(I have no idea why.  There is no logic to this so don’t ask.)

Anyways, back in January I asked MK what she wanted for a theme for her party and she announced that she wanted a “Princess Castle Cake” with fireworks shooting out of the top.  I said yes to the cake,  no to the fire works and spent the entire month of February in Hobby Lobby.  (I think I may have single handedly financed Hobby Lobby’s law suit against the federal government…or at least one of the attorneys that argued in front of the supreme court last week.)

I have to confess—I had a blast with this party.  I don’t know if it was because I spent the first thirteen years of motherhood convincing myself I would never miss doing the girly stuff that comes along with a daughter or if it’s because I need mental help.  According to Sean it’s the latter.  I’ll cop to a little bit of both.  Regardless, I went balls out with theme to the point of my sister-in-law threatening to hide my glue gun.

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Now comes the explanation about the four seperate celebrations.  Mary Kate’s birthday is March 29th which was a Saturday this year.  When I first looked at the calendar I was ecstatic.  We could have her party on her actual birthday, however, after further inspection the reality of MK’s lot in life came to fruition.  When you are third in line behind two very active older brothers sometimes your schedule gets trumped by track meets, ACT tests and high school dance schedules.  So…we moved the party date up. Which made sense but also contributed to the concept that March was now designated MK’s birthday month.

The Royal Table

The Royal Table

The Royal (no spill) drink glasses. (Tutorial on how to make coming tomorrow.)

The Royal (no spill) drink glasses. (Tutorial on how to make coming tomorrow.)

Crafted goody bags hung on the back of each chair.

Crafted goody bags hung on the back of each chair.

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Of course, the highlight of the party was the appearance of Princess Laurel.  I wrote about Laurel last summer when we attended one of her  fairy garden parties.  Back then she was just starting her Princess Party business and since then her popularity in our neck of the woods has exploded.  Mary Kate couldn’t have been more thrilled that Princess Laurel came to her party.

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Princess Laurel comes with an invaluable message about how true princesses are kind and true to themselves.

Princess Laurel comes with an invaluable message about how true princesses are kind to others and true to themselves.

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They also dance...

They also dance…

 

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Even the littlest princesses...

Even the littlest princesses…

The afternoon was magical.  8581104

The timing of the party coincided with Drew’s spring break so there were kings in attendance as well!

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Princesses can be silly, too!

Princesses can be silly, too!

When the party was over I was sad.  Sad in the same way I am the day after Christmas.  It was such a wonderful celebration of Mary Kate and her friends.  She is growing into such a special young lady who is so different than I was as a child.  She’s outgoing…I was shy.  She’s confident…I was timid.  She sings at the top of her lungs and doesn’t care what others think…I was affected by the opinion of others.  I know a lot of this is simply wiring but I like to think, at times, that her happy-go-lucky attitude is a symptom of her environment.  This party was the perfect reflection of her current stage in life.

We went on to celebrate her birthday three more times.  Once in Florida with my parents…where my dad delivered on the fireworks portion of her birthday request…much to her chagrin…

Once with her classmates…

This is a Montessori birthday celebration.  The entire class is circled and a candle is lit to represent the sun.  The number rods are laid out to signify the six years MK has been on this Earth.

This is a Montessori birthday celebration. The entire class is circled and a candle is lit to represent the sun. The number rods are laid out to signify the six years MK has been on this Earth.

For each year, I was to tell a special thing about MK at that age, and then MK carried the Earth around the sun representing the year of growth that had taken place in her life.

For each year, I was to tell a special thing about MK at that age, and then MK carried the Earth around the sun representing the year of growth that had taken place in her life.

In the Montessori setting snack is a work choice.  On birthdays a special snack is provided by the birthday student.  It's supposed to be healthy but we snuck a Peep into the mix.  And of course...it's pink.

In the Montessori setting snack is a work choice. On birthdays a special snack is provided by the birthday student. It’s supposed to be healthy but we snuck a Peep into the mix. And of course…it’s pink.

And last night with her fairy Godmother, Sean’s mom and our immediate family.

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Homemade Ho Ho cake.  Recipe linked below.

Homemade Ho Ho cake. Recipe linked below.

It’s been a whirlwind of a month that has served as a reminder of how grateful I am for my daughter.  She may have come into this life as the tiniest of miracles…

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….but she continues to bless us every day.  It’s a joy to be her mother.

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Now…time to prepare.  We have a “17th” coming up!

Homemade Chocolate Truffle Recipe

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 02/11/14 2:09 PM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Glass City Parent, Holidays

If you’re anything like Sean and I you’ll find yourself running down the aisles of your local grocery story on Valentine’s Eve looking for something…anything to give your kids teachers, secretary, favorite babysitter and well…maybe even your spouse.  We both admitted long ago that neither of us is really all that into Valentines Day.  Sure, the first few years of courtship were full of flowers and sentimental cards, but our first Valentines Day of marriage found us in an emergency room—me hooked up to IVs suffering from a relentless bout of morning sickness and Sean pacing the floors probably wondering where his 23 year old life was headed.

In an attempt to abstain from contributing to the consumerism that has gripped this once thoughtful holiday, I decided this year I wasn’t buying a thing for my Valentines.  Nope…homemade all the way…is my sentiment for the day.  Hence this really easy and super decadent recipe for homemade chocolate truffles.  I have to admit I was surprised at how easy they were to make, and my Gawd…they taste like a little piece of dark chocolate heaven.  The kicker?  They’re cheap.  Just whip them up, package them in some sort of fancy heart themed bowl, and wah-lah you’ll really show your Valentine how much they are loved.

As long as you don’t eat them yourself first!

Enjoy.

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Homemade Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup of Ghiradelli 60% cacao chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 6 tbs. UNSALTED butter
  • Coconut flakes, powdered sugar, chopped pecans, toffee bits, crushed heath bars or almond bark for toppings

Directions

  1. Melt whipping cream and butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Once simmering add chocolate chips.  Stir until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.
  2. Poor mixture into SHALLOW dish.  (I used a large pie pan.)
  3. Allow mixture to chill in refrigerator for 2-3 hours.  Once chilled, use small end of melon baller and scoop small balls of truffle mix.  I used my hands to get them into balls.  (Kind of messy but will work.)
  4. Place on wax paper lined tray.

Toppings

You can use any toppings you like.  I used powdered sugar and chopped pecans for two varietys.  I rolled the newly made truffles in the nuts or sugar.  For the chocolate bark coating  I froze one third of my truffles and then heated the chocolate candy coating in a sauce pan.  I stuck the truffle with a tooth pick and dunked it in the chocolate coating and sat it on wax paper to set.  (They set very quickly.)

Wah-lah…homemade truffles.

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Enjoy!

A Setback and A Reboot

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 01/13/14 8:55 PM
CATEGORIES: Authentic Life, Blog, Blogging Honestly, Choices, Constructive Criticism, Holidays

When the alarm went off this morning it might as well have been a code red alert buzzing at 1000 decibels through headphones buried in the deepest part of my ear drums.  After knocking my alarm clock to the floor and clearing my eyes from what seemed like a very long winter’s nap  (Let’s be honest…when you haven’t put pants on for seven days waking up at 6 am feels more like 4 am) I went about waking our sleeping home from the equivalent of a monster, snow-dazed hangover.

It was dark, cold and just a little bit ugly.

Going back to school after Christmas vacation always is, but after a bonus week of pajama time due to the polar vortex this morning was just a tiny bit uglier than normal.  Regardless of the fact that every single person in our house wanted to crawl back under the covers we rebooted.

It’s time to get our new year on!

For me that means getting back to the routine of writing here.  I realize I haven’t been the most consistent read over the past few months.  I’ve thought a lot about the  reason behind my absence and as most things are in life…it’s a little bit complicated.  Of course, like you, I was busy with the holidays and my family.  But my recent apathy was about more than time being in short supply.  I actually kind of walked away from this space because I experienced a bit of a blow this past fall that had everything to do my writing and ultimately had me questioning whether what I do here is worthwhile.

It all started when I approached a “big time” blogger about writing a guest post for her online space.  It was a shot in the dark for me but given that this blogger had advertised she’d be taking a trip around the end of September, I figured she might be interested in a guest post to help her fill in the gaps that always happen when writing routines are disrupted.  So, I held my breath, contacted the blogger and pitched a post.  A special post.  A post about Logan’s fourth birthday.  I was elated when she replied within minutes of receiving my email.  The guest post was on!

Cool.  Or maybe not.

In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought guest blogging that post was a good idea.   Traditionally I write my recap of “lessons learned” since Logan’s birthday here.  In my own little corner of the blogosphere.  After all, Logan is the reason this place exists and a huge part of the reason I keep it up.  You see, there’s purpose behind all the funny anecdotes, family recipes and other random posts that litter this blog.  Of course, I do like sharing with my friends here, but my ulterior motive has everything to do with creating a public footprint about who our family is.  I figure some day he might want to know more about us and if, for some reason, I’m not able to fill in the gaps this place will be here to teach him about who I am.  (The good, the bad and the ugly included.)

So why on Earth would I outsource a post as important as his fourth birthday recap?

I’ve been asking myself this question since the middle of October when it became apparent the blogger I sent it to wasn’t keen on sharing it with her readers.  At first I was all, “Oh…she’s so busy.  She’ll get around to it.  She knows how important this is.  She said so.”  And those thoughts were always paired with justifications about how sharing such an important piece of my journey with a wider readership was better than sharing it here.  If more people read it than it does more good…and makes everything I’ve been through more worthwhile.  Right?

As time passed with no publishing my earlier dismissals for the radio silence started to fade.  The blogger in question had only communicated that she was “looking for a good time to publish it” when I inquired but, as things work in my brain, I  started to concoct worst case scenarios about why the piece had been shelved.

Maybe my writing was horrible or my message wasn’t authentic enough.  Perhaps she found the piece overly emotional or maybe she thought I came off as unrelatable.  After all, the whole pregnant with the wrong baby experience is unique.  

As October became Novemember and November bled into December the entire ordeal had me second-guessing this blog.  If this blogger, who I admire, thought I wasn’t good enough maybe she was right.  Perhaps it would be best to just walk away from this space.

Time to take inventory of what I’m doing here.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced an opportunity turning into a disappointment.  I’ve had my share of false starts and unexpected turns towards self doubt.  What I’ve learned over the years is that as uncomfortable as these discouraging moments are, they can serve an important purpose.  Without rejection and failure I’d probably never engage in self introspection because looking at myself honestly is never fun.

Most days I prefer the shiny veneers of success and at-a-girls.

But life’s setbacks provide me with opportunities to reconnect with my motives.  It’s up to me to do the unpleasant work of checking myself.  Hopefully by doing so I can move forward in a direction rooted in purpose.

I wish I could report that I’ve overcome the sting of being rejected by someone I greatly admire.  I haven’t.  Regardless, I’ve decided to reboot this space.   I’m not giving up on why I share here.  It’s important.  I’m sure of it.

Now…onward.

*****

A few pics of our Christmas holiday…

Reagan on Christmas Day

Reagan on Christmas Day

 

 

Savage Cousins, Christmas Eve

Savage Cousins, Christmas Eve

 

Lights at the Toledo Zoo

Lights at the Toledo Zoo

 

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning

 

My girls

My girls