Monday, October 31, 2011

This May Be Our Last Year Carving Pumpkins

I love Halloween. I love the costumes and the excitement. I love the decorations and the costumes. I love the parties and the trick or treating. And of course, I adore carving pumpkins.

I have carved pumpkins almost every year I can remember, and that includes long before children, long before my husband. I remember giggling with a friend shortly after college when we gave our pumpkins bubble baths in the bathtub before carving them - just to be silly. I remember finding those way cool toys that are essentially miniature hacksaws that let you create your pumpkin with so much more detail than my giant knives ever could.

We've made pumpkin carving with the wee ones a tradition. They get pumpkins every year, and we clean them and carve them and roast the pumpkin seeds. When the wee ones were little little, my husband and I did all the work ourselves. As they've gotten a little older, we've expected a little more from them. They can help empty the pumpkins of seeds. They can decide on the design of the pumpkins, and this year we put Mister Man in charge of helping to poke the design into his pumpkin.

We made a mistake a few years ago, however. My husband discovered he could make extra cool pumpkins with patterns the same year we discovered those awesome tools. It's possible that they're packaged together and thus the discovery was made at the same time. The wee ones absolutely adore the very cool patterns, and now they want their pumpkins to have those same cool patterns. Yep, the patterns that take my husband forever to do instead of the fun freehand scary faces that I can make in fifteen or so minutes.

This year, as we prepared our pumpkins for the first cut, Little Miss announced that she wasn't going to clean out her pumpkin because it made her itchy. Mister Man started to clean his out but gagged and had to hold his breath every time he went near his pumpkin. My husband and I ended up cleaning out the pumpkins.

Mister Man was put in charge of poking holes into the pumpkin for his pattern. Twenty-three holes and less than five percent done, he decided he was tired and needed a break. He wandered off into the homework room, picked up a book, and we couldn't entice him to rejoin us.

Little Miss drew a traditional face on her pumpkin for my dad to carve - yay, no patterns - but she used a Sharpie. Did you know Sharpies don't come off pumpkins? It's an interesting look. She oversaw the majority of the carving after having overseen the cleaning of the pumpkin. Then she was done, too, and she disappeared until after it was time to put our pumpkins outside for display.

I'm thinking next year they don't get pumpkins. I think next year I get a pumpkin and my husband gets a pumpkin. And we carve them at night after the wee ones are in bed. It's the end product they love anyway because how awesome do pumpkins look as they glow in the night?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Perfectly Imperfect

I try to bring my camera with me wherever I go. It doesn't always happen, and even sometimes when the camera is with me, I forget about it or I'm not fast enough or it's out of batteries. That doesn't deter me, though, as I work to capture the memories for myself and my family.

I have to use my camera. My brain is broken, and I can't remember anything otherwise.

The wee ones don't always cooperate, however. They don't like having their pictures taken in a given moment or they want it too much and get goofy and the moment I was trying to capture is lost.

Looking through the images that I've captured on my "fancy" camera, as Little Miss calls it, I'm struck by the variety of images that I save. They aren't the perfect ones by dictionary definition, but they're the ones that capture the personalities of the wee ones. They're the ones that show their characters and imperfections - sticky fingers and all.

It's those photos and those moments that give me hope, that tel me - yes, I can use this medium as a way to capture a single moment in time that passes before I blink. I look again at some of the images that I would have discarded because they are so imperfect or because I missed the expression and emotion I was trying to capture. I look at the ones where I so obviously let the wee ones dress themselves, and I see possibility.

It's all about my perspective. We are all imperfect, and it's those moments that we do need to capture. When I change my perspective, it suddenly does become a perfect moment for me - for us.

And that's a lesson I need to remember to apply in my life whenever the imperfection starts to overwhelm me. Because with the right perspective, it's all perfect.

Yes, that's the same photo - just cropped to change my perspective.

This post was inspired by a series of words and created in five minutes at a Hallmark event several weeks ago. I love the concept so much that I'm looking at expanding it, as there is so much word and inspiration from just three randomly drawn words - mine were camera, fancy, sticky, and broken. Any interest in participating in a randomly drawn word post linky?

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Rooting For The Texas Rangers Tonight

My husband is from St. Louis. He's a Cardinals fan and still has his Rams season tickets in the obscure hope that they'll someday go to the Super Bowl again and he'll have a chance at tickets. Let's just say that this playoff season has been making him happy.

Me, not so much. Why?

On Tuesday, my husband called me from work. "Soooo just as an FYI, I bought tickets to Game 7 of the World Series. Do you want to go with me?"

Question 1: Wait, back up. Before I answer your question, exactly how much did you pay for your World Series tickets," I asked, knowing that friends of mine had paid over $1,000 per ticket to see a World Series game a few years ago.

"Oh. Well, just the $225 face value (ummm really, "just" $225? I don't pay "just" $225 for just about anything, do you?) because I entered the ticket lottery back before the playoffs started and won rights to World Series tickets. I promise, I just paid face value."

Oh. Because that makes it all better, never mind the fact that he neglected to mention this little detail to me until 48 hours - ok, to be fair, 49 hours - before the game.

"Well, when is the game?" I asked - the first logical question I have before answering whether I want to drive five hours to and from St. Louis. Gah, road trips.

"The game is this Thursday," he responded, as if that were obvious and no big deal.

Ummm, I can't go. It's a school night. And we have two children. In school. Well, one child in school and one child who has no school on Friday, which is worse. And we have Little Miss's conference after school on Thursday. And Mister Man has a Cub Scout meeting Thursday night. And my parents have a board meeting for their neighborhood and I already have to pick Little Miss up from gymnastics at the same time Mister Man needs to be on his way to Cub Scouts. And my husband has classes to teach on Thursday and Friday.

"How exactly are you thinking of going?" I asked, very calmly I might add, just figuring that maybe he forgot these little tidbits of detail.

"Well, flights right now to St. Louis are only $350 per person-" he started before I interrupted and asked if he was joking about paying another $700 to go, knowing that flights are only going to increase by the next night when he'd know if there was even going to be a Game 7.

His next strategy, after realizing that I wasn't going once I listed all the commitments that would prevent - in my mind - both of us from going, was for him to fly down one way himself then take the Mega Bus back. The only "issue" with that was that he'd somehow have to pick up his car at 6:10am from the airport, and the Mega Bus depot is not exactly in the best neighborhood to start. Then he decided he'd drive down - missing the end of the school day but getting other teachers to cover his classes - and then drive back Friday, taking a personal day. Except that since he has no personal days left this school year, it would be an unpaid personal day. Ummm, no. His last plan involved him driving to the game and then turning around after the game and driving home overnight and teaching Friday. As a parent, I would not be happy having my child taught by a teacher that exhausted and not with it, forget the danger of driving overnight on little to no sleep.

Figuring that my husband was a mature and responsible man, I left the choice up to him. And before you start chastising me for not getting it, let me stress that I am a sports fan. I love my baseball (Twins) and football (NU Wildcats and Minnesota Vikings) and hockey (Chicago Blackhawks) and that my loyalties don't waver. I've gone to the Northwestern bowl games - because I was able to plan it out in advance. I'd love to go to a Vikings Super Bowl one day. I'd love to go to a Twins World Series game (don't ask about 1987 or 1991 when I lived in Minnesota and my dad had the opportunity to get tickets but chose not to do so). I chose not to attend a Blackhawks Stanley Cup playoff because the tickets were insanely expensive. At some point, you look at your commitments and your priorities and say "Wow, that would be really cool to do, but unfortunately, I just can't do it this time around and that's a real bummer." Or at least that's what I do.

My husband was going to the game. I was now going to Little Miss's conference by myself - after we'd moved it from the official conference dates because my husband had his own conferences to attend and couldn't make it - before picking up Mister Man to have him do his homework in the car while we headed to Little Miss's gymnastics where I'd pick her up and eat dinner in the car as I took her to his Cub Scout meeting - hoping this wasn't totally against Cub Scout etiquette - and keeping both of them up way past bedtime instead of just him, knowing that we'd be late to his Cub Scout meeting because there's no way to get from one activity to the other in enough time.


I held my tongue, however, after suggesting that he put those tickets on StubHub and reap the benefits while watching the game from home (his tickets are selling for well over $1,000). It wasn't taken.

But someone, somewhere likes me. Last night's Game Six was rained out in St. Louis, so it was moved to tonight (the Thursday in the above story) with Game Seven, if necessary, scheduled for Friday.

And yes, my husband is still planning to go. Forget that he has a football game he's supposed to work on Friday night. Forget Mister Man's Tae Kwon Do that coincides with Little Miss's church Faith In. Forget her Daisy meeting that follows immediately that he'll now need to attend, which is always a joy, as I've had to do it last year when he was coaching.

So to be honest? Tonight, I'm rooting for the Rangers. I'm pretty sure that makes me a bad person, but I'm ok with that.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recognizing An Unhealthy Relationship

There was a time in my life where I defined much of my self worth by whether or not I was dating anyone and who I was dating. Fortunately, that "phase" of my life has long passed me by, but I can so easily see how it wouldn't. This is one of the parenting lessons - is it a parenting lesson? - that is most critical to have them pick up: you are the one who needs to make yourself happy.

I firmly believe that. If you can't make yourself happy, no one else can. And relationships are a big piece of making yourself happy. I so want them to understand that if the person you're with doesn't add to your happiness and isn't happy for you, that's not a healthy relationship. The person you're in a relationship with needs to let you grow and let you not just become but stay your own person.

In high school, I ignored that completely. My first real boyfriend I found out started dating my best friend several weeks after we first went out. He never said anything - and that relationship naturally fizzled out anyway - but she mentioned dating him without thinking about the fact that I had been dating him at the same time. It never dawned on her that this might be hurtful to me or just wrong altogether. I've never trusted her as much after that.

The relationship I entered - days after that conversation with my friend: I wasn't good enough for him, he didn't want me but my best friend instead - another relationship that lasted through the first month of college. It started out well with a nice guy who liked me and was fascinated by me. But doesn't it always?

Even then, I knew he wasn't the one. I met him at a camp I was at over the summer, and I remember telling myself that I'd break up with him when camp ended. I'd break up with him at the end of summer. I'd break up with him after Halloween. After Thanksgiving. After Christmas. After Valentine's Day. But I never did. Somehow, he kept me sucked in. And yes, part of that was probably his confession that he was initially attracted to my best friend but that she didn't appear to be interested in him so he turned to me. Yes, my self-esteem took another nosedive.

He slowly separated me from my friends because I began spending every available moment with him - though he lived twenty-five minutes from my home. He was a year behind me in school but still older than I was (I was young for my grade), and as I started looking at colleges, he pressured me to stay nearby. Somewhere close where he could keep an eye on me.

He didn't like that I was a cheerleader and constantly questioned where I was during practices and games and who I was with. He pressured me to spend more time with him, to show him that I cared about him. He was needy, and I could fill a void for him. Halfway through basketball season, I stopped by his house one afternoon and threw my entire cheerleading folder into the garbage to show him that I cared that I understood his issues. The fact that he shouldn't have issues for some reason didn't cross my mind. The fact that I was quitting something I'd loved was swept away. I was captain of the cheerleading squad, but I was throwing that away for him.

Things continued in that vein, and as I prepared to go to college two states away, he freaked. I wasn't changing where I was going to college - fortunately I still had my wits about me enough for that - but he wanted to talk every day. This was in the early days of the Internet, and he didn't have email yet, but he showed me how we could keep in touch by chatting online with our 2400 baud modems.

A week into my college stay, he provided me with a list of "rules." Those rules included a prohibition of ever being alone with a male person, regardless of the circumstances. There was something about never having my door open when I was in my room to discourage people from coming in and hanging out. I was to check in with him twice a day. There were more, fourteen in all, I think, though fortunately I don't recall every one.

I looked at that list, and I told him ok. I told him ok. I had no intention of following the vast majority of them - really, I couldn't have any male friends? I wasn't supposed to socialize and make friends at college? I resolved to ignore most of the rules - he wouldn't know anyway, and it wasn't like I was doing anything "wrong" so what difference did it make. Even after the rules, he was still jealous and controlling and concerned. I lasted three days. Three days after he sent me the list of rules, I told him I was done. I told him that was ridiculous, and I'm sure a whole lot more. That was the last time I ever spoke with him.

Something finally got through to me, and in a way maybe that list of rules was a blessing in disguise. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to trust people again. It was hard to date for months and months and months, and I remember flinching when a friend tried to kiss me a few weeks later. My self esteem was shot, but I couldn't trust anyone else either. I'm more grateful than anyone knows for the wonderful and supportive friends who were there for me and helped build me back up, but it wasn't a quick or easy journey.

That's the kind of pain I want the wee ones to avoid. I wrote earlier this month about the Purple Purse project because I was lucky. I got out before there was lasting damage. I got out before anything truly bad happened to me, but I know there are way too many who don't. To that end, I talk to the wee ones about making themselves happy. I talk to Little Miss about not giving her friends power over her, as it's already happening in first grade. Inoculating them though? I'm still not sure how to do that, but somehow I've got to.

What suggestions do you have?

In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by the book "Lost Edens" by Jamie Patterson as part of the From Left To Write book club, where we write posts inspired by the books as opposed to traditional book reviews. I received a copy of the book for the book club, but I was not compensated in any way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Peach Cake

So Mister Man missed out on our traditional birthday dinner because we were in Florida - rough life, I know. That said, I promised that I'd make it up to him and we'd cook it after we returned. He chose his favorite homemade bagel dogs and an apple cake.

That's fine. Oh, except that he changed his mind as we walked through Costco. The apple cake I wasn't sure quite how I was going to make turned into a peach cake - that I still wasn't quite sure how I was going to make. I've made cherry and strawberry cakes before, though, so it couldn't be too hard.

It wasn't. And it was pronounced delicious by all. Phew!

Peach Cake

2/3 c butter (I used dairy free alternative)
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk (I used rice milk)
3/4 c worth of sliced peaches (without any juice)
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 t baking powder
1 1/2 c flour

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13x9 pan.

Cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Add the peaches and beat until the peaches are just itty bitty pieces. Add the milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and beat again. Add the baking powder and mix. Add the flour and stir until just combined.

Pour into your prepared 13x9 pan. Slice the remaining peaches from your jar (I use jarred peaches - no BPA from the lining of the can!) into bite sized chunks and lay them across the top of the cake. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, until your tester comes out clean.

Frost with your choice of frosting. I used the peach juice to make a cooked peach frosting (with cinnamon, yum!), and though it was really good, I need to work on it more since it was very hard. A non-cooked frosting might be better when using the juice to keep it from getting so hard.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cutting The Apron Strings

The other week, I received an email inviting Little Miss to a birthday party. It was for one of her favorite friends in school, and we've had a couple playdates back and forth, so I know Charlie's mom (not his real name), too. Little Miss loves birthday parties, and she's to the point now where she gets dropped off instead of parents staying for the fun and games.

Then there was this invitation. Little Miss was invited to go downtown (Chicago) on the train to the National Museum of Mexican Art for a craft before having lunch and returning home.

Wait, what?

Little Miss is six!

I almost dismissed it out of hand at that point. I could see so many ways for a group of children to go bad on the train or downtown. For some reason, I kept reading. The party was going to be only Little Miss, Charlie, and one other friend with both parents in tow.

I thought about it. And then I found out that the other child couldn't go so that it would be just Little Miss and her well-behaved friend. And the responsible parents. I didn't want to be the one to tell the boy he didn't get to have a birthday party because there would be no guests. And the ratio was pretty good. She'd been downtown before. And given that she's already broken her arm at her own birthday party, aren't we due for some good karma?

I finally decided to let her go, knowing the parents and itinerary of the outing.

Even after I made the decision, I still wrestled with it. She's six. While she stays with adults and follows directions, if anything going wrong, I'm a long way from her to help. While the likelihood is that everything would be fine, what if it isn't?

You can imagine my relief when I found out that the party would instead be here in town with the kids going out to lunch and then a movie. Great, now she's having her first date instead.

So what would you have done? Would you have let your child go downtown in this situation?

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Unintended Consequence

Last Tuesday was Mister Man's birthday, and we were in Florida. I reluctantly agreed that I couldn't make him a homemade cake (although we're celebrating at home tomorrow with our traditional dinner of his choice and homemade cake of his choosing, apple this year), but we still had to do a birthday. He chose an ice cream cake, and I prepared.

As I packed my bags, I made sure to include candles so that he could blow them out. I started to pack matches, too, before realizing that airline security would confiscate them since I wasn't checking any bags. That's ok. Restaurants always have matches sitting around, and I could just grab one from somewhere we went, right?

Ummmm wrong.

That indoor clean air movement? That means no one smokes inside. Which means restaurants don't have matches anymore. I asked; trust me. Neither did the hotel we stayed at. Oops.

That doesn't mean we didn't still have candles and sing to him and have him ummmm (pretend to) blow them out. After all, it's a birthday tradition, right?

Tomorrow? I've already checked. We have matches in spades. And candles. Now to figure out how to make an apple cake....

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Still Meowing And Roaring

We have the sweetest cats ever. They are dogs in cats' bodies, really. We don't have people use the doorbell at our house. Before they can get that far, we're already answering the door. Why? Well simply because we've known they were there thanks to the welcome wagon that ran to the front door and started meowing the second someone started approaching our house. It's sweet.

Well, most of the time. It's not so sweet when I'm trying to write something and cats are laying on my arms so that I can move my fingers but not much else. But it is sweet when I walk in to the wee ones' rooms and see them curled around their heads or snuggled up in their arms. The wee ones love Meow and Roar (named by Mister Man when he was just barely three and that's a post in itself), and they love hearing stories about the cats I had growing up.

This weekend, the wee ones were begging my mom to tell them new stories about my cats growing up. My mom launched into a story about Caesarette. I quickly interrupted to note that her name was actually Caesar. My mom looked at my blankly and continued on her way calling my cat Caesarette. I flinched inside, but I've fought this battle unsuccessfully since I was about seven or so. Caesar was my cat. She was my very first cat that my mom allowed me to get when I was three or so. I named her after a friend who had a cat named Caesar because I thought all cats were named Caesar at the time. Perhaps I was only two. Once we discovered she was a girl, my mom deplored the name and tried switching it to Caesarette to make it sound more feminine. I didn't get that until I was seven or so and before then just continued to call her Caesar.

The next story my mom told involved my next cat Copper. And my mom insisted that she was called Copper because our neighborhood had the word "copper" in it. Ummm no, she was Copper because she was copper colored. My mom changed her name midway through the story to "Copper Top" which was what she called my cat for most of her life.

Which got me thinking. Of course.

There was also the dog we had growing up. We named her pumpkin because we got her the week of Halloween. My mom remembers it because she was so cute and little and Pumpkin was more of an endearment. Her name was quickly shortened in their minds to Punky. And she was Punky to them for the majority of her life, though I still called her Pumpkin.

For some reason, my parents - and my mom in particular - seem to change around the names of my pets to better fit their ideas of the pet. My mom couldn't have a girl cat with a boy name, for example. The first pets we've had that haven't had their names changed and altered are Meow and Roar. And I'm not fully sure why that is...

So is it just me? Am I the only one who has one name for my pets that morphs into something else or have your pets all started out with one moniker but is no longer the name your pet answers to?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Crockpot Applesauce

I mentioned last week about our oh so fun trip to the apple orchard last week. We came home with a ton of apples. Somehow, we've gone through most of them - that whole apple a day thing means we probably won't see a doctor for years - but I'm working on doing some fun things with them, too. Mister Man has asked for an apple cake for his birthday, so I'll be doing that shortly. Yesterday, however, I made the easiest and yummiest ever applesauce in my crock pot. Less than 10 minutes of prep and eight hours later was bliss. Bliss. It's possible that I've ate just the applesauce for lunch today.

Crockpot Applesauce

8ish apples
1/2 c brown sugar
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 T lemon juice
1/2 c water

This is extremely forgiving, so play with it and don't worry about being exact. I also put in a few sprinkles of allspice with the nutmeg and cinnamon, which was a great addition. See? Forgiving. The best kind of cooking!

I like my applesauce chunky, and I like it with the skins on, which is why I don't often buy applesauce in the store. I don't peel my apples before making this, but if you don't like the skins (which get very soft here and are more just a little texture), feel free to peel them first. But hey - this also save a ton of time!

Chop your apples into pieces, and place them into your crockpot. Make sure that you choose a crockpot that is an appropriate size for the apples you're cooking. You always want your crockpot to be more than half full, and this particular crock pot wants it at least two-thirds full.

Place the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and any potential allspice on top of the apples. Add the lemon juice and water, then close the lid and turn your crockpot on low.

See, I told you - way under 10 minutes prep, right?

Let it sit for eight hours on that low setting, and your applesauce will be ready. You don't need to stir the sugar and cinnamon into the apples, so don't open that lid once you've placed it on. By the end of eight hours, the apples will be cooked through. Open up the crock pot and stir gently to keep it nice and chunky. That's it.

We enjoyed it warm right away, but it's also great once it's been chilled in the fridge. The apples start out huge, but it's amazing how much this cooks down. We have applesauce only for the next day or two before it's gone. I need to buy some more apples. Trust me on this one!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

You're Just Fine The Way You Are

The other day, I had a conversation with Little Miss and my mom. My mom brought up how rarely Little Miss wears a dress to school, to which I countered that considering she used the last dress she wore as a parachute while jumping off a rock - forget the monkey bars, etc - that's probably a good thing!

Little Miss piped in that she didn't like to wear dresses to school because Paul (not his name) makes fun of her when she does. I gulped and struggled to retain an impassive face. "Oh?" I asked her as calmly as I could. "Why does Paul make fun of you when you wear dresses?"

"Well, it isn't just dresses when he makes fun of me," she slowly replied. "He tells me that I don't look good. That's why I try to wear Toy Story and Star Wars shirts most of the time because I know he likes those."

My heart sunk.

My beautiful little girl with her very unique sense of style has already had it quashed by a little boy, someone who isn't happy himself (there's a lot of back story to this, but suffice it to say he's struggling in a lot of facets) who just wants someone else to be unhappy, too.

And it worked.

I pulled her close to me and gave her a hug. As angry as I was that someone would try to hurt my child and as sad that she was susceptible to someone telling her how she should feel, I didn't want to share this with her or make it a bigger deal in her mind.

"Sweetie," I smiled at her. "You are a beautiful and sweet little girl. Do you like the clothes that you wear when you choose them?"

She nodded carefully.

"If you like the way you look, then that's what matters. If the way you dress makes you happy, dress that way. If you do your hair in a way that makes you smile, do it like that. You don't want to give one person power over you to make you feel good or bad about yourself. What matters is what you think about what you've done and who you are. When someone is unhappy, they want other people to be unhappy with them. Don't let them do that to you. You wear what makes you happy. There are lots of other people who think you look just fine no matter what you wear."

I took a deep breath and thought about how to continue, how to make her understand that this is so very wrong, how to help her develop a stronger sense of self that can't be shaken by one insensitive person. I talked to her a bit more, and she seemed to feel better, but I know this is just the beginning. She's in first grade, and this was a boy. What's it going to be like once she hits middle school?

More importantly, what else can I do to help her?

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Pumpkin Donuts

There are some things that just scream fall to me, and pumpkin is one of them. Unfortunately, I don't like pumpkin. Or so I thought. Then I had pumpkin donuts years and years ago and discovered that I like pumpkin, but just in very certain ways. Like in pumpkin donuts.

I love making them, but they make a ton of donuts, so this is a recipe I make to share. I try to do it every fall, but I don't always succeed. This year, I had to bring something for the fall appreciation luncheon. After volunteering to make an apple crisp (easy peasy!) and being shot down because someone was already making one - drat! - I decided to do the pumpkin donuts. This is a make it the morning you're going to eat them recipe, and it takes some time because you have to roll them and fry them in batches, but ohhhhh is it worth it. Not hard. Just a little time.

Pumpkin Donuts
3 1/2 c flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1 egg
2 egg yolks
3 T butter (I used dairy free butter substitute, and it absolutely works!)
1/2 c pumpkin puree*
2/3 c butter milk (yes, I used coconut milk mixed thickened with mayonaise and it was perfect)
oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients - flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder but not the sugar - in a large bowl until well distributed.

Start heating your oil for frying. You want the oil to come to 365-375 degrees. Use a fryer or a wide cast iron skillet with about two inches of oil for frying. If you're me, you won't measure the tempterature because you don't have a thermometer that does that and instead can use a dough ball to test it. Drop it in, and if it has small bubbles frothing around it, it's ready. If not, wait until it's hotter. Yes, I am that scientific when baking. Just wait to the end of this to see what my asterisk was for.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and egg yolks one at a time and beat until well blended. Add the pumpkin puree and the butter milk and mix until blended, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Thoroughly flour a surface for rolling the dough. Grab a hunk - no larger than your hand - and use some of the flour to dust the top, too. Roll it into a snake about one-half inch thick, then cut it into pieces about a half inch long to make the individual donuts that are vaguely pillow shaped. Pick up the cut donuts and jiggle them in your hand to remove as much of the flour as possible and soften the edges.

Place the tester donut into the oil to ensure the oil is hot enough. Assuming it is, place no more than eight or ten donuts into the pot at a time. This will both keep the temperature of the oil from dipping too low and from crowding the pot and having the donuts stick together. Let them cook a minute or two on one side, then poke the side of them with a chopstick or the side of a spider to flip them. The other side will generally cook quicker, maybe 45 seconds to a minute.

Remove the fully cooked donuts to a paper towel lined plate to cool slightly before rolling in cinnamon sugar (1 c sugar to 4 t cinnamon). I will cut a batch or two, then start frying. While they're frying on the first side, I'll cut some more donuts. After I've flipped the donuts, I'll quickly roll the cooling donuts in the cinnamon sugar and put them on my final plate so that I always have a piece of the process moving forward. It works pretty well in terms of timing and helps speed the process, too.

This makes a lot of donuts, so be prepared to share. Or keep them all for yourself, as I'm tempted to. Don't say I didn't warn you!

*Or you can be like me and be rushing and not paying attention and put the entire can of pumpkin puree into the donuts. Note that I said pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling. Those are two very different things, and you want the pure pumpkin. If you make this mistake, it's fixable. Add another cup of flour and teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients, along with a quarter cup sugar and a little nutmeg and baking powder (1/2 t). It will then make more donuts, but really... at this point, that's not a bad thing. And yes, it's possible that I've made this mistake more than once, but no one knows by the time they're done!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Because A Good Football Name Is Priceless

Every year, I attend all the Northwestern football games. I have a whole tradition and set of superstitions around that, which I'll share shortly. It's my fault actually that they've lost the last three games. I promise to demonstrate why soon. I have my fingers crossed that I've fixed my errors and all will be well this week when they play Iowa.

That said, I have seats behind the Northwestern bench. It's a fun view when there isn't action on the field. I love watching the players on their benches dancing during timeouts or getting the crowd revved up. I giggle watching the players keep warm on the exercise bikes on the sidelines. I watch anxiously when trainers work on players on the tables.

And of course I scan the names. Over the years, there have been some great football names on the Northwestern team. Even this year, we have a quarterback (now receiver since our main QB Dan Persa is back - yay!) named Kain Colter. Tell me that isn't just an awesome name for a quarterback. Sadly, he is upstaged this year by someone with yet a better name.

Sean McEvilly is a defensive lineman, though he isn't a starter at this point. That said, he's a redshirt freshman, so there are another three years after the rest of this season for me to hear the PA announcer tell us all about another McEvilly tackle. Seriously. McEvilly. And he's a defensive player. I love it.

So what's your favorite football name?

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In the interest of full disclosure, I am working with the YWCA and The Allstate Foundation to promote their Purple Purse campaign, but I have not been compensated as part of this campaign in any way. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Purple Purse: A Campaign Against Domestic Violence

I'm never surprised by who is touched by domestic violence. No matter who I talk to or where I go, the taint of domestic violence has touched that person or that family in some way. In my family, my mother's cousin was murdered by her husband after suffering at his hands. She left behind three young children, essentially orphans, though they thankfully had a wonderful aunt who took them in and raised them as her own. Domestic violence is insidious, as it starts so small before taking over lives, making people think they deserve it or that there is nothing better out there or that this is normal.

The purple purse campaign in conjunction with the YWCA and the Allstate Foundation aims to change today's reality with regards to domestic violence. One hundred forty-five women are affected by domestic violence every hour. Though one in four women are affected by domestic violence, fewer than one-third of Americans have ever discussed it. The goal of the Purple Purse project's goal is to get us to start talking about it. Because we need to if we're ever going to stop it.

The Purple Purse launches officially on October 10 - this coming Monday October 10. Why a purple purse? It's a symbol of a woman’s economic empowerment. There is a Purple Purse website, as well. Once it launches Monday, it may look like a shopping site, but scroll down for information and resources about domestic violence.

Are you in the Chicago area? You can help out and learn more. The YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and The Allstate Foundation are hosting a Tweet Up on Thursday October 13 from 2:30-3:30pm at the SwissĂ´tel Chicago in the Montreux Room (2nd floor of the Event Centre at 323 East Wacker Drive). For every person who attends, The Allstate Foundation will donate $100 to support YWCA Metropolitan Chicago's empowerment programs for women and girls up to a total of $10,000! Learn more about the Purple Purse Tweet Up and RSVP - and please tell your friends. At the event, the secret of the purple purse will be revealed. Can you make it?

Even if you aren't in the Chicago area, show your support by carrying a purple purse during the month of October. Snap a picture of you or your friends carrying a purple purse to fill a gallery of photos showing the trend. Send the photo to purplepurse (a) gmail (d) com. Apparently I really, really need to get a purple Paris from Epiphanie now, right?

Can you write a post about the Purple Purse? Will you tweet about it using the #PurplePurse hashtag? You can also embed the Purple Purse widget on your site. Starting Monday, it will update with content and information on a daily basis. Feel free to use the below code on your site if you're interested.

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script><noscript> <img border="0" src="" width="300px" height="250px"/>< /noscript>  

There is also another Purple Purse tweet up in Birmingham on Thursday October 13 at 5:30pm EST. Can you join that one either in person or online?

Please. Spread the word. Talk about domestic violence. Share your story if you have one. Listen to the story someone else has to share. Get a dialogue going in the hopes that we can somehow in some way bring down that horrifying number of one hundred forty-five women every hour.

Win a Purse Perfector purse organizer - trust me, you won't know what you did without it
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Think Pink this October and share your story of how breast cancer touched you; learn more and enter a Think Pink giveaway

In the interest of full disclosure, I am working with the YWCA and The Allstate Foundation to promote their Purple Purse campaign, but I have not been compensated as part of this campaign in any way. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BlogHer Book Club: How To Be An American Housewife

I am always fascinated by other cultures and how they think and work - and how they interpret our own confusing culture, as well. Rarely are we able to see both sides of that view, but How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway allows us to see Shoko's point of view from the time she was a young girl in Japan defying - carefully - her parents all the way through her old age where she longs to go to Japan for the first time since she married her Navy serviceman husband shortly after World War 2.

I am fascinated by the varying views Japanese had of the Americans after the war, from those like Shoko and her father who were ready to move forward with the new reality to her brother Taro who hates all Americans and will never give up. There is also great perspective on Japanese culture from the Eta, or untouchable, caste to working in a large hotel catering to Americans.

Shoko hasn't always had control over her life, and she certainly doesn't over her failing health, but she is a realist and finds the best way for her to move forward. That doesn't mean she doesn't fight for what she believes in, as shown when she refuses to let an American serviceman make her his mistress when she first moves on her own. She has her morals and standards, many of which caused her regret the outcomes as in her relationship with her children, though who among us get that one right?

The scariest thing to me is the excerpts from "How to Be an American Housewife" - a guidebook with advice on how to become an indispensable wife in America, as well as sharing how to deal with some of the culture shock. The advice shared there was often wrong-headed in my view, although fortunately Shoko seemed to recognize that, as well. I know that much of what the book preached was required by many of the men who married Japanese women, if they even brought them back from Japan. The treatment by many of the Americans was deplorable, but there are still those who triumphed over it and found ways to be happy.

From a rebellious daughter to a grandmother wishing she had raised her children differently, Shoko is an intriguing figure who draws us into her life as she muses over where she's been while dealing with her current situation. How would you have handled being married to someone from a foreign culture then being transplanted with no support?

Weigh in here, and join in the discussions on How to Be an American Housewife with BlogHer Book Club.

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Think Pink this October and share your story of how breast cancer touched you; learn more and enter a Think Pink giveaway

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "How to Be an American Housewife" for review purposes. I am also compensated as part of this campaign, but as always, all opinions expressed are my own - just check out some of my not so positive book reviews for proof of that!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pot, Meet Kettle

This weekend, we went to an apple orchard with friends of ours. As people do when picking apples, we carefully found the very best apples and enjoyed a few right there in the orchard. (ah-HA! It finally dawned on me why it's more expensive to pick your own apples instead of buying the prepicked apples.) Halfway through the first apple, Little Miss excitedly announced that she had a loose tooth. She'd bitten into a seed and finally jarred her tooth loose enough to notice.

She excitedly ran around to all of us, showing us her tooth and how it wiggled. One of our friends was nearly as excited as she was. "Little Miss, Little Miss, can I wiggle your loose tooth?" he asked engagingly.

Little Miss quickly agreed, and really... with everything that she's been putting in her mouth already at the orchard, another finger isn't the worst thing. It's all about strengthening her immune system, right?

As he started to reach into her mouth, he paused and looked at her very seriously. "Little Miss," he lectured, "I sure hope you don't have any germs in your mouth."


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Potato Corn Chowder

It's getting cold in Chicago. While I've somehow resisted actually turning on the heat in my house, it's time for the comfort foods. Last week, I made my chicken stew with biscuits for the first time since the thermometer went over fifty degrees last spring. And then I made another comfort food dish. I love soup. I love my crock pot. And so I got creative. I created an oh so yummy soup that I altered to make dairy free for Little Miss but that can absolutely be full of dairy if you choose.

Served with a slice of fresh bread from the oven - I'm back to baking almost a small loaf a day, another recipe I need to share soon since it's so low maintenance - and the wee ones were in heaven. Mister Man ate three bowls of it. This was definitely a winner, and I have all the ingredients except potatoes in my house now to make another batch. Yum!

Potato Corn Chowder

6 slices bacon, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1/3 c flour
3 c potatoes, diced
4 c chicken stock
1/2 t Worchestershire
1 c milk (or rice milk for us)
3 c frozen sweet corn

Cook up your bacon in a pan. I suggest cutting the bacon before you cook it, as it's easier to get an even browning that way - at least for me. Start your bacon in a cold pan, and cook until it's starting to crisp up, then remove the bacon - but leave the grease - and set it aside until you're ready to serve.

Add the diced carrot and celery to the hot pan with the bacon grease (note: I use lean center cut bacon, so I don't end up with tons and tons of grease, but if you use "standard" bacon, you may need to scoop out some of the grease). Cook for five minutes or so. Add the onion and continue to cook another ten minutes or so until the carrots and celery start to carmelize a bit, stirring periodically. Add the flour, and stir until it's coated everything. Cook with the flour for two to three minutes to cook out the raw taste of the flour.

Add the four cups of chicken stock to your crock pot. Add the diced potatoes - note that I used red and purple potatoes because I had them on hand, but usually I would use red or fingerling potatoes because I like them best, but russets work just fine, too. Add the veggies from the pan and stir to combine. Add the Worchestershire sauce, and cover the crock pot. Cook on low for six hours or high for three to four hours.

Then add the milk, and stir. Cover the crock pot again and cook for another half hour to hour. Because I like to have some potato texture, I pull out some of the potatoes at this time, but it isn't necessary. Puree some or all of the soup to help it thicken further. I use my immersion blender in the crock pot. If you don't have one, you can use your standard blender, but be careful to not fill it more than one-third full with a hot liquid and use a kitchen towel to hold the top on. Heat expands and can blow the top off if you don't!

Once it's pureed, add the corn. Let the soup come to temperature again (I put frozen corn in, so it needs to reheat another ten or so minutes) and serve with the bacon strewn atop the chowder in bowls.

Great. I'm hungry. Again.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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