Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is Halloween: Truths Learned from Spooky Shows

If you couldn't tell already, we kind of love Halloween around here.  Except for Rayla, but she puts up with us.

We wanted to follow up our inaugural truths learned post with something seasonally appropriate, so here's a little something from all of us.

1.  Choose your costume wisely.  No show demonstrates this more clearly than It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Whether you buy a costume or make one, do it right. Other wise you end up walking around in a swiss cheese inspired bed sheet and come home with a bag full of rocks.

2. Just stay out of the dang water. Jaws and Psycho both teach us in no uncertain terms that water is just a terrible idea. The ocean is terrifying, but even the freaking shower isn't safe. Take a sponge bath or something. It's not worth it.

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3. You aren't Santa Clause. You will never be Santa Clause. Keep your bats to yourself. Nightmare Before Christmas is a cautionary tale that warns us all that if you're going to follow your dreams, just leave the big guy alone.

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4. Don't light that candle!! Seriously. Just don't do it. I don't care how cute the girl is that you are trying to impress, how much you want to punish your parents for moving you across the country in the middle of high school, or how badly you want to hear Bette Midler sing. Learn from Max and all the misguided younglings in Hocus Pocus and let's all stay away from candles this Halloween, eh?

5. Choose your costume wisely.  Did we mention that yet? Well, it really is important. In reality, a poorly chosen costume will leave you open for discomfort and possible ridicule.  However, this fantastic episode from season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Halloween," which you can watch on Netflix and Hulu), presents yet another reason to choose your costume wisely.  Should you accidentally purchase an enchanted costume that takes over your persona and turns you into an actual 18th century gal/military man/promiscuous ghost, maybe don't choose to be one of those things, because they are all crazy.  Or maybe, when you live on a hellmouth, you should always buy your costumes from Amazon.

6. Stay away from fog. When Paige moved to the pacific northwest she was very disheartened to discover just how much fog there is there. There are now exponentially more opportunities for her to be murdered. Angry pirate ghosts, chainsaw-weilding serial killers, pretty much all unpleasant things just stay inside and play tiddliwinks- until there's fog, and that's when they come kill you.

7. Never purchase an old house. There is always a dead orphan girl living inside. No exceptions. Maybe she's seeking revenge for her unjust murder, maybe she's unhappy with the tile choice you made in the kitchen, but mark my words she is there and she will haunt you. And if there's not a dead orphan girl living inside... it's because there are two.

8. The backseat of your car is a hot-bed for criminal activity. Forget about alleyways, abandoned buildings and bad neighborhoods, what you should really be worried about is the backseat of your minivan. Maybe these guys are after stale goldfish crackers or maybe they collect ice scrapers, whatever the reason, they are professional backseat lurkers. And it doesn't matter if your car has been locked all night or tucked safely in your garage, you must always check the backseat.

We hope these tips help you stay safe tonight! Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Confessions of a Costume Cheater

Last year was my little girl's first Halloween. I thought briefly about making her a Halloween costume, but in the end, having a newborn was exhausting enough that I decided to just go ahead and buy the cute ladybug costume at Costco. It was warm, it was cute, it was easy, and I could re-use the shirt and the tights. I would be more ambitious next year. (Note: I also thought about making costumes for me and my husband and did not. Oh well.)

Her dad collected and ate candy on her behalf. Aw.
This year, I started thinking about it early. I had so many ideas! I could use this tutorial to make her an adorable penguin costume! I could try this one to make her a hedgehog costume! Finally, I had it narrowed down to either a chicken or a flamingo. I'd found boas, I could sew them onto a shirt, make her a hoodie with the appropriate additions, and bam!

And then I had some Kohl's cash, and I found this cute little panda hoodie with ears, and I spent all of $2 on it. My husband asked if we were going to use it for Halloween and suddenly it sounded like a great idea. It was cute, it was warm, it was already made. I put together a no-sew tutu (because I knew how to do it and already had the tulle from her birthday), made some felt panda feet (which were probably unnecessary, but only took one viewing of the Disney Sleepy Hollow and a couple of scraps of felt), pulled out some hand-me-down tights from the back of the drawer, and we had a costume.

This panda prefers cheese sticks to bamboo.

Part of me felt a little disappointed in myself for again for taking such an easy route on Halloween, especially as my friends' homemade costume pictures started rolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. Look how cute they are! Why didn't I do that? If might have been incredible!

But seriously, what do I have to prove? Yes, I want to improve my sewing skills, and yes, I would like to be able to make things for my daughter. I am SO impressed by the skills of some of my friends, and I hope that with a little more practice, I too can whip up some awesome, creative, brilliant costumes, mostly because I think it would be satisfying to do so. Maybe when my little girl is old enough to put in a request, we can pick things out together and create something magical. But should I feel like a failure because I didn't spend countless hours on her costume when we'll probably just walk around our neighborhood for half an hour this year?

Of course not.

Taking the easy way isn't always the best policy, but sometimes, it's okay to cut yourself some slack and take a shortcut. (I know I'm not the only one who wonders if I'm a failure as a mother for not  hand-sewing the entire costume as well, because Paige asked me the other night if she was a failure because she'd been out of town and they just moved and so she's going to have her little guy wear his skeleton pajamas instead of making him the Charlie Brown costume she'd imagined. And no. She is not a failure. She is awesome.) In a social media world where we put everything we do on display constantly, we sometimes feel unnecessary pressure to go above and beyond in circumstances when it really doesn't matter that much. Spending many frustrating hours with my sewing machine (I am a better seamstress in my mind than I am in real life) wouldn't make it a better Halloween. My daughter won't really know what's going on anyway, but she'll probably enjoy the extra candy that I don't normally keep around the house. The fact that I did not deconstruct an amazing thrift store find, dye it, and reassemble it as an incredible Pinterest-worthy costume will probably not hold my child back. Why do I feel like I should stress myself out making something by hand that won't make her any cuter, and that she's not guaranteed to wear anyway?


It does not get cuter than this, friends.

So this Halloween season, if you made a beautiful costume from scratch, I salute you. I can't wait to see it, and maybe I'll add it to my inspiration board for next year. But if you went ahead and bought one at Wal-mart and called it good, well, I'm right there with you. And our kids still look pretty cute.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Creepy Movies for Halloween Night

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Okay, let's talk Halloween movies. I like spooky movies. I do not like graphically gory movies, and anything that is going to leave ultra creepy images in my head for weeks is not my thing. I want some spine-tingling and some good jumping, and then I want to leave it alone. (The Ring creeped me out a lot more than it should have, and The Woman in Black SERIOUSLY freaked me out, although I also thought it was pretty good.) Your definition of a scary movie is probably not the same as mine, but there's a pretty good mix here, and if you're sick of watching Hocus Pocus every year, perhaps something will strike your fancy.

This is another post that is a collaboration between me and my friend Ann, whose tastes lean more toward the creepy and gothic ghostly than to Stephen King. I haven't seen everything on the list, but I'm confident it's a good one.

The Others. I don't know why this movie is so perfectly creepy to me. It's a little jumpy, but mostly eerie and atmospheric, with a beautiful flip that makes the dark less frightening than the light. I love it.

The Last Exorcism 

The Woman in Black. I had seen this play and read the book, and both were just sort of creepy. This one scared me to death, especially because I was pregnant at the time and had to get up in the night ALL THE TIME. It's got a great cast and is well done, but it really did scare me.

The Haunting of Hill House. A million times better than the late 90s remake based on the same book, this classic black and white number is wonderfully creepy, even if some of the expressions are kind of hilariously dated.

Wait Until Dark. Audrey Hepburn makes being blind so scary - and classy. I love to watch this one with friends who have never seen it and wait for them to jump.

Vertigo. Ann says, "I personally find this really scary, but I don't know if anyone else will." I think it's a great movie, and although it's more psychological than anything else, it's still creepy and wonderful. Plus, Jimmy Stewart.

Psycho.  I love how haunting the climax of this movie is, no matter how many times I've seen it. I also recommend the recent biopic Hitchcock, which tells the story of how this ended up being a movie against all odds. (That one is not really creepy, but totally worthwhile.)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (I also secretly liked the Nicole Kidman remake of this.)

The Skeleton Key 

Cape Fear (1962). Gregory Peck tries to protect his family from Robert Mitchum, who wants revenge because Peck's character put him in jail. Creepier than it sounds.

The House on Haunted Hill. Okay, this movie is pretty campy and old, but SO GREAT. It's Vincent Price at his finest. I've watched it more than once, and it was on Ann's list too. It won't terrify you (although it might make you jump once or twice) but it's a great one for a Halloween party, especially one where not everyone wants to be scared. The best part? It's available on Netflix instant watch, so if you can't get anything at your video store (do any of those still exist? The scary movies were always gone when I got there on Halloween anyway) this is a great option. (My friend Debra, who introduced me to this, also loves Vincent Price's House of Wax.)

Nosferatu. This silent movie version of Dracula is a far cry from the sparkly sexy vampires of today's movies and TV, but it is seriously creepy. (It's also available on Netflix for streaming, or on Youtube.)

Vampyr. A German movie from 1932 that you can watch here.

The Bad Seed. Unfortunately, the Hayes code kind of ruined the end of this movie, but it's still a really fun, and the little girl does a great job of being a psychopath.

The Innocents. A creepy old movie based on The Turn of the Screw. I still don't completely understand it, but it was creepy and fun to watch.

Something Wicked This Way Comes. Not as creepy as the book, but it's still a pretty decent (if oldish) creepy movie. I love the concept of a creepy carnival.

When a Stranger Calls (either version - the old one is much scarier than the new one)

Arsenic and Old Lace. More funny than creepy, but so wonderfully Halloween.

The Village. Yes, M. Night Shamaylan is kind of over, but this movie feels like fall, doesn't it? It's just creepy enough, and the colors are just beautiful.

The Stepford Wives (1975). You guys. It's a feminist horror movie. And it is SO SCARY. The new one is not at all scary, but the old one is really quite terrifying.

Secret Window. This movie is one of my husband's favorite scary movies, and the climax is quite wonderfully scary. (He wants me to put Ernest Scared Stupid on this list as well, but I just can't bring myself to do it.)

ET is not scary, but if you just want a movie that just takes place at Halloween, here it is!

Disney's Ichabod Crane, which you can totally watch on youtube. It's not really scary, but it has lots of singing by Bing Crosby.

The Goonies

What are you going to watch on Halloween night?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ann's Spooky Halloween Reads

When we were talking about posts in October, my first thought was that I would love to collaborate on a book post with my friend and former roommate Ann. I'm not sure I know anyone who loves being scared as much as she does. (I lived with her when she went to see Paranormal Activity, and I think she slept with her lights on for a week - but she LOVED it.)  As a librarian and genuine connoisseur of all things creepy, she is a fantastic guide through the world of creepy gothic ghostliness. Here are some great books for you to check out this Halloween week!

Yes. This is Ann one Halloween.

Picture Books:
The House That Drac Built by Judy Sierra
Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Diviners by Libba Bray

Adult Fiction:
The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Shirley Hill
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A Wicked Way to Burn by Margaret Miles
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (I would add that The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics) by Jackson is just as good, but this one is more bizarre and unconventionally creepy.)

She adds: "I haven't read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children but it scares me just to look at it."

Does it scare you?

What are your favorite Halloween reads?

Disclosure: This is an Amazon affiliate post. If you click on any of these links and purchase the book, the blog gets a small percentage. The opinions are our own. Or rather, Ann's. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Links and a Halloween Playlist!

It's Friday again! Here are some happy links to kick off your weekend.

First, because I love you, I made a Grooveshark version of my Halloween playlist. If you need something different for your Halloween party or you just want to get in a festive mood, you can find it here. I'd love to hear your Halloween music suggestions in the comments!

These honest taglines for famous products make me laugh so hard.

This Disney Princess Instagram post makes me giggle. I especially love the comments and hashtags.

You've probably seen this already, but in case you haven't, this Diva impressionist singing Total Eclipse of the Heart is so impressive and fun. I can't get over how much I enjoy her Julie Andrews.

Check out this fun mental floss list, 19 Things You Might Not Know Were Invented By Women!

This link is worth it just so you can watch the hypnotic map at the top. Check out these maps of Six Decades of the Most Popular Names for Girls, State By State. Apparently Jennifer dominated for more than a decade!

Did you know you can buy cookie cutters to make 3-D cookies? This 3-D Zoo Animal Cookie Cutter Set just jumped to the top of my Christmas list. The pieces fit together like a puzzle! I think this is the single coolest product I have seen in a long time.

I absolutely love these pictures of monsters painted into thrift store paintings as if they had always been there. It makes me want to go and find one and make my husband turn it into hilarious art for our next apartment.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just say yes!

One of my main goals for this year was to be more social. Yes, I had to make it a goal.  I even broke it down to smaller goals so I would actually have to work to make it fail. I am very lucky that I have made some awesome new friends this year who make it easy and fun to be social.  With them, my anxiety is in the back of my mind during most situations.

Still, I found myself saying no to things I had no reason to say no to. Why? Because I had to do laundry?  Because I was tired? Boo. That's boring.  I finally decided, barring work or family obligations, I needed to say yes to more social things.  This meant beach trips in the rain, bonfires, road trips, movie nights and so much more.  Random things I didn't think I would do.

Spending a weekend at the beach during a tropical storm.

Driving out of the way to see men in kilts throw a telephone poll.

Spending the weekend in Philadelphia for no reason other than just doing it.

Throwing impromptu game nights and building a 34.5 layer Jenga tower.

 It's not unlike being in college again, except everything takes more time and planning and effort.  But it's all so worth it.  Even just sitting and talking and getting to know new and interesting people.  Inside jokes were made and relationships strengthened.  All those things would have happened without me, but I'm the better for being a part of it. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Where To Send The Anger


When you're upset, what are you supposed to do? Yell at your family? No. Yell at the pet? No. Yell at your boss? No. Yell at your friends? No. Yell at the traffic? Sure, but be careful your road rage doesn't cause an accident.

There's a story I heard about a man who was extremely frustrated at work, and he would come home from work and yell at his wife and kids to get the anger out. His wife made him stop and go yell at the tree in the backyard instead. So the man would come home and before going inside would yell and scream his frustrations out at the tree. Eventually, the tree stopped growing and even died. If anger can do that to a tree, imagine what it can do to a human being.

Sometimes when people are angry they feel powerless. So they take out their frustration on some poor innocent soul. The hapless person takes an undeserved verbal beating and potentially passes it along to others.

Where can you go when you are angry than? Who can you turn to? A psychologist could be a good place to start, but if that's not for you, how about we ask Madeleine L'Engle.

In her book, Dragons in the Waters, there is a young teen who has lost his parents and been taking in by his caring and straight forward aunt.
"Look at them." Aunt Leonis pointed skyward. "They're all suns, sun after sun, in galaxy after galaxy, beyond our seeing, beyond our wildest conceiving. Many thousands of those suns must have planets, and it's surely arrogant of us to think of our earth as being the only planet in creation with life on it. Look at the sky, Simon. It's riddled with creation. How does God keep track of it all?"

"Maybe he doesn't," Simon ... said.

"You're thinking, perhaps, that he didn't keep very good track of your mother and father."

Simon made no answer.

Aunt Leonis continued to look up at the stars. "I don't know about you, Simon, but I get very angry with God for not ordering things as I would like them ordered. And I'm very angry with your parents for dying young. It is extremely unfair to you."

"They didn't do it on purpose," Simon defended hotly. "They didn't mean to die. They didn't want to die."

"I am aware of that. But it doesn't keep me from being angry. Nor you. You've been angry all week, Simon, but you're taking it out on the wrong things. It's better to take it out on God. He can cope with all our angers. That's one thing my long span of chronology has taught me. If I take all my anger, if I take all my bitterness over the unfairness of this mortal life and throw it all to God, he can take it all and transform it into love before he gives it back to me."

Simon dug his hands into his pockets. "If he has all of these galaxies and all of these stars and all of these planets, I wouldn't think he'd have much time left over for people."

"I somehow think he does. Because he isn't bound by time or quantity the way we are. I think that he does know what happens to people, and that he does care."

"Why did he let my father and mother die, then?"

"We all die to this life, Simon, and in eternity sooner or later doesn't make much never mind."

God. God can take your anger. He can take anything you throw at him. Being angry at God is proof that you believe in Him. Take all your anger and bitterness and unfairness and throw it to God. He'll take it and transform it to love then return it to you.

Many teenagers get terribly angry at their parents. They still love their parents and would be devastated in they were gone, but they can still get angry as only a teenager can at their parents. Being angry at God is the same. You can love God but still be very upset with him.

You may feel insignificant, like you don't matter. How could God actually take the time to care about you when there are so many that are in worse places? When there are just so many others? God is all powerful, he is not bounded by time or quantity. He does know and he does care.

If you don't believe in a God, then throw your anger out to the farthest reaches of the universe into a black hole. Let it be sucked up away into nothing where it can harm no one else, including yourself. If you do believe in a God, as a general term, or some higher being, throw your anger towards him. He can handle it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Truths Learned From Doctor Who

Remember when I learned some truths about decision making from Say Yes to the Dress? Well, here are the truths I learned about saving the world from watching Doctor Who. And I'm sorry.

    I started this post a couple of years ago, and then forgot about it, and then we went on hiatus. When we were trying to clean out our drafts, we found it again and I decided to see if I had anything left, and we decided it might be fun to start a series of short "Truths Learned From Pop Culture" posts, so watch for those in the coming weeks.

    [image source]

    • Everyone deserves a chance (even really terrible monster/alien people, so that mean lady at the department store counter counts too). 
    • Even if you're going to wear a posh suit while you travel the universe, wear some sensible shoes (in case you have to run). 
    • Sometimes, you have to fight in your jim jams. (Or without your makeup or in your ratty t-shirt or whatever.). (This has become increasingly true now that I am a mother.)
    • People are almost always more than they seem. 
    • People, collectively, are amazing. They're resilient and imaginative and resourceful, and they are constantly trying to explore and make things better. Sometimes they do things that are really stupid or horrible, but the general strivings for goodness and exploration make up for it somehow, don't they? I like to hope that they do. 
    Dr. Who fans out there - what truths have you learned? And for the rest of you, what would you like to see in this series? We have lots of ideas, but we'd love your input! 

    Monday, October 21, 2013


    A year ago today, my grandmother passed away.  She lived a full, happy life. She was surrounded by family who adored her.  With my grandad, she built a family that loves and respects each other, and passes that down through each generation.  She spent time with us.  Each of us knew we were loved and knew we were important.  We could be anything and do anything. 

    She taught us so many things.  Mostly, she taught us how to care about people.  First, care about yourself and your appearance and your home.  Treat yourself with pride.  Then, treat everyone else the way you want to be treated.  Everyone matters. Be considerate. Be loving.  Simple as that.  Of course, these aren't really things she outright said to us, but she showed us.  Everything I ever learned from her can be linked back to that one, all important lesson.

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    Links for Fun's Sake!

    If you are like me, you cherish hand-written notes from those you care about. A few years ago my mom found her mom's (my grandma's) line-a-day diary from the 1930s and it's wonderful! Technology does a great job of keeping us together, but sometimes it may feel like we lose that personal touch. Cristina Vanko is bringing that personal touch back with her Modern Day Snail Mail project. (Just a heads-up, some of the messages do have some NSFW language but, hey, it sure does look pretty in calligraphy!)

    I adore these remakes of classic art--Sesame Street style. The video below shows some featured pieces, but you can check out even more in this article.

    If you ever need a smile, just watch this video of these enthusiastic percussionists smiling--complete with choreography and, I'll just call it "unique," bass playing... It's a hoot! Check out more crazy films at the Prelinger Archives website

    Running a marathon seems crazy to me--The longest I've ever run continuously was 7 miles. But, if you're going to do something crazy, you might as well go all out. Earlier this month, in the Twin Cities Marathon, one runner did just that

    And, to continue the bizarre trend, there's a great Tumblr out there: Brides Throwing Cats. It is exactly what it sounds like... 

    I think I could stare for hours at these gifs that show how aging changes our appearance. Fascinating! 

    And, last but not least, a little something to make your heart explode from adorableness:

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Pumpkin Month: A Love Story (or, 11 Fantastic Pumpkin Recipes)

    When Jill and I were roommates in Bloomington, Indiana, we discovered a mutual love of pumpkin recipes (and holiday food in general - we had a truly epic Thanksgiving while we lived together as well) and with our roommate Ann, we declared October to be pumpkin month, and started to make every delicious pumpkin recipe we could find - pumpkin shakes, pumpkin pastries, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin cookies, dinner in a pumpkin, plus some butternut squash soup that we snuck in on a technicality. (If you don't believe me, here is the blog post I wrote halfway through the month, and there were more pumpkin and Halloween festivities before the end. Also, I had totally forgotten about Brewster's ice cream in Indiana, but now my mouth is watering for that pumpkin pecan ice cream. Mmm.) It was the most delicious, beta-kerotene filled month of my life, and every year I strive to recreate it with mixed results that are never quite as wonderful as the original.

    However, over the years that means we've collected some pretty darn amazing pumpkin recipes, and we're going to share a few of our favorites with you here.

    I (Meg) have about a million pumpkin recipes pinned on pinterest, some of which I've made and some I'm saving for later, but I've made all of these listed here and recommend them highly. Yum.

    Perfect Pumpkin Roll, from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. I love this recipe because it's kind of fancy and exciting to make (I'm always just a little bit terrified that the whole thing is going to break into a million pieces, but I've made it many times now with uniformly excellent results) but it's not so difficult that you have to carve out more than about an hour for it. In fact, as I type this, I have the cake part of one cooling in my fridge. It's incredibly delicious and so pretty. (I have also made this pumpkin roll from Ina Garten, which is excellent but needs some fancier ingredients that take a little more tracking down, and it tastes a little fancier too, so consider your audience when you pick.)

    Everything Good in a Pumpkin from Dorie Greenspan. My sister-in-law recommended this recipe to me a few years ago, and she makes it for Thanksgiving every year. It's really exciting to cook right inside a pumpkin, and the results are quite delicious. I recommend making sure you're using a pumpkin pie pumpkin (the littlish round ones, I think also sometimes called sugar pumpkins) because a big jack o' lantern pumpkin just drowns out the deliciousness inside. (I speak from experience. When I lived in south Texas, I couldn't find anything but ordinary pumpkins, and it was okay but not amazing.)

    Dr. Dean's Pumpkin Bars. When I was in college, I had this wonderful professor who brought these amazing treats for our midterms and finals, because she was an amazing human being. They are so good, super easy, and the recipe makes a TON. If you need something to take to a big party, this is your recipe. I posted it on my blog years ago (without pictures - it was a pre pinterest world) but it's a wonderful moist pumpkin cake topped with the creamiest cream cheese frosting imaginable. Trust me.

    Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bread. This is the most delicious pumpkin bread EVER. I made it for a friend last year and she asked for the recipe and made it about 6 more times while the pumpkin was out. Truly, it is quite something, and it's easy and yummy.

    Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce (about halfway down the page in the post from that link). This is a quintessentially fall meal. It's warm and filling and squashy and herby. I love it. It makes a LOAD, so make it for lots of people, plan on lots of leftovers, or cut it.

    Double Chocolate Pumpkin Cake (or cupcakes) from Picky Palate. Moist, delicious, subtle, and full-on chocolatey goodness. The cake itself doesn't really taste like pumpkin, and the pumpkin butter cream is incredibly subtle and lovely. It's a good recipe for those among you who are not pumpkin fanatics but want to be seasonal anyway. I've made it as cupcakes more than once, and they are divine.

      * * * * *

    As for me, Jill, one of the biggest discoveries that I made during that inaugural Pumpkin Month was that pumpkin was meant for more than dessert dishes. Savory pumpkin?! What the what?!

    Needless to say, I was skeptical. Ann won me over, however, with her Dinner in a Pumpkin (which I have since adopted as my own yearly October tradition) and I haven't looked back since.

    Pumpkin, Apple and Cranberry Bake. Okay, so the recipe is technically for butternut squash, but the month of October just makes me do crazy things like swap pumpkin in the place of other squash. This is a delightful side dish with either type of squash in it, although with both butter and brown sugar making an appearance, its place of being served with dinner instead of after it for dessert is debatable.

    Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce. This one uses canned pumpkin, so if you're not in the mood to hack into a whole pumpkin (and scoop out its innards. Shudder), this is the recipe for you. Add chicken and you've got yourself an amazing fall meal.

    Pumpkin Soup. This recipe combines my two fall favorites- pumpkin and soup. This particular soup has just enough richness to fill you up and who can deny the need for something hot and creamy on a crisp fall day?

    Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli. Okay, confession: I haven't actually made this recipe yet. I want to so badly, though, but I have never made my own pasta and I am more than a little intimidated. As soon as I muster my courage (and buy a ravioli press), this recipe will be the first fresh pasta I try. If any of you have the skills, try it out for me and let me know how it goes!

    And to end on a sweet note, these Chocolate Pumpkin Turnovers were part of our very first Pumpkin Month all those years ago and I love them still today. They are the perfect balance between the chocolate and the pumpkin and as an extra bonus, they are super easy to make! So go forth and bake!

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    The Beauty of Yes, the Beauty of No, and the Beauty of Knowing Yourself

    We've all fallen into the trap of saying yes too often. Maybe it was volunteering for an event or project; maybe it was giving up the only free couple of hours you've had in weeks to help a friend move; maybe it was thinking you could get that book club book read before next month's meeting only to realize that your eyelids have a strange magnetic pull downward every time you crack open the pages and you find yourself an hour later with the only visible progress you can track being the line of drool that crept down your face and onto the pages as you wake up with morning breath… Overcommitment. It gets the best of us sometimes. Sometimes saying yes can be a wonderful growing process and incredibly rewarding. Nothing teaches you just what you're capable of like jumping into it, whatever it may be. Sometimes, however, it can be a trap, and that's when you learn what you want to be capable of.

    Okay, really, it's about knowing yourself and knowing your priorities. 

    I'm not saying I don't stay late at work, and I'm not saying I don't take on new projects or responsibilities, and I really do love helping my friends if they're moving or need a spare freezer meal, a dog sitter (I'm SO in!), or just need a friend to walk and talk with.  What I am saying is: now I'm starting to better prioritize my time and I work hard to remember that I need to be healthy and happy in order to do anything well. As a bonus, I've found this helps me more fully enjoy those things I do take on. 

    Here's a little secret: sometimes I actually enjoy saying no. 
    • I enjoy saying no when I know whoever I would have been working with is less invested in doing a quality job than I would be even though it's their idea or project. 
    • I enjoy saying no when I know it won't be something I like doing (but I do things I don’t like doing when I know it will help someone I care about or when I know it will help me grow as a person). 
    • I enjoy saying no when I know those I would be working with are disorganized or flakey (it's just not worth it). 
    • And I enjoy saying no when I know that if I had said yes I wouldn't have time to do laundry that week and would be stuck wearing the underwear that I always keep at the back of the drawer (you know, the really uncomfortable ones...or worse, the ones with holes...yeah, I went there) and that wonky bra with the uncomfortable underwire.
    How have you gotten over your need to always say yes? What have you found to be more rewarding since you started prioritizing wellness (quality) over hecticness (quantity)? 

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    The Creative Process: PBS Off Book

    I love this YouTube channel by PBS Off Book. Their videos are thought-provoking, interesting, and so well put together, particularly the one on creativity, below (though they have a wide range of fantastic videos up on the channel). 

    What have some of your struggles been with creativity? What have some of your successes been? What was the process that got you there? 

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    How I handle being married.

    If you asked any of my real friends, they would all tell you that I am the last person they know that should be married.

    In fact, some of them are still shocked and I’m coming up on 3 years of marriage...

    While I blame many things for this (joining a new church and 2 years of complete single-ness), I have really one thing to blame.

    Meeting this guy:

    My husband is super pumped that Canada is behind him.

    Hands down, the number #1 reason I married this guy is because he could play guitar. (I promise there are other reasons, too.)

    One elopement and several new instruments later, we became muttonfist.

    While 80% of our listeners are related to me, a few friends (thanks, Meg!) have caught on.

    My husband takes care of all the instrument tracks including banjo, steel guitar, drums, and bass. I write lyrics and record vocals after he has bugged me to do them at least five times. So far it's a slow process, but we're gaining speed.

    I'm not really into televised sports or showering. He hates romantic comedies and McDonald's. We have very, very little in common to the outside world. But, music unites us.

    Here's a few of my favorite tracks. You can find more at:

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Malala Yousafzai

    Have you heard of Malala Yousafzai? She is a 16 year old Pakistani citizen who is an outspoken advocate for the right of women to receive an education. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to assassinate her. The Taliban wanted to assassinate her and her father because they spoke out to the outside world and promoted education for girls in Pakistan.

    This interview she did with Jon Stewart is just amazing. She is wise beyond her years and a true heroine. The key part of the interview came when Stewart asked Malala what she thought when she learned that the Taliban wanted to kill her. This was her response: "I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.'  But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"

    She just released a book this week called I Am Malala . I cannot wait to read it and be inspired even more by this wise, brave, and strong young woman.

    Friday Links, Hooray!

    This list, 28 Pictures That Prove Dreams Do Come True, from Buzzfeed just makes my heart swell! Way to go humanity!

    There are some hobbies you can only do when you are young and your health holds up, but music is something you can continue with all  your life, as this 92-year-old man demonstrates in his rehearsal. Amazing!

    I'm awful in the kitchen...absolutely awful. If I don't have a recipe to follow, then I wind up eating flavorless mush, and that's just not fun. Luckily, Crock-Pots exist. Essentially, Crock-Pots are the only think keeping me fed. This website, A Year of Slow Cooking, has saved me many times AND (and this is huge, folks) everything is gluten free!  The woman who runs this website is fantastic and has some books out--I love her writing (she's honest about the victories and the flops), and her recipes are so doable! (If I can do can definitely do it!)

    This video/audio recording has been on my radar for years, and I listen to it whenever I need a pick-me-up (or I have my boyfriend listen to it when we're driving on the freeway with moderate amounts of traffic and we almost get into an accident because he's laughing so hard...Not something I recommend, dear readers. Please listen to this when you are not operating or even in a moving vehicle, not holding small children or puppies, or not wielding sharp objects. You know, for safety's sake).

    Haunted houses are pretty horrible, but 'tis the season anyway! I must say, I don't know how much I love haunted houses, but I do know how much I love seeing others' reactions to haunted houses, particularly those captured by the Nightmares Fear Factory in Niagara Falls, Canada.

    Check out this adventurous couple as the bride does gown photo shoots around the world! You can explore their website and browse their gallery. 

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    How to get through school while being terrified of Halloween.

    Halloween is THE WORST for me. Everyone should be pretty aware by now that I hate all holidays. Halloween may take home the prize for most hated holiday.

    I can’t walk into Target. I can’t go to Wal-mart. I can’t even go into a public library or doctor’s office from early September until Thanksgiving. I once had a panic attack during a basketball game because the other team’s colors were black and orange.

    Can you tell how excited I am? (I'm the one with 'ACE' written on my forehead.)

    If you’re like me and you hate halloween, it’s okay. I’m here to let you know that you can get through it.

    1. The grade school parties & parades.

    It doesn’t get worse than this. I promise you. My mother insisted that I dress up for Halloween every year. I think it was so I could trick people into thinking that I really liked Halloween so no one would scare me. I was a doctor, a penguin, a tube of toothpaste, a playing card and other non-threatening people or items. When it was time to do the school-wide parade I would stand in line and try really, really hard not to cry. Thankfully, around 4th grade, I had a teacher that understood that I did not want to participate. The older kids didn’t have to parade around, but we still had to view the young kids coming into our classroom with their freakishly scary costumes. (Dear mothers, your kindergartner does NOT need to wear a mask that has blood dripping from it.) This lovely teacher allowed me to go into her empty classroom and play Oregon Trail until the festivities were over. How amazing is that?

    2. The high school cool kids.

    For some reason, people still wanted to dress up in high school. This dressing up usually included dressing like you were about to go out clubbing or wearing the scariest mask you could find. No thank you. I made friends with the secretary at our school (she also happened to be my cheerleading coach) and she gave me a pass to leave each class 5 minutes early so I could avoid the crowded costume-infested hallways.

    3. The college parties.

    Thankfully, most people are over dressing really creepy for college. Well, at least on Halloween. Sure, there are lots of Greek Life themed parties, but those are easily avoided. Just don’t go. The best part about college is that you don’t actually have to attend class. I would gather up my favorite movies, order some pizza and invite a few friends to keep me company for the entire day/night. College rules.

    The only good thing about Oct. 31st is it only happens once a year. Sure, people drag it out to be a month long, but it makes makes Nov. 1st that much sweeter.

    Oh, and did I mention that’s when I turn another year older? Thank you Halloween for ruining the build-up for my birthday.

    Make friends with your teachers & administration and they’ll be able to help you when the dreaded day falls on a school day. You can always chat with me. You’ll know where to find me. Locked in my house, under covers watching Season 1 of The Mindy Project.

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    Facing my Fears

    I’ll never forget the moment I decided to write a book. It was October 2007 and I was driving to visit my family in Utah. A seven hour drive all alone, and somewhere along the I-15 north I made the decision that I was going to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing a novel.

    Skip ahead five years, one degree, and two kids later I still hadn’t written a word. That is a lie, I’d actually written several pages, but I’d never completed what I’d set out to do. I don’t know what it was about New Year’s Eve 2012 but for some reason I decided 2013 was going to be my year, and by the end of January I was well on my way to writing the novel that had been living in my head for years.
    I’m not going to say it was easy, because it wasn’t, but it was a lot easier than never doing it…if that makes any sense. For five years I’d dreamed, schemed, researched, and planned but suddenly I was allowing myself to trust me and move forward. Two things were holding me back. No not my children, my own ego.

    1)      What if I suck? (Still a very real possibility. So often I read books and marvel at the genius and talent of the author I am reading and feel envious of them.)
    2)      What if nothing comes of it? I spend all this time pouring my heart and soul onto a page and nothing happens? I can’t publish, or I do and I get horrible reviews?

    So at long last I put pen to paper (or actually I just started typing) and eventually I had sixty thousand words (the average length of a young adult novel). Then came the extremely long (and continuous) process of editing, revising, getting feedback, querying agents, etc.
    Guess what. It paid off! I actually have a several figures contract with HarperCollins Publishing and my husband is getting ready to retire. I kid, I kid. I have no clue if I will ever see the financial fruits of my labors (odds are, I won’t see a penny for all my hard work and diligence). But here is my big payoff:

    1)      I accomplished a lifelong dream…I mean, I wrote a freaking novel for crying out loud. I’ve always wondered if I could do it—especially the last six years, and I DID IT.
    2)      I sharpened my writing and grammar skills, which in turn has sharpened my communication skills in general.
    3)      I gained confidence in my ability. I used to keep my dream a secret for fear of being mocked or ridiculed. I didn’t even tell my HUSBAND I was writing a novel until I was half way through, and I didn’t tell most people until I was finished with the first draft.
    4)      I’ve been continuously educated and enriched as I’ve researched different methods and techniques of writing, editing, querying etc.
    5)      I realized it’s something I actually enjoy, and I will continue to do it…even if I never get published. I actually have several more stories gestating in my brain, characters who have appeared who want their story told.

    Although I’ve had positive feedback from agents, unfortunately I’ve been told the market is not trending in the direction of my book. I’m going to query for another few months, but I’m actually leaning toward self-publishing in February 2014. I feel a need for it to be published in some way, for closure.

    Now, in a move that terrifies me to the depths of my soul, I’m including the synopsis and first few pages of my book. Remember, it’s copyrighted.  

    Celia Tyler is an intelligent seventeen year old girl with a penchant for mischief. She always enjoyed the occasional practical joke, but after her mother Jennifer died, she turns pranking into an art form. When one (semi destructive) prank sends the staff and students at Taft high into frenzy, her widowed father sends her nearly a thousand miles away to live with Amy Carter, her estranged aunt. In the Carter home, Celia discovers a stockpile of her mother’s possessions, including a diary from her senior year. Through the pages of the diary, Celia begins to piece together fragments of her mother, finding answers to questions she hadn’t even asked yet. Along the way, she is adopted by a hodgepodge of friends, united by one common goal—to pull off an epic senior prank. It’s the story of a girl who defined herself by her pain, and the journey out of it.

    In hindsight, I realize that the thoughtless execution of the Great Frog Rescue (aka the greatest prank ever pulled at William R. Taft High) was my downfall. Had I had more time to plan I would have gotten away with it. In the past my shenanigans have been meticulous, untraceable, and of course, big enough to make waves but small enough to allow me to fly under the radar. This time, I was over confidant and under prepared. 

    To be clear, my intentions were (mostly) pure, although watching hysteria spread among my fellow classmates and teachers was a gratifying experience indeed.  My purpose was to A) rescue 500 ill-fated amphibians while B) sending a message to the science teachers that object lessons should never require loss of life, no matter how small, insignificant, and if I am being honest, repulsive the subject may be. While I’m being honest I also did it to C) enliven the otherwise mind-numbing existence that is my life.               
    In my defense (and perhaps demise) I did try to warn Mr. Klein that the use of previously living subjects would not be tolerated by students growing up in the golden age of virtual reality, where a graphic simulation of frog dissection would have sufficed.

    “Thank you for your opinion Miss Tyler,” he replied in a voice indicating that he was not at all appreciative of my opinion. “It’s always a pleasure to hear from one of our elite students.” His voice dripped with sarcasm and I felt my blood boil. Teachers always felt it necessary to bring up my intelligence, usually by citing my SAT score (perfect scores in Comprehensive Reading and Writing, and not too shabby in Math).

    It was as if my intelligence was directly related to my potential which made my extracurricular activities especially disappointing. Had I been an idiot, my irresponsible behavior would have been easily dismissed. Expected even. Possibly embraced as a creative outlet.  “She just doesn’t know any better,” they’d say.
    “Elite…if you ever decide to apply yourself and turn in some work now and then that is,” Mr. Klien finished, not bothering to mumble his intended insult under his breath. While teachers enjoyed reminding me of my intelligence, they also enjoyed reminding me of my GPA (1.6) trying to guilt me to action. As if it wasn’t my choice to slide through life uninterrupted by homework deadlines. He turned back to the class. 

    “It is understandable that students may feel uncomfortable dissecting a frog over concern for animals being killed, or simply because they lack the motivation to complete any class work that may require significant effort,” he paused, looking my way. “I believe that using frogs' bodies for educational purposes is worthwhile. In addition, the evidence is strong that bullfrogs are an invasive species in much of North America.”

    “So are perverted old teachers, but I don’t see you donating your body to science,” I replied making my own implications. The low hum of fluorescent lights overhead punctuated the silence and the class waited in awkward anticipation while Mr. Klein seethed. Not bothering to wait for a reply, I let myself out. 
    Sure I got a semi-abusive earful about my behavior from the school counselor Mr. Tyler, who prefers I call him “Dad,” (yes, my school counselor happens to be my father, which could not be less convenient) but my snide remark was worth watching a man on the edge of an aneurism try to steel himself in front of 30 teenagers with camera phones at the ready—even if it did mean three days without the internet (Mr. Tyler’s go-to punishment).

    I was wrong about one thing. Mr. Klein wasn’t forking over money from the minuscule lab budget for rotting carcasses. In fact, due to the miniscule lab budget, Taft High couldn’t afford already deceased animals. They got a 35 percent discount for buying live frogs to be slaughtered via chloroform at the hands of the students, pre object lesson. A fact I unwittingly discovered while signing for the delivery after school waiting for my dad to complete his nine millionth transcript request.

    I had come to learn many behind the scenes secrets of Taft since the only car I had access to happened to 
    be communal, Dad having the privilege of primary use, and I had no desire to spend twenty minutes sharing a school bus with my inane peers among whom I had no friends, so what was the point of going home anyway. Besides, the internet connection was much faster at school (pathetically).

    I actually don’t mind staying after school waiting for my dad. It affords me great opportunity to openly rebel him by being a nuisance. On this particular day, the prank was literally delivered to me. It really would have gone against my nature not to take advantage of the situation.

    There was no time for scrupulous planning. No time to “weigh the consequences” or “smooth out the details” as they say. Rather, I went with my gut. Obviously, the deep “brrroop, brrroop, brrroop” of five hundred live bullfrogs was not conducive to a stealthy operation. I told the delivery men to leave the frogs in the commons, where they would be transported later. A wiser man would have looked into the face of a 17 year old and recognized menace, but then again, a wiser man’s life ambition wouldn’t have been delivery boy.

    Once the frogs were in place, I created a sign on William R. Taft letterhead, instructing students and staff to leave the frogs alone until they could be transported, threatening something about suspension and consequences.  Finally, I used the widely hated Principal Crawley’s signature stamp sealing the frogs’ fate (and my own).

    The staff ignored the frogs, probably too overworked and underpaid to even notice the amphibians waiting ominously in the epicenter of social interaction.

    I knew if I set the scene, I could most likely count on one of the other 1,200 students to be curious enough to open Pandora’s Box, but just to be safe, the next morning as Mr. Tyler and I arrived at the ungodly hour of 6:30am  I replaced the “Do Not Touch” sign with a “Free the Frogs” sign.
    I didn’t want to open the latch. I would let someone with little to lose take the fall, leaving me standing guiltless. That someone was Matt Coburn.

    Matt Coburn had been the class clown since third grade. He’d been suspended for so many minor infractions over the years that his parents started blocking the school’s phone calls. He was a nice enough guy. A non-entity, really. For him, the frogs would end up being just one more letter in his file.

    At precisely 7:36am Matt, never hesitating, unleashed the frogs in the commons. I was there (of course) as a casual observer.

     At first, it wasn’t really all that exciting. The frogs hopped out a few feet and a few kids walked over to inspect the goings on. One of the jocks, whose name I never bothered to learn, walked up with his other nameless jock buddies and picked up a frog, chucking it towards one of the cheerleaders, also not interesting enough to know by name, who of course screamed, and squealed, and jumped up and down like gender clich├ęs will. It set off a chain reaction. For every squealing girl, there was a guy hocking a frog in her direction. This was bad news for the frogs, which seemed to sense impending doom and attempted to evade capture by hopping away, often into the direction of a terrified and or grossed out student. The madness spread thick and easy like peanut butter. I couldn’t look away.

    Apparently when a couple hundred people start panicking, frogs panic. They hop, they hide, they kamikaze into industrial grade mixers in the cafeteria (okay, just one of them did that, but it was enough).
    It took almost three hours, half the staff, and even a few firefighters to collect (most of) the frogs.  School was cancelled. Lawsuits were threatened. I took silent pride in my accomplishment. 
    I realize now that I made two critical errors. 

    1) I underestimated the cunning determination of my otherwise dimwitted teachers when dealing with “a case of serious vandalism and animal cruelty”. Please, the only animal cruelty going on was the purchase of five hundred unsuspecting frogs for the purpose of slicing open their chests just so freshmen could see what would have sustained the frogs in life, had they not murdered them. 
    2) I forgot a fundamental rule: Never sign for a package with an alias that can be traced to you, which in my case was Kitty Sherbatsky. Those amateur sleuths deduced that I was the only one who had checked out Tolstoy from the school library in over a decade. I’m daring to hope that my English teacher Mrs. Reed wasn’t the one who pointed them in my direction, having introduced me to Anna Karenina. She’s the only person I have any amount of respect for in this school, my dad included.

    Unfortunately, even though my previous infractions were not on such a large scale, when you have a reputation of defiance, you will be considered a suspect pretty quickly. That and I had access to the letterhead.

    While Matt received detention and service hours (which he accepted indifferently, having enough hours to keep him busy until graduation anyway) I, having “masterminded” the operation was facing expulsion.  First, I was unauthorized to sign for the frogs, and did so with an alias. Second, I used the school letterhead and “forged the identity of Principal Crawley” and of course there was the giant amphibian in the room: 178 frogs were either missing or dead. I was in deep, murky water.