Saturday, October 31, 2015

Countdown to Halloween - The Big Day!

Today we did our Halloween activities in the morning since Sophia and Olivia were spending the afternoon/evening and overnight with friends in St. Paul.

For breakfast, we had Jack-O-Lantern Orange Fruit Cups. I saw the idea on a pin on Pinterest that led to Simplee Thrifty.


3 Medium Navel Oranges
1 cup Mixed Fruit (I used cantaloupe, red raspberries, and black grapes that were cut in half)


Slice off the tops of the oranges. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp of the oranges. (Note: when doing this, you are essentially juicing the orange. So, do this step over a cup or bowl so you can drink the orange juice.)

Cut out faces on each orange to resemble a Jack O Lantern. Fill each orange with mixed fruit and serve.

After breakfast, Olivia carved a tiny pumpkin that she picked at Lendt's Pumpkin Patch. We went on a field trip and hay ride with our 4-H club on October 22nd.

Despite its small size, it was filled with seeds.

Shadow was relaxing on the window ledge watching the activity outside in the front yard.

Later on, the girls carved the pumpkins they picked out from Tom's Pumpkin Patch..

As we always do, we set up newspapers on the kitchen floor to do the carving.

We let the dogs in the kitchen after the girls began carving. The dogs both have a lot of puppy energy still so this was an exciting activity for them. Their tails were wagging and they needed to be as close as possible to the action.

They circled around the pumpkin-carving area. Even Shadow came into the kitchen to see what was going on.

Aspen was quite curious as she watched Olivia.

She was fascinated with the seeds and pumpkin-innards that were coming out of the pumpkin.

Surprisingly, for the size of the pumpkins, there weren't a lot of seeds.

There still are, though, plenty to make roasted pumpkin seeds tomorrow.

I'm going to be following a recipe from a pin that led to Hudson Valley Magazine for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.


1½ cups pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp olive oil or non-stick cooking spray
1 tsp salt


Separate seeds from pulp and strings. Rinse in water and pat dry.

Toss dried seeds in olive oil and place in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (Or lay flat on baking sheet and spritz with cooking spray.) Season with salt.

Place in 325º F oven, stirring often to ensure even browning until a pleasant aroma is apparent (approximately 25 minutes).

Remove immediately and transfer to pan or plate to cool. May be stored in air-tight container for a few days.

Nutrition facts (per 1 oz. serving): 180 calories, 6g protein, 3g carbohydrates, 16g fat, 240mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, less than 1g fiber.

After carving pumpkins, the girls did their annual hand tracing on their candy bags. Olivia picked a spot for this year's hand tracing next to the outline of her hand from the first year of trick or treating in 2004.

In 11 years, her hands have grown quite a bit.

After I traced her hand, I wrote the year and her costume (fallen angel). She added her name and a drawing.

She drew a pair of fallen angel wings. She said it looked more like a butterfly - not wings - though.

It was Sophia's turn next.

The outlines of her hands have moved onto the back of her bag since she's been trick-or-treating longer than Olivia.

After I was done tracing her hand, I added the year and her costume (Good Witch).

She added her name and a drawing of a witch's hat and broomstick.

I'm so happy that we started this tradition when the girls first started trick-or-treating. It's hard to believe how much they have grown. It's also fun to read and remember what costumes they wore each year.

The last thing we did was make deviled eggs with spiders made from black olives. The pin on Pinterest led to a recipe on


6 hard-boiled eggs, halved
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I used Miracle Whip)
1⁄2 teaspoon ground mustard (I use liquid mustard)
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
Black olives


Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Slip out yolks and mash. Stir in mayonaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. Cut whole olive in half. Put one half on mashed yolk for the spiders body.

Thinly slice the other half for the spiders legs. Put four legs on each side. (Note: I only did three legs because the eggs were rather small.)

We left to go to St. Paul so Sophia and Olivia could spend Halloween afternoon and evening with Jaina, Brandon, and Jacob. They are members of our 4-H club, and the kids all have similar interests and along so well together.

The boys were dressed as ninjas, Olivia is a fallen angel, Jaina is an ocelot, and Sophia is a good witch.

They enjoyed lunch together, played together in the afternoon, and went trick-or-treating with other homeschoolers who are part of a social/activity club in the evening.

This is the first year that I haven't gone trick-or-treating with the girls. I will miss going out with them each year, but am so thankful to have had the past 12 years to be able to enjoy with them.

The memories - from those first years when they were toddlers and we spent the holiday with my parents to transitioning to spending Halloween as a family in our town once the girls' older cousins had "aged out" of trick-or-treating to giving the girls the opportunity to enjoy experiencing Halloween with their friends - all have made this day a special one.

So, it's a bittersweet day I not only reflect on these memories, but I recall my parents - my first Halloween without both of them.
...How excited they were when we were children to dress us up in homemade costumes.
...How they went trick-or-treating with us until we were old enough to go on our own.
...How intently they would listen to us tell about the houses we went to and the candy we received.
...The special meals we'd enjoy together as a family - with the table all decorated in orange and black.
...How they doted on Sophia and Olivia when they would come all dressed up in their costumes.

Many good memories.

Many things to be thankful for today.

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 43 - Bridge

This week has been a rather dreary one with constant rain. There was even some light snow on Wednesday, October 28th that made a brief appearance and then melted by the next day. 

This morning and early afternoon it was raining again. Sophia and Olivia hoped by this evening that the rain would stop so they wouldn't have to carry umbrellas while trick-or-treating. The rain did, indeed, stop by early afternoon.

This photo, the 43rd one of the year for the Nature Photo of the Week challenge, shows a break in the rain. The photo was taken from the shore of the St. Croix River at Osceola Landing. This is from the Minnesota side of the river looking north towards the bridge that connects Minnesota to Wisconsin.

We traveled across it quite a few times this past week:

- Monday - we helped create treat bags with the seniors at the nursing home so they could pass out candy to preschoolers who came to visit them on Friday all dressed up in Halloween costumes.

- Friday - Sophia and Olivia participated in the Halloween Costume Contest at the nursing home. Afterwards, we all helped serve root beer and puff corn for a mid-afternoon snack.

- Saturday - I went to Urgent Care to have my head checked out after the car door hit it on Tuesday while I was at my parents' home. I had the car parked on their driveway which is on a hill. When I opened the door, I must have been standing too close to the door or at the wrong angle and it hit my forehead.

Long story short: I've had pain where the door hit my forehead since Tuesday and I thought I noticed that it looked kind of swollen. That or my skin is aging in an odd way.

After headaches all week and a rather disconcerting moment of confusion when looking at my car and not realizing it was mine...I went in to Urgent Care today.

Ends up I have a concussion and my forehead is, in fact, swollen. I'm supposed to take it easy for two weeks and be very careful to try not to bump my head again. Apparently if your head is injured while the first concussion/your brain is healing the outcome potentially isn't as favorable the second time around.

So: rest...making sure I'm careful with my head and it doesn't get hit on my forehead...and alternating Ibuprofen and Tylenol until the pain and swelling go away. And, that, is Halloween and my nature photo all wrapped up in one.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Countdown to Halloween - Day 5 - Mummy Theme + Volunteering at the Nursing Home

For the fifth day of the Countdown to Halloween, we did a Mummy theme. I found a pin on Pinterest that led to Your Home Based Mom.

The recipe is an easy one - just little powdered sugar doughnuts that are drizzled with white chocolate. The original recipe suggested melting white Wilton melts. I used almond bark that comes in the big blocks. It was the first thing I found at the store and it basically is the same thing.

After melting the almond bark, we took a spoon or knife and drizzled it onto the doughnuts.

For a more precise look, you can put the melted chocolate in a Ziploc bag and snip off the corner to apply it.

The last step is adding googly eyes. I couldn't find them in the store and I didn't want to spend time making hundreds of googly eyes. So, we just used sprinkles in the shapes of bats and pumpkins for the eyes. It was fine. Not something that we would photograph closely for people to be inspired by...but fun to make and eat.

At some point, if I am so inclined to make googly eyes, this is the recipe for them from Your Home Based Mom.

Royal Icing

4 egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
Water as needed


Beat egg whites large bowl with mixer at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and lemon extract. Beat at high speed until thickened and desired consistency. If it is too thick add a few drops a water, a little at a time. If it is too runny add some more sugar.

Also at breakfast, we made Colorful Fruit Skewers. This idea also came from a pin on Pinterest that led to Buzz Feed.

Melon, cubed
Black grapes


Take pieces of fruit and place them on a skewer.

In the afternoon, we went to the nursing home - just like we did last year - for the costume contest. Some of the staff and volunteers dress up, and then the residents vote for their favorite costume.

Olivia dressed up as a pioneer girl and Sophia was a vampire.

Everyone went around and talked to the residents.

There was a wide variety of costumes and the residents enjoyed seeing and talking with everyone who dressed up for the party.

The girls had fun talking with the residents - especially those who they've known for many years now.

After the costume contest, the girls and I served root beer and puff corn to the residents.

It was a nice way to spend a Friday afternoon; and we know that those who went to the party had a fun time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Countdown to Halloween - Day 4 - Jack O'Lantern Theme

Today was the fourth day of the Countdown to Halloween. This was the first day that we've been home all day which was nice. We spent the full day homeschooling and getting caught up on some subjects that we wanted to focus on.

Although I had wanted to do a few more pumpkin/jack o'lantern theme activities (like carve pumpkins and make pumpkin seeds), I realized that even doing a couple things was better than trying to do too much and not enjoying the process. We'll carve pumpkins tomorrow.

For dinner, I made pumpkin grilled cheese sandwiches. I saw the idea on Pinterest; and the pin led to Clean and Scentsible.

The grilled cheese sandwiches don't have pumpkin in them, it's just the face that is cut into the top piece of bread.

It's an easy recipe. Lightly toast the bread and butter one side. Cut out a face (eyes and mouth are plenty...otherwise you won't have much bread left).

Place one piece of bread butter side down on a baking sheet. The original recipe suggested adding a layer of cream cheese or ricotta cheese and then topping with cheddar cheese. I didn't put the cream cheese or ricotta cheese in the sandwich because I knew that Olivia wouldn't like that. I just used cheese slices which was easy and something that she would eat.

Top with the slice of bread that has the face cut out (butter side up).  Bake at 300 degrees F for approximately 10 minutes.

Note: Although this was an easy recipe to make, the crust did get rather hard. We agreed that grilled cheese sandwiches made on the griddle is our preferred method for making them. 

For dessert, we made a orange and black dessert as shown on this pin on Pinterest. It led to Frog Prince Paperie. The picture showed tall, clear glasses filled with the ingredients. Although the image is pretty, that would be an awfully big dessert (and a lot of sugar). We opted to make the dessert in tinier containers that would hold a more appropriate-size dessert.


- Vanilla Pudding - we used instant pudding which was made and set in about  five minutes. The original recipe suggested that pre-made little snack pack cups could be used instead of making pudding. The pudding was yellow (even though it was vanilla). I'm thinking a white chocolate pudding might have resulted in a lighter pudding color.

- Non-pariels (in orange) - I could find these, so we used orange decorator sugar.

- Oreos, crushed.


Drop a few spoonfuls of pudding into the glass or container. Sprinkle in the orange non-pariels. Add more pudding and then some crushed-up Oreos. Keep repeating these ingredients until the glass or container is full.

This was very simple to make and something that we would do again.

As a side note, these little green dessert bowls were some of my parents' dishes. My parents always did special things for us around Halloween. Having these bowls be part of our Halloween celebrating this week reminds me of them; and how creating family traditions and wonderful memories of different holidays is something I can matter what my age.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Countdown to Halloween - Day 3 - Spider Theme

For the third day of the Countdown to Halloween, I made the Spiderweb Nacho Spread. I saw the idea on this pin on Pinterest which led to Woman's Day.

Although there are many layers of the spread, it didn't take that long to prepare the meal. Rather than an appetizer, we used this as our main meal.

Bean Layer:
2 can lowfat refried black or pinto beans (I used refried pinto beans)
¼ c. chopped cilantro (I didn't use this because the store didn't have any fresh cilantro)
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. hot Mexican chili powder (I didn't use it)
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 large plum tomatoes (2 tomatoes was plenty)

** Note: I added a taco meat layer here with 1 pound of hamburger, 3/4 cup water, and the taco seasoning mix that comes in a package.

Middle Layer:
1½ c. thick and chunky salsa
1 c. shredded Mexican cheese blend

Guacamole Layer (I only made a half a batch of the guacamole layer):
4 ripe Hass avocados
3 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. minced red onion (I used yellow onions)
2 large jalapeno chiles (I didn't use these)
1 tsp. salt

1 c. reduced-fat sour cream (I used no-fat sour cream)

A clean plastic toy spider (I didn't do this)

Serve with: 
Blue, yellow, red corn tortilla chips (I used just regular round corn tortilla chips)

Notice Aspen is trying to edge her way 
closer to the table to get a treat.


Make Bean Layer: Scrape the mixture onto a 12- to 14-in. round serving plate and smooth into a 10-in. circle with a spatula. Arrange tomato slices around edge of bean layer to make a border.

Make Taco Meat Layer: Follow directions on taco seasoning package.

Make Middle Layer: Drain salsa in a strainer to get rid of excess juice. Spread over bean mixture, leaving some of the bean layer showing around the edge. Sprinkle cheese over salsa, leaving some of the salsa layer showing.

Make Guacamole Layer: Halve avocados; remove seeds and spoon flesh into a medium bowl. Add lime juice, onion, jalapeños and salt, and mash until fairly smooth. Spoon over cheese layer and spread into an even layer.

Make Web: Place sour cream in a ziptop bag; seal bag and snip a small tip off one corner. Pipe a spiderweb design over guacamole and onto the plate. Decorate with toy spider. Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Countdown to Halloween - Day 2 - Monster Theme

For the second day of the Countdown to Halloween, we did a Monster theme. We've done a variety of different activities and food in the past. This year, I wanted to try something new so I looked on Pinterest. I found a pin that led to How Stuff Works.

The recipe is for Monster Mouths; and it makes about six servings.

At first glance, I thought these were like manicotti or some other Italian dish. As I started making the recipe, I realized that it was more like a bacon cheeseburger in a noodle shell rather than an Italian meal. This was a pleasant surprise.


1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 pound ground beef
2 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 slices American cheese, chopped
1/2 (12-ounce) package jumbo pasta shells (about 18 shells), cooked and drained
Baby carrots, olives, red bell pepper, small pickles, and cheese slices for decoration


Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 13x9-inch baking dish. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bacon; cook until onion is tender.

Add beef; cook and stir about 5 minutes or until beef is no longer pink. Stir in tomatoes, cheese, salt and black pepper. Spoon mixture into cooked shells; place in prepared baking dish.

Cut carrots into very thin strips. Cut small slit in each olive; poke one end of thin carrot strip into each olive for "eye." (I didn't do this - we just used green olives with pimentos in the center.)

Cut red bell pepper into fang shapes.

Slice pickle lengthwise to make tongue shape.

Cut cheese slice into zig-zag pattern for teeth.

Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until hot; remove from oven. Decorate as desired with olive eyes.

Add bell pepper fangs and/or teeth; and a pickle tongue. You could also use cheese to make teeth.

Serve immediately.

I can tell that taking photos after a long day isn't always a good idea.

But, then again, Sophia's goofy face she created kind of fit in with the theme of the day.