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October 30, 2008

Mr. Potato Head Meets the Pumpkins

October 30, 2008

The thought of a large knife and two three-year-olds scares the crap out of me, so we have turned to pumpkin carving alternatives.

Argh Matey!  Pirate Pumpkin and Princess Pumpkin

Argh Matey! Pirate Pumpkin and Princess Pumpkin

A natural klutz, I’m even worse with sharp objects.  Add two overeager preschoolers wanting desperately to get their hands dirty so to speak and you can see where I’m less than willing to take on the challenge of carving not one but two pumpkins.

The year the twins were born we skipped carving all together, going with the natural pumpkin look.  The next year, we drew faces on the twin’s pumpkins with markers.  Last year, we took it up a notch and broke out the glue.  We used string, squiggly eyes, pom poms and pipe cleaners to decorate the pumpkins.

As you can see, I’m building up to (or avoiding) the year we finally carve pumpkins but I’m still not ready this year.  However, I had to do something new.

Enter Mr. Potato Head.  Or at least his accessories.  Target was selling these Potato Head kits for pumpkins.  And I’m a sucker for a gimmick.

But turning pumpkins into potato heads is a little harder than it looks.  So we had to turn to Daddy for help.

So on Sunday afternoon, my husband helped the twins decorate their pumpkins for Halloween. My daughter chose a princess kit for her white pumpkin.  And my son turned his orange pumpkin into a pirate.  Aargh!

The twins are very happy with their creations.  My husband had a good time helping the kids.  And I’ve put off pumpkin carving for one more year.

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A 19th Century Autumn Harvest Festival

October 20, 2008

On Saturday, my family and I went to an Autumn Harvest Festival at Meadow Farm Park. Meadow Farm is a historical park centered around an 1860 living historical farm and museum in Richmond, Virginia.

The corn going into the sheller.

The corn going into the sheller.

Because of the historical nature of the park, a lot the activities during the festival are actual chores that would have been done on the farm during the 19th century and all new things to a 21st century family.

First my kids got to try out a corn shelling machine.  They each got to put in an ear of corn, then turn the wheel to shell the corn.  I’m not quite sure they understood what they were doing or why, but they sure had fun turning that wheel.  The man working the machine offered to let them keep their shelled ear of corn, but they just looked at it like what am I suppose to do with this.  I told them it was okay to throw it away.

The sorham press

The sorham press

Next door was the Sorghum Press.  With a little help the costumed interpreter, the twins pressed sorghum actually grown on the property. Normally their part is done by a horse, but today the kids turned the press.  They even got to try some molasses made from sorghum.  My son declined with a polite “no, thanks.”  However, my daughter was finally coaxed into sampling some.  But one taste and she was spitting out the cracker.  Daddy had to eat the rest of their sample.

We also got to see the Tobacco barn, sheep out to pasture, a blacksmithing demonstration and some woodworking before we found another hands out demonstration.

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith

My daughter got to turn a piece of flax into a bracelet.  For some reason my son didn’t feel the need for a bracelet, so he watched.  First she had to break the flax.  It’s rough and looks a bit like straw.  Then she had to soften it on scutching board with a wooden knife.  Then she put the flax through the hackle to take off the rough parts before it was put on the flax wheel and spun into linen.  Then the lady there helped her tie into a bracelet.  Afterwards we saw where the ladies would take then linen and dye it.

We also got to see a bee keeper demonstration.  He didn’t have any real bees with him, but there were plenty out there visiting the festival.

The Flax Wheel.

The Flax Wheel.

Next the kids got to see samples of a cobbler’s shoe making skills.  Then they got to test out their own leathering skills by adding an imprint to a piece of leather and then stringing it into a necklace.  My daughter added a butterfly to her piece of leather.  My son enjoyed adding a worm to his leather piece, but didn’t care for a necklace.  So Mommy wore it.

After that, the kids moved on to rope making.  They each picked out a color of yarn – my daughter purple and my son yellow.  Then Daddy and the costumed interpreter helped them make it into a piece of rope.  My daughter used her piece of rope as a bracelet.  My son gave his to Mommy to use tie on my purse as a souvenir.

The apple press

The apple press

Then it was time for Apple Stringing.  What’s that, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like, you string pieces of apples. My daughter was stringing her applies faster than I could get them out of the bowl and my son and husband teamed up to make nice long apples string.  But what do you do with it now, I asked?  You hang them in the kitchen until they dry out and then it acts as potpourri.

The kids were starting to get a little hungry so we just watched the cornhusk doll and scarecrow making before heading over to the apple cider press for a sample.  Mmmmm, nothing better than fresh apple cider.  My only complaint, given the nip in the air that day, is that the cider wasn’t hot.

We stopped for Daddy’s favorite snack – kettle corn.  The whole family munched down on it while we waited in line for pony rides.  My daughter couldn’t wait to get on a horse again.  She’s been trying to coax us into riding lessons all summer – she’s three. She rode Oreo around like a champ while my husband and son cheered her on from the sidelines.

For anyone of you that think I’m brave running around with three-year-old twins, I had nothing on the lady in front of us in line.  She had one older daughter (12-14ish), triplet girls about three and infant boy/girl twins!

The Natural Dye Demonstration

The Natural Dye Demonstration

Anyway, next up for us was a little decorating.  First the kids decorated faces on mini pumpkins.  Then my daughter got her own face painted like a cat.  She had been asking since we got to the festival – before any of us even knew there was face painting – if she could get her face painted like a cat.

Later, we got to try something I’d never done – candle dipping.  Each of the kids got a stick with a piece of string on it.  Then we made a line.  We went up one side dipping our string in the big kettle full of wax over an open flame and then came back on the other side for another dip.  After about four dips, the twins had had enough.  So Daddy took them to see the sheep while Mommy finished the candles.

Finally, with our hands full of hand-made goodies, our bellies full of kettle corn and apple cider and two tired kids in tow, we headed back to the car.

I love festivals where we get to do lots of hands off crafts and I would say the twins did too.  And it doesn’t hurt that the festival and most of the activities were free.

They still aren’t quite old enough to understand why they were doing some of these activities, but that’s okay, we’ll be back next year.


Want a Free Car? Throw a Party.

October 16, 2008

Today I’m heading over to the Saturn dealership to pick up a brand new car – for free.  And just how did I get this car?  I threw a party – a House Party to be exact.

House Party is a grass roots campaign that partners common people like me with companies trying to promote their products.  The companies send samples of their products to hosts (like me).  In turn hosts throw a party where they share the product – and sometimes other goodies – with friends.

The Saturn is a party favor for my latest House Party – the Saturn House Party.  The party is sponsored by Saturn to promote TLC’s new show Real Simple. Real Life.  As a host of the party I get a brand new Saturn for my use for the weekend.  I also got a gas card and a cookbook for entertaining.

All I had to do was throw a party for at least 10 of my friends on a given day (or sometimes they give you a range of dates to choose from).  In this case my friends will be gathering Friday night to view the premiere episode of Real Simple. Real Life.

But I’m not the only one who benefits, so do my friends.  In my care package from the sponsor are goodies for my guests.  For this party, they are getting canvas bags, water bottles, recipes, a coupon for an oil change and a discount offer for a subscription to Real Simple magazine.

This party is actually my third House Party.  The first was also for a television show.  In September 2007, I got to preview the Season 2 premiere of Friday Night Lights two weeks before it aired.  Party favors include megaphones, rally towels, kuzies and stadium seats.

Then last spring I hosted a party for Hershey’s Bliss – what’s better than a party for chocolate or for that matter any excuse to eat chocolate.  I combined two of my favorite things and we made our party into a wine and chocolate tasting.  My guests each brought a bottle of their favorite wine to share and Hershey provided the chocolate.  Each guest also got their share of chocolate to take home among other goodies.

That party was such a hit that it inspired my friends to host similar “tastings” – even without the free party favors.  In fact we just went to a beer tasting/cook out last month.

My friends love these parties too.  They are always asking me when I’ll be hosting another one.  As for me I love any excuse to throw a party.  And the swag is a bonus.

They have House Parties for everything.  You can view a list of upcoming parties at houseparty.com/events.


TLC Would Like to Make Your Real Life, Real Simple

October 15, 2008

Think about your day so far – you had to get the kids up and off to school, you’ve got more deadlines than time at work, there are dishes and laundry piling up at home and let’s not even talk about what you are going to fix for dinner tonight.  You’re lucky you found a spare moment to read this article. 

Wouldn’t you like more time for your favorite hobby?  How about some time to do something fun with family and friends?  What would you be willing to do to get make your life simpler?

Well TLC has some answers for you and all you have to do is spend an hour relaxing in front on the television on Friday night. 

So pour yourself a glass of wine, put the kids to bed (or better yet send them to a friends or Grandma’s for a sleep over), curl up on the couch and turn the channel to TLC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Because this Friday TLC partners with Real Simple to premiere its brand new hour-long show – Real Simple. Real Life.  – that promises to find solutions to make life easier.

And who doesn’t want an easier life?  Count me in!

Think of the show as a realistic makeover for the average busy woman – or man.  Instead of promises of perfection, Real Simple.  Real Life. is offering simple solutions and tips for everyday folks.

People today have lives full of demands and expectations. I know my list of to dos start when I get up and is often still clogging up my list at the end of the day.

Real Simple. Real Life will help people like you and me identify the frustrations that zap our time and keep our plates full.  The show then offers personalized tips to end the chaos and give us back more fun time.

“Each week we’ll feature a comprehensive, 360-degree lifestyle makeover, using best-in-class experts in a variety of areas to help our real women identify with their day-to-day challenges, and offer realistic solutions and ‘aha’ tips to help them live an even better life.  Viewers at home will identify with these women and be impacted by the makeovers” Executive Producer Jude Weng said.  “We embrace the reality that it’s not about making the perfect meal or having the most organized closet; we’re working with them to make time-saving changes that will let them ad more of the fun ‘me’ time they’re craving back into their lives.”

Obviously the show’s target audience is women.  But these are issues that everyone deals with – men and women – anyone who runs a home, has a job, raises kids or keeps a busy schedule.  I know that my husband spends just as much time on the house and with the kids as I do (and sometimes more).  So these solutions are for everyone.

Expect solutions to cover everything from smart organization tips to ideas for quick and simple dinners to decoration ideas to fun ways to make entertaining easier.

The show will also include a website – realsimplereallife.com – to go into more detail on the solutions offered in the weekly show.  The show and its tips will also be featured in the monthly magazine Real Simple.

I know that I am always in a state of disorganization so I’m really looking forward to seeing what tips the show can offer to get me organized and give me more time to spend with my kids.

So I have reserved my seat on the couch for Friday night at 8 p.m. My bottle of wine is already chilling.  Let the help start.

What area do you need the most help?  What tip/solution did some give you that made your life easier?


Christmas Cookies: Baking up Holiday Memories

December 17, 2007

Baking cookies at Christmas has been a holiday tradition in my house since I was tall enough to stand on a chair to reach the counter.  I have many memories of a delicious-smelling kitchen filled with laughter as I baked with different members of my family – my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my cousins – over the years.

BakingWe always baked the favorites – chocolate chip, snickerdoodles (a type of sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar), oatmeal raisin, sugar cookies and peanut butter.  But because I cherish making Christmas cookies, I’m always on the look out for new recipes to try and have been know to make up to 10 varieties a season.

Maybe baking Christmas cookies holds another special meaning for me.  It’s no secret that I’m domestically challenged.  I’ve never been very good at those things associated with maintaining a household – I’ve set fire in the kitchen when attempting to cook on more than one occasion, I’ve turn the laundry pink and shrunk sweaters, I’ve jammed the vacuum and bleached the carpet when trying to clean a stain.  But baking is different.  Baking I can do.  So Christmas is my time to shine.

For these two reasons, it’s been very important for me to pass on the tradition of baking Christmas cookies to my twins.  Their first Christmas, they weren’t even old enough to eat cookies (and honestly I was still struggling with the new duties of motherhood), but by the time their second Christmas rolled around I had a planned.

Last year, I bought them their own apron and hat and set them up on bar stools at the breakfast bar.  I bought the already cut, pre-made cookies – the kind that are little round circles of dough.  I put a cookie sheet in front of them and let them take the pieces of dough from the wrapper and put on the cookie sheet.

I personally would never think of making cookies that weren’t for scratch, but knew that we had to start somewhere small so the twins could participate.  I figured we’d grow a little each year until one day they are making cookies from scratch.

Well now the twins are 2 ½ and we are closer.  For Halloween, I bought the premade sheets of cookie dough and let them go to town with cookie cutters.  My daughter kept using the same piece of dough.  She’d cut it out, roll it back up, pat it out and cut it again.  My son actually had more fun flying his cookie cutters around than using them on the dough, but hey it’s a start.

And for Christmas this year, we’ve moved up to mixes.  They’ve made four batches of cookies already and we are going to try to knock three more out today.  But in all honesty, I think their favorite part of the experience is licking the spoons when we are done.

Sure, I’m not making as many cookies as I normally do, but at least I’ve got someone new to share the cooking-making fun with.  I’m looking forward to years of Christmas cookies baking with the twins and can’t wait until they are ready to try their own recipes.

This week I bake chocolate chip cookies for my husband and snickerdoodles for me.  Soon the twins will be baking these as well as their own favorites.

Speaking of favorite Christmas cookies, what are your favorites?


What’s Your Favorite Pie for Thanksgiving

November 15, 2007

It’s seven days and counting to Turkey Day.  I can happily count down these days since I won’t be the one slaving over a hot stove preparing a feast for all.  In fact, due to my lack of culinary talents, I don’t even have to worry about preparing a dish or requested for help in the kitchen.  At most, I’m asked to contribute a dessert to the spread of food for the day.  I can, after all, bake.

PieSo while I dream of delicious, mouth-watering turkey on Thanksgiving, the meal always comes down to one course for me — Dessert.  And when I think about Thanksgiving Day dessert, my mind always jumps to pie — more specifically pumpkin pie.

I think my association between Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie is a recent one, mostly because my husband always asks for it this time of year.  But growing up, Thanksgiving meant a whole array of pies.

You see, while I am one of only two children, my extended family is quite large.  My dad is one of seven and Thanksgiving at Grandma’s meant that she would fix everyone’s favorite.  So if my favorite pie is peanut butter and she thought there was a chance I might stop by, then she’d make a peanut butter pie.  And so it was for every family member.  In fact, I’m not even sure that some had favorites or they just asked for a different pie so we could have a variety.  Either way, the end result was a whole array of pies to dine on after Thanksgiving dinner (and for days to come) at Grandma’s.

So in honor of my Grandma, I’m interested in knowing what is your favorite pie?  Or at the very least what is your favorite pie to have at Thanksgiving?Why is it your favorite and do you like it fixed a certain way?

My favorite is a freshly baked Peanut Butter Pie with chocolate and whip cream.  It can’t be a store bought, frozen one.  If it’s not fresh, I’d rather pass all together.
Be forewarned, however, that I am in no way volunteering to make everyone’s favorite.  But if I eat of piece of your favorite pie over the holiday, I’ll be happy to think of you.

Happy Eating!

Photo by James. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)