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I love the Halloween Season!

I don’t like roller coasters, slasher movies, or walking home alone in the dark, but give me pumpkins, witches, and skeletons, evil laughs, Frankenstein, Dracula or Mummy movies, a Milky Way, and I’m a happy camper.

In my younger days, I had my goth costume moments, and I did dress up as a vampiress to my husband’s priest,and for a cozy what-if scare I will watch Ghost Hunters with my daughter (she sure does know how to scare herself).

But Halloween is pure fun.

I used to make my kids’ costumes. They were so adorable! My son was a devil (red pj’s, glued on devil horns, a pitchfork—watch out dog!—and once he figured out why the heck I was dragging him around in this outfit, he’d run up to people’s doors chanting ‘candy’! He was 2 ½ ), Zorro, Batman (yes, I made that one despite all the readily available costume shop ones), a pirate, a ninja, and the Prince of Thieves. My daughters have been Sailor Moon (reused several times, a fabulous costume if I do say so myself), princesses (from old bridesmaids gowns, got a lot of mileage there), and then I went to buying costumes, because, well, because, so we had cheerleaders, vampires, and mermaids. Did we do a black widow or ghost bride? Oh, maybe that was me.

Then we went to Zombie soccer players, and minimalist outfits (ie, sweats) and make-up, bloody scars, out with the friends and see ya, mom! Sigh.

So now, only my youngest goes out trick or treating, with friends, and my house must be a little spooky, because I get very few little goblins knocking on my door. I do put on the light. The dog is loud, maybe?

Anyway, I could go on and on about Halloween fun and the joy of a good scare, but I’ll leave it at this.

The spirit world is the closest to ours on the Eve of Hallowmas, or Samhain, depending who and where you are. Roast some pumpkin seeds, light a candle for the dead, ring some bells, and definitely go for the Treat over the Trick.

And I hope you don’t get egged!

Good Halloween Movies

Really old, really creepy. I mean, really. If it’s late and you’re alone, and you watch this thing, you WILL be scared! NOSFERATU—1922, b&w, silent. It’s in the public domain. Creep Factor=HIGH! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcyzubFvBsA

THE MUMMY—with Boris Karloff—ooh, that close-up of him! Kissing dead things. That vat of embalming fluid. This is both a love story and a creep-fest. Creep Factor=MED

THE MUMMY—Brendan Fraser—I adore #1 and #2. Creep Factor=LOW Although those scarab beetles, ugh! Some good gross-out moments, too. Fun Factor=HIGH

DRACULA—oh, pick any of the dozens of movies out there! Children of the Night, indeed. Creep Factor= SOME CREEPIER THAN OTHERS, SOME STUPIDER, TOO

Frankenstein, Wolfman—hey, I’m a traditionalist! And for a laugh—it still holds up, ABBOT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. They meet a lot of other fun characters, too. And who can forget YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the Mel Brooks comedy with Gene Wilder and many other fabulous people. Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life!

And for a good black and white ghost story, and I probably mentioned it before, try THE UNIVITED (1944) with Ray Milland.

A lot of people tend to ignore movies made in black and white, but if you’re up for something different, I say give it a try! There is nothing like a spooky black and white movie at this (or any) time of year.

And for a fun Halloween TV treat, if you didn’t catch the Halloween episode of The Office, give it a whirl. It was funny, and good. If you missed it, check out HULU http://www.hulu.com/watch/292804/the-office-spooked James Spader’s Scary Story was Excellent.

Nothin’ to fear but fear itself!

Any Halloween tips to share, a favorite costume, or favorite scary movie? Love this holiday or hate it?

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I’m a big fan of observing life in your own backyard.

My favorite kid project was Signs of Spring where we did a backyard journal of all the different ways nature got ready for the growing season. We drew pictures, wrote observations, scouted through the leaves for the first hint of greenery pushing through the soil, noted what birds were around, what the squirrels were doing, all that fun stuff, over 5 weeks.

polyphemus moth catepillarThen there was the Poozey Project—we’d found this really fat caterpillar in fall and my daughter fell in love with it. So we brought it in and ‘fed’ it, plopped it in a cage with some twigs, and lo, it spun a cocoon, and unfortunately for it, but fortunately for her fourth grade science project, the temperature in the house had it emerging in the winter into a beautiful moth the size of your hand.

It was female, because it dropped like a hundred eggs. It was short-lived, maybe a week. There were many tears involved. See what happens when you interfere in nature? There were lots of lessons to be learned there, but she got second place in the science fair.  (We did find out that adult moths don’t eat and only live about a week, FWIW)

Then there was the bat ball that landed on our back step one morning. Yes, that’s right, a ball-shaped brown mass of bats.

I have to say, after the initial OMG, it was pretty interesting. The dog didn’t eat them, they weren’t dead even though they had to have dropped a good 30-40 feet from a tree (I’m fairly sure they weren’t living in my house, and I’m going with that no matter what), and I ended up picking up the living mass of them, with a plastic bag.

We put them in a shoe box with some leaves and left them on the potting bench. Day one, still alive, still in a ball, day two—freaking adorable, they had unfolded themselves into 4 little bats and were hanging upside down on the lid of the box. Day three, gone.

But my favorite wild in the suburbs moments this summer were all about the hawk.

When I tell you I live on a busy street in a fairly populous suburban town, we’re talking squirrels as the dominant non-domestic life form. Lots of birds, rabbits, field mice, occasionally we’ll get a raccoon cruising through, and an opossum, but no deer, no turkeys, and nothing scary. Well, Canadian geese do act as if they pay property taxes, waddling across the street with an arrogance that begs the question, do they know about the law that says humans get fined for running them over?

But I digress.

So spring, early summer, I hear this squealy squawk shrilling across the park that’s opposite my house. I’d never heard the sound before, and it does have a tinge of screaming-in-park kid. But it wasn’t. A hawk had nested somewhere in the trees that surround the park (a play ground, baseball field and soccer field, so mostly open space, trees around the edges, and then homes).

I was so excited to have this exotic visitor come to our neighborhood. For weeks, you’d just hear it. It was noisy. Your classic mama-feed-me call. Then it was time to leave the nest.

Well, the squirrels must have been preparing, because they went from bold owner-of-the-yard to scarce. Rabbits, haven’t seen one since spring—could be a few reasons for that. And then baby hawk did some test flights. We saw it in our trees a few times, hanging, figuring out how it was going to get back across the street. Sometimes you’d see flashes of it and mama or papa dashing in and out of the tree tops across the way. Magnificent.

The adult hawk (I think they are red-tails, possibly red-shouldered hawks) has that more mellow call, and you would hear it now and again, not like the noisy child. And as the summer went on, you could hear a little voice-crack where the young one’s call was starting to stretch into what its adult cry would be.

Eventually, baby hawk (baby—the thing is as big as my arm!) will learn. Screeching while hunting, not a good strategy.

I worried about them during the hurricane/ tropical storm Irene. All the birds were sooo quiet just before. How do they ride these things out?

But they managed. Hawk baby was out and screeching after, flying around. Eating something in the park. I didn’t go over to see what.

And the human kids sort of adapted the hawk’s cry—I kid you not. Young things have a lot in common.

Now, though, it’s been a week, and I haven’t heard parent or child around. Don’t see them. The squirrels are back out of hiding and busy making holes in the lawn, stuffing their acorns in. The cardinals are free with their calls. Where did the hawks go? With their wide beautiful wingspans, they could be anywhere.

Hope they do well, wherever they went. I don’t know how the rest of the neighborhood feels, but I miss them. Someone said, chances are, spring will see a new fledgling born. Red Hawks return to their nesting sites. Maybe. I hope so.

We share the world with so many interesting non-human neighbors, even in congested suburbs. Pretty wild, right?

For more about Poozey Moth (in actuality a polyphemus moth) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antheraea_polyphemus

For more about red-tail hawks or any other kind of bird, check out Cornell’s bird ID site: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/id You can  hear them screech as well.

Anybody have critter stories to share? Intriguing back yard visitors? Ever gotten attached to a creature or had a child get attached to something exotic or unusual? Or weird? Anything uncommon ever show up in your backyard? Love to hear about it!

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Oak TreeHurricane Irene has come and gone, and my trees are still firmly rooted. Hopefully. I love my trees, gorgeous tall old oaks, but heck, when the winds were blowing–scary stuff!

But we all made it. And it was great because the lights went out, all around the blocks, and we went out with the kids and saw…the stars.

StarsOK, yes, on any cloudless night, you can look up and see stars, but you don’t know until the lights are REALLY out just how many stars there are to see. Not if you live in the suburbs of New York City. We have so much background light that it’s impossible to get those dark, dark nights where you can lean back and feel all you have to do is reach up a hand to grab some starlight magic. So that was fun.

Since no one got hurt, and the electricity was only off for the day, we could get past the inconvenience of it all, and the fear of bad things happening, and do some family bonding. No opening the fridge 20 times to see the same fiScrabble tilesve snacks that you don’t want, figuring out what to eat that we don’t have to cook (shh, I have a gas stove, but I wasn’t cooking) , playing board games by candlelight (I am so good at Scrabble it’s frightening), no computer, no TV, no book reading, really, since it was so gloomy, and no going to the store–any store. Ah, peace!

Except for that wind thing, of course.

It was enough to make you appreciate what you have, to wonder how people used to, and do, live without all the modern conveniences we take for granted, and to imagine what things would be like if…fill in the blank of your choosing.

All in all, it’s a good day when at the end of it you have your loved ones next to you and some stars to wish on.

Hmm, an earthquake and hurricane in the same week, strange things are happening… Hope everyone else did all right in the storm! Anybody else have an Irene experience to share?  Or perhaps your own moment of appreciation, bad-thing turned good?

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Food for the Picky—Dinner 

Not My Child, but I've Seen THAT Face Before!My kids—beloved as they are, the darlings—are picky.  It’s challenging to come up with things they like to eat. And I was never the mom who MADE them eat whatever I cooked, but gone are the days when I make multiple offerings for the picky. I’m just done with it.

My kids range from 21 to 12—college boy is NOT picky, so this is not his issue when he’s around and my husband is OK with most anything as long as there is a carnivorous option in there. But the three daughters, another story.

I have come to dread that moment at the end of the working day when dinner looms and I have no idea what to cook.

My hand inches towards the phone, but I remember they’re off Chinese, refuse Mexican unless I cook it myself (hey!), and think pizza is too fattening (I mentioned the 3 girls, right?). Sushi, not this crowd! Greek, no. Italian, I feel obligated to do myself because I actually have Italian in my blood. Ugh!

The things they like are in a list that goes like this:

  • Chicken (but only white meat & heaven fore-fend there is a bone anywhere!)
  • Ground Turkey (they’re off beef)
  • Pork (2 like, 1 not)
  • Pasta (but 2 whole wheat, 1 durham semolina)
  • Rice (2 will eat white, 3 rice pilaf, 0 wild rice but my husband and I like it)
  • Potatoes (FF, yes for all! but lotsa calories so rare, baked 2, mashed 2, potato salad 0, just as well, see calories above, hubby likes all forms of the spud)
  • Vegetables—frozen peas, raw carrots, broccoli, one will eat spinach if it’s in a recipe, lettuce
  • Fruit—I’m aces here, they like it all, mostly

As you can see, this list isn’t very long, and how many varieties of chicken can you make? It’s enough to make you crazy.

In case anyone’s in the same sitch as moi—or just want to try a new recipe—here’s one they DO like (at least for now) and it’s, dare I say, easy. As long as you have the ingredients, you’re golden in under an hour.

Chicken Broccoli PastaChicken, Broccoli & Pasta

(descriptive rather than creatively named)

INGREDIENTS

The ingredient proportions are not written in stone, adjust as suits you and what you have on hand, or wing it like I do

Mess Quotient—3 pots, 2 cutting boards (I use separate for meat and veggies), utensils, measuring cup (eh, you don’t really need the measuring cup, any cup will do, but I won’t try to stop you if you feel compelled to measure anything)

  • Broccoli—a cup or two, cleaned and cut up to bite size
  • 4 Chicken Breasts—that works great for a family of 5-6, adjust for your crew
  • Olive oil—enough for the bottom of a fry pan, so the chicken doesn’t stick, but not so much that you’re frying rather than sautéing
  • Chicken bullion—1-2 cubes or a small can
  • 1 lb of pasta—bowties, shells, penne, whatever you’ve got on hand— for my crew, I often use 2 lbs, in the hope of leftovers—why cook two days when you can stretch it from one?
  • You could sauté some onion, garlic if you like and have the time, but it’s not necessary
  • Salt, pepper, garlic (powder if you’re not going to bother with the slice and dice of the fresh)
  • Parmesan cheese

INSTRUCTIONS

Get the stock  pot going for the pasta, size & water according to how much you’ll be making, follow the instructions on the pasta box.

Cut up the broccoli and put in the 2 qt. pot, ¼ cup of water, a dash of salt, cover—probably takes five minutes to cook, just set it aside until you get the chicken going. Don’t overcook.

Heat the oil, slice the chicken into strips or cubes whatever’s easiest—those chicken breasts from Costco, LOVE them, easy, no fuss, not much cleaning to them, chop, chop, toss them in—sauté the chicken adding salt, pepper, garlic powder until white and mostly cooked. You could add a dash of white wine, too, if you like. A little chardonnay never goes amiss.

Add the bullion cube(s)& some water just to cover the chicken (like 1/2 cup-ish), then cover the pan and set to simmer for, mmm,  10-15 minutes-ish.

If you haven’t cooked the broccoli yet,  get that going.

Check on the water for the pasta—time it so everything’s done almost at the same time

ChardonnayYou can pour yourself a glass of that chardonnay while you wait, you deserve it.

After the broccoli is done al dente, drain it, and you can add it to the chicken mixture for a few minutes to get the flavors all blended.

Cook the pasta, drain.

Put it all together—top with parmesan cheese—serve.

Enjoy!

And make the kids clean up the pots.

Anybody else out there dealing with some picky eaters? Have any tips to share?  Ever have the situation where some like one thing, while the other darlings hate it? Do you make two meals to please the crowd? Or are you done with it, too? ; ) Bon appétit!

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Have you seen this TV show? It’s on TLC, and is a source of fascination and, ok, yes, horror, to me.  I kinda love it, and I’m appalled at the same time. This is super drama TV, with all the draw of dress up princess play, only the princesses here are competitive little divas trying to work out a crown or three. Glitz me, baby!

Crowns are nice, playing dress up is nice, putting on mommy’s make-up is fun—but this is extreme. Check it out, this is scarier than many paranormal phenomena! TLC Wednesday at 10/9 C. Or there is plenty of material to look at here: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/toddlers-tiaras/toddlers-and-tiaras-pictures.htm

As the title implies, it’s about the world of child beauty pageants, and unless you are in the life, I don’t think you can understand it. Actually, I don’t think you CAN understand it if you’re in the life. Or looking at it from the outside in, or, ever.

A pageant family (in much the way that we are a soccer family in my house minus the curly wigs and mascara) has invested time, money, and a whole lot of – how does one even describe it? – invested a whole lot of, well, a whole lot in their child.

Who is spray tanned, bewigged, flippered (fake teeth to cover that 2-year old gap in the front) and dressed in dazzling and expensive costumes, then paraded on stage, strutting her two-year-old self in front of a panel of pageant judges.

There is glitter. There are crowns. There is sugar. There is stampage of feet. There are obsessed mothers, fathers, aunts and grannies. There is the prized quality of sass.  Yes, that quality we as parents work to control in our children is elevated to stage presence in these little divas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, liveliness in a child is a wonderful quality, and no one wants to squash their child’s ego . BUT, correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not), a parent’s job is to temper the self-centered “I” of their darlings with a good dose of discipline and boundaries.

It can be hard, with the crying and the big liquid eyes, but you really do have to do it.

Or you’re making a monster.

Which is not to say that all those little girls from baby-dom to pre-teen diva-dom are dreadful. They have their dreadful moments, which the show is pleased to let us have a peek at.

When the camera catches them talking back to their parents, ooh, my mommy alarm goes off big. Quiet chair for you, angel girl, and no crowns or candy today!

As fascinating as the children are, the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, let’s just use the word entourage, is just as fascinating.

The mothers that swear up and down that their daughters WANT crowns and LOVE pageants, while their 2 year olds tell them they hate them, or cry and totally tantrum out in the middle of the action, well, I suspect someone is kidding someone.

And TLC doesn’t comment or judge. Which is really awesome TV. You do the judging! If you feel you have to judge anything, and you might feel like it given every episode has pageantry and costumes and razzle dazzle and judges and applause and mega-sass. There are many prizes, but only one Grand Supreme! And a lot of frozen smiles at the end.

Points for poise, girls. Stay sassy!

So, fascinated? Horrified? Think child pageants are a good idea, bad idea? Just want some bling? Try Rhinestone jewelry corp http://www.rhinestonejewelry.com/index.html or http://www.tiaratown.com/ or for all your pageantry needs try http://www.beautypageant.com/

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My second child graduated high school last weekend.

My daughter. I’m so happy for her, and proud of her. She really is a terrific kid with a good head on her shoulders. She’ll be off to college in August, out of the nest for a while.

(They do come back, everyone knows that, right?)

And don’t get me wrong, it IS good!  But there’s a part of me that just wants her to stay home a little longer.

There’s the me who knows the world can deliver some mighty powerful blows, that people can hurt her, break her heart, she can get into trouble far away from her parents’ ability to rescue her, and she will make choices, maybe choices her mother wouldn’t make, and she will have to live with the consequences of those choices. Will she make good choices? I think so. I believe so. I certainly hope so.

I still worry.

There’s also the me who knows great things are out there, adventures, new friends, places to see, things to do, and a freedom to experience things that will build her into the woman she will become.

And that’s pretty exciting, and I’d rather she take that anticipation in her luggage than my worry.

Though my worry and caution are not without merit.

But you can’t let those things rule you, can you, or stop you, right?

And maybe I’ll only tell her the once (I may perhaps have already told her a million times by now) about things to look out for.

It’s time to let it go. To let her go. Of course she’ll be back. But the Parent Job is about preparing them to get out there and live, isn’t it?

Of course, to love them. Always. No matter what.

And to be there if they need you. And they’ll NEED you less and less as they become more and more themselves.

I’m not the mother who cried when my kids went off to Kindergarten on the bus for the first time. I didn’t sniffle much at grammar school graduation or the first day of Middle School or High School.

I cried when I dropped my kids off at the SATs (ACTs in other parts of the country). Cause you know they’re now two steps from the door.

Happy Independence Day, daughter mine! I know you‘ll be fabulous out there, because you already are pretty darn fabulous.

And I’ll try to shut up about the worry stuff.

So get out there and be GREAT!

Sigh. That’s 2 down, 2 to go.

So, anybody have some tips on letting go? Or maybe pushing a birdling out of the nest when they need it? Things you found hard to let go of? Words of wisdom to counteract the worry?

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