PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE MUFFINS–AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE MUFFINS–AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

One of the things that you’ll notice about Fall is that Americans (and Europeans too) just LOVE IT! Underneath the silly, innocent face of every American is an inner child who loves Halloween. As American children and adults, we have stocked up decades of memories surrounding this holiday.

It isn’t so much the candy. It’s the gore, the blood, the skeletons, the fright, the spookiness…the fact that the Earth in the northern regions of the globe begins to darken. Night lengthens its presence. The scary nature of this season may be like a horror flick where you get the occasional rush of dopamine and adrenaline.

If you dive into our pagan past, you see that every holiday is just a merger between the Roman Catholic Church and some ancient European festival. Certainly, this has given Halloween its robust texture.

In the not-so-distant past, it may have been something like this: My personal take after skimming many articles on this subject and thinking about how it all unfolded….

During Fall we are beckoned to come inside, to the glowing hearth. The earth is getting cold. The soil is almost unplowable and hardens with frost. After months of cultivation and toil in the dirt, we bring the products of our labor inside. Then we share the fruits of our labor together, while singing and dancing merrily around the fireplace. We make soups and stews, breads and cakes. We spend time canning our vegetables and drying our fruits. We freeze fruits and vegetables that we do not can. We store onions, potatoes and squash in barrels in the basement. They sustain our survival through the long, cold winter.
Fruits and vegetables are a big part of our lives. We see the harvests as big events and we plan our lives around them. Festivals emerge with these harvests. We get creative and realize that we can make artwork out of the abundance of our crops. We start to carve faces into rutabagas, beets, squash and even pumpkins. We put candles inside the hallowed out vegetable corpses and And thus, a ritual begins: carving the Jack-o’-lantern.
We hunt game during the fall. We need to stock up on meat for the winter. We get creative and use the animal carcasses as clothing or costumes. We realize the spooky nature of All Hallows’ Eve, so we dress up in the animal carcasses and parade around the village square. Are we tricksters? Some among us are. Give us some of the bounty of your harvest— yes, treats and we won’t give you any problems. It isn’t long before this practice turns into Trick or Treating on the day before All Saints’ Day.

As you can see from my creative writing excerpt above, it isn’t hard to imagine how Halloween made its entrance.

Here in our house we are celebrating the Fall–oh, and Halloween too. I am savoring every joyous moment of this spicy season. I’m pointing out the leaves changing color while we’re driving.

We’re making apple pies. We’re baking pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling and topped with this Costco salad topper pictured below (a blend of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and cranberries). I thought, why not sprinkle these on the baking muffins?

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And…the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin Recipe. Mix it up however you like, stir in the cream cheese in the muffin batter and bake @ 375 for 20 min (give or take). AND TOP WITH THAT SALAD TOPPER PICTURED ABOVE (my idea!)

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Michael’s had a HUGE sale on autumn decorations that lasted only for a day. I happened to randomly walk in the store on that day (something that never happens to me) so I decided to stock up. I bought cinnamon and pumpkin pie scented candles and a massive supply of Fall trinkets (I spent under $30).

Everything about this season is heart-warming and cozy–even here in Alaska. The moose are coming out of the woods too. Just a couple days ago the neighbor children were getting off the bus. When they got to their doorstep, they discovered a moose in their front yard. I happened to be out in my yard and they approached me saying “We’re too afraid to go inside our house, there’s a moose right there by the door!”. I managed to capture a few pics.

And…we went out and bought pumpkins…

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We also spent one evening carving pumpkins:

Oh, and don’t forget the pumpkin spiced hand soap!

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We also made a shrine to my husband’s Mother and Grandmother who have passed on. Their pumpkin/fall paintings are in the picture frames (they were amazing watercolor artists!)

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You’re a Blogger? Just Who do you think you are?

I think every blogger or online creator has thought these thoughts. Who am I to think that I could be somebody? Who am I to think so highly of myself to think that I should be heard? Compared to everyone else, I’m nobody. I’m not some expert, published writer/author, or someone who is part of the elite or celebrity class of online creators.

And you know exactly what I’m going to say next: Anyone who became a prominent online Creator or blogger started somewhere–usually at the bottom. Some people have long paths ahead of them to get where they want to go. Some have to work at it much harder than others just to amass a small following. Life isn’t fair. Some people have naturally superior writing ability and creative prowess than others. They will have an advantage.

When we glance around online, we typically only see the “big ones”; those who have accumulated huge followings. So we are immediately shown a distorted view of things and how success and “progress” actually work.

Anyone who has become successful at anything has given it lots of awkward efforts. There have been tons of bumps and slumps along the way. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one or two people coming back to “check up on your blog”. Most of your spectators will simply move on, finding nothing valuable or intriguing with your content. No snow ball effect just yet. But it can happen. It just takes a certain threshold. 

Really though. You know why you’re blogging and that’s all that matters. You just LOVE it. Some people build stock portfolios and study the markets, some build sand castles and you build blog posts. You enjoy the creative process. All those feeble attempts to find just the right word. You like the integration of writing and pictures. You like the fact that even if you’re often dull and bland at least you’re “working on your writing ability”. Maybe when you’re 50 you can publish a book.

Recently the Mega Millions Jackpot was at 1.5 billion. Do you know what that means? It means that despite people constantly ‘hatin’ on the rich–all those “Wall Street Traders”–all those evil one-percenters–people actually don’t hate the idea of becoming rich themselves.  It’s not fair when other people have significantly more money that I do. Buuuut, when I win the lottery? All bets are off.

The numbers in lottery ticket sales are undeniable. People may hate rich people and think that it’s terribly unfair but they certainly don’t hate the idea that they might get rich. The evidence is in our behavior. Buying lottery tickets is a behavior. Let’s be honest. The majority of humans would have a surprised, pleasant feeling if they suddenly awoke and were in control of over 1.5 billion dollars–even if it was just to give away.

On a different note, I would love to make lots of money on my blog. So would you. Anyone would! But you know what? Unlike the random, “free” nature of the lottery (i.e. you only invest a few bucks to get a chance to win tons), it’s the market that will ultimately determine whether I EVER MAKE ANY MONEY ON MY BLOG. It’s also the effort, time and consistency that I put into it.  It’s the customer–the reader (or skimmer)–who determines whether they are interested in my (your) content. That said…

My goal isn’t to amass an enormous following and then suddenly be “restricted by my readers/followers as to what I can write”. I want to be able to write and post my creations for me.

I don’t want to feel like I have to censor myself for fear I’ll lose followers along the way. This is a struggle that many bloggers experience. If you’re not big yet, you may start to become big because of one blog post.  You’ll find that you have to reduce your blogging because your future blog posts may not all appeal to your current subscribers/followers. You’ll have lots of ideas slamming themselves into your consciousness, but then you’ll have to weigh them against your audience. Will they approve? Probably not.

You don’t want this to happen. Blogging is free. It’s a fun hobby where you get to polish up on your writing and communication, a skill that is considered invaluable in today’s attention economy. You get to weave your creativity and pictures into your posts.

I want my blog to be a grassroots process. That is, interested patrons coming back regularly because they are legitimately intrigued by my content…or how far I’ve gone (or not). It’s only just recently that readers are finding my blog via search engines–Bing and Google. This is completely new for me. I consider this progress! Now, if I can just retain those readers. 🙂

I POSTED AN AD FOR A BABYSITTER ON CRAIGSLIST for $10 an hour

I POSTED AN AD FOR A BABYSITTER ON CRAIGSLIST for $10 an hour

When you have children, lots of things change. The biggest thing, for me, has been my thinking. You start to value certain things more—like your time and your freedom. But this has a ripple effect; you start to value your money, your food and all your resources even more.

I think it’s because, as a mother, you’re working much, much harder than ever before. You’re doing ALL the clean-up, housework, diapers, baths, laundry, grocery shopping (maybe with a couple exceptions), bedtimes, meals and meal clean-up (don’t even get me started) and middle-of-the night feedings.

If you are lucky and privileged enough to get a babysitter or childcare worker to watch your children a couple times a month, it’s just heavenly. You can take a break from all the constant chaos that assaults your reasoning faculties—even if it’s just for a few hours.

Additionally, you’re probably looking for more educational opportunities. You know how detrimental– how disadvantageous it is to have gaps on your resume! And there’s lots of proof to back this up.

As a SAHM, you want to find ways to stay afloat in the career world once your children are in all-day school. Boring, repetitive labor makes you want to do less of it. Once you get the opportunity to do ANYTHING ELSE, you really can sink into it, value it and fully appreciate it.

You realize that your precious life is being replaced by labor. It dawns on you how valuable time is—how valuable your time is. Children are important treasures; no one ever said otherwise. Until robot children make their grand entrance, children really are our future, so I agree, we all should be investing in them!

But…it’s all the drudgery and clean-up that makes the situation different. Sure, there are some people who are quite fine with ignoring all the messes and letting them build-up for years in their homes while they instill Shakespearian prose and Euclidian geometry into their young one’s minds, but I’m not one of them. I can’t think when everything is in disarray.

We have moved a few times in the past couple years—from Washington state, To Europe, back to Oregon and now Alaska. I haven’t been able to make friends or establish a social community. I’m not part of a church. And, let me repeat, I don’t have friends in my city.

My Mother, a fervent Fundamentalist Christian whom I love dearly suggested that I “Join a church and I would meet nice ladies who would offer to help out with the childcare.”
But then I imagined having to explain myself: “So, what drew you to our church?” Me: “Oh, I’m not at all religious or a church-goer—I just joined for the free childcare”. You know how that would go–they would all embrace me non-judgmentally and welcome me into the fold without trying to convert me, or not.

The only solution I could summon was to look for a babysitter online. I needed someone for 3-8 hours each week–max and I couldn’t guarantee a set schedule. And what did I do? I first looked on Facebook but couldn’t find much there. In fact, what I did find on Facebook were TONS OF MOTHERS IN MY COMMUNITY LOOKING FOR CHILDCARE AND BABYSITTERS. Not exactly helpful.

I absolutely didn’t want to start an account like Care.com. You have to pay a monthly fee just to get in touch with possible caregivers/babysitters. And, I’ve heard they make it difficult to terminate your account. Not only that, but you’re going to pay a ton for the average sitter that you find. Some of them are asking for $15 to $20 an hour.

I’ve become a bit of a free market capitalist over the past few years. The free market is a better place to go even when finding something like a babysitter. You are probably just as competent to check references and “get a reliable candidate” as anyone else—you might even be pickier in the selection process. After all, they’re your children, you won’t be taking any chances.

WHAT DID I DO?

I posted an ad on Craigslist. Craigslist is free and super easy to use. At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m insane. “What? You posted an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter?” Yes. Yes I did.

But this didn’t happen without spending some time to think about what I was doing. Do people do this? Has anyone else thought about doing this before? I started by perusing Craigslist ads. I wanted to get acquainted with the market.

I only found one Mom who had thought of my idea to post an ad on craigslist. She was looking for someone to babysit her 3 young children. In her ad she said that she was a Christian mother willing to pay $10 an hour and expected all 3 of her little children all in diapers (because she had a set of baby twins and a 2 year old) to be taken care of as well as the bathrooms cleaned once a week and the house kept clean. She wanted a resume, 3 professional references and (obviously) to meet up first in a public venue for an interview.

I thought her ad was a bit over-the-top. What cretin would accept only $10 an hour to babysit 3 children, clean bathrooms and maintain a clean house? That’s like asking for a caregiver and a janitor ALL IN ONE—for only $10 bucks an hour. Would anyone do this? Taking care of young children and keeping things clean is an overwhelming amount of work.

For a week I thought about her ad. What a greedy BIT—um, person. If I post an ad, I won’t be greedy. I’ll say, “I’m giving you $14 an hour to take care of 2 children and you don’t have to do any cleaning.”

But I kept thinking about this woman’s ad. It was a very bold. After a while it began to dawn on me. What if she wasn’t (necessarily) greedy but just understood economics better than I did? I realized that when you post an ad its probably better to start at a LOWER hourly rate than a HIGHER one.

You want to test the market—see if anyone responds. If no one responds to the ad, there’s your answer: you’re low-balling and no one will be interested in the offer. That is, there is no one in the market who will don their services for the price you’re offering. Alternatively, if you offer too much $$ you’ll be slammed with responses. Sorting through them will be a labor in itself.

I decided to start with a very simple ad for a babysitter: “I Will pay $10 an hour for a babysitter. If interested, please contact me and we can plan on meeting at a public location for an interview.”

Once I posted the ad, all hell broke loose

I received an overwhelming number of interested candidates. I had no idea SO many people were looking for work. I received a surprising number of male candidates which I promptly dismissed.

I only respond to female candidate because I tend to trust them more around my children.

I wanted to zero in on the best candidates, so I looked at female candidates with resumes, references and descriptions of what kind of childcare experience they had. I kept these in my inbox and thought about it for a few days.

I had my first interview with a lady whom we’ll call Molly. I met her at Barnes and Nobel. She was there right on time with her resume and references in hand and pressed and polished for our meeting. It felt very odd being the one to “hire” someone.

I thought she was a good fit until I learned that she didn’t have a car and would depend on public transport. The bus stop closest to our house was over 3 miles away. So anytime she babysat, I would have to pick her up from the bus stop. We both decided that she wasn’t a good fit.

I few days later, after being slammed by yet more interested candidates, I met with another young lady at a coffee shop. She was very sweet, professional and ready for the interview. She, too, had references and a resume. After our meeting, I knew she was the one. It’s just one of those gut feelings. I would still go and check up on her references before I decided to have her start.

Would I Recommend Finding A Babysitter on Craigslist?

Absolutely!

All you have to do is:

1. Meet any/all your prospective candidates at a public venue before you decide to exchange phone numbers or even emails.

2. Have your candidate come with a printed resume and a printed list of references. You will also come with your own 6th sense, intuition and brain as you interview your candidate.

3. Always ask your candidate if they have reliable transportation.

4. Ask your candidate about the last place they worked, how long they have been looking for work and if they plan to find other jobs in the meantime (I was only looking for a few hours of sitting each week, so I encourage my candidate to continue to look for work and that “I would work around her schedule”)

5. After you’ve met your candidate and you think you have a possible fit, go home and check references and review the resume with your husband/significant other.

6. Interview at least 2-3 of the best candidates you come across. You want to get an idea of the different kinds of personalities out there and which ones might work best with your children.

7. Have your preferred candidate come over to your house for a test-run. Let them babysit your children for 1 hour, maybe 2 (at most!). You can even be in another room in the house working on another project while she babysits.

8. Ask your children what they thought about the new babysitter.

We found a terrific candidate (FOR FREE) using this process! Craigslist is free. Care.com is not. You’re going to be much more selective for your children than ANYONE ELSE.
We found an amazing babysitter who is real Alaskan—3rd generation—not some recent transplant like ourselves. Her father is a native fisherman and she even brings us FREE seafood—crab, halibut and salmon.

We are so lucky to have found her! She is the ultimate baby whisperer.

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If you use the method I’ve delineated above, you won’t have trouble finding a good, reliable babysitter.

What did I learn from my Craigslist Post?

The major thing I learned from my post was that there are TONS of people willing to work for $10 an hour. LOTS. I can’t emphasize this enough. If I had advertised the position for $14 an hour, my computer would have blown up, truly.

I learned that you trust your intuition when reading through all the (anonymous) craigslist email responses. Only respond to the few that seem to stand out as “good” and “honest” candidates. In addition to a resume, references and a cover letter, my babysitter went to the trouble to send a link to her personal Facebook page so that I could get to know her and see her activities there. She came across as very transparent and honest.

I Reupholstered An Accent Chair with MY MODERN MAJESTIC DESIGN (SEWING INVOLVED!)

I Reupholstered An Accent Chair with MY MODERN MAJESTIC DESIGN (SEWING INVOLVED!)

After two glasses of Port I think I’m a bit uninhibited and so I’m blogging again….You have two options: A. Leave or B. Forgive me

I keep mentioning that I’m going to reupholster old chairs I got at a flea market in Germany.

A couple years ago I bought BOTH of these lovely button tufted accent chairs for $70 at the American Ramstein Airforce base. What a terrific deal! As you can see here, chairs of this nature are not cheap: I was told that they were airport seats from France circa 1960. Waaaait whaattt? French airport seats from 1960?!? I fell in love.

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But the vinyl has started to break down in places and become very dingy–even spray paint would not fix it :(.  Be careful when spray painting vinyl, it can leave a sticky, (nearly) permanent residue as it binds to the material. The particle board underneath the vinyl was literally starting to crumble apart.

 

I decided to embark upon another reupholstery venture, at least for one of the chairs. This time, it would be more challenging as I would need to sew the vinyl covers for the chairs. I would also need to cut out new pieces of wood to affix to the foam (thanks Dad!); particle board doesn’t last forever.

Make sure to cut off all the vinyl pieces neatly so that you can re-use them as your pattern. I decided to use a bunch of extra blue vinyl left from my previous chair project that you can see here.

 

Cut out your new vinyl using your old vinyl as a template. I’m just using vinyl scraps that I had from my previous project (so I didn’t purchase any new materials for this project).

It turns out that sewing coverings for chairs is akin to sewing clothes. Sewing the sides of the chair is almost like sewing sleeves. NOT FUN:

I want to be honest. This was one of the most difficult sewing tasks I’ve yet attempted. YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO MAKE A PIECE OF MATERIAL FIT SNUGLY TO SOMETHING ELSE? At one point I started to re-do my project. I decided to add in a couple stripes of another color of vinyl (teal) to my chair to give it a bit of flair:

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I won’t bore you with the details–this chair was a REAL struggle. Finished results are here:

It’s the chair with the book perched on top of it. It offers some exquisite modern beauty to our living room: I’m so proud of my striped vinyl design–all from scraps!

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And what to do with some of the extra scraps of vinyl lying around? Attempt to make a purse, of course!

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Yes! I still need to reupholster the other chair. To be continued…

We have a big paint job coming up and I will share the details for that too. All of those salmon colored walls in our living room? We’re turning them white.

 

 

 

 

 

I Reupholstered Our Dining Chairs With KID FRIENDLY Vinyl (2nd time!!)

I Reupholstered Our Dining Chairs With KID FRIENDLY Vinyl (2nd time!!)

Before our big move to Alaska, I was busy reupholstering our dining room chairs. I wanted to finally share the results!

I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t you already reupholster those chairs a couple years ago?” Yes! I’m still working with the same chairs.

You remember when I bought these (pseudo?!) Chippendale lovelies for only $20 euros a piece at a little flea market in Germany? (That’s right, I got 4 of these CHAIRS FOR ONLY 80 Euros!). If you go to your local Pier 1 Imports, you’ll be spending a minimum of $100-$120 PER CHAIR, so I think I got a good deal.

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Remember I decided to reupholster them so I removed the cushions from the chairs and tore off the old fabric.

I reupholstered all 4 chairs with this black and white striped IKEA fabric:

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Sensational results, I thought. They looked rather striking with our table here. By the way, I got this solid mango wood table on sale for 250 euros at Mobel Martin (in Kaiserslautern, Germany).

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But sadly as physics would have it, all things are subject to entropy.

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So, once again, two years later, I removed the fabric and decided on different material. How about vinyl? It’s easy to wipe off spills and is far less penetrable than cloth fabric.

I was able to buy a roll of vinyl (4 1/2 yards I think), for around $40 bucks at Joann’s Fabric. Remember to bring in your 50% off coupon for one item to get that price– otherwise you’ll be spending around $80 for that amount.

I chose blue vinyl, regular $14.99 per yard (but half off with my coupon).

Removing old material is usually pretty easy. Just use a pair of needle nose pliers and a little flat head screwdriver. (I broke 2 in the process). Yank off the old fabric and use it as your template for cutting out your new piece of fabric that will cover the chair. When cutting the new fabric, make sure you cut a bigger piece than your previous piece. You want lots of material to work with in order to get it just right.

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Just lay the piece of cut vinyl on top of the seat cushion and tape around the underside of the seat first, positioning it in place (not shown here, sorry). Next, use your staple gun and start pulling the fabric nice and tight as you staple the vinyl to the underside, wooden section of the seat.

Here is the underbelly of the seat and what it looks like when you staple it.  As you can, it can be quick and doesn’t have to look perfect. No one will see it.

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These are the tools I used for my reupholstery job:

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And the kids couldn’t resist playing with them..

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Here are the chairs with the new vinyl material. Maybe not as striking as the black and white fabric, but they sure do wipe off quickly!

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AND….I still have quite a bit of blue vinyl material left. 🙂 Which means this reupholstery job was much less than $40. Come back soon if you want to see yet another reupholstery job I’m working on with this same fabric; I’ve got a more challenging chair.