Easy Halloween and fall crafts

Crafting is not something that comes naturally to me. I only have a vague idea of what Modge Podge is, I’ve never yearned for a Cricut, and while I like the end result of a scrapbook, the process seems expensive and tedious. But plenty of times, there are things I would like to decorate with that are either too expensive in the store or don’t exist. That’s when I pull out my trusty glue gun and start trolling the Pinterest boards. The craft projects always make Mike take a deep breath and ready himself because no matter how easy or inexpensive I believe an undertaking to be, it always ends up being way more involved than I imagined.
So you can imagine that Mike was particularly excited when I told him that I had volunteered to help decorate for the costume dance, (can’t call it a Halloween dance) at school. (We also didn’t know that I’d be leading a Girl Scout group only a couple of weeks later.) I didn’t realize that I would basically be the only one decorating. Even so, I still wanted to keep costs down and maximize effect in the large cafeteria. These are some of the things I came up with. They’re simple and created some ambiance…you know….before the lights were turned off and pretty much everything I did no longer mattered because you couldn’t really see it.

Feather mask

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This ended up being really messy because of all of the feather bits floating everywhere. Don’t try to do this project “real quick” right before dinner, unless you like your meals extra fluffy. I chose red, purple, brown, and yellow feathers for a fall theme. I began with long feathers underneath and then filled out the mask and covered the quills with short, fat, fluffy feathers.
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I kept thinking about this scene from Despicable Me while making the mask.
The nice thing about this is that it’s hard to mess up. If there are some bare spots, just add more feathers.

Spiders

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This is pretty straightforward. Styrofoam balls, paint, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. I used the cups to keep the balls from rolling around while they dried. The googly eyes didn’t stick to the styrofoam well enough on their own, so I hot glued them on. They looked pretty great stuck in some fake cobwebs. Also, something to always keep in mind: if it looks too big up close, it will look just right from a distance.

Ghosts

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Has Pinterest ever lied to you? Of course it has. You try to do something that seems fairly straightforward, it seems to be going well, and then it fails in such a way that makes you sure that the only way it must have worked for that stupid whore is that she offered glittery, Modge Podged sacrifices to Craft Satan. (And when you’re done being aggravated you take back the “stupid whore” comment, but the Craft Satan sacrifice still stands!) Well, this was one of those times. I made my model, doused it with starch, and dried it with my hairdryer. And it all fell apart.
Fortunately, one can still make ghosts with balloons and cheese cloth. I used some craft adhesive spray, and the cheese cloth stayed without a problem. They look a little bit like dementors, but they work in the dark. Add googly eyes to make them silly. And the nice thing is that you get to have ghosts without scaring the crap out of your small children.
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Fall trees

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For Rachael’s fourth birthday, she wanted a Snow White party. Since we decided to have the party at our pool clubhouse, it meant that any decorations we had needed to be free standing because we couldn’t attach anything to the walls. So I made plywood trees. And when I say I made them, I mean I drew the shape and then sent Mike to cut them out. But I totally spray painted them all by myself. Anyway, I thought they would be perfect for the dance to add a little color and deter kids from running behind the DJ table. The kids loved them….especially the balloons that I placed on the floor in front of them. *shrug*
There may be a better way to rig these up, but so far we’ve done it with skewers, twine, and tape. (Best to use some heavier duty tape to hold the skewers in place.) I created a base of three groups of three balloons. I tied some twine around the bottoms of each set of balloons and then tied one set to a skewer. Attach the skewer to the back of the tree so that the balloons rest on top of the branch. From there, you can build with sets of three balloons on top of the base you’ve created, in a pyramid formation, securing the balloons with tape.

Ribbon’s magical power

Wired ribbon is always your best friend. It can take something ordinary and instantly make it a holiday item that has a little something special.
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Inexpensive witch’s broom is all dressed up, but nowhere to go.

For table center pieces, I filled mason jars with candy corn. It’s a quick way to add some color, a delicious treat after your finished with it, (Mike doesn’t understand my love for candy corn….because he’s apparently crazy) and is a legitimate use of mason jars. You can gussy up the jars with ribbon around the lid and paper with stickers on top of the lid.

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Not edited for Facebook, Pinterest, or other social media purveyor of perfection

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Zoë has given up naps. At least, she’s given up napping at an appropriate time when it’s my idea. Lately, she’s taken to falling asleep on the couch around 4 pm, and then good luck waking her up. Yesterday, I gave her zerberts and ran the vacuum and she didn’t stir. I still occasionally try to get her to sleep at her previously regular time. Today was one of those days. Sometimes giving her a cup at night helps her stay in her bed, so I read her a story and laid her down with her cup. Of course, she didn’t stay down for more than a couple of minutes.

Eventually, she wondered into my bathroom where I was…..sitting. Her cup was empty and she wanted more water. I told her I couldn’t get it for her right at the moment, but I would when I was all done. Apparently, in two year old language this translates to, No. But if you start hitting me with your cup, that will make it happen. So please, my dearest little one, incessantly bop me with your cup until I meet your demand. I tried to talk to her and redirect her, but there’s only so much one can do when they are stuck on the potty. Um, why didn’t you just shut and lock the door? you might ask. OF COURSE! I’m an idiot! Why didn’t I think of that? Actually, that would be a lovely option if our door wasn’t messed up and actually would lock.

Anyway, after reasoning with the little dictator with the pink sippy cup for the hundredth time, I finally lost it and screamed at her that I couldn’t fill her cup and to go away. Her bottom lip pooched out and began to quiver. She ran away crying the cry that every parent will recognize: You didn’t do what I wanted and then yelled at me, and now my feelings are so terribly hurt and I’m devasted, oh GOD! I started to feel bad. I’m the grown up. I lost my cool. I hadn’t laid my hands on her, but I probably scared her. Yelling can sometimes be just as bad as a spanking. I started to think I was a terrible parent who had no business raising children.

And then I thought: She was smacking me with a cup while I was trying to take a shit.

And she couldn’t have been too damaged. She was back two minutes later, her quest to fill the pink holy grail renewed.

Mint hot chocolate pie

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I’m sorry I’m late with this pie post. I made it on Friday, but haven’t had a chance to blog about it. I’ve been busy with planning decorations for the school costume dance and getting Girl Scout ducks in a row. We also finally had a chance to go to the local farm Fall Festival this weekend. It was rained out last weekend, so pretty much every young family in Northern Virginia was there. Fortunately, we had absolutely gorgeous weather. The irresistible smell of kettle corn permeated the cool breeze while bluegrass and honky tonk played over well-hidden speakers. We gave loves to bunnies, baby chickens, and cows. Those milking cows are super patient. They have a cow you can just walk up to and milk, (under supervision, of course.) I think random people walking up to me and squeezing my boobs would make me….cranky. The girls had fun on giant slides, a hay ride, and inside a hay fort, (and I only lost Zoë once) while I was roped into a do si do with one of the farmers while he sang Thank God I’m a Country Boy. We ended the day with buying giant pumpkins. I’m going to Pinterest project at least one of those bitches!
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And now for something completely different…

So…..pie. The flavors of Christmas inspired this pie. Peppermint and chocolate fill our stockings and candy bowls in a nod to the first meal Mary ate after birthing the baby Jesus. One of my favorite things to do is to sip hot chocolate through peppermint straws while watching claymation Rudolph and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I wanted to make a pie that brought those flavors together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really find any recipes that did what I wanted. I initially thought I’d somehow incorporate peppermint candies into an Oreo crust. But just like John Boehner, I decided that was just going to be too dangerous for the public and pulled the plan from consideration at the last minute.

So I turned to a cookie I make every year for Christmas, chocolate Andes mint cookies. I knew I was going to make the crust from Oreos, and decided to add melted Andes mints on top of the crust. But what to do for the filling? Mousse seemed too light. I then remembered a pie I had made a couple of years ago that had a chocolate pudding-like thickness that seemed like it would be perfect. The results were not quite what I had envisioned, but were delicious nonetheless. The crust was crunchy and minty, thanks to the mint Oreos and layer of Andes mints. The chocolate custard filling is thick and creamy, adding to the textural experience and complimenting the flavor of the crust. The crust is definitely the star of this pie.

Mint hot chocolate pie

Crust

25 Oreos, original or mint (35 for a 9 1/2 inch pie plate)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (5 Tbsp for a 9 1/2 inch pie plate)

Pulse cookies until you achieve a fine crumb and the filling has been fully incorporated into the cookie crumbs. Place crumbs in a bowl. Melt butter and add melted butter to cookie crumbs. Mix with a fork until well incorporated. Press crumbs into the pie plate bottom and up the sides. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Turn off oven. Place 20-25 Andes mint candies on the bottom of the crust. Place the pie back in the oven for about two minutes. Spread melted candies evenly over the bottom of the crust. Let crust cool completely on a cooling rack. Candies will harden as they cool.
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Filling

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp instant espresso
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 3/4 cup 2% milk
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Whisk together sugar through the egg yolk in a bowl. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium-high; cook until the milk forms tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan. Do not boil. Stir frequently to avoid scalding the milk. Very slowly, add the hot milk to the egg mixture. (You’re tempering the eggs so they don’t cook while you add the milk. Otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Return the milk mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat until it becomes thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in dark chocolate until smooth. Pour into crust and let it cool for 20 minutes. Cover surface of filling with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours, until set.
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Crust adapted from Pioneer Woman. Filling adapted from Cooking Light.

Let’s Get Physical…because you have no excuse…apparently

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hivehealthmedia.com

When I was a kid, around 11 or 12, my dad decided I was fat and needed exercise. So, he began getting my fat ass up at 6 am and had me do a Christian aerobics video. In the dark, I stretched and flailed about, hating every minute of it.
I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my weight. I’m not the kid who always liked playing outside or sports. While I loved playing football or soccer in gym class, running walking the mile and doing pull ups in front of everyone was an exercise in humiliation. Oh look, the chubby girl can’t pull herself up. What a surprise. By middle school I thinned out some, but I’ve always been several pounds overweight. I have, at various points, been able to use Weight Watchers and aerobics to shed the pounds. But now, 32, two kids, and a diagnosis of fibromyalgia later, it’s been really fucking hard.

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That’s what has made the media circus surrounding Maria Kang’s What’s Your Excuse? meme difficult. Let me start off by saying that I don’t hate her. I think the meme is obnoxious and shows that she doesn’t have a clue as to how to encourage fitness in us “slammin’ body challenged” folks. (Oh em gee. The only thing that was stopping me from exercising until I look like you was a viral post of you guilting me into exercising. Thanks, Maria!) I think the language is confrontational, not inspirational. But I don’t think she was trying to communicate with our masses in one of the worst ways ever, it just worked out that way. (Perhaps she should take some notes from Drew Manning.)

I’m not the first to blog about this, (Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering and Jezebel) and I’m sure I won’t be the last. But what I want to do with this post is to approach it from my struggle with fibromyalgia. The thing is, I do have reasons and excuses. I have fibro pain that made me limp through my walk today. I hate exercise. Sometimes I’m so fatigued that I can’t get up off the toilet or out of bed. Sometimes I’m just majorly lazy. I run out of hours in a day to accomplish everything that should have been done that day. I don’t make exercise a priority. Sometimes I don’t have the strength to cook a super healthy meal. I’d rather eat a burger and fries than grilled chicken and kale chips. I can’t help that my pain meds have added about 30 pounds to my body. I can’t/won’t stop myself from pounding down a bag of gumdrops or a bunch of cookies when I’m stressed/because they’re there. I have intrusive thoughts that torture me until I satisfy a craving. I give up easily because *whine* it’s really hard and I’m already fat. I might as well go for broke.
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The thing is, it’s harder for those of us with an illness like this because we have to straddle that in between line of unable/forgiving oneself and able/making excuses. (Anyone else’s crotch hurt?) Maria Kang’s meme strikes a nerve because it’s both completely wrong and completely right for someone living with fibromyalgia and struggling with weight issues. Her flippant meme creates a false dichotomy of fitness gurus and lazy ass bums, irresponsibly ignoring those of us who actually do have legitimate reasons to not have six pack abs. But it also forces us to confront the excuses we could lay waste to if we were honest in confronting them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a chocolate pie to make.

You know you have chronic fatigue when….

You’ve spent what energy you really didn’t have to go shopping for Girl Scouts and groceries, and now you’re not quite sure you have the strength to get up off the toilet now that you’re finished peeing.

Your turn. You know you have chronic fatigue when….?

By the way, do NOT look up “passed out” in Google images. I’ve already made that mistake looking for an image for this post. You’re welcome.

Pine cones are decor adverse

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For several days we were waterlogged; the rain just seemed like it would never end. So I spent much of the weekend making a papier-mâché spider. Our friends, Kevin and Jill, will be coming state-side in a few days and will be here for Halloween. Jill’s family has a tradition of hanging a large spider, Borris, out of their window and scaring the shit out of trick-or-treaters. One year, Kevin actually scared a little girl who ended up being the daughter of one of my former Spanish teachers. This Spanish teacher always stood in front of the class, trying to discreetly scratch his balls and pick the scabs on his head while “teaching”. Then he’d go ignore us while he worked on charts for the track team. So, while I felt bad that a little girl had been frightened, I had a bit of satisfaction when I learned who her dad was. Karma’s a bitch, ball scratcher! Or, you know, a spider. Anyway, so in honor of their visit from jolly old England, I am making Borris 2.0. Of course, right now, he looks a bit more like the Buggalo on Mars.
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I also finally received notification that my Daisy troop had been registered, complete with shiny troop number. Of course, that meant that I had to pull my head out from under my place of safety and start coordinating like a troop leader again. I avoided it for a couple of days, which made me a big old fun ball of anxiety that had to keep breathing deeply. I felt better once I put on my big girl panties and acted like a leader and sent coordinating emails. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard, but for me it takes forever to send emails. Since I have perpetual foot in mouth syndrome, I’m always worried about inadvertently offending someone whenever I write an email. I also want to strike a balance between authoritative and likable since, whether we stay in Girl Scouts or not, I will be in contact with these parents for, mostly likely, the next several years. But it was a bit easier once I took Mike and Jill’s advice: it’s better to be respected than liked and to be more like a benevolent dictator in running the troop. I was then able to get over myself and actually act like a leader.

Yesterday, the sun finally came out and started drying things up. So we took a walk as a family to rid ourselves of some cabin fever. The girls spent time trying to jump in puddles, (Zoë succeeded once. Me, trying to catch her, was like trying to make Jello move fast) looking at fuzzy caterpillars, millipedes, and daddy long legs, and leaf collecting. The creek we walked alongside was raised and flooded the path in some places. A couple of people rode up to a creek crossing on bikes and actually contemplated crossing.
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I totally stood ready to video the disaster had they tried crossing.

Once we got back, it decided to try and get more pine cones for decorative and crafting purposes. I hit the mother load at some trees out on the main street of our neighborhood. I didn’t have any of my own bags with me, so I grabbed a bunch of bags the neighborhood provides to pick up dog poo. So I’m sure it looked like I was walking home with five giant bags of dog poo..with no dog. I had already successfully baked off some pine cones I had collected awhile back, but wanted to try another method of sap removal I had seen online. It entailed soaking the cones in water and vinegar for awhile, and then the sap was supposed to come off. But of course it didn’t. So I began the messy task of scraping off the sap. I ruined a pair of gardening gloves, covered Mike’s utility knife, and made a general mess. But after awhile, I discovered the key, which I will share with you now.

Step 1: Just go buy pine cones if you want them sap free. The time and effort isn’t worth it for free pine cones.

Step 2: You’re crazy like me and decide you want to do it the hard way anyway. Fill a bucket or sink with hot water and a cup of vinegar. The vinegar will kill any little beasties and germs. Before you handle the cones, cover your hands in non-stick vegetable spray. Remove any needles and place the cones in the water. Make sure the cones are completely submerged. Soak for at least 30 minutes.
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The second time I soaked them, I submerged them under a bowl covered in plastic wrap.

Step 3: The sap on the cones should be gooey and ready to be scraped off. I found you get it off best when it’s wet, hot, and gooey. (That’s what she said. Hey oh!) You could use a utility knife covered in vegetable spray or your fingernails. I used my thumb nails, hands covered in cooking spray. Make sure you get the oil under your nails as well. Depending on how many cones you have, you may have to reapply the oil.

Step 4: Once each cone is scraped to your satisfaction, place it on several layers of newspaper to dry for a few days. The cones will open back up as they dry.

Step 5: Clean up. I was able to cover a rag in vegetable oil and clean all the sap out of my sink. Then wash the rag and sink in dish soap.

Step 6: Realize I was right at the beginning of this list and buy clean pine cones next time.

If you don’t mind sap glazing onto the cones, you can bake them in the oven. Cover a baking sheet in parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake at 200 degrees for 20-30 minutes. The cones will open when they get hot. You can bake them more than once to get them to open more if they haven’t opened as much as you’d like the first time. Baking also kills the critters. Baking, and soaking to a lesser extent, will make your house smell like Pinesol.
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