Monthly Archives: October 2013

Happy Halloween!

Halloween creeps me out, literally. It’s not my favorite holiday. I can’t find anything but horror on television and ghouls abound. Heck, orange isn’t even one of my favorite colors.

But Valerie’s blog earlier this month (here) helped me to remember that I have a lot of good memories from Halloween. As a kid, we trick-or-treated in our local neighborhood. No parents, just us kids going door to door. We felt safe, cocooned by the friendly faces of families we’d grown up with.

As a teenager, dressing up for Halloween was uncool for a few years, but then as an adult, it became en vogue again and everyone threw masquerade parties. I mentioned in a comment on Valerie’s blog that I went in a full mask costume to my brother’s party. I drank through a straw and didn’t speak and it drove him nuts. He even flirted with me…multiple times. (There might have been alcohol involved.) I did finally let him off the hook and he was, well, darn near horrified. Made my whole night. 🙂 I love my brother, but he is my brother, after all. The jokes at each other’s expense tend to go back and forth on a regular basis.

Hween1991Here’s a picture of hubby and I at a costume party back in 1991. The hilarious thing here is that, with no mask or face makeup, no one recognized my white-haired husband.

As a parent of young children, I dutifully decorated the house each year in cobwebs and spiders (ugh!) and pumpkins.  I remember one year, while trick or treating, we came to a house with a long walkway, lined with carved and candled pumpkins. Both my girls were afraid to go up to the house by themselves. I told them they could pass on it if they wanted, but the draw of more candy for their already overloaded bags helped them overcome their fear. So they walked slowly, hand in hand. Made it to the door and turned back to me with a big smile on their faces. A smile that caved when the dentist who lived there gave them each tooth brushes instead of candy. To this day, their disappointment is a memory that makes me chuckle. But I also feel pride in that they walked the walk, you know?

Now, retired with grandchildren, we don’t do much for Halloween. Our neighborhood has not had many children in it for years, so we haven’t given out more than a couple pieces of candy. In the past year, though, we’ve had 3 or 4 new families move in. So the pumpkins are on the porch. The lights will be on and the bowl full and ready to hand out. We’re hoping for a fun evening this year, with lots of ghouls and ghosts and goblins. As I said in the beginning, I don’t like creepy. I guess, when it comes in small, costume-wrapped packages, it just doesn’t feel so creepy anymore. 🙂

Happy Halloween everyone! And, for your treat, check out these pumpkins:

Book Review – The Chocolate Touch

16033669There’s something to be said for ‘free’ books. I won a copy of “The Chocolate Touch”. I hadn’t read anything from Laura Florand and I’m not sure I would have picked this book up on my own. It would have been my loss because it’s an amazing story and exceptionally well written.

Set in Paris the author makes you feel like you’re there. If you open your door you will be in the streets of this City of Light. So besides wonderful to relate to, mortal characters, the author has included two more. The city and chocolate.

The chocolate adds a high sensual degree that ramps up the story in a way I haven’t read before.

So about the story: Dominique Richards has risen from a harsh ugly life and sees himself as unlovable. He doesn’t see his physical beauty and feels he’s too big, to dark. But his background lends itself to the chocolate he creates. It too is dark with wild bold flavors.

Jaime Corey see’s Dom as a successful bigger than life man that throws off a sensual aura that transcends itself in delicious, decadent chocolate that has made him a renowned chocolatier. Weary in body and spirit she comes to his salon day after day, letting his chocolate creations restore her strength.

Attraction flares almost at once for these two but neither feel they are good enough for the other and push each other away to escape the hurt they are sure will ensue when the other tires of their physical relationship.

I would recommend this book and the author as five plus stars.

Puppy Days

A few weeks ago we were invited to the National Guide Dog Breeding Centre at Leamington Spa here in the UK. It was an appreciation day for puppy walkers to look around the centre, meet fellow volunteers and staff, and see the training the puppies undertake when they leave us after a year.

It was an amazing day. First we had the tour and saw lots of new born puppies. There was much oo-ing and ahh-ing, even from seasoned volunteeers, some of whom have been puppy walking for thirty eight years! We were told how the puppies are gently weaned away from mum, who for the first few days remains in the next pen so her puppies can still see her. Of course, all the pups seem to do at that age is sleep so we were creeping around and whispering for much of the time.Photo0352
But suddenly food arrived on the scene and they went from nought to sixty in two seconds. Their tiny paws hardly hit the ground as they pounced on the dishes. You can see the photo is a little blurred as I tried to take this action shot!Puppies 1

After lunch we were able to see some of the dogs in training, which was fascinating. Some of the things these animals learn to do is incredible: assessing the height of an overhanging branch on a pavement to make sure their owner can pass safely underneath; alerting their owners to approaching cars; working out how to navigate unexpected obstacles and difficulties…stupendous stuff.

UshiWe are currently boarding a seven month old flat coat retriever. Ushi is adorable, just wants to be close to us and absolutely loves her cuddles. This morning we took her in the car to a really great pet shop which is several miles away. She is not the best traveller and would rather be just about anywhere than in the car, but she has to get used to it so off we went. All was well on the journey out, but on the way home AJ had to stop very suddenly and her plastic bed slid and she was tipped out. The bed sort of settled on top of her and all we could see was a pair of very surprised dark brown eyes looking out at us.Ushi 1 We tried to settle her back, but she was not happy. Determined to see it through we tried to reassure her, but then ignored her (which neither of us find particularly easy to do, softies that we are). But top marks for ingenuity for our little lodger. Halfway through the journey home, she managed to get through the bottom of the grill and plomped on my lap before I even knew what was happening. There she sat for the rest of the trip, very happy and pleased with herself. Ah well, when the going gets tough, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, hasn’t she? Happy Days!

Daffodils in Autumn

Daffodils are beautiful Spring blooming bulbs, most with bright yellow petals and cups and a sturdy stalk to withstand the early Spring frosts. They are hardy and stick around for weeks and are one of the splashes of color I love as we wake up from the cold of winter.

You might wonder why I am talking about Spring when we’re only a month into Fall. Well, earlier this month, we were, as a family, immersed in daffodils. One of the biggest celebrations in our area is the Daffodil Festival, held each April. It culminates in a huge parade that travels through FOUR cities and towns.

As with all parades, there are princesses and a queen. The princesses are selected, one from each high school. The queen, of course, is selected in the Spring from one of these princesses.

And in early October, we got to attend one of the selection pageants. The four finalists, which included our granddaughter, all had to give speeches based on this year’s theme—Ready, Set, Grow! They each did exceptionally well, but I am a grandmother and, because of that, I think our granddaughter really nailed both her speech and her Q&A.Kasey

Apparently, the three judges thought so to, because she was selected to represent her high school. This isn’t just a parade thing, either. It’s a year long commitment and her appearances started the very next day after the pageant. It won’t be easy for her, since she vows to also maintain the perfect 4.0 grade point average she’s maintained since grade school.

But if anyone can do it, our granddaughter can. And that’s not just grandparent pride showing. It’s our granddaughter, proving again and again that she is up to the challenge.

Congratulations, granddaughter! We couldn’t be more proud of you!


We Had a Wedding

My son got married on the 13th and it was a lovely day for it. They got married on a roof top in St. Augustine, Florida. The bride and groom are crazy about each other and it was marvelous to see the joy reflected in their faces. My son’s groomsmen were two of his best friends from high school (one of whom lived with him in college one year as well and one who worked for me before he went to law school and who just passed the bar exam) and a friend from architecture school (who actually grew up about 6 miles from us and they went to the same middle school but didn’t know each other until they met 600 miles away in college). My younger son rounded out the four groomsmen. I love them all- they are wonderful young men!

My two sons are seven years apart in age but they walk, talk and look the same. One is shorter and skinnier but people do confuse them. One of my husband’s sisters even congratulated the younger one on his marriage (He’s 19) and he said, “Thanks but you probably want to tell the groom, not me.”

It was a fun day. All the groomsmen as well as the father of the groom and the grandfather of the groom wore matching argyle socks and we took some really fun pictures of those. My daughter in law is Jewish and they did the hora (circle/chair dance). My son said they almost dropped him out of his chair. Lord, all that dental work! LOL!

Anyway, here’s a few shots of the day.

Amazing Maize and Other Halloween Traditions by Valerie J. Patterson

I’m trapped.  I can’t get out.  I see no exit, and there are no windows.  I’m surrounded by, well, corn!  And it was a great experience!

A couple years ago I took my Sunday school class to a fright farm—not to see ghouls or goblins, but rather to go through a maize maze.  Have you ever been?  Yes?  Then you know how much fun they are.  No?  Then search for one in your area and go!

The Maize Maze I went to was 7 and a half acres of corn, 2 and a half miles of trails, and had one way in and one way out.  The brochure said to allow 4 hours to get through the maze.  Throughout the maze, there were food and beverage stations, tuba phones (for getting help from farm employees), bridges used to gain a vantage point to search for your next step forward, and clues to solving the puzzle, the mystery of the maze.  It was an excellent adventure!  Just when you were certain you were headed in the right direct, BAM!, you hit a dead end and have to retrace your steps.  The stalks of corn are taller than you are, so you have no choice but to press on and follow the path not only looking for the way out, but also searching for the next clue that will allow you to solve the mystery of the maze.

Before you know it, you’re so engrossed in your endeavor that hours fly right by and you find yourself at the exit.  As you step across that finish line, you turn and peer one last time at this humungous maze and you know that you’ve achieved success.  You conquered the maze and solved the mystery.

I really enjoy autumn, and Halloween can be and should be a fun holiday.  I’m not much for fright houses, horror movies, or monsters, but I enjoy searching for the perfect pumpkin and then carving it.  I like hayrides and bonfires.  I like the rich earthy tones associated with autumn gardens and decorating, and I adore masquerade parties!  I like the appeal of the mask hiding your identity until someone figures it out and gives you away.

When I was a sophomore in school my youth group had a masquerade party.  I worked and worked on my costume.  My mom helped me.  I sewed a hula hoop into the waistband of a pair of men’s trousers, then sewed a dress shirt to the outside of the waist of the trousers, making a one piece outfit.  I pulled my hair into a bun and scrunched it under a work hat.  Added a pair of work boots, and took some ashes from the fireplace, which I smeared on my cheeks.  I left my eyeglasses at home and had my dad drop me off a block from the youth center so no one could see me with him and gain access to my identity.

Inside the center, I walked over to a group of my girlfriends and waited.  They each turned and looked at me.  “Great costume.” I heard from several of them.  I nodded and smiled, but didn’t dare speak.  I was out to see how long it took them to figure out who I was.  Eventually, they wandered away from me and I heard, “I thought Valerie was coming tonight?  Anyone see her?”

I smiled and refrained from squealing.

One of the cute guys asked me to dance, which completely took me by surprise because I was not wearing an attractive outfit by any stretch of the imagination.  Plus, whenever I danced, the hula hoop sort of caused my costume to go in every direction at once.

He kept asking me questions, which I kept refusing to answer.  A slow song came on and he actually reached an arm around me, somehow avoiding the hula hoop.  “You’re really tiny,” he said, and I tried not to beam with pleasure.  He said something about the hula hoop being between us, but I didn’t hear it.  I was trying to keep my composure.

The song ended and he asked, “Not going to tell me who you are?”

I shook my head and he shrugged as he went back to join his friends—our friends.

That night I won most original costume, and I was pleased with that.  Then the end of the evening came and the award for most mysterious was still up for grabs.  I was called to the stage along with three others.  When the youth pastor came to me and handed me first prize, I was thrilled.  I’d pulled it off.  Then it happened.  A deep voice called out from the crowd.

“Hey Swanson?  Is that you?”

My head snapped up and my eyes darted to my left, locking with my earlier dance partner.  I’d been found out.  I got to keep my prize nonetheless, plus it was the end of the night, so I was fine.  I left the stage and headed toward my friend.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Your eyes.  There was something familiar about your eyes when we were dancing.  It was while you were up on stage that I realized I was used to seeing them behind glasses.”

When my dad came to get me, he asked me how it went.  I told him it was one of the best parties I’d been to, but that it was also one of the loneliest evenings I’d ever spent while in a huge group.  My refusal to speak for fear of giving myself away proved to alienate me from my friends.  No matter.  It’s all about being mysterious.  It’s all about the masquerade!

What’s your favorite autumn activity?  Bobbing for apples?  Trick or Treating?  Hayrides?  Regardless, I hope you have fond memories of the activities and the people who were with you.

Until next time, I hope you have a little mystery in your autumn days, and plenty of blessings to warm you at night.



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Oh, Oh I did it again. Sometimes I wonder where I left my brain. Did the third Wednesday of the month come earlier this month? I love October, the pretty leaves, football, soccer, and HALLOWEEN. This year we grew some … Continue reading

Chicken Spaghetti Bake

chefpicI love casseroles. I had this one at a friends and she was gracious enough to share the recipe.


1 (8 oz) package spaghetti
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (I like olive oil)
1 medium onion chopped
½ chopped red bell pepper
2 (14.5) cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, undrained
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 (5 oz) jar of processed cheese spread
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 ½ cups (6 oz) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat ove to 350. Cook pasta – drain well

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and sauté until tender. Add tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Remove metal lid from cheese spread jar and microwave at HIGH for 30 to 45 seconds or until melted, stirring once. Add to tomato mixture and stir well.

4. Combine pasta, tomato mixture and chicken in a large bowl, stirring until blended. Spoon into a lightly greased 11 x 7 inch baking dish; sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 for 15 minutes or until cheese melts.

Home Spun Fun

GladysLater this month, on the 20th, a family friend of ours turns 99 years old. Gladys is a woman whom I very much admire. She still lives in the house she and her then new husband moved into 70 years ago. Sadly, we lost Gene a couple years ago. Now, Gladys’ son and daughter-in-law live with her, but not because she needs oodles of help. She still gets around with the aid of her walker. She still cooks, cleans, and gardens. And she’s sharp as a tack. Trust me. She asked me something over a year ago and asked me again a couple months ago if I’d managed to do what she asked me. lol. No memory issues here.

She’s got a funny bone a mile long, she’s stalwart, and she’s also a loving matriarch to her family. This past weekend, she had the honor of being the Grand Marshall in her small home town’s Apple Cider Festival parade. You see, her town is also 98, so they grew up together.

Gladys1Gladys wasn’t only honored at the invitation, she had a plan. She wasn’t riding in some fancy automobile. Not her, nosiree. She got on the phone, called around, and found a Model T (and it’s owner) to be driven in. The car, the town, and it’s matriarch—all the same age.

We knew this parade was one not to miss so made the 1.5 hour drive to see Gladys in action. It was one of the funnest days we’ve had in ages. I’d forgotten how fun small town parades are. Only one high school, so only one band. But the elementary school marched, also, as well as a group of kids on dirt bikes and quads. A local car club, along with princesses and queens.  Rounding out the parade were the John Deere tractors. LOTS of John Deere Tractors. And log trucks. IMG_20131005_112345

Afterward, there were pie baking (and eating) contests, cider pressing, and food and crafts lining the streets to enjoy.

This was Americana at its best.  No, that’s not true. This kind of goodness isn’t limited to America. It’s worldwide. So I hope you get to enjoy your Autumn fruits and labors with a celebration of all that is good.

And Happy Birthday, Gladys. Almost 99 years young. Thanks for being such an inspiration to us all!

Road Trip

I’m back and settling back into life after a really great vacation. Never easy to do as I hate unpacking. And, part of getting organized to be away is to put off everything I can until I get back. Which makes the first couple weeks filled with appointments and usually things I don’t want to do.

Of course I came back to rain after almost two weeks of sunshine. Late September is a perfect month to travel in California. Cool nights, and warm days. The first day we stopped at a casino for lunch and decided that we would casino hop for lodging. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before. The food is great and the prices good.

One search and subsequent find was after we started home. Around 4:00 we decided to start looking for a casino for the night. We’d found that while California has a lot of casino’s, they don’t have a lot with hotels attached. We found one in Middletown which is 91 miles north of San Francisco. We were on Hwy 101 and had to move over to Hwy 128.

And, that was where the adventure started. The road for a lot of the way was something you’d expect to see mountain goats on. It switched back and forth up a two lane road with drop off’s and more traffic than we would have ever imagined. About a two hour drive, Barb who was driving said that there was no way we were going to come back down that road in the dark. Of course we hadn’t thought to call ahead for a reservation.

When we got off the switch backs the road leveled out and took us through beautiful vineyards. It was like we had traveled to the top of the world and then Twin Pines came into view. Beautiful. Now for a vacancy and we were prepared to sleep in a broom closet. Holding our breath, we waited for the person ahead to check in. As soon as we moved up to the desk the lady smiled and said she was so sorry but they were full except for a suite and it was $250. Welllll, I immediately said we’d take it. Betty who had gone in with me nodded her agreement.

Accommodations10Now I have to tell you a little about the room and pictures won’t do it justice. Huge, it had a full bath and a half. Two big screen TV’s. All granite counters and a wrap around private deck. imageBig bedroom with a King size bed and couch and another pull down couch in the front room. We were tempted to stay over for two nights. Would I go back? No doubt, but we found coming in from the north is an easier drive.

So home but with fun memories with two cousins. I would highly recommend a girls git away adventure. It made me feel twenty again. Well maybe not so much but at least it stirred memories.