Thursday, October 27, 2016

Autumn is Awesome

I love fall. Especially fall in New England. The weather is cool and crisp, there's a wonderful earthy smell in the air, the colors of everything are dark and rich and gorgeous. Here are a few of the special things about autumn that make it so wonderful to me.

There's nothing quite like the sensation of biting into a crisp, firm, sweet, juicy fall apple fresh off the tree. Cortland, Macoun, Northern Spy, Empire, Delicious, Macintosh, Winesap, Gala, Baldwin, Fuji. Each one as delicious as the last. Some for eating, some for pies, some for applesauce, some for candy or caramel apples. I like they way they look, I like the way they feel, I like the way they smell, I like the way they taste. I like picking them from a basket and I like picking them off a tree.

The Smells
People don't burn leaves as often as they used to (which is probably a good thing), but there are still wonderful autumnal smells all season long. As well as the rare smell of a leaf pile burning in someone's back yard, a much more common - but equally wonderful - burning smell in the air comes from fireplaces, fire pits, and wood stoves, all being used to drive away the chill in the air. It's the smell of cozy warmth to me.

Walking Through Leaves
I try to walk for an hour every weekday. It's difficult in hot weather, and it's difficult in cold weather, but the crisp, cool mornings of autumn are perfect walking weather. But even better than the temperature is the delight I take in that crunchy, scuffling sound of walking through fallen leaves. There's something very satisfying about breaking the silence of a walk with the rhythmic crispness of your footsteps being magnified by the dry leaves underfoot.

The Colors
Red, yellow, orange, gold, burgundy...oak trees, maple trees, horse chestnut trees, elm trees, burning bushes, bittersweet, sumac, even poison ivy all put on their most glorious colors for autumn in New England. From bright leaves to shiny berries, the near uniform-green of the woods changes to a fiery rainbow in autumn.

The Flavors
As much as we mock the whole "everything pumpkin spice!!!!" phenomenon, I love the special flavors that come out in the fall. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, caramel, apple, pumpkin, coffee. Much like the smell of a wood fire, the flavors of fall make me feel all cozy inside.

Comfort Food
I love the foods of autumn. It's no longer too hot to use the stove, so baked foods like casseroles and pot pies come back on the menu, along with wonderful soups and stews made in the crockpot or on the stovetop. The kitchen - and the whole house - is filled with the smells of garlic and onion and oregano and basil from lasagna and homemade tomato sauce, of root vegetables simmering alongside a pot roast or stew beef, of chicken surrounded by sage and thyme and marjoram. It is the season of chicken pot pie and gingerbread and stuffed acorn squash and chicken and rice casserole and pumpkin pie and beef stew. It is the season of strong spices and hearty breads and second servings.

Cozy Clothes

Perhaps my favorite part of autumn is the coziness. The shorts and tee-shirts get safely tucked away and out come the warm sweaters, the fuzzy slippers, the flannel nightgowns, the soft wool pants, the cozy turtlenecks, the long wool coats, the knitted hats and scarves and mittens and wraps. A hat that snugs down over your ears, a scarf pulled up over a cold nose, long sleeves to tuck your chilly fingers in.

These are the wonderful things about autumn!!

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Last-Minute Halloween Costumes: Face Makeup

Halloween is ONE WEEK AWAY!!! Are you ready? If not, don't despair. Here are a bunch of costume ideas for kids and adults alike that rely on pretty much only makeup. And not even fancy makeup, but stuff you can do with only the ordinary eyeliner, lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow you already have in your makeup collection. You can even add a few costume pieces that are already in your closet to complete the look.

For either a sweet doll face or a marionette, paint some dark eyebrows with black eyebrow pencil or eyeliner, then outline the eyes, dipping below the eyes on the bottom to enlarge them (fill in with white makeup if you have some), then add heavy mascara or draw in exaggerated lashes with pencil. Add rosy pink cheeks and lips, plus a sprinkling of light brown eyebrow pencil freckles across the nose. For a marionette, add black pencil "hinges" from each corner of the mouth down to the chin.

For a costume, any cute sundress or pants and top will work. Add big gloves for a nice finishing touch.

Cat makeup is super easy: all you need is black eyeliner. Blacken the tip of your nose and add a line from your septum to your top lip, then dot on freckles and draw whiskers. Outline your lips in black (put on lipstick first, if you like). Winged eyeliner is a nice touch, but not necessary.

If you want to add some costume pieces, wear all black, glue black paper ears onto a headband, and tie a long strip of black fabric around your waist for a tail.

This pirate look requires nothing more than a black eye pencil. Stipple in a stubbly beard, draw an outrageous curly mustache, add a gruesome scar, even create an eyepatch! If you want, you can add a headwrap and color it in with bright red lipstick.

To add costume pieces, shred the hems of an old jersey and a pair of too-short pants and throw a bandana around your head. (Parrot on the shoulder is optional.)

For this effect, outline the top of a crown on the forehead with eyeliner, then fill in with dark pink blush or eyeshadow. Add a center gem and fill it in with glittery shadow or highlighter. Add a few long lashes at the corner of the eyes. You can add another eyeshadow "gem" below the lashes on either or both sides.

To add costume pieces, use an old dance costume, nearly outgrown party dress, or whatever other fancy dress-up clothes you have on hand. Add a few glittery hair accessories to add to the bling!

Another "eyeliner-only" project, to make a scarecrow face simply draw an inverted triangle on your nose and extend a line out from each corner of your mouth, then crosshatch with "stitches." You can add a bit of bronzer (or brown eyeshadow) inside the nose patch and above the cheek lines if you like. Line the eyes as usual and add a few lower lashes. Make a bright pink or red mouth with lipstick and there you go!

Add an old hat and a plaid shirt and jeans and your scarecrow is complete.

This one takes a tiny bit of artistic skill: Using a black eye pencil, outline a "batman" symbol around the eyes and fill it in. For added drama, color the lips black, as well.

Costume pieces are simple: All black, and throw on a black cape (or blanket, or piece of fabric, or towel) if you have one. Growl moodily when you talk.

Rock Star
Break out all your wild eyeshadow colors for this one: Draw a star around one eye with the most vibrant color of eyeliner you have, then fill it in with various shades of eyeshadow. Add some vivid lipstick and dramatic dark shadow on the other eye.

Costuming can be as wild as your imagination and closet will allow. Fur pieces, bright neon colors, tall boots, anything left over from the 1980s will do.

Happy Halloween!

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Different Strokes for Different...Kids

One of the hardest things for me to learn, as a parent, is that equality and equity are not the same thing. In other words, being fair to my children does not mean treating them both exactly the same way.

For example, it would not be fair to reward both of my children by giving each of them a big bowl of strawberries. To my daughter, who adores strawberries, that would be a wonderful treat, but to my son, who avoids fruit of all kinds, it would not be a treat at all - in fact, it would be more like a punishment. On the other hand, punishing them for the same infraction by sending them both to their room would indeed be a punishment for my daughter (the child who will leave her toys behind to join me in the boring office because she "needs company"), but it would be a reward for my son, who craves alone time and would be happy as a clam to be left alone with a book for hours.

Unfortunately, the difference between equality and equity is even more difficult for my children to understand than it is for me. How often do I hear the refrain, "But you let [sibling] do it!" All day long, it seems, I hear my children complaining, "But you let Katie have a cookie!" "But you let Ryan play with the Kindle!" And however many times I explain, "Katie finished her dinner and you didn't," or "You've already had an hour on the Kindle and he hasn't had any time on it today," it seems unfair to them, because it's not exactly equal.

Obviously, equality is much easier. Parenting would be so much easier if I could just make a chart of hard-line rules and the punishments for their infractions. Not coming when called, 2-hour loss of all electronics. Talking back or copping an attitude, loss of dessert for a day. Disobeying a parental order, no TV for 24 hours. I wouldn't have to think on the fly, and the kids would know exactly what they were in for.

But it's probably better that the kids DON'T know exactly what they're in for with each infraction. It's much easier to weigh the satisfaction of a sassy comeback against skipping a piece of cake than it is to wonder exactly what punishment will follow said sassiness. Will it be worth it? They don't know. Fear of the unknown is a powerful weapon for a parent.

Plus, it lets me choose how important every battle is in that particular moment. And it allows me to keep that all-important phrase "Go to your room!" in my back pocket for whenever I need it. Because as much as I love my kids, sometimes we ALL win when I send them out of my sight for a little while.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

School Pictures: The Phenomenon Continues

My kids' preschool did class and individual photos every year, so we've been getting professional shots of both kids for some time now. But their public school took school photos the second week of school, for which I was not prepared. But despite my son's desperate need of a haircut, we got the requisite photos:

As you can see, one of these children is clearly more relaxed and natural in front of the camera than the other. My daughter is sporting a natural smile - she had probably just said something goofy to the photographer, and was laughing along with him/her. My son, however, not only had messy hair, but looks as if he is in actual physical pain. No doubt, he was thinking about how he would look in his photo, and therefore he looked nervous and forced. He gets that from me (the nerves AND the messy hair), as you can clearly see from the series of my own school photos through the years.




Yes, here we have the whole timeline of embarrassing school photos of me, beginning in roughly 1973 and continuing through my high school yearbook photo from 1986 (probably technically taken in 1985). Bad teeth, bad hair, bad posture, bad fashion...I went through it all, and I have the photos to prove it. And now, so do my children.

What I have learned from these photos of myself is that I need to get my hair cut a lot more often, that I should never wear turtlenecks, and that popped collars and pearls actually work for me. Also, I did eventually grow into the teeth, and in fact, that toothy smile became one of my most complimented features.

I have no doubt that my children's school photos will also become part of a whole series chronicling their growth and change over the years. I look forward to a year or two from now, when those little baby teeth are replaced with a gaping hole and then some oversized teeth, which they - like me - will eventually grow into. I look forward to seeing those baby faces maturing into older children and finally young adults. I look forward to the memories these photos will evoke - deep-seated memories of the funny quirks of their childhood that will eventually vanish, the squeaky youthful voices that deepened with maturity, the funny outlooks on life that were more profound than they knew. These photos may not bring back their own memories of childhood, but they will surely bring back mine.

I love knowing that those memories will be there, and I love capturing these moments in time. Childhood is so brief, and so lovely. It's hard to remember your own; remembering theirs is a gift beyond price.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

When Hoarding Pays Off

As any knitter, sewer, jewelry-maker, quilter, embroiderer, or any other kind of crafter knows, hoarding comes as part of the territory. First off, you always have leftovers from whatever project you just finished: half a spool of ribbon, a yard of extra trim, a partly-filled bobbin, some interfacing. Second is the supplies you didn't have a specific project in mind for, but it was such a great price that you couldn't possibly have left it on the shelf: five yards of quilt backing, a bag of polyfill, a bunch of mismatched beads, some rhinestone buttons, an entire bolt of fleece. And finally - the one we try to never talk about - there are the supplies for the project that you either planned but never started or started but never finished: the Christmas embroidery kit you picked up in April and forgot about, the pattern for that cute maternity dress that you were too pregnant to cut out by the time you got around to it, the quilt top for your niece that didn't get finished in time for the wedding.

This box contains, among other things, scraps of interfacing, leftover fabric from my daughter's Easter dress from two years ago, pink lining fabric, and some green vinyl that I bought right after I got married (in 2008) that I never got around to making into a grill cover (it did make some great shoe covers for my brother-in-law's Buddy the Elf costume a few Halloweens ago, though). 

The bottom line is that every crafter is a hoarder at heart. We all have a stash somewhere. For a knitter, there's a shelf with five dozen skeins of mismatched yarn. For a quilter, there's a Rubbermaid tub full of fat quarters. For a sewer, there's a box (or three) of neatly folded fabric remnants. For a needleworker, there are five or six plastic racks filled with every shade of embroidery floss imaginable and a huge stack of patterns. For the jewelry-maker, there are beads and beads and beads - in ziploc baggies, in boxes, in plastic organizers - tucked into the attic or the corner of the craft room or hidden under the bed.

Most of the time, the people who share our living spaces quietly roll their eyes and shake their heads as they see us slinking home from Jo Ann's or Michael's or AC Moore with yet another bag of stuff. But as long as we keep the craftmania to a limited area, they let it pass, forgiving us this one bit of insanity.

But every now and then, it pays off in spades. Every now and then, we suddenly need to do a specific project, and BOOM! Everything we need is right at our fingertips. Today was one of those magical moments for me.

My 5-year-old daughter had decided weeks ago that she wanted to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast for Halloween. She found a costume at Costco which cost about 1/3 of what it would have cost me just to buy the fabric (plus, it came with a crown - how could I possibly say no?). She also insisted that I, too, must be a princess. I hit a costume sale put on by a local theater group that was cleaning out their costume room and picked up an old prom gown for a song (I also picked up a fabulous 1920s gown that I'll probably never wear, but see the first several paragraphs of this blog).

Honestly, how could I have left this behind? It has a TRAIN, for heaven's sake!!

The gown was just a hair small, but I knew it would be easy enough to add that "golden triangle" to make it fit.
Remember that pink lining fabric from the above photo? Yeah, near-perfect match to the pink gown. [modestly buffs nails on shirt]

I quickly realized, however, that - this being New England, after all - it was likely to be too chilly for either of us to wear our princess dresses without some kind of coat or wrap. We could add an ivory turtleneck underneath (that's practically a Halloween tradition in my family), but even that might not add enough warmth. However, having attended King Richard's Faire last weekend, it immediately struck me that what we needed to complete our "princess looks" was hooded cloaks.

I could have made a quick trip to Jo Ann Fabrics to pick up a pattern, some fabric, and the needed notions, but I decided to go shopping in my own stash first. A few clicks of the mouse and I found online directions for a simple princess cloak that was easily sized for a child and an adult.

It called for mesh fabric and velvet ribbon, but I improvised. I'm a crafter; that's what we do.

I dug through my stash and came up with an L-shaped length of burgundy crushed velvet that I had used to make a Christmas stocking (and a tablecloth) some years ago. Cutting it into two rectangles formed exactly (okay, "close enough to") the right sizes for mother and daughter capes. I didn't have the right color and width of ribbon for the casing and the ties, but I did have some lining fabric left over from a recent theatrical costuming project that happened to be a near-perfect match to the color of the velvet. I trimmed it to size with pinking shears and made a casing (yes, of COURSE I had the right color thread on hand), then dug through my ribbon collection and found some narrow black ribbon that I could double to make elegant ties. 

A handful of straight pins and a few long straight seams later, and I had two beautiful capes for two beautiful princesses. 

Yeah, sometimes hoarding does pay off! Actually, now that I think about how many times I've dug into my stash and been able to come up with an instant fix for some project or other, hoarding pays off a lot. 

Gee, I'd better go shopping!!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

And I'm Not Sharing

My husband took my daughter to dance class today. It just so happens that her dance class is right near his favorite pizza place, so I encouraged him to bring my son along and go out for pizza after class, just the three of them. He thought that was a great idea.

And it was. Because guess what happens when he takes both the kids out? I get to do anything I want, and I don't have to share.

I already started, by eating a pumpkin custard with whipped cream. And nobody ate my whipped cream before I got to it. Or asked for the last bite of my custard.

You know what else I can do when no-one else is home? I can use the bathroom without an audience. On either side of the door. I can even take a bubble bath without a certain small person getting naked and jumping in with me. And bringing approximately 1,427 bath toys with her.

I can sit at the piano and belt out every Broadway tune I know (and they are legion) without anyone requesting that I a) stop singing, or b) sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "Boop Boop Dittum Dattum Wattum Choo" instead. Or cringing at missed accidentals. (I'm a good singer, but my piano playing is more enthusiastic than it is skilled.)

I can read whatever cheesy novels I choose without anyone interrupting to request that I read him or her "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" for the 382nd time, or "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" for the 248th, or anything by Dr. Seuss for the gazoomillibillionth time.

I don't have to share the sofa, or my bed, or my favorite armchair. I don't have to share my dinner, or my dessert, or my Kindle Fire, or my computer. I don't have to share the TV. I don't have to share my time.

Now don't get me wrong; most of the time, I'm more than happy to share. I willingly forego those last few bites of steak for my filet mignon-loving son. I don't mind letting my daughter have the whipped cream from my mug of hot chocolate. I'm happy to give them a turn with my electronics. I'll let them choose the TV show or movie they'd prefer to watch.


But every now and then, I like having everything to myself. So if you'll excuse me, there's something I need to do right now. And I'm not sharing.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's Sweater Weather!

That's right: It's sweater weather. Time to break out all those cozy cardigans and pullovers and cowl necks from last year.

But wait - last year's sweaters are so...2015. Not to mention that if you're anything like me, a lot of last year's sweaters were actually from 2014...or 2013...or 2003... So let's go sweater shopping!! Here are some of my favorite - and affordable (mostly) - sweaters for the upcoming cold weather season.

Long Sweaters

Perfect for pairing with leggings or skinny jeans and tall boots, long sweaters can be casual or dressy, making an easy transition from work to relaxation.

This beautiful Pointelle sweater in Majolica Blue is $38 at Dress Barn. The wide-shouldered draped collar is soft and feminine, and has an open weave pattern that matches the cuffs. The slim, clingy line are long and elegant, and the deep color is flattering on just about anyone.

If you prefer a more figure-forgiving flare to your long sweaters, this Pointelle sweater by Style & Co. is $45 at Macy's, and is available in several colors. The V-neck has a pretty lacing detail and the sleeves are gently flared. A looser, more feminine style that still pairs well with leggings, but also with more conventionally fitted pants and jeans.

If you're looking for simple and soft, and don't mind paying a higher price, this $79 ultrasoft jade tunic from J. Jill is for you. With a softly curved v-neck and patch pockets, this lightweight but cozy sweater is perfect for the office or running errands.

Long cardigan

I love the recent trend of long cardigans, including solid colors, prints, and interesting weaves, and in every weight from thick and warm to lightweight openwork. Throw it over an old outfit and you have a completely new look!

This basic black and white long cardigan from H&M is an easy and inexpensive wardrobe addition for only $20. Toss it over a tee and jeans or over a pencil skirt to convert a warm-weather outfit into a cool-weather one.

If you're looking to add pizzazz and style more than warmth, try this open weave striped cardigan from Dress Barn for $24. It's a bit see-through, so it'll show your cute tank or top underneath, and the neutral and white color palette will go with just about everything in your wardrobe.

If you want something a little more funky and unusual, go with this dip dye duster from JC Penney for $25. Available in grey/black and maroon/black, it'll add some artistic flair to your usual outfits.

If you want to get REALLY funky, this gorgeous ethnic print cardigan from J. Jill is worth the $149 price tag. Its high neck, knee length, and deep pockets will keep you toasty warm even in the coolest weather, and the rich color and pattern will add interest to the dullest outfit. It can even be worn as a outside coat instead of an indoor sweater.


Nothing feels as good as cashmere against your skin. So if you're looking to invest in a good quality, high-end cashmere sweater, here are a few options to consider.

The classic crewneck cardigan has been in style for the past 60 years and likely will be for the next 60, so it's a good investment. This cashmere version, available from JC Penney for a cool $119, will be a timeless addition to your work wardrobe.

If you're looking for a more contemporary style, this beautiful cashmere v-neck tunic from J. Jill is $80. It's available in peacock, cranberry, and oatmeal heather, and features a broad v-neck and button-up side slits.

For a more casual but still classic look, take a peek at Lands End's fitted v-neck ribbed cashmere sweater. At only $39, you can choose several of the half dozen available colors.

Striped Sweaters

There's something I love about striped sweaters - they add visual interest to what can be a boring wardrobe staple. Whether all neutral or a mixture of bright colors, they can pep up any dull autumn outfit.

JC Penney's $18 essential crewneck sweater is available in solids, but the turquoise and the coral striped versions caught my eye. They can be worn alone or over a long-sleeved t-shirt in a coordinating or contrasting color.

Add some texture to your stripes with this mixed-yarn sweater from J. Jill for $40. A variety of yarns and stitch types add visual interest and warmth. Easy to dress up with an elegant long necklace and a pencil skirt or to dress down with skinny jeans and a fringed scarf, this sweater is a great addition to any fall wardrobe.

If you want to add lots of cheerful color to your look, this $45 multi-colored striped sweater from JC Penney is just the thing. Slightly fitted, with a simple round neck and long sleeves, this sweater will flatter any figure and add pep to any wardrobe.

So go shopping, pick up some bargains, stretch your existing wardrobe, and stay cozy out there. Because it's sweater weather!

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