Friday, October 29, 2010

Ghosts In The Graveyard

We just can't wait for Halloween, so Lady Di and I helped Sweet Pea host a Fall party for some of her friends. There were no costumes so it wasn't a Halloween party. But the decorations, food and games definitely had a Halloween theme.

The weather threatened rain, but thankfully held off.

We started the night with a community service. A friend of ours sends small bags of treats overseas to a charity which distributes them to underprivileged kids. Our first party game was an assembly line bag filling contest.

Sweet Pea must have thought this was the 'make a face' picture.

Then the girls got to decorate their own treat bags to be filled later. The markers, stickers and beads entertained them for a while, but they started to get antsy. So we quickly moved on to boo bingo. Which is just like regular bingo except I would randomly sneak up behind a girl and yell boo at them. Number One Son assisted by running the bingo calling. And thank goodness he did. Not only did he buy us some time to sweep up stray beads and clean up wayward stickers, but he really had the girls entertained by building suspense before each call. He got them all cheering and groaning as a group for every call.

After all of the excitement and drama of boo bingo, we brought out the pizza and witches punch. Lady Di froze a pair of 7up filled vinyl gloves to float in the red punch bowl. One finger even broke off for effect.

Next was dessert. But the girls had to earn it. We hung three strings from the ceiling and tied donuts to them. So with hands behind their backs, each girl giggled and hopped and used their fishmouths to pull, lift or tear their dessert down.

Once their desserts were devoured, we needed to cool the girls down. Time to bob for apples! Some girls were clever enough to grab the apple stem.
A few girls got a good face washing. Some had eyes as big as apples when they came up with fruit in their teeth.

Next was walk the plank. We do this game for most of the kids' parties. Each girl was blindfolded and led up the plank and told to jump at the end. The object is to make the girls think they are walking up to a height greater than the six inch rise of the plank. Some of the girls knew what was coming. Some girls didn't want to jump but laughed when they found out the trick. One girl actually looked forward to jumping blindly into a deep pit and was disappointed when the truth was revealed.

By now it was dark enough for the bonfire. I got a roaring blaze going and settled into a lawn chair to enjoy the dancing flames. Unfortunately, I was alone in my interest. The girls decided to play Ghost in the Graveyard instead. Which is basically tag in the dark. And instead of counting to twenty, the 'it' person counts the hours to midnight.

But they must have tired just before the party ended, because they eventually gravitated to the fire like moths and told ghost stories. I threw a few color flame packets into the fire for the girls to ooh and ahh at the green, purple and blue show.

At 8 o'clock the parents came to retrieve their goblins. Fortunately, there weren't any fights and all the girls got along and all participated. I hope they all had fun and I was very impressed by their good manners.

Thank you Lady Di for putting on such a great event. And thank you for letting me cleanup the leftover pizza.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Season for Sugar

A couple of weeks ago I got impatient for Halloween to come so I tried to hurry it along. I consulted the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook for inspiration. SP and I decided to tackle cut out cookies.

Lady Di has a killer set of cookie cut outs for every season.

I think another reason I wanted to make cookies was to actually see these bad boys in action instead of just sitting in the cut out tote in the cupboard.

We got all of the Halloween cut outs ready. Frankenstein Head, ghost, pumpkin, bat, cat and skeleton. The skeleton cut out was actually a gingerbread man. But with some creative frosting, bones and skulls appeared.

SP and I teamed up to take on the recipe. I read the ingredients and measurements. SP measured and mixed. She even cracked her own egg. I still have trouble keeping the shells out.

After mixing the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients I put the dough in the fridge to wait of three hours.

"What?!", cried SP.

"You have to let the dough sit to rise or age or just let the ingredients get to know each other well and get their cookie game plan figured out. Or something like that.", I informed her. "It just says so in the cookbook."

It was also a learning experience for me. I have cut out cookies before but I have never actually prepared cookie dough before. I was surprised to find out that the recipe didn't include opening a tube. But using the mixer was quite fun. Did you know that raising the mixer above the bowl while set on high will fling dough quite a ways? I also learned too late that you need to put flour on everything unless you want dough sticking to everything. It stuck to my hands, the roller, the cutting board and the spatula. Luckily, the dough stuck to itself and kept the shape it was cut into and out came Halloween cookies.

We found out that the larger the cut out, the fewer cookies came out of the dough. So once a Frankenstein head and a ghost were cut, the remaining dough got filled up with smaller bat patterns. We ended up with a whole caveful of bats.

The next step was even more fun and more sticky. The frosting.

Lady Di set up the most vivid orange, green and black frosting. We also got out the orange and black sprinkles. The first few cookies received much artistic attention to detail from the kids. Then when they saw the large pile left to frost, many cookies only earned one color of frosting each. Once the pile of cookies dwindled to only a few, the kids were tired of frosting and these cookies got a glob of each color of frosting to empty the bowls and swirled them all together producing an olive green brownish shade befitting the holiday.

Here's a sample of our creations. They range from cookies with a half inch of frosting and sprinkles to the duck shaped cookie on the right with one black frosting dot for an eye.

Once our desserts were prepared, we all enjoyed one cookie of our choosing. They were so good we treated ourselves to another. The rest found their way to the freezer. For some reason, once the cookies retired to the freezer, the kids completely forgot about them. So just to make sure they didn't spoil, I checked in on them regularly for the past two weeks.

Which necessitates the preparation of a new batch today.

Happy Early Halloween.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Sock Monkey Saved Our Weekend.

Last week my mother had to have her knee replaced. Apparently, all those years of chasing my sister and me around the house has finally caught up with her. She lives five hours away in South Dakota so I planned to leave Friday afternoon after work and return home on Sunday afternoon.

Lady Di was still a little dizzy from her ear surgery and Number One Son had a piano class on Saturday, so they elected to stay home. Plus, it was homecoming week and N1S was excited to see the local football game. And of course, 'see the game' really means hanging out with your friends and seeing how much Mountain Dew and Skittles you can get for five bucks.

So I asked Sweet Pea if she wanted to visit the golfing grandparents with me. She, of course, said yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,...

So Lady Di was nice enough to sneak some of SP's clothes into my suitcase along with her leopard print bathroom bag and we were ready to go. I made sure to bring along a Star Wars color book, some paper and crayons for the trek.

Unfortunately, about a half hour into our journey Lady Di called to say that SP had forgotten her pillow which was packed with her jacket, stuffed animal and most importantly her purple blankie. Then around a half hour later, SP asked if I could hand her pillow back so she could rest.

"Uhhhh, can you just use the blanket under the seat?", I offered.

"I like my pillow better.", she countered.

'I might as well get this over with.' , I thought.

"Mom just called and said that you left it on your bed. Sorry.", I consoled.

Surprisingly, she was only a little disappointed but she brightened up when I told her that Grandma's sock monkey is probably really excited to sleep with her tonight.

After that, she used the blanket as pillow to rest. Thank you Sock Monkey!

Around hour number two of our drive, the dreaded backseat question emerged from the shadows.

"How much longerrrrrr?"

About three more hours.


Luckily, I thought of a game to play. Since we were driving to South Dakota and it was the first day of October, we played 'Count the Combines.'

I didn't grow up on a farm but like most small SD towns, we lived in the middle of farm country. Tractors cruising main street were given about as much notice as mini-vans at a soccer field. And my hometown community has seen more than a few wedding parties being paraded through town on a flatbed trailer complete with straw bale seating.

But for me, harvest season is special because it's the one time of the year that I get to actually see combines in action. I don't claim to know enough about farming to know anything about what they are actually doing. I just think if looks cool to see corn and bean fields getting mowed down in straight sections with the rows going on and on for miles. Each cornstalk standing broomstick straight marching single file all the way to the horizon only to meet the blue sky and a few cotton ball clouds. And as it gets dark you can see a small cloud of dust surround a few headlights, as the combine, like a caterpillar devouring a leaf, steadily munches away into the night. I would encourage anyone to take a drive in the country this week to see what I am talking about. And, if any farmers want to take a short break next year and let me drive one, I'll make myself available. As long as you are OK with few crooked rows.
As our game started, I spotted the first few combines which gave SP a picture of what she should be looking for.

When she spotted her first one she yelled, "There's another compound!"

"You mean 'combine', right?"

"Oh yeah. I got mixed up."

We saw mostly red and green machines. A few yellow ones and one gray with a red stripe. In the last hour of our trip our total reached sixteen combines discovered. Only one combine away from our record last year. But it was getting dark and getting late and SP zonked out in the back seat. We passed four more machines but I didn't tell her until morning. So now our new record is twenty combines spotted. Our new record didn't last very long because we spotted twenty six working combines on the way home on Sunday.

On Saturday, we got to visit Grandma in the hospital. She was a little pale and weak but in good spirits. SP gave her the birthday and get well cards she and N1S had made and she put them on her table to show the nurses.

Since Grandma's hospital was in Sioux Falls, SP and I made a little side trip the Ronald McDonald House there. This was where Lady Di stayed for two months while N1S was in the hospital growing from his premature birth. We had a big box of pop tabs to donate and SP got to sign the guest book. Sometime you should ask Lady Di about the time she almost burned Ronald's house down making toast.

We also got to visit with an old college classmate of mine who happens to own a restaurant in Sioux Falls. We showed up at Michael's Steakhouse and Dave gave us the best table in the house. We got to catch up a bit and enjoyed a great meal. Plus, Dave and his sister offer homemade cheesecake from their parent business, Epiphany Desserts. So after stuffing ourselves at dinner, SP, my dad and I all enjoyed a piece of the best cheesecake I have ever eaten. SP couldn't eat all of hers so she took it home in a Styrofoam to-go box which she decorated with a sad face with her finger nail.

"This is how my tummy feels.", she groaned showing me the box.

We did eat a lot.

This was a nice weekend to see my folks, my sister and my Grandma Peg. I really wasn't able to actually help them with anything until Mom can come home from the hospital. But I did get to eat cheescake...and see combines.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.