Friday, November 21, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

On our recent trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium we saw all three and much more. It was a perfect day for being out and about, the sun was shining, there was still gorgeous fall color, and being a weekday, it wasn't too crowded.

Lillian thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the animals, especially in the aquarium since she could be closer to them there. We thoroughly enjoyed her enjoyment.

The lion sleeps. Lillian is very good at roaring like a lion.

This rhino was pacing all over the place.

In the elephant house we saw not only the big elephants, like this one, but also one of the baby elephants. I'm sad I wasn't able to get a good picture of the baby, he was soooo cute.

You may have to enlarge this photo to see the poison dart frog. He's right in the middle, black and gold. This is Pittsburgh you know.

It's impossible to not include a picture of the jellies.

The penguins were having lots of fun swimming around.

Isn't this guy just the greatest? He's a sea dragon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Birthday Traditions

As my daughter's first birthday approached I contemplated what birthday traditions I wanted to instill in her childhood. My own childhood birthdays seem so long ago I can barely remember much about them other than there were presents, homemade cake, ice cream, and since I had so many siblings and there were cousins and grandparents close by, there was always lots of family to help celebrate. I think we also got to have our favorite meal on that day too. And does there need to be anything more to it than that? Probably not, but I did want to do something to mark the specialness of this first birthday and perhaps come up with some traditions that could follow for years to come.

Of course her proud Papa wanted to be sharing in all the festivities of the day so a vacation day from work was necessary. Our original plan was to take her to the zoo on her birthday but the weather was uncooperative. There were snowflakes coming down with the rain, not exactly a good day to go to the zoo. Two days later, the sun was shining and it was beautiful, a perfect day for the zoo, so her birthday was extended. But I will cover that in a different post. Forgoing the zoo for perhaps interior fun, we contemplated going to the Children's Museum, but in the end decided we would rather just enjoy her and her wonderment at wrapped presents and the subsequent unwrapped presents, in a leisurely day at home. It was raining with snowflakes after all. And what child wants to open toys only to be whisked away from them.

Her party with her nearby grandparents and a few close friends was to be on the weekend and she would have her homemade cake and ice cream then, but I wanted to make something special for her on her day. I decided on apple dumplings, since we had just had them at a fall festival. Although she enjoyed them at the festival, she was less enthusiastic about her birthday ones, although I enjoyed them very much. But maybe this is a tradition I can continue each year. And maybe next year she will gooble them up since they are so tasty. But if apple dumplings are not her thing, perhaps she will have a favorite dish that she will want on that day.

I also made her a birthday crown. This was after seeing numerous birthday crowns in catalogs and stores but deciding I could make one that I would like better and would cost less. I just had to pull out the sewing machine and dust it off a bit. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do when I started and it turned out totally different than I had pictured in my mind originally, but to me it was perfect. Of course, since she hates anything on her head (hat,hood, etc.), I could only ever get it on her for mere seconds at a time. Forget a picture! Good thing I saved my money. Too bad it won't fit her next year, but one of her dolls can be the eternal birthday princess. Since I am hoping she outgrows this aversion to a head covering, I think making her a birthday crown each year might become a new tradition.

So I think she has had a good birthday start with several things to make it special and magical.
1. A party with presents, homemade cake, ice cream, party guests
2. Special treatment all day with a special meal
3. A Birthday Princess Crown
4. A special outing

What are your special birthday memories and do you have any family birthday traditions?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spooky Halloween Treats!

Since Halloween is such a favorite event, it deserves one last post as a wrap up to the Halloween season as we look onward to that day of eating delight ~ Thanksgiving.

Our Halloween decorations included these lovely jack o'lanterns. My husband carved the Raccoon free hand, while I used a pattern for The Monster Mash. It was my first time using one of those intricate patterns and I would definitely do some things a little different next time. Just in case you want to delve into this pumpkin art next year I will share my "I should remember this for next time" list with you. And this way I can refer back to this post next year before the carving begins!

The list is not too long but the main thought was that I should have scraped the inside of the pumpkin wall much thinner so that it would be easier to cut in the detail of the design instead of having to saw through an inch and a half of pumpkin flesh! Well, I guess that's my main tip, everything else seemed to be ok. I did have a slight mishap in breaking off a main piece but a toothpick helped secure it back, so keep some toothpicks handy. We were able to enjoy these for a couple of days but then the real raccoons found them and ate out my whole design. They didn't touch the pumpkin Raccoon, maybe they thought it some sort of deity.

And here are some spooky treats that can be enjoyed by all ghouls and goblins!

These Spooky Brownies will satisfy any sweet tooth. You can find the recipe at Betty Crocker's website ~ thanks Betty, they were a big hit!

And then my favorite ~ Cheesenstein from Taste of Home Magazine. As soon as I saw this, I had to make it. Not only is he just perfect for Halloween but delicious too! And he can easily be adapted to the other holidays, just use your imagination.

Prep: 45 min. + chilling
Taste of Home
Nila Grahl, Gurnee, Illinois

2 - 8oz packages cream cheese softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 - 4 oz cartons whipped cream cheese
Moss green paste food coloring
1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives, drained
2 pepperoncinis
2 slices peeled parsnip
4 colossal ripe olives
Black decorating gel
1 pretzel rod
1 small cucumber
Assorted fresh vegetables

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce until smooth. Stir in the cheddar cheese, bacon, and onions.

Shape into a 5 inch x 4 inch x 3 inch rectangle; wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled.

Unwrap rectangle and place on a serving platter with a 3 inch side on top. Tint whipped cream cheese green and spread over top and sides of rectangle.

Add ripe olives for hair, pepperoncinis for ears, and parsnip slices and 2 colossal olives for eyes. With black decorating gel, pipe the brow, mouth, and stitches.

Break pretzel rod in half and add a colossal olive to each end. Press into side of head for bolts. Cut a small piece from the end of the cucumber for a nose.

Serve with vegetables, crackers, etc.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pennsylvania Autumn

A Maple on Fire

The leaves are quickly finding their way off of the trees and to the ground so I figured it was high time I posted some pictures of the glorious fall colors. Most of these were taken just a day or two ago. For more fall photos taken a week or so ago, you can check out my fall color post on my garden blog. And if you still need to see more leaves, go to Dave's Garden Blogger Fall Color Project, where he has compiled a collection of fall color posts from bloggers around the world.

I just love this photo, maybe it's the framing of it.

I think the red of the maple against the chartreuse of the lilacs just pops!

Most of the yellows of the Silver Maple are already down.