Crush List - October

October is coming to a close; but before we celebrate Halloween tomorrow, here is what I'm crushing on lately.

1 - Leopard Print Cardigan from The Limited
2 - Polished Brass Watering Can and Polishfed Brass Plant Mister from School House Electric
3 - The Mini Glasgow Crossbody Bag from Madewell
4 - Annetta Pumps from Banana Republic
5 - Globe from Amazon

Happy Halloween!


Balloon Spooktacular

One of my favorite things about living in Phoenix are the hot air balloons! Each morning the kids and I love to spot them up in the sky. So, when I found out about a cool annual event, the Balloon Spooktacular, I knew we had to check it out.
It's held every October at the Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Basically, it's a bunch of tethered hot air balloons, and the kids get to go trick-or-treating at each of the balloons' baskets.
Since it was still pretty warm, we put the kids in their light weight (and matching!) astronaut costumes. We all liked the balloons, and it was so colorful and bright. The kids didn't really like when the fire blasts would shoot up in the balloon though (which happened a lot), no matter how many times I told them it was so cool and looked like dragon breath. It was mostly the noise, and they were continually covering their ears and saying, "Too loud!"
It was a really fun and easy event to attend as a family, and I definitely think this will be an annual event for us each Halloween season.

For more hot air balloon fun, check out Day Date - Hot Air Balloon Ride and Nice Day For It.


Pumpkin Picking and Painting

Over the weekend we headed to our local pumpkin patch, MacDonald's Ranch, to pick out some pumpkins and enjoy some fall fun (even though it was still like 80 degrees).
It's a really fun little place. I actually was just there the week before for a work event that included a sunset horseback ride through the desert and a campfire dinner.

The horses were the big draw for the kiddos too. They couldn't wait to go horseback riding.
Then there was panning for gold...
A petting zoo...
A hay bale maze (forgot to get a picture) and lots of games.
Finally, we headed to the pumpkin patch. They had a cute train to take us out there, and then we took a hay ride back.
The kids actually ended up picking really little pumpkins this year, so we decided to just let them paint them instead of trying to carve them.
We did pick out one larger pumpkin to actually carve. Bill cleaned it out, the kids designed the face, and I carved.
So much fun!

Check out last year's trip to MacDonald's Ranch here.


Vegetable of the Month - Butternut Squash Part Two

For our second Butternut Squash recipe, I decided to make Butternut Squash Soup!

By the way, I do know that Butternut Squash is technically a fruit, but it seems way more vegetable-like than fruit-like, so in my brain it's categorized as a vegetable.

Vegetable - Butternut Squash
This was a pretty good recipe. It was not the "best" Butternut Squash Soup I had ever had, but it was definitely decent. I ended up adding garlic and a lot of salt to the recipe to cut the blandness a bit. As for the kids, I offered it for lunch when I was making it, but got no takers. There loss, I guess. I really liked it though, and would definitely make it again.

Incidentally, the best Butternut Squash Soup I have ever had is at Paul Martin's American Grill here in Scottsdale. Check it out if you're a local.


Halloween Decorations - Outside Edition

We looked at the inside decorations last week (see here), so now let's check out the little bit we decorated outside for Halloween.

The new things we added this year were spider icicle lights (from Target) and a few tombstones (from Fry's). The wall hangings on the front door and the lanterns lining the walk are both old.
Of course, Bones, made an appearance again. This year he was dressed as a pirate!
We put our decorated pumpkins out too. The kids both picked out teeny-tiny pumpkins this year, so instead of carving, we just let them paint theirs. Then, we made a Jack-O-Lantern out of the one large pumpkin we had picked up. Madeleine and Seamus designed the face together.
That's it for our Halloween decorations. We're slowly building our outdoor collection. Next year I'm hoping to add a big spider!! Our neighbor had one, and it was pretty awesome. Do you decorate outside for Halloween? It seemed in our neighborhood it was all or nothing. It's definitely something I enjoy doing. 


Halloween Decorations - Inside Edition

We have the decorations all up for Halloween!  Things aren't too drastically different from last year (see here), but I did add a few new things.

First, the fireplace got the below treatment.

*Note to self - buy some logs for the fireplace already. We never use it, but I should really at least pretend we do.
I added some orange glass votive holders this year. They're so old and never seem to work anywhere. I think I'm just going to delegate them officially to Halloween decor going forward. Oh, and I'm totally a flameless candle convert too. I've never been a big candle lover, and this gives me all the ambiance with just a flick of a button. No more dealing with wax!
Moving onto the living/dining room.

The front door got a new wreath from Target. I love how bright and colorful it is.
I pretty much cleaned Target out of their Dia De Los Muertos stuff this year. It's all my favorite colors and perfectly matches my decor.
I picked up the vinyl table cloth and lanterns new from Target this year as well. The white skulls and black jack-o-lanterns are old.
The bar has my old Mariposa spider candy dish, the sugar skull I got last year, and two new little man and woman skeletons I picked up from Target too. 

*Note to self - put candy in the candy dish prior to taking the picture. I'm definitely not a stylist.
So, that's what we did inside for Halloween this year. Do you decorate for Halloween? Do you just do the outside, or the inside as well?


Vegetable of the Month - Butternut Squash

Since it's October, I thought some sort of squash would be appropriate for this month's vegetable.

Vegetable: Butternut Squash
Recipe: Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
This recipe went over pretty well with all except Madeleine - she didn't care for it. Seamus dug right in, and was happily eating until he heard his sister declare she didn't like it. After that, he wouldn't eat any more. He copies anything she does, good or bad.

Bill really liked it, and I thought it was pretty good - a touch bland, but pretty good. I wanted it to be a bit more savory (or maybe tangy), but my limited culinary skills could not pinpoint what it needed to get it there. I, of course, just added more salt. It's definitely something I want to experiment a bit more with, maybe even turn it into a soup!


Let's Go To The Movies - The Martian

Bill and I went on a dinner and a movie date night last Friday.  We had dinner at Gordon Biersch, and then headed over to the theater to see The Martian.

Astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is presumed dead after he is hit by flying debris and lost during a severe surface storm on Mars. In order to ensure their own survival, his fellow astronauts are forced to leave him and the planet unexpectedly behind. When Mark comes to the next morning, he finds himself stranded and alone on Mars. Armed with an amazing amount of ingenuity, but very little supplies; Mark must find a way to survive on the hostile planet as he awaits a rescue that might never come.

I must confess, I wasn't really looking forward to see The Martian. It looked like most of the movie was just Matt Damon alone on Mars, and I wasn't sure if that would hold my interest.

I was wrong.

I was absolutely captivated by Matt Damon's performance. He was so entertaining from beginning to end, and kept me completely engaged the entire film. The supporting cast was stellar as well. From the quirky, yet super smart NASA team, to the grieving and guilt-ridden astronaut crew up in space, they all help turn Damon's superb solo performance from mere soliloquy to a true ensemble film - and a really good one at that. It's a great survival story; it's a great rescue adventure; it's a great film. It is by far, the best space movie since Apollo 13, and you won't be disappointed. Definitely, check out The Martian. I'm so glad I did.

Did you see The Martian? What other movies have you seen lately?


This and That

I'm throwing a bunch of random stuff at you today. It's all things I've been meaning to share, but either never got around to them, or they just didn't warrant an entire post dedicated solely to them. Enjoy!

1.  My health.
I caught a cold at the very end of July, that turned into a bad cough, that is still lingering with me here three months later. I was pretty miserable all summer long. I would have these terrible coughing fits that would last forever and sometimes even cause me to throw up. I went to the doctor twice and tried everything from cough suppressants to inhalers to antibiotics to steroids. Nothing seemed to really work, and I essentially had to just wait it out. It's mostly gone, but I still have little fits here and there (especially at night). I'm so ready to just be healthy again.

2.  Madeleine joined Daisy's.
I had absolutely no intention of having Madeleine become a Girl Scout, but alas, here we are. Bill saw a notice on our neighborhood web page for a troop in our neighborhood, and since she does not go to our local public school, he thought it would be a good way for her to meet some kids in our neighborhood. I reluctantly agreed. She seems to enjoy it, and so far requires very little of my time, so I'm okay with it for now. We'll see though.

3.  Young House Love
I went to another book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore (first time was here). This time it was for the adorable former bloggers John and Sherry Petersik's second book, Lovable Livable Home. Young House Love was a favorite blog of mine for years, and I was so bummed when they stopped blogging. They talked, answered questions, and signed books. It was good to see their faces again, and they were super nice too. 

4.  Paint Night
I did one of those social group painting classes with a few friends. We went to The Brush Bar in Scottsdale, and had a really good time. It was fun, super relaxing, and I actually like how my painting turned out. It will be joining one of our gallery walls soon (see here and here).

5.  Red Moon
Did you see the supermoon lunar eclipse a few weeks back? Bill took this amazing photo of it with his telescope. I was pretty impressed.

6. Anniversary.
Bill and I celebrated our seven-year wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, and did absolutely nothing to celebrate (although I did get flowers and a card). Neither of us were feeling great, and we were both happy to just hang out at home with a bottle of wine. Here's to another year!

7.  Potty Training.
We're attempting to potty train Seamus, but it's not going too well. The boy knows exactly what he is doing, but always tells us too late. We really need to buckle down and do some serious training, but I just haven't had the energy for that yet. Maybe in November.

8.  American Horror Story
I unexpectedly started watching American Horror Story: Hotel. I was intrigued when I heard Lady Gaga was going to be on it, but haven't been much for the whole horror genre since having kids (although I used to love it). After thoroughly impressing me with her appearance on The Tonight Show, I decided to check it out, and I'm totally loving the costumes, music, and art direction. The premiere was seriously disturbing, but it toned down a bit in the second episode. I'm not necessarily recommending this show yet (or ever), but I wanted to give a nod to how visually stunning it is if you can get around all the blood and gore (and be warned there's a lot of that).  

So, that's what's up with me lately. How are things going in your neck of the woods?


Book Report - "Leaving Time" and "At the Water's Edge"

I read a few more books as part of my 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge. Jodi Picoult's, Leaving Time, marked off "A book that made you cry" and Sara Gruen's, At the Water's Edge, marked off "A book set in a different country".

First up, was Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. This was actually the first Jodi Picoult novel I have ever read. If the rest of her works are anything like this one, then there will be lots more Jodi Picoult in my future.
For ten years, Jenna Metcalf has thought of little else but finding her lost mother, Alice, who vanished from the elephant sanctuary where she worked when Jenna was a small child. Refusing to believe her mother is dead or abandoned her, Jenna enlists the assistance of psychic, Serenity Jones, and retired police officer turned private investigator, Virgil Stanhope, to help find Alice. Together, the unlikely trio, retrace the night of the disappearance and revisit old evidence in an attempt to learn the truth of what really happened to Alice that night.

Leaving Time is by far the best contemporary novel I have read in some time. It's unlike any missing person mystery novel I've ever read before. Each chapter is told from a different first person point of view of one of the main characters: Jenna, Serenity, Virgil, and Alice. One of my favorite writing techniques, this type of style really moves the story along quickly; and in this case, made for some excellent character development. We get each characters full story: their current situation, how they got there, and where they're going.

Something I really wasn't expecting, was how informative the novel was about elephants. I learned so much - how they live, how they take care of their young, and especially how they grieve. Those parts alone made for a compelling and moving story. Paralleling the story of the horrors of elephant culling and the effect it has on the surviving elephants with Jenna's grief over the loss of her mother makes for a compelling and moving story that also educates its reader on this inhumane practice of elephant population control.

As if all that weren't enough, Leaving Time has a fantastic ending that took me completely by surprise and elevated what was already a great story to an absolutely amazing story. I highly recommend this book. I'm so glad I read it, and you will be to. Just riveting.

Next up, was At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen.
After an embarrassing display at a high society New Year's Eve party in 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially from Ellis's father. Being unable to serve in WWII, Ellis and his best friend Hank decide to hunt the infamous Loch Ness monster. Having no other choice, Maddie joins them on their journey to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day, Ellis and Hank go monster hunting while Maddie is left alone in a small Scottish inn. As she gets to know the local community, her eyes are opened to the realities of living through war. Maddie grows close to the women at the inn and its quiet, yet strong, proprietor Angus. The more she sees and learns, the more she realizes how terribly spoiled and behaved, she, Ellis, and Hank have been; and is unsure if she can ever go back to the privileged life she once knew.

I was really excited to read At the Water's Edge, as it seemed like it would be right up my alley - a period drama set in Scotland, and they're searching for the Loch Ness Monster! What's not to love? Unfortunately, a lot, as I found At the Water's Edge to be quite the disappointment. It's hard to get behind a novel when you're not rooting for any of the characters. Ellis, Hank, and Maddie were such terrible people through so much of the novel, that when Maddie did start to finally change her ways I just plainly didn't care anymore. The plot was a good in concept, but it just never fully materialized into anything that engaged me as a reader. Definitely a missed opportunity here.

What are you reading these days? Come on, let's talk books.


More Toddler Friendly Halloween Movies

Can you believe Halloween is only three weeks away? We've already started prepping at our house. The decorations are mostly up, the costumes are set, and we've started watching fun Halloween shows on TV too. So, I decided I had to expand my list of Toddler Friendly Halloween Movies to include a few more I've found that are suitable for the four and under crowd - a little spooky, but still very innocent.

1. Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman / Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein

You don't get much more innocent then Alvin and the Chipmunks, am I right? Netflix is currently airing both of these classics. We watched the Wolfman one, and the kiddos both really liked it. We have yet to watch the Frankenstein one, but I'm sure it will go over just as well. They're colorful, have fun music for the kids, and parents will like them for their nostalgia factor too - at least I did.

2. Monsters vs. Aliens

We haven't actually watched this one yet, but we did watch the DreamWorks Spooky Stories shorts on Netflix featuring these characters and were pretty entertained. I DVR'd the full length movie, and plan on watching it with the kids this weekend.

3. Frankenweenie

I would describe the Tim Burton/Disney black and white film, Frankenweenie as a "gateway" film to the world of Tim Burton. I still think The Nightmare Before Christmas will be too scary for the kids, but this one they should be able to handle.

4. Paranorman

This is another one that I haven't seen yet, but looks like it fits the bill. We DVR'd this one too, and plan on watching in the upcoming weeks.

5. A Monster in Paris

We watched this one last weekend, and I thought it was pretty good. It was a bit of a strange idea, but it worked. It also has a really pretty song they sing throughout that I can't get out of my head.

6. The Book of Life

We watched The Book of Life a few weeks ago (it's currently on HBO), and I was so impressed with it. It's so colorful and the music is so fun. Loved it!

What are you guys watching this Halloween season with your kids? Anything on this list or the last one? Have you seen Hotel Transylvania 2 yet? I'm thinking of taking Madeleine one of these weekends.


A-Tisket, A-Tasket

I finally got some baskets!
I've debated whether or not to get baskets for below the living room bookshelves for some time now. Part of me liked the super clean look, but part of me really wanted more storage. The storage wanting me won the debate when I saw these super cute baskets at Target (these, but I found the grey color in-store). They're woven felt with brown leather handles. I'm really liking how they look; plus they're really functional.
I still need to work on the styling of the shelves a bit more, but it's almost there.


Swing, Swing

It's finally starting to cool down a bit here in Phoenix. We're still in the 90's, but have gotten to the point where the mornings and evenings are quite pleasant. I wanted to get the kids some sort of climber or swing set for the backyard to occupy them this winter, and now we have this!
It took a lot of internet searching to find this baby too - like weeks. Here's how my thought process went down. First, I looked for climbers, thinking we didn't have enough room in our backyard for a swing set. I wanted something substantial though, that would last them quite a few years. Most climbers are pretty small though and only have a top age range of about five. They would have been okay for Seamus, but Madeleine would have outgrown and been bored by them too quickly. I did find two that peeked my interest (here and here), but I ultimately ruled them out because of price - one was $800 and the other $450, and both seemed too much to spend for what you were ultimately getting. I didn't feel either would keep their interest for years, and I also didn't want a big honking plastic thing in my yard either. I was definitely looking for something more aesthetically pleasing. So, I moved onto swing sets.
I started my search looking for wooden swing sets, but found most were either too big or too expensive. A nice wooden swing set can easily cost over $1,500!! Finding nothing initially that would work, I moved on to metal swing sets. They were a lot more reasonably priced (and if I didn't live in Phoenix my search probably would have stopped there), but unless we got some sort of shade structure for over the top of it, metal would end up getting way too hot for them to play on here - even in the winter.
So, I went back to searching for wooden swing sets, and eventually stumbled upon this one here from Wayfair. It met all my criteria. Wood - check! Small - check! Visually pleasing - check! Lots of different activities - check! Under $500 - check! That's right, this bad boy was only $400 on sale (plus Wayfair has free shipping too).

Bill spent 5 hours putting it together over the weekend (my job was to keep the kids out of his way). It's up now, and the kids love it!
Here's to lots of backyard fun this winter!


Sweater Weather

It seems to be sweater weather for most of the country now, but not quite yet for us Phoenicians. It has cooled down, but we're still in the 90's most days still. I'm missing fall a lot this year, so I decided to do some online window shopping for sweaters to cheer myself up in the meantime. We're just about a month away (maybe less) from sweater weather here, so I don't have too much longer to wait.

What's your favorite season for clothes? Mine has always been fall. I love wearing a sweater, jeans, and boots; but with no jacket. I'm so excited that I pretty much get to rock that look every day for the next five months or so. I made it through another summer here (our toughest season) and am ready to reap my reward! 


Book Report - "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry" and "Never Let Me Go"

I recently read The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro for my 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge. The first marked off "A book you started but never finished" and the second marked off "A book with a love triangle".

First off, Kathleen Finn's, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. I started this book for a book club a few years ago, but for whatever reason, never finished it.
When 36 year old, Kathleen Flinn, loses her job, she makes the "now or never" decision to move to Paris and attend the original Le Cordon Blue cooking school. She hardly knows a soul and doesn't speak the language, but Kathleen is determined to make it through the grueling program. Intense chefs, competitive students, and a whole lot of recipes; The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry gives the reader an inside look at the world's most famous cooking school.

Sometimes, there is nothing better than a good memoir, and The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry was a really good memoir. We can all relate to the idea of leaving the real world behind and pursuing a passion. So, few of us actually do it though. I found Kathleen's journey to be so inspiring. Plus, as a self-proclaimed Francophile, I loved her explorations of Paris as much as her experiences at Le Cordon Blue. Kathleen's story is a great reminder to all that it is never too late to follow your dreams. I'm so glad I gave this book another try.

Next up, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy all attend the exclusive Hailsham boarding school tucked away in the English countryside. It's a school of strange rules and the children are constantly reminded how special and important they are. They're being prepared for a life beyond the walls that they don't truly understand. As adults, the three find themselves together again. As Kathy looks back on the childhood they shared and their current situation, she tries to find meaning and hope in what appears to be hopeless situation.

There was an eerie feeling and mystery in this book that really hooked me early on. I had to know what was going on. Once it was revealed though, it lost that energy for me and really slowed down a lot. The writing was great though, but I wish it had been able to keep its earlier momentum all the way through. That being said, it was a really interesting story with really well-written and complex characters. In addition, it's a great book for discussing such ideas like morality and what it means to be human.

Have you read either of these? What did you think?