Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Carving

Each year before Halloween, we carve pumpkins. Once we had Levi, our tradition expanded to include John's parents. John's dad is a woodcarver so he brings all his fancy knives and chisels to help with the pumpkin carving.

Grandma Sue and Lillian

This year we carved three pumpkins. John carved a huge one in his usual scary style.

Papa carved one for Levi (while also playing fireman with him). Levi requested a scary and happy pumpkin. He wasn't interested in helping clean out the pumpkin-he said it was "gross", but that's why he's shirtless. 

I carved one for Lillian. I tried to make it look like a baby, but clearly my pumpkin-carving skills are limited. Oh well, she doesn't know the difference yet.

It's a fun tradition and they turned out cute/scary, as usual. We also roasted the seeds with a little oil and salt-yum!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Thoughts on Not A DIY Diva

Earlier in the week I shared that I received a copy of Not a DIY Diva: How to Create and Authentically-Inspired Life in a Pinterest World to read and talk about here on my blog. We've had some fun Halloween things going on, but I found some bits of time to read it and I'd like to share with you about it.

First of all, it's a short read...just a little over fifty pages and Melissa writes in a very easy-to-read, conversational style. It feels like you're getting lots of great advice from a much-wiser friend. Her message is simple--we can't become so wrapped up in what we think our lives and our homes should be that we forget to enjoy either one of them. We get so caught up in the images we see in magazines and all the ideas that are found on the web that we find ourselves swimming in a sea of inspiration, not sure which project to try first.

As a mom to little ones, I am often guilty of putting unnecessary pressure on myself to do everything and be everything. I want it all and I want it all to be perfect, but as I read, I was reminded that I will be happier if I am content with my life as it is now. I have to maintain realistic expectations for myself, my life, and my home. My home does not have to look like those that I see in magazines because that's not reality, but my home should reflect me.

Melissa gives advice on figuring out your own style so that you don't feel pressure to keep up with trends that aren't really you and so that your home is reflective of you, not the latest thing on the web. Also, she reminds you the importance of making your home a haven for you, your family, and your guests. You can do this by creating ambiance, taking decorating cues from the seasons, and by creating simple routines that allow your home to be neat and function well.

Melissa's book has left me thinking more about what I want from my home and my life, what my priorities are, and how knowing these will help me make decisions about how I decorate my home and how I spend my time in my home. Who knew that the way you decorate your home was (or should be) so connected to ones desires and dreams?

This book is well worth the time it takes to read it and little money it costs. We all want to have beautiful homes and lives to match, and I think this book helps its readers to figure out how to make that happen by taking a lot of the pressure off, keeping it real, and finding contentment.

If you'd like to get a copy of Melissa's ebook, please visit her website

You can also follow Melissa on her blog, Facebook,Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not a DIY Diva...A New Ebook

I was so excited to hear that Melissa at, one of my favorite blogs, had written an ebook. I was even more excited when she offered fifty free copies to her readers so we could get a sneak peek and tell others about it. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of them and started reading it last night.

Her book is titled Not a DIY Diva: How to Create an Authentically-Inspired Life in a Pinterest World. It's basically a compilation of her message from her blog about decorating, life, finding balance, and keeping it real. I'm excited to read the rest of it and tell you more about it this week. In the meantime, if you'd like to find out more about it or get your own copy, head over to her new Not a DIY Diva website.

Monday, October 24, 2011


When I was a kid, my parents had their own business called 'The Vinery'. They made wreaths, baskets, and other things out of grapevine and willow, and decorated some of them with dried flowers. So, on a regular basis my dad went out "gathering". He had loved to tromp around the woods since he was a kid and sometimes we would go along with him. More often, though, my family would spend Sunday afternoons going for walks in the woods or along railroad tracks. We'd enjoy nature, whatever the season had to offer, and maybe come home with something pretty we had gathered, even if it was a bunch of weeds.

After planting the last of my bulbs I decided to grab my clippers (just the sight of them brings back so many great childhood memories) and go out gathering. I hoped to get a little something to add to the pumpkins and gourds in front of the house. I headed for the treeline on the edge of the field across from our house, but before I crossed the street I stopped to ask my favorite little guy if he wanted to go gathering with Mommy. He came running and took my hand.

I told him how I used to go for walks with Grandpa Dave, Grandma K, and Uncle Nathan when I was a kid. We recited 'Going on a Bear Hunt' as we went through the tall grass (swishy swashy, swishy swashy).

I found some grapevine to cut and made it into a wreath when I got home...not yet sure exactly what I'll do with it.

I also brought home this bunch of weeds and grasses...just the type of bouquet my dad would have loved.

How wonderful to be out in nature and to share it with Levi.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pumpkin & Pal Tradition

Three years ago, when Levi was just a baby, we started the tradition of going to the pumpkin patch each fall with some of our friends. They have a little girl who is just a few weeks older than Levi. We don't see each other that often, but the kids always enjoy playing together.

It's been fun to see the kids grow and now we each have added new babies to our families. This year we headed out to Stade's Farm in McHenry where the kids once again enjoyed all the fun things to do there: a petting zoo, pumpkin train ride, tractors, pumpkins, and of course...time with their long lost pal.

The beginning...October 2009-seven months old.

Last year...October 2010-a year and a half old. Now both walking, they liked strolling hand-in-hand.

This year...October 2011-two and half years old. They held hands again...without any prompting.

The new additions...nine months and five months old.

The whole bunch...pumpkin pals forever!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple Pie

Earlier this week I shared a recipe for apple bread, but I couldn't bring home a bag of apples without baking up a few apple pies.

Apple pie is the pie I make most often because it's always a crowd-pleaser. Not many people can pass up a slice of homemade apple pie. My recipe comes from my grandma, and it's really simple. It is a crumb-top pie, which is my favorite kind of fruit pie.

I start with my grandma's pie crust recipe. It makes two crusts so you have a few options. You can make two crumb-top pies like I did, make one two-crust pie, or make one crumb-top pie and freeze the other portion of the dough for use later.

Apple Pie Filling (enough for one pie)

4 C. peeled and chopped apples (I like to use a mix of apples for the best flavor.)
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. cinnamon (I love cinnamon so I go heavy on it. I don't typically measure it-just shake till it looks good. You can adjust it to your taste.)

Mix to coat apples. Pour into unbaked pie crust.

Crumble Pie Top (enough for one pie)
3/4 C. flour
3/4 (6 Tbsp.) stick margarine, softened
1/3 C. sugar

Crumble together with pastry blender or fork. Sprinkle on top of fruit filling.

Bake at 400 degrees for one hour or until top is golden brown.

Like any apple pie, this is delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Apple Bread

While many bakers' thoughts are now turning to pumpkins, mine are still on fresh-picked apples. Though I didn't pick them from the trees myself, I did "pick" up some apples from an orchard while I was in Iowa.

I love making apple pie, and I'll definitely get to that, but I wanted to make a few other things with my apples before going to my old stand-by.

I tried out a recipe for Swedish Apple Cake that I heard about here. It was yummy. The cake was simple and sweet and the apples added a nice fresh flavor.

I couldn't forget to use some of my apples on a favorite apple bread recipe that I've been making for the past few years. It started out when I was looking for a "healthy" first birthday cake for Levi. I came upon this recipe and love it. It works well as a bread or muffins. The recipe says you can also double it and bake it in a bundt pan for a nice apple cake.

I've made a few changes to make it a little healthier, but it's really yummy either way you fix it.
Apple Bread (from

1/2 C. canola oil (I use 1/2 C. applesauce instead)
1 C. sugar
3 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
2 C. flour ( I use 1 C all-purpose flour & 1 C. wheat flour)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. milk
2 large apples, finely chopped (be sure these are a uniform size)
1/2 C. raisins
1/2 C. chopped walnuts

Combine oil (or applesauce), sugar, and vanilla and cream until light and fluffy. (If you use applesauce it will not get really fluffy.) Add egg and beat well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients. Also add apples (and raisins and nuts, if using). Stir only until flour is well dampened. The batter is very thick and lumpy-not the usual consistency of cake or bread/muffin batter.

Bake at 375 degrees in a greased and floured 9x5x4 loaf pan (or other pan of your choice). bake 50 to 60 minutes or until the top begins to crackle. Cool and remove from pan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Heritage Days & Osborne Nature Center

When we were making plans for our weekend, my mom found out about the Osbourne Nature Center and Heritage Days. She had heard about them before, but never gone. After looking into it a bit more, we decided it would be a fun stop on our drive through northeast Iowa.

Between Strawberry Point and Elkader, Iowa is the Osborne Nature Center. At one time, Osborne was a town and you can still see some of the old buildings there. The park also includes a interactive visitors' center, gardens, trails, and a live animal exhibit.

Each fall, Heritage Days are hosted in the pioneer village there. They have demonstrations related to pioneer life, activities, food, and various items for sale. We enjoyed some homemade root beer and bought apples and maple syrup. Levi enjoyed seeing pieces of history in action: a printing press, open-fire cooking, a steam engine, and blacksmithing. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed the train cars that are parked near the old depot.

Levi also was excited to see the animals at the nature center. The whole way up there, he talked about seeing the polar bear (even though we told him a million times it was a black bear). As soon as we got there, he wanted to see the polar bear, but we held off until we had gone to the Heritage Days. It was fun for him to see the animals fairly close.

Levi talked (VERY loudly) to each of the animals as we visited them, but I'm sure they're used to that.

This was a fun stop and a good choice for us. It was interesting for both the adults and the little ones, but didn't require a whole day to enjoy it. I'd definitely recommend it if you're in the area.

Osborne Nature Center
29862 Osborne Rd.
Elkader, IA

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Punkin Patch

In the days leading up to our weekend trip to Iowa, Levi often talked about how we were going to a "punkin patch." We headed to Denny's Pumpkins in Independence, Iowa. Since we discovered it almost ten years ago, we have been coming here to get pumpkins, squash, and gourds.

Denny Shannon and his family grow their pumpkins, squash, and gourds outside of town and bring them to their home to sell. They have a great set-up there: old Radio Flyer wagons to haul your selections, nice photo ops, and plenty to pick from for your fall decorating and cooking/baking needs.

They're always friendly and helpful and have reasonable prices. My dad always loved that they had free bags of popcorn and Levi was thrilled when they gave him a Tootsie Roll for the road.

I was on the lookout for some decorative pumpkins and gourds, as well as some squash for cooking. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying a pumpkin to bake with, but Denny suggested that if I liked to bake, I should try baking with one of the beige/tan pumpkins. This variety is supposed to be the best for baking. It is meatier, less stringy, and sweeter than other pumpkins. I'm going to give it a try and I'll post more about it.

Levi had a ball roaming around the yard with the wagons. He filled one with mini pumpkins, which kept him busy while my mom and I chose just the right pumpkins and gourds for our decorating.

If you're in eastern Iowa, I'd highly recommend stopping by Denny's for your pumpkin needs. While you don't get the experience of going out in the field to pick your own, they still have all you could want from a "punkin patch."

Denny's Pumpkins
415 5th Ave. NE
Independence, IA

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Hills Are Alive...

Come on...sing the rest of it...I know you know the words...

Without fail, when my family is traveling and we come to a hilly or mountainous area, we break into song. It's silly, but it's kind of a tradition. At this point, Levi's not a fan. He told my mom and I, "Top that, top that!" (stop that, stop that) each time we started to sing it. It's OK. We have time to bring him around. Soon enough he'll be singing it like a little von Trapp.

For those of you who've never had the pleasure of driving around northeast Iowa, it is gorgeous in any season. However, like most places, it's even better in the fall. Most people outside of Iowa think that the whole state is flat. Quite the contrary-hills pepper the Iowa landscape. Some are gentle and rolling, others are more steep and dramatic. Near the river valleys there are often rocky cliffs and bluffs.

Northeast Iowa, in particular, is one my family's favorite areas to drive through. We love winding through the countryside, going up and down hills, passing through small towns, past farms-old and new.

One of our favorite towns to stop in is Elkader. It has a cute downtown with shops, restaurants, and a riverwalk. The Keystone Bridge that crosses the Turkey River there is so beautiful.

The weather was wonderful this weekend and even though windy weather had blown away some of the fall color, it was still breathtaking. My pictures don't begin to do it justice, but I'm no professional. And anyway, the best way to see it, is to see it for yourself. So if you're looking for a great fall drive, head to northeast Iowa and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall Inspiration

On Friday, I loaded the kids and the dog in the car and head to Iowa for the weekend. This was my first trip by myself with all three of them, but it went well. We planned on spending time with my mom, seeking out some fall inspiration from some of our favorite shops in northeast Iowa, and enjoying the beauty of fall. We accomplished all these things so I'll have quite a few things to share over the next few days.

On almost every visit my mom and I have together, whether it's at my house or hers, we usually end up going to at least one shop. Our favorite shops have a mix of antiques, repurposed pieces, new home decor, and gifts. You can find so many great ideas of how to use what you already have. Plus, it's fun to pick up a few new things here and there.

As the name indicates, a lot of the things you'll find in this shop are primitive, but even if this isn't exactly your decorating style you'll find plenty to love. Some of my favorite home decor pieces have come from this shop. They have a great mix of antiques, reproductions, wall decor, florals, and candles. I love to take a primitive or rustic piece to add a unique and personal touch to the more modern pieces I have in my home. An added bonus of this smells delicious!

After that, we headed to Independence, Iowa to The Little Red Schoolhouse and Distinctions.

These two shops are connected, but are on different ends of the decorating spectrum. The Little Red Schoolhouse has lots of primitives and country decor, while Distinctions has more modern pieces. I think this combination is more reflective of what "country" decorating is today. Most people's homes are more eclectic, and while you may have country touches likes antiques, rustics, and repurposed items, you likely have pieces that reflect what's  popular in today's home decorating as well. That's why a shop like this is great. You can get a little of each, put it together, and create your own personal style.

The next day, we headed further away and ended up at The Buttery in Elkader, Iowa.

We don't get to this shop as often, but every time I go there, I love it more. I think it's because I'm developing a better sense of my own decorating style, and this shop seems to fit me well. Like the best shops, it left me inspired to decorate my home. Not just for the fall, but for all seasons. Even better, it didn't inspire me by making me feel that I needed to buy everything I saw (though I'd love to do that), it inspired me to take what I have and look at it with fresh eyes. To switch things around, use things differently, and then add in a few new things that I love.

Besides my inspiration, I also took home one of those wooden owls.

I came home with a few new things and lots of new ideas for my house. I'll be tweaking some of the fall decorating I've already done, pulling out things from the basement and adding in my purchases to add some new life.