Halloween Pumpkin Carving, and a Baby Pumpkin Costume

The night before Halloween, I stayed up late (probably too late) carving these two pumpkins we picked up earlier in the month.

In previous years, the seeds always got thrown away along with the rest of the stringy pumpkin guts, but this year I decided to save them to roast. There seem to be a million recipes on the internet for roasted pumpkin seeds, so I picked one at random… and then mostly ignored its instructions, but even in spite of that I think the pumpkin seeds turned out reasonably well when we roasted them earlier tonight. (Not that I have any idea what roasted pumpkin seeds are supposed to taste like due to never having had them before!)

Anyway! Back to the pumpkins. I know you can get pumpkin carving pattern books with designs for witches flying over the moon, and gravestones, and all kinds of other iconic Halloween imagery, but I’ve always liked carving faces. Good old fashioned facey Jack-o’-lanterns. For this year I wanted the faces to be funny and not too spooky, so I started Googling around for ideas and came upon this fun little “Jack O’Lantern Maker” Flash game that lets you combine various face components to make your own design.

It made for some good inspiration, and the faces I ended up carving on the two pumpkins were loosely based on playing around with the Jack O’Lantern maker game:

We managed to bring the freshly carved pumpkins outside on Halloween morning to hang out next to our doorway, just in time to greet the trick-or-treaters that would come by later in the day.

And speaking of pumpkins, we picked up this cute pumpkin costume for Lillian’s second Halloween. (She was only a week old on her first Halloween, and longtime readers might recall the “costume” she wore — more on that here.) These days Lillian is super mobile and energetic, but thanks to one of the oblong balloons leftover from her first birthday party I was able to distract her for long enough to take a picture:

We didn’t attempt trick-or-treating this year, although interestingly I spotted a young couple going door to door with a baby girl dressed as Minnie Mouse, so I guess the “run around with costumed baby to get free candy” thing is totally an acceptable practice in our neighborhood. Which is awesome.

Anyway, this concludes the final installment of the impromptu three part blog series about big before-the-end-of-October things to do — in case you missed it, part one was a trip to a pumpkin patch and part two was celebrating Lillian’s first birthday. How was your Halloween? Anyone carve any interesting pumpkins or dress up and/or trick-or-treat with any babies this year? Feel free to share your stories or links in the comments!

One Year Old!

We celebrated Lillian’s first birthday on Sunday. I’m sure that in future years, birthdays will mean swarms of kids and goodie bags and various other birthday party chaos, but this first birthday party was a low-key gathering for the relatives and largely just an excuse for the adults to hang out and eat cupcakes.

Still, it was hard not to get carried away making things happy and festive, and we ended up filling the living room with balloons of various shapes and sizes:

I worried that Lillian might pop a balloon and scare herself (or worse, pop a balloon and try to eat the deflated pieces) but luckily she was gentle enough with them that it wasn’t an issue. She had a great time playing with these colorful things the likes of which she’d never seen before, especially the convenient baby-sized balloons:

Rather than a cake, I made a bunch of cupcakes, with the intention of letting Lillian eat smash one of them. I tend not to bake things often (maybe once a year or so?) but luckily the cupcakes turned out reasonably well, and even looked pretty appetizing I think:

Even though Lillian’s too young to blow out candles and all that, we lit the candle and sang happy birthday. I’ve heard of babies freaking out at this, but Lillian stayed calm the whole time and seemed fascinated by the glow of the candle:

And then we gave her the cupcake. She was a little suspicious at first, cautiously licking the frosting off of her fingers:

But then she dove in, smooshing it into pieces and cramming bits into her mouth — and a lot more onto her outfit! In a moment of temporary insanity we forgot to put a bib on her, though I doubt it would have been enough to keep from having to change her clothes afterward anyway.

All in all I think it’s safe to say she enjoyed it!

And that concludes the photo-filled recap of Lillian’s first birthday party. Between this and the pumpkin patch trip, that makes two out of the three big before-the-end-of-October events (as mentioned here) in the bag. Next up: Halloween!

First Pumpkin Patch Trip

As of 8:26 pm yesterday evening, Lillian is officially one year old — happy birthday little pumpkin! (← :D) It’s completely unbelievable that it’s been whole year since we became a family of three, but since we’re waiting until this weekend to have folks over for the birthday celebration, I figure I’ll make the proper one-year update after that. For today’s post, I present this photo-filled recap of our trip to a local pumpkin farm this past weekend.

I mentioned in my last post that going to a pumpkin patch was on the wish list of things to do before the end of October, and happily, we managed to get to it on Sunday. The weather was completely beautiful, with blue skies and temperatures pushing seventy. I actually tried to organize a big family outing, but between everyone’s work and travel schedules it ended up being just me, Joe, Lillian, and my mom.

There are a good dozen or so pumpkin farms to choose from, but after reading various reviews, we ended up picking Stade’s Farm Market which is located about an hour northwest of Chicago.

The first stop we made upon arriving was the petting zoo. They had a variety of animals, including goats, rabbits, alpacas, and turkeys:

Turkey, goat, rabbit, and alpaca from the petting zoo.

Food pellets were sold in little paper cups to feed to the animals, and one of the goats seemed to like the cup better than the food itself!

At the rabbit section, there were a bunch of big fluffy rabbits lounging in the hutch while one or two hopped around in the grass. Lillian had a great time grabbing and pulling at the sign on the fence, to the point where I almost thought she liked it better than the rabbits themselves:

She’s starting to look like such a big girl these days, standing up all on her own like that, though she hasn’t quite mastered the art of walking without holding on to something. At the petting zoo, we carried her from one section to another, but she had a great time walking back and forth while holding on to the fences. Here she is holding onto the fence while peering in at a shy llama that hid on the far side of the enclosure most of the time:

Moving on from the petting zoo, one neat feature this pumpkin farm had was a pumpkin cannon. This thing was huge and completely ridiculous, firing full-sized pumpkins so far that they would all but disappear from view in the air. That tiny orange speck in the photo below is an airborne pumpkin:

Somewhere over the horizon there must’ve been an entire field splattered with pumpkin guts.

Then there was the cornfield maze. We worried at first that the ground might be too rough or muddy, but it actually turned out to be fine to push the stroller around in. They had this fun little game set up where they handed you a sheet of farm-related trivia questions, with the answers scattered around in the various dead ends of the maze, and if you found them all you won a free pumpkin.

The funny thing was that about three fourths of the questions were pretty easy, and we probably could have answered them correctly without even finding the signs in the maze, but we had to search around for those last few obscure farm-related factoids and statistics. We made a valiant effort and even tried to draw ourselves a maze map on the back of the orange sheet, but eventually ended up giving up out of fear that we’d run out of time to go on the hayride.

As it was, the sun was already starting to get low in the sky by the time we got to it. Earlier in the day the line for the hayride was at least a block long, but by the time we went, there was no line at all.

I think the hayride is the highlight of any pumpkin farm trip. Sitting on a bale of hay as a tractor pulls you along through a bonafide pumpkin patch, wondering what kind of pumpkiny gems you might find. Normal pumpkins, and warty pumpkins, and ridiculously warty pumpkins:

Warty pumpkin (left) and ridiculously warty pumpkin (right).

We actually ended up picking a ghostly little grayish white pumpkin, which I sadly didn’t take a picture of. I would blame it on filling up my camera’s memory card with pictures, but that’s no excuse because my two other cameras still had plenty of room, as evidenced by this sweet family photo the hayride tractor driver kindly snapped for us before heading back to the farm:

Overall it was a really enjoyable outing, and we headed home around sundown with bellies full of apple cider and apple cider donuts. And Lillian slept for most of the ride back, which is probably no surprise after all that fresh air and excitement.

Anyway, that’s the story of our first pumpkin patch trip! How about you guys? Has anyone else visited a pumpkin patch this fall? Or enjoyed any other fall traditions? Any exciting plans for the last weekend left in October? Feel free to share your plans or stories or links in the comments!

Autumn Colors and Related Miscellany

Right around the beginning of October, we started to see some lovely fall colors around Chicago.

Orange and gold autumn leaves blowing in the wind.

And despite being busier-than-usual with work and fending off nagging seasonal colds (both of which may explain the slower-than-usual updating here on the blog recently) we managed to find some time one weekend to drive around and enjoy the colors. As the family shutterbug, I couldn’t help snapping some photos of the vibrant orange, red, and gold leaves that were out in full force.

Sunlight filtering through orange and golden fall leaves.

Tree branches with lovely red and orange fall colors.

We also stopped to take a family photo along the water at one of the forest preserves. It seems like getting all three of us into the same picture (not to mention all looking at the camera) has been something of a rarity, but I managed to pull it off… which is kind of surprising since I was just blindly pointing my DSLR at us with one hand.

The above photo was actually taken only a week or so after our second wedding anniversary on September 25th, and I love comparing it to the picture we took on our first wedding anniversary (which you can see at the end of this post.) A lot has changed over the past year to say the least!

Anyway, even though this month is already more than half over, there are still three things (autumn-related or not) to do before the end of October:

  • Celebrate Lillian’s first birthday — less than a week away (!!!)
  • Visit a kid/toddler/baby friendly pumpkin patch
  • Do something for Halloween

We’re planning on having a little family gathering for Lillian’s birthday with some kind of tiny cake for her to smash, and going to a pumpkin patch this weekend if the weather cooperates (which last weekend it sadly didn’t). As for Halloween, I’m not sure yet… Any ideas? Can an adult get away with trick-or-treating as long as they carry a costumed baby from door to door? Feel free to call me crazy in the comments, and stay tuned for more autumn-related bloggings to follow shortly!

Giant Lighthouse Painting for the Living Room

Before I moved out and got married and began the home owning adventure documented on this blog, I used to live with my family in the suburbs, in a big split-level home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a family room in the basement. For a time, it was a great setup for a family with three high school or college aged kids who needed their space. But then I moved out in 2008, and my sister left for college in 2010 to ultimately become a bona fide resident of New York, and my brother started looking to move into a place of his own. From what I hear, the house was definitely starting to get that “empty nest” feeling.

So in the months leading up to my Dad’s unexpected passing away this July, my parents had actually started looking to “downsize” to a home more fitting to their current needs. Find something with fewer bedrooms and no stairs, and sell the four-bedroom split-level. With Dad gone now, Mom living all alone in that gigantic house made even less sense — the financial burdens of maintaining the house aside, they’d already decided it was too big for two people to live in, let alone one.

So over the past few months, we’ve been working on cleaning the house up and making small repairs where we can in preparation to sell it. We donated and discarded a lot of old furniture and other stuff, including around 3,000 pounds of scrap metal that was stashed in the crawlspace for some reason. Mom’s been staying with relatives, with plans to move into a small apartment of her own eventually, and she rented a storage unit nearby for some of the larger items that she didn’t want to get rid of, but that had nowhere to go for the foreseeable future.

One such item was this gigantic lighthouse painting in a burnt orange and brown color scheme, measuring around 4 by 4.5 feet:

A view of the lighthouse painting.

It shows a lighthouse at sunset with waves crashing on the rocks, and a flock of white birds, and a sailboat in the distance. It’s on canvas with a narrow metallic gold frame, and there’s an artist’s signature in the bottom right corner that seems to read “Collins,” which I tried Googling but doesn’t seem to turn up anything relevant.

The painting is so big that it’s hard to do it justice with a single shot, so here are some closeups of the little details:

Details from the painting, starting from the upper left: a flock of birds flying toward the sunset, a sailboat with crashing waves, the lighthouse, and the artist’s signature.

It had been hanging in our house for as long as I can remember, never really the center of attention, and growing up I don’t think I ever wondered about where it came from. Only in the last few months did I learn that this was actually something my dad had gotten for his apartment before he even met my mom. I never would have guessed — Dad never seemed like the sort of guy who was interested in art, or in decorative objects in general, and it makes me sad that I’ll never get to ask him about the story behind it.

But given that we had a big bare wall in our living room, letting this lovely painting moulder in a storage unit, even temporarily, just seemed wrong somehow. All of which explains the new addition to the wall behind our sofa:

The painting as seen in our living room.

Anyway, that’s the sentimental story of the first piece of art we’ve brought into our home. And speaking of which, does anyone reading have any tips for researching a painting or print? I’d be curious to know a little more about this piece (and the artist, etc.) but I don’t really know where to begin.