Category: Uncategorized

DIY Halloween Costume – Steve from Minecraft

It’s that time of year again. Halloween! Crafty Cathy I am not, and I’m also not fond of spending $$$ for poorly made crap. This year our primary costume makers were tied up with other obligations. Something about a son/grandson’s wedding. 🙂  So I was on my own. Said wedding did buy me a little time as we didn’t have our normal Columbus Day festivities at the lake, but there are still many other spooky celebrations to be enjoyed and opportunities to collect candy.

Fish is taking a pass this year. A combination of age and food sensitivities put an end to her trick or treating career. Mim announced he wanted to be Steve from Minecraft. If you aren’t familiar with Minecraft, it is an a video game that involves highly pixelated characters and structures. There are two different modes creative, where you can build all kinds of buildings and survival mode where you fight for your life against Creepers (green pixelated monsters). Steve is the main character.

A quick web search turned up a pre-made cardboard mask. $30 for flimsy cardboard?? No dice! Besides, I still had 4 days left, I could do this right?

Thankfully, I found this Instructables costume.  A little beyond my skill set, (he lost me at sheet rock screws) but definitely some useful information including downloadable “skins” that could be modified to fit any box.

Here’s my supply list

  • A recycled box large enough to accommodate your child’s brain case.
  • A package of full sheet mailing labels ($9.99)
  • Photo editing program (I used Adobe Elements)
  • An Exact-o knife & blades
  • A mental ruler and cutting mat


First I found a box and cut a whole for Mim’s ginormous head. No really it’s HUGE! The kid has been wearing adult sized helmets for at least 3 years.


Next, I sized the downloaded the skin files from the Instructables site to 8.5 x 11 and printed them using the borderless setting. I made a few extra copies and even created separate files that were flesh toned and t-shirt toned. So I could fill in as need be.

Steve Face in Adobe Elements

Then it was time to trim the labels and apply them to the box.


Meet Steve.


Here is a 360 Degree view of the head.

360 Degree View





I recently had this exchange via text with a fellow volunteer.

 a text exchange "LOL" You rock Seriously Rock!" "Thank you without getting too sloppy your appreciation is appreciated" "Heheheheh It's nice to be apprecaited :)" "Well It's Nice when someone verbalizes it"

Her words made me feel good and it got me thinking. We need more appreciation in this world. People are quick to complain and all you need do is read the comments section of any online news article and you’ll see that rudeness and hostility abound.

When I really stop and think about it, I have much to appreciate in my life (my family, friends and many material things), but too often I get bogged down in what frustrates me (my husband’s wonky work schedule, kids who view me as the maid, my inability to lose weight).

That night, those words of appreciation made a difference. I decided it was time to start voicing my appreciation more. I’ve been trying to let those around me know that I appreciate them and the things they do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Pollyana I can, and do, fire off a frustrated rant with the best of them, but I am making a conscious effort to appreciate the good.


The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 2

For background and the first day of our cruise, please read part one.

Ports Of Call: Castaway Key

Disney leases the island known as Castaway Key from the Bahamian Government. Disney is once again in complete control of the environment and it shows. A selfie with mask and snorkelSince we’d sunk so much into Atlantis, we did Castaway Key on the cheap, opting for a package deal where we could swim with the stingrays, rent tubes and rafts, and ride bikes for an hour (it was too damn hot so we stuck with water activities). We had an awesome day. The girls loved swimming with the stingrays. The boys, meh not so much. The rays are kind of like puppies, when you first get in the water. They are excited to see you because they know you are going to feed them. They swim around in between your legs and onto the special tables where you can pet and feed them. According to the marine biologist who briefed us, there were 61 sting rays and they were rescues. All of their barbs were trimmed for safety, but we were still encouraged to do shuffle our feet through the sand to alert them to our presence.

3 frames Fish feeding the stingrays, A sting ray underwater, a stingray buried in the sand.

We were divided into groups and everyone had chance to feed them (if desired). After they’ve had their fill, we took our snorkel and masks and were free to swim around their pen. Fish & I were floating having a staring contest with on of the rays when all of the sudden he (or she) rippled and disappeared except for her eyes. We both immediately stood and said “id ooo ee ah?” at the same time. We laughed and took the snorkels out of our mouths and said “Did you see that?” I’ve seen it on TV and in films, but it is really cool to experience in person.

3 frames a long view of Castaway Key, beach umbrellas and the clear blue sky, The Disney Dream as viewed from the beach on Castaway Key

We floated, we ate lunch, A-Man & Mim explored the water slide while Fish & I snorkeled some more, we had a day full of as much or as little activity as we wanted. The kids had an opportunity to participate in group activities on the island, but both were content to hang with their parents. Their parents thoroughly enjoyed it in anticipation of those years when they will want nothing to do with us.

A teak bench and three deck chairs with cumfy cushionsOur fourth day was an At Sea day. This is by far my favorite part of cruising. I make it a point to find at least a little time to grab a lounge chair on the deck closest to the water and just appreciate the sea. I stare, I read for a while and eventually I end up investigating the inside of my eyelids, but I find it tremendously rejuvenating.

One of the amenities on The Disney Dream is the Aqua Duck, a “water coaster”. It’s a clear tube filled with water, you ride around the perimeter of the ship on an inflatable raft.Towards the end of our At Sea day, the line was manageable enough to entice me to try it. Fish & Min on the Aqua Duck (on an inflatable raft in a clear tube filled with water)It was fun and definitely a novel approach to a water ride. The kids loved it. Husband and I pulled up a few beach chairs and relaxed watching the end of Tazan on the massive LCD screen mounted on the ship’s funnel (aptly named FunnelVision). It was enjoyable even if we did have to share the space with OPKs (other people’s kids 🙂 ).


Disney manages things well. Boarding was a breeze. They pay attention to every detail. Even what folders guests leave in the cruise terminal. (NO! I didn’t leave the folder with the travel documents and passports at a counter by the Oceaneer’s club desk). *ahem*. We even had a full, hot breakfast on the morning of our departure.

Debarkation was a little crowded, but there is a smaller window of time in which 4,000 people pick up their bags, and pass through customs to get back to the U.S. Still we had no trouble finding our bags and the lines moved at a reasonable pace.

Would we do it again?

We will cruise again. Will we take a disney cruise again? Probably not. One of the big draws for us was the kid friendly atmosphere and by the time we have saved enough to cruise again, the kids will be old enough where that won’t be such an issue. We’ve cruised with Carnival and Royal Carribean in the past. They all provide excellent service (although not quite as good as Disney). We paid the extra to have an environment where we could be comfortable letting our kids go with minimal supervision. Was it worth it? Most definitely. Do I recommend it to other families? Without reservation. The Disney staff is just amazing. You will have a good time. Your child will have a good time. The memories are worth every penny.

Remarkable Days – September 10th and 11th

The beginning of September is always chaos, back-to-school end-of-summer followed by September 10th and 11th. Both days hold significance for me.

September 10th.

A close up of my grandparents grave maker with my mother's information addedIt is remarkable to me because it was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 74 this year. Her birthday has passed without us talking before but this time there wasn’t even an answering machine on which to leave a message.

Instead, I spent the day filing to be named voluntary administrator of her “estate”. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but circumstances change and the most reasonable path is for me to take over. There are no assets to speak of. She had no house and lived month to month on social security. I’m hoping to gain access to what little money was left in her checking account to offset some of the costs of her burial. If I haven’t already said it, death is expensive! We didn’t even go the gold and champagne route. The burial and service was respectful, but um, budget friendly and it was still pricey.

After my visit to the courthouse, I went to visit her grave. Per her request, she was cremated and buried with her parents. I received notification from the stone company that her information had been added to the headstone and I wanted to see it.

It was a drab day. I stopped and purchased a pot of mums some food for a picnic lunch and a cup of tea. It took me two tries to actually find the grave. I was in the right section, but as you might imagine, a Boston cemetery is literally teeming with headstones with Irish surnames. It’s enough to make you say OY! By the time I found the grave, it was raining, so I had to have my picnic in my car.

The day we buried the urn, I really felt her presence. I felt, loved, cared for and supported. Much of that is attributable to being surrounded by family and close friends, but there was more. I just had this sense that she was there.

When I went back this time, there was no such feeling. It was just a stone in the ground. In an odd way, that’s good. I’ve long thought that that graves were an odd tradition. I would much rather be remembered at the places where people shared happy experiences with me. I’m glad we were able to fulfill her wishes and that it looks nice (that would have mattered to her), but I don’t feel the need to go back. I’ll stop by again as I can, but more importantly, I’ll remember her when share a happy memory from my childhood with my kids or I eat fried clams.


September 11th

Close up of the some of the names at the South Tower at the 9-11 memorial. Twelve years out, the solemnity of the day seems to be waning. As documented by this blog post and this one, businesses are using it as an opportunity to promote their brands. I don’t mind brands like Chik-fila and Huggies tweeting remembrances, but AT&T kind of puts me off (and I am an AT&T customer), it only goes down hill the farther you scroll down in that second post.

I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed with my own remembrances of 9/11. I paused briefly. I watched a touching video and on Facebook, I read a few accounts of where people were when all hell broke loose. Even twelve years later, the events of that morning still haunt me but yesterday, was more or less a regular day for me. This was as much by necessity as a lack of any organized activity to attend. I have a friend who watched the ceremony online. I couldn’t. I knew it would wreck me for the day. I don’t want to forget, but remembering is hard.

The new tower on the former site of the Twin TowersFor each generation there is a touchstone, for those before me, it was December 7, 1941. For me and so many others it is September 11, 2001. I don’t ever want the horror to fade. I don’t ever want us to become complacent. Too many lives were lost that day and in the years that have followed. I don’t ever want to forget, but remembering the agony is often too much for many people, myself included. There has to be a middle ground a way to remember what happened, and to celebrate our progress towards recovery. I need a way to share this with my kids so it stands out in their minds. I want to protect them from the pain, but remind them of what happened. I want to remind them of all that was lost, remind them of our collective strength and encourage them to contribute to the greater good.

I don’t have a solution, I just know I don’t want to forget. I marked my calendar for July 11, 2014 to begin the process of planning some kind of remembrance that I can personally live with for September 11, 2014.

Did you do anything to mark the passing of another September 11th?


Ruth’s Brownies

Two of the best brownies on a plate next too a glass of milkEveryone has recipes that represent their childhood. My crispy baked pork chops are a riff on the Shake ’N Bake Pork chops I loved growing up. There’s also a baked chicken recipe that I’ll share soon, but the quintessential “treat” when I was growing up was my mom’s brownies. Everyone loved them! They are chocolately and moist and more a fudgier brownie as opposed to the more conventional cake brownie. As a matter of fact, in a classic case of only wanting what you didn’t have, I used to PLEAD with her to buy brownie mix in a box. I wanted the cake style brownie. Eventually, I had my fill of cake brownies and I wised up. I know this recipe by heart. It’s THAT good and THAT easy.

My mom got the recipe from her sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, who was also a close friend of my paternal grandmother. Did you follow that? That woman was also named Ruth. So, here you have, Ruth’s Brownies.


  • 4 squares unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s)
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (use the real stuff PLEASE)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional – I NEVER get to add walnuts because the people around me equate eating nuts to eating bugs. I think they add something, especially if you have a few minutes to toast them before adding them to the chocolate, but it’s up to you.).



  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Grease an 11×13 pan
  3. Place butter and chocolate in a pan on medium to low heat until both are completely melted.
  4. Add sugar, mix until blended
  5. Add flour, mix until blended
  6. Add eggs, mix until blended
  7. Add vanilla and salt, mix until blended.
  8. Add walnuts (if using).
  9. Pour into greased pan
  10. Bake for 30 minutes – NO MORE

As long as your oven is close to temperature you’ll be fine. When you pull them out, you’ll wonder if they are really done. The top should have a light crust, but still look a little moist.

Allow them time to cool before cutting.

Serve with milk.

The recipe can be halved, but really who would want to do that?

Eating Allergen Free – Buffalo Wild Wings

Fish is now living gluten free, dairy free and egg free. Sounds easy right? Just don’t eat foods with gluten, dairy or egg in them right? Yep, that’s it. *Snort* if it were only that easy.

Seven years ago, we discovered that A-Man’s migraines were caused by maltodextrin, a thickener, I started reading labels and stopped purchasing about half of the convenience foods normally in my pantry. I learned how to make home made versions of dips, crispy coatings and gravies and other processed foods I’d come to rely on. I knew from my previous label reading experience, in removing all of Fish’s trigger’s from her diet would be no picnic, but I honestly had no idea how complex it would be.  Most labels don’t say “contains gluten”.  Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book The G-Free Diet has 12 pages of information about ingredients that can contain gluten.  Some labels say “gluten free”, but then I have to look for dairy and eggs and their derivatives. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are many more gluten free foods in the grocery store than there were even 5 years ago, but you still have be very careful especially with multiple sensitivities. Many people were quick to point out that Udi’s makes the best gluten free bread, but their breads contain egg whites, so they aren’t an option for Fish. The same is true for a number of GF pastas. I read every label and I try to remember to read them every time I shop (manufacturing practices can change quickly).

I can honestly say that eating out and quick meals have been the hardest part of this whole process. It’s one thing to stand in a store and read a label and be able to make a judgement about the safety of the food with regards to your child’s allergies, but it is entirely another to rely on a perfect stranger who has limited knowledge what goes in to the food he or she serves and doesn’t really understand the consequences. Then there’s cross-contamination, when a “clean” food comes in contact with an allergen during preparation. For example when french fries are cooked in the same oil as breaded onion rings or chicken nuggets. It’s enough to make you never eat out again. Oh, but some nights, some nights, eating out is the only option.

Recently we ate at Buffalo Wild Wings. I had heard they had a number of allergy friendly options on their menu. One had just opened nearby and the kids had been nagging me to go. We don’t have that many restaurant choices locally, so anything new is always a novelty, especially a potentially allergy friendly option.

When we sat down Fish immediately notified the server of her allergies and asked if they had a gluten free menu (it’s the easiest place to start). The server said she’d be right back. When she returned, she brought with her 5 lamented sheets of paper. Every menu item was listed along with a complete ingredient list. There was a also grid that listed each menu item and which of the most common allergens it contained. I was floored. This meant we could also determine if any of the sauces would trigger a migraine for A-Man (best as I could tell, none would). If only it was always that easy!

5 laminated pages of allergy information at Buffalo Wild Wings

It was small print (hey you can’t have EVERYTHING), but we poured over the sheets until Fish identified some wings that sounded good and were allergy free for her. She loved it and it was nice to watch her relax and enjoy the meal. Mim ordered his standard grilled cheese and fries and I had a combo platter with cole slaw and fries.

I’ll be straight with you, this is not gourmet cuisine, but it was decent and reasonably priced. I would make different choices next time, (I didn’t realize the boneless wings were breaded and deep fried. DOH!) but I’d go back for the allergy friendly environment alone. I wish more restaurants would follow their lead.

Have you found any restaurants that handle food allergies well?

Live Free or Feel Like Crap

'allergies?' photo (c) 2009, miheco - license: Almost 3 years ago *shudder* Fish started to complain that she wasn’t feeling well when she ate. She felt nauseous and was having some difficulty swallowing. At first it seemed this only happened when we were eating something she didn’t want to eat. She’s always been a selective *ahem* eater, but this was pushing it. She was also beginning to have trouble with dairy. Lactose intolerance runs in my husband’s family, so this issue wasn’t a total shock.

We started buying Lactaid, but after six months she was still complaining, even if there was no dairy in the meal, so it was off to the doctor. The first idea was acid reflux, after 3 months on otc medications, there was no improvement. Time to up the stakes and make a trip to a pediatric gastroenterologist. You have to be a special person to talk about poop with kids and actually get more than giggles. Dr. Anthony Repucci is that person. Let’s face it burps, poop and tummy troubles are the stuff that giggle fits are made of. Dr. Repucci owns his profession. He’s great with the kids and reassuring and explanatory with parents. If we had to go down this road, I’m really glad we got to go with him.

After more than a year of office visits, medications and testing, including an endoscopy, a swallow study and an MRI, we still didn’t have a distinct cause for the problem and she was still in pain. The next step was an off label use for a long term medication.

'Gluten Free tag at New World' photo (c) 2007, Aidan - license: I’m not against medications, but I felt we hadn’t exhausted all of our investigative options. It seemed like Dr. Repucci had exhausted all of his diagnostic tools, but I felt there was still more learning to be done.

After talking to a family member who was diagnosed with food sensitivities, I decided it was time to explore that. We had nothing to loose. If we struck out on this path, the medications would still be waiting for us. I didn’t want Fish to suffer, but I really wanted to find a cause rather than just Band-Aid. Enter, Dr. Kristen O’Dell, a naturopath and physicians assistant. After an office visit and a food sensitivities panel and we had a theory. Fish showed level three sensitivities to eggs, dairy and gluten. *Facepalm*. Eggs? EGGS? Seriously EGGS?

Somewhere in the midst of this diagnostic process, the Lactaid had stopped working. As a result, she’d basically already removed dairy from her diet. Next up was removing eggs. Not a huge deal until she discovered all of the cookies and cakes she likes to make have eggs in them. Grumble, grumble grumble … until, a week passes and she’s starting to feel a little better and then another week passes and things are still improving. Hmmm, might be something to this.

Fish made the decision to drop gluten just for two weeks. I’ll be honest, I really wanted to solve the whole problem, but I was hoping it wasn’t gluten. Of course, I should be counting my blessings it wasn’t corn, but still. One week without gluten and she’s feeling better. Two weeks without gluten and bingo! We have a winner.

In the two years that we’d been exploring these issues, Mim had expanded his palette and I’d finally gotten to the point where most nights I was making one meal for everyone. *fist pump* The thought of going back to 2 different meals just made me want to cry. That’s the selfish side. The upside is that she IS, finally feeling better.

I ache for her because although food allergies are more common (a topic for ANOTHER blog post). It’s still a tough row to hoe. Until you live it, you don’t understand the complexities and the fear that accompanies food sensitivities. We’re fortunate her reactions are not anaphylactic, but no one wants to see their kid in pain.

After about three weeks, we had an incident that confirmed we were on the right path. I pack dinner when we ski, but the “treat” is an order of french fries. On this night, about an hour after eating, Fish came to me and said “I don’t feel good, I feel nauseous like I used to.” Oh crap. I knew what I prepared was allergen free so that left the french fries as the only variable. It turns out, the snack bar at the ski resort also cooks chicken nuggets and onion rings in the same grease as the french fries. Welcome to the world of cross contamination. So much to learn, but we are SUPER fortunate to have a ton of support. We’re getting better at this every day.

Dr. O’Dell feels there is a chance she’ll out grow at least some of these issues, but there is also a chance she won’t. The plan for now it is to keep her eating “clean” as much as possible. She’s done an amazing job adjusting. There are times when the limits are frustrating, and she has “cheated”, but her body reminds her why cheating is not the best idea. According to others who have followed this path, it gets easier the longer the toxic-to-you foods are out of your system.

Despite the challenges, I’m glad to finally have a diagnosis.

Do you have food sensitivities? How do you deal with them?

The Cross-Body Bag from SeamsFineKS

I admit it, I’m a bag lady. I just love bags. A bag for everything and everything in a bag is my motto. I’m always searching for the perfect purse. It has to be large enough to carry 4 pairs of glasses, a wallet (slim), a phone, some pens, a small note book a hand held telescope and it absolutely MUST have a place for me to hook my keys. I’m definitely a function over form kind of girl but show me a bag that can meet my functional needs AND look good and I’m all over it. For a long time, I was a huge Baggalini fan.  Then I found this Dakine mini backpack while traveling last year and I was in heaven. Cute but wicked functional. It didn’t get much better than that. Well that is until I found The Cross Body Bag by Dawn Shew of SeamsFineKS.

I found Dawn via an online auction organized to raise funds for Jessica from Balancing Everything. I was thrilled when I won the auction for the custom made cross body bag. As soon as then auction closed Dawn promptly got in touch with me to discuss my needs. Here’s a clip of the email I sent her.

“On a regular basis, I carry my Kindle or a notebook and 4 pairs of glasses, three of which are in an over size cases. Those three can more or less roam free in the bag. The things I perpetually chase are my iPhone, my reading glasses (typical glasses case) and my wallet (a slim item that just holds cash & credit cards). The wallet and the glasses could share a pocket.

I am not a gentle flower 🙂 I am ruff and tumble and go through life with gusto. My favorite color is purple. Blues and greens come in second and third. Red is great for contrast, but I tend to shy away from yellow and oranges. White is a color I admire from afar because inevitably I will spill my tea or accidentally smear some chocolate on it :).”

SeamsFineKS Cross Body Bag in Lilac & Chocolate

She showed me some fabric swatches and I narrowed it down to a lilac & brown combination or a dark blue. Once she told me the Lilac was outdoor weight fabric I was sold.

I love it! It holds all my necessities and is cute to boot! It’s very well made and very sturdy. The wide strap is very comfortable and since it’s adjustable, it works both cross-body and just over the shoulder.

On the left the bag full of my stuff.  On the right all of my stuff that the bag holds.
My phone was charging and my small notebook was open on the desk while I was drafting this, but they fit too!

 You can find more of Dawn’s work at

Note: I received no compensation for this review. Dawn donated her time and materials to help Jessica. I wanted to highlight her good deed and talk about an awesome bag.

How I Cut My Laundry in Half

'laundry' photo (c) 2009, Martijn van Exel - license: Does anyone actually “like” doing laundry? I suppose there must be someone out there who enjoys sorting, lugging, washing, drying, more sorting, and more lugging, I just know it’s not me. I’ll take a daily trip to the grocery store over weekly laundry any day.

Still, knowing how to wash and dry clothes is a skill that is required to live independently as a successful adult. I can remember getting to college and watching some of my classmates pondering the coin operated washers and dryers as though they were some of life’s greatest mysteries. Oh, the shock when they pulled blush colored socks out of the same load as the new maroon sweatshirt emblazoned with the school insignia. Oh wait, silk isn’t washable? What happened to my wool sweater?

I figure it is better for them to practice on their childhood clothes. A Star Wars shirt is replaceable at a low cost. The dry clean only blouse that goes with the interview suit not so much. Of course I hope to educate my daughter in the beauty of machine washable fabrics, but that’s another blog post. We aren’t moving to a nudest colony (can you imagine how much sun screen we’d go through?), so the kids need know how to do their own laundry.

My list if laundry directions for the kids. In October, I handed over responsibility for their laundry to them. I had a meeting on this particular day, so I left instructions and made sure Mim knew that he was to be as equally active in this chore as his sister.

It’s been a few weeks and a few laundry cycles and so far, things appear to be going well. They sort their clothes and then alternate who is responsible for which load. Teamwork for the win! I am enjoying my lighter work load and while I won’t go so far as to say they are “enjoying” their new responsibilities, the clothes are getting clean. The part about folding and PUTTING THE CLOTHES AWAY might need a little tweaking. I found a pile of clean clothes on the floor by Mim’s door this morning. *Sigh* Baby steps. Baby steps.

Eventually they’ll need to learn to iron. I may need to hire a tutor for that lesson, cuz mama don’t iron except under EXTREME duress.

Hmmm, *racks brain for ironing tutor*. Oh GRAMMMY!

What chores are your children responsible for?