Friday, August 1, 2014

Have You Seen My Ghost?

When I was a child Halloween was a special day. Mom would always fix up a big pot of chili. Before we put our costumes on and knocked on doors the ritual started with a big bowl of that chili to keep us warm. We ran the surrounding blocks in homemade costumes collecting plastic bags full of goodies. When I became a mother I began my own traditions. It always started with that same bowl of something to keep my girls warm. We would walk around the neighborhood and I would stand back and watch them waddle up the sidewalk with a plastic pumpkin in tow. They were very independent and had to walk that long cement row on their own, as long as mom wasn't far behind in the shadows. Those are not too distant memories. Now I am in phase III of my Halloween observance. I am a grandmother standing on the inside admiring the young trick or treating beginners.

Halloween in our neighborhood is always festive. The coming fall, cooler weather and vibrant colors fill the air. The streets are lined with houses lit black and orange and purple. It is mid September and the ghoulish decorations are already hitting front lawns. I'll admit I caught the spirit early on. I probably go a little overboard every year sprucing up my own lawn. Boxes of skeleton heads and spider webs line the attic. We have our favorite decorations, but one is especially intriguing.

Hanging among the witch and the mummy is a sheer white floating ghost head. You may have seen one. The ghost hangs from a black pipe with thin plastic threads. Batteries are used to pull the ghost head up and down the hanging strings. The batteries are motion and noise activated. When a child rings the doorbell, or knocks on the door, the ghost drops from its black pipe with ghostly sounds. It slowly floats back up to the pipe until it rests. It's a festive piece of art you either learn to laugh at, or dart away from.

Our neighborhood is bordered by two major thoroughfares lined with multifamily housing. Every year on October 31st the residents of these complexes will flow into our neighborhood. They are of all ages, each with their own different costumes. Some have no costumes at all. I buy bags and bags of candy. I hang my decorations weeks before. My ghost is displayed proudly in the entry hall. When the door opens to the festive guests the ghost is activated and floats down. It can be heard before it is seen. Some are awed by the unexpected site. Others are frightened by the startling scare, especially the youngest goblins. I give the visitors an opportunity to view the gimmick up close. I will walk to the end of the sidewalk to hand sweets to any who are too frightened by the ghost to approach on their own.

My porch becomes packed with witches, supermen and Darth Vaders. My husband will stand in the shadows and clap his hands to keep the ghost activated. I was passing out tootsie rolls to a large crowd and noticed a young girl standing at the end of the sidewalk. The little princess looked to be around four years old. She looked dazed and a little frightened. I walked toward her with my candy bowl reassuring her that the ghost would not hurt her. Her mom was standing next to her. Sleeping Beauty was looking past me straight into my house. I don't think she even knew I was walking toward her as her mom smiled at me. She walked right by me into the entry way staring up at the ghost. Her smile reached every corner of my heart as she admired my favorite trimming. Candy was placed in her bag as she turned to leave. She exited as quickly as she entered. My husband and I had a good laugh. Every time I see my favorite Halloween decoration I remember that little Sleeping Beauty so fascinated by the spook she almost forgot her candy. I wish I had my camera!


Fall is always an exciting time of year. The weather becomes cooler. The cast of summer turns into refreshing, vibrant colors. The sweaters and boots are revived from the closet. It is a time of renewal and new beginnings. Gone are the days of sweltering heat and agonizing humidity. Along with refreshing weather is a renewed need for comfort foods. Fall provides a variety of dynamic produce to replenish with.

Not only are the offerings showy, they are some of the most healthful gifts from nature. The rich complexion of fall produce are high in vitamins C and A. Fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium are also found in fall produce. Picking the proper produce is as important as the benefits they offer. Picking a produce that is too ripe, or not ripe enough can deplete the nutritional value.

Farmers Markets are full of vendors exhibiting the season's freshest goods. Samples are offered so you know what you are buying. Although purchasing produce directly from the grower may seem the best choice you must be cautious. Ask if the produce was treated in any manner. Insecticides and fertilizer may enhance the growth cycle, but it won't enrich the beneficial desire.

Supermarkets offer various types of produce. Most are offered by mass producers whose objective is to distribute as much produce as possible for a larger profit. Chemicals are a necessity to insure production is in line with demand. If you pick up this type of product you must be sure to carefully wash it before serving. Organic produce offered in grocery stores is guaranteed to be free of all chemical interaction. Although somewhat more expensive the health benefits will be worth the extra cost. The Federal Government has strict guidelines for distributing produce. Produce must be clearly and accurately labeled before it can be sold. Read labels carefully and ask questions if you are uncertain.

Below are some of the most desirable contributions of fall produce and how to pick the best.

Butternut squash is a pale beige colored squash. When cut open it has a deep orange, edible inside. The butternut squash has a sweet flavor and can be baked, or used in soups. To purchase a good butternut squash pick one with a smooth, solid outer shell. It should sound hollow when you thump it.

Broccoli is an extremely nutritious vegetable. Like a lot of green vegetables Broccoli is high in vitamin C, A and fiber. Broccoli can be served in soups, casseroles or salads. To get the most benefit from Broccoli it is best eaten raw. Pick a broccoli that is bright green, not faded or brownish. The crown should be firm and not droopy.

Cauliflower is very rare in color. It is one of very few white vegetables. It can be used in soups or salads. Cauliflower is best when eaten raw, such as in salads. Not only will cauliflowers offer the benefits of C, A and fiber it has an added benefit of B6. Cauliflower should be pure white and firm. There should be no soft or brown spots visible.

Spinach is a highly beneficial choice. The leaves can be used to make a salad, or blended in soups. Spinach can be cooked and served as a side dish to go with any meal. Spinach is high in vitamin A, K and iron. Spinach leaves should be crisp and bright green. They should be firm to the touch, not droopy.

Sweet Potatoes are a fall favorite. What holiday table wouldn't be complete without sweet potato casserole? Sweet potatoes are high in A, C and magnesium. Sweet potatoes are good baked and served in soups. Sweet potatoes should be solid, and hard. They should be orange in color with no brown or soft spotting.

Zucchini or green squash is versatile. It can be served in soups, casseroles or salads. In addition it may be served fried. Zucchini is full of vitamins C and A. It also contains a high amount of magnesium and fiber. Zucchini squash should be green, firm and of good size. It should be solid with no coloring or softness.

Pumpkin is the most popular of fall produce. They have been a mainstay of Halloween celebrations for decades. Pumpkins line front porches everywhere during the holiday with unique carvings for admirers to enjoy. In addition pumpkin continues to be the most useful of fall produce. Pumpkin can be used in soups, salads, casseroles and even deserts. Pumpkin continues to offer up one of the best Thanksgiving dishes ever. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and even pumpkin soup are favorite fall dishes. Pumpkin is high in A, C and E. Pick a pumpkin that is firm, yet hollow to the sound. The shell should be bright orange and solid with not browning or softening.

If you want to get the best nutritional value out of fall vegetables pick fresh items free of chemicals. Serving unprocessed offers the highest, most nourishing benefit. Take advantage of flavor and uniqueness by searching for flavorful recipes. Using your imagination to create savory creations with fall vegetables can only add to the novelty of the fall breeze.


It seems that I have been on one diet or another most of my life. I've tried many different techniques from the unconventional to the tried and true. My experience maintains that structure and support are two important keys to losing weight. Searching for a quick fix is not an optimal goal. Sure, if you need to drop a few pounds to make that special event a quick fix is convenient. If you are looking to drop a substantial amount of weight and develop a healthy lifestyle change patience and determination go a long way.

Not only are diet supplements unreliable they can be a health risk. Several contain large amounts of caffeine which will cause an increase in metabolism. An increase in metabolism can produce results of increased activity and lower appetite. The risks involved with this appetite suppressant are increased strain on the heart which could lead to possible health problems.

Newer diet supplements have been introduced to block sensors to the brain indicating that the body needs nutrition. There is very little valid evidence to support that these suppressants are beneficial. Supplements that promise to satisfy the appetite by creating a sensation of feeling full may not be reliable either. As with a "total cleanse" system the body is absorbed with fiber (or other similar ingredient) that create a bloated feeling. The system is cleansed, but left with very little nutrition to maintain optimum health.

True diet success is proper nutrition balanced with physical activity. Determination and discipline are a great plus. But, what I have found to be most beneficial is support from family and friends. Diet programs that offer support programs are very successful. Two of the most advertised programs are Jenny Craig, and Weight Watchers. There is some very basic difference between the two advocates.

Jenny Craig offers a weekly one-on- one secession with a diet counselor. The support representative is generally someone who has completed the Jenny Craig program with some success. You are receiving assistance from an associate who knows the challenges losing weight can bring. Jenny Craig offers a complete line of food developed for optimal success. You are asked to purchase these products in order to succeed. They are tasty, but are somewhat costly. In addition membership dues are required. These may vary depending on location. Jenny Craig is a very successful program.

Weight Watchers offers on-line support, in addition to group meetings. On-line support offers tempting recipes, shopping tips, eating out tips and most important point tracking. The on-line program is based on a monthly membership fee. It also allows you access to weekly meetings where additional support is added. Suggestions on creating meals, and dealing with difficult challenges are offered. Although Weight Watchers offers a large selection of frozen entrées, snack items and desserts you are not required to purchase these products. What they do offer is a lifestyle change. A goal that will teach healthful cooking, respectful snacking and proper activity levels.

No matter how you choose to diet your success is your goal. Research thoroughly the options and pick the one that best fits your needs, your goals, and your lifestyle. Most importantly, good luck.



Using Internet Coupons

It used to be that thrifty spenders had to wait until Sunday to find out how to stretch the grocery budget. Coupons were available only when the Sunday morning paper hit the front porch. If you buy the newspaper just for the coupons it's time to give the comics a try. In 1994 the internet was launched to the public, changing the way the world does business. In the 16 years since, it is estimated that 25% of the world accesses the internet on a daily basis. One big business is the use of "internet coupons". Internet coupons are instantly available, and easy to obtain. If you choose to use internet coupons you need to be aware of a few rules.

1) Check with your favorite grocer to make sure they accept internet coupons.

2) Fully research your source.

3) Although coupons are a great way to save money only print what you will use.

4) Don't be tempted to spend money on something you don't need because there is a coupon available.

5) Make a list before you grocery shop and search the internet for coupons. Chances are you may find one.

6) Shop the ads and match up your coupons to enjoy even bigger savings.

7) Check your coupons frequently and remove expired ones

Like most things you should be somewhat cautious when searching for internet coupons. Fake "free" coupons are routinely distributed leaving both retailers and distributors somewhat leery. Counterfeit coupons are on the rise and they cost consumers a bundle each year. It's comparative to shoplifting from a store. Only you aren't being a willing bandit. Several medium and smaller grocery chains have had to refuse to accept internet coupons to avoid the risk of lost revenue. Another optional approach is to accept internet coupons, but refuse any coupon that is not accepted by the registers scanner.

So how do you know if you have a valid coupon without being embarrassed at the register? Compare the scan bar on the coupon to the scan bar on the product. They must match in order for the register to recognize the coupon. Often using this process won't be accurate. Counterfeiters are becoming clever enough to get around scan bars. One positive way to be sure your coupon is not counterfeit, always print coupons directly from the products official website. In addition there are several reputable websites on the internet that offer hundreds of coupons. These sites only accept coupons from authorized distributors., and are full of savings. In addition to grocery coupons you can find retail coupons, dining savings, and even magazine subscription discounts. Check these websites frequently for newly added coupon savings.

Kraft, Proctor & Gamble, Betty Crocker and many others will allow you to sign up on there website and become a member. Once you do this you can opt to receive e-mail savings, and occasionally an offer for a free item. Coupons can also be found on Search a product you enjoy and like it on Once you like it check to see if there is a button for offers. If there isn't one keep checking back. There could be one very soon. and also have exclusive savings coupons. Be sure to check Wal-Mart's savings site to see what free samples they are offering. You can find free samples of shampoo, toothpaste and many health and beauty products. Not only are they free, they are easy to sign up for.

Several communities have popped up on the internet that will show you the best way to save. They will point you to a printable coupon and tell you were to save the most money using the coupon. They are dedicated people whose only goal is to save money on everything from electronics to a box of Cheerios. They have a community blog where your questions can be answered. Check your town's news sources. They may have information on where to find a local website to visit.

Finding a way to save money is always beneficial. Knowing the right place to look and where to save will keep you on top. Remain diligent and cautions you will see a sizeable savings on your grocery bill

Dog's and Garden's Don't Mix

Two things I enjoy very much are my dogs and my garden. I have a small Shiatsu and a mid size Australian Husky. Sometimes, I think the dogs enjoy the garden more than I do. Add a little fuel to the fire and they really get out of hand when my neighbor lets her dog out to play. You can't really blame the dogs though. I willingly started my little vegetable garden along the fence line that connects the two properties. So, here come the dogs and there goes the garden.

Dogs are naturally drawn to plants. They are more cool and comfortable to lie on than the cement porch. Digging in the dirt is an instinctual necessity. Once a comfortable niche in the garden is created by your dog it will be nearly impossible to teach him to "stay out". I've researched and tried several options to save my sanity and my vegetables.

The best, most realistic option is to build a fence around the garden. This won't be as cumbersome as it sounds. Supplies can be found for a reasonable price at most hardware or home improvement stores. You will need to purchase several feet of fencing wire that will be high enough to keep the dog from jumping over it. Wooden posts will be needed to attach the wire, and post nails to secure the wire to the posts. Choose natural, untreated posts to avoid possible chemical reaction with the vegetables. Place the posts in all four corners of the garden. If needed you can place additional posts evenly spaced between the corner posts. Posts should be buried at least two to three feet into the ground. The fencing wire should be buried no less than one foot into the ground. Wrap fencing wire around posts and secure with post nails.

There are certain natural remedies that can be placed in or around the garden. Dogs are repelled by the odor and tend to back away. Some suggested items are ammonia, moth balls, black pepper, red pepper and even vinegar. These are initially inexpensive options. Keep in mind though that every time it pours rain you are more than likely going to need to redistribute the chemicals. It could become costly at some point.

Another option is to place chicken wire directly on the bottom of the garden. The feel of the wire on the little puppy paws is reported to be uncomfortable for the dog. I tried this option myself and had no success. My dogs didn't seem to be detoured by the wire at all. In addition, I had a very hard time removing dead plants from the garden in the fall. They were all tangled up in wire.

Lawn and Garden stores carry chemical items that can be placed around gardens. They generally come in granular form and must be replaced every three months. Moth balls can also be used in this format. I don't recommend this option. Any chemical interaction with a vegetable garden can be an unnecessary risk.

The final option is either an electric, or an ultrasonic repellant. The electric option works by emitting an electronic shock to your dog once he crosses a specified boundary. Boundaries are set by wires buried beneath the ground, and a dog collar. When the two items come within a few feet of each other a shock is released. The ultrasound option releases a sound burst which can not be heard by the human ear. The remote like device can be used within 15 feet of the animal. Both of these options can be a little costly, and are advertised to be safe for your pet. Many people find them to be offensive and too inhumane to use on their beloved family member.

Gardening can be a relaxing hobby. It can also be a lot of work and time consuming. Getting rid of my dogs will never be an option. I will always do whatever I can to make sure my dogs and my garden coincide in harmony. Otherwise, the dog beats out the garden every time

Off to College

It's that time of year again. Millions of parents are scrambling to rush their teenagers off to College. It can be one of the most emotional times of life. It's like a bad vacation and great birthday all rolled into one. Here is this life that still seems so young walking away from you into the unknown. Thoughts of baby bottles, pacifiers and dirty dippers wrestle with the pride and anxiety. Not only for the child you nurtured and watch grow to this point. There is the matter of your own uncertainty. What are we to do now that we don't have this daily purpose any longer? No mandatory meals to prepare, no more excessive laundry to fuss over. Take my word for it. The purpose is still there, it just shifts to a whole new direction.

I'll never forget the moment as long as I live. I knew my daughters ambition and her dreams. I secretly
wished they would disseminate somewhere over the vast blue. My husband and I encouraged her to pick somewhere close to home. She was our pride and joy. She is smart, ambitious, talented and beautiful. I wasn't ready to let her go. Then the expected notice came in the mail the week before Halloween. That dreaded piece of paper I had feared. We were all three sitting at the dinner table when the announcement was made. Our little angel had been accepted into the college of her dreams some 800 miles away. I am proud of her so I held back the tears, for now. I remember sitting in the kitchen floor crying my eyes out a month later. We were decorating the house for the holiday. That is where my husband found me and ask what the matter was. All I could blubber was "she won't be here to help me put up decorations next year". He hugged me tightly and assured me he would still be there.

After that we were off to the races. The circus had begun and would end all too soon. The deposit was down on her dorm room, she had picked out her classes and an unbelievable amount of supplies were purchased. Not just the paper and pens, but bed sheets, a vacuum and dorm furniture I never new existed. A list was supplied to us of things that could not be brought along. No open burner items were allowed which meant she couldn't take a coffee pot; she couldn't even take her George Forman grill (a graduation gift). She had to have a months worth of groceries (thank god she likes ramen) that are easy to cook in her microwave, and cleaning supplies. The laundry container and bed linens had to match, which had to match the storage containers that slid under her bed.

When an invitation to "Parents Day" showed up my heart almost stopped beating. The months of trying to convince myself this wasn't going to happen came crashing down on me. Still, I was grateful. We'd get to meet her teachers, see her room and cruise all the haunts that she would call home for the next four years. The car was packed with barely enough room left for my daughter to sit in the back. She squeezed herself in and never complained once. I think she knew better. The drive was quiet and somber. When we reached our destination my first impression was how beautiful the area is. There are green rolling hills, beautiful tress and quaint houses. After checking in to the dorm we unloaded all of the supplies. There were schedules of activities handed out for the parents and a separate one for students. I didn't want the weekend to ever end. We strode from activity to activity frequently meeting up with my daughter who joined us. Back at the dorm room after the first day of activities my daughters' newfound independence surfaced with a determination. I tried not to look hurt when she refused my help setting up her dew digs. It was her room and she would decorate it the way she wanted. I had to accept her insistence with resolve. After all, it surely didn't mean she would never need me again.

The weekend ended with a festive celebratory dinner for parents, students and staff. I can't even recall what was served. I was roaming around in am emotionally distraught daze. The next morning I would leave my precious child behind and travel home to sit in her empty bedroom praying that God is watching over her every minute just as I would if she would walk into the kitchen and flash one of those twinkling smiles that always melted my heart.