A roller coaster of emotions

Two weeks ago, I mailed in my ballot. I was excited. The world was full of hope and change. The past 18 months had been a nightmare of homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. My mood rose and fell with Hilary Clinton's standing in the polls, but on the whole I felt confident. I meticulously researched every candidate and measure on the ballot because I wanted to do my civic duty. I was indifferent to a few measure and unsure of others, but I had no doubt that I was on the right side of history with my choice for president.

Halloween Costume Watch 2016

Halloween this year has been a low key -- possibly even no key -- affair. How odd is that? Halloween is my favorite holiday, and for the past 15 years I've decorated the house to the hilt, baked and crafted up a storm, and documented every single bit of it. I just wasn't feeling it this year. Maybe it's because our weekends have been extra busy, maybe it's because the kids are older, maybe it's because I'm older. Whatever the reason, I've ended up taking a break from Halloween. Our only decorations this year were five pumpkins (actually there are only 3 left because we carved 2 of them too early and they rotted. That's why I'm featuring Marissa Mayer's giant pumpkin on this post instead of ours). The only thing I baked this month was a pan of brownies for The Pea's advisory class (they had Halloween sprinkles on them, so plus 3 points for me).

That doesn't mean we're not dressing up for Trick or Treating tonight (hey, I'm uninspired, not dead). The kids must have caught my mood, because they weren't too excited about Halloween costumes... that is, until there were just 2 days left. All of a sudden they came up with all kinds of ideas, so we spent the weekend augmenting their costumes and crafting up a storm. Their costumes turned out great, and all our efforts seem to have reawakened our Halloween cheer!

Jammy: Uncle Sam

Jammy didn't really have any strong preferences for this year's Halloween costume. We had a big stars-and-stripes hat that we had bought for 4th of July a few years ago, and a friend who was organizing a costume sale for our local children's theatre told me she had 2 identical circus ringmaster waistcoats. Jammy seemed open to the idea, so I went and bought the waistcoat, but he saw a GIRL's name written on the back of the costume. To be fair, the waistcoat did have puffed sleeves, so it may have been a costume meant for a girl. I told him he didn't have to wear it, but when I removed the sleeves, it looked quite unisex, so he said he would wear it. I came up with the idea of making a bald eagle to pin to his hat, and that revved up his enthusiasm for the costume. I thought it looked hilarious! Everyone loved his hat, so everything turned out great.

3Po: Holy Cow

3Po originally wanted to be a mascot this Halloween, and one of my friends was going to lend him a squirrel mascot costume. Then he found out that full face masks aren't allowed at his middle school, so he said he'd rather borrow my cow pajamas and go as his favorite animal, a cow. Yesterday The Pea had a brain wave and said he should go as a Holy Cow, so we spent a few frantic hours making a halo and wings. We used wire hangers to frame the wings and halo. Then we covered the wings with white cloth (from an old bedsheet) and covered the halo with gold ribbon. What an adorable costume! My only regret is that we didn't make a golden harp to go with it.

The Pea: Fish Tank

Yes, I do realize that doesn't look anything remotely like a fish tank. The Pea actually had 2 costumes this year, because she needed a costume the weekend before Halloween but hadn't finished her "real" Halloween costume. She DIY'ed this last-minute Brexit costume by pinning an "EXIT" sign onto a Union Jack tshirt. It was cheap, quick, easy, clever, and relevant -- a total Halloween win! We can't actually take credit for the idea; we got it from the TV sitcom "Superstore".

Here's The Pea's "real" costume. The long-sleeved blue dress has become her Halloween canvas -- this is the third Halloween that she has used it for a costume! She has used it to be a Toy Story alien, Cookie Monster, and now a fish tank. Now that she's in high school, she couldn't just be a literal fish tank, of course; there had to be a twist! She made an army tank and an oceanful of Finding Nemo / Little Mermaid sea creatures from felt, then glued everything to the dress. The result is so beautiful that I don't think this dress will be used for any more Halloween costumes; she's going to remove the army tank and keep the skirt as it is. She'll probably wear it to Disneyland one of these days!

Bonggamom: Hippie

I spent so much time helping the kids with their costumes, there just wasn't time left to plan my own costume -- but I had already decided I was going to wear one of my old costumes, so I didn't care. But when I went to my costume bins, I discovered a hippie costume that an aunt had given me last year. She had visited me last year for a school reunion and left her costume behind because she needed the extra luggage space. The crowning touch: a flower crown from The Pea!

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Haunted Halloween for Scaredy Cats

Haunted Halloween

It's October again, and for teens and pre-teens in the Bay Area, that means Great America's Halloween Haunt is back! We visited Halloween Haunt for the first time last year, and we enjoyed ourselves so much that I bought Gold Season Passes (which offers unlimited Halloween Haunt admission) this year. There just isn't enough time to see all 8 haunted mazes in a single visit, so we have been looking forward to going multiple times this year so we can enjoy each and every one.

The only problem? The Pea doesn't like haunted mazes. She hates getting startled when costumed actors come out of nowhere. The Dia de los Muertos maze, which is more is more artsy than scary, was all she could handle last year.
Haunted Halloween

How to make a candy lollipop centerpiece

candy lollipop centerpiece

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and part of the fun is gathering insane amounts of candy that I would never let the kids have any other time of the year. Over the years, the kids have graduated from cute little treat bags to gigantic pillowcases, and those longer legs meant greater stamina for collecting candy on Halloween night. So we've ended up with far more candy that even I would let them have.  The solution? Candy crafts to the rescue! We've used candy for gingerbread houses (which no one eats), candy wreaths, and candy centerpieces like the one in the photo.

Lollipop trees make great holiday table centerpieces. They're also a great way to display the candy given out at the doctor's office or school front office! You'll need a 3- inch styrofoam ball, a 4-inch decorative flower pot, and a LOT of lollipops.

Simply stick the lollipops into the styrofoam ball, all the way around. If your styrofoam ball is dense, don't use the lollipop sticks to poke holes into the ball, because the sticks will bend. Use a metal skewer instead. You don't have to stick the lollipops all the way in; just an inch or so will do. Try not to leave any space between lollipop heads. When you've covered about three-quarters of the styrofoam ball, rest the ball on top of your flower pot.

candy lollipop centerpiece

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Printable spice bottle labels

spice bottle labels

I'm the first to admit I'm not the tidiest of people; let's just say I can tolerate a decent amount of disorganization and mess. So I surprised myself today by deciding to do something I'd normally associate with moderate OCD: I organized my spices! In my defense, my spice cupboard is set up in such a way that the best way to utilize the space inside is to store my spice bottles lying down.  It's not my fault that most spice makers have neglected to add labels to the tops of the bottles!

FLONASE®: Living Life Beyond Allergies

FLONASE® compensated me in connection with statements made in this post.
We are now moving into fall and as the weather starts to cool down a bit, we try to get ready for our allergy season. In October, the leaves begin to fall. Our driveway turns yellow with pollen produced by nearby pine trees. Without fail, my whole family begins to look like we've been watching marathon sessions of sad movies! All of our eyes get watery and itchy. Seasonal allergies affect all of us in a big way. My sons and daughter sport perpetually runny noses and my husband gets nasal congestion.
I wish we could just all stay indoors and hide -- but my kids bike to school, I walk to work, and my sons practice soccer 3 times a week. On the weekends, they play in tournaments and we all go out to cheer them on... but it's kind of hard to celebrate a goal when you're sneezing throughout the game! Obviously we can't let allergies stop us from going outdoors and doing the things we need to do. We're way too busy, and life is too short! We've figured out ways to manage our allergy symptoms so we can seize the moment and live our lives. Here are five things that have worked for us:

Take a shower. We all take frequent showers to wash away pollen that might have settled on our hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, or skin.

Wash your clothes. Pollen can settle on clothes, so during allergy season we never wear anything, not even jeans, more than once without washing. I also launder throw pillows, blankets, bed sheets and pillowcases more often than usual to wash away any stray pollen.

Use a hepa air filter. We have hepa air filters in all of our rooms, and our vacuum cleaner has a hepa filter to keep the air in our house as allergen-free as possible.

Use allergy-resistant pillow covers and mattress covers. If you or your kids are allergic to dust mites, invest in allergen pillow covers and mattress covers, which feature tightly woven fabric so that dust mites cannot survive in the pillows or mattresses.

Use a nasal allergy spray. Before they started using a nasal allergy spray, my boys would absolutely dread playing soccer on grass. Once their doctor prescribed a nasal allergy spray, the problem went away -- but I've found that I prefer the convenience of over-the-counter sprays like FLONASE® Allergy Relief, because it is full prescription strength and I can get it at our local pharmacy, without a prescription first. It is the first and only OTC nasal spray indicated to relive both nasal congestion & itchy watery eyes. FLONASE® has really helped relieve the worst of our allergy symptoms -- the runny nose, nasal congestion, and watery, itchy eyes. While most over the counter allergy pills only act on histamine, FLONASE® helps act on 6 different inflammatory substances, not just the one.*

*Mechanism vs. most OTC allergy pills. FLONASE® acts on multiple inflammatory substances (histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines, tryptases, chemokines and leukotrienes). The exact number and precise mechanism are unknown.

My boys use the Children's FLONASE® Allergy Relief for kids ages 4+ so they can stop focusing on their allergies and start focusing on their game. And out on the sidelines, my husband, daughter and I can stop focusing on our allergies and start focusing on supporting our soccer players!

Just follow the label and remember that consistent usage is key. For adults and children 12 years of age and older, ask your doctor if you can keep using after 6 months of daily use .
For Children’s FLONASE® Allergy Relief, consistent usage is key.  For children 4-11 years of age, talk to your child's doctor if your child needs to use for longer than 2 months a year.

Join FLONASE® Greater Rewards

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How do you help your family manage seasonal allergies? Tell me in the comments and you will be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card!

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Les Signes de Toilettes de Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris restroom signs

If you want evidence of Disney's attention to detail, look no further than their theme park restroom signs. Their restroom signs are always clever and witty, and they always match the theme or decor of their surroundings. It has been a while since I've posted photos of Disney restroom signs, because I think I've posted all of the ones around the Disneyland Resort, and I haven't been to any other Disney Park in a while.

We recently visited Disneyland Paris for the first time, so I got to experience the pleasure of finding and photographing new restroom signs all over the park (much to the chagrin of my family, and to the confusion of the other park visitors!). We only had 1 day in each of DLP's 2 theme parks (Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park), and I wanted to spend most of it on rides, not on finding restrooms, so this list is by no means complete. However, I think I've got enough samples to convince me that the tradition of beautiful and clever restroom signs is alive and well at Disneyland Paris. Check out the photos below and see if you agree with me!

Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate: UK vs US

One of the things we enjoy most about visiting England is eating chocolate! While I do love an occasional (okay, frequent) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey's Kiss or and M&M's, they pale in comparison to a Galaxy, Aero, or Cadbury Dairy Milk bar. British chocolates are just so much creamier and chocolaty-er than US chocolate! It's not just my imagination; the minimum percentage of cocoa content required in the US to be labeled as "chocolate" is 10%, while in the UK and Ireland the minimum percentage is 20%. While our true chocolate loyalties lie with Belgian chocolate (minimum 35% cocoa content), as far as chocolate candy bars are concerned we are diehard Cadbury fans.

However, if you live in the US, don't be fooled by the Cadbury bars you see being sold in drugstores and grocery stores. Those aren't made by the UK-based Cadbury company; they are actually manufactured by The Hershey Company in Hershey, PA! Hershey won the rights to manufacture and sell Cadbury chocolate to the US market in 1988. They import the Cadbury chocolate "base" -- a mixture of powdered cocoa, milk, and sugar known as "crumb" -- from the UK, but the end formulation is slightly different. Can you taste the difference? The answer is a resounding YES.

Trading pins at Disneyland Paris

One of my favorite things to do at a Disney park is trade pins. They're the perfect souvenir because they're small, inexpensive, and long-lasting. They're a lot of fun to trade, even for casual traders like me. My pins would be of no interest to the serious pin trader who owns dozens of binders of rare pins worth thousands of dollars, but many Disney park cast members wear lanyards filled with pins, and they are happy to trade any pin you want with them, up to two pins per day. Most of the pins sold in the parks are sold in all parks, but there are some pins that are exclusive to each park. So when we planned our first-ever visit to Disneyland Paris, I was determined to carve out some time to browse, buy, and trade pins.

12 ways Disneyland Paris differs from Disneyland California

Disneyland Paris

Disney has six theme parks around the world -- Florida, California, Japan, Paris, Hong Kong, and now Shanghai. Disney parks are not a "once-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all" kind of thing. All parks stay true to the Disney brand, and many experiences will be the same. The Disney characters are the same, many of the rides are the same, even whole areas are the same. In all parks, you'll enjoy immaculate surroundings, friendly cast members, an immersive experience, and attention to detail. But each park has quite a few things unique to the park, and to the culture of the host country, so each park will give visitors a unique experience. That's why I want to visit all the Disney Parks around the world before I die!