31 October 2011

History of Halloween

The last October Post of the month is here! It's gone by so quickly. Today we'll be doing a brief history of Halloween to celebrate the day. :)

The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain was a New Year's celebration. November 1st was considered New Year's day, marking the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the darker, colder months. The Celts believed that on this transitional day, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became thin and blurred, so ghosts could walk among the living. Samhain is a fire feast, so it was traditionally celebrated with bonfires, predicting the future and wearing costumes to scare away any spirits that came near.

When the Roman conquered the Celts, two Roman holidays started to blend with the tradition of Samhain. Feralia was a late October Roman holiday the commemorate the passing of the dead. Another holiday celebrated Ponoma, the goddess of fruits and trees. Her symbol is the apple and is commonly believed to be the origin of the bobbing for apples tradition.

Later, the Catholic Church declared that the November 1st would be All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs in feast. As this celebration spread, it started to replace some of the old Celtic and Roman rituals, which all blurred together further. It was typically celebrated with bonfires and costumes of saints, angels and devils. The day was called "All-hallows" or "All-hallowsmas". The day before (also the traditional day of Samhain) became known as "All-hallowes-eve", which eventually evolved into the Halloween we know today.

Halloween came to America along with immigrants. It was much more popular in the southern colonies (rather than the more puritanical New England ones) until the mid 1800s when the great potato famine in Ireland brought millions of Irish to America. This population movement helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween on a national level. As the Irish and English had done, people began to dress up and travel door to door asking for money and food, which eventually became "trick-or-treating". By the 1930s, Halloween was a secular holiday. The 1950s saw a boom in celebration just as they saw a boom in population. Trick-or-treating was considered an inexpensive way to celebrate as a community. Today it has become America's second largest commercial holiday.

If you're interested in learning more about the History of Halloween, visit History.com's Halloween page.

It's been wonderful writing these October Posts this month! I've enjoyed having the direction and getting to share with you all in the comments. Happy Halloween!

Please let me know you stopped by  in the comments below!

28 October 2011

October Post: Get Organized II

So I got some great comments on Monday's blog post about getting organized! Laura @ Catharsis shared her love of cozi.com - a site that helps you keep your life together using your tablet or smart phone. If I had a phone, I'm sure I'd be all over this. You can connect with all of your family members so that everyone uploads their schedules onto a common calendar, you can create to do lists for everyone so that you can stay on the same page. Very cool site.

Jamie @ Chosenchaos pointed me in the direct of Erin Condren organizers. You can find some gorgeous bound organizers at this site filled with bright bold colors, useful tabs and great holiday/event ideas.

Thanks for sharing!

The last organizer that I want to share with you today is all about getting ready for the holidays. The blog eighteen25 brings us this awesome holiday organizer for those of you with long lists of holiday cheer to spread. The site gives you a step-by-step rundown of how to create your own holiday organizer from a composition notebook, some scrapbook or wrapping paper and some of their nifty printables. They even help you create tabs for your coupons, your gift lists, your Christmas cards and that calendar to help count down to the big day. If you're big on the holidays and always feel the stress come on the week before Thanksgiving, then this is the book for you.

Leave a comment to let me know you stopped by! Tell me how you beat the holiday stress and keep yourself organized.  :)

26 October 2011

On writing

So... I've been in a bit of a dry spell in the writing department. We all have them. It's led me to no little frustration of late, because I find myself wanting to sit down and write, but not having a whole lot to say. It doesn't help that I'm pulled between projects. I have a fanfic (oh God - so embarrassing to admit) project that I've been writing for way too long, but haven't finished, I have another floating on the edges of my brain and an original writing project that I've been toying with for years, but that just hasn't gotten there in the plot. Add work, home life and school to that and I've got myself a real mess. 

I got some advice a while back about poetry, but I think it could work with anything really. I was told to read some authors that I like, that are good and that are successful. Take their work and copy their style closely for a while until you get what they're doing. Try this with more than one author (obviously) and see how different authors shape their craft. Somewhere in the middle of it, you'll start to get how the professionals do it, but you'll probably develop your own voice in the middle. 

I find that it's time to take this advice, even if it is months and months later. I've picked a few authors that I think are successful in one aspect or another and I will be looking to them for some structure, pacing and tone (hopefully). I'll try to post some of my writings here. 

What do you do when you're in a writing rut? How do you push yourself out of a dry spell?

24 October 2011

October Post: And you thought you were busy before

This week's October posts will be dedicated to the current state of affairs in my household: BUSY! I know that I've been having a tough time fitting it all in and as we start creeping up on those big family holidays (Halloween - especially for those with kids, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's), work and shopping and cooking and cleaning and cards and every last thing that you never wanted to worry about at the same time will all start coming together.

Breathe folks! Don't let that above paragraph give you anxiety. This week's going to be about keeping it all under control, setting some goals for ourselves and keeping a master plan. The thing to do isn't to try to organize your life in one swift go - it's to start by making small parts of your life organized and then starting to organize outward.

The first resource I'm going to talk about is an entire website getting and staying organized. The ladies at Get Buttoned Up are some serious planning people! They have lists for reducing your lists - which is meta-listing. That's how serious these women get.

But you don't have to be that serious (or even have obsessive compulsive tendencies) to use some of the fabulous resources that these ladies make available for free on their Free Tools and Downloads page. Here's my favorite list that I've started using:

I started using this for midterm goals (a few months) and I've found that it really worked for me. It's great to be able to break a project down into small pieces and set deadlines for yourself. I created this chart and found that I actually got ahead on the first three tasks, so I had time to do the last two at a slower, more reasonable pace. This could be used for holiday planning, your Christmas list, cooking for Thanksgiving, arranging a party, or just getting a project done around the house. 

Another great resource that I don't think people use enough is a calendar. When I think of calendar use, I tend to think of the one calendar at my parents house on which the birthdays get written every year. Once a month (usually) my parents sit down and write general plans that they know about on the calendar and then it hangs on the wall... never to be touched again. Or at least not usually. 

Personally, I've taken to using a weekly planner, which helps me keep my job and master's work in order - gotta keep those deadlines straight! There are, however, dozens of ways to make calendars more accessible and useful:
-Set up a dry erase board weekly calendar on your fridge. Use it to remember which nights you or the kids have events and activities, plan meals for the week, remind yourself that there's a birthday you really shouldn't miss on Thursday and that Wednesday is the day you're husband/roommate/live in occupational therapist has a late deadline, so you're only cooking for one. 
- Find a nice planner that you feel comfortable writing down goals and making plans in.
- Create your own holiday planner, complete with calendar and lists of to dos on a manageable schedule (MORE ON THIS FRIDAY).

Get free calendars from sites like Calendar Labs where you can find free printable calendars of all kinds, or even your own gmail or microsoft outlook. People forget all the attachments these great accounts - and they appear right in your inbox. 

So tell me, folks. How do you organize? Or, maybe more interestingly, how do you go nuts in the fall preparing for the holidays?

Please leave me a comment and to let me know you stopped by! Also consider stopping by lovelinks, where I've submitted this post.

21 October 2011

October Post: Fall Decor II

I got a comment on my last post from Ado over at The Momalog about how all she did was throw some apples up on her mantle to decorate for the fall. This first idea is for her. :)

I think it would be so easy to do this. All it takes is a bag of apples from the grocery store, a bag of votive candles from the dollar store and a knife. Make a hole in the apple large enough for the votive to fit in. If you want the streaky wax thing, then I suggest you light a separate candle (a taper might work best) and drip the wax on your apple radiating from the votive.

The best thing about this picture is that the apples look so delicious, even though they're covered in wax. It really brings that harvest feeling, even if we're not looking at wheat or grain of some kind.

So, Ado, this one's for you!

Source: None via Carina on Pinterest

This next one is also being posted due to the response from my last post. Everyone really liked the fall leaves in hurricane lamps for the dining room, so here's another idea for those wine drinkers out there (and I do know you're out there - I've been talking to you all about it since the guilty pleasures listicle happened on Monday!).

Instead of putting pine cones and fallen leaves in your hurricane lamps, try filling them with corks. The candles get their own cylinder vases on the inside of these so that the corks stay separate and not burned. The center vase also helps keep the corks lined up in a nice even pattern. 

This doesn't have to be a candle thing either, though I like the glow from behind the corks. You could put fall flowers or even some bare branches in the center vase to give that autumn feeling. 

As you can probably tell after a month's worth of October posts, I have a love for owls. I've been collecting them for years, so I can't help but put another cute pumpkin owl idea out for those of you who haven't yet done your carving. 

I love the way that the carver didn't go all the way through for the wings, because when a candle shines through at night, it'll give a different appearance from the parts that are carved all the way through. I like pumpkin carvings with good texture. :)

Stay tuned for next week's October Posts. I don't have a theme picked out yet, but I'm sure I'll get more Halloween-y as we get closer to the 31st. 

Did you try any of the decorating ideas that I posted? If not, what inspired your decorations this fall?

17 October 2011

Fall Decor

This week's October Posts are going to be about fall decor.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I spend much of the little free time I have on pinterest. I've been using it to search for fun, beautiful and spooky ways to decorate for the fall.

The first decoration on the list today would make a great pumpkin carving alternative. For those of you who prefers to not have to buy one of those mini serrated knife kits every year only to realize you can't think of anything creative to carve into your pumpkin, this is for you.

This creative, diy project comes from Page Turners Hollow. There are some great links to resources for these lovely silhouettes (don't worry! you don't have to draw these by hand).

For those of you who like  to have a wreath year around, this is a great Halloween alternative to winter greens or fresh flowers.

A few old newspapers or a book and a wreath form is all it takes to make the base for these bats to flutter around your doorway. Visit Heidi over at Vacuuming in High Heels & Pearls for simple directions.

Source: themerrymagpievintage.com via Carina on Pinterest

Who can resist hurricane lamps in autumn? These are a great fall decor addition to a dining room or living room and they'll last you through Thanksgiving.

I can't help it! I have to put a cute pumpkin owl in. I know that everyone's into owls right now, but I've been collecting for a while and I thought this was adorable. It's another great way to not have to carve your pumpkin while getting to ride the hayride to pick one out.

What kind of decorations are you putting up this fall? Feel free to link to pictures of your place in the comments. :)

This post has been added to lovelinks this week. Check it out at its new space!

14 October 2011

October Post: Halloween Food!

So this week's October Post theme has been food and today we're looking at some Halloween treats.

Owl Oreo Cupcakes

I found this wonderful picture on Pinterest, but when I followed the link there was no recipe. That being said, these cute little owls seem to be fairly self explanatory:

1) Make your favorite cupcake recipe and frost your cupcakes with chocolate frosting.
2) Disassemble some oreo cookies, keeping all of the ends with the frosting still attached set aside for the eyes. (Save the non-frosted sides to make an oreo pie crust.)
3) Place your frosted oreo halves on the frosted cupcakes to make the owl eyes. Put reese's pieces or even candy dots on the white frosting for pupils.
4) Take the orange reese's pieces and stick the in the crack between the oreos for the beak.

Voila! Owl Oreo Cupcakes.

Candy Corn Sugar Cookies

The Kathie Cooks blog posted the recipe for these adorable cookies that depict one of the most iconic Halloween candy treats: candy corn.

This recipe is really simple and comes down to dying your dough and layering it in a baking dish so that you can cut your cookies into neat triangles. The sugar cookie dough recipe can be the one you prefer, but I like Kathie's idea of adding some lemon juice and lemon zest into the dough for a cookie full of flavor.

For the last set of recipe's I have to send you to a blog that is swiftly becoming one of my favorites: The Pastry Affair. The author spent a part of her summer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida and brought some of the book treats brought to life home with her. She spent sometime experimenting and came up with some great recipes for Honeyduke's Treats, Cauldron Cakes, Butterbeer, and Butterbeer Cupcakes.

Check out these sweet treats and whip up a few for yourself.

What are your favorite Halloween treats? Do you think you'll try any of these recipes?

13 October 2011

Books and Guest Blogging


Just a week update:

I've gotten my first opportunity to be a guest blogger over at freefringes as a guest judge in the lovelinks contest this month! Check out my vote and freefringes. :)

Also, I recently finished a book called The Tavernier Stones: A Novel by Stephen Parrish. It was one of those almost DaVinci Code type deals, but with diamonds and rubies and no one found out they were related to Jesus. It wasn't bad. It was written by a cartographer/gemologist about a thief, a model, some criminals, a detective and an Amish guy... yes, an Amish guy. It was kinda fun escapist literature at least.

23) The Tavernier Stones

So close to reaching my goal. Only 7 more books this year!

12 October 2011

Some Self Reflection

Things have been so crazy and busy with school and work and everything that falls outside of those two categories that I've barely felt I had a moment to myself recently. I'm trying to make my workouts a mental muscle-memory reaction, be an efficient employee, prepare for my project and testing, keep my expanding philosophical thoughts expanding at their exponential rate by participating in some interesting conversations, and keep up my end in the blogosphere.

Many of these things are supposed to be outlets for the stress, but lately they've all been jumbled up with it. My husband asked me yesterday a bit about how I'm approaching life* and why I gather stress, so that I can remember how to let that stress go. What do I really need to work on and use as a focus for my activities?

This led me to some self-reflection about how I'm looking at the world. The great thing about liking to look at things holistically is that everything is connected. The bad thing about liking to look at things holistically is that everything is connected. It's great to be able to carry the good moments and connect them to the more mundane bits of my life, but it's difficult when stress becomes the overriding factor of the interconnected world I live in. While compartmentalization could be a simple solution to this problem, I don't like to chop my life up into bits. I needed to remind myself that when it comes to helping others, I like to keep positive about the options and possible paths ahead of them in hopes that they'll see the positive paths too. That is an outlook that I should carry over into every aspect of my life. There are several areas in my life in which I've been searching for a dao (a path, a way) to walk. Sometimes it looks like there's no path ahead of me that isn't painful and stressful and dark and dreary. I realized yesterday that this isn't the case. What makes the paths look that way is that I'm resistant to them.

It's time to spread my positive attitude to the stressful parts of my life. The fact is I have to walk a path. Why not like the path I'm walking? After all, this is what I'm making of myself.

What path are you walking? When do you set aside time to reflect? Please feel free to leave a comment!

*I must say, this is one of the many fabulous perks of being married to a philosopher. It's in his job description to think about and question and prod things. It makes for an interesting time around the house.

10 October 2011

Fall Foods

This week's October Posts are going to be all about food! I love all kinds of food, but when the days start getting colder and the fresh fruits start to thin out in the grocery aisles, we know it's that time of year again: the time when every recipe includes something canned; when slow, hot and savory describes your menu (and not just your bedroom life); when you've stopped worrying about how you look in your bathing suit and have started thinking of fattening up to hibernate for the winter. This week will include some recipes for all of us - including those who cringe at the idea of fattening up for hibernation.

Today I've got four recipes for you:

1) Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

Now I know what you're thinking - "This doesn't have any of those things you mentioned above!" - but it certainly could. This hot and savory dish could easily be modified to work in a crock pot. If I were making it, this is how I'd do it: (note this recipe has not been tested - I don't have a crock pot in Hong Kong to cook it in or I would!)
1) Saute your onions and garlic.
2) Cut your chicken breasts into desired size for soup.
3) Add your broth (with maybe some extra), cilantro, onions, garlic, chicken  and chilies into the crock pot. I might also add some chunky canned tomatoes rather than extra broth at this step.
4) Let slow cook for several hours.
5) Before serving, stir in lime juice and add avocado slices to each bowl.

Suddenly an otherwise 30 minute soup has become a stew-like crock pot meal for those cool fall nights.

2) Sweet Potato Hummus 

Sweet potatoes are a key fall food. They're also a great health food. Sweet potatoes are very low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Add to that their high dietary fiber and vitamin C content and we're looking at a pretty good, healthy food.

I love hummus, but I'm not fond of the sweetness of sweet potatoes. I do, however like red pepper hummus and this great recipe from Whole Family Fare claims to get close to that red pepper taste. I know this recipe will be on my list to make!

This recipe could bring some fall flavor to your lunch, as an appetizer for a dinner meal, or even add some elegance to an otherwise raging, cheese-dip filled football party. (Not that I'm against cheese-dips. I love cheese. More than I'm allowed to admit to my health-nut husband.)

3) Low-fat Pumpkin Bread with Pepitas

I know, I know... LOW FAT. But this recipe is naturally low fat. It doesn't contain any reduced fat dairy products, no reduced-anything substitutes and you can pronounce all of the ingredients. Promise.

The nice thing about this recipe is it gives you all the pumpkin flavor and moist bready goodness of a quick bread without the added fats. Skinnytaste.com gives you a healthy recipe with all of the weight watchers point information if that's something like to do.

This could be a great substitute for high sugar desserts. I imagine it would go really well served warm with a cup of hot apple cider or spiced wine.

And last, but not least...

4) Cute Wicked Witch Cupcakes

I decided that each post must contain at least one Halloween food and these were too cute to pass up.

Not everyone is a fan of Martha Stewart, but you don't have to be to get some great ideas for making witchy cupcakes. They would be a great group activity - and kid friendly too. Assembling your own witch cupcake could bring out the artist in your friends for at a Halloween party.

Ahhh... there's nothing like getting into the season.

Tune in Wednesday for a regular post and Friday for another Fall Foods October Post.

What are your favorite fall foods?

07 October 2011

Autumn Halloween GIFs

In light of the  "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" post this week, I've found some great GIFs to brighten up your autumn or Halloween blogs entries and websites.

I think this is my favorite of all:

Please remember none of these are my own work and to follow the links under each image to go back to the source and spread the love there if you choose to use one.

Tune in next week for more autumn/Halloween posts!

Which GIF is your favorite?

05 October 2011

The 9th Day of the 9th Lunar Cycle

Today in Hong Kong is the Chung Yeung Festival, or the Double Ninth Festival. Nine is a very auspicious number in Chinese tradition. It is the yang number. Yang is the light part of the yin yang. Apparently the double 9s is just too active, masculine, and hot (temperature, people - keep your mind out of the gutter) for anyone to be having.

If all that activity is allowed to remain in us and around us, it'll be too much to handle - we won't be able to maintain balance. So, the Chinese pick this day for a holiday in which we can let out that activity and sweep the cobwebs out behind it. Drinking chrysanthemum tea or climbing a high mountain are considered good ways of cleansing and getting that energy out. Some people also use the day to visit the graves of their ancestors.

Personally, I plan on going up to the roof, doing some tai chi, meditating on those who have passed and getting some good ol' relaxing in.

How do you unwind?

03 October 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

If you didn't see it in my last post, I have promised to post October-y, Halloween-y, Autumn-y goodness here at Make of Myself at least twice a week for the entire month. Mondays and Fridays you'll get themed posts with other posts on Wednesdays. This week, our topic is (of course) PUMPKINS!

If there is one thing that starts to magically appear in stores in large quantities as of September 1st every year, it's pumpkins. Real pumpkin, plastic jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin paper plates - you name it, we got it! By why the pumpkin you ask?

Originally, it wasn't the pumpkin. In the Celtic cultures (as Scottish, Irish and Welsh cultures tend to be invariably denoted), it was turnips. Just think it we all tried to empty and carve turnips every year! They're so small and it would be hard to fit a candle in one. The pumpkin didn't have its Halloween hay day until Halloween became popular in the Americas - where pumpkins are plentiful.

The story of the jack-o-lantern comes from an Irish tale of Jack the blacksmith who made a deal with the Devil and was therefore denied entry into heaven. Since he was doomed to walk the earth, he asked the Devil for some light. The Devil gave him a burning ember which he placed in a turnip with the center gouged out. The Irish would hang lanterns and carved turnips in hopes of keeping the damned, wandering soul from coming near their homes. When the traditions of Halloween made their way across the pond, pumpkins were more common than turnips (and, I imagine, easier to carve due to their size).

Last year the world's largest (and by largest I mean heaviest) pumpkin record was set anew. The 2009 record setter was a 1.725 pound pumpkin. In 2010, a man from Wisconsin broke that record with a 1,810 and a half pound pumpkin! That's a lot of pumpkin.

Of course, ever fall between October 1st and Thanksgiving, the most classic dessert on the menu is Pumpkin Pie. Today I'm linking you up with Food Network Paula Deen's recipe here. I picked this particular recipe for two reasons: 1) Paula uses mashed canned pumpkin (and canned in my house means something you do to preserve food, not something you by from the store) and 2) because Paula Deen has broken a personal record by only requiring a mere half stick of butter in this recipe (an all time low!). If you're a pumpkin pie fan (sadly, I'm not), then try this out and comment to tell me how it was.

The last pumpkin-y topic on our list for the day, but certainly not the least is The Great Pumpkin. Charles Schulz first wrote Linus van Pelt talking about The Great Pumpkin in 1959, through he has (not) appeared many times since. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first appeared in 1966. Every since then we've all been waiting most sincerely with Linus for The Great Pumpkin to appear. He is reputed to only appear in very sincere pumpkin patches to give gifts to good boys and girls. He is not to be confused with Santa Claus, whose job it is to bring gifts to children; The Great Pumpkin has a moral obligation to fulfill in his gift delivering (or so Linus explained to Lucy in 1960). Sadly, The Great Pumpkin has yet to appear for Linus van Pelt, but he still faithfully awaits.

I don't know about all of you, but I'm looking forward to waiting for The Great Pumpkin with Linus this year by enjoying all of the pumpkin paraphernalia!

What pumpkin-y things have you picked up?

01 October 2011

Rabbit, Rabbit

Well, folks, it's rabbit, rabbit day (the first day) of my favorite month of the year. It's my goal to post October-y, Halloween-y, Autumn-y goodness here at least twice a week for the entire month. Mondays and Fridays will be my October days (with other posts on Wednesdays in between).

As the first official day of October I'm going to share this beautifully crafted tree I found on Pinterest. I love the colors of the leaves. While they're not the traditional reds and yellows all the way around, they remind me of seeing the leaves change color at home and the beginning of that time of transition. The great thing about this tree is that it's a DIY project. All you need are some leafless tree branches, bits of scrapbook paper cut into leaf shapes, some floral wire and a vase. If you don't have leaves changing where you are, you can always create your own instead.

Welcome to the new site! If you didn't see about the move from Ren Bi Mo, then check it out here. Despite the change of venue all of your favorite (and even your least favorite) posts have followed me here. Just check out the archive for old Ren Bi Mo writing.

How are you transitioning into Autumn?