My kids call me a genius. At least when it comes to carving pumpkins, that is.
Each year, we spend an October day carving up Halloween pumpkins for the front porch. But it doesn't take genius, really. You just need some creative ideas, the right tools and a steady, patient hand.
Oh, and the right pumpkins.
I didn't give much thought to picking the perfect pumpkin, but that's really where creativity meets function. You'll find as much fun -- or frustration -- based on your choice.
Here are eight of my tips for picking the perfect pumpkin:
Go early in the season. You'll find a better selection. It's that simple. And be sure to use locally-grown pumpkins whenever possible. It's good for the economy -- and the environment.
Have a plan. Before you pick pumpkins, have a rough idea for what you're carving. Choose properly-sized pumpkins for the job you have in mind. That includes overall size (small, medium or large) and shape (round, tall).
Use a pattern. My kids and I spend time searching for carving patterns (online and in stores -- including this Angry Birds pattern), and we work together to choose ones we think are creative and challenging, but meet our abilities. Using a pattern is OK!
Go big or go home. If you've planned an intricate, highly-detailed carving job, spend the extra money and get a big 'ol jack-o-lantern. It'll make for a little more work, but the finished product will be all that more impressive.
Smooth it out. Look for smooth surfaces on your pumpkins. These make carving -- and the design prework (putting a pattern on the pumpkin) easier.
Clean it out. This is my least favorite part of carving pumpkins, so I outsource it to my children. They get a kick out of rolling up their sleeves and getting a little slimy pulling the "guts" out.
Clean it up. When you're finished carving, give your pumpkin a quick wipe-down with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any leftover carvings.
Light it up. Use an appropriately-sized candle (or light) for your creation. Make sure it'll last all night, or be prepared with backup candles.
What are your must-haves for the perfect pumpkin? Leave us a comment. Oh, and happy Halloween!
Here’s some food for thought: You can learn a lot of valuable life lessons at the dinner table.
Okay, I’m not what you call a foodie philosopher. But I do know that preparing, consuming and sharing food can be as enriching for the mind and soul as it is for the body.
Here’s a smorgasbord of random lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen and the dining room.
Take risks: Experimenting with different ingredients can be a little risky, but can yield surprisingly savory new dishes. Likewise, changing your routine and seeking new experiences can be just what you need.
Give it your best: Cooking from scratch requires time, work and patience, but it’s always tastier than fast foods. Investing time and effort into the things that matter in life pays the biggest dividends, too.
Enjoy simple pleasures: Sometimes juicy peaches, s’mores or grilled burgers are as lip-smacking as haute cuisine. Seeking enjoyment in simplicity can be very satisfying and gratifying.
Everything in moderation: Too many sweets and the resulting stomachaches teach us the value of moderation. Restraint can help preserve our well-being, and increase our enjoyment of life’s “treats.”
‘Too many cooks’ is better: My favorite meals have involved cooking alongside others. It’s fun and gets better results. That’s why collaborating and cooperating with others always is a “best practice.”
Expand your horizons: Trying new dishes opens up new possibilities. Case in point: my family’s exploration of Mediterranean cuisine made us healthier, and inspired us to visit that part of the world.
We are what we eat: Achieving variety in our diets helps us feel better and healthier. Similarly, our experiences shape who we are. The more experiences we seek, the wiser we become.
What lessons have you learned from cooking and dining?
Feel free to leave a comment below – we’d love to hear what you can bring to the table.
Editor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here. You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.
I have always known that time around the family dinner table is the best nourishment we can give our families.
It is about so much more than just the food that is served. It is something that the entire family looks forward to. It is about commitment to each other, working together and encouragement. In my heart I know that this is the most important thing I have done for my family. The family table is not only where our family is nurtured, it is where dreams are born.
As a mother of four, getting dinner on the table has always been a priority, but I don’t think I truly understood the impact our family meals had on my family until the day my oldest left for college. When asked what she would miss most about home, she responded: "The time we spend together in the kitchen. I can’t imagine not being home on Sunday for dinner."
Her words had such a profound effect on me. At that moment I realized that time around the family table meant as much to my children as it did to me.
We love shopping together and planning new recipes around seasonal ingredients. Whether it’s a trip to the farmers’ market, our local grocer, or stopping by our favorite ethnic market, Saturday mornings are all about planning our Sunday supper meal and setting the stage for the rest of the week.
Shopping, planning recipes, cooking together, and ultimately conversing around our kitchen table has become a tradition our family looks forward to. Witnessing how our meals have shaped my own family inspired me to start the Sunday Supper movement. Our mission is to bring back Sunday supper around the family table in every home. It starts off as one day a week, but soon becomes a way of life.
Many times when we think about the words dream and future, we immediately relate it to future generations. We think of our children and their dreams and how we can inspire them.
But dreaming isn’t just for kids.
My dream started with my family around our kitchen table. The day my oldest left for college, she inspired me to start my blog, Family Foodie. I wanted to encourage families to spend more time together in the kitchen. Beyond my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the future that was ahead of me.
I am so excited and honored to be visiting the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Oct. 13th. I will be talking about my dreams and will host a live #SundaySupper back to the #FamilyDinnerTable cooking event with tips to plan easy weekly dinners for busy families.
Editor's note: Join Isabel Laessig as she invites your family back to the table with delectable inspiration at DreamBank! From savvy tips for stocking your pantry to time-saving techniques and recipes, Isabel’s live demonstration will help you rediscover the pleasures of eating together with the ones you love.
Each participant will get to take home a meal for four to enjoy with their families! This event is limited to 30 food lovers, so RSVP now! Can't make it to Madison? Join the live Google Plus Hangout and watch from the comfort of your computer. Learn more on the American Family Insurance Google Plus page.
My daughter, Kailey, was just six years old and learning to ride a bike without training wheels when her father passed away.
He had a high-risk job as a federal law-enforcement agent involving a lot of overseas travel. While life-threatening danger was always part of his job, he died unexpectedly of heart disease. He was only 46.
His death was a complete surprise. He worked out regularly, ate healthy, and had annual physicals. He had never been diagnosed with any heart conditions and never showed any signs of heart issues.
Unfortunately, he didn’t believe in life insurance.
Every time I brought up the subject, he didn't want to talk about it. Although we divorced the year before his death, part of the agreement was that he purchase life insurance for Kailey’s financial support in case of his death. Knowing his beliefs, I didn’t force the issue.
When he passed away, Kailey received some funds from his life insurance and 401(k) through work. These have been invested and will help pay tuition when she goes to college. Fortunately, we don’t have to use this money for day-to-day expenses.
As an insurance agent, this has shown me personally how important it is to consider rising college costs when families calculate their future financial needs with respect to providing financial security to their family.
I’m even more passionate when I think about the future and not just the present. According to the College Board and a May 13, 2013 New York Times article, tuition and fees at state colleges increased 72 percent – 29 percent for nonprofit colleges – from 2001 to 2011. If something should ever happen to a parent who plans on sending their children to college, a well thought out life insurance plan can help their family realize that dream.
No life insurance policy can replace the loss of a loved one. It can however, replace their earning power to ease future financial challenges.
For the sake of your family’s future plans and dreams, talk about life insurance today. Eight years ago, I learned the hard way that tomorrow may be too late.
With all of the meetings I participate in there is one that I believe to be the most successful meeting I have ever encountered.
This meeting happens seven days a week with the most important people I have ever met. Every member of this meeting comes to the table eager to discuss the day’s events and progress they have personally achieved in a day’s work looking for insight into the future as well as share their personal thoughts on upcoming events.
Family meeting agenda
During this meeting home cooked meals are prepared and shared with participants. Once everyone has been served we move across the table ensuring each and every one has the opportunity to discuss their accomplishments for the day.
When things are not quite going right our team works together to determine the best possible solution for moving forward and the entire group must agree on all decisions.
Common topics include homework, chores, friends, work, personal choices, community involvement, politics, human rights, and anything and everything that has an effect on anything important to anyone who sits at this meeting.
Participant ages have been as young as 1 day old and each and every voice heard at this meeting is equally important. Attendance to this meeting is required by everyone.
Family meeting outcomes
As result of our family meetings we have seen an increased communication level across all members outside of dinnertime compared to families who are not currently participating in this process; allowing collaboration on vital decision makings of individual family members across the board.
As a proud parent of three amazing little girls I couldn’t ask for anything more.
How to conduct a family meeting
1. Assign meeting coordinators
- Meal preparer specialist
- Table-setter specialist
- Beverage authorities
- After-meeting cleanup specialists
2. Take turns around the table discussing everyone’s day
3. Enjoy each other’s company
That’s it! It’s really that simple. Why not give it a try if you haven’t already? Your family will thank you for it.
Editor’s note: Share your favorite family recipes on our entry form, which you can find on the American Family Insurance Facebook page. We’ll include some select recipes and stories in our upcoming Back to the Table electronic cookbook.