Home for Halloween? An adoption story

This is why Halloween is Pat Miller's favorite holiday.I love my children.

That’s not an unusual thing to say. Most parents love their children in a way they find hard to describe and might not even have imagined was possible before those children arrived.

But while I always love my children, I love them most this time of year. Right around Halloween.

Why? It all goes back 17 years or so. At that time, my husband and I had filed paperwork to adopt a child from China and were waiting to be matched with a baby. All things considered, we were being very calm and very patient.

Until our social worker left a message saying there might be a problem. We called back and found out that China was re-evaluating its rules for international adoption, and our application might be denied because we were younger than their stated age preference for parents. We would have to wait for a government committee miles and miles and miles away to make a decision.

Until that happened, our adoption was on hold.

As we waited, less patiently and less calmly, Halloween came. As each costumed toddler came to my door and looked up at me with wondering eyes or whispered, “Trick or treat!” I felt sadder. Eventually, I let myself indulge in some self-pity.

These people all had children. I did not. Maybe I never would. It wasn’t fair.

Once, I was telling this story to a friend – trying to explain why Halloween was my favorite holiday. She interrupted me at this point to say, “This is a horrible story! How can Halloween be your favorite holiday when that happened?”

Halloween is, indeed, my favorite holiday, but it isn’t because of the Halloween I didn’t have my daughter. It’s because of the Halloween that happened one year later.

By then, China had determined its guidelines. We had qualified to adopt, and we’d even traveled to China and returned with our oldest daughter.

By that Halloween, she was 18 months old. We dressed her in the cutest pumpkin costume ever and she toddled around the neighborhood holding my hand and looking up at everyone who answered the door with wondering eyes.

I would have enjoyed those moments under any circumstances. But comparing my happiness that Halloween to my sadness the previous one made the first Halloween with my daughter that much sweeter.

So every Halloween, I remember how thankful I am for that little pumpkin, who has grown up into a talented, intelligent and only occasionally exasperating teen.

She and I won’t be trick-or-treating this Halloween, but I will definitely be remembering how thankful I am that she is in my life. 

30 Days of ThanksEditor's note: Give yourself permission to practice gratitude! Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks. 

Posted by Pat Zietlow Miller on Wed, Oct 30 2013 12:31 pm

How to pick the perfect pumpkin for Halloween

How to pick the perfect pumpkin for Halloween.

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).

Angry Birds pumpkinUse 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!

Posted by Tom Buchheim on Tue, Oct 08 2013 8:17 am