Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dinner in a Pumpkin

In my last post, I alluded to our pumpkin tradition. Here is a big part of the story.

When we lived in the little town of Moorpark, the bishop of our ward was a gentle giant of a man from Idaho. He and his family were just plain good people. The ward was full of wonderful, "just plain good people."

One Sunday I happened to be talking to the youngest daughter in the bishop's family. She was a bit anxious for church to be over, not because she didn't want to be there, but because she was excited to go home to eat her very favorite lunch!

The reason for her enthusiasm - a scrumptious, available-only-in-the-autumn, meal they called Dinner in a Pumpkin. With a review like she gave, I HAD to have that recipe. The bishop's wife was genuinely happy to share it with me, and I am equally as happy to be able to share it with you.

The Woody family has enjoyed Dinner in a Pumpkin at least once each fall for quite a few years now, for as long as the girls can remember, I'm sure. We've already had it once this year, and it's still sugar pumpkin season so we may get to make it again! We didn't take pictures this year, so I'm going to share the recipe with pictures from a few years ago (2004). THAT year, we documented the whole process because it was the first time that the girls really got involved in the tradition.

Step 1: Get one large (9-12" diameter), or two to three small (5-6" diameter) sugar pumpkins. These are NOT the same as the ones you carve to make jack-o-lanterns. They're sometimes called pie pumpkins. If your produce manager is inexperienced, they may just be labeled "small" pumpkins. We usually use two of the small ones, and depending on their size, there is usually a bit of filling left over. (More on this in a later step.)

Step 2: Cut a lid on the pumpkin(s), as though you were going to carve a jack-o-lantern.

Ask your charming assistant to hold the pumpkin which is waiting its turn to be, um, prepared. It will make both you AND the pumpkin feel better. :o)

Step 3: Scoop out the "pumpkin guts" so that it is as clean and smooth as possible inside.

Be sure to save the lid(s) to be used later during baking, AND the seeds.

You can toast those in the oven with a little salt later! They add a nice crunch if you sprinkle a few on a salad or a bowl of pumpkin soup.)

Step 4: Chop, dice, or slice 1 1/2 cups celery, 1 cup white onion, (we actually use onion powder instead)and 1 cup mushrooms. You could also add bell peppers, if you were so inclined, which our family is not!

Step 5: Inspect your pumpkins, inside and out, to make sure there are no remaining seeds or "strings."


Step 6: Saute the celery, mushrooms, and onions in a small amount of olive oil.

Step 7: Add 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey, which we prefer) to the veggie mix and cook until browned.

Step 8: While you are browning the meat, cook 2 cups of rice.

Step 9: When the meat is nicely browned, add 1 can of cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup.

Step 10: Add the following ingredients to the meat mixture: cooked rice, 1 1/2 cups low-sodium soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. (Optional ingredients can be added now as well: 1/2 cup chopped olives, 1/4-1/2 cup raisins, 1 tsp. oregano, and/or 1 tablespoon chili powder.)

Step 11: "Stuff" the pumpkin(s) with the meat, veggie, and rice mixture.

Keep filling... you'll make it!

Step 12: Replace the lid(s). (Put them on tightly... NOT askew like they are in the picture.) If the pumpkin(s) won't fit into the oven with the lid(s) on, cover the top with alumium foil instead, to help keep the juices in. Place in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet (unless you really enjoy cleaning ovens!). If you had leftover meat mixture, you can put it in a casserole dish, cover, and bake it along with the pumpkins.

Step 13: Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. It may take a little longer if you use one big pumpkin. Just check for doneness of the pumpkin using a toothpick or fork. It should be soft, but not mushy.

Step 14: To serve, remove the lid(s) and slice into wedges (like a pie). You can either eat the meat mixture along with the pumpkin, or scrape it off to one side, butter the pumpkin like squash, and eat it separately. Jelly and Doodle prefer theirs separate, because they prefer that someone else takes the "skin" off the pumpkin.

Step 15: ENJOY!

Try this. It's more than a recipe, it's a family adventure.

You may just find yourselves with a new autumn tradition.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Irvine Park Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins have been a part of our family's fall tradition for what seems like always, but visiting a pumpkin patch has not. Oh, we took the girls every year when they were little, but shortly after we moved here we became disenchanted with patches when the cool one we liked to visit closed down because of unruly teens. I won't go into details, but apparently it had something to do with inappropriate and even illegal behavior in the corn maze. Jelly was SO disappointed; we kind of avoided pumpkin patches after that because NONE of them had her favorite attraction, the corn maze.

Fast forward to this year. I was recently asked to coordinate activities for our small homeschool support group, Liahona. Our goal is to have two park days and two field trips each month. In order to make that feasible, the field trips need to be mostly relatively low cost, and free is always good! We already had a trip to Griffith Park Observatory planned for later in the month, so something more local seemed to be a good idea for our other October group trip.

Long story short, we decided on a visit to Irvine Regional Park. I'd heard good things about all the fun options it offers, but in our almost-seven-years in Anaheim we'd never checked it out.

We're really glad we did!

As I mentioned, many local pumpkin patches seem to be geared to the younger kids. The Irvine Park Patch is, too, but they have more to offer than the usual. After getting some of the kids to pose for this pic...

... we explored the half-mile trail to the little Orange County Zoo. The Zoo's focus is on animals and plants native to the southwestern United States.

Jelly, her special Liahona friend, and Doodle at the duck pond.

On the trail back, the girls had a great visit with the horses and ponies at the park. You can ride them, for a fee, but just hanging out is free and lots of fun.

Back at the patch, the girls decided to check out the hay bale maze. It wasn't as cool as we hoped (we were duped by a bit of exaggerated advertising), but the haunted house was good for LOTS of laughs.

Doodle plans to scare her sister.

Okay, so they're not scared, but they ARE having fun!

"Let's go do it again! That was cool! Did you see me get them?"

We opted this time not to ride the train, saving it for another visit. Instead, we ended the visit with an informal picnic - each family providing their own version of a yummy lunch. We had a great time because we made our own fun, enjoyed simple pleasures and just being with our homeschool friends, and we made some good memories.

Maybe next fall we'll try another patch - and maybe it'll have a corn maze. Even if it doesn't, I bet we'll be glad we went.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All-American Sale

I just couldn't resist sharing this one with you!!! Check it out soon! Too good to pass by. If you've wanted to lapbook and haven't done it yet, here's your chance.

Bringing Laughter and Learning Together

It's In the Hands of a Child's

Share your excitement for the upcoming
Presidential Election and SAVE!

Save $3 off each of the All American Lapbook Project Packs listed below.
NO coupon code needed just add the unit in the format (eBook, Printed or CD) you prefer to your cart and you will have saved between 25% and 15%.

And that’s just for the basic members.
If you are a Super Member you will have saved an additional 15% on top of that for any eBook purchases.

But wait…
We Americans LOVE more ways to save RIGHT?
And you still want more RIGHT…
All shipped purchases over $30 receive a free gift with purchase ($1.50-$5.00 value)

Of course that’s NOT all!
Place a $60 order and receive our special
Meet the Candidates 2008 Project Pack eBook***
which includes more than 20 activities for you to Lapbook and covers both the Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates.
This unit will NOT be available for purchase!

And because we want to make this a sale you’ll be telling all your friends about, the corresponding Kit Packs and Answer Keys to these All American Units are 40%** off until Oct 31st as well.

Now how American is that?!!
So start spreading the word and get shopping!!! Then start Lapbooking of course!!
And for those big spenders out there, we’ll even throw in a Super Membership discount with all purchases over $80! Place an order over $80 and receive a $20 off coupon code good towards a 1 year Super Membership that you can use for yourself or pass along the savings to a friend.
(Valid towards renewal as well as new memberships!)

All American Units to Choose From:
· HOCPP 1254 Presidential Elections
· HOCPP 1032 American Government
· HOCPP 1105 September 11th, 2001
· HOCPP 1181 The American Civil War
· HOCPP 1061 The American Revolution
· HOCPP 1015 The Declaration of Independence
· HOCPP 1132 The United States Air Force
· HOCPP 1256 The United States Constitution
· HOCPP 1106 The United States Navy
· HOCPP 1238 U.S. Army: The Big Red One
· HOCPP 1104 Labor Day
· HOCPP 1149 Presidents’ Day
· HOCPP 1220 Presidents’ Day Fun

**40% is taken off the base price (eBook price) other formats will be at a slightly lower discount due to the way the cart figures the discount.

***This Project Pack will be added to qualifying orders on or before Oct 15th, 2008
Sale valid thru October 31, 2008.

Cannot be combined with any other offer, special, discount, coupon or sale.
Tax and shipping not included in calculating discount price.
Not valid toward prior purchases.
No rainchecks.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Angels in the Choir

Auditions were a couple of weeks ago. You can read all about THAT experience here.

Yes, it's true. As of last night, our entire little family is currently "in rehearsal" for the Anaheim East Stake production of "Savior of the World." We are all members of the Angel Choir. Woody will be auditioning next month for a principle role (at the request of the music director & director). He's already sporting two-week's worth of beard because of their question - "Can you grow a beard?" It has already begun to be a good missionary tool! Questions regarding the facial growth are answered with explanations about the Savior of the World. Awesome.

The rehearsal began with a wonderful devotional, which brought the spirit before we had even sung a note.

Are you ready for Jelly's description of the spirit she felt AFTER we'd sung?

"Mama, I just loved it! I didn't want it to ever stop! It was even better than when I'm playing my DS and it's working and I just want to keep going and going and going!"

Interesting, yes?

Prayers offered by both girls today have included their thanks for the great rehearsal last night.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Preparation for a Surprise!

When you rely heavily on someone to do physical things for you, managing to do something for them that is a complete surprise is a bit tricky.


The girls and I are going to take Woody/Daddy for an overnighter next weekend because it is going to be one of his significantly-numbered birthdays on Saturday. So this morning, after HE cooked breakfast for us, we did a choral reading of the following poem for him:

A Birthday Surprise, October 2008, dedicated to our own Woody
To the Daddy that we love the best,

Way more than we love all the rest,

We want you to know,

That you’re going to go,

On a trip to a place that you know.

Your birthday will be tons of fun,

We hope that we’ll see lots of sun.

This Friday we’re leaving,

So don’t you be grieving!

A surprise for you now we’re achieving!!

So it's not great poetry - something like a modified limerick form - he loved it anyway. We had to tell him that much to make sure that he's clear as far as work goes. It IS a regularly-scheduled Friday off, but that doesn't always mean that he TAKES if off. That is, unfortunately, one of the side-effects of having him work from home most of the time. Also, he'll have to help with the packing, even if it is for just one night.

We're so excited!

Hopefully he'll be over his bronchitis by then, and even more hopefully, noone else will get it.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008


...was wonderful!

It just was. Jelly's conference packet was a huge success, especially when it worked out that both Doodle and Jelly won games of conference bingo. :o)

We'll be reviewing these talks now for the six months until the next conference, hopefully soaking it all in to internalize the counsel that was given.

As Doodle says, "It was a great testimony-growing conference!"

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Friday, October 03, 2008

By the Beautiful Sea

You can read Woody's version here.

MY version goes like this:
We all woke up this morning in high anticipation of participating via satellite in the 178the Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We so look forward to the spiritual lift that comes as we listen to words of guidance and counsel. Last Monday night as part of her Family Home Evening lesson, Jelly provided a special conference packet that she and Doodle will be using to keep their focus during the four two-hour general sessions we'll watch this weekend, right from our cozy living room.

Did you catch that? FOUR TWO-HOUR SESSIONS in two days!! It's wonderful for the soul, but it does require sitting fairly quietly for a LONG TIME!!

So, to prepare our spirits to be ready for a feast, we decided that we needed to prepare our bodies to be receptive. We spent the day today "by the beautiful sea!"

We aimed the Wonderwood Academy Schoolbus at Long Beach, the only "aimed" driving that took place today until it was time to aim for home. Utilizing our membership to the Aquarium of the Pacific today means that in just one more visit it will have paid for itself already, with still almost a year to go! Hurray!!

Upon arrival, we asked the girls what they wanted to focus on today. With no hesitation, they said the wanted to see the lorikeets and the seals and sea lions.

Jelly was first up to offer the lorikeets some tasty $3 nectar. Almost before we had completely entered the aviary, this cute guy took her up on her offer.

When we had moved a few feet farther into the enclosure, it was Doodle's turn. While one lorikeet drank its fill, another sang not-so-sweetly right in Doodle's ear!

Today's visit was not our first to the lorikeets, but it was the first time the girls fed them. It was unanimously decided that this will be a new-and-improved family tradition. The giggles and smiles were clearly visible outward signs of inner joy!

After spending some awed-reflecting time with the sharks (Daddy's request, though we all enjoyed it immensely!), we moved to the seal and sea lion tank. The view from above is wonderful, but if you hang out in the underwater observation area, you are treated to some amazing displays. This tradition is already well-established!

After a yummy brunch at IHOP, we somehow ended up ON the Seal Beach pier, all of us! Pier walks have LONG been individual AND family traditions in our immediate family as well as in our extended family. I don't usually get to participate anymore, because most piers aren't terribly "accessible." I try not to complain, but I do have to admit to often getting wistful as I watch. There are just so many things to experience and when you can share them the magic of the ocean just seems to multiply exponentially!

A spontaneous snuggle with this sun-warmed seal guardian of the pier was a sweet end to a marvelous day.

Except, um, I guess the Sonic slushes we picked up on the way home were pretty sweet, too. ;o)

I declare us ready for conference!

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Taxi Dad

I know, I know... it really ought to say "Taxi Mom", but if it did, it just wouldn't be true!

We are SO blessed in our home to have a Daddy that puts his love for his family right out there where everyone can see it! One of the blessings that makes that possible for more hours of the day is a job that allows the man of our house to work from home most days. No, he doesn't have a wonderful home office where he can close the door and seclude himself from the world to focus on his assignments/teleconferences/etc. He usually works, as of late, in the dining room, sitting in a definitely-not-ergonomic-very-ancient-swivel chair that has a part in his personal history and that squeaks whenever he moves, allowing the girls and I to take over the much more comfortable living room for school. (The girls either sit curled up on the big, comfy couch, with a clipboard when needed, or use some beautiful tray tables as their desks.) If Daddy Woody needs focus, he puts on his headphones. More often, though, he listens with one ear to what is going on at Wonderwood Academy. Many times he contributes to the discussion for a while, and then goes right back to "work."

Jelly, Doodle, and I left him there, trying to make his point in a virtual WebEx meeting, and went to a Relief Society cooking class. We spent the morning having a totally fun time learning how to decorate cupcakes from a real pro. Stacy De La Vega just started a new home-based business called Sugar Rush Sweets & Bakery. She gave us all kinds of great tips for decorating cupcakes that look like you bought them. Between her helpful demonstrations and the fellowship with the other ladies in the class, the girls and I had a fantastic time as we decorated our 18 cupcakes. We did some fancy swirly ones with sprinkles, some with hearts and flowers, some that looked like a day at the beach, a special holiday ornament, and one (limited frosting of the right color) that looked like a jack-o-lantern. So we left for home equipped with dessert for the next few days and an icing bag with two tips so that we can make more artistic cupcakes.

When we arrived at home, Wonder Daddy was ready and waiting to rescue me from my taxi duties. I knew without a doubt that my arthritis was NOT going to allow me to be the chauffeur for other adventure we had planned. Donning his chauffer's cap, (uh, his tan canvas not-just-for-fishing hat) he whisked the cupcakes to the safety of the air-conditioned kitchen while I willingly transferred to the passenger-side seat of the Wonderwood School Bus.

A brief stop to pick up a car-picnic-lunch and with Daddy at the wheel, 45 minutes later we had arrived at El Dorado Nature Center to meet our homeschool support group, our Liahona friends.

Equipped with a grid-map of the trail and a nature-based scavenger hunt list of items, Doodle, Jelly, their friends, moms, and our Wonder Daddy headed out for an afternoon of science combined in the best way with P.E. My sweetheart was willing to push my chair, but I didn't want the noise to get in the way of spotting timid wild creatures. While the group explored, I spent time in the little museum at the center attempting to read (in preparation for a discussion with the girls) but truly being hopelessly distracted by the gorgeous view of the small lake and meadow just outside.

When the nature walk had ended, I was greeted by an excited group. In spite of the unseasonalby warm weather, a great time was had by all. While the kids discovered the delights of the little museum, including hanging out in the kid-friendly reading corner, I chatted with the other moms.

Woody did some adventuring of his own, never once complaining, and discovered and purchased a few small surprises for the Woodyettes. He found a patch representing the center to add to Jelly's collection, and for the Doodle a rainbow-colored butterfly eraser for her pencil and a cute turtle pencil sharpener. (Watching the turtles lounge in the sunshine on the rocks as we cross the bridge to the museum here is a favorite tradition when we visit.)

But that isn't all he found. The girls have been fascinated by owls ever since Harry Potter got Hedwig from Hagrid. Wonder Daddy is planning an extension of today's science experience - he will be supervising the girls as they do owl pellet dissections. I promise to take pictures!

So, no taxi mom here. That title belongs to Daddy, and we are SO grateful that he enjoys the work so much.

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