Apple Cider Donuts and Something Like Balance by Leslie

With these two pictures, last week became Fall for me. It seems to hit me at different times every year, but this year we were on the beach until the day before school started for my oldest and my youngest's school started just last week, so it wasn't until last week that it really felt like Fall to me. All of a sudden I was eating apple cider donuts and noticing the beautiful yellow colors appearing all around me. I even had a beer over the weekend, a PUMPKIN beer. It didn't really taste like pumpkins, but it had that warm, cozy feeling that I was craving. Good bye ocean and white wine, hello fireside beers. 

I love seasonal changes. I love changes, period, and seasonal cycles are rejuvenating for me. Most of all though, Fall is simply my favorite time of year. It always has been, with my birthday and school starting, Fall always feels like a time of new beginnings for me. I've been cleaning and organizing my house like a mad women the last two weeks, sorting through YEARS of artwork and school work for the boys, figuring out a system for incoming papers and for storing keepsakes. Also, clothes. Sorting, donating, organizing. Such a sea of clothes, for me and the boys. It's done now and what a relief to have all those things organized.

So, fully into the season, routines established and shelves sorted, I can now get to work. I'm creating a new mood board for the year with a new word of the year, to be revealed soon. I'm redesigning my website and my business cards with the intention of dropping my site title "Lights and Letters" and just representing myself with my own name. Meagan Francis just wrote about this too. I need something flexible and simple to be able to branch off into different areas when I need to. I need something that will last. I have no idea when it will be done, but I am hoping no later than the end of the year. 

In the midst of all that, I will be taking a writing course with Alice Bradley, visiting Shauna Alterio in Philly for Girl Crush and attending Camp Mighty again. I'm really looking forward to diving more into my writing, being inspired in an art workshop and dusting off my Life List. Also, next month I've got an article coming out in Uppercase Magazine that I'm very excited about and I just learned that a teacher is using my Collaboration illustration in her Student Success college seminar at Santa Monica College. It's very cool stuff. Things are really beginning to happen, slowly but surely.

I've accepted that I'm on a different schedule than many other working women or even other working mothers. Things seem to take longer for me, some days it really feels like a snail's pace. I have so many ideas and so little time to act on them. It's ok though, because there is this:

Cuddling on the couch and building Lego with my boys. It doesn't get much better than that and I am so lucky and grateful that I can choose to drop everything and be with them. Amy at Frugal Mama just wrote a very long post about the business of blogging, what it takes, what you can gain financially and what she feels she has lost in the process. It's an open and honest piece about her own experience. It's a struggle many working mothers face and it sounds to me that rather than decrying blogging as a business, she is re-evaluating her own priorities and re-arranging things to feel better for her.

People always talk about balance. I always talk about balance. It's elusive sometimes. I've realized that there is never a moment of perfect balance, it's really just a process of tipping back and forth and hoping that at the end of the week, or month, or year, you've spent equal amounts of time on each thing that is important to you. Yourself. Your kids. Your husband. Your work. Your passion. Your home. Your friends. Your community. Diving into each bucket and soaking yourself in it and then diving into another one. You can't usually be in two buckets at once, it's much better to fully immerse yourself into each one, enjoy it, get your fill, and then switch to another one.

Some people have just a few buckets. Those people will seemingly get more done than I will. I have a lot of buckets and maybe each one isn't as developed as I would like, but I've got them all, and I love them all, and I need them all. We each need to figure out this grand game of life for ourselves. What works. What we need. There is no one answer, or one way. Try not to look around too much, just know yourself and you will make a good life for yourself.

Enjoy the Fall weather my friends! Enjoy the moment. Live for today.

Cattle Portraits and Fall Foliage by Leslie

It was an overcast day and still a bit wet from all the rain we've been getting but I was inspired to take some pictures of these local Warwick cattle, on Pine Island Turnpike at the intersection where Foley road turns into Jessup Road. I think I may have parked in the spot that the farmer regularly does, because when they saw my car they started mooing at me and walked over to greet me. They were pretty excited and curious about me being there and I really felt like they were posing for me. However, once they realized I wasn't coming to feed them, they lost interest in me and began to show me their bums instead of their faces. It was really funny. I particularly love the hairy guys with the horns, I think they are Highland Cattle.

I also ventured further down Jessup Road, looking for some good spots to shoot the beautiful Fall scenery around here. There were gorgeous colors on the trees and even though I wished the sun had been shining a little more, I kind of like the moody, wistful shots that I got with the light being more subdued. I also found two cool buildings, the Doll Lumber and Veneer Co. building and an abandoned storage building that was missing it's roof (scroll down to the last picture.) I might have to go back and take some more pictures of that place. 

I've been reading a wonderful photography book lately, David DuChemin's Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision and it's really helping me to think about what I want to capture and communicate with my pictures. These are sights that I see everyday and I was really excited to get out there and try to capture some of it thoughtfully. When it got to actually doing it though, I was a bit nervous trying to figure out where to park, wondering if I was trespassing and what I would say if I bumped into anyone. I was surprised to find that I had to actually talk myself into getting out of the car. (The cows mooing at me helped, I asked if they wanted me to take their picture and they mooed affirmatively, so that settled it.) Once I got going it was fine, but each time I stopped the car I had to push myself. The wind even scared me once when I was shooting the abandoned building. Ha! Of course nothing happened and it was a joy to drive around searching for a picture rather than waiting for it to appear before me. You've just got to get out there and do it! DuChemin's book Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is also guiding me in the post-processing stage. Before I start working on an image, I've been trying to set in my head what I would like the image to look like in the end and then choosing adjustments that further that vision. It's been a wonderful way to work.

What have you been doing lately to push yourself out of your comfort zone?

Well, Hello Fall by Leslie

Today was a gorgeous day in so many ways. I got the ball rolling on three different things that will make me a happier person. I had a wonderful lunch at the local Farm Market with my youngest son after I picked him up from preschool. He was on his best behavior, he listened to me and we had such a nice time! The weather was beautiful and the wind made everything smell lovely. We walked down the road to pick up my oldest off the school bus and fall is just starting to touch the trees around here. Walking back home with my two boys was just really nice. For all the time spent thinking and planning and dreaming, sometimes it's nice to just be in the moment.

Exposure: 1/250 secs at f/5.6, Focal Length: 70 mm, ISO: 100

Processing: Cropping, Exposure +0.60, Blacks +5, Vibrance +21, Saturation +3, Clarity -32

The First Day of Kindergarten by Leslie

Raising kids is such a shared experience. Many parents go through the same memorable moments; big ones like birth, first birthday, first steps, potty training, riding a bike and the first day of kindergarten. And yet, for all the sameness, each story is unique. We all do the same things, but we all do them a little differently.

We've been talking about this day for MONTHS. It's been a slow build up to this day, a gradual process of getting Milo ready for a new amount of independence and responsibility. Showing him the school, first just from the outside, then just the front hall, next the rest of the school and finally last week his classroom and teacher. Talking about what to expect, how to behave, where to go. We had a trial run on the bus, we bought school supplies, we did all our summer homework and read every single piece of paper the school sent us.

It's more responsibility for us as parents too. We have to make sure they don't miss the bus, we have to make lunches every day and do homework with them every night. We should check in with them to make sure they are happy and having fun and we must navigate the social scene that is the network of adults responsible for running the school and parenting the other kids. 

This day is not just seeing our little children drive away from us on a big school bus full of other children whom we cannot meet or influence. Though that would certainly be enough! For us first-timers, this day is the beginning of so much more than that. We are entering into this world of organized education, and it is exciting and full of opportunities, but like any large group of highly organized people, there are rules and regulations and expectations that we must both learn and adapt to. How do we fit in? Only time will tell. I have great confidence in Milo's ability to do well in school. He got on that school bus without hesitation, with complete assuredness. He had it all figured out and I'm sure I will figure out my new role too.

I totally choked up when that bus drove away, tears stinging my eyes. That first time is tough, it's like an invisible thread that connects us to our children is pulled tight until it snaps and they are gone on an adventure without us and we are just left holding the string. Each adventure is bigger than the last until one day they are going to college, leaving the country or getting married. Children are born and the rest of their lives are spent saying good bye to their parents.

But let's not dwell on those good byes. They don't. They have their eyes forward, looking ahead to the adventure. They are saying hello to something new and so should we. I came right home and got to work on myself. I wrote in my journal and made a few plans for my own future. I might volunteer at the school and see if I can help a bit in the classroom, but also I just want to be myself for a bit. 

It's true, I still have Quinn to contend with. He will be in preschool for three days a week, but this week he is still at home, hanging on my arm, saying "mommy?" "mama?" "mom?!" and asking me to build a train track for him. He's keeping me grounded in toddlerville for a couple more years. And I'm glad for that, I know I would miss it a lot more otherwise. 

More than that, Milo came home. They always do. The older they get, the longer they will be away, but they always come home. Milo arrived home on the bus with a big smile on his face and waved to the driver. He was so proud of himself and I was so proud of him. He did it without a complaint or a worry. He was ready and he loved it, he had a great day. His only disappointment was that he didn't get recess due to the rain. He related a story that his teacher told him, about an apple tree that fell in her yard and was now a "bush". The deer were thrilled to have access to all those apples. What a perfect metaphor. 

So to all those mothers out there, for whom today was the first day of kindergarten for their first born, I say: "CHEERS!" for surviving one of the first big cuttings of the apron strings. To ALL mothers out there who sent their children off to school: if you miss them, look inward, and find comfort in taking care of yourself for a change. 

Trick or Treat! Halloween, Pumpkin and Fall Photography by Leslie

For me, there is just nothing like Fall. It's my favorite season. Around here (Warwick, New York) it's a beautiful time of year with the trees changing colors, the fresh farm markets and the pumpkin patches. Fall festivals are going on everywhere with apple picking, apple cider donuts fresh out of the frier, hay rides and this year we even saw a pig race! Scroll down to the bottom for the video. The sun sets are gorgeous, everything smells delicious and then of course it's Halloween!

Milo and Quinn wanted to be Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story this year. It's just so adorable when they match. If you have photos of your own little ones in their costumes, please share a link in the comments, we'd love to see them. 

Wishing you a safe, spooky and fun Halloween. 


Books For Kids: Halloween and Pumpkins by Leslie

I love reading to my boys. We always read at least two books, more if they are shorter, and even though it comes at the time of day when we are the most tired, it is often my favorite part of the day. We've really been enjoying our trips to the library and can't leave without at least 10 books.

My youngest is old enough now (two years old) that I can read to them both at the same time and he often listens. We lay in bed together, in the dark with a flashlight, and I have one of them on each side of me.

I have a lot of books I want to share with you, so I'm going to try to start doing this as a regular series, each with a different theme. Today I'm going to feature books about Halloween that are not scary. My boys are four and two, so we aren't really into frightening them right before bed yet. These are all my personal picks and none are here as a sponsored review.

If there are any books that you have been enjoying with your kids this time of year, please post in the comments and let us know what you like! Happy Halloween!


Zen Ghosts by Jon Muth

This book is simply beautiful. The story is haunting, poetic and thoughtful. I love Stillwater, the giant Buddhist panda. We first met him in the original book Zen Shorts. In this ghost story, Stillwater challenges us to think about who we are, what we can be and how we can change. It's one of those books that makes you think and talk about it after. The paintings are just fantastic. It's no wonder that these books speak to me, I didn't realise until I sat down to write this that the author and illustrator, Jon Muth, also illustrated a comic book, Moonshadow, that I bought years ago for the gorgeousness of the artwork. I love nothing better than when my life before kids meets up with my life with kids. And that reminds me that I can't wait until the boys are old enough to dig through my comic collection and be transported. Here's a more complete review.


Too Many Pumpkins

by Linda White, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

This book is so much fun. The lady in the story hates pumpkins, but ends up with a yard full of them. It's the perfect making lemonade out of lemons story and it also shows a very interesting thing about the natural world, that sometimes, even when you ignore something, it is able to thrive. The illustrations are colorful and lively. Megan Lloyd also illustrated The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, another fabulous Halloween book. However, I am confused about whether it is the same author. Linda Williams is credited with the second book, so they have the same first name and it seems to be about the same character and it is the same illustrator, but I couldn't find any information about it. All of that aside, both books are wonderful reads for Halloween. Here's another review.


Littlebat's Halloween Story

by Diane Mayr and illustrated by Gideon Kendall

This is a sweet, and a bit sad, little story about a baby bat who lives in the attic of the library. Every morning he hears the librarian tell a group of children a story and he desperately wants to get closer to see the pictures in the books, but the one time he accidentally falls into the room he frightens everyone. His mother tells him that there is one day coming when he will be able to go listen to story time. It's suspenseful and the passing of time is indicated by things changing in the library. It's such a relief when Littlebat is able to attend story time, can you guess on which day? Here's another review by a "professional readiologist".


Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino

I love this short little Halloween song. Milo is learning it at pre-school, so we've been singing it at home too. This is a board book, so it's a good one for the littler kids. "Five little pumpkins, sitting on a gate, the first one says, oh my it's getting late, the second one says, there are witches in the air, the third one says, but we don't care, the fourth one says, let's run and run and run, the fifth one says, we are ready for some fun, Ooooo Ooooo goes the wind and out goes the light, and the five little pumpkins roll out of sight."


How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin

by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas

This book isn't specifically about Halloween but it's close enough. Set in a classroom and looking at pumpkins from a scientific and mathematical point of view, the students discover that you can't always judge a book by it's cover, or in this case, determine how many seeds are in a pumpkin simply by how big it is. And of course there are parallels made between that and how tall the children are in the story. The message is that small and short are good too. Here's more pumpkin math.

Hearty Fall Meals: Stews, Soups and Pot Pies by Leslie

With the colder Fall weather the last few weeks, I've really been craving hearty hot meals. This last week I prepared three different dinners, all at different levels of involvement and they were all delicious. (This is not a sponsored post, these are all things I actually like.)

The most time consuming was the Beer Beef Stew. You have to prepare it about 3 hours prior to eating it, so there is enough time for it to simmer in the oven and you also need a large (7 qt) dutch oven to make it in. Otherwise, it is fairly easy and you can make everything in one pot, so the clean up is very easy. I used the recipe in Real Simple's Meals Made Easy, which is hands down my favorite cook book. The Beef and Beer with Yellow Potatoes recipe on their web site is essentially the same as in the cook book, but is says to use a casserole dish instead of a dutch oven. A dutch oven is much better if you have one. I used a dark beer, Yuengling Black and Tan, I added a whole bag of baby carrots and I used a whole package of bacon instead of just four slices. (You can never have enough bacon, right?)I served the stew with Portuguese rolls and a romaine lettuce salad with creamy italian dressing, sliced roma tomatoes and bacon bits.




Another delicious Fall lunch or dinner is soup. Canned soups are ok, but they don't always have the freshest flavors. Homemade soup is easy enough, but they require a lot of prep. I found a packaged soup at Pennings, our local Farm Market and they were so delicious and easy. Pine Island Herb and Spice Co. sells these mixes on line, so you can enjoy them too! I made the Spinach and Potato Soup. It calls for water or chicken stock and I used Better than Bouillon. Try to find this chicken stock mix, or order it on line, it is very rich in taste. The soup packets make 8 cups of soup, so it's plenty for a dinner for four people. I served this with toasted rye bread and a romaine salad with sliced apples, walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.




The last meal, and the easiest, was a Griggstown Farm frozen chicken pot pie, also from our local Farmer's market. It is made fresh at a farm in New Jersey and it is just like home made. And it's so easy to just pop it in the oven an hour before dinner. With the crust and the vegetables, you don't really need to serve it with anything, but a classic oil and vinegar salad is very complementary.


Do you have any savory Fall recipes to share? I'd love a recipe for Butternut Squash soup. Or favorite cook books? Let me know in the comments!

Photos from Rogowski Farm by Leslie

I visited the Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, NY yesterday and I was so impressed with their huge selection of pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and lots of other good things. I got a cup of coffee, ginger snap cookies, farm fresh eggs, a blue cheese scone and the most amazing honey I have ever tasted. I especially loved the bottles that the honey was being sold in. See the photo below. The colors were just so vibrant and echoed the colors that I am starting to see on the trees. I love Fall!

They also serve a farm fresh breakfast on Saturday and Sundays and we are going to try to go to this weekend. They are open year round and in the winter breakfast is served right in the kitchen.

Do you have any local farms or farmer's markets that you visit? What is your favorite thing to buy there?