Halloween & Pumpkins 2013

It’s my second favorite time of the year!!!


I used to love dressing up and collecting candy when I was a kid. Now that I’m all grown up, I enjoy decorating the house and passing out candy to the kids in the neighborhood. It’s almost as fun, if not more fun now than it was back then.

I also looooooooooooooooooove carving pumpkins! I used to draw the face on the pumpkin and Dad would carve it out. But he always let me pull all the seeds and guts out, that’s the best part ;-)

Now that I’m all grown up, the carving has become more intricate and involved.

Rather than just post the finished product, thought I would show the step by step of how I do mine.

Start with a template, I buy a new book every year. I have enough patterns to carve, oh, probably 80 pumpkins (and would if they were sold year-round, were cheaper and lasted longer).


Always choose your pattern first, it will help you determine what shape of pumpkin you’ll need. Also find one that has a flat and smooth side to it. And always pick a pumpkin with a nice tall stem (this one happened to grow some mold after I bought it, gross, but kinda cool).

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Find the perfect side and tape the pattern, folding the paper as you need to in order to make it as smooth as possible.


Do NOT use standard kitchen knives or utensils. The template books usually come with a least a few made-for-carving knives and they work perfectly! They all may look the same but each has its own function.


Cut the opening in the top. I recommend cutting a point into the back so you will easily know how to lay the top back on.


Time to gut it!

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Now for the tedious part. Poke holes in the template, basically a connect-the-dots game, only you’re creating the dots you’ll follow later.

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Once you’re done, pull the paper gently away, you’ll need to reference it as you’re carving. You’ll be left with a very faint outline of your pattern. Carefully start carving ;-)

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Once you’ve done the rough carving and poked out the pieces, then comes the detailed carving. And eventually, you end up with your finished jack-o-lantern!

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All that’s left is to put a candle in it, light it up, and add it to your Halloween hearth!

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And don’t forget about the cats!

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Played with the color a bit in this one.


That second pumpkin looks awfully boring next to the other one, doesn’t it! I’ll carve that one up tomorrow night and add to this post. As for tips on keeping the pumpkin fresher longer, I’ve read that dunking it in a bucket of water/bleach mixture will help hold off mold and the rotting process, but the bucket I have isn’t big enough. So, I’m trying a spray bottle of water/vinegar mixture instead. I’ll report back on whether or not it worked.

**Updated 10/30/13**

First pumpkin is still holding up pretty well! This is it 24 hours later. Just need it to stay fresh for another 24 hours!

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Carved the second pumpkin this evening. And yes, the V in Velcome is on purpose.

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Here is a link to some of my pumpkins from years past.


Happy Halloween!


Wilmington DE & Philadelphia PA 2013

I highly recommend a visit to Philly! It reminded me of DC, only 10 times bigger. And I definitely want to go back to Delaware and see more of it!

Welcome to Delaware. Period. Period? I’ve never seen a welcome sign state a declarative sentence. Or NOT have some type of picture. The State bird, a picture, something. Nope. Just Welcome to our State. Period.


The trip started off in Wilmington at the Inn at Montchanin Village. It was once a part of the Winterthur estate, which was the home and estate of the du Pont family. The “Inn” is actually 11 restored buildings with 28 rooms and suites that look like a beautifully serene look into the past.

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Breakfast in the morning was on-site at the Krazy Kats Restaurant. As it’s name-sake suggests, it was filled with unusual cat and dog themed decor.

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A few other shots in and around the Inn.

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There were signs posted all around with inspirational or comical sayings.


There was a mushroom growing on the tree ;-)


After breakfast, we made our way to the Winterthur (pronounced Winter-tour) Museum, Garden and Library.

Winterthur has a very long and revolving history, but in essence was established in the early 1800s and when Henry Francis du Pont inherited the property from his father in the early 1900s, H.F. du Pont knew he wanted his home and grounds to ultimately become a museum, but didn’t wait for his death to open his home to visitors and tours.

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We arrived a day before a Plein Art Gala at Winterthur was scheduled, so there were a ton of artists in the gardens painting for the gala.

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These mushrooms were located in the children’s garden, the Enchanted Woods, which was not a part of the original garden. But I found them particularly cute because the tour guide said they had sensors that when touched, would expel a mist that the kids would dance around in. Oh to be eight again ;-)


After a quick tram ride through the gardens, we arrived at the museum and house and looked around at some of the collections.

H.F. du Pont collected a variety of items, but was very interested in antiques and furniture.


We then toured a part of the home where more of his collections are on display.

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This room was particularly interesting. Mr. du Pont found this Chinese wallpaper and instead of cutting it because it was too tall for the walls, he extended the walls by curving the ceiling.

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If I was paying attention and recall this correctly, this curved staircase was acquired from an estate in North Carolina that was being demolished (I can’t find any information on the web to corroborate this, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard).

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This is the conservatory, which we were not allowed in. The giant eagle is made of pine wood!


The parquet flooring was inspired by the floor in the Louvre.


There were numerous portraits of George Washington displayed in the house but the unique story about this one is that the artist painted Washington from memory, several years after the President had passed. It was said that his wife, Martha Washington, told the artist it was the best depiction of her husband she had ever seen.


After the house, we toured a little of the grounds, the reflecting pool and koi ponds.

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There’s Mom waiving!


And there’s Dad on the left hand side watching the artist on the right hand side.

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Warning! Koi overload! I just can’t cut my selections down any further. You’ve been warned.

Our original garden guide said that these koi were so used to humans feeding them that they would actually let you pet them. I can now honestly say I’ve pet a koi. Mom got close but didn’t touch one.

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After Winterthur, we had some time to kill before dinner so we randomly made our way to New Castle, Delaware, and drove around and went into a couple of shops.

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This sign confused us later as we drove past Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia as well. Which I guess could be true because this sign says “near here.”


The next day we made our way into Philly!


We figured a tour bus would be the best way to traverse the city so we hopped on the double-decker bus, which offered a “hop on, hop off” option. We hopped off at the second stop at the Betsy Ross House.

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Have to share the tiny, narrow, steep, spiral stairs. Can’t imagine having to go up and down those all day, every day!


We hopped back on the bus and got back off at the very next stop at Independence Hall.

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This is THE very room that the Declaration of Independence was signed!


Our tour guide holding up a copy of the Declaration.


I might have heard him incorrectly, but I could have sworn the guide said this was THE very chair George Washington sat in when he presided over the Constitutional Convention. Kind of hard to believe it survived all these years, but I thought that’s what he said. And sure enough, the internets have confirmed my wonderment!


The Liberty Bell was just across the street so we walked over and snapped a few pictures.

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After all of that close up history, we realized that stop #3 was actually right across the street from the beginning of the bus tour, so we hopped on the bus back at the beginning and decided to ride it the entire way around, which consisted of I think 26 stops and was supposed to be about a 90 minute ride (but ended up being almost 2 hours with all of the Friday afternoon traffic).


Mom (and Dad’s arm), enjoying the sights of Philadelphia.


Masonic Temple


City Hall, with a statue of William Penn at the top, watching over the city he founded.

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The “Love” sign, you know “City of Brotherly Love?” I thought it was going to be much bigger.


Eastern State Penitentiary


Statue of Joan of Arch (and Dad)


Philadelphia Museum of Art; the steps were, of course, made famous in the movie Rocky.

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The Philadelphia “Boo!”


By the way, we had the bus almost completely to ourselves! Our guide was much more entertaining because there were so few of us, he gave us a ton of lesser known facts about the city ;-)


Including the mythology of Mario the Magnificent, the dragon that sits near the Drexel campus. The story goes that if a student had a few too many the night before a test, they could rub the feet of Mario the morning of their test and would pass it.


If I remember correctly, this is the Amtrak Headquarters. The interesting thing about this building is that is has no 90 degree angles, which means that each different direction you look at it, it will look different every time. I just love how the windows reflect the clouds and how it almost blends in with the sky.

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Different building, but I like how it reflects the shape of the adjacent building.


Camden, New Jersey was just across the water.


Remember how we saw the sign for Penn’s Landing in New Castle? This is why it’s confusing. There’s a huge archway in Philly announcing his landing…


It wouldn’t be a McDermott Family Vacation without SOME sort of twist. After we got back in the car after the tour bus, Mom realized she didn’t have her (expensive prescription) sunglasses with her anymore. She left them on the bus. By the time she realized it, we were in traffic headed out of Philly and on our way to dinner. So she called the next morning to see if they could mail them to her. They claimed they have never had to mail something back, the tourists always came and picked them up. Yeah right.

So we continued with our plans of heading to Valley Forge to check it out before we headed home. Well, a 45 minute trip soon turned into an hour plus trip because of an accident. We decided not to take the Valley Forge exit and instead headed back into the city to pick up Mom’s sunglasses. Needless to say, she learned her lesson of “make sure you have all of your belongings with you before getting off the bus.”

But all in all, it was a very nice vacation and we have thrown around the idea of going back in the Spring to check out the gardens at Winterthur when the azaleas are blooming…and maybe checking out a beach or two further south in Delaware ;-)

Birds & Cats

Back to basics!

It’s been a really long time since I have posted my two go-to subjects; cats and birds! I’m surrounded by them and while the subject matter may be the same, they are always doing something new.

These bird shots were taken at my parent’s house a few weeks ago. I had been trying to get the woodpecker forever and he finally showed up! Their birds are very different from mine. Mine stick around for a long time, sometimes up to 5 minutes, snacking away, regardless if other birds are waiting their turn. My parents’ birds are usually very shy and swoop in and swoop out in a heartbeat. So I’m especially happy I was able to get the shots I got!

Thinking about it…


Picking around…


Found a peanut!


What?? I’m hungry!


Um…what are you doing? It’s my turn!


Found another peanut!


My mohawk is bigger than yours, therefore, it is my turn!


Ha! Sunflower seed!


Then there are my cats…who love to get into trouble. I’ve never see cats so curious about a dripping faucet.

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Getting ready for Halloween

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I just love that bright, cute face!

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And as always, he has to be near me. But not just near me, he has to be on me any way he can manage!


But I wouldn’t have it any other way ;-)

Getting to know Virginia – Charlottesville (Orchards)

There is too much to do in the Charlottesville area to put into just one post, so I’ll organize by activity.

Carter Mountain Orchards not only have the pick-your-own apples, but they also have a little country store with yummy apple cider donuts, picnic tables overlooking a spectacular view of the city below and when you go in the fall, they have pumpkins!

They have become über successful over the years! The first time we went a few years ago, the road up the mountain was dirt and there were only a couple dozen cars in the lot. When we went a couple of weeks ago, they had a nicely paved road and flaggers directing traffic to one of three parking lots! But all the best to them, they have a nice operation and delicious apples!

They happen to grow my favorite type of apple, the Mutsu (Crispin), which is why I don’t mind waiting in line for 20 minutes to pay for 5 apples! They are green, crunchy like Granny Smith, but sweet. Not a fan of red apples and I hate the soft, mushy apples, so this is literally the best apple I’ve ever had. I can only find them here at CMO or at Wegmans (if they are in season). Just all kinds of yum!

Wow, never knew I was so passionate about apples, but well, there ya go! Anyhoo, on to the pictures!

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White pumpkins!?!


Michie Tavern is literally right next to Carter Mountain so we stopped by and took a few pictures there.

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Ordinaries? Necessaries? I guess it’s better than saying I’m going to the toilet!

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For some Charlottesvile hiking, check out the Jones Run Falls hike I did a couple of years ago at https://anyonecantakeapicture.com/2013/03/06/shenandoah-jones-run-falls-may-2011/

Lots more to come from Charlottesville, stay tuned!