Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Cards: Wonderful or Wasteful?

There are five types of people in this world:

The Gleeful Card Crackhead
You absolutely live for sending and receiving mail. The Christmas season puts you over the edge of happiness and you quite literally soar to the mailbox each day. The cards you receive are hung delicately in a primary location in your home and then once Christmas is over, you press each card lovingly into a scrapbook. You mail approximately 150-300 handcrafted cards each holiday season to share the joy.

The Update Maniac
You view Christmastime as a chance to catch up, share the year's events with friends and family, and proudly display the growth of your kids/pets/acreage. Your cards are typically full of beautiful, flowing text, factoids about your job, and recent vacation pictures. Any cards you receive are quickly scanned for updates, then filed away in a pastel-colored accordion folder in your new home office.

The Standard Santa
You like Christmas. You order cards during online sales and pick a design that allows between 2-4 pictures of your family, preferably with everyone in sweaters. You try to get your cards mailed in time to not be rude. The cards you receive are placed on the counter with every intention of getting taped to the fridge, but 99% of the time end up in the recycling bin sometime around January 19th.

The Vintage Postman
You don't fall for the online gimmicks and marketing techniques of these new-fangled online "photo" card stores. You prefer to head to your local mom-and-pop shop, carefully select a set of pretty, unique Christmas cards, and hand-write a Christmas message to each of your card recipients. You are intentional with your stamp selection. You appreciate receiving cards but sometimes wish the cards were a little more personal and detailed.

The Scrooge
You can't stand Christmas cards. You think they are a complete waste of money and resources and you wish people would stop sending them. Any cards you receive are displayed for an obligatory amount of time and then disposed of, preferably in the recycling so yet another landfill doesn't become filled with our irresponsible holiday behavior.

Now for the most part, those categories are satire. They are not intended to cause guilt or pigeonhole anyone, although I'm sure some of us can relate and match specific faces to each personality. I actually know a Scrooge, and she is a fantastic person who just really doesn't like Christmas cards. All in good fun.

I am a Standard Santa. Christmas cards are more of an obligation than a true joy to me. I do not pen nice notes to my friends and family. I forget about cards until the last minute and, because I also forget to budget for them, end up getting whatever is on sale with whatever pictures I can take myself. I sit back and pray the pictures do the talking...."Look! My kids are alive, look at them being alive and smiling!"

I wish I were more like the gleeful card crackhead. I have visions...beautiful, gorgeous visions of handmade cards, created from scraps and repurposed garbage, created by my own two hands and lovingly delivered in-person to all of my loved ones.

I also really, really want a rainbow unicorn to pull me around in a sled made entirely of caramel butter pecan toffee.

Handmade cards won't happen. I can pretend they will. I can even say they will. But I know me. And they won't.

So that leaves me wondering, as Christmas draws near, why do we send Christmas cards? Do we do it out of obligation? Do we do it because it's the polite thing to do? Is it truly another wasteful tradition stemming from Shutterfly-manufactured demand? Or do we love it? What is the point of mailing a Christmas card?

To answer my question, I first turned to history. I'd read a kids book about a chick named Sarah over the weekend - she apparently saved Thanksgiving. I thought if I dug into the history of Christmas cards, maybe I'd find another cool story about determination and love and the meaning behind Christmas cards.

Instead, I found out the very first American Christmas cards showed up in the late 1840's and were actually too expensive for most people to buy. It wasn't until some dude named Louis Prang came over and started mass-producing cards in 1875 that most Americans were able to buy cards. He was eventually run outta business...although the same cannot be said of John Hall and his two brothers. They started Hallmark cards in 1915 and well, we all know where that went.

So history isn't lending much help in the way of supporting the feel-good tradition of sending Christmas cards. If anything, history speaks to Christmas card commerce....the very thing I don't want to fall victim to. Money is the opposite of Christmas joy, to me.

Well how about an informative infographic? Infographics always help, right?

Hmm. Seven years ago the average American family spent about $32 on Christmas cards. I can tell you that is not my life....I paid $35 for the cards and at $0.49 a pop, my postage will cost an additional $25. So for me, sending my measly 50 cards will cost $60 this year. Just for Christmas cards. Purchased half off. Without the gold foil trim. Or printed return address.

But wait! What's that blurp about donations to charity? Oh. That's the UK. Dang. Good, but still dang. Also apparently only women really buy Christmas cards. My inner feminist is screaming.

So no help from history, no help from infographics...what's a blogger to do?

That's where you come in, dear readers. Tell me, oh tell me, what are your thoughts on Christmas cards? Are they another ploy designed to suck the money from our pockets, or do they add real value to our lives each year?

I think if I were really honest with myself, I would acknowledge that most communication, updating, photo sharing, and happy greetings can be delivered via text, Facebook, or *gasp* in person these days. The lost art of letter writing makes my soul cry but yet I do nothing to bring my pen to the page, to reach out via snail mail to family living far, far away. Instead I do what I can to mitigate the guilt from not spending as much time communicating with family and friends as I should and I buy a photo card and send it in the mail once a year. I should probably stop spending unnecessary money on cards and instead work to send personalized letters or greetings to those I love when I think of them, year-round, instead of just at Christmas. Whew. Good thing I'm not being honest with myself.

So let's hear it, lovelies. Can you relate to any of the personalities I described above? Where do you see yourself? And what is your honest take on Christmas cards...are they wonderful or wasteful? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading!

Monday, November 23, 2015

#1 Way to Stress Less, Be Happy, and Laugh

The holidays are here. Thanksgiving, one of my favorite days of the year, is in 3 days. This year I'm celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family (we are little, but fierce) and I'll be making the short trek a couple of hours away to gorge on good food. I'm also, however, cooking a little Thanksgiving meal for just me and my little household the day after Thanksgiving. We have a little turkey and I've got some great new recipes I can't wait to try.

But even with the promise of good food looming on the horizon, and a month of festivities kicking off in a matter of days, I still find myself habitually prone to stressing the f out. It's like my own little piece-o-crap holiday tradition. Stress, worry, feel guilty about it all, then repeat.

And there's more to life than that. I'm going to be a middle-aged woman soon for frick's sake. I should be capable of handling Thanksgiving and Christmas without dissolving into a pile of tears and guilt every two days or so.

So, earlier this year, I started a de-stress experiment. And by experiment, I mean I tried something, started doing it almost everyday, and then decided the results were favorable enough to write about it here, at a time when I (and others) need the extra de-stress help.

I needed to implement a new habit into my life and being the picky little habit-maker I am, I outlined a few new-habit guidelines. I needed something:
  • Healthy - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whatever
  • Easy - no running/jogging, forcing myself to write when I don't wanna, or class commitments
  • Flexible - can do it at home, whenever the heck I please
  • Free - I don't have money
  • Enjoyable - gotta love it each and every time or I'll never do it again
  • Promotes self-love - no feeling guilty...about anything
  • Walks me through releasing anger - because this past year I'm getting angrier than a kicked hornet's nest and the anger is slowly destroying all chances of happiness
Not that bad, right? I mean, anything can fit the criteria above, right? ;)

But wait, there's more:
  • Inclusive - something I can do with my kids
  • Relatable - following Ree Drummond is all well and good until I start looking around my life and realizing I did not marry a cowboy or have a sprawling, million-dollar ranch with wild horses roaming around
  • Friendly - My feelings of failure follow me around like a dark shadow 99% of the time. I needed something that welcomed me like an old, non-judgmental friend
So yeah. Basically, I needed calorie-free ice cream that grows on trees and talks to me like Ellen DeGeneres.

Unfortunately, despite some heavy research, I could not find Ellen Edy's.

But I did find something else. Something better. Ok, maybe not better than calorie-free ice cream that grows in my backyard and talks to me like Ellen. But close.

You ready to finally hear what it is? Promise you won't click off the page once you see the word?


Now wait! Don't run away! Don't let any pre-conceived ideas ruin your chances at finding an enjoyable, funny, happy way to relieve stress!

Yoga is not all about perfect poses and bending all over and squeezing into tight pants and buying $50 yoga mats. Matter of fact, it's the opposite of that. 

I've done all kinds of yoga. I never stuck with it because I was pissed it didn't melt the fat right off my body. If I'm gonna exercise, it better be fat-melting. It better be worth the hour or so that I'm stretched out in front of my TV in roll-inducing yoga pants, lookin' like a holiday ham wrapped with twine. I did MTV yoga. I did "professional" yoga taught by ladies with national certifications. I did Self magazine yoga. I did flashcard yoga. I did a whole ton of yoga....but nothing stuck, nothing became habit. It's like I wanted to maximize my exercise time, which meant either blasting through cardio or doing some sort of body-damaging, lose-your-mom-bod boot camp crap. Those things have a place in my life, don't get me wrong, but they aren't a way to reduce stress, be happy, and laugh.

Yoga, when done right, shouldn't be about losing weight. Toning and tightening might be side effects, but weight loss? Think about it. The very concept behind weight loss is stressing your body enough to make it eat it's own fat. I mean, really. C'mon here, people. I'm going for stress-free, happy living here. Weight loss is none of those things. It just isn't. Physically and mentally, weight loss is stressful by its very nature.

So I took yoga out of the "drop pounds" picture completely. I shifted it from my mental "exercise" column to my mental "relaxation" column. And can I please tell you, that shift alone has changed the way I move through my practice. Instead of waiting for it to be over, I listen to Adriene and truly embrace what I'm doing. It's crazy healthy and really allows me to enjoy the "me" time.....because running 3-4 miles up hills doesn't feel like "me" time at all. It feels like punishment...another item to check off my list, another obligation...and after making that mental shift, yoga is now something I actually crave, even on days when I typically don't hit the mat (or in my case, carpet as I don't use a mat).

Oh yes, I forgot to mention....Adriene is my YouTube yoga girl. She is hilarious. She is real. She focuses on nothing but self-love. She is knowledgeable. She is peaceful. She films out of her own house. Sometimes her dog walks into the shot. Sometimes you hear motorcycles revving outside her house. Sometimes she messes up. Sometimes she says things like, "Get down, Shorty," or sings the opening song from The Lion King. She is a real human, a funny, relatable human, and I love, truly love tuning into her page and meeting her on the mat. She approaches everything with a sense of acceptance....and it's not the kinda boring, cheesy acceptance that makes you roll your eyes and think, "really? I didn't drink enough kale this morning to handle this much hippie..." That's not her. She's a friend. A YouTube friend who helps me chill out.

I promise, try one, silly, 20-minute video. You will be hooked like I am. There's no pressure, no stress, no guilt, and you'll leave the mat feeling clean and fresh and ready to tackle the next thing on your list.

And no, this is not a promotional blog post. No exchange of money, services, or whatever here. I just love her and like telling my readers about things I love.

Her Yoga for a Broken Heart video helped me through unspeakable hardship earlier this year.

A few of my other favorite (and free) online yoga videos by Adriene:

Yoga for Stress Relief

Yoga Love Flow

40 Minute Fat Burning Workout (I do this one when I'm real angry - it's a nice challenge!)

Detox Yoga for Digestion

Energizing Morning Yoga

Yoga for Back Pain

That's it, dear readers. Yoga is my #1 way to stress less, be happy, and laugh. I hit the carpet in my pajamas with my hair piled on top o' my head and my breath stinkin and I join Adriene as she laughs and breathes her way to a more relaxed, strengthened state of mind. It's fun, it's easy, it's free, and I feel nothing but acceptance when I'm done.

Any other yogis out there? Iva from Neuroscience Newbie I'm lookin at you! :) What other stress-relief tips do you guys have for me? I'd love to hear about them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading! 


Monday, November 16, 2015

A Winter-Proof Chicken Hoop House

I get so excited when the air indicates a change in the seasons. The sweet, fragrant smell of spring, the sticky, humid aroma of summer, the subtle undertones of forest and leaves in the fall, and the snap, crisp scent of winter.

I love winter. Winter is coming. I am a happy girl.


You see, I have a new concern this year.....these two little babes.

I am a chicken-owner now. A completely moronic, first-time chicken owner who lost over half her flock in the first year. That's right. I started with 6 in April this year and now have 2. Lost my first chicken to a predator - we're thinking a fox judging by the way she was killed. Had to cull Gandalf, the rooster, when he started biting my kids. Then, like the sad, sad stories I read about and shake my head at, thinking there's no way in hell I'd ever let something like that happen, my girls were attacked in their hoop house, just a few months ago.

The predator killed Yennifer, my beautiful little silver-laced Wyondotte. Holiday, my last buff Orpington, was in bad shape. Real bad shape. Broken foot and can-see-though-her-abdomen bad shape. So I had to put her down. While in my pajamas. In the rain. With tears streaming down my face because despite how much I want to be a hardass, emotionless homesteader, I love my birds and feel no joy in taking their lives. Plus my sweet girls were wasted. Can't eat a bird when you don't know what's bitten it. Pretty much one of my lowest moments in this journey toward self-sustainability.

So that horrible morning left me with two birds. Two lone little loves. Strangely enough, the two I have left are also the very first two chickens I brought home. Ruby and Cheese, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, my little survivors.

Predators are underrated. I thought with my 8-ft-high privacy fence and secure hoop house, my girls would be safe.

Turns out it's not so easy.

Chicken wire protects chickens from nothing. That's right. Nothing. As in, not a single thing. Anything can get through chicken wire. Skunks. Dogs. Opossums. Foxes. Raccoon. Cats. Minks. Weasels. Pretty much the only creatures that cannot get through chicken wire are chickens. And that is a shame, because the other material I use, hardware cloth, costs about 3 times as much.

But I'd rather eat sand that's been peed on than lose another bird. I've made it my life's mission to keep these last two alive and to learn from my own stupidity. I modified my original hoop house door and added yet another of hardware cloth. That pretty little screen door? That was my downfall. That was how the predator got in. Screen doors do nothing, people. Nothing. Wrap your screen doors in hardware cloth because that screen ain't doing you any favors.

And I figured, while I'm at it, modifying this hoop house and making it more secure, how about I go ahead and get my winterizing on.

I live in the northern Midwest. It gets down to -20 degrees here in the winter, sometimes dipping lower, especially with the windchill. We average close to 40 inches of snow each winter. I know. It's crazy, but I love it. I love the thought of getting snug and reading with tea. It's my happy zone.

So anyways, I researched some cold-hearty chicken breeds and only purchased birds that could do well in my climate. My two girls are built for the cold, no doubt....but regardless of breeding, they still need a warm shelter for the coldest days of the year.

Some people add a heat lamp to their coop. I can't do that (nowhere to secure it in the hoop house). Plus I don't wanna. Heat lamps get hot. Heat = fire. Fire = my last two chickens dead and me pulling all my hair out and then falling into a pit of homesteading failure and doom.

I knew I had this sweet little modified hoop house just chillin the the backyard. I needed to find a way to insulate it.

Enter scene: Free plastic from a local garden and nursery shop. Think about all those greenhouses you see at your local garden store. They need to replace that plastic every now and then and guess what - that means the old plastic needs to get dumped. Sometimes they'll keep it around for patch jobs and oddball projects, but when they've got a 100-ft greenhouse that stands 50-ft tall, little scraps of plastic just aren't that useful anymore.

And that's where I come in. I have a teeny little 10x12ft hoop house. Teeny. Little. Insignificant. I talked to the manager at the garden center, who also happens to be a cherished and lovely friend, and she said the plastic is super expensive, but yes, she was pretty certain they had some old stuff sitting in a shed somewhere. That I could have. For free.

A few weeks later, I went and picked up a ginormous, huge ball of dirty, ripped, old, white greenhouse plastic. I had myself a little moment in the truck on the way home. I officially scavenged my very first item from a local business. I drove home with that lump of plastic in my truck smiling like a maniac the entire time, so happy, so excited, so thankful. I'd received enough plastic to cover the hoop house.....twice.

I cut the plastic out around the door, stapled a bottom panel of plastic onto the door (which of course is also covered in hardware cloth now), and created a curtain for the top of the door. Like their own lil' vertical dutch door. That curtain is fabulous. Allows air in and out (super important for healthy birds) but doesn't let the wind or rain in when it's rolled down. That's a piece of baling twine stuck into it and holding it all rolled up.

I also made some cutouts, covered with hardware cloth, of course, near the back of the hoop house. A little cross-ventilation will make sure they have fresh air to breath, without sacrificing their need for a non-breezy, warm place to roost.

The plastic is, to be honest, barely secured to the frame. Those tarps on top hold the plastic down pretty well, in addition to adding another layer of protection. The plastic is also stapled to the frame in the front and back....but I wanted the sides mobile...non-permanent, so in the summer I could roll them up and let the light in and the heat out. Of course, you're just asking for problems if you don't secure your cover down somehow on the sides.

The solution? On the two long sides, the plastic is stapled to a detached wooden board, a 2x4, and then rolled around the 2x4 until it's tight. In the summer, I will roll the plastic up higher and secure the 2x4 to some hooks in the PVC frame about 3 feet from the ground. Waa-lah. Hoop house side windows. Of course, the plastic went right over the hardware cloth I'd wrapped around and around and around, so (hopefully) I won't need to do much come summertime. Just roll and go.

The key to using plastic on your hoop house? Make sure you don't have pointy stuff sticking out. I had to painstakingly check every piece of baling wire I used to secure the hardware cloth to the PVC pipe and make sure all pointy parts were tucked in. The front and back frames are made of wooden beams (check out this post for the full breakdown of what was used for the hoop house, how much it cost, and how it's put together). The beams were too "sharp" on top, meaning the weight of snow could potentially tear the plastic. So what can cap a piece of wood, stay soft in below-zero temps, and cost nothing? An old glove, of course. Bam. Works like a charm.

I stuck a thermometer in the hoop, the same one I used when they were wee lil chicks, so I could keep an eye on how cold it gets in the hoop house. So far the temp has stayed about 5-10 degrees warmer inside than out. We'll see how she does in the dead of winter! And yep, that waterer can be plugged in to keep the water from freezing. We'll need to run an extension cord....I'm delaying that as long as humanly possible as I've heard these things have a short life.

I'd read straw bales are great for insulation, but can get moldy and create problems with chicken lungs. One of my favorite chicken dudes, Justin Rhodes, said you can always use the bales on the outside of the house if you're worried about too much heat loss. So that's what I did. Bonus points: the bales help secure the plastic down so the wind doesn't get under it and cause it to freak out.

Of course, one of the best things you can do to keep your animals happy in the winter is to add some warm, soft bedding to the ground. The layer of pine shavings in the hoop house is about 1.5 feet deep near the roost. Those doors help block any stray wind gusts and help hold the roosting branches in place.

It's a little dark in there sometimes, which will undoubtedly affect my egg counts, but eggs aren't my primary concern these days. I just really want to keep my flock safe.

I went ahead and purchased one of these for good measure. Next time something comes at my girls, I'll get 'em on camera.

So who wants to take bets on how well I keep these two little loves alive this winter? Anyone? Anyone? And no, if you're a hawk, fox, or raccoon, you can't join in the bet...Ruby's rules.

What are you doing to prep for the winter? Are you looking forward to the change in seasons? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Movember....More Than Just a Pretty Stache

I'm just going to throw this out there.

I'm not a huge fan of balls. Yep. The ones you're thinking of. Don't really like 'em. They weird me out...worrying about smashing them somehow - weird. Dudes' obsession with them, touching them, scratching them, talking about them - weird. The wrinkles - double weird.

So it should be no surprise that I am not at all versed in the ins and outs of ball health. In fact, I am giggling right now like a total moron. Just typing the word "balls" and giggling, thinking about balls and trying not to say the word out loud...just Jen your most flawed blogger, sitting here laughing out loud, alone in my living room, with windows in my Chrome page open to ball health webpages. Creepin on some balls. 

Can't handle it.

I know everything there is to know about women's health. Breast, cervix, uterus, estrogen, you name it, I know it.

But not balls. Had a whiff of biological reason in my arsenal. That's it. I had no clue. Up until today, of course.

November is also Movember - the month of mustaches. These mustaches act as a walking billboard to promote men's health awareness. They are "changing the face of men's health".....see what they did there...I am in love with the creative mind that made that one up....pulls at my copywriter heartstrings like no other...And if I'm any indication of the female populations' knowledge base, we need a helluva lot more mustaches.

Men love to talk about balls, amiright? It's pretty insane how many times I needed to hear the word "teabag" in college. But I never heard about ball problems. Or problems with any other part of a guy's body. I know when men get colds, because it's like the world is ending, but when guys find a lump somewhere, they just wait for it to go away or literally explode. Serious stuff isn't talked about. I never hear about it. I mean, think about it, can you think of a single guy who voluntarily goes to the doctor for yearly preventative exams? No, I'm not talking about men with chronic conditions, I'm talking about those dudes I know, friends and family of mine, who almost refuse to see a doctor. Ever.

When my girlfriends are ill, I know right away. They'll text me or call me and while they always keep on trucking, they talk about it. 

Any chance you can watch my kids so I can go to the doctor? Yeah my lady visit. Oh joy.

I am seriously so sad, I cannot even.

Jen's pap came back abnormal. Yeah you should totally text her later this week. Don't tell her I told you.

My cramps made me throw up in public today.

Does it matter that Mama's had a headache for two weeks? I didn't think so!  

I love my menstrual cup. You need to try it.

I mean, women are vocal. If something is bothering us or we're not feeling good, chances are we'll say something or lean on one another to get through the illness, especially if it's serious. But guys?

Hey man, heard your skin, like, burns or some shit.

Are you contagious?

You went to the hospital? I hate hospitals. Did you have a hott nurse at least?

That sucks. 

Jake hasn't shown up for practice in like a month. Eh, he's prolly fine.

Man up.

It's no wonder men's health and wellness sometimes gets lost under layers of pink ribbons and scarves. Men just aren't as vocal. And women, as much as we (occasionally) love men, are sometimes too busy worrying about our own intricate bodies and health concerns to try and educate ourselves about the bodies of the other half. I mean, shouldn't they know about their own junk? Why should we have to know about that jazz? 

Cuz we're women and we have a civic duty as strong, smart, quick goddesses to help those less fortunate. ;) And because guys need love too. 

So let's nab some quick facts:

Prostate cancer is the most common major cancer in men.

Men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. 

And testicular cancer hits them young.

How can we help?

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has a (hilarious) Mo Bros and Mo Sistas campaign that raised over $126.3 million dollars last year. A description of the funding strategy (incredibly easy to read) can be found here.

The Testicular Cancer Foundation has teamed up with Tommy John to create the Support Your Balls campaign (seriously cannot stop giggling) - they have an Instagram challenge running until the end of the month where you can snap a pic of two things that look like balls, *snicker* tag them with #SupportYourBalls, and follow them (@TommyJohnWear and @TesticularCancerFederation) for a chance to win a free pair of men's underwear. Bonus points - Tommy John is donating $1 for each entry... Also, and this is important, they have half-naked hot men messing around with/in underwear on their webpage. Seriously, they have videos for each product. And they're an underwear company. Just think about that for a second. And no, I am not getting compensated in any way. It would be an injustice to all women to not share that info. Plus, men's health and stuff. 

Support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They host walks all over the country and take donations year-round. Men's mental health is just as important as their bodily health....and even harder to diagnose. 

Casually ask a guy you know if he's going to participate in Movember. It's a nice ice breaker because the only thing dudes like to talk about more than their balls is their facial hair. 

Plus mustaches are hott. 

How about you, dear readers? How would you grade your men's health knowledge? Did you know what Movember was all about? Know any men in your life who could benefit from a little more Mo? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weirdest Stuff I Found in My Kid's Halloween Bag

It's that time of year again, folks. The devil himself, disguised as so many delicious little morsels of sweet goodness, is in my home. He is fruity. He is peanut buttery. He is my favorite breed of kat. Calling all gym rats - send me your power! This is the beginning of the all starts with Halloween....then turkey all up in my life.....then Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and mashed potatoes divine.

So let's pretend I am resisting the temptation. Let's pretend I am not typing with one hand while another clutches a snack-sized Heath bar on it's merry little way to my mouth.

And let's sit back and reflect on the other things I found in my kid's Halloween bag this year. You know what I'm talking about. The different things. The weird things. The things that make you look down into your sack and say, "huh?"

Now for the record, I am a fan of anything free. If you're handing out something on Halloween, you rock, especially if you don't have kids of your own or don't particularly like children. I consider all Halloween distributors generous souls.

But some stuff is just weird.

I remember a time when Laffy Taffy consisted of only fruity, neon-colored flavors. And banana. How can you forget banana laffy taffy. But then I saw this. No artificial flavors, hm? So you're telling me a little mug of steaming cocoa with marshmallows in it was somehow dropped into your vat of taffy and then poof - out you came? What happened to you, Laffy Taffy. What happened to you.

Didn't even realize they still made these. True story. I see they've updated their package to keep with the times - Gluten Free! Nut Free! For all those lil' ones who wish to go vintage!

Halloween popcorn. I won't go into a tangent about why microwave popcorn is horrific...especially while eating a Butterfinger....but trust me, it's apparently horrific for you. Normally, I think bagged (read - already popped) popcorn is great as an alternative option for kids with sugar sensitivities (haha). I think it's a thoughtful gesture. But that Act II stuff you see pictured below? It expires in two days. Do you know how long it takes for popcorn to expire? Thanks for the tease, neighbor lady.

Go home, Lemonheads. You're drunk.

Did you just hand my kid a diet soda? You know Jen believes in Jesus when she manages to smile and not chuck a can of diet soda back at the lady who just handed it to her little girl.

And now, for the piece de resistance, this lovely hunk of curiosity. Yes, that is a fruit cake. And not just a little fruit cake, that thing could serve 4-6 people, easily. My kid came trotting back from the house smiling and saying, "Wow! I just got a fruitcake!" and I subconsciously tuned it out per the Parent Handbook for Creative and Imaginative Children and then I opened her bag and sure enough, fruit cake.

Oddities are fun, aren't they? I certainly enjoyed opening my kids' Halloween bags and finding all the incredible things I could eat when they went to bed creative ways people in my neighborhood handle trick-or-treaters.

What about you, dear readers? What's the strangest thing you found in your kid's Halloween bag? Do you remember receiving something weird in your candy bag when you were little? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!