Monday, February 8, 2016

Oh, Mickey Mouse!

Oh, Mickey Mouse! Look at you! You're magical! - that plump, fuzzy nose - those sassy saucer ears - big bright eyes all a-sparkle...! No wonder people come miles and miles to find you - and wish they never had to leave! You fill us up with dreams of carefree family fun, of white-gloved giant hugs and sunny smiles that never, ever fade! Yes, Mickey Mouse, I think by now you know - you occupy a mouse-shaped space in all our hearts!

"Pssst! Want to hear a secret? Guess who's got a grandparent-shaped space in his heart just for YOU?!"

Oh, Mickey Mouse!


I'm so glad that "wow" is a word. Because I've used it a lot lately. Ever since I learned that the wonderful people at Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort are providing my party of eight with a five day, four night visit to Walt Disney World® Resort. Plus, you may win your own Walt Disney World® Resort vacation in the Better Homes and Gardens "Making Memories Magical Contest." Enter and YOU may win a journey for eight of your own, park tickets and resort accommodations included!

Here's what it's all about, grandparents!....

Upload and share a recent photo of your grandkids, kids and/or families making memories together with their grandparents on social media using #MagicalMemoriesContest or on One grand prize of a multi-generational Walt Disney World® vacation for up to 8 people will be awarded. A Walt Disney World® Resort gift basket will also be given away monthly. And, a gallery of contest entry photos will live on Check to see if yours is there! 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and D.C., 21 years and older. Begins: 12:00 a.m. ET on February 1, 2016. Ends: 11:59 p.m. ET on May 15, 2016. Subject to Official Rules at Void where prohibited. Sponsor: Meredith Corporation. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Facebook, Twitter, Inc. ("Twitter") or Instagram. By entering, you understand you are providing your information to Sponsor and not to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 

My own trip, scheduled for February 9 - 13, 2016, includes grandpa and the double-twin (two boys, 7; two girls, 3) family of my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, and her husband, Tom - all eight of us! I know what you're thinking now. "Wow. Can this get any better?" Well, yes. It does!

As the grand prize contest winner, you can spend every magical moment of your trip alongside the little ones in your life who swell your heart with joy and pride - those who've made you a grandparent. With them, you may laugh and love and eat way too much and buy out the gift shop! Together, you might cover your eyes at sneering pirates, spin yourself silly in whirling teacups, and breathe "oooh!" and "ahhh!" at fabulous fireworks. I know. Do you even dare to dream that this could happen to you? Well, "Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!" You can't win it if you're not gonna enter it! Now, go find your "Mouskatool" (camera!) and get on your "Mouskadoer" (computer!) and show us your very own "Grand Adventure!"

My heartfelt appreciation to both Walt Disney World® Resort and the efficient and very gracious Mara VanGeldern, associate marketing manager at Better Homes and Gardens. She tirelessly worked to coordinate this project, succeeding handsomely at making me "Goofy" with excitement. Mara is a real princess!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Whooo I Love!"

Brielle and I have been working on this little gem for some time now - and it is my hope that we'll continue to work on it for additional months, if not years!

The two of us occasionally talk about those we love. Let's see - filling her five year old heart, there's mommy and daddy of course, accompanied by little brother, Austin, and both sets of grandparents. Beyond them, we move into cousin, pet, and friend territory. And sometimes Bree mentions him first, but other times she saves the best for last: "I love Jesus, too, you know, grandma!"

Valentine's Day just feels like the perfect time to acknowledge and honor these recipients of her affection. That's our target completion date for bringing everyone together!

We begin with a list. A year ago, it would have been me who did all of the writing. But Bree's in Kindergarten this year, and I'm amazed at the academic progress she's made; she prints well and reads with speed and accuracy!

From there we decide how we'll acquire pictures for the 6" square, kid-size portable scrapbook we're compiling. We draw up a plan. Some entries are found by the dozens (cousins!) on grandma's computer, just waiting to be sorted and printed. Other subjects need to be hunted down and photographed (grandpa!). Still others will be featured in carefully hand drawn images. Baby Jesus, for instance. Bree is serious about the place of honor he'll take in her little book of love. We take our time with this business, one person at a time, checking names off as we go.

I find a source of corny Valentine sayings and share them with my little love bug. She likes the owl theme and we decide on "Whooo I Love" as a title. Paper punches and spools of vivid ribbon emerge, and soon, we've got our cover! Coordinating inside pages take care of the rest.

We opt for round metal book rings to hold everything together because that makes it easier to add pages as a continuing stream of new people to love enters Bree's world. I think she'll enjoy having this little companion by her side - on both good days and bad - even after she's outgrown adding pages with the enthusiasm she shares today. Love of God, love of family - all reciprocated - are the heart of every day - not just that special one reserved in February!

At right: Brielle - author of "Whooo I Love!"
Photograph by Michelle Starr

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Snow Problems Here!"

They say that if you cannot find happiness, you should make your own. The same applies to "snow-less" snowmen, too, I suppose! Once the thrill of Christmas is over, building those iconic little sentinels - and going back to school :( - are the only things left to do!

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I welcomed both happiness and snowmen in the form of a granddaughter pair seated at a kitchen table laden with an abundance of pretty paper scraps. Who even cared that outside, nature gave us scanty, ice-encrusted snow to see? Not we!
(Yes. I know. Bad English. But it rhymes!)

Hot chocolate first. Then plated chunks of cheese and fruit. A cookie, too, to fuel us for the work ahead. Bree likes paper punches; Kaylee goes to town on glue sticks. And grandma saw an opportunity to introduce some rudimentary principles and elements of design. All three of us were in artsy-craftsy heaven!

Size and Shape: Rectangles! There they are! - one 7" x 22" biggie for the body, a smaller one to make the hat. We see circles everywhere, and those come large and small, plus several sizes in between!

Color: Our snowmen sing in vivid hue, we have warm and we have cool!

Line: Strong horizontals define the hat and scarf, and diagonal arms keep our eyes moving - there's nothing static here!

To be honest, the little ladies didn't care much about my academic babbling. They were having too much fun picking paper, punching, pasting, and posing for personable pictures!

Nope! "Snow problems here!"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Kaylee's Turn!

I love my fellow blogger-grandma friend, Debra. Each time I post a newborn grandchild announcement, she follows up her warm congratulations with a quip. "Now I suppose we won't see that child again until he/she is old enough to handle a paintbrush!" She calls those caught in the missing years "mystery children!" Oh dear. She's right, you know! Old (-ish!) art teachers never die, they just hang around cribs waiting until that paintbrush-handling day arrives - and then they pounce!

Kaylee, at two and a half years, has actually been painting and drawing for months at home with mommy and daddy. Clearly, this little lady is ready to join grandma's "art club" and expand her horizons beyond the ambitious mixed media "wall mural" she installed at home in the family room! What imagination! :)

We meet once each week for about two hours, just long enough for mommy to grocery shop with little brother. In that time, we finger paint, print with potatoes and practice cutting with scissors. Kaylee points to her paper and tells me where to place each color. Those are vigorously swirled into pleasing shapes and set aside to dry - a process that sometimes requires days to complete!
What talent!

Kaylee's "Purple Turmoil"
(named it and reserved it to buy for myself!) 

Some of Kaylee's work goes home with her, but most of it stays here for awhile. It needs to be matted, dated, and saved for the next cousin-sponsored Family Art Show and Sale. Those are strung any time an audience gathers. All it takes is a length of clothesline and a handful of clips! Adoring relatives supply everything else our eight little artists need (purchasing power and profuse compliments!).
What entrepreneurial spirits!

I've got another stash going, too. Just for this year. Each month I'll select a representative piece for a home made calendar that will become mommy and daddy's Christmas 2016 gift. We'll include photos too, recording both artistic and physical growth that's bound to see enormous strides in each of these areas!
What a year it's going to be!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Grandma's Dozen!

They whined and they wailed and they wore me down, so I invited 'em to join us. "Kids?" you're thinking? Nope. Daddies this time! Guess we were having too much fun without them at Grandma's Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party. Traditionally, only kiddoes and their mommies were included. This is our fifth year of fun, so I relented. Beginning with the guest list, it was time to make a few changes!

I like my guests to arrive with sanity intact, so we celebrate on a Friday evening, somewhere on the calendar between the arrival of Christmas spirit, but before that annual "Help! I'm-never-gonna-get-all-this-stuff-done!" frenzy sets in. That's the first of grandma's "tips to the wise" to consider!

I welcome the kids to nibble on fruit skewers and scraps of goodies their parents pick and pull for them. Those come from a candlelit table laden with gourmet appetizers. (I let Trader Joe's do most of the "cooking" for me!). My, my! There's a steamy cheese fondue surrounded by crisp pear slices and chunks of toasted baguette. A tower of seafood commands tabletop center; it's home to coconut shrimp, crab won-tons, shrimp toast and more. All kinds of dips, too - spinach and smoked salmon among them, along with olive tapenade and a nice variety from the tasty hummus family, including an unusual beet flavored one. There's stacks of slices too - rye breads, cheeses, smoked salmon, and an array of flavored (truffle! beet! garlic and rosemary!) mustard to try your luck with. Baskets groan with pita chips and water crackers, inviting guests to spread the spiced salami (Nduja) - something I'd never heard of before, but just knew the guys would gobble up - and, of course, along with marinated sweet red peppers and ginormous stuffed Greek olives - they did exactly that!

But that's not all! Heaping platters of our all-time family favorite, Martha Stewart's Gourmet Mac and Cheese waited patiently on the side board. I made a double recipe, reserving generous take-home quantities for everybody.

We stuffed ourselves silly, washing it down with TJ's Grower's Reserve Chardonnay - or a nice, cold serving of milk, depending on the year-of-birth displayed on your driver's license!

But no one came here just to eat. Family games were in order, and I had some cute ones planned. "Santa's Helpers" card game is played like "Old Maid," except you want to end up with the final "winner!" card. I snatched this up after I experienced a vivid flashback to days of playing the original version with my sisters. We competed with a vengeance. The "old maid" herself became so torn and bent that we subbed in "Cowboy Rex" as the "bad guy." I think, thankfully, those genes are regressive. Brielle graciously accepted victory after a final round show-down with Aunt Karen who "may have" requested a tip to ensure that outcome!

I'm so glad the daddies came. They enjoy every game right along with the kiddoes!

We raced wind-up Santa and snowman toys in a heat so chaotic that no one could be declared a clear winner. These little guys have a mind of their own when they're set loose on the kitchen table! Some perform well in a trial run, only to spin in circles and fall off the edge of the table when the going gets tough. Who knows what goes on inside those little plastic heads? Go figure!

Finally! Time to get to work. I hand out bakery boxes filled with a "grandma's dozen" (that's at least 16 - maybe more!) of pre-baked treats. Tied with giant, glittering bows, they glow from within on battery operated micro-mini lights. The effect, through clear plastic windows, is magical, and the kids cannot wait to begin.

My second tip is to advise wise grandmas to pre-bake and just let the kids decorate. It's faster and less messy, although you'll never catch me saying "less wasteful!"

Our goal is to fill the Santa cookie jars I presented to each family several years ago. Each mommy also gets a chilled roll of red and white spiral cookies to slice and bake, and enough dough to make a dozen or so Christmas mice; those critters scurry about with peanut ears and red licorice tails to delight the kids!

Busy bakers went straight to work!

My third "wise grandma" tip is to serve Royal icing in plastic condiment bottles. You can make a variety of colors ahead and kids handle them easily.

Bree made this happy green reindeer just for me. Thank you, sweetie! xxxoooxxx

Kaylee inserts her own tip here. "Always taste what you make!"

My final tip is to "be a grandma who hosts an annual Christmas cookie baking party!" Warm your kitchen with the presence of your favorite little ones, and the appreciation of their parents. Once you establish this tradition, your family will anxiously await it every year  - right along with a visit from "you-know-who!"

Lots of us grandmas have claimed "Christmas cookie baking territory!" It's fun to see what others are doing and exchange ideas with them. Here's a recent post from my friend, Debra, at Frugal Little Bungalow. You'll love the way she approaches the chaotic fun!

None of the products I've mentioned here are sponsored ones. I just like to buy stuff and yap about it endlessly! However, the darling micro-mini "fairy" lights can can be found here in my Amazon gift shop on page 13, Martha Stewart's gourmet mac and cheese recipe (linked above) is "out of this world!" and the "Santa's Helpers" card game by "Gibby and Libby" can be found on the C.R. Gibson website. The 6" square bakery boxes are at Michael's and JoAnn's and easily fit "a grandma's dozen." Pottery Barn Kids always has a very cute Santa cookie jar. This year's is different from mine, but still available at this writing. Grandchildren are neither "for sale," nor "on sale." And finally, if you ever spot me in the aisles of Trader Joe's, please - just don't get in my way! :)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Little Bits of Christmas

The Christmas season is like a jigsaw puzzle. Most pieces fit perfectly (freshly baked cookies - mmm!); others need adjusting (shopping cart gridlock in the toy aisle! grrr!). But somehow we manage to put it all together - one little bit at a time. That's because it's mostly about making others happy - something grandparents are very, very good at doing!

I went out shopping for little bits of Christmas - both inside my own head, and inside those of other bloggers. Here's what I found! I hope one or two of these ideas fit perfectly inside your Christmas puzzle and make you happy, too!

"Oh noes, mommy! How did this happen? One minute me's politely examining the 'Do not open til Christmas' tag, and the next thing my lil whiskers know the whole thing is soggy and shredded and catnip mice 'n tasty treats are spilling out everywhere! And that's the truth, mommy!
For reals!

Oh, Iggy! How can I ever be annoyed with you, my fearless little snuggle-tiger!? -  especially when I'm in such a good mood after finding this delightful idea at Heidi's One Creative Mommy site. She took a traditional item - a Christmas "cracker" and designed festive stocking stuffer tubes for her three beautiful daughters. Once you see her method you'll be inspired like I was, adding little bits of fluff here and there, making it easy to fill those stockings with creative care!

I buy little stuffers all year round and invite my daughters to choose whatever they like, saving them all kinds of trouble and expense. This year, I'll just hand these out, pre-packed with cute little toys and candy! - oh, and a fresh batch of catnip mice, too, I guess!

Thanks, Heidi!*

If you roll a few layers of tissue inside your outside wrap, you can fringe and curl the ends like this.

Add bells and bows and any kind of cute little Christmas jingly-thingies you have stored up in your just-in-case-I-ever-need-this box! Everybody's got one (or more!) of those, don't they?!

Speaking of shiny, cute stuff - little girls just love their bling! And what part of the upcoming "Grandma's Annual Christmas Cookie Party" doesn't suggest that party favors are in order? My little lady guests range in age from two to five; I'm sure they'll be delighted to "jingle while they frost and sprinkle!"

I cut 1/4" wide ribbons to a generous 28" length for each necklace. Find the center point and firmly tie on a cute little Lindt bear with another scrap of ribbon. Wrapped round chocolate balls make great attachments, too. Thread jingle bells here and there, securing their place with a contrasting bow.

Need a seasonal reply to the plaintiff wail, "Are we there yet?" How about,

"Have you found them all yet?" 

My grandkids will discover one of these adorable puzzles on a handy clipboard in the pockets of their car seats. Yours can too! Carolyn generously shares this (free) printout at The Pleasantest Thing, where you'll find creative puzzles and activities for all of the holidays - presented with class on a lovely, engaging blog.

Thanks, Carolyn!

Wouldn't it be fun to have kids find the family elf offering these games on a Saturday morning when mommy and daddy want to sleep in for just a few more lazy moments? Don't forget a "Please Take One!" sign and cute Christmas-y pens for everyone!

*Heidi also has the cutest (free) Christmas Bingo Game to share. Lots of fun for a Christmas Movie-Game Night-Craft Making-Cousin Sleepover at grandma's with an extra school version that will keep up to 30 classmates at the edge of their seats waiting for "gingerbread boy!" or "blue mitten!" to be called!

Have you ever heard of cascarones? At Christmas? Perhaps not, since it's a Mexican holiday tradition usually enjoyed at Easter. Raw eggs are carefully emptied through a small hole on one end, rinsed, dyed and dried before being filled with confetti. The craziness begins when guests grab them and bop each other over the head, issuing a burst of confetti that takes weeks to vacuum up! (just ask grandpa!)

I think the most fun is the element of surprise. Who would ever suspect that a "nice, not naughty" grandma reaching into a basket of "ornaments" spray painted glossy red and stuffed full of "snow," was about to unleash a raucous avalanche of Christmas laughter on her entire family?

Not me! (he he he!)

These ideas are the original, copyrighted work of the designers. They are intended for personal use only. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Thank you!