Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Epilogue

I don't need to write down some very special things that happened during the Christmas season this year in order to remember them, but if I don't, then how can I share them with you?

My oldest daughter, Mary Jo, is a social worker in a poverty level school district. A few weeks before Christmas she identified several families, one of them traumatically numbed by recent personal tragedy, who would be unable to provide gifts for their children. Mary Jo coordinated a lovely "gift-giving party" with a friend to secure donations, and then gave up the first full day of her holiday break to "drive all over the place" collecting more toys to deliver to the families. I am so proud of her....mostly because the people I respect most in this world are those who see a need or an injustice and take immediate action to resolve it - instead of just gaping and whining that "somebody" should doooooo something about that. God Bless you, Mary Jo!

I am proud that I live only a mile away from the K-Mart where this year's national "Secret Lay-Away Santa" phenomenon began with the caring act of one generous lady. I only wish that kind lady had been me.

This year, as in every other for each of the past ten, my friend and neighbor, Lily, along with one or both of her twins, Nick and Rebecca, rang our doorbell in the afternoon on Christmas Eve day and presented us with a sparkling bag of homemade pretzel treats. Whether it was the traditional chocolate dipped sticks smothered in festive holiday sprinkles or this year's caramel topped squares, it has been so much fun adding these delightful treats to the snack table on Christmas Day! And opening the door to the happy faces of her beautiful children has always been like taking a step back into the past, where thoughtful neighbors never hesitated to personally bring unexpected joy right up to your front porch instead of simply and impersonally "forwarding" it by email! What a lovely family tradition of pretzel-making team work and neighborly Christmas spirit Lily has modeled. No wonder her kids are so terrific! And, once again, I wish I had thought of doing that!

Last Friday, I loved being part of a thirty minute Christmas eve wait in line at the express check out of our neighborhood grocery store! No, that was not a typo! I loved it! I loved the way the young man in front of me, the senior lady behind me and I bonded while sharing our stories of what we had to have so badly that we would endure that long wait in line! I loved how the young man gave "cuts" to a slightly confused elderly gentleman who clutched a one pound box of sugar - and how everyone else behind him smiled their approval - and especially how no one wanted to beat him up or pepper spray him! I love how I live in this community, the one where "the K-Mart lady," Mary Jo, Lily, Nick, Rebecca and that friendly young man also reside. Next year, I am going to do something nice and unexpected for someone else - the same way those people routinely seem to do, without even giving it a second thought! And my idea better be a pretty darn good one - I have a whole year ahead of me to plan it!

Finally, from the department of "The Truth Always Comes Out".....it is time to announce the name of the culprit who really ate the cookies Brielle made for daddy at Grandma's 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party!...introducing...PUMBA!

Christmas cookies? Missing? Really?
You mean little frosted trees with silver sprinkles?
Santa boots with coconut cuffs?
Red and green stars?
Those kinds of cookies? They're missing?
REALLY?
                               Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holy Night


My sincere wishes to you, dear friends, for a Blessed Christmas!

I very often visit the beautiful Carmelite Monastery chapel near my home. At Christmas it is even more special when this tender nativity scene is on display. The cloistered sisters who reside there are living models of the "little way" of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who accepted that it was not her destiny to do great things for Our Lord, but instead, little things, all done with great love.

I love the simple, childlike way this creche is decorated to celebrate the birth of our King! I love the hand sewn clothing worn by the life size figures, the naivety of the painting of God the Father, and the paper cherubs who attend the Holy Family! I love the little gold box that lies at the foot of Jesus with an invitation to place petitions inside of it.

But mostly, I love the handprinted sign on the chapel door that greets me every time I stop by:

Our chapel is open to the public.
You are welcome to come inside and pray.
Our Lord wants to see you.
He is waiting for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Home for Christmas


"Home for Christmas." What a beautiful, heartwarming thought - the very best of its kind! Last night my family all came home, once again, for Christmas. As always, it was magical, especially now that beloved grandchildren unwrap toys in the exact spot where my daughters once did. That poignant observation opened reflection in territory most frequently traveled by those of us who live in the great state of "grandmotherhood."

As the children played, surrounded by loving, attentive parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles, I experienced full realization of what people mean when they say, "Even though we have nothing, we have everything." Because even if we, personally, were not laden with gifts to give one another, we would still, truly, have "everything!"

I know too, that it is not just our present generations who possess the elusive "everything." At my side stands a Christmas tree decorated with many ornaments that delighted my mother when I was a child. I remember the way she would gently guide my hand to hang them. Alongside those are ones my grandmother bought and used for herself. I often wondered why she would buy clear glass balls with mint green and pink stripes. This year, for the first time, I realized that those stripes were originally "Christmas red" and "holly green," having faded right along with the now-orange yarn limbs of our family treasure, "Jimmy Christmas." The most startling of my realizations however, is that this wonderful woman, who was my maternal grandmother, has now become a great-great grandmother with the addition of Bree and the twins!

Memories of those dear ladies who taught me, in fine example, how to have "everything" by loving and giving, return even more vividly with the privilege of handling fragile, cherished tokens of their lives - ones that they themselves touched and fondly smiled upon long ago when colors were bright and clear.

So, here I am today, right in the middle of five generations, each member known and profoundly loved by me as I welcome them all Home for Christmas!

Brielle takes a break from opening gifts.....but not from being adorable!

Yet, the "Home for Christmas" stories that most deeply touch my heart do not involve people! Those stories are reflected in the eyes of family pets - dogs and cats - who came into our lives broken, neglected, fearful, and desperately hungry - not only for food, but for the love of  kind people who would care enough to take them in, make them part of the family and present them with their first, very own, chubby Christmas stockings to paw open and enjoy.

This year it is Roxie, who for the first time in three years, nestles beneath a lighted tree and warms herself before a fireplace. Before we adopted her in August she was one of eighty five dogs taken by Animal Control from a woman who hoarded and neglected them. Roxie's sole source of shelter was the carcass of an old car, where she was found huddled in fear with eight new born puppies. Her ears will always bear scars from attacks by larger, more aggressive dogs, endured while protecting her litter and subsisting on whatever she found to eat in the weeds. But all of that is over now. She has come home at last. There will be no more babies to fight for and protect. Now she is our baby, and we are here to protect her!

Still, the easy part is to take in a sweet, appreciative dog like Roxie and feel the warm glow that comes from providing another first, happy Christmas. It is far more difficult to be a first respondent from the rescue organization that took all of the dogs into protective custody, attended to their medical and psychological needs and placed them in loving "forever" homes.

On behalf of Roxie and those immeasurably kind people, I ask you to consider worthy animal welfare groups as recipients of your seasonal charitable giving - and your prayers!

"Home for Christmas"....for every one of God's living creatures.....wouldn't that be wonderful?

This year, I'm exactly where I belong....HOME for Christmas!
(and no, I'm not budging!)
xxx Love, Roxie xxx

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Grandma's 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party...Completed!

Long ago, I read an anonymous quote in an old cookbook: "It matters less what is on the table than what is on the seats!" I certainly do agree with that charming sentiment, but last night I think I managed to fill both the table and the seats with a wonderful bounty of heartwarming Christmas spirit!

My entire house lights up when all three grandchildren burst inside of it, full of laughter, excitement, and anticipation over what Grandma has in store for them this time! I hoped to set a stage of warmth, togetherness and joy for them, their moms, and Aunt Karen, too. Quite honestly, I think I succeeded very nicely at the task!

We began with drinks from the "Magic Snowman" decanter! The boys were amazed to see their clear cups of Sprite turn color - one to red and one to green - when the beverage interacted with a drop of food color hiding beneath an ice cube. It was actually pretty magical - even to me! Imagine how much fun this would be at a birthday party where each child came away with a different color in his cup!

I loved the way the Santa face mini pizzas turned out and so did the kids. I used an English muffin base, spread prepared pizza sauce over the top, placed small black olive slices for eyes, a tiny grape tomato for nose and a thin piece of red pepper for hat. Shredded mozzarella cheese covered the sauce. I baked them at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. As soon as they came out of the oven I "fluffed up" the beards with another sprinkling of cheese. Nothing got distorted during the baking process.


Santa face pizzas waiting to go into the oven.

Not everything was a success, though! I covered the top of my quiche with 2" cookie cutter Swiss cheese stars and it came out of the oven looking like it was coated with mold! The star studded leafy salad, however, looked terrific! Cheese stars mingled with star shaped oven baked croutons (cut from dense white bread, toss in melted butter, bake 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden) looked fabulous. Snowflakes would be pretty, too!

After we ate it was time to bake! Out came the rolling pins, sugar cookie dough (pre-made a few days previous) and loads and loads of sprinkles! The kids got right down to business - even Brielle, who is only fifteen months old!

One thing I will do differently next year is to have one sheet of cookies already baked so the kids can get right into frosting and decorating. They do like to roll and cut them out, but the ten minute baking time is a long interval for kids this age to endure. We did, however, fill that time slot nicely with "sprinkle-eating!"


This little girl doesn't take "no" for an answer!


"Decorate with one, eat two! Decorate with two, eat three!.....etc!"

"Less is More!".....ummm, REALLY? Well, not over here! Not at Grandma's Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party, that's for sure! I bought a few sheets of those little icing eyes, thinking (naively!) that they would be a nice touch on the faces of snowman or reindeer cookies. The boys took up the challenge and teamed up to make a pair of what we could only describe as "Christmas Aliens!" Now this is creativity at its very, very best, don't you agree?


Who among us really knows for sure that Aliens don't believe in Santa, too?
For all we know, they hang little neon green glow-in-the-dark stockings by their own "chimneys with care!"

After the final batch of cookies was safely packed up to take home to daddy in pint size Chinese take-out boxes, we plopped on Santa hats and made ourselves fluffy white mini-marshmallow beards! Simply adhere the marshmallows with a nice slathering of gooey peanut butter on your cute little chinny-chin-chin! It helps to have a "busy body" little girl cousin take over and do the work for you!




The final event of the evening was the awarding of "door prizes!" Each of the kiddies randomly chose a winner's name and handed out the prize. Mary Jo and Christy won the framed Christmas tree prints made from the little feet of their children. Karen won the framed print of the three little "snow-cousins."


The twins couldn't pronounce "Karen" when they started to talk, so they called her "DeeDee."
That name has stuck, and so here she is...forever, our beloved Aunt DeeDee!

Now, I am not saying that some cookies didn't go into the oven as thin as a sheet of paper while one right next to them might have been as thick and hefty as an industrial weight sledge hammer...or that the cats aren't walking around this morning with tails studded in festive sprinkles...or that multiple wads of dried cookie dough aren't populating beneath my kitchen table...or that every doorknob in the house isn't sticky with green or red icing...or that my "lost and found" box doesn't bulge with a little pink hair bow, a plastic booster seat and a GAP sweatshirt in a size that no one who lives here now has fit for over sixty years! No, I am not saying that!

What I am saying is that the twins each exclaimed,"I had FUN!" on the way home, and that the girls each called or emailed today to thank me again for the wonderful experience and to say how much the daddies loved the cookies! I am saying that when I sweep and scour this morning I have a smile on my face because the precious memories of last night remain vivid in mind and are the reason there will be a "Grandma's 3rd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party"...and a 4th....and a 5th...and a 6th...and on and on until this grandma becomes too "ditzy" to properly mix the green icing sported by the multiple-eyed "Christmas Aliens" who are born on my kitchen table every year at this time!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Cookie Bakers are Coming......SOON!!!!!!


VERY BUSY TODAY! The cookie bakers arrive Friday at 5 PM. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow I babysit all day for Bree, so every minute counts!

I am very excited about Grandma's Second Annual Cookie Baking Party since this year the twins are three and Bree is one year old. That means we can add a few more fun things to the menu!

And, there will always have door prizes for the ladies! When I saw Christmas tree and snowman footprint pictures on Pinterest I knew right away I was going to make them! Not only are they a treasured keepsake for the parents of your grandchildren, they are also easy and inexpensive to make.





For one small child, an 8" x 10" frame with a black border from Michael's or Hobby Lobby will do.
Add a pre-cut mat in red. This one, with a lovely linen texture, was only three dollars before coupon discount. The only other things you'll need are red, green and gold paint, a fine point marker and a brush. Do your printing on a quality white paper, such as Canson, because this year's little feet won't be the same size ever again!

It really is best to have help while you paint the bottom of one foot - green with red toes. Press firmly on paper, at a slight angle. Repeat with other foot, slightly overlapping the heels, to complete the tree shape with an array of little red "presents" beneath it!

Keep in mind that your first attempt may not be perfect. It might smudge, or be too light. Prepare several sheets of paper before you print by tracing the inside of the mat so everything fits into the open area.

Once you have a satisfactory print, use the gold paint to make a tree-top star. (Glue on a paper star as an option.) Print the name of the child and the year at bottom with the marker.

Move up in size to an 11" x 14" frame and mat for an older child with bigger feet. Use this size, too, to make a family of "snow-cousins" like I did, for Aunt Karen to win!




This one's much easier! White paint for the entire foot on red paper -  fine line black marker for eye and mouth dots, arms and printed names -  tiny paintbrush to carefully add orange noses, pink cheeks and the year in white -  black paper hats rubber cemented to heads -  and a sprinkle of snowflakes stamped on (or child's fingertips dipped in paint)....that's it! Even with a double mat and a larger size, this one cost about ten dollars to make, and even if I do say so myself - it is priceless in cuteness!

Now, on to the table! The snowman drink dispenser will not only serve as our centerpiece, but I will introduce him as a "Magic Snowman!" The boys will get clear plastic cups with a drop of liquid food color hiding beneath a cube of ice. When they fill their cups with Sprite from the Magic Snowman, one of the drinks will turn red and the other green! I can't wait to see their surprised little faces when that happens!

It will be dark when the kids arrive, so a string of battery operated lights will encircle the Magic Snowman.

We will first sit down to a light dinner. For the ladies, I am making fish chowder, leafy salad, and mushroom quiche. Probably a few appetizers, too. White wine will accompany the food.

For the kiddies, I am hoping that an idea of mine is successful. I will try to make English Muffin pizzas look like Santa faces - olive slices for eyes, red pepper strips for a hat and white mozzarella cheese for a beard. His nose will be part of a tiny grape tomato that I plop on after he leaps out of the chimney - oops! I mean "the oven" -  with a bound! Ho ho ho! We'll see!

I am also going to serve the kids sliced veggies and a dip, as well as fruit cups topped with jello stars. Along with those cups I will provide the twins their first experience with canned whipped topping! If you know anything about three year old boys, you know this one is not for the fainthearted! Go grandma!

Okay, gotta get back to the kitchen! Full party report posted here on Friday! See you then!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Jimmy Christmas" - and a Family Legacy



I don't remember the exact year, but it was in the late 1950s. Mother took me and my sisters downtown, on the bus, to shop day-after-Christmas sales. Reaching the top of the escalator inside the grandest department store in the city, I vividly recall my shock and dismay. Every single shelf was wiped clean of the Christmas goodies we sought...except for one forlorn little red yarn Santa doll.

"Awwww," we cried in unison, "Nobody wanted him!" So, probably for that reason alone, we wanted him. While mother paid, my sisters and I caressed him lovingly and decided to name him "Jimmy Christmas." Then we took him back home, on the bus, and gave him a place of honor on our Christmas tree.





For years afterwards, his annual appearances were warmly welcomed with multiple retelling of the story of how nobody wanted our little red Jimmy, except, of course, for us!

I think it was the year I married and had my own first Christmas tree that I became the sole guardian of Jimmy Christmas. By that time, his little limbs were starting to fade to orange, but he remained cherished, and when we gathered we told the story of how we found him, and how much we wanted him when no one else did.

I have never verbalized this before, but I think my attachment to Jimmy comes from seeing him as a symbol of a family legacy that spans generations.

Mother often told me about frequent visits from hungry men who would ride the rails looking for work during the Great Depression. Whenever they knocked at her door, my grandmother would welcome them inside and feed them a hearty meal. If grandmother was not at home, mother was instructed to tell the gentleman to wait on the porch while she fixed him a sandwich "to go." Later it was learned that these men had devised a system to alert those who followed them to the identity of benevolent women such as my grandmother.

"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink?"
Matthew 25:37

Growing up, I often witnessed stray cats, thin, hungry and tired, hobble to our back door as if they, too, had been alerted to our address. Without fail, mother welcomed them in, fed them and offered a place to call home....an opportunity I not once saw refused!

"The just man regardeth the life of the beast."
Proverbs 12:10

Today, with varying degrees of success, I try hard to continue the giving legacy of my mother and grandmother. I do know for certain, however, that my daughters are well accomplished in this manner of living. Each one of them is compassionate and kind, and I often learn from observing them.

I think I will hang on to Jimmy Christmas for awhile, even though his little red felt hat is now starting to fade to pink. I look forward to introducing him to my grandchildren as our family symbol of five generations of open doors and open hearts on behalf of God's most needy creatures....especially those whom no one else wants.

By the time I hand Jimmy down to the next caretaker, he may well be faded to all white...an ageless, timeless symbol of those ancient words that wise men and women still honor today...."Love one another...."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The season......

It has taken me many years to appreciate Christmas as an entire season to savor, instead of just one fantabulous, frenzied, gluttonous day of explosive excess. In the past, when that day ended, I would flop, exhausted, onto the couch and enter into a month long bad-mood-slump because "the fun" was all finally taken away from me. I see it differently now. I finally grew up!

My cure of that faulty thinking came about not only with maturity, but with the addition of in-laws. I guess I am just very fortunate. Each of my three new "sisters" (mothers-in-law of my daughters) is as gracious and accommodating as she can be when it comes to the question of "who-gets-the-kids-and-when?" for each holiday. Even before any of our daughters were engaged into those lovely families, each future sister reached out to make sure that my traditional dinners wouldn't be affected by their own desire to see their sons, and I responded in kind. It was as if all four of us had read the same Dear Abby columns and decided together that we would never be one of the selfish, whining, self-pitying "but what about meeee?" mothers-in-law who just can't handle being "alooooone" on Christmas Day once her children are married!

Well good grief, that-kind-of-woman! It's time to grow up! Christmas is a season, not one fantabulous, frenzied, gluttonous day of explosive excess!

And, there are so many fun ways to celebrate it for one entire month!

A few years ago, my daughters and I hosted a "traveling Christmas dinner" for their in-law parents. We wanted them to know how much we appreciated the way they welcomed the girls into their families and treated them as their own. Since the girls and I live within 10 minutes of each other, this was a fairly simple thing to arrange. Appetizers at Karen and Joe's, soup and salad at Christy and Keenon's, main course at my house and dessert and a cookie exchange with Mary Jo and Thomas. It was a great success, although our initial plan to allow 20 minutes of travel time between houses and 45 minutes to eat proved to be woefully inadequate. Everything took longer than we expected! We hope to repeat the fun in a future year, but possibly change the format to meeting and staying at my house only. The couples would still present their own course, but no one would have to pack up and travel every hour. Still, I think the girls would miss having everyone come in to see their Christmas trees and their homes decorated so beautifully. But if we didn't have to keep moving on, we'd have time to play a game, like maybe "Christmas Family Feud!" Wouldn't that be fun? Next year for sure!

One of the cutest ideas I've ever heard to sparkle up a family Christmas gathering belongs to my new sister, Vonda. Her five sons* bring their wives or girlfriends to participate in a competition that they look forward to every year. The girls are asked to bring an appetizer, and the guys, a dessert. But not just any appetizer or dessert! When the table is laden, everyone votes for their favorite. Points are awarded in categories such as presentation, taste and effort. Generous restaurant gift cards are prizes that go to the two top winners. My daughter, Christy, loves searching her cookbooks early in the season for entry ideas. It is so much fun watching her enthusiasm while she plans, observing her husband fumble around in the kitchen with his dessert. and even more fun to find out who the winners were. Last year, one of them was Christy!

And, the lovely, creative hostess? Well, isn't she one smart little hors d'oeuvre? She doesn't have to worry her pretty little head off about providing "award winning" appetizers and desserts every year!

*For the past two years, one son, Jordon, has not been home on Christmas day. He is a United States Marine, currently stationed in Japan. We are so very, very proud of him! But, it won't be too long before he'll be back to join his brothers to "fumble around in the kitchen with his dessert!"

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to plan my first Christmas 2011 event! Last year's First Annual Cookie-Making Party at Grandma's received rave reviews. Since the twins were only two, and Bree, four months old, I kept it very simple. Pre-made sugar cookie dough and a table loaded with sprinkles of every size and shape and flavor - that's it! As the grandkids get older, we will probably add little gingerbread houses to the menu. But for now, both moms have expressed to me how nice it is for their children to be able to enjoy a messy cookie making session without having to squeeze the activity into their own busy December schedules.

This year, for the moms, and Aunt Karen too, I'll again have a lovely champagne and raspberry liquor drink accompanied by appetizers. I'll make an elegant soup and festive salad. There will be door prizes too. Lots of fun ahead!

In the meantime, here's a few pictures from last year's event!

To those who suggest that I exaggerate, for comedic effect, the "help" I receive from my feline crew,
please examine this picture carefully!

No "double trouble" here! Only double cuteness, double fun, and double the amount of cookies!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankfully.....


Dear Father in Heaven,

I am eternally grateful to you for the people who will join me at this table to hold hands in thanksgiving for things you have given us, and for things you have not given us. For it is in the grateful recognition of things denied us that we are given renewed understanding of your divine, parental benevolence which sometimes must say, "No, I love you too much to give that to you!"

I thank you too, heavenly father, for the wisdom of all grandmothers. No, not one of us will ever know the answers to all of the questions, yet we will always know the answer to the most important one! How did you manage to do it, Lord? How were you able to give the cutest, the brightest, the sweetest and the most precious grandchildren to each and every one of us?

Amen!
Thankfully,
Joyce

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Party Time at Last! Halloween 2011


If I didn't have six cats, I could decorate days in advance for my parties and reduce stress by volumes!

But that is not the case over here! Special effects, such as a living room crawling with spider webbing need to be completed at the last minute due to the "help" I get from the feline crew!

Every year my guests are required to plow their way to the party room through a nearly impenetrable maze of webbing.

Annoying? Yes! But while you love your kids to pieces, they do, occasionally, annoy you too! Here is your chance to annoy them! - in a pretty clever passive-aggressive way!



View of the table


I read somewhere that white tulle placed amid battery operated candles would create a misty effect.


The best part of the party, for me, was when the two moms unwrapped their framed ghost pictures. These were printed from the cute little feet of their children - by grandma, of course! They loved them!


 

As far as the success of the "Whoopee Cushions" planted on the seats of the three  guys, well.....not so much! Can't decide if the reason was because they are all just too smart and too observant or, around me, they are just too wary of "surprises" - or if, as Christy suggested, I am just "too obvious!"

But there were a few things that everyone agreed on! The "monster" slowly emerging from behind the couch was effective (Karen screamed!), the food was "awesome," Bingo was "lucrative" (especially for Joe!) and the company was the very, very best!

Not sure about what I am going to do next year, but when I announced that I might make some changes to make it more exciting, the girls looked at me, horrified, and demanded, "WHY?"

Best compliment EVER!

No! WAIT!
Mary Jo, who, like me, suffers from "Competitive-Oldest-of-Three-Daughters-Syndrome" has something to add.....

"Well, I MIGHT be open to some changes if it meant I would win more Bingo money!"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Countdown to Halloween 2011

Well, eleven days left before Halloween and we still have some important decisions to make! First of all, Charlie needs to decide whether he will be a ghost this year or, like last year, a snowman! Thank goodness he's a cat and doesn't complain about those being his only two choices!

In any event, the best way I know  to save money on cat Halloween costumes is to adopt an all white cat!

And Charlie agrees!


And here he is as a snowman.
I can see why he can't make a decision!

Here, Charlie models his ghost costume.















Now, I need to decide if my gigantic papier mache witch will make an appearance this season! I made her last year during the summer. If you are unfamiliar with this media but love show-stopping party props without spending hundreds of dollars on stuff that will sit in storage for 11 months (and scare the "hell" out of you every time you go down into the basement.....not that this ever happened to me or anything!) then you do need to get familiar with papier mache! My witch joined these "regulars" at my annual family party........


You have to wonder, what kind of people actually buy creatures like this!
Well......I did!












Newspaper, flour, water, masking tape, paint and lots of crazy finishing touches are all you need! Cheap! Just bunch up newspaper and tape it to hold. Make a body and head shape. Mix flour with water until you have a craft glue consistency. Tear newspaper strips. Dip strips into flour paste. (Cat owner? Warning! 3/4 of my cats try to lick the paste - ewww!) Cover form. Minimum 3 layers. Allow it to dry for a few days. Paint and decorate! And if you think you're not "artsy" enough?....oh for heaven's sake! It's HALLOWEEN! Anything goes! And that includes the dust on everything in my house!.....seasonally categorized as "decoration!"


If you place a witch like this in front of a mirror, once the drinks start to flow you will receive many nice compliments on the "pair" of them! Happened to me...will probably happen to you! (Make one - get one!)

Saturday is my party for the "kids." Today is Thursday and I've been busy decorating all week. The best celebratory effect comes from the crepe paper streamer "tent" I put up every year. Attach long strips in black and orange from the center lighting fixture to all 4 corners of the room. Nestle spooky creatures in the fixture on branches spray painted black. Large spiders are great, but so are vultures! Here is one of my silent sentinels!





For efficiency, I bring the black dinner plates out days early, but in my house they need to be run through the dishwasher just before party time - just in case! One year I caught one of my cats curled up in a cute little ball dead-center on a dinner plate just before show time! Around here, you never know!

Hey, what did you guys have to eat at your mom's fabulous party?
Oh, you know, Halloween stuff!....toad legs, eye of newt, hair of cat.......!

                            (He he he!)








One last thing on my "to-do" list for today! Set up the whoopie cushions! This year I am placing them on the guys' seats, covering them in black fabric and enlisting the girls to help by having them tell their husbands that they are playing a trick on me and they should sit down together only when signaled! Will it work? I will let you know! On one hand, all three of the sons-in-law are pretty smart guys - on the other -  well, basically, they are guys! Hopefully they will be distracted by the food and free beer - until they sit down, that is! That is my hope! We'll see!
Come back soon for more Halloweeeeeen!
Part three, right here!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween Watch 2011

I looooove Halloween! I love the way fall colors warm up my house and help me get over the fact that summer, sadly, is now over. I love playfully cute Halloween decorations that can be tucked among autumn hues, appearing a few at a time beginning on the first of October and totally taking over my house by mid-month. I love how, even though my inventory of those things is very healthy, there are still designers out there who create clever new things to add to it every year.


Here's an example! First it was just the pathetic string of fall leaves. The pumpkin lights came next, followed by the ghost. Last year, the really cool rats came to join the fun!

My ghost, bought at a gift shop, is about 22" tall but I saw similar ones on Pinterest a few weeks ago. A lady makes them on tomato cages. They are basically just starched white sheet fabric with white Christmas lights inside. Wouldn't a pair of them look great on your front porch?

My rats are BIG, snarly-looking, and their eyes glow red and slowly flash on and off! I love rats!

The highlight of my Halloween season is the party I host for my three daughters and their husbands. Just them. No grandkids. On party night, babysitting is the job of Nana and Grandpa!



The traditional party began before the grandkids came. I have since offered to turn it into a mid-day "family" one to include them, but the response I get is a resounding "NO!" The six of them simply enjoy the time together to savor the annual dinner of Martha Stewart mac and cheese and her rib and homemade sauce recipes that are so good it's scarrrry!

In addition, there are always a few new surprises awaiting the "kids."

Three years ago, I left a note on the front door stating, "ran to the store - come on in - BRB!" Among the many decorations, (almost too many to behold!) I sat silently in a chair in the dimly lit dining room dressed in black and wearing a skull mask. When the girls started to get a little annoyed, wondering, "Where's mom?" (some things never change!) I slooowly arose from my chair! Yes! I did scare them! Well, the girls at least!

Last year, the same note was left on the door, but that time, the joke was on me! I laid down beneath the dining room table, hoping they would gather around it to admire the lavish setting. Then I would firmly grab the ankles of the 2 most squeamish guests (Karen and Christy!). While I waited patiently and soundlessly, stifling laughter with my back breaking, the guests did everything but cluster around the table! They checked every closet, bathroom and hiding place in the house. I heard Thomas (son-in-law #1) become totally frustrated and announce loudly that he didn't really care where I was as long as he could dive into the mac and cheese before it got cold - and then he helped himself! Yeah, I think it was then that I decided to come out of hiding!

This year the girls have reminded me several times that they all hope I hide again - and I already have my idea! How about slooooowly rising from behind the family room couch wearing a huge, ugly, ugly monster mask once they are all assembled? Yep, I think that's what I am gonna do for sure!

Here's a picture of my table from the past. I found glow-in-the-dark martini glasses and used mixes from Stirrings to make great drinks. Those glasses were wonderful! They lit the table with an eerie ambiance and continued to glow until late the next morning. One rule about the drinks - when blueberry flavor was used, guests had to request refills by asking for "More boo!-berry please!" The same applied to "blood of the vampire" for cranberry, and "swamp juice" for lime. Otherwise, requests for more were ignored!


One year, after the eats were gone, I passed around a basket of those little Halloween character wind-up toys. Each guest selected one, named it, and lined it up at the starting line - which, on this striped table cloth, was an easy task! Some of the toys veered sideways and fell off the table, others ran out of "gas" after a few inches, but the ones belonging to Mary Jo and Keenon (son-in-law #2) battled it out in a final heat for the prize. I really don't remember who won, but what I do remember is a picture of six "twenty-somethings" gathered around the table, laughing with hilarity and cheering on a two inch plastic wind-up skeleton, monster or witch. Priceless memories. No one ever really outgrows having fun!

We play Bingo every year! I think I am a little embarrassed to say how much cash I give away, but we do play about 20 games and no prize is less than a $10 bill. I stash the cash inside envelopes and put them in one of those bowls with a motion activated monster hand. Last year the stupid hand refused to work, but there's something about tradition; the money still goes into that same bowl and, again, if a winner wants to collect a prize, they must yell out, "BOO!" and not "Bingo!"

I always have a little party favor for the girls too. Usually it is a small decoration, but this year I am going with a ghost theme. I used an idea from Pinterest and made framed prints of white painted footprints of the twins and of Bree to make these adorable little keepsakes.

That's an advantage of lots of babysitting time alone with the kids! Paint their little hands and feet all you want and mom and dad will never know what you're up to! I snuck the footprints home, painted on ghost eyes in black and names and date in white before framing in purchased mats and frames for less than $6 each.


Before I post this, here's a picture of 2/3 of my cats enjoying the motion of falling leaves and of the frisky little chipmunks who live beneath our porch  - and I am pretty sure, inside of our walls, too! (Oh dear! Probably not a good thing!)



From left to right, formerly feral Annie and Mickey; rescued Charlie, and Iggy.
Katie and Rosie had other things to do at the time of this photo shoot!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Birthday Slam!

I wonder how rare it is for a grandma to have all three of her grandchildren born on the same day? (It does help that the first two were twins!) The easy part is that I only have one date to remember....the harder part is squeezing all that celebrating into one really crazy day, especially if the two moms involved don't know when to quit when its time to plan something really cute! This year, the big day (August 29) was on a Monday. We compromised by having Brielle's party on Saturday, followed by one for the twins on Sunday.


Brielle was one year old this year, and mom (Christy) decided that "Princess in Pink" was going to be the theme and the whole world (or so it seemed!) would be invited! Note the tutu. Yards and yards of unlimited "fluff!"

Another adorable item was a decoration made by Bree's talented Nana (her paternal grandmother). She took 4" x 6" pictures of the baby at each of her first twelve months, mounted them on pretty paper, accented them with little jewels, buttons, ribbons and all kinds of special little "curlicues" and strung them up in a garland on the banister. The best part was that after the party, they became a beautiful keepsake book for Brielle!


Lots of cute gifts for Brielle to open....but I received a gift too! My wonderful "neighbor-friend-sister," Sheila, attended the party and made a photo journey of the event for me! This is something she has done for every family wedding and bridal shower (including those she herself hosted!) and those have been treasures that are not fully appreciated until after the big day is over. That is when you start trying to remember small details and wish you hadn't been such a "nervous ninnie" (I speak for myself here!), too distracted to take more photos. That is when I sit down at my computer and find that my "angel-sister" has taken care of ALL that for me! She has such a great way with people, greets them at the door, and takes their pictures as they enter! She is there with close-ups of the cake before it is demolished - as well as wide angle shots that capture the spirit of the entire party! What a priceless gift! And I don't think she even realizes how thoughtful and unselfish such a service is to someone like me! I mention this not only in gratitude, but as a suggestion to others; this is a gift you can give that will last far beyond anything anyone can ever unwrap!


Finally, here are the twins, sharing birthday cake with their little cousin!


And now.....we turn to a completely different type of celebration for turning THREE! This one was a little easier on my nerves. Immediate family only; eleven total. Now that's a number that a control freak like me can handle! - especially since I did none of the work! That part was handled by the twins' mom, MaryJo, and it acknowledged very adequately the boys' current fascination with anything that moves on four wheels, in particular - CONSTRUCTION VEHICLES! I must insert here that I have learned to never say that a three year old has nothing to teach me. Gone are the days when I would whiz past a construction site and absently think "yellow trucks." No! Those are not "yellow trucks!" To think that is to be unsophisticated - to have never spent even a moment with a bulky book and a little boy nestled in your lap while being tutored on the difference between a "skid loader" and a "cement mixer." Yes! There most definitely IS a difference - and having been corrected numerous times, I now know what it is! 

The boys woke from afternoon naps to find their room full of helium balloons, and a trail of more of them to follow downstairs to the party where we all waited! A plastic "construction zone" tape was carefully wrapped around the dining room table work area with a wonderful (home baked by mom) dump-truck-shaped-mini-donut-wheeled birthday cake presiding!


Safety First! Note construction hats and vests for all partiers!

The boys were beyond excited.....but was this all? No way! What is that rumbling noise out in the street? It can't possible be Mister Bob, the BOBCAT DRIVER, can it?!

But it WAS!

And the boys got to sit in it and have daddy drive them up and down the street! So, how did this all come about? Well, mommy put on her "construction zone thinking hat" and called around to see if anyone knew a bobcat owner who wouldn't mind hiring himself out to make two little boys ecstatically happy. She discovered Mister Bob almost right around the corner, eagle-eyeing this little gem parked right in his driveway! Mister Bob the Bobcat Owner couldn't have been nicer about agreeing to make the surprise visit that brought this celebration truly over-the-top!

One half hour later, it was back inside for presents and cake and something grandma had up her sleeve for the girls to participate in. This one has a background story!

When the girls were young, I explained to them that my generation didn't live in a world of "toy gluttony" like they do today. If we wanted fun, we were usually on our own to invent it for ourselves. And, I do think that was a good thing to experience; it has made me very resourceful! Anyway, I told them how my two sisters and I fashioned homemade shoes for ourselves. We used cardboard for soles and strapped them on with nasty tasting brown paper tape that needed to be licked to become stick-able. We embarked on neighborhood walks, carrying spare rolls of tape, well prepared for the (frequent) broken strap accompanied by a wail of "REPAIRS!" - our signal to stop and wait until the limping sister was restored for another dozen or so steps! Well! The 80s generation screamed with laughter at each telling, totally missing the point of courageous creativity in the face of 1950s "entertainment poverty!"

2011: Time to teach those 20-somethings a lesson!

My daughters usually don't need bribes to encourage their participation in any kind of crazy, fun stuff, but throw in a few dollars worth of prize money and all three are immediately on board. This time, they were dying to see what I had stashed in three mysterious boxes I was about to hand out!

Each one contained identical items - 2 cardboard sheets big enough to trace an adult foot (I think you know what's coming here!), scissors, tape (couldn't find the nasty lickable stuff - gone to live with the dinosaurs, I imagine!), ribbon scraps, fake flowers, paper scraps, etc!

The girls had 20 minutes to make themselves a pair of shoes, and then we would meet for the race!


Karen, the fashion-minded/scientist in the family took a very methodical approach which proved to be her undoing. Too much emphasis on daintily tied, geometrically arranged fragile bows! Still, she placed first in the "Prettiest" category!

Ladies! Strap on your SANDALS! The contestants line up for the grueling "last woman running while still clad in home made shoes" relay. (And, as in high school days past, "no one" can tell me where the beer bottle came from!)
The race whizzed by so fast, my camera caught only errant puffs of smoke! You will have to rely on results in narrative only. Karen, as previously mentioned, bombed out first. Christy (center) lasted a little longer in a real "mean girls with elbows" battle with her older sister. She had to settle for "Most Entertaining" contestant. The husbands were supposed to select that winner, with grandpa as the tie-breaker. All four of them (wisely, I believe!) opted out of casting votes! With the fierce determination usually exhibited by an eldest sibling, along with some pretty crafty paper engineering, (perhaps observed while viewing "Bob the Builder" alongside her set of twins?) the top prize went to Mary Jo, whose practical, sturdy "mukluks" handily defeated the two pairs of silly little beribboned cream puffs worn by her younger sisters!

Unless you're playing to WIN, don't even bother playing!
And, we STILL weren't done with the evening! We decided to start a family tradition of celebrating our "three-birthdays-in-one" with an annual launch of Asian Wish Lanterns. (I found the best price online at Just Artifacts and received excellent service.) The weather was perfect. No wind and clear skies. So peaceful to watch them slowly drift upwards....later, we heard that some friends launch them every year on Christmas eve. We might have to do that, too! Wouldn't that be pretty if there was a light snow?

Very easy to light and to use....a wonderful experience!
Highly recommended!


My personal wish was that every child would be as loved as my own are.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

FAMILY CARNIVAL!!!! PART 4!

PRIZES! That's the reason we're all here, right? Once a game was won, (or lost! "whatever!") we gave the child a ticket to cash in at the Prize Booth. Baby rubber duckies, bubble wands, crazy sunglasses, whistles, alien toys, play dough, cotton candy....the usual carnival fare!

..


If you invite them.......you need to feed them! And not just popcorn! - although this little stand was a popular site to visit. It was the first booth I made, down in my basement during the cold month of March. In my enthusiasm, I pieced it all together permanently - never thinking ahead about moving it upstairs, into a truck, and over to Mary Jo's! I got smart really fast after that! Everything else now comes apart for easy moving and reassembly. Nonetheless, the popcorn stand made it to the carnival and will live to see future ones!

My son-in-law was in charge of the grill. We served hot dogs and a few side dishes. The food was offered in those cute red plastic diner baskets with red checkered wax liners.The dessert table was made into a game. I found this terrific tabletop spinner at Oriental Trading. The girls worked together to provide cute desserts like "dirt cups," brownies, hamburger-shaped cookies, and ice cream cone cupcakes to place on the numbers.





A few other games rounded out the evening. We had an "estimating jar" stuffed with candy. Each family was invited to make a guess at the total amount of items inside. The family who won the jar was just one number away from the correct total! We also had a "Cookie Walk" - playing for giant chocolate chip cookies, awarded to whomever was standing on the correct number when the music stopped.       

                                                                                    











The final game was an "egg and spoon" race. I love the game I found with plastic eggs that break open when they drop - with a little bean bag "yolk" inside! When the winners crossed the finish line, they were generously sprinkled with confetti and cheered for by the whole crowd. Many kids came back to play over and over just so they could be re-showered with confetti (and win another circus-striped lollipop!)


















Egg and spoon race competitors include my youngest daughter, Karen, at right, with Bree.
















How could we possibly end the hot summer evening without a wild and crazy water balloon fight orchestrated by the dads? I had no idea this was about to happen. The guys just put it all together, had a wonderful time with their kids, and demonstrated once again the lasting joy and happy memories that come from gatherings such as this!

And there you have it! Our first annual family carnival in only 4 installments! Maybe next year we'll have it at my house, probably in the spring - that will give us some space for our first annual  

Halloween Carnival!

This event is already on the drawing board and on the calendar! And in the meantime,"WOW!" you should see my basement!
NO WAIT!
Don't you dare go down in my basement!
LOL!


Family friend and super-fun daddy, Rich, was right in the middle of all the wet fun!

July 14, 2012 note: As I reread this Family Carnival 2011 series I am struck by how much the kids have matured in the past year. That reinforces the idea that grandchildren really do grow up fast, just as their parents did. I am beginning to plan for this year's second family carnival to be held on August 18, 2012. Grandmothers will be the guests of honor this time. I will invite my own grandma friends and my daughters will include the grandparents of their own guests. Adult children are welcome too, but if they come, they must don a striped apron and work a booth! Grandmothers alone will take the kids by the hand and play the games together! I admit that the thought of all the work involved to pull this fete off successfully has caused me to hesitate more than once. Maybe I should host the affair just once every two years? But then I look back at last year's pictures and recall the number of times my grandsons have asked if grandma will have another carnival for them. This reignites the enthusiasm I thought I was losing! Yes, kiddoes! Of course grandma is going to have another family carnival this year! And the next, and the next and the next! Because right now is the time you warm my heart with your cute little squeals of joy when it's your turn to step up and toss plastic rings over the heads of dollar store duckies!

Read about our 2012 event here.
And our 2014 event here. Lots of new games and prizes!