Saturday, August 31, 2013


There are a few reasons why I want my grandkids to know how to make paper mache decorations for Halloween. I suspect that the day will come when they see a "totally awesome," creepy looking life size party monster that they will just "gotta have." Chances are that the price will be "equally awesome" too, but chances are even better that mommy will step in and say, "You're not bringing that gruesome thing into our house!" Fair enough, mommy. That's when I want the kids to remember that any fantastic seasonal decoration their little hearts ever desire can be made by themselves using a skill that grandma introduced at pre-school age.

This friendly ghost is an easy "three-visits-to-grandma's" project. It costs next to nothing, recycles newspaper and backyard sticks, entails just the right amount of sloppy mess to keep the finickiest little crafter happy, and results in a decoration that will charm everybody for years to come.

Here's how we made ours:

Day 1: Construction

Give each child an open sheet of newspaper (20" x 23") and demonstrate bunching it up into a ball. This will be the head. Wrap the ball in a second sheet and bunch up the excess so it begins to form a tapered body that is not unlike a turkey drumstick. Use a third and a fourth sheet until satisfied with the shape and size of ghost. Hold everything in place with masking tape.

Our ghosts are 10" 15" and 18" tall. Originally, each child was to make one 15" ghost requiring four sheets of paper, but the boys insisted on another pair for their year old twin sisters. Those are the small ones, made from two sheets.

But what about mommy and daddy? The larger "six sheeters" fill that order. Whew! What was to be a three ghost event quickly turned into a convention of seven!

"Me? Put my cute little hands inside of THAT?
You first, grandma!"
Bree, at age two, was not a fan of the sticky mess, so she happily skipped away, allowing grandma to make one (pictured at top) for her!

Once size and shape are satisfactory, have the children tear strips of newspaper, about 2-3" wide, while you make the flour paste. Fill a small bucket with about a quart of warm water, add a few handfuls of all-purpose flour, and stir with your hand until it is the consistency of craft glue. Dip the strips into the paste and cover each form with 2 or 3 layers. Place the ghosts on plastic bags to dry. Turn them over a few times as needed. Drying should take 2 days at the most. See above photo.

Day 2: Stick Arms and Painting

Take the kids into the woods and select arms for each ghost. Sticks that are forked are the best choice.

Poke holes into the sides, insert arms, and secure with craft glue.

Once glue has dried, it's time to paint. Acrylics are a good choice, but spray painting is the quickest method....and the one most like a squirt bottle of whipped topping! Protect the area with cardboard or newspaper, paint the first side, flip over and repeat.

Day 3: Decorate and Complete

Use acrylic paint for features - black for eyes, and orange for cheeks. If you have a craft punch and scraps of paper, kids will enjoy punching and gluing either eyes or cheeks, or both, with this method.

Punch a hole in center top of head. Knot the end of a length of yarn or cord and insert into hole. Secure with glue and dry.

Cut strips of white crepe paper, about 10 per ghost, at least 18" long. Fold one end over a stick arm, closest to body. Place glue on end of paper and pinch together to hold in place. Repeat until both arms are covered as shown in top photo.

Thank you to my dear friend, Lily, for the darling photo of Brielle taken during a strawberry eating binge at a family celebration. I love it!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cats and Quilts

Slow news day? No. Worse. Slow news week. Regular readers know that when there's nothing going on over here with the grandkids, I dig out my cats. This essay is full of them. It is one I wrote in 2009 to enter in a local writing contest. I have always been fond of it, not only because it placed first in the non-fiction category, but because it chronicles two interests of mine that don't involve obsessing over grandchildren.....ones I indulge in solely for my own emotional serenity.....

Hi! I'm Iggy. Who are you?

Cats and Quilts

Cats and quilts. What other combination of living/non-living entities stimulates the senses with such warmth, domesticity, and beauty? Gently covering us with an unhurried sense of well-being, both are resting places for the soul.

I have owned cats and quilts all of my life. Grandmother made the first ones - the quilts, of course -  and now I make my own. But my cats have always come from the same source - any place of hunger or desperate need from where I snatch them up unwanted, rid them of fleas, schedule a spay or neuter and then provide welcome into our large, happy, comfortable home with only one instruction: "Live here in safety and prosperity for the rest of your life." Over the years, several dozen have taken me up on this offer, and many of them have shown a remarkable interest in the craft of quilting.

Yep! I still have this old rag!
Someone is going to have to invent a new
geometric shape if it ever needs to fit
squarely inside a lens frame!
The first attempt at my own handwork, some twenty years ago, was a red and cream Schoolhouse wall hanging. It was a curious match of blocks stitched with both velvety top-of-the-line 100% cotton prints and flimsy, bargain basement "blends." Teamed with a saw-tooth border, each side came to a screeching halt at the corners with a partially whacked off "tooth" - so it would fit, of course! After it was pieced, I laid it ceremoniously in the center of the living room floor and my family stood about and waxed eloquently on its virtues of beauty and grace. During a moment left alone, the only truly honest member of the family, "Erma," a smug little tortie, strolled directly to quilt-center and promptly "urped up" a generous, slimy hairball in wordless opinion. The machine washing that ensued frayed the cheap fabric, and all of the reds - none of them pre-washed, of course! - bled all over the place.

big fan of all kinds of entertainment-
Halloween costumes included!

By the time my skill improved to the point where I could semi-proudly display a seasonal wall hanging above the fireplace, another tortie, "Raisin," had come to live with us. Whenever the family room filled to capacity, Raisin would leap onto the mantle and push herself behind the quilt. There she would energetically pound the wall and batter the piece, creating a truly amazing show of gyrating fabric. Periodic peeks from behind gauged the effect on her audience. Of course we enthusiastically applauded, cheering on her efforts to entertain us!

"Joey" came home after surviving the first three months of life beneath the carcass of a car in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Since quilts were, indisputably, not a luxury he enjoyed in those surroundings, he is, even now at age three, unable to grasp their purpose. Yet he regards them with a quiet, focused interest.

currently residing in Cat Heaven
"until we meet again..."
I miss you, little sweetie!

When the mood strikes him, this now handsome prince of a cat - black, white and long haired, comes to sit on the arm of my chair, serenely watching, but politely not touching, my work. I take the time to explain to him what I am doing and how far I have progressed in my pursuit of quilting. He seems to relate this to his own experience and understands that, today, I quilt competently in queen-size with the same confidence he himself anticipates daily meal service.


We have "Rosie" and "Katie" here now too. They are sisters. Rosie, with white boots and a cute black nose, is a tomboy - raucous and clumsy. She has better things to do than interact with quilts for any purpose. Evaluating them, entertaining with them, or learning how to stitch them does not interest Rosie.


Katie, on the other hand, a very feminine and petite calico, waits for me to settle down with the frame in my lap. This is her signal to leap up and "help" me from the reverse side. We play the game of seeing who can pull the thread through faster to her own side. When Katie wins, I patiently rethread the needle. When I win, the thread is returned coated with cat saliva. I'm not saying this is the easiest way to hand quilt, but at least sewing supplies remain untouched at my side. Except for the thread, I guess. I see now that it is gone again. Probably carted off by Sylvester........

Oh gosh, I haven't mentioned him yet? Hmmmm. Well, Sylvester is a ferret. Yeah....(sigh). We have one of those too!


After ten hilarious, inquisitive years Sylvester is currently thieving up a storm in Ferret Heaven.
Guess it's okay to steal things there!

Raisin is 16 years old. This little old lady has slowed down a bit since my essay was written, but what a life she has led! As the pet of our oldest daughter, she has mingled well with "millennials," first moving on to a classy urban condo where, for five years, she feared nothing but window washers. When that gig was up, she sampled suburban living, gracefully yielding "only-child" status by accepting first one, and then a second set of twin (human) siblings. Now she basks in the sun during the day and shares daddy's pillow at night.

After three seemingly healthy, happy years, Joey passed away suddenly, in my arms, of a congenital heart condition in 2009. I will never stop missing my purr-fect little quiltin' buddy.

Rosie and Katie are still here.

And so are newcomers Mickey, Charlie, Annie and Iggy...none of whom have ever shown a single "stitch" of interest in the fine art of quilting!

I am far from being a perfect patchmaker, but I have learned from my mistakes....
Deciding to make myself a Christmas quilt, I had the sense to pre-wash the fabric!

The nicest thing about squares is that they don't have points to match!

May you always be covered with the peaceful warmth and beauty of a comforting quilt and a purring, contented kitty, or preferably - like me - many of each!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bee a Speller!

I was always good at spelling. Very good! And what a life raft on the sea of Catholic elementary education that skill proved to be for me, to whom early instinct registered "i before e except after c" inside my third grade head. Had no eighth commandment admonishment on the delivery of falsehood accompanied my talent, I truly think I'd dare to say today that spell check itself was invented by "Miss Smarty Pants" - me!

Those school days were like none other....a roller coaster ride fraught with peril that ensured a moment's warming bask beneath the beaming gaze of a no-nonsense nun evaporated the second math books were opened. Ecstasy to agony. A leper without a colony. One who breathed the litany of the saints in prayerful hope of not being called upon for an answer she never had. The sweetest sound inside those rooms was sister's flustered sigh, "All right, (insert boy's name here) tell them the answer!" Whew! Safe for another day!

You'll never see me sponsoring a family Math-a-thon. Forget it. But a spelling bee? Let me at 'em! With the grandkids as my competent assistants, I pulled one off very successfully last Sunday afternoon for grandpa, our three daughters, and their husbands.

First step - Compile a list of dictionary words - not too easy, not too hard. Print them out. Figure on 10 words per person....less if you'll be serving beer or wine!

Secondly - For as long as it lasts, have grandkids pull words. Get them used to the idea that someday they'll be doing the spelling while today's contestants toss words to them!

Thirdly - When spellers "buzz out," have kids deliver a consolation prize of a bagged and beribboned cookie to take away some of the sting of "bee-ing" a loser.

Use a 4" Easter egg cutter for body and a 1.5" spice bottle cap for wings. Cut shapes from rolled sugar cookie dough. Cut circles in half.

Bake, cool, then dip wings in Royal icing. Divide icing. Tint half yellow. Frost bodies, leaving area on pointed end for head. Tint remaining icing black. Pipe head. Place sugar eyes immediately on top. Pipe stripes. Lay wings immediately on top.

Finally - Provide a grand prize to the Queen Bee -
or King Bee!

The winner's prize bag was decorated with a hand made "Champ-bee-un!" medal. Inside was a little hive of honey, a handful of cookies, a bumblebee notepad, and a gift card.

The results, in order of elimination:

1. Uncle Keenon? Well, not a very consistent speller!
2. Send Uncle Joe a memorandum! He needs to learn how to spell that word!
3. Aunt Christy couldn't handle syllable. Thought the word had far more than three of them!
4. I hope buzzing out on indelible doesn't leave a permanent mark on Mary Jo's spelling confidence!
5. Uncle Tom went out for a ride on equestrian. But!........
6. When Aunt Karen contracted a case of tuberculosis, the diagnosis was a sudden death playoff between her and Tom......
7. Which ended in a lopsided victory for him when Karen subbed a "b" for the "p" in that word!

L to R the buzzing bees of  Bree, Nick, and Sae

One more thing! To commemorate the event, each grandkid hand made a framed collage/potato print for use as a raffle prize. They sold their own tickets to eager customers, pulled winning names, and awarded prizes at contest's end

I sometimes reflect on early days of my education as described above. I weigh the benefits versus the cost to me in anxiety expended. Thanks to the good sisters, I have never (NEVER!) been late for a single appointment of any kind throughout my entire life. But I have an insufferable need to compete and win, sometimes at unpleasant cost. That obsession is matched with not only wanting things done right, but having them done right my way. I suppose the sisters believed they finished well with me, yet I'm not sure I endorse all of the methods they employed. Still....part of me often wanders into the territory of speculating outcomes for education today if nuns were allowed to greet students at the door, cheerfully relieving them of contraband with a hearty, "God Bless You, dear child!" and not a care in the world for the wrath of salivating lawyers. How evident might those results bee (oops! I mean "be!") at family spelling gatherings?

Any thoughts?......Just mind your spelling, young lady!