Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2014: Unwrapped

The Christmas season is like a beautifully wrapped gift. When presented, it delivers joyful anticipation. "For me? Oh my! Why thank you! Whatever could it be?"

And then the careful process of opening begins....

Formal evening dinner at grandma's welcomes every member of the family. We've grown, from just the five of us, to eight adults as sons-in-law joined us over the years. My favorite moments include the quiet time before arrival when candlelit places are set, crab bisque is ready to be ladled and hands will soon join in grateful prayer for the blessing of togetherness.

Grandchildren, six so far, occupy the nearby "kids' table." But that's not, by any means, the first "cousin event" of the season. That honor goes to "Christmas Movie Night" at Aunt Christy's. And while the feature title responds to currently popular demand, many things remain the same. Aunt Mary Jo's annual gift of matching jammies keep hot-chocolate-sipping and popcorn-munching kids comfy and cute. This year, Brielle's canopied bed was the site of tumbling chaos for parental paparazzi pictures!

I'm delighted that my daughter chose "Elf on the Shelf" pjs. We're all fans of that little tattle tale, and "elf haters" don't bother us one bit. Our kids excitedly exchange escapade details with cousins and classmates and follow every ritualistic rule. Family bonding, creative thinking, early morning anticipation - each one further enriches the best time of the year!

Christmas cookies - we bake 'em, we eat 'em! This is our fourth year of doing that together, and more pint size participants seem to pop up annually. This year there were seven present - the newest (he'll be born on December 26th!) tucked inside mommy's tummy, hiding behind one of three aprons I made for my daughters to wear each year from now on.

A half dozen hand print reindeer blaze across the bottom half. Wisely, I've left room for more! A wreath of buttoned up yo yos graces the bodice. Hand quilted snow swirls fill in the background and everything else is outlined in stitches.

Grandma's very first Christmas 2010 Cookie Baking Party hosted just the boys - age two at the time. This year, along with Brielle at four, the "big kids" are old pros at the sprinkle station and handle those icing bottles with confident ease.

Youngest of the baking bunch, Kaylee, a newbie at the decorating table, declares,
"I have an icing bottle and I know how to use it!"

And even though dainty little Angeline prefers to taste each morsel before proceeding, there are still plenty of intact and yummy cookies for each family to take home and enjoy!

Nick gets it. "We did that last year!" he shouts when dinner is dismissed and we gather for grandma's "enhanced" reading of "The Night Before Christmas." I'm a "tradition-maker" if there ever was one, and so indeed, my sweet little Nick, this is the second year grandchildren cluster at my feet with fuzzy pet finger puppet mice to raise up with shouts of glee whenever grandma randomly inserts the word "mouse" into the tale of that storied "little old driver" who will forever be "so lively and quick!"

I can't help but wonder how many years I might be indulged with willing participation in this ritual. And if some day, many years ahead, these children will rediscover a familiar furry face tucked away among ornaments of old. I hope they will smile warmly at the memory of Christmas eves clustered with cousins alongside the tree, listening for the magic word!

And then it happens.

Present time!

The speculation is nearly as much fun as the opening....

But not really!.......

Yes, over here grandchildren are indulged. But each of the older ones has been guided by parents wise and compassionate to give time, talent and treasure to those less fortunate. The boys are finally old enough to volunteer at the animal shelter, walking dogs and petting cats. Each child also purchased a toy from savings to donate to another, one whom they will never meet. For that reason, the pride I feel over their own generosity makes these moments so much more special. They've given us all so much. It's their turn to receive.

I'm given presents too. This despite my assertion that grandmothers don't really want "things" from their children, they just want to do things with them! But I get both. And I am very grateful. There's a lovely box of "made-by-mommy-and-me" fudge from Brielle. Wow. Squares and squares of different flavors and toppings - so good - too good, really! I'm glad grandpa has his own. Mine are just for me!

Wine, too! Bottles large and lovely. If you ever hear that this grandma "got run over by a reindeer," you'd be wise to suspect my now fully stocked wine rack as a contributing factor!

And then there's this zany and utterly charming critter! He's crafted of wild bird seed and comes with his own pet mouse and a wire rack for hanging outside. It will be tricky to set it where our well pampered squirrels can't make short order lunch of it, but this "crazy cat lady" is really delighted with her new and fanciful feline!

Speaking of new pets, this one appeared on Christmas morning, left by Santa at Brielle's house. She was quickly named "Elfie," allowing me to add a great-grand-pig to my collection of little ones to love!

"Squeak! I'm as cute as a button!"

Inside my gift of Christmas I found the joy of Jesus in family fun, friendly faces and festive food. I found a fortune in fabulous fudge! I found cousins and cookie crumbs and the blessing of beautiful daughters and handsome and loving sons. I found presents to open and many to give. I found meaningful memories, prayers and peace.......

and just one more thing too!
 - this cute little face,
frosted in green and sprinkled in blue!

And this was my Christmas.

Friday, December 26, 2014

12:26 on 12/26

Introducing my seventh grandchild, Austin Michael!
Born at 12:26 P.M. EST on 12/26/14 (really!)
8 lbs. 8 oz. and 21" long
Here he is, cradled by his proud big sister, Brielle.
Austin loves to sleep! So far, so good!
Grandma is totally in love!

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Kids' Table" Christmas Cottage

There are bits and pieces of Christmas coming together over here now, and I am pleased and excited. Our tree is up, wreaths are hung, and wrapping paper has been "borrowed." (How do you "borrow" a consumable like wrapping paper, you wonder? Well I dunno either. You might ask my daughters. They do very well in that category every year!)

I have several menus planned too. Not only for our family dinner, but for Grandma's Cookie Baking Party as well. And, there's another in the works - one that serves up the most fun for me and all six grandkids - the kids' table on Christmas Day!

It makes perfect sense to "cutesy up" the healthy food you feed your grandchildren. Candy and cookies go down the hatch without a pause. But veggies? Meat? Not so much! I anticipate that might change when the kids find little cottages built of deli bread and stuffed with warm turkey salad at their places on Christmas Day! Standing at sentry is a mini cheese ball snowman, just waiting to be poked with pretzel sticks and gobbled down as an appetizer. While the presentation looks appealing, I'm delighted to say there's not a single grain of sugar on this plate. Even the iced detail is tinted cream cheese, not frosting!

Here's how to make a deli bread Christmas cottage to delight the occupants of your own "kids' table!"

1. Cut patterns from paper: 2" square for sides, triangle with 2" base, and 2" x 3" rectangle for roof.
From deli rye bread with a firm texture, cut 4 sides, 2 triangles and 2 roof pieces.

2. Blend a few ounces of room temperature cream cheese with water until it is the consistency of Royal Icing. Spoon the cheese into a pastry bag with a small hole tip. Construct a 4 wall building base on a 7" salad plate by running lines of cream cheese along sides of each 2" square and fitting them together. Press to hold.

3. Run a line of cream cheese along the 2" base of each triangle and press them to front and back walls. (See photo) Decorate roof pieces as desired with piped cream cheese.

4. Fill house with turkey, chicken, egg, or seafood salad. Pipe cream cheese along top edges of triangles and carefully place roof pieces in position.

5. Use small pretzel sticks to outline house as shown in photo. Use cream cheese as "glue."

6. Tint small amounts of cream cheese green and red with gel food coloring. Pipe a wreath and bow to center front of house.

7. Make snowman by mixing remaining cream cheese (directly out of the package) with grated mozzarella cheese. Form 3 small balls and roll them in shredded cheese. Stack them in front of house. Use tiny snips of black olive for eyes and a tiny slice of carrot for nose. Pipe red cream cheese for scarf.

8. Complete the scene with blanched broccoli crowns for bushes, a stack of pretzel sticks for "firewood," small circles or squares cut from bread scraps for stepping stones and a final sprinkling of cheese "snow."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Satan's Little Helper - a "Tail" of Christmas Horror!

Alas! At my house tonight, all is NOT calm, all is NOT bright!

Once upon a time, a gentle, sweet dove - the universal harbinger of peace - nestled contentedly among other ornamentation within the verdant evergreen of my yuletide tree. Pure in whiteness and softly feathered, she appeared again and again, each year growing braver and braver, perching on branches that reached lower and lower and lower...........

And that night there were predators in the fields......

"Seriously? No sauce with this?"

Yet fear not! To those of us who believe, Christmas is a season of hope!

For it is written in the holy book that one day "the tiger shall lay down with the lamb."

(loosely translated from Isaiah 11:6)

Meow-y Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Little Star of Bethlehem

For now, my young grandchildren understand that the Little Star of Bethlehem loves, with passion, every single part of their being. They know that they were wonderfully made, knit together before they were born (Psalms 139: 13-14) by the same one who longs now to be sheltered in their hearts, gently guiding the thoughts of their minds and the work of their hands.

When they are a little older, they will appreciate that their creator invites them to reach out to him for help in everything they do.

"Stretch out your hand," Jesus commanded the supplicant. And the withered limb was immediately restored. (Matthew 12:13). "If only I can touch his cloak," a suffering woman thought, "I shall be healed." And Jesus acknowledged her faith and cured her. (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Christmas gifts for parents we created together will be a reminder to live with the Little Star of Bethlehem safely cradled in one's trusting palm so a reach toward him will never be too far away!

The infant Jesus is constructed from paper punched shapes. Cut a 1.5" head and 2" halo from circles. The body is a 2" oval. Accent the baby with a tiny red heart and place him in a cradle printed of your child's hand. Draw eyes, then sign and date with a fine point black marking pen.

Use scrapbook paper to cut a complimenting double mat. Place inside a standard size frame.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Just Practicing!

It's all over but the waiting. And the wondering! Baby brother is closing in on us, due to arrive once Santa has cleared out of the way. Big sister is ready, anxious to see what he'll look like and how long it will be before she can begin actually having fun with him. There's been a family effort, too, to assure Brielle that she will never be replaced by this curious little newcomer. Instead, the two of them will become a team. They will help each other. Baby brother will need her. To fetch things for him. To teach him things. And to read to him.

Cover design by Big Sister!

My contribution to this evolving dynamic is "Baby Brother's Book." Bree is a pre-school student, just now learning letters and sounds. I've been complementing those skills with sight word flash card practice. Bree is a quick learner, picking them up with lightening speed, making it easy for me to construct sentences from an inventory of twenty or so words. I type pages on plain paper, leaving room for her original crayoned and painted illustrations:

"Baby brother and me."
"Come see me and baby brother go up."
"Look! I can help baby brother jump."

Interesting! The lovely "larger-than-life" author is
self portrait-ed wearing splendid jewelry
and a mile-wide smile. Little bro is the
tiny blue birdlike bundle in left
bottom corner!

Then I scrapbook pages together in a home made effort that I hope will appeal to them both.

Colorful ribbon scraps tied along the spine through a row of paper punched holes make a cheerful presentation. It's also easy to add new pages as more words are learned.

And now we're practicing. And waiting....getting ready to be a proud and helpful big sister who will welcome little brother home with the priceless gift of reading!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Funky Turkeys

So, what are we flapping our wings about over here now, you ask? Simple answer: turkey pillows! An entire rafter of them, in fact! See, I know my turkey terms! To call these a "flock" would be inaccurate. A "flock" is a group of wild turkeys. A "rafter" is domesticated. These little characters are destined for living room couch perching only. They've never known anything different and have no interest in Googling alternatives for themselves either!

Our little rafter of three was born on the kitchen table a few weeks ago. Grandkids were given a nice wide brush and brown acrylic paint. Filling a smaller circle on top of a larger one on an 18" square muslin canvas made a nice plump body. Hand printed feathers will always hold this special moment in time.

The artists added eyes, lashes and a painted beak. Then grandma whisked everything away, disappearing for a spell inside her crafty sewing room.

With three "turkey sandwiches" on my plate (painted square, quilt batting, backing fabric) I hand quilted around each feather finger and eye, scalloping a pair of lines across the breast.

Beaks were cut from prepared fabric to match the painted shapes, then ironed on and held in place with tiny stitches all around. Scraps of red ribbon tucked beneath serve suitably as wattles.

With right sides facing, turkey and a complimenting back fabric, I sewed both together along outside edges, leaving bottom open. Turn. Each turkey leg is a 2" x 8" orange fabric strip, seamed along the 8" side, turned, stuffed and knotted on one end for the foot.

Stuff turkey (with polyester, please - not Stove Top!), insert legs and hand sew closed.

The most fun is finishing touches. Attach big wiggle eyes, a jaunty little straw hat, perky posy or crown of silk leaves with strong glue. Narrow ribbon scraps tied in a bow above the knot on each leg become fetching little turkey toes. But why stop there? A truly funky turkey has fancy bows all the way up and down the legs and wears anything else that pleases you!

If you're looking for a cute Thanksgiving Day gift to trot over to your lovely hostess, you may like these easy potholders too!

Perhaps your grandchildren would enjoy making turkey tags for decorating the dinner table like we did last year.

A seasonal treat of home made mini pumpkin donuts is a thoughtful gesture, especially when presented in a personalized gift bag.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Orange You Glad You Adopted?

If your pet was adopted from a shelter, you're my friend! No bones - or soggy catnip toys - about it! We're special people and everybody knows it. Those who know it best, though, lay their furry chins atop our laps and gaze upward with eyes devoted and grateful. "If you find a starving dog and make him prosperous," observed Mark Twain, "he will not bite you. That's the difference between dogs and men." Agreed. I've witnessed this myself and so have you.

The Bissell Pet Foundation plans an October 30-31 pictorial Facebook tribute to pets (and their owners!) who have been rescued by each other. Roxie and I will be there early and we invite you to join us! Take a photo of your adopted pet (cats, too!) bandana-ed in orange, the "official color" of Pet Adoption Month, and post it on the Foundation's page on October 30, 2014. Then come back the next day to see if you're a prize winner!

We'll also be asked to name the organization that made our "fur-ever" match possible. I applaud this heartily. How easy it is for me to do my part in pet rescue, yet how difficult for first respondents who perform the initial tasks of medical and behavioral assessment, as well as fostering and application evaluation before an adoption is approved. Heart wrenching. Heartwarming. All in one.

Our photo gallery of grateful furry faces will assure them it was all worthwhile.
And that's a "yap!"

This is not a sponsored post. I just followed my nose to this gratifying event and wanted to share it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tic Tac BOO!

Okay! Just between your grandkids cheat when they play board games with you? Or is it just me who suspects my little darlings think I'm the one who was born yesterday? Perhaps my eyesight isn't what it used to be, but there are times I detect little hands deftly guiding the spinner to the exact number needed to leave grandma in the dust. On other occasions, a playing piece might go nonchalantly slip-sliiiding past a penalty square. In my most recent experience, "someone" decided to change game rules mid stream, announcing an extra toss of the dice to "anyone who is wearing pink socks and a Cinderella t shirt!" Well, that wasn't me. At least that day!

But this brave grandma marches on. Not only are we still playing games together, but we're making them too! This team effort began with a hike in the woods. "Find grandma a rock that looks like a ghost! How about some round ones? Nice and fat - like a PUMPKIN!" They turned them in like there was no tomorrow; my pockets groaned with every shape and size imagined by benevolent Mother Nature. Then we sorted. Painstakingly. And that's when monsters butted their way into a game that traditionally fields only two sets of combatants. "We can paint these now," I announced. And paint they did. When that game lost its charm, I was left behind to turn rocks into creatures with features for Tic Tac BOO!

So, I thought our game was "cheat proof." Ghosts play against either pumpkins or monsters. Not both. One scrapbook paper square per token. Three in a row wins. We enjoyed it tremendously, until it occurred to me that strategy isn't a strong motivator for kids who see these zany characters as a collection of personal little friends, not disposable pawns on a game board. With rules relaxed, squares filled up quickly, each with two, sometimes three, occupants. Neighbors went visiting and discussed things among themselves as the game evolved into a multilevel and far more imaginative experience than I'd ever anticipated. There were still "winners," of course, and the inevitable "losers." Oh, and the "cheater," too. Don't forget about her! She just sits here delighted, "braggy," in fact, about how honestly clever all her young grandchildren are with a pile of rocks after she's tossed that pesky old rule book right out the window!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Going Batty!

Things are getting a little batty around here and this time it's not just grandma who's being eyeballed as the culprit! Our Spooky Theater has made its seasonal appearance and the ghost-puppets-in-residence have wailed and waited long enough for a new character to join the cast. We already know (yawn!) that big kid ghosts wear BOO-jeans and baby ghosts crawl around in BOO-ties while their mommies shop for food at the "ghost-ery store." But did you know that bats go to school to learn the "alpha-bat," love doing "acro-bat-ics" and invite their friends to "come over and hang around?" Probably not!

Its been my discovery that the best source of Halloween lore is on stage at a kids' puppet theater. Gathered behind the screen is a squirming, giggling, wiggling and worried crew, just waiting for kick off. Gathered in front of it is a sipping and nibbling rapt audience; grandparents, aunties, uncles and baby cousins. They've paid good money for admission, tasty apple cider and fresh homemade donuts, anxious now to find out "which animal is best at baseball?!"*

A home made puppet show is such an endearing endeavor, engaging grandma and the kids in a satisfying series of tasks that spark creativity and hone organizational skills at every age level. If you don't want to bother with a stage like mine, just curtain a doorway with fabric lengths gathered on a spring loaded rod. We've relied on comedy and joke-telling performances so far, and the puppets have all been made by me. Perhaps next year the kids will take a stab at making their own sock characters and writing an original story script.

I've added instructions for a sock bat puppet here, where you'll also find our ghosts and step by step photos for constructing a Spooky Theater. When the grandkids join me for dress rehearsal on the eve of the performance, we make cute and tasty mini-donuts on this nifty little appliance (see page 8) and sell them at our show's refreshment stand along with cups of cold cider.

*And I won't keep you in suspense any longer! Which animal is best at baseball? Why, a BAT, of course!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Skeletons In My Closet!

Ohhhh yes! There are skeletons in my closet! And it's time for them to come OUT! I love this emerging new national holiday. October 1st appears to be establishing itself as the proper day to infest the house with whatever waited, wailed, scratched, snarled, poked and peeked from within boxes and bags for eleven long months in storage.

I'm late this year, but in the next few I'm going to take this tradition one step further. I'll have my three daughters (fellow Halloween-iacs!) ditch their young families and creep on over to join me late on the eve of that day. We'll sip hot cider and nibble "witch's toes" while viewing seasonal classics, screaming in lusty, loud abandonment when Freddy fleetingly flashes his fearsome face. When the clock strikes midnight, we'll tear open cardboard crypts and festoon my house from head to toe. And then we'll scramble like a pack of rabid rats to the next house! And the next! And the next! At six AM we'll hop back on our bristled brooms, returning home to relish shock and awe on faces of those we haven't seen awake since dusk on 30, September!

Halloween fever is in no danger of abating in our family. In fact, my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, has two life sized skeletons and employs them in "Elf on the Shelf" capers, delighting her children for four fun weeks. The oldest boys dash in after a full day of Kindergarten and race to locate their own "Mister Bones." Those characters have been caught building at the Lego table, snacking on bags of chips in the bushes outside, nestled in, bony skulls on pillows, for a very early bedtime and rattling around, "conducting business" in the bathroom!

Over the past few years, I've designed and posted Halloween projects and activities for the family. When I opened my closet today, this is what tumbled out!

Crafting with grandchildren:

BOO! We made ghost families, carefully constructed of paper mache. Enjoy plenty of extra fun with finishing touches!

A hodge podge of punched paper shapes, ribbon, beads and straws makes lovely seasonal jewelry!

Home made windsocks tumble, twirl and twist in the breeze, dancing to the rhythm of falling leaves and the magic that is Halloween!

Think there's an age that's "too young" to craft with grandma? Ha! Think again! Tiny spiders printed from one month young dainty little fingers make a cherished keepsake.

Make a decorative garland for grandma! Grow it every year with original pictures contributed by each child.

Crafting for Grandchildren:

Encourage all kinds of spontaneous entertainment with a cardboard box spooky theater and simple sock ghost puppets.....

and this year, a batty new character joins the fun!

A seasonal outfit is simple to make with a white t shirt and iron-on fabric scraps. Add matching flip flops too!

What's nice about making your own monsters is that they'll turn out friendly, cute and ready to party! This one's nearly three feet tall and easily made of paper mache.

Party Food and Games:

Here's an easy way to scare kids into eating healthy food at a party!

Big, bright and lots and lots of fun! This home made dart board is perfect fun for kids, but at our house daddies and grandpas can't stay away either!

Here's an original party game that not only personalizes family fun, but ensures that everyone emerges a winner!

Engage kids in scouring the yard for stones shaped like ghosts, monsters and pumpkins to paint as playing pieces for Tic Tac BOO!

Gifts and Decorations:

If I didn't already have six "non-Halloween-color" cats, you can bet that this one would be real and purring in my lap right now. And neither one of us would be loosening our grip on that Mason jar brimming with candy!

I love the elegance of black crows. And the way they remind me of Edgar Allen Poe. And how much I enjoy inserting myself into the eerie ambiance he summons from the point of his pen. And the word "tintinnabulation." I love that too. I think it's my favorite word. Ever.

Party Time!

Gather the family for an afternoon of harvesting food, fun and crafts. Don't worry about keeping grandpas and daddies entertained though. If you pick the right day, they'll be glued to the football game, leaving the ladies alone to glue much more fun things together with the kids!

One of my earliest posts, in 2011, described - in three parts - the annual Halloween party I host for my daughters and their husbands. These parties originated when the guys were still only boyfriends. At that time grandpa was useful for pushing the correct button on the remote control rat that scurried about the foyer as guests arrived. Now we need him for babysitting!

Last year, Mary Jo hosted a small party for her four and a handful of neighborhood children. The kids' table was delightful! - a real riot of color and monstrous fun!

I contributed an assortment of sweets. Rice Krispie pumpkins, red-eyed chow mien noodle spiders, frosted sugar cookies....and a batch of scurrying, lifelike cockroaches! - my favorites!

And here's the lovely hostess herself. The one her husband calls "Mini Martha." She's stirring up a nice potion to serve parents of the guests. I may have mentioned that she writes her own blog. This Halloween party has its own delightful post - right here!