Saturday, December 26, 2015

Grandma's Dozen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy bakers went straight to work!

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

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

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

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

None of the products I've mentioned here are sponsored ones. I just like to buy stuff and yap about it endlessly! The darling micro-mini "fairy" lights can can be found on Amazon, Martha Stewart's gourmet mac and cheese recipe (linked above) is "out of this world!" and the "Santa's Helpers" card game by "Gibby and Libby" can be found on the C.R. Gibson website. The 6" square bakery boxes are at Michael's and JoAnn's and easily fit "a grandma's dozen." 

Grandchildren are neither "for sale," nor "on sale." And finally, if you ever spot me in the aisles of Trader Joe's, please - just don't get in my way! :)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Little Bits of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Heidi!*

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you found them all yet?" 

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

Thanks, Carolyn!

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

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

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

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

Not me! (he he he!)

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nativity Shadow Puppet Stage

I love the mysterious aura of a shadow puppet show. In a darkened room, figures fade and focus, unraveling simple, ageless stories. This one opens with a brilliant star and a luminous night sky. "All is calm, all is bright." We're about to witness a miracle. "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one explanation is possible." (words of Saint Thomas Aquinas)

I'm saving this for Christmas eve, after the children's Mass we attend as a family. Amidst festivities that follow - the food, the fun, the frolicking, the presents - we will find "room for them" in our homes, in our hearts, and on this stage.

This project is a portable foam board 18" x 20" stage with an optional roof. It is decorated with scrapbook paper, gold star stickers and a set of puppets glued to bamboo kitchen skewers. Although the puppets can be cut from Christmas cards or hand drawn, I used a set of vinyl stickers (from Michael's) as shown. In a dark room, with a desk lamp behind the tissue paper screen, puppets appear in silhouette and the effect is magical.

Here's what you'll need to make one of your own:
  • Royal blue foam craft board 20" x 30"
  • Set of nativity stickers or hand drawn or cut out figures with strong profiles 1.5" - 2" 
  • Purple tissue paper sheet 12" x 15"
  • Scrapbook paper, plain or patterned, in brown and green 
  • Gold star stickers, one large and other smaller ones
  • Bamboo food skewers, 8" or 12" long
  • Craft knife, ruler, craft glue, scissors, pencil, newspaper sheet 
  • Royal blue Canson paper 6" x 20" for optional roof
  • Desk lamp or flashlight
And here's what you'll do:
  • Score the foam board vertically to divide the 30" width into 3 sections - 6" on each side, 18" center panel
  • Cut an 11" x 14" rectangle newspaper pattern. Place it on center panel, 2" from each side and 3.5" from top. Trace with pencil
  • Use a craft knife to cut the rectangle out
  • Lay the stage blue side down and place glue all around outside edge of opening. Carefully lay the tissue paper on top, smoothing it out as tightly as possible

It doesn't have to look all perfectly-perfect at this point!

Use scrapbook paper and stars to decorate around the opening.

Make an optional roof by folding down 1" on each end of the 6" side of the Canson paper. Fold both side panels of the stage forward so they are at right angles to the center panel. Lay the roof paper along the top and glue the folded tabs to side panels to hold it in place.

Glue skewers to backs of stickers to make puppets.

Turn lights off, position lamp behind screen and tell the story of the birth of Jesus by operating the puppets.

Merry Christmas!

This original design, like all blog content, is intended for personal use only. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Thank you!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas Tree Hand-Crafting

Hand printed turkeys, fingertip spiders, snowmen from feet.....I never tire of these timeless classics. They are perfect projects for the youngest kids in your crafty bunch who want to join the fun, but have little fingers that don't work as well as those of the bigger kids.

I found my inspiration for this family keepsake at Amanda's Fun Handprint Art blog, a real treasure of a site for kid-printed work. My youngest daughter, Karen, and her husband will find this matted and framed gift from their pair of six month and two year old children under the tree in a few short weeks. Despite being a little "squiggle-bug," clenching his fists in protest, I managed to get one acceptable print out of four or five from baby Ryan. Kaylee was a pro, slapping down perfection on her first try. She supplied the red ornaments for both trees from the tips of her fingers, too.

If you print siblings, start with the youngest one first and have lots of back-up paper lined up! The gold garlands and stars are cut and glued paper. They conveniently cover up a few stray blobs of green paint! Maybe next year the baby will be a little more cooperative, but I have no regrets. His sweet little hands - and those of his sister - will never be this size again!

Sissy practices perfect fingertip ornaments at grandma's weekly crafting sessions!