Thursday, December 13, 2018

Gingerbread Jamboree!

Jump for joy, you jolly little jingle belles! You've been invited to a Christmas candy cottage party!

I can't take credit for this one, it's all Mary Jo, down to the very last spicy gum drop! My beautiful and creative oldest daughter loves hosting parties, and does them well, conquering with aplomb every inevitable glitch that would send me soaring over the edge!

For instance, her order of one dozen pre-made gingerbread houses plopped down on her porch in pieces just hours before eight little ladies arrived to decorate them. I held my breath while she breezily described adding a Target run to her errand list to remedy the situation. Whew! They had them! Unbroken! And in enough quantity to please!

Let the partying begin!

Granddaughters Ava and Angeline greeted early arrivals, gifting them with personalized aprons whipped up by mommy on her new Cricut machine. Little ladies found them tied charmingly to their chairs, at places where gingerbread houses waited alongside generously filled cups of cute candy, cookies, and icing.

Gingerbreading is an exacting science! Guests went right to work, fortified by creamy cocoa sipped from Santa cups.

I love the patterning, the outlining, and the abundance of festive light bulbs festooning the eaves! I love the intensity and the focus! I love how those trusty trusses held up candy - hard and soft, minty, chocolaty, and spicy!

I love the scent of peppermint in the air, the snack bar, and the "adult beverage" option offered to moms who stayed to help!   

But mostly, I love a gathering of pretty little "jingle belles" who brought the warmth of their smiles on a cold and rainy pre-Christmas Saturday afternoon to sweetly decorate this year's Gingerbread Jamboree!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Spooky Spotlight

Here! Have a cracker!
I'm on a diet!

For most folks, it's something lurking right around the corner. For us, its been in full bloom for several weeks! Packed back to back with cookie baking, book browsing, costume creating, and hearty partying, our Halloween season is a cherished friend, one whose return we embrace with the unbridled vigor of a headless horseman!

Family joins me for a mid-month Friday evening gathering each year, where crafting and cookie baking typically top the agenda. At other times we just play games after dinner - like the Spooky Picture Bingo we enjoyed this time around. "Mummies" and daddies win cash, and kids win small Halloween toys - every "ghoul" and boy goes home happy!

By the way, if seating all those spooky little spirits for food and festivity confounds you, solve that problem with a 29" x 60" folding table - the kind sold at every household store. Top it with a 2.5 yard length of 45" fabric - a time and money saving shortcut. My own choice - a black and white clearance length - was a $9 bargain. And, I spotted a cute turkey print on my way out the door, so I'll be trotting back for that one, too!

Table settings respect the fact that some guests come to eat, and other come to play! I'm ready for both. Each place presents with a cute skellie English cracker - one needing mom or dad to firmly grasp the opposite end, briskly pulling in tandem to yield a loud "SNAP!" and a tumble of toys. This time we found Halloween tattoos, paper party crowns, and cute jokes that regaled the crowd. (Why did the skeleton cross the road? To get to the body shop!)

Weird little wind-up Halloween characters kept the kids' table lively, too, toddling about mindlessly while guests were "goblin" up home made mac and cheese and Jello (orange, of course! with a generous dollop of ghostly white whipping cream!).

See those cute cardboard houses? Dollar Tree finds served as suitable places to stash bingo prizes for the trip home. And...if you dared reach inside, you may or may not
(๐Ÿ‘ตgrandma humor!) have pulled out a super squishy, slimy toy rat and a fancy light up necklace tucked inside!

Oh, these too! Dancing skellie straws - another Dollar Tree goodie that made sipping chilled apple cider an even tastier experience!

To commemorate an evening of good eating, fun playing, and great gathering, a cousin round up photo was in order. It's unnecessary for any grandma of more than - say, three? - to comment that there will always be a group comedian (see below, far right, front!) and at least one attempted escape! I had both. But this capture, all clad in grandma's gift of matching ghostly pjs, is the best of over 50 shots. It will serve as my personal "Happy Halloween" greeting to all of you because this grandma thinks they're so cute it's scary!

The skinny guy at extreme right, back, finds it bone rattlin' hilarious that I even try getting this little six pack to look up and smile at the same time!

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Grandma Who Used Her Wits!

If I were to author a dictionary, my entry for "grandmother" would avoid the term "academics" like the plague. I'd stick to describing that lady solely as a treasured source of carefree joy and comfort - a complete disconnect from classroom rigor. "Grandma" = "fun" and nothing more than that!

But sometimes traditional book learnin' encroaches on playtime despite our best efforts. Grandmas have an innate knack for introducing "the fun of learning" with hardly an effort or barely a penny expended! I had such an opportunity recently, and I'm still basking in the afterglow!

Let me explain!

Granddaughter Brielle's eighth birthday occurred on the second day of third grade this year. Her wise and lovely teacher eschewed the celebratory tradition of cupcakes and candy in favor of an appealing option: invite a special person in your life to come read to the classroom! My participation was requested and I was "in" with enthusiasm!

But what to read to those eager little learners? What type of story would entertain, hold interest, and, perhaps, even venture to teach a thing or two? I'm personally not a fan of pop culture characters. Too slick, too shallow, too commercially driven. Sorry, Elsa and Anna! Today I'm looking elsewhere for a poignant tale!

Childhood nostalgia for me is best represented in a 12 volume set of My Book House books. Anyone else out there familiar with this treasure of the 50s? Our well worn set belongs to me now, and I've often reached for its pages, seeking folk and fairy tales for fireside grandma camp reading. The age of my rapt audience was always considered because the rich heritage of such stories, told generation to generation in every country of the world, does not always respect the absence of triumphing evil, racism, or frightening characters who pose danger to children. When selected with age-level care, folk and fairy tales add a spirit of adventure to a child's life: kings, giants, princesses, trolls, and talking animals entertain, cultural history is acknowledged, and, most commonly, lessons are taught.

I chose a Chinese folk tale, The Girl Who Used Her Wits, for my presentation. This charming telling challenges two young wives to bring home "fire wrapped in a paper" and "wind in a paper" in exchange for a favor granted by their mother-in-law. Entertaining? Yes! I used my repertoire of story voices: crotchety, whimpering, and wise! A glimpse into family life described the culture of multi-generational living, while the wits of an intervening character redeemed the folly of reckless promise making. Success! Every box checked!

I didn't just leave it there, though. No way. Not this grandma! At story's conclusion, Brielle handed out paper fans to her classmates. Those, of course, were "wind in a paper" - not only a meaningful favor to memorialize the folk tale, but a much appreciated classroom cooler in the late August humidity we were experiencing!

But the best part? Brielle's report to me that my visit earned the day's "best moment" by student acclamation!

So....invited to go in and read, grandma? Do it! They'll love you!

My Book House vintage volumes can be found on ebay
Paper fans were purchased at Party City
See You Tube for a telling of The Girl Who Used Her Wits as well as the following:

Here's a list of other folk and fairy tales that are suitable for young children, checking all the boxes for entertainment, cultural learning, and lessons taught:

The Little Snow Maiden (Russian)
The Boy Hero of Harlem (Dutch)
The Cap That Mother Made (Swedish)
The Shoemaker and the Elves (German)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Kitty Cat Cafe

Kitty Cat Cafe welcomes you!

Yes, it could have been "Dolphin Deli" or "Monkey Munchies" or "Petunia Patio," but the cutest fabric on the rack was this one - purr-fect for aprons in pint-size waitress scale! It also doesn't hurt that we're a family of 18 feline fans, hosting a grand total of eleven (11!) as pets. That's .611 cats per person for us! We know cats, love 'em, and don't mind naming our family diner after 'em!

Parents and younger siblings are patrons of our cafe. They come to eat, drink, win prizes, and enjoy exceptional serve staff talent. Our venture is the joint success of grandma and the kids; much of the baking, prep work, and training is done in advance at weekly times together. That's when we make cookies and gelatin, prep salad veggies, and mix sumptuous servings of creamy mac 'n cheese. That's also when we carefully measure ingredients and fill the ice cream maker, lining up with enthusiasm for our turn to punch the "start" button. Grandma and gramps take care of the rest of the menu, but we step back and relax when customers arrive and competent kids spring into action!

Doors open with a friendly greeting. Ryan and Austin, three year old cousins, sport name tags and natty bow ties, guiding each guest to a sunny place on the deck. They present menus and request drink orders. Cold beer is an option on this warm summer day, so the boys know they need to politely ask to see ID when daddies ask for one!

Next up are the girls, Brielle and Kaylee, our lovely server pair. They're here to invite you to The Catnip Bar, our oh-so-clever way of introducing fresh greens to your meal! Jello cups are an option for little brothers. There's two of those in attendance today, both just a year old, but very opinionated on what they will and will not eat!

Siblings Austin and Brielle at your service! 

Don't think for a sec that since kids are running the asylum today, we scoot past some of the niceties of fine dining! Crayons and coloring sheets keep the little ones occupied while wait staff scrambles to please!

Salad bowls are bussed by Austin and Ryan, and just like that, it's time to order an entree! The girls whip out their handy pads and carefully record the heart's desire of each guest. Brielle's a third grade whiz at writing and spelling, but Kindergarten is new to Kaylee, so she's most comfortable indicating shorthand initials. Our kitchen is customer friendly, though. We pretty much already know what makes everybody happy and have it ready in ample supply!

Those who opted for fish receive a broiled filet of cod. Sides of rice and veggies couple nicely with a self service trip to the Catnip Bar.

Staff sits down to eat once adults are served. Host Ryan enjoys his "home made" jello and mac 'n cheese! (And please note that he signed his own name tag, too!)

Channing's only been around for a year and a half, but he knows what's coming after you clean your plate of an entree....


But wait! WHAT? 

That can't be! Oh my goodness! YES! it is...


Well, come on, scaredy cats! What else would you expect to be offered at a place named Kitty Cat Cafe?

Patrons and wait staff alike have collective doubts.....which is why ice cream is an option - with multiple takers!

Post dinner finds a table of well fed, purring patrons - timing is right for the serious business of selling raffle tickets to mom, dad, and grandpa. Eight giant chocolate chip cookies are up for grabs. Kids handle the entire process without a whisker of help! I'm so proud of all of them!

Patrons pay their tabs with enthusiasm and "beyond generous" tipping, departing with "kitty bags" of leftovers, declaring their Kitty Cat Cafe experience a five star one! ๐Ÿ‘

Tips for operating your own grandchild staffed family cafe!

1. Make it special with all the goodies! My apron pattern is traced from one I bought at Dollar Tree. Add a little length as kids grow. Omit the trouble and expense of bias tape edging by sewing a matching muslin backing, (right sides together), leaving top open for turning. Press and close. Use ribbon for neck and waist ties.

2. Bow ties are cute in a paw print pattern. Cut 3" x 8" and 3" x 4" strips for each. Fold larger piece in half and sew right sides together (1/4" seam) along 8" side. Turn. Press seam to center back. Fold both short ends to overlap at center back, and take a few gathering stitches to hold. Press 4" sides under 1/2" on remaining piece. Center perpendicular over larger piece, folding both short ends back to create knot effect. Trim as needed and take a few stitches to hold. Use safety pin to attach tie to shirt.

3. "Head Boppers" were Dollar Tree purchases covered with paper punched designs. Fold wired ribbon into bow and hand stitch to center top.

4. Design and print your own menus and name tags. Find coloring sheets on Pinterest. Order pads were purchased from a local toy store.

5. Make an easy-to-serve menu so you won't have a hissy fit when orders start to come in! I made a beef slow cooker recipe, pre-baked mac 'n cheese, fish readied for broiling, steamable microwave veggies, and a self serve salad bar. Enlist grandpa's help with getting drinks and ice cream cones to staff. (Feed him first, he'll be happier to help!)

6. Here's where you'll find the recipe for Kitty Litter Box cake!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Review: "Chicago Unleashed"

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated with a free product sample 
              in exchange for my honest review. Opinions and photographs are my own.

Ah, Chicago! A magical place indeed - one I've visited many times for purposes ranging from educational enrichment to pure retail indulgence. Chicago is a magnet. Close your eyes. Hear the hustling bustle of hundreds, breathe the vibrancy of food and festivity....then reopen yourself to the splendor before you. Anything can happen on the streets of Chicago, and in this delightful coffee table book, it does! 

Larry Broutman, author of Chicago Unleashed, guides us through downtown streets and surrounds of that beloved city, combining striking urbanscapes with digitally imposed free roaming wildlife to create a whimsical visual adventure you'll marvel at from first page to twilight skyline last. 

Let's take a look!

The regal lion rests (cover photo, above) with stately nonchalance at the entrance of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. How I love that place! I wasn't aware that his kingship's bronze guardian twins were sculpted in 1894, serving faithfully for one and a quarter centuries. Broutman is generous with historical anecdotes throughout the book. That majestic city's an old one!

Soldier Field's been around for awhile, too. Dedicated in 1924 to Americans who gave their lives in service to our country, it's currently called home by the Chicago Bears football team. Strategically placed mom and cub stare you down, daring you to fumble that fact!

So very, very, very much more to see in Chicago Unleashed, offering 144 polished pages of proud promenading! Hippos frolic in Buckingham Fountain, whales dive among sightseers in the Harbor, turtles toddle alongside marathon runners, and more of the big guys: elephants, a rhino or two, and a couple of giraffes stroll McCormick Place with nary a glance at your curious face. There's deer, too, right on the State Street Bridge, and they're not waiting for any traffic signal to beckon graceful passage!

Chicago's a business hub, primarily. Cavernous streets shelter robust fueling of city, state, and national economic interest. Here's the Board of Trade, serious and stodgy, juxtaposed with the swooping majesty of carefree feathered flight!

I wonder if they're thinking, "Glad we're not stuck inside one of those tiny square boxes!"

I've been to Chicago as a student, a mom, and a grandma. That generous city forgets no one. If you've been here, you've found it. If you dream to come here, it's waiting for you. "We've got something for everybody!" the streets shout, including a sight my young grandsons would gleefully embrace.

Fire station pups are a departure from the safari species most frequently pictured on the pages of this volume, but really, how else to adequately showcase this vital city service? I think these spotted public servants are reflecting upon how "wild about Chicago" they are!

Interested? Well, here comes the best part! Every dollar spent on the purchase of Chicago Unleashed will be donated by the author to two Chicago based not-for-profit service agencies: Chicago Lighthouse, providing services to blind or visually impaired children and adults, and Access Living, a disability advocacy community.

The 144 page, 8.9" x 10" hard cover volume published 2014 by Claremont Press: A Chicago Joint, is available for $29.50 at Chicago book stores and gift shops. Purchase it online at Everything Goes Media or Amazon. Both sources detail the impressive author biography of Larry Broutman - a true Renaissance Man. The breadth and scope of his knowledge, experience, artistic talent, and accomplishments are amazing!

I love this book! You will, too.

P.S. What's black and white and read all over?
Chicago Unleashed! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Grandparenting Book Review: "Unconditional Love"

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated with a free product sample 
                                           in exchange for my honest review.

I try to be the perfect grandparent. Encouraging comments from my three daughters (mothers to the ten most wonderful children alive ๐Ÿ˜Š) uplift me, and I greedily soak them up. But there's always room for improved behavior, frank and fresh perspective, and honest camaraderie with other women who harbor the same self doubts that occasionally plague me. Do I do enough for my family? Too much? Do the children recognize my respect for rules and limits set by their parents? Does my behavior model charitable morality? Will I be remembered well? Am I part of a problem or a welcomed solution to it?

What a treasury of experiences, ideas, and answers I found in Jane Isay's easy-to-read, hard-to-put-down volume, Unconditional Love - A guide to navigating the joys and challenges of being a grandparent today.

Drawn in from page one by Jane's warm, accepting style, I read for validation in areas I find myself excelling. "How to Lure Them Back Home, and Why" found me patting myself on the back for installing an in-house cousins' lending library and opening my doors to "Grandma's Drop-In Crafts Days." On page 133, I smiled at the way "Kimberly's" in-laws made their (several hours away!) home a welcoming weekend magnet for the two-career parents of their first grandchild. Creative solutions are out there, and this book is full of them! Long distance grandparenting is a common reality these days (four of my own currently live states away) and that's adequately addressed with tips on coping both during and in-between visits.

The side of being a practical asset to the family from newborn arrival through distant teenage years, to the "coming back" phase is gracefully coupled with the unique impact grandparents can have on a child's emotional and spiritual growth. I need to work on this area. Jane encourages me to share myself via childhood memories - tales from the days of corded party-line telephones, clunky metal strap-on skates, black and white television, and the vivid image of mom pinning laundry to a backyard clothesline. "Children are stronger and more self-reliant when they are nested in their family history..." declares Jane on page 75, commencing a chapter full of suggestions for arming grandchildren with a rich sense of belonging to those whom they love.

I left Unconditional Love with suggestions, solutions, and a group of understanding friends. The many grandmother interviewees quoted by Jane travel the same road I do now. Our problems, concerns, triumphs, and successes may be unique to each family, but the hoped for outcome is universal. We wish to contribute value to a generation of confident, happily fulfilled children who will someday look back at us as ideal models for the nurture of their own grandchildren!

Find Jane Isay's Unconditional Love, published 2018 by HarperCollins, at the following vendors:
Barnes and Noble
Powell's Books

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Canvas Factory Give Away!

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated with a free product sample 
                                                and a give away prize for my readers.

I learn "what's cool" from my adult children. If it wasn't for them, I'd still be waiting on dial up net service and looking for a photo lab to develop my pictures! The kids live life streamlined, fast paced, and convenient; they're where I go for info on all the newest trends.

One of the latest, it seems, is canvas print decor. Time and money invested in matting and heavy glass framing is no longer relevant, they say. "We like the modern, lightweight, and far less expensive practicality of canvas for displaying our cherished images."

And so, I was delighted to test this convenience with a 16" x 20" product sample offered me from Canvas Factory - the same gift you'll receive if you're the winner of my give away! 

My experience began with a photo choice from among those presented by my youngest daughter and her husband. We agreed on this touching sunset maternity shot, and then I was on my own to place my order!

I'd rate the process fast and simple, with several choices - but not so many to leave my "grandma head" a-spinning! (I appreciated that!) Load your print and choose a finished product size. 20" x 16" accommodated my horizontal image - one that showed up on the screen immediately in all its perfect beauty! You'll move on to choose a "wrap style" next - I opted for the "gallery wrap" - seen above with the image continuing around all four edges. I passed on "adding text" but will try that exciting addition next time around! You're pretty much done after that - leaving it now to the experts at Canvas Factory who came across for me in a stellar way. Here's what happened!....

I originally submitted a photo lifted from my daughter's Face Book page (social media website images not recommended.) Canvas Factory customer service immediately advised me that my print would appear blurry if I proceeded. They gave me the courtesy of time and advice to amend my order with a JPEG version, responding immediately to emails. My affection for this company extends beyond the quality product I received because of this incident. Another company might have just carelessly slopped through and told me later, "Well, that's what you ordered, lady!" ๐Ÿ˜

Our canvas print arrived about a week later, with status emails accompanying each and every step. It is beautiful. Colors are vibrant, image is crisp - all finished to perfection with carefully mitered corners, smooth cardboard backing, and two sturdy hanging clips. It's trendy, lightweight, and practical. I love it!

Your turn now! Leave a comment. Tell me anything you want - from the place you get your own "what's cool" info, to the person, pet, place, or thing you'd showcase in a Canvas Factory print. I'll randomly choose one reply on May 1st, 2018, announce it here, and request your email address for delivery of your prize. Good luck!

Open to residents of U.S.A. and Canada only.

Update May 1, 2018:
Thank you to all who entered this give away.
Our winner is JACKIE
Please contact me by email so I can get your prize to you as soon as possible! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Easter Sunday Bunny Business!

We're having a puppet show after Easter dinner, but this time it wasn't my idea! The most rewarding moments in a grandma's life are appeals for a repeat of something fun done in the past. The one that sent me scrambling for today's feature came from Brielle a few weeks back: "Grandma, are we going to have an Easter play for all of us cousins like we did at Thanksgiving?"

What else was there to say?.....

"Of course we are, you sweet little bunnykins!"

I sought inspiration via an online search for something light, happy and easily understood by a younger audience, but alas, found not a rabbit hole to tumble into! That, coupled with a serious bout of mental bunny block, led me to reach for a classic child's book, one with a story suited for telling with a handful of simple paper puppets.

We're going to perform The Runaway Bunny, the endearing 1942 classic by Margaret Wise Brown who also penned Goodnight Moon.

A pair of large cardboard boxes, stacked, taped, cut, and decorated will serve as a puppet theater. Kids will sit behind the screen and manipulate characters mounted on sticks. Parents and young siblings will hear the story of Little Bunny who decided to run away, taunting his ever-patient mother with plans to become "a fish in a trout stream, a crocus in a hidden garden," and even "a rock up high on a mountain top." Mother Bunny vows to thwart his escape by doggedly pursuing him as a fisherman, a gardener, a mountain climber and more, until Little Bunny has no choice but to "just stay where I am and be your little bunny!"

Puppets from left to right:
rock on the mountain top
Mother Bunny fishing
blowing wind
Pictured at top:
Little Bunny
Mother Bunny

If you're not familiar with the book, You Tube narrations abound. This one, by Grandma Annii, is my favorite!

The Runaway Bunny tale is also suitable for family Mother's Day entertainment!

These original designs, like all blog material, are for personal use only. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Thank you!