Archived Ideas for ‘Celebrations’



Sometimes, during the holiday season, it’s all we can do to get the dang tree into the house. As the Big Day draws near, we start eliminating things from our To-Do list, aware of the fact that we just can’t get it all done. Then, other years, we look around and realize we’re pretty much ready, with days to spare. And somehow in our emotionally-charged state we can feel let down, wondering, what’s everyone else up to?


It’s times like this we need to take charge. We need to buy some molasses (because that’s usually the only ingredient we don’t already have) and make some gingerbread cookie dough. Why? Because we can.


If you don’t have a bucket full of various cookie cutters, it’s time to start collecting!


I love to bring out the animals, as well as my perennial favorite, the pear.


Cooking the cookies will fill the house with an awesome aroma. And decorating can be done very simply: with white icing (1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 4 or 5 teaspoons milk) and the occasional cinnamon red candy. Snip off the corner of a plastic bag and squeeze the icing out in a thin line or dots.


If you have a kid around they may come up with something more complicated, like this incredible, tiny gingerbread house made by my daughter.


No matter what you do you should feel creative, and practical, since you can eat all mistakes and be amazed that they taste just as good as the masterpieces.


Have a lovely, simple, happy, wonderful-smelling holiday this year!



Those who shop Nordstrom’s may be aware of their policy not to “deck the halls” until the day after Thanksgiving. Shoppers who grow weary of tinsel and lights weeks before Christmas find Nordstrom’s policy a breath of fresh air. I hold a similar view. The day after Thanksgiving, all bets are off. But until that time I like to give each holiday it’s day in the sun.

The only problem is that it can be confusing (or wasteful, or just a lot of work) to treat Thanksgiving completely separate from the festivities to come. Case in point, the well-meaning homeowner (below) I spied this morning.


Some might remember my blog entry a couple years ago on how to take a simple decoration and transition it from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. This year’s idea is even simpler. Because after all, celebration makes the world go round, but in my book, simplicity keeps it sane.

I’m having a big crowd for Thanksgiving, so I wanted to doll up the front of the house. I scored a great deal on two pots of spruce tips from the grocery store, complete with “sugared” red berry branches. I love the sweet look, but just not quite this early, so I temporarily removed the red.

I’m kind of a pear freak, and I just happened to have a pear wreath purchased a few years ago from Target.


A quick trip to the craft store produced a spray of mini pears and some gorgeous taupe, and pear and colored ribbons.



And, “Voila!” my front porch is ready to welcome my family and guests.

So here’s the funny part. My intention was to doll up Thanksgiving with an updated cornucopia-type theme using pears. But the resulting motif, with the pears, ribbon and wreath, form a fresh holiday look that may just take me through to Christmas!

(And I can always add in the sugared berry branches on Friday).



Birthday parties with small children in the house can be amazing events. Kid parties are, at best, a fulfilling creative outlet, and at the very least a heartfelt celebration of life. If you have children, you are probably compelled to do something special for each and every birthday.

And then one day you look around and see that all those kids have grown up. And they have different ideas of how one should celebrate a birthday. In a busy family, it’s easy to find that you’ve allowed life to drift away from some of your old traditions. Kids that once had a hard time falling asleep the night before a holiday now may seem not to really care too much about it. And as a mom you do your best to morph, to go with the flow. And that’s really just fine and no one should spend a single second worrying about it.

But even if you don’t feel like the ringleader you once were, guess what. You still are one. And you may be surprised that although a few of the rules have changed, these people are still your family and they really do respect your wises to make things happen.

This was evidenced to me when my middle son was turning 19. Our dinner table, once used to hosting our family of five almost every evening of the week, is now lucky to see three. With the kids’ jobs, school, activities and friends, most nights we are missing one or two. My son turning 19 was not going to be home for dinner on his birthday and I was resigned to lose this last vestige of childhood birthdays, the family birthday dinner. I was busy, and maybe a little bit of me was afraid if I pushed it, I would be disappointed to realize no one really cared. By letting the busy-ness be the culprit, I’d be able to avoid feeling silly, or let down.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how bad letting it go would make me feel. And in poignant contrast to all the emphasis I put on communicating, I couldn’t think of a way to bring it up to my family.

So, I surreptitiously asked around to find a night when everyone would be available. And when I found one, I decided not to leave it up to chance. I created a sign inviting everyone to the birthday dinner on that night, and posted it where I was sure everyone would see it.

Then I made a cake. My daughter made a cake. My other son and his girlfriend made two pies. And we had our party. It wasn’t such a big deal, (although we did have enough desserts for a week). But it was just exactly right.

And here’s the best part. That 19 year old really had a great time. We opened cards and small gifts and stayed at the table long into the night. And I see now that I wouldn’t have been the only one who would have felt a loss if we had decided we had simply outgrown the family birthday dinner.




Do you ever get just a little bugged by the amount of holiday wrapping that ends up either in the fireplace or the trash? Does it kind of gnaw on you to have to add extra money to your holiday budget to buy gift wrap and ribbons? I’ll admit it. Both those things kind of bother me. So, here’s something I’m doing this year.

If you read the last post, you saw the groovy brown paper roll I keep for oodles of practical purposes. And I just wrapped up a bunch of gifts in that simple paper. I got the boxes from a stash in the attic (three of these are shoe boxes), and used fabric ribbons, also from my stash. I like to use satin or grosgrain ribbon because I re-use them year after year. Yes, really I do. I leave a lot of them cut quite long, and don’t necessarily cut them again. And on Christmas morning the ribbons go in a basket and the brown paper will go in the fireplace. If you’re halfway decent at gift wrapping you could even leave off the tape. But I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.

The other thing I collect is little fake berry bunches from the craft and floral store. These get tucked in the bow and also saved year after year. And both the embellishments and ribbons are always purchased either off-season or after the holiday at drastic discounts. One thing I like about buying off-season is you can pick up less-expected looking ornamentation. Another is that I can find things at my leisure, rather that settling for whatever I can find at the last minute.


That’s it. Just a quick simple idea from an self-described cheapskate!



If you’ve been a BellaPamella fan long enough, you remember the “famous” BellaPamella Kid Art Calendar. (See more here).

Kids churn out such a quantity of beautiful work, I’m always thinking about new ways to use it. This idea is absolutely the perfect thing, especially for gifts to grandparents: Use some of that fabulous art as wrapping paper. Even if your gift is a box of chocolates, how much more fun is it to wrap the box in art made by your kids, and sent from the whole family? It’s not just original and cool, it gives kids a chance to make a contribution.


Of course this idea is pretty self explanatory. The hardest part is deciding whether you want to use your favorite ones. But I’ve found kids have a bottomless capacity to crank out pictures, often of the same theme.


I keep a collection of ribbons in a bin. There are great sales on rolls of grosgrain or satin ribbon to be found at the craft or fabric store. I buy a few rolls whenever I’m inspired. Then these can be used to tie up your packages. Fabric ribbon is so beautiful. And yes, I do save the ribbons once the packages are open. It seems silly to save the “disposable” kind of ribbon. But save the fabric ribbon, plop it back in your bin for use another time and it not only makes you feel a tad more environmentally friendly, your ribbon bin stays full.

If you find the artwork your kids are producing isn’t big enough, try giving them a large piece of paper to decorate just for this purpose. But don’t tell them it’s for wrapping paper or that could affect their designs. The fun part is that it doesn’t look like regular wrapping paper. At our house a large paper roll is a staple. A big roll of paper from the paper warehouse lasts for years. Sometimes it’s white. Right now the roll holder is filled with brown paper and I use it for everything. Try tearing off a sheet the size of the table and give the kids fat brushes and bright tempera paints and see what you get. You can then cut off as much as you want and wrap lots of gifts.

Sometime maybe I’ll do a whole blog entry on why your house needs a big paper roll dispenser. Years ago I asked for it for my Christmas present from my husband and I can’t think of a gift I use more. Come to think of it, there’s something to put on your wish list this year. Meanwhile, happy wrapping!




I’ve long considered my dad to be a businessman. Growing up, he provided the yin to my mother’s artistic, almost bohemian yang. I thought my creative side came from my mother, and that I got mostly that, although I managed to pick up a thing or two I could use with the other side of my brain from my dad. But even though my dad is a genius at business, he also, more than anyone else in the family, has an appreciation for poetry.

Over the years my dad has quoted many a poet. And I’m not talking about the short rhyming variety. He’s memorized beautiful, long verses, and can readily bring them up to recite to a surprised and delighted audience. His embracing poetry has always been something I appreciated, but did not share. Not that I don’t like poetry, just that my life, full of family and work, was kind of busy for it, I guess. When my kids were small, he gave me a book of poetry. We read out of it, but when the kids got older, the book went on a shelf.

I spent the last two weeks with my extended family at our annual get-together. Now, I’ve returned to my so-called normal life with one new thought: Poetry.

For the occasion of my parent’s anniversary, some of us discovered a love poem he had written to my mom years ago. We put it to music and played the guitar and sang it to them. Much practice was necessary, to be able to get through the song without choking up. Poetry.

Around the campfire, a song we sang reminded my dad of a poem, and he asked if I knew it. I said no. With much cacophony going on all around us, he leaned in and recited it in my ear. It was beautiful and long. And although I loved the words I didn’t exactly catch it’s meaning. The next day I looked it up online and it took me several readings before I understood. It was as if I was dropped off in a foreign country in the middle of a language I couldn’t understand, and then out of nowhere, suddenly became fluent. The poem was Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, by Thomas Moore. After about the fourth reading, what at first sounded like a string of flowery words became the most beautiful love poem, telling a woman she would always be beautiful, even when she looked like a dried up old stick. The beauty of that brought tears to my eyes. Poetry.

The next night, in the farmhouse kitchen, my sister-in-law and I recorded my dad reciting that poem, and then us singing it. Poetry.

There was poetry in the weather, that rained the day after we got sunburned.
There was poetry in the child that sprained her ankle and then became closer to a cousin she’d never met before, who liked to play nursemaid.
There was poetry in the perfect fit of the beam into it’s slot, on the cabin everyone was helping build.

When my dad and I were walking across a field together I mentioned how I hadn’t had much poetry in my life. That we had that book he had given us, but I hadn’t read it in a while. And then, of course, it dawned on me. Poetry is all over the place. I’m just starting to become a little more fluent.



This morning, my carefully designed Mother’s Day Weekend plans began to unravel before my eyes. I was spouseless for a four day weekend (my husband went to spend the weekend with HIS mom). And on a whim I made an eye appointment for Saturday morning to get fitted for contact lenses. (To be accurate, ONE contact lens. I was getting just one, so that I might shed myself of the dreaded “readers”, glasses made very cheaply and sold at drugstores at such a low price you have no motivation to keep track of them).

My daughter had talked me into having two of her teenage friends over for a sleep-over, and I figured I’d bug out for a little “me” time. Plus, she and her friends would be off to a commitment they had made, serving “snack” to children at a local organization. The commitment was part of a semester long project, and the three moms were taking turns driving, buying the snacks, and working with the girls in the kitchen. Although the sleep-over was at our house, it was not my turn to buy/drive/help. Or so I thought.

Sometime during the “Let’s stay up until 3:00 A.M.” night, I learned I would have to drive and do kitchen duty. To make matters worse, one of the girls who was at our house was not part of the service-project and would have to be driven home first. And one of the girls that WAS part of the service-project was NOT at our house and would have to be dropped off at our place, or picked up at hers. The logistics made my head hurt, and it didn’t help that everything was miles apart. And the girls insisted on being so girly — not even feigning the least bit of remorse for messing up my morning. I worked out a plan where we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to get one girl driven home and the rest of us to the center in time to make pancakes, clean up and bolt out of there, everyone accompanying me to my eye appointment.

Of course since we were in a hurry, not all the seats in the mini-van were up, so one kid flipped them open and in the process, punched a hole in a project of mine I had been keeping in the car to be “safe”. As I started out of the neighborhood I was distracted and sulky, already feeling late, although there had been no avoiding it.

Then, my 15 year old daughter turned on the radio and one of their favorite tunes came on. All three girls started singing the tune word for word, and from the corner of my eye I saw my girl bust a move I hadn’t seen before. To the admiration and delight of her two-girlfriend audience, she was chair-dancing in the car seat. It was silly, and out there, and well done. The joy of that moment took me aback. I felt a smile creep across my face and I could sense my stress dissipating. Our car was a rolling, jaunty, joy-ride, and I was happy to be a part of it.

So, what caused my mood to do such a switch-a-roo? It was the thin tube I spied when my daughter lifted her arms. The tube that goes from her stomach to a vile of insulin. A tube that delivers to her those life saving drops, that has become a part of her since she was twelve years old, and our world changed when we found out she had Type One Diabetes.

In a most unexpected way this year, I got my Mother’s Day after all. A beautiful, happy Mother’s Day to you too!



I thought I was the first person to recognize that the flight attendant’s recommendation to strap the air hose onto yourself before helping your kids was an obvious analogy for how to approach motherhood. As the flight attendant points out (without actually saying it) you won’t be any good to your kids if you are passed out for lack of oxygen. Maybe I was the FIRST one to see it, but Laura Bennett beat me to the punch as her book (Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday–highly recommended, I might add) opens with that very idea. Never-the-less, it is obviously a good and valid idea.

Being mom carries with it slights and sacrifices so numerous you lose count by lunch time. We know it. We do it every day. But since we knew the job was dangerous when we took it, we feel we have neither recourse, nor justification for complaint.

So, this is that month when we all secretly hope to receive something that reinforces the fact that we are loved and cared about. And if you are one of the lucky ones, and get just exactly the flower, trinket or candy that you crave, in exactly the right setting, congratulations. You truly do deserve it. But if you are one of the many deserving that come up just a little disappointed, let me offer this thought: If it’s expected that on Valentine’s Day someone who loves you gives you flowers (or candy), than it should be required for you to give them to yourself. In fact, if you DON’T give yourself flowers on Valentine’s Day, you are just as guilty as every other loved one who doesn’t.

By the way, I’m aware that the Valentine tradition of giving things is secretly a marketing ploy started by the retailers of the world. So if you are of the mind to ignore it, I say more power to you, sister.

On the other hand, it does make for a pretty good excuse to reward yourself, don’t you think?



This holiday season you can be with your loved ones, even if no one is able to travel. This very sweet and inexpensive idea was inspired by my daughter who, during our holiday cookie bake this year, decided to represent each family member in gingerbread form. The resulting “Family Tree” (captured on our FaceBook page here) was such a hit that we’ve decided to give you some more details. And, as if that weren’t enough, the project was showcased on Twin Cities Live, a local Minnesota television program. Because of the show, our “Family Tree” includes the hosts, Elizabeth Ries, and John Hanson as well as Elizabeth’s Westie, Henry!


You really could complete this project with only one cookie cutter, the gingerbread man. But since we happened to have a gingerbread girl and a mini cutter, we added dresses and babies to our group. Our little dog was hand cut-out, but if you have a dog-bone shaped cutter, that is another way to include the family pooches in the mix. Of course if you want to include the cat, fish, hamster or whatever, we encourage you to do so!

We used the gingerbread cookie recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cook book. Here’s a link to the recipe on-line. The trick with the cookie dough was to divide it into smallish hunks and chill before trying to roll out. You really need to move quickly and get the cut-out cookies onto the baking sheet before they have a chance to warm up. Bake lots of extras, then let the cookies cool completely.

As I’m sure you have realized there are lots of squeezable cookie frosting products available. And although I truly believe that you should do what works for you, I’m here to tell you that I still think the best option is to make your own. It’s much less expensive and gives you so many more color options. But also, in my not-at-all-official trial of a few of those products, I never found one as easy to control as my own. If for no other reason than, if you make your own you can vary the thickness until it’s right.

Frosting ingredients:

Powdered Sugar


vanilla (optional)

food coloring

For each color, measure one cup of powdered sugar. Add about four teaspoons of milk (and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla if you like). Mix with a spoon to get a glossy-smooth mixture. Now add drops of food color. Here are the quantities we added to one cup of sugar to get our colors:

Poppy Red: 10 drops red

Goldenrod: 4 drops yellow

Blue: 8 drops blue

If your frosting gets too thin, add a little more powder. If it’s too think, add about 1/4 teaspoon milk at a time. For the large area background colors we found a little thinner frosting worked better. The frosting lines would “melt” into each other and form a smooth, even surface. When we made dots or other small designs we found having the frosting slightly thicker worked better.

Once you get all your colors mixed in individual cereal-sized bowls, it time to make your decorating tools. Each color will require a small freezer “zip” bag. Zip open the bag and place one corner of it in a short glass. Now turn the top edges out and down, draping over the glass rim on the outside. Pour the icing as close to the corner of the bag as you can.


Zip the bag closed, but keep each bag in it’s own glass. This will help keep the mess to a minimum, once you’ve cut them open and need a place to set them down.


To decorate, snip the tiny corner off the bag. Grip the closed bag ‘behind’ the icing and gently force the icing out the hole. Of course the larger the hole, the thicker your line will be. If you find you’ve made the hole too big, put a new bag in the glass, cut a good inch off the too-big corner and use that nice big hole to squeeze the whole mess into the new bag. Then you can try again.

Now, pick a background color, for example John’s blue suit, and outline the shape of the suit. Now it is as easy a pie to fill in the area just like a coloring book. We found it easiest to fill in with repeated concentric shapes, starting just inside the outline and repeating the shape until they got smaller and smaller and eventually filled in. If you have mixed the icing to a glossy, viscous consistency, you will end up with a nice smooth solid shape. Wait until the background color dries completely, then add the details. This sequence shows the process.


Make your family members any way you want. Here are some of ours, in case you need ideas.







Of course I have to point out the ladies (my mom and I) in our BellaPamella aprons! My mom is wearing the Eunice in Kitchen Fruit and I’m sporting the Nora in Ruby Dot!


Once your gingerbread family tree is finished you can display it on a platter, or bag each one up and tie it with a ribbon to hang on your tree, or theirs. Make a small paper tag with the name on it, slip the ribbon through, and you have a very special handmade gift to give. By the way, if you arrived here from the Twin Cities Live site and wish to see all the projects highlighted on that show, either click on the Twin Cities Live category to the right, or click here.


Happy Holidays! And don’t forget to have fun with your family, gingerbread and otherwise!



Whether you are hosting a big dinner, or preparing to head out of town, if there’s a Thanksgiving meal in your near future, you know how lucky you are. Thanksgiving is often one of the few times of the year most of the family is together.

For this year’s table, why not make sweet little name place cards that do a little more than just point out where someone should sit? This simple idea combines a few things I love about Thanksgiving. It’ll make the table even more special, it’s an easy project, and doing it allows me to dwell on all the things I’m thankful for.


For the project you’ll need some pretty paper and tiny faux green apples from the craft store, a hot glue gun, a pencil, a black fine point pen, something about 3 1/2″ round to trace around, like a glass, and either plain or fancy scissors.


Use the glass and pencil to make 3 1/2″ circles on the pretty paper. You’ll need one per person. If there is a right and wrong side, make the circles on the wrong side. If you are using the fancy scissors, cut along the outside of the circle, so you will still see the drawn circle when it’s cut out.


Once you’ve cut all the circles, on the top side, you may put a very light pencil line in an arc about 5/8 ” or so from the edge. (This is optional). Then, with the pen, along an arc shape, hand write “Thanks for [NAME]” for each person that will be at the table. The last step is to hot glue a tiny faux apple to the center of the circle.

If you don’t want to tell people where to sit, another idea is to name things you are thankful for. Then, like “stem gems” people can pick whatever sentiment they like! Some thoughts could be:

Thanks for being here.


Thanks for the happy.

Thanks for the warm.

Thanks for the calm before the storm!

Thanks for this family.

Thanks for this meal.

Thanks for the jokes.

Thanks for how I feel.

Okay, I couldn’t resist a little rhyme! Here are a few more pictures. I almost can’t decide if I like the plain or fancy cut. Do what works for your decor and make your thankful table as plain or fancy as you like! And Thanks for reading!