Archived Ideas for ‘Celebrations’

IDEA 31: DO SUMMER LIKE A KID

Jul
2010

Summer_kids

The combination between the end of school and summer’s warm weather provide the perfect opportunity for an annual family trip. Here in the mid-west, countless families head “North to the Cabin”, and I’m not the first to notice how time slows down these hazy lazy days.

We take the annual summer vacation to the family farm in northern Michigan. And since our children were born, it has become the time and place that, once a year, they bond with their cousins.

Northern Michigan cherry orchards, sand dunes, and lakes have been the backdrop for relationships that have been playing out two weeks a year for the duration of their young lives. And as a parent, it’s one of my favorite things. It has not only cemented the relationships of the children, but of myself, my siblings, parents, and in-laws.

Jacqueline M. deMontravel, editor of Romantic Homes Magazine, in her letter from the editor, expressed what I consider a near perfect reflection on summer. I had to share it with you. Here is Jacqueline’s letter, with a title that could have been the title of today’s idea. May everyone reading this take a moment to breathe in and quietly savor summer, whether you choose to travel to the woods, or just the back yard.

Let It Go

July follows the loose, relaxed style of a past-season sundress. Fully entrenched in summer, stray towels, flip-flops and all the necessities brought back from beach day can wait an hour, or day, to be tidied up.

July is the coffee break of the calendar year. Urgent matters become less urgent. Casual conversation lingers into the evening. The style of the summer follows these tenets. You are less likely to succumb to modern conveniences, opting for the entertainment provided by the season. There are many: falling asleep outdoors, losing a day to the garden and listening to the sounds of night.

At home you cook more. Meals are made with fewer ingredients but fresher foods. People come over frequently. There is more of a desire to entertain when you are so relaxed, feel less strained and have no qualms if a guest may spot a basket of laundry.

It is a forgiving season. It is also fleeting, which is what July is about.

IDEA 28: CELEBRATE 365 MOTHER’S DAYS A YEAR

Apr
2010

Rain_kids_1

When my kids were about 2, 4 and 6 we decided to take a rain walk one rainy afternoon. We donned raincoats and umbrellas and took a walk around the neighborhood. Of course my goal was to get the kids to run off a little energy, but the whole thing proved to be quite a thrill, as we splashed through big puddles and marveled that no one else was out.

Rain_kids_2

But the real value of the rain walk didn’t make itself known to me until I was back at the office, later that week. A friend and coworker of mine mentioned that she saw us parade past her house. I don’t remember the conversation exactly, but she had a very real appreciation of the whole thing. The kids. The bright colored raincoats and umbrellas. The joyous abandon. Little did I know that she had been trying to have a baby. Some time later, that friend ended up adopting a little baby girl.

I don’t have to remind moms of the treasures that have been dropped in our laps (literally). But when we have sleep, food and shower deprivation, or we’ve been up all night with a sick child, or have just been screamed at by an angry teenager, it’s nice to take a moment to remember just how incredibly lucky we are.

Rain_kids_3

We knew the job was tough when we signed up. And amazingly, we find ourselves up to the challenge. So, to every person who has raised, cared for, or been touched by a child,

have a Happy Mother’s Day. (I know, I didn’t have to tell you that).

Pam

IDEA 27: GRADUATION CELEBRATION

Apr
2010

Grad_cake_marble

I think I began stressing about the dreaded “Graduation Open House” when my kids entered kindergarten. I had been invited to a few, during which the main topic of conversation was how much the parents went through to get their house in order and make it all happen. One family attempted a remodel before the big day, and another decided to power-wash the house. Needless to say the whole thing had me in denial. When my oldest was nearing graduation, I pretty much decided we wouldn’t do anything. (Did I mention I have an aversion to stressful situations and avoid them at all cost)?

Over spring break we happened to be visiting out of town relatives. My sister-in-law stated that if we would have a grad party, they would come. The offer was just too good to pass up. Besides, I figured a family party was something that I might even be able to handle. There is something much safer about that prospect.

I am not a big party expert but I do know that if I give myself a few small, creative tasks to accomplish, I can throw a party that I won’t worry over, too much. The truth is, anyone who comes to your home to a party is not passing judgment on you, but quite happy to be there. And if you throw in a few creative touches, the whole thing is just more interesting and memorable. I’m not saying you HAVE to make things. But if you tend to be a crafty person, I say, go with your strengths! It will calm you down about the whole thing.

I knew I wanted to make a “theme” cake, and when my husband suggested the shape of a “mortar board” (graduate’s hat) I was thrilled. I happened to have a very large, very square pan, but you could always make a smaller one with a regular square pan.

Grad_pan

One of the easiest ways to make a very professional looking cake is to use fondant icing. And the best part is, it’s more like a craft project than cooking. Buy a box of pre-made fondant from the cake decorating isle of your local craft store. It comes in a package roughly the size of cake mix. Inside is a plastic bag containing a moist material that resembles white play-dough. The same store will also carry paste-based food colors. Depending on your school colors you may be able (as I was) to get away with buying only one color.

Now make and cool a square cake. I cut a piece of foam-core the exact size of the cake and covered it with foil, but you could also use corrugated cardboard covered with foil. Place the cooled cake on the square so no edge is showing, and ice the whole cake with your favorite butter cream frosting. Instead of placing the fondant directly on the cake, it’s preferable to ice the cake first with fluffy butter cream frosting. This not only helps keep a smooth surface, but tastes much better!

Here’s the fun part–you actually use your hands to squish and knead the color into the fondant. We used plastic gloves so that our hands weren’t dyed green. But make sure it’s not a latex or rubber glove which could transfer an unwanted flavor. We used thin plastic gloves, the kind you get in a box of home hair dye. When you start this, you have the impression the color will never even out, but have patience, eventually it will.

Grad_mix

Once the color is even, the fondant is rolled out like a pie crust. Roll it as thin as you can, stopping to lift and turn over much like you would a crust. Rolling between two sheets of parchment paper makes lifting easier. Then it’s ‘easy as pie’ to lift the fondant and place it over the cake.

Grad_fondant

Trim the fondant around the bottom edge with a knife. Then, use extra fondant to cover an upside-down bowl for the “hat” part of the mortar board (seen in the book display photo below). Make sure to affix the cake board on top of the overturned bowl well, with more blobs of fondant as glue.

Flatten a ball of fondant for the button. Cut fondant strips for the tassel, and letter your message on top in your fanciest script with tube frosting. I then carefully removed the gold year charm from my grad’s hat and used it to temporarily decorate the cake, but this charm is also probably available at the craft store.

Grad_cake_wood

Now, you have worked so hard on this masterpiece it deserves to be displayed. And this leads me into the next little grad party detail. I’m sure you have heard of all kinds of photo boards parents have made of their grad so guests can take a little stroll down memory lane. Well a simpler solution is to decorate the cake table with memorabilia. I surrounded the cake with photo albums, each with a ribbon bookmark (school color, green) at a particularly significant (or embarrassing) page. Guests could do a whole lot of browsing simply walking around the cake table.

Grad_cake_books

Another very simple decoration is to wrap white napkins around the flatware and tie with a ribbon of the school color. So, what’s so great about it? Don’t they look like little diplomas! (And if you point that out to your guests they will look even more like diplomas).

Grad_diplomas_d

And of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you to photograph your lovely accomplishments. If for no other reason, it will be a handy reference for when the next kid graduates!

IDEA 26: HAPPY EASTER BASKETS

Mar
2010

Easter_eggs

When I was a kid I just loved Easter morning, which ranked way up there, somewhere between Christmas and Halloween. My mom is a practical soul and it became pretty obvious she did not believe in investing in a new brightly colored, plastic grass-filled Easter basket every year for each of four kids, that would eventually find its way to the basement (or worse).  So, on Easter morning the hunt would begin, but we never knew exactly what we would find. In the name of practicality, my Easter surprise would be housed in something that was already around the house. My mom is a potter, so often, those sweet chocolate eggs would be nestled in a hand thrown bowl.

I didn’t inherit my mom’s talent for ceramics, but I do think I adopted her penchant for practicality. When it came to my kids, rather than fall for the “temporary” Easter baskets that line the shelves every spring, I chose a special basket for each child. I wrapped the handle in grosgrain ribbon and attached findings from the craft store floral isle. My eldest son got a dragon fly that will forever hover one-and-a-half inches over the handle via a wire. My second son got a frog at each point where the handle attaches to the basket, and my little daughter got a row of paper rosebuds tucked into the ribbon that wrapped her handle. The baskets were thus decorated, and then christened as each child’s permanent basket.

Easter_basket

Basket_frog

Basket_Dfly

Much like their Christmas stockings, the children learned to recognize their familiar basket, alleviating any pressure to designate whose basket was whose.  And the plastic eggs and even the pastel shredded paper “grass” have gotten reused countless times.

In the off-season they reside in a big bin in the attic where I can get a glimpse of Easter any time I need it. So, maybe it’s not the most earth-shattering idea. But I do think my mom’s thinking was way before her time. And that she taught a lesson that was “green” before people even knew what that was.

IDEA 25: EASTER SURPRISE CAKE

Mar
2010

Easter_cake

This Easter, why not make a special cake adorned with a little surprise? This recipe is from my Aunt Liz who called it Snowball Cake and often decorated it with fresh strawberries. While that is an extraordinary way to make this cake, and highly recommended, here is a fun Easter version of it. The cake is the same, but nestled on top, we put one plastic Easter egg for each child. Hiding inside the eggs can be candy treats or small toys, anything that says Happy Easter to you!

Of course if you are the type of domestic goddess who prefers to have your local bakery make the cake, the idea still works! You can still steal the show by adorning it with the filled Easter eggs. After all,  BellaPamella style is all about making it creative,  not adding undue stress.

The recipe that follows is also here for you to download. Just print one of the pdfs on card stock and, either cut out for your file [recipe card] or hole-punch for your notebook [page].

Enjoy!

No Bake Easter Cake

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained (keep the juice)

1 cup pineapple juice (add water, if needed to make cup)

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest if available

2 cups whipping cream (+1 more for topping)

4 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 store-bought Angel Food Cake

optional, 1/2 pint of fresh strawberries, sliced

Whipped Cream Topping

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dissolve gelatin in 4 tablespoons cold water. Add 1 cup boiling water, and stir till lumps are gone. Add pineapple, pineapple juice, sugar, salt and lemon juice. Mix well and refrigerate to cool, about an hour. When partly gelled, beat 2 cups of whipping cream, 4 t sugar and 2 t vanilla in a cold bowl just until peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the gelled mix.

Break up the angel food cake into 1” chunks. In an angel food cake pan or Bundt or other round pan, make layers of the cake, the gelled mixture and if using, sliced strawberries, ending with the gelled mixture. Refrigerate over night. When set, loosen around the edges and turn onto a plate. Frost with the whipped cream topping, made as you made the other whipped cream.

Fill most of the hole with whipped cream and nestle your surprise filled eggs in the indent. Best when kept refrigerated until ready to serve.

IDEA 18: BEDROOM WREATHS

Dec
2009

Door_Wreath_1

A simple and beautiful tradition to add to your holiday ready-making is the bedroom wreath. We do one for each child’s door. You’ll need a plain evergreen wreath, (you can use artificial wreaths if you prefer), about a yard and a half of 3” wide grosgrain ribbon per wreath, and some smaller, 1/4 inch wide red grosgrain or curling ribbon.

Gather a collection of small toys from each child’s stuff. From my son’s room I collected all red things: A building block, a red crayon, a truck, and red plastic army men. I even made a small red paper airplane. From my daughter’s room I collected tiny wooden spoons and a rolling pin, a small doll, a tiny bear, red plastic toys, even a red pacifier.

Using the narrow ribbon, tie the objects onto the wreaths. Loop the 3” wide ribbon through the center and line up the two raw ends. Thumbtack through both layers to the top edge (horizontal surface) of the door. Use very flat tacks so the door can open and close freely. If you like, embellish with a bow.

If you happened to have installed a hook as suggested in Idea #5 “Saving Private Places,” forgo the wide ribbon. Just hang the wreath right on the hook!

Door_Wreath_2

On December 7, I demonstrated this idea on Twin Cities Live, a local Minnesota show. The wreaths we did on the show are shown below.

Bedroom_Wreath_girl

Bedroom_Wreath_boy

And one we didn’t get to is the “teen” wreath. I used old batteries, an old pair of “ear buds” and my son’s cell phone that went through the wash! Instead of ribbon it’s hung with silver duct tape.

Bedroom_Wreath_teen


IDEA 16: THANKSGIVING PLAN

Nov
2009

Thanks_plan

Here is what I have come to believe about the Thanksgiving holiday:

The best part of this holiday is cooking the big meal with ones you love. And not only does it not matter if you make the same meal every year, everyone actually likes that. If you buy into these two things, Thanksgiving really can be the wonderful, not too stressful tradition you wish it were.

Here are some tips for cooking with a big group in your house:

1. Make YOUR quintessential Thanksgiving meal. Of course this means all recipes you like to eat, and equally important, you understand how to make. Mine is Roast Turkey, butter & sage stuffing, braided egg bread, ginger/pear cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, baked squash with molasses, tarragon green beans, pumpkin pie and apple pie. It’s pretty much always the same meal and my kids have come to believe that braided egg bread (for example) is what one makes at Thanksgiving.

2. Record all the above recipes in a spiral notebook titled THANKSGIVING. Next year you will be so glad you did this. If you are really industrious, add the shopping list in the front. Honestly, you only have to do this once. Every year after that just pull out the notebook and make the same meal. Why reinvent the wheel?

3. When you get up on the big day (at the crack of dawn) make Belgian waffle batter (Yes, you can use the box kind). Get the waffle iron set up and the minute your family starts arriving put as many guests as necessary on waffle duty. Making, distributing, and munching on waffles is great because it creates easy jobs (which you need with a kitchen full of guests), and you won’t starve as you spend all day creating the big meal. No syrup necessary, just dust with powdered sugar and serve on a napkin.

4. Unless you are big football fans, buy a big jigsaw puzzle and have the kids start it on the coffee table. It’s more social than TV and doesn’t require non-interrupted time.

5. After dinner, invite everyone outside for a big family walk. 

Nothing too fancy, but it covers the important stuff.  You’ll be creating good memories. And with any luck you can manage being together without being at each other’s throats! Have a wonderful holiday. And don’t forget to say thank you!