Archived Ideas for ‘Milestones’

IDEA 94: WELCOME TO THE FAMILY

Mar
2017

Sock_Family_baby

Second baby gifts can be tough to figure out. Having a baby can result in a cornucopia of baby stuff, so much so, the baby can grow faster than all the tiny outfits can be worn, let alone get worn out. Often, second and third babies already have lots of great stuff to wear and use. So, when my sweet niece had her second baby, it was tough to come up with something practical, yet special to celebrate this newest family member.

Serendipitously, last time I was visiting home, my mom asked me if I’d like some skeins of beautiful yarn she had bought, but never used. My answer to her was, of course. I’ll make you a pair of socks.

Sock_Family_8cc

I knit the socks for my mom and found I still had lots of the yarn left, so I asked her if she would like multiple pairs. Her answer to me was, why don’t you make a matching pair for my great grandbaby?

You can see where this is going. I Made baby socks, and big sister socks.

Sock_Family_babySock_Family_9cc

By the time I was done I had made socks for the whole new family.

Sock_Family_4

Now, even though great-grandma and great-grandbaby are states apart, everyone will feel just a little bit closer when they wear their special socks. And this new little one will have no trouble telling what family she belongs to!

IDEA 79: HONOR THE SURPRISE

Aug
2015

Surprise_cake_2

My daughter, the teenage baker, got an intriguing assignment from one of her teachers. This teacher has become pregnant and she has decided to find out the sex of the baby. But her plan is to have her doctor put the results in a sealed envelope. She will then deliver said sealed envelope to my daughter who will bake a tiny cake with a surprise inside. If the results are a girl, the filling will be pink. For a boy, blue. The teacher will then, with her husband, celebrate one evening by cutting the tiny cake, and thereby discovering if they are having a boy or a girl.

There are so many things about this that I love. First of all, the thought that this teacher is allowing my daughter, her 17 year old student, to see the news before she herself does. But even better, the fact that the discovery of this news is becoming a bit of celebration.

Believe me, I understand some of us just can’t stand waiting for baby to be born before decorating the nursery. But what a great way to make more of a deal about unveiling the surprise!

Surprise_boy

IDEA 76: MAKE A CHERISHED HAND-ME-DOWN

Apr
2015

Hand_Ben_Notype

What is it about our off-spring’s little hand and footprints that look to us like one of nature’s most beautiful design motifs?

When my firstborn came back from the hospital nursery with inky feet, I was thrilled to see that the nurses had captured the one-day-old feet on a beautiful document, and I requested they put another set right onto the page of his baby book.

Foot_Nell_Book

When my baby daughter got to day-care, I received a “corsage” made by one of the teachers. It was for Mother’s Day, and was made using my daughter’s tiny handprint in pink paint, cut out, laminated with a pin back, and festooned with small pink ribbons. I wore that corsage on Mother’s Day for years.

That’s why, when my colleague Jen told me about her handprint project, I knew I had to share it. It’s just SUCH a BellaPamella idea!!

With each child’s first birthday, she purchased a white tablecloth. The birthday kid was allowed to put a painty set of his/her handprints on the cloth, which was then labeled with their age (1). As the birthdays commenced, the handprints collected. Each cloth is different, reflecting the “design sensibility” of each child.

Hand_Noah_Tablecloth

The original idea was to bring out the special tablecloth to decorate the birthday party table. But, very quickly, Jen realized this keepsake was way too precious to expose it to spilled Kool-Aid and ice cream.

So, it still comes out. It gets it’s annual set of prints, and becomes a wall hanging or other decorative drape for the duration of the celebration. Then it’s safely stowed, away from flinging food, until the next year. And one day, it just may provide a favorite story for her grand kids.

Helping_Hands_Link


IDEA 72: THEN, ONE DAY, LET THEM GO

Jul
2014

Boys_Bike_Wave

Last summer, my 19 year old son Ben announced that the next week he and his friend Will were going to ride their bikes to California. He told us this with the same lack of pageantry you would announce you were going to walk up to the store to buy a candy bar.

I wondered if over at Will’s house they had any more warning or explanation of a plan. When we drove Ben to Will’s house, the location of the “send off,” we saw that no, indeed, there had been no more planning over there.

We arrived on the scene to witness Will’s dad explaining that it would be very easy and quite practical to strap a small tent onto Will’s bike. This recommendation offered, because the boys had discerned they would not need sleeping bags (it was California, and therefore a warm place), or pillows (apparently pillows are for sissies), or a change of clothes.

When I asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring an extra T-shirt, Ben’s answer was they could wash their shirts out in a stream. When I suggested he might bring an extra shirt to wear while the stream-washed shirt was drying, Ben saw the wisdom in this, and acquiesced to bring a second T-shirt.

It was heart-warming to see Will’s parents attempting similar suggestions. Somehow they managed to convince the boys to take their ancient second car to get to the west coast so that they might have a hope of, at the very least, getting out of Minnesota. The parents were planning on selling the car anyway (or donating it). The boys had permission to sell the car once they got to California if they wanted to. Or, if it broke down, they did not have to bring it back, but needed to remember to have it towed somewhere.

The plan was to sleep in hammocks, which they had purchased the week before, (but hadn’t actually tried out yet). We all thought, even if the ancient second car completely broke down, it might still offer protection from the weather, and a softish place to sleep.

The timeline for the trip was “open-ended” as Ben quit his job for the rest of the summer and announced that he may decide to stay in California a while and not sign up for school in the fall. Interesting, because I heard Will say he wanted to be back for the State Fair in August, but apparently had failed to mention this to Ben. So it was not only open-ended in the sense they hadn’t decided when to return, but even more so, since they hadn’t actually discussed their plans with each other.

Then, we four parents stood in the driveway waving, and the two boys, with bikes in ancient second car, drove away.

Boys_Bike_Car

I told all this to my girlfriends while sipping wine in the backyard at an annual summer get-together and to my amazement, a year later, when we gathered there next, everyone wanted to hear: Well? What happened on the bike trip?

So, here are some highlights. OK, this is my recollection anyway.

The first night, the boys slept in the car. The next day, the car broke down and they managed to get it into a shop and jumped on their bikes to ride around. They had been aiming to drive from Minnesota to Seattle, ditch the car, and ride down the coast to California on their bikes. The car broke down again, and this time it was irreparable. They left it, and got a bus into Seattle.

Seattle was no disappointment. They located kindred spirits and empty couches on some memo-board (or Craig’s list). They had been gone almost a week but had very few bike miles under their belts. At one point, they decided to take a hike. it was late in the day because, of course, if they were awake, it must be. They headed up a mountain trail with no water. Once they finally reached the peak, they realized they may be heading into trouble. They were far from their starting point and were losing light very quickly. They were regretting the decision (or lack thereof) to bring water, and I think there was a bear sighting.

They ran/tore back down the mountain and managed to return to their respective couches unkilled, which was fortunate, because they had a great story to tell.

At this point, the owners of the couches wanted them back, so the boys consulted the memo-board (or Craig’s List) again for a ride closer to California. They were able to secure a ride to Portland for $20. That’s $20 for the both of them. You just can’t beat Craig’s list (or the memo board) unless, of course, you have a silly concern about safety.

Portland proved to be a veritable cornucopia of opportunity. Will had relations there who put them up and fed them all kinds of home-cooked meals. Between this and their attempt to patronize every taco truck they encountered, they were not hurting for chow. But here they ran into a setback. The hike proved to be problematic to Will’s leg, so they found a clinic that would take a look. Not a big deal, but Will would have to stay off it for a few weeks.

Huh?

Remember, they are on a bicycling adventure. Or, at least it was going to start any minute.

I got a text that they were returning by train. Their bikes were packed into bike boxes and checked like big cardboard luggage.

All tolled, it had been just under two weeks. There did not appear to be a lot of bicycle riding in this adventure. And they never did set foot in California. But our boys were returning, after not too much time, and on their own accord. So, we four parents did what one might expect we would. We drove to the train station where, teary eyed, we greeted, we hugged, and did our best to hide our complete and absolute relief.

Boys_Bike_Home_Amtrak

IDEA 67: TEACH SAVING

Jan
2014

Ice_cream_Saving_2

Now that my kids are quite grown (are they ever ALL grown?), it occurs to me that when it came to teaching saving we did two things right.

The first I got from my own parents: Open a savings account for each child. Once the child is old enough to get the concept of money, tell her about her account and show her the balance. Then when your child receives money, tell them that whatever they put in their savings account, you will match. A child that receives $20.00, and is told that if they put 10 of it in the bank, you will put in 10 to make 20, will usually do it and be happy spending the other 10. We did this with all three kids. (The matching in our family continues until the child collects an actual paycheck). By that time the savings account has grown enough for them to want to keep and protect it. Not to mention they now have a long established habit of putting some of their money in the bank. When you think about it, it’s not unlike a 401K contribution that’s matched by your employer. Why not get them into the swing of things early?

My other saving tip didn’t start out about saving at all. It started out about fairness. When some tasty treat would come into the house (like a package of cookies or carton of ice cream), it became impossible for it to last more than a day. Why? Because each child figured he’d better get his before the other two devoured it. Treats disappeared at a frenzied pace because no one wanted to be the one left with an empty carton. So one day I brought home three identical packages of cookies. I put a child’s name on each one and put them in the cupboard. Then I told them they could do with them what they wanted but they were not to touch anyone else’s, and they would not get another package for two weeks. I was amazed how long those cookies lasted. Who knew those kids had so much restraint? But without the threat of poachers they were able to consume the treats at a normal pace. And, the little “lucky strike extra”? Another lesson in saving was born.

IDEA 55: COMMUNICATE

Sep
2012

Birthday_invite

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.

Birthday_boy

IDEA 42: WRITE IT DOWN

Mar
2011

Book_of_Stories

This morning my teenage son was telling me about a wrong number he received on his cell phone. The caller, apparently attempting to reach a landlord said “The toilet is backing up! I need help here!” My son asked “Is it still running?” the caller said it was, so my son said, “Do you see a little knob down underneath on the left side? Turn it all the way until the water stops.” The caller did so, and the water stopped. “OK,”  the caller said, “now what do I do?” to which my son replied, “I don’t know. You have the wrong number.”

I just about choked on my Cheerios, I was laughing so hard. Let’s face it, every now and then one of your kids will say or do something that is either so funny, or so sweet it practically blows your mind. And I know we are all so very busy. But this is my plea to get you to dedicate a small notebook to writing these things down.

Buy a small “blank book.” This is not hard to do. We have all seen them, fallen in love with them, then couldn’t think of anything good enough to write in them, right?

If something one of your kids does strikes you as funny, write it in there.  If you can’t think of anything, (or nothing funny has happened yet), write the story of giving birth or adopting them. This book will become a personal bedtime story for the kids. You wouldn’t believe how they love to hear stories about themselves. If it’s funny, and it’s about their sibling, even better. Since it’s being written for the kids, you don’t really have to worry about the quality of writing. It’s the stories that matter. I have been recording stories in our book since the kids were quite small. Eventually it will end up being a keepsake, and possibly inspire them to do the same for their kids.

So, to my friend who’s daughter asked him, “Daddy, is that a REAL clown, or just a guy dressed like a clown?” I say: Write it down!

Book_of_Stories_cover

IDEA 35: SCHOOL PORTRAIT BINDER

Oct
2010

School_pics_notebook

One of the classic mementos of childhood is the annual school portrait that comes home in a big envelope. If you are organized, you will be able to locate the envelope when it comes time to send the pictures to the rellies, such as in the holiday card. But how many of you can put your finger on the photos from last year, or the year before?

Miraculously, I have a full set of my own school portraits from my childhood, and I’ve always been grateful that these precious artifacts survived in tact. Possibly because of this, I decided I needed a solution to house all my kids’ school photos. Here’s what works for me. As soon as we get the school pictures I simply three-hole punch the edge of the envelope where the flap is. (Making sure to shake the photos away from that edge first).

School_pics_holepunch

I purchased a 3″ (heavy duty) three ring binder. The picture envelopes of all my kids go into the binder, although if you prefer you could have a separate binder for each child. My binder has the option of slipping a photo under the clear plastic. So I made a black and white blow-up of a section of my son’s kindergarten class photo. Then I took some colored pencils and put color only on him. That picture slips in the front forming a sweet book cover!

School_pics_notebook_cover

I did the same for my other two children; one got the spine and the other got the back-side of the binder.

This system also works beautifully for team photos. Just hole-punch right through the cardboard frame that came on the photo. You can have a book dedicated to each child, or to each sport, or put them all in one, depending on the number of photos you’re collecting.

Team_photos_notebook

If you happened to see me demonstrate this idea on Twin Cities Live, and would like to see the rest of the projects I showed, click here, or click on the Twin Cities Live category to the right. And do let me know if you try any of them!

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 6: LUNCH BOX LOVE

Aug
2009

lunch_love

For young children the first day of school can be very exciting. It can also be very scary. Or maybe most common, a little of both. If you pack your child a lunch, slip a photo of you, your family or a favorite pet inside on top of the sandwich. When I did this in my kindergartner’s lunch box the report came back to me that he shouted “What’s this doing in here?!” But I know he loved it.

OK, maybe I was doing it for me!