Archived Ideas for ‘Traditions’

IDEA 100: EXTEND THE INVITE

Nov
2018

Now that I’m home for the holidays, it seems more important than ever to gather the biggest bunch of loved ones to the Thanksgiving table. I know it’s not essential to actually get everyone at the same table, but this little trick could be just the thing if that’s what you’re after.

With the help of a single 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood, our dining table became big enough to seat 12!

All we did was round the corners so as to avoid hip-pokes, and attached blocking, one on each side, just outside the tabletop underneath. This makes the top quite stable, and keeps the board from moving anywhere. Don’t actually attach anything to the table.

Put a large tablecloth over the whole thing and no one will ever know the difference.

I find you can comfortably seat four on each side and two on each end. And more than that if you have benches and small children.

It’s so fun to have a big generous table. You may decide just to keep it that way all year! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And may you have as many at your table as you wish!

IDEA 98: OUTWIT THE WEATHER

Jun
2018

Weather_Light

Welcome to the continuing saga of the Up North House. This is the third post chronicling the inspiration, design and build of our multi family vacation house.

There’s one thing about building in the north. The weather is brutal. Winds to be reckoned with blow sand (in the summer) snow (in the winter) and ice, hail and rain all the other times of the year.

That’s why as we build a family place to last for many future generations, we are embracing materials that can withstand just about anything for just about forever.

The house will be sided in a material usually reserved around these parts for barns. It’s corrugated metal with a coating to resist rust. I read that it’s quite the thing in remote areas of Iceland. And why not use it?

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I love the rural aesthetic for up here, and the design of the house is based on the lovely barns dotting this landscape. It will be a house. But we will try our best to honor the bucolic, farm-y feel of the area.

End view:

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Side view:

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The very first things we purchased for the house were two beautiful full-view doors with Douglas fir on the inside and a natty overcoat of barn red cladding on the outside.

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We got these, used, for a song. And like everything about the design, they are simple, beautiful and since they will never need repainting, zero maintenance.

Typical for this area, our roof will be metal as well. You can see how the water beads right up, and with our 12:12 pitch roof, the snow will slide right off too.

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One of the favorite choices so far are these beautiful barn lights we bought for over the doors. The galvanized metal has the dual role of not just weathering the storms, but looking just right: serviceable, with sweet barn character.

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We’ve only just started, but as we continue to work, you can follow the progress of the build on Instagram #conboyhouseupnorth.

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IDEA 97: FAMILY GLUE

Jun
2018

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When your kids are living with you, it’s not terribly hard to make sure you are seeing each other on a regular basis. But when they leave the nest, especially when they move out of town, it can be a challenge to stay connected.

Many families have a tradition of vacationing at the same place every year whether it be a cabin they own, a resort they rent, or what-have-you. But what happens when the kids “outgrow” the family trip? The trip has to grow along with them. In our case, we are about to embark on something we consider a big investment in “Family Glue”. I wrote a little about it in the last post.

My childhood family of six (my parents, two brothers, sister and I) spent many summer days and nights in northern Michigan on farmland my father grew up on.

At its nearest point, the farmstead was about a quarter mile from lake Michigan. And if it weren’t for the apple and cherry orchards, the terrain of rolling green hills and bucolic farmland leading to high blustery bluffs formed by the crashing waves of Lake Michigan had to in some way remind the Irish transplants of their mother home.

As kids, we would trek back through the property to our favorite bluff that sent a straight shot of sand (with the occasional rock, plant and even glass) down to the pounding surf. We’d take off, flying from the top to land in the hot sand that only grew a little cooler as we descended with ever quickening speed to the beach below.

Once at the bottom we’d head north to a designated spot two miles up the beach where the bluff was lower, and some ancient sand-filled steps brought us back to the top where a parent would be waiting with the car to chauffeur us back home to the farmhouse. We’d arrive a little sunburnt, curly hair like dried snakes, and a rolling rhythm from the waves that magically stayed with us long enough to feel it’s push and pull as we lay in bed falling asleep.

This is where we went every summer. Every vacation. While my dad got busy repairing doors or windows and my mom brought ancient furniture out to the yard to strip and bring back to its original glory, we played.

When we began having kids of or own, we brought them to the farm. My dad was fond of saying every child born came to the farm by the time it was three weeks old. And I think that’s pretty close to the truth. Every new baby sat in the big oak rocker with Grampa Mike. And every child came to learn that the farm was where their Gigi served unending buckets of love, where they would come to know their cousins, where family happened.

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Over the years, the old farmhouse began to feel the strain of the ever-enlarging family. We began bringing tents to provide more sleeping space, and tents became cabins. We created an outdoor kitchen, most of which got packed into a simple shack for the winter, and we cooked amazing meals and served them outside beneath a beloved open-air structure designed by my brother with huge logs from the land and a corrugated metal roof.

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Most of the cabins were simple, with no running water, so the farmhouse was still the place to grab a shower and get out of bad weather. While each family created a cabin, the cousins just wanted to be with each other. So, although my generation of parents used our cabins, our kids tended to take over the farmhouse, many acres away.

The fact that there was a place for the teens and then twenty-somethings to get together has been key to making sure the young adults would continue to come “up north”. But the farmhouse was quite a ways away and we began to feel a divide. We also worried about the strain on the dear old house, and with the distance between us and our kids, connection was just more difficult. So, we’ve decided to build a Family House closer to our cabins.

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As I write, the patch of land we designated is being scooped up and rearranged by a local excavator. We will have the shell built by a local contractor and spend the rest of this (and maybe next) summer finishing the inside ourselves. I’ll use this blog to communicate the progress. You can also track our progress on Instagram. Just follow #conboyhouseupnorth

Peace, love and good times!

IDEA 96: HONOR A MEMORY

May
2018

Charlie Bird_CU_LR

As a kid my siblings and I spent many summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan. My father was born in Northern Michigan, and his family’s farmhouse, a quarter mile from the bluffs, was our vacation home.

One summer day in my childhood, we were exploring the beach. And we found a seagull struggling to free himself from a tangle of fishing line. The three pronged hook had pierced and caught the web of his foot as well as one of his wings. He must have tried to peck his way free as the third prong was now stuck through his bill.

My dad was able to free the hooks and untangle the bird, a favor that was rewarded with a bite on the hand. But it was clear the gull was not able to fly. By the time we were heading back south, our patient hadn’t improved, so we brought him back home with us. He was dubbed “Charlie Bird”. And as our city home was on a large natural pond, we figured we would try nursing him back to health there. My mom fed him tunafish until a naturalist friend told her he’d much prefer a fish from the pond (which he gulped down without hesitation). His physical therapy was administered by my brother leading him by leash down to the pond where Charlie would swim out and be gently pulled back.

Charlie’s time spent with us inspired my artist mom to create a mosaic of him. With broken pieces of colored tile, my mom depicted Charlie with wings spread wide in a perfect picture of natural energy and freedom. I imagine this is Charlie, right when he was freed from his shackles and ready to bite the hand that freed him!


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On a trip home to my parents house, I was reminded of this amazing mid-century work of art. It’s an image so familiar to me, yet I hadn’t thought of it in years. We are now building a communal kitchen with sleeping quarters on the “Up North” land and this Charlie Bird mosaic will be featured prominently. I’ll create a color palette pulling from the blues, greens, whites, darks and grays. The vibe will be simple and natural. Like the sand, the trees and the wildlife we came to love, the house will let nature in and not be so delicate as to be wrecked by sand dragged in on bare feet or water from wet swimsuits (or feathers). The windows will be more about what you are seeing outside than architectural details inside. The spaces will be big and welcoming, as we rarely congregate with less than 20 people. The surfaces will be low maintenance, (who wants to spend all our vacation repainting). The house will be more about accommodating the people that gather than about it’s own self. But it will be designed with simplicity, and good, smart, frugal but beautiful ideas.


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This Charlie Bird mosaic may not be the sole inspiration for this project. But it’s influence, both as art and as memory, will be honored and fondly felt.

IDEA 94: WELCOME TO THE FAMILY

Mar
2017

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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.

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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.

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

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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 93: EMBRACE MYSTERY

Feb
2017

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It’s hard to disguise a heart shaped box of chocolates. But chances are, your Valentine has never received quite such a mysterious looking gift as this. And what romance couldn’t use a little extra mystery now and then?

Here is a simple but chic idea to customize that heart-shaped box of chocolates for your very special ones on Valentine’s Day. The beauty is, the quicker, and somewhat sloppier your wrapping, the better. No need for ‘hospital corners‘ here.

I started with heart shaped boxes of chocolates of various sizes, depending on the sizes of each of my Valentines. (My husband got the ginormous one, while the kids got minis).

Using plain brown paper from my roll,

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I tore off a large sheet, (measure as if you are gift wrapping), surrounded the box, and taped it in back.

Now, instead of neat square corners, I just crunched the paper around the shape. I did clip at the top center of the heart, and cut a “v” out at the bottom point. But only so as not to have too big a lump of crunched paper.

Next, I took a roll of ribbon (I had a variety of 1/4 satin to 3/4 inch grosgrain in hot pink and red) and began winding it haphazardly to try to catch all sides from unraveling. I tied the ribbon in front with a bow. For fun, I added small ribbon rosebuds (you can purchase from the fabric store or Michael’s) and sewed them to different places using a continuous matching thread.

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Now, all you need to do is come up with a clever valentine pun. Like: “Valentine, you’ve got me tied up in knots.” Or “Be Mine. No strings attached!” or maybe just simply:

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xo

IDEA 92: START THE YEAR OFF YOUR WAY

Jan
2017

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Do you find yourself having misgivings about the New Year’s holiday?

Has the prudent-you always felt a little uncomfortable sharing the roads with who knows how many party-hearty individuals?

Has the traditional-you felt the holiday tree and decorations needed to stay up through New Year’s Eve, especially when entertaining, but even when you weren’t?

Will the career-girl-you be back to work the day after New Year’s Day, meaning the opportunity to take down the tree will be pushed to the nearest weekend opening, which could easily be the end of January—if not February?

Does the lazy, cozy, introverted-you just not relish the thought of a big party? (Either to throw, or attend)?

Well, here’s a thought for next year (or tonight):

Light a fire in the fireplace (if you have one).

Put on music.

Open a bottle of red wine.

Grill filet mignon on the grill (yes, in the snow).

And “Take down Christmas”.

Now, instead of hastily gathering everything up to stash away, or worse, just feeling let down that the season has ended, take your time. The decoration boxes will be a little more organized, and you won’t have to worry about getting to it once back at work, (or whatever makes up your busy life).

I highly recommend you try it, if not now, next New Year’s Eve. It will make the chore different, like a tradition. And it will be lovely to wake up on the first day of the new year to a clean, vacuumed house with everything tucked back in their boxes, and your still beautiful tree stuck in a snow-bank in the back yard for the birds to enjoy till spring. Now, that’s a BellaPamella idea if I ever heard one.

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IDEA 91: MAKE A DAY-OFF TRADITION

Dec
2016

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Do you ever experience an after-the-holiday lull? Not exactly down (or maybe a little down), more like, “Now what?”

Sometimes a day off is well spent noshing pudding while binge-re-watching your favorite Netflix series. But if that activity doesn’t feed your soul (or if you can’t get away with it in your particular household) why not have a holiday day-off tradition? This could be a Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New year’s eve or New Year’s Day event. It can be on your own, or with family or friends. But the secret is to make it the thing you do, every year (unless you don’t feel like it, which is allowed because it’s YOUR tradition).

Mine doesn’t always occur on the same day, this year it was Christmas Eve, but for the last several years it’s been making decorated gingerbread animal cookies.

Over the years these have shown up on the BellaPamella Facebook page. And I think that’s how I discovered it has become a tradition.

We always use the same recipe from an old Williams Sonoma cookbook. You can find a similar one on line. But really any one would do.

The story is easily told in pictures. And I would just add that buying or finding some small boxes to allow any guests to take a few cookies home with them is truly the icing on the cookie. So to speak.

We find this activity to be calming as well as creative, something that really works in our house. Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, when in doubt, bake something!

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IDEA 89: TAG THE TREES

Oct
2016

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Up in northern Michigan, the farm my dad grew up on sports some ancient apple orchards. The trees still produce, and the varieties are heirloom, if there ever were some. There’s not just the Jonathans, Macintosh and Golden Delicious, but Wealthy, Wagener, King and Alexander. Even now I can’t remember all the names, which is why this fall we made the rounds with my dad and we tagged the trees.

And it occurred to me, the project was so satisfying (and educational), why shouldn’t everyone do this with their own trees?

Of course most people don’t have an apple orchard in the family. But there really isn’t any reason you can’t identify and mark the trees you do have. Here’s what I did:

I bought aluminum tree tags online for the rich price of 100 for about ten bucks.

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You can write on these with a Sharpie if you like, but, not wanting to make things too easy on myself, I opted to purchase a set of “punches”. You can purchase the whole alphabet for about a dollar and a half per letter. My letters were about 1/4″ tall. There are lots of sets available. Just put “Letter Punch Set” in the search.

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I bought aluminum wire and it came with a wire clipper in the package, which came in very handy.

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And we cut long pieces, making sure to allow lots of room around the branches. We hung our tags much like a loose bangle bracelet, so as not to disturb the tree’s growth.

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I learned a lot about our apple trees, but probably just as important, now our lovely trees sport shiny bangles that don’t just identify the fruit. Seeing the tags jiggle in the wind makes me smile as they betray the love with which these trees are cared for. It may not change the world, but it’s a very BellaPamella thing to do!

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By the way, Happy Birthday, Dad. And thank you for sharing your knowledge, and your trees!

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IDEA 85: MAKE YOUR MARK

Jun
2016

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My extended family has been congregating on our family farmland for many summers. And the highlights of the reunions are the beautiful big meals, prepared, served and enjoyed outdoors.

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A handsome open-air structure, made by my brothers and cousins hosts the meals, and several years ago we replaced the mismatched tables and chairs with something sturdy enough to survive the northern Michigan winters.

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My brother made the simplest of designs and all hands helped out to build the iconic tables and benches.

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With all the materials (treated lumber and screws) coming from the lumber yard, the solution is smart, elegant and very cost effective.

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Even better, each kid who put a bench together got to burn his or her name in the bottom, proof that they pitched in and deserve their place as a crucial piece of this family.

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The otherwise humble tableau is dressed up with our well worn and faded tablecloths.

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And, of course, lots of helpers make amazing food and natural decor.

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It’s an annual ritual, that none of us could imagine going without. I say, take a stand. Embrace a tradition. And make your mark.