Archived Ideas for ‘Traditions’

IDEA 83: ANTICIPATE

Apr
2016

April_Garden_beds

My husband, the gardener of the household, calls April in Minnesota the “cruelest of all months”.

Your natural clock tells you it’s time to plant, but history tells us we are better off waiting, than subjecting a plethora of tiny growing things to a surprise freeze or snow shower.

But that does not keep him (and most Minnesotans who are so inclined) form tidying up the gardens in anticipation of our short but much beloved growing season.

While a cursory glance around the yard doesn’t look like much, his appreciation and care for what is to come has made me much more aware of the coming beauty. The garden that’s been buried in snow all winter is now completely tidied up. It’s all dirt and wood chips, with the exception of two green things: The garlic bed, planted last fall is brimming with new green shoots that apparently were at work all winter under a cozy blanket of snow. And the wood-chip path is being taken over with soft green clover. I asked him why he left the clover when he cleared out everything else. And, while I would think most gardeners would consider this a weed, he appreciates the clover for the soft bed it forms for bare feet. Much preferable to wood-chips on the tootsies.

Elsewhere in the yard, a very young False Indigo has been guarded by a wire form. If he hadn’t lovingly cleared out around it, I may never have noticed. And I would never have known that at this young stage, a False Indigo looks exactly like asparagus poking up into the world.

April_False_Indigo

Teeny-tiny Forget-Me-Nots are up in force, but so small they’re easy to miss.

April_Forget-Me-Nots

Just outside the vegetable garden, fresh green Stella d’oro daylilies are preparing for the show.

April_Stellas

Before the red Asiatic lilies appear, the foliage makes a pretty green star pattern.

April_Lilies

And it wouldn’t be a Minnesota yard without a host of different hosta varieties peeking up.

April_Hosta

In all the brownness, our bright pink Magnolia tree tries to hold its own.

April_Magnolia_budApril_Magnolia

And the April rain reveals that all the loving preparation has it’s own beauty.

April_brown_yard

In the coming months, the garden will begin bursting with vegetation. The gate will be dripping with a bean vine so prolific, it makes you want to laugh. This place will get so lush and beautiful, coming home every evening will be a celebration.

And, once again, we’ll all be reminded why we put up with Minnesota winters.

April_Summer_Beauty

IDEA 82: GO HOMEMADE

Mar
2016

Maple_Syrup_Sunny

I remember reading a spoof on Martha Stewart where she purportedly had a recipe for making your own water. And this comes close. But.

When you live in the Midwest, well, when you have kids, sometimes you do things you never dreamed you would in the name of adventure.

We live in Minneapolis, the “South Metro”. We are a stone’s throw from the city in an urban neighborhood. And we have several mature maple trees, including a majestic Sugar Maple. When our neighbor called a tree trimmer to help remove a large branch from one of his trees, we observed from next door. Where the limb was removed, a veritable river of sap flowed out.

Huh, we said.

The next thing I knew, my husband had drilled two holes in our maple and began collecting bucket after bucket of pure maple tree sap.

Maple_Syrup_Buckets

He went online to discover that any maple tree can produce beautiful maple syrup, and our sugar maple would produce at the rate of 40 gallons of sap to one of syrup. Why not?

According to the online recipe, the time to sap the sap is when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise into the 40s during the day. In Minnesota these conditions typically occur during the month of March, but depending on where you live, it could be anywhere from mid-February to April.

And get this: you probably have everything you need to produce maple syrup right in your house. Basically, what my hubby did was: Collect the sap in ice cream buckets, emptied each night into a 5 gallon paint bucket from Home Depot.

Once he got a bunch (and the sap seemed to be slowing down) he set up a boiling station out on our back patio. It seems there is a lot of boiling and evaporation, (which means doing it in the kitchen is not a good idea, unless, I guess, if you have a lot of wallpaper you’d like to remove).

Maple_Syrup_Boil

He filled my big soup pot with sap and brought it to a boil. Then he sat and monitored. As the liquid boiled down, he added more, always keeping a steady boil. Our 5-gallon Home Depot bucket of sap translated itself into one pint jar and two more little jars of delicious maple syrup. Enough to keep this family in homemade maple syrup until next spring.

Maple_Syrup_Bounty

So, was it worth it? Well, if you were just looking at the money savings, you would answer no, not even close. But what value would you put on creating something as magical as maple syrup straight from your yard, with no special tools at all? I’ll leave that one up to you. But if you do decide to give it a whirl, you must let me know! You are a sparkle in an otherwise world of practical, Martha!

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 78: PRESERVE THE SUMMER

Jul
2015

Strawberry_Box

Who knows. Maybe this post would be better in mid-winter. Because right now it borders on the obvious. But if it hadn’t occurred to you to go out and pick fresh berries, maybe this will serve a purpose.

Wyatt's_strawberries

I am a strawberry lover. My earliest taste memories include that sweet warm sensation that explodes in your mouth at the first bite of a freshly picked strawberry. But I have to admit, it was never at the top of my weekend list to go to a “U-Pick” and harvest fruit.

But I’m married to a consummate gardener. And the least I can do to thank him for the beautiful work he does in our yard is be a good sport about field trips to the berry farm in the hot sun.

And of course I’m so happy I went.

Pick_Strawberries

I think the best part was seeing my otherwise indifferent husband having such a ball. I swear he was not going to leave as long as there were still so many berries left to pick. We came home with about 20 pounds of berries, which of course is way more than we could consume before they would begin to wilt.

Most people in this situation would have a plan to can or jar. But that was not in the cards for the rest of our weekend. We washed everything, then divided them into three categories: Eat now, Put in the fridge and Freeze. If you go online to find berry freezing techniques you’ll find half a dozen, some of which involve slicing and adding sugar. We chose what seemed best for us. After washing, the tops were cut straight off and the berries were placed to dry on paper towels. They were then transferred to cookie sheets lined with wax paper, cut edge down.

Strawberry_tray_freeze

These trays were thoroughly frozen.

Strawberries_frozen

Then the berries were popped off into vacuum bags.

Strawberries_frozen_bag

The air was sucked out, and the bags sealed and popped back in the freezer.

Strawberries_vacuum

Strawberries_vacuum_2

According to the recipe, these will be good for the next six months. So right now I’m planning on making strawberry muffins the first morning I wake up to a new snowfall. And remember that tangy sweet smell, and bending in the hot sun, and watching my husband as he systematically attempts to harvest every last plump berry.

Katy_Cherries_Ad

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 74: MAKE A HOLIDAY KITCHEN TREE

Dec
2014

Kitchen_Tree_Dec_Bistro

Many years ago, at a kitchen shop, I was enticed by a silver-plated Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature colander. It was at that very moment I decided to give my beloved kitchen a Christmas tree of its own.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of extra room in my kitchen, so I bought the smallest tree I could find, about 2 ½ feet high.

Over the years I have collected special kitchen themed ornaments for this tree, which has now become an annual tradition, brought home along with the regular sized family Christmas tree.

Kitchen_Tree_silver_3Kitchen_Tree_UtensilsKitchen_Tree_Silver

I’ve got a tiny old fashioned egg beater, a whisk, rolling pin, fry pan, cheese shredder, kettle, a mini spoon, knife and fork, a tiny blender and myriad plates, cups and teapots.

Kitchen_Tree_Pear_TeapotKitchen_Tree_pitchersKitchen_Tree_CoffeesKitchen_Tree_BlenderKitchen_Tree_Plates

Kitchen_Tree_Time4Tea

To make your own kitchen tree, you’ll need a small tree stand with a water reservoir. The one I use is much bigger than it needs to be, but it was one we had around so I use it. Look for a nicely shaped “table top” tree. They are much less expensive than a full sized one, although I usually have to shop around a couple places to find them.

Kitchen_Tree_Bare

I like to start by winding a beautiful ribbon on the tree. I don’t use any lights. But you could if you want to.

K_T_RibbonKitchen_tree_ribbon_CUKitchen_tree_Ribbon_2

My wide ribbon has wire in the edges. This makes it very easy to just sort of unwind the ribbon down the tree. It naturally wants to curve that way.

Then I insert several “fruit picks”. I keep these with my ornaments and just stick them right into the tree.

Kitchen_Tree_Berry_picks

You don’t need everything right away. In fact, it’s more fun to add a new ornament to your kitchen tree each year.

Kitchen_Tree_Dec_cropped

So what do you put on the treetop? A star shaped cookie cutter, of course.

Kitchen_Tree_Star_noribbon

IDEA 73: SHARE

Aug
2014

TallTales_crop_cover

When you are mom, you are so busy, it’s hard to even think about anything beyond this day, and the problem that’s in front of you right now. But somehow, maybe in the middle of nap time, take a moment to think back about something you loved as a child that you could share with your little one.

TallTales_inside_cov

Here’s the deal. One day they will be off to college, or otherwise moving away from you. At that time you may think to yourself, “Did I give them part of me?”

When my middle son moved out, I heard he served a “guest” canned peaches, still in the can, straight from the frige, with a fork sticking out of them. On hearing this, my first thought was NOT “Gee, why didn’t you put them in a dish?”  What I thought was, “Did I serve food that became part of this boy’s comfort?”

What are those things that you will share with your kids? Things that were part of you. Things that comforted you as a child, that you will give to them?

I had “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung to me by my mom. And I had The Tall Book of Make Believe. Being the youngest of four kids, I didn’t have many things that were mine alone. But the “Tall Tales” book was one. My middle brother drew on some of the pages. And the spine has long been held together with electrical tape. But to this day I cannot read Moon Song or the Land of Counterpane without going straight back to a very safe and simple place.

So, if you have small children, I know. You are so busy. But it goes so fast. What’s something from your childhood that helped you? Bring that thing into their young lives. After all, you may not have had time to realize it yet, but that’s what it’s all about.

TallTales_L_of_C_3

TallTales_L_of_C_CU

TallTales_Moon_Song

TallTales_What_I_would_do

TallTales_Wynk_Blink_Nod

TallTales_Back

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 64: SHARE YOUR WISDOM

Jul
2013

Phil's-osophy_Book

If you have kids, one day they will be moving on from your nest. When this started happening at my house I found myself wondering if I had really covered all the topics. Had I sufficiently marinated them in my philosophy of life? And did any of it stick?

For this reason I had a bit of an epiphany while watching the episode of Modern Family called “Phil’s-osophy”. (By the way, if you are a parent, this show should be required viewing. I have often noticed that in the throes of raising a family, your first defense is a sense of humor). Anyway, in this episode, The family’s oldest daughter sets off for college. The dad, Phil, creates a book for her called Phil’s-osophy. (If you are Phil Dunphy, this title makes perfect sense). Since Phil is Phil, his words of wisdom are kind of hilarious. But, while it’s all loads of fun, that’s not my point. My point is this: Why not create your own book of philosophy to send along to college with your grad!

I just finished a small (5.75″ x 7.75″) 20 page book from My Publisher that cost only $12.99 and it was beautiful! Another very popular book making site is Snapfish. And I know there are many others. The idea is to put together a book of your own words of love and wisdom for your kids flying the coop.

Of course you don’t have to use an online publisher, although they are simple, inexpensive, and do a beautiful job with photos. You could consider making a handmade book. It all depends on your inclination, and artsy-crafty prowess.

So, in my haste to get this idea to you in time for school starting this fall, I’m writing this without my example to show you. In lieu of that, we’ll just have to take a look at a few of Phil’s pages:

Phil's-osophy_8

Phil's-osophy_3

Phil's-osophy_2

And a few more of my favorites:

The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you if you just lower your expectations.

Take a lesson from parakeets: If you’re ever feeling lonely, eat in a front of a mirror.

Watch a sunrise at least once a day.

If you’re ever in a jam, a crayon scrunched up under your nose makes a good pretend mustache.

Never be afraid to reach for the stars because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a Parentchute™.

IDEA 58: GINGERBREAD THERAPY

Dec
2012

Gingerbread_Animals_CU

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?

Gingerbread_Camel

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.

Gingerbread_Tiger

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

Gingerbread_Donkey

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

Pear-shaped_Gingerbread_cookies

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.

Gingerbread_Rhino

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

Gingerbread_House_1Gingerbread_House

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.

Gingerbread_Plate

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