Archived Ideas for ‘Traditions’




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.





This sweet and very BellaPamella idea came from my dear friend April, with whom I have shared virtually every aspect of raising our collective children.

It’s no secret the family vacation is one of my favorite subjects. And the older my kids get, the more I treasure those special trips. So here’s a way to create a lasting memory of the trip, and keep the kids entertained all at the same time.

Next time you take a trip with your family, each stop you make, allow the kids to pick out a postcard. On the back of the postcard have them write their thoughts. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a gas station in the middle of Kansas or a wild animal preserve in Australia, your child will have an opinion about it that may surprise you.


Along the way, or when you return, punch the cards with a paper punch and slide them all onto a binder ring (available at any drugstore, or of course, office supply).

Postcard_bookVoila! The perfect memoir of your trip, seen through the eyes of your children. (And yes, it’s okay for you to add your own thoughts on postcards too). Happy travels!




For many spring breaks our family of five has hit the road for the annual Road Trip.

Once my oldest began college, he had a different spring break week. So, we just hadn’t gone in what seemed like a very long time. But this year, we decided to go with what’s left of our dwindling family.

My middle son is 18. And I’m sure it’s no surprise that a few days before we were to leave he began making his case to stay home. And no one I complained to, (husband, office-mates) gave me the satisfaction of even humoring me, let alone agreeing that I was right, that he should feel excited, or at the very least obligated to go.

But here’s the thing. I really wanted my son to go with us. Not because I didn’t trust leaving him for a week (with his older brother and our dog), but because I just wanted very much to be with him. And somehow, miraculously, he saw the light and came along.

Not surprisingly, the road trips, whose photos fill to overflowing my many photo albums, really are some of the most dear memories we have. He’ll never admit it to me, but I think this son, in the very back of his mind, cherishes those memories too.

So, we headed off to Texas because we hadn’t done that trip, and it was somewhere we could drive to and back in a week (which is, of course, the first requirement of a Road Trip).

Several hours speeding along America’s highways gives one ample time to ruminate, and I began thinking about how different a road trip with grown children is than one with little kids. I remember one trick that worked so well when they were little. I actually wrapped six small “gifts”, two for each kid. The point was, just when things would get out of hand I would distract them, one child getting to open something. It would be something the whole lot could play with, like a deck of cards, or colored pens and paper. They were things I would have brought along anyway, plopped in a bag, but the fact that they were wrapped like presents put a whole different spin on things. It got their attention and made their trip much more exciting. Now, with teenagers, I brought a different kind of trail mix for each, (Target has an awesome variety) and marked big bottles of water with their initial. It’s not wrapped prizes, but the kids still respond to the love.


I’ll be the first to admit there was a bit of nostalgia to planning this trip. So I tucked in a binder we’ve been adding to for years. The binder is filled with drawing paper. And there’s room for a zip-lock bag of pencils, erasers and colored pencils. A big rubber-band keeps it all together. And it’s usually packed with a few clipboards. This book of drawings spans many years of car trips and it’s priceless. I was happy to see the attraction of making drawings is still there, as my daughter sketched a lovely rendition of her shoe.


This same smart daughter also came up with what I thought was a dandy car activity. She took a close-up (well, as close as you can get while speeding along the highway) photo of every different color car we passed. The object being to make a rainbow of all the car pictures at the end of the trip.

We’ve gotten smarter about car food, as we kept the snacks generally healthy, and stopped for the most photogenic smoothies, one strawberry, one Very Berry and one mango–all with different color straws.


And even though we’re all so “mature”, there’s something about a car trip that just brings out the family in you. We all marvel at the amazing things you can see as you roll along. We saw a hot-rod called “Godzlla” being hauled in a trailer. We realized we were in windmill territory when we saw three semis each carrying one blade of a windmill, hitting home just how gigantic those things really are.


And we saw some cattle standing and walking along in what must have been a large, very shallow body of water. As the animals moved in the late afternoon light, it looked as if they were walking on water.

Honor the road trip tradition. You won’t be sorry you did.




Are you constantly asking, “is there’s an app for that”?

Technology is currently on such a high, it’s pretty certain you’re caught up in at least some of it. And it’s often thrilling. How cool is it that you can do your banking at the coffee shop in between shopping for a car and emailing your mom?

So I want to be clear. I love technology. But sometimes I find the ‘old school’ way to work better. So I use a mix of both. Even though I can have a to-do list on my phone, sometimes I need to keep a paper one on my desk. Even though my computer has an address book, my actual desktop also sports a rolodex. (Really!)

Everyone owes it to themselves to create the personal combination of preferences that works for them, with no apologies. Even your “OS” has “preferences”, because even the most tech-minded thinking knows: people are different.


In tossing around this idea, I decided to create a BellaPamella shopping list. It’s a chunky 1/2 inch thick pad of long, narrow paper. At the top is a graphic of a grocery bag and one word: BUY. And I wondered, would people like such a simple tool? So, before I go deciding to sell BellaPamella shopping list pads, let’s see if there’s interest. The first ten people to contact me and ask for one will receive a free custom made BellaPamella shopping list pad in the mail. You don’t even have to include your mailing address unless you hear you are one of the ten, (in which case we will need it in order to send it to you). And we will NOT use, give away or sell your email or mailing address.

If I get a huge outpouring, I will be happy to offer the BellaPamella grocery list pad on the site. So, how bout it? Wanna try a little Old School?

Oh, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of another sweet “Old School” item: The apron!





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 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!





Every once in a while it occurs to me that as much as I love a great holiday, I love the day after it’s over even better. Why is this? I think partly because the day after the holiday is over, I take back control. Am I a control freak? Maybe. But that’s beside the point. We all need to feel as if our lives, and in particular our happiness, is within our control.

So, after the big winter holiday I might buy myself the gift I secretly hoped to get, (on sale of course), or snap up some 75%-off decorations. Well, here we are in February, So, the day after Valentines Day, why not make yourself this most decadent flour-less dark chocolate cake?


Before you judge, keep in mind, dark chocolate is currently considered one of the super foods, due to its high antioxidant content.

But possibly more important, eating chocolate triggers the release of endorphins making you love the whole world just a little more. I found this recipe on line here. And making it will be just as pleasurable as eating it (the smell of dark chocolate infusing the house is worth it, right there).

So let’s move on and take back the day. Preferably, with raspberries!





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!