A Book Themed Birthday Party

When the children were growing up, we started our morning with two things, coffee and Martha Stewart. We loved her show when it took place in her house (and how I would love a set of DVD’s if they were ever made!), and then we watched the newer Martha Stewart Show. Me, Andy, Shyanne, and Emily piled up on the couch with our cups of coffee, absorbing everything the maven of domesticity had to teach us. Perhaps that is why my kids are such clever party planners, or perhaps it just comes natural to them. Yesterday, Emily threw a book themed birthday party for her daughter, Ayla’s, first birthday.

I made the girls matching dresses with books on the fabric. They were adorable at the party!

I cannot believe my granddaughter is already turning one! Oh, she is a darling little thing- spunky and all smiles. She was quite a hit at her own party as family and dear friends gathered around the local coffee shop (closed on Sundays) to celebrate. Here is a look at Emily’s brilliant birthday party plan. Kids get tons of plastic toys that will not be played with long, but books…now books are a great gift.

The menu was made to look like a library check out card.
Emily is a great cook and she spent the day before making miniature quiches and muffins. She also set out a parfait bar with yogurt, chia seed pudding, fruit, and granola. Doug and I picked up Einstein’s bagels and shmear on the way.
A drink station and food buffet makes it easy for everyone at the party to help themselves and let’s mama play with her children and visit with guests.

My daughter, Shyanne, is an amazing baker. I have shared with you her work before. I must say, she outdid herself this time. These cakes were not only gorgeous, but absolutely delicious. The double tiered cake was orange and vanilla and the other was a vegan chocolate that was so rich and so amazing. https://www.facebook.com/WickedlyDeliciousDesserts/

The baby loved all of her books and entertained everyone as she stood up and walked around and danced. It is always lovely to get together with friends and family. Emily took a simple kid’s birthday party and made it affordable, creative, and fun.

Bringing Back Sunday Dinner (and an easy dinner to prepare)

Norman Rockwell’s famous dinner party.

Sunday feels symbolic of family and spending time together. In old homesteading and farming memoirs I have read, the families go visitin’ after church, or family comes to see them every Sunday. A chicken or two inevitably gets plucked and the sound of children running around while the adults chat can be heard through pages of books and memories. I love the idea of bringing Sunday dinner back. (Dinner traditionally being lunch, whereas Supper is actually the later meal.)

My cousin had come from two hours north to visit me. She hadn’t seen our new farm yet and after much chattering and catching up, she spent night. As she sat on the couch sipping coffee, catching up on news, my husband drinking his and waiting for football to start, I texted my best friend, Tina, and invited her and her husband over. I had a chicken defrosted.

I had harvested some things before we moved out of our old house and into this one a few months ago, so the meat chickens were in the freezer, my homegrown potatoes and onions were in the pantry, and I had jars of green beans. A half stale loaf of homemade onion bread became stuffing and a bottle of local Pinot Noir was opened.

I drizzled olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven, and placed fingerling potatoes all over the bottom. They need a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I then used my fingers to rub the chicken with olive oil and gave it a good rub with New Mexican red chile and other spices. That went breast down into the pan on top of the potatoes. Cook the chicken with the lid off for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and replace lid. Total, the chicken will cook for 15 minutes per pound.

I let the chicken rest on a platter for 10 minutes, moved the potatoes to a bowl, heated up the green beans with butter, and made a quick gravy with cream and flour in the broth that was left at the bottom of the Dutch oven. The stuffing came out, the chicken was cut up, and everyone feasted. The chicken was tender and delicious, the stuffing crisp, the potatoes soft and the green beans reminiscent of summer.

Rusty, Tina, me, and Julie. Doug is taking the photo.

Nothing has to be difficult to prepare. The table settings simple. The conversation and connection is the important thing. Sunday dinner is a very nice tradition to bring back.

A Kitchen Themed Bridal Shower

My beautiful daughter, Emily is getting married next month.  Her sister and I planned a kitchen themed bridal shower.  The invitation talked about how Emily loves to cook and that she will be cooking for a very long time for her growing family so we may as well make it fun!  Party goers were encouraged to bring a fun kitchen item that they love in their own cooking.

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We had the party at Shyanne’s house, since she lives closest to everyone.  My children watched Martha Stewart when it was on television every morning growing up, and it shows.  Little signs decorated the space.

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Ayla, Emily (the bride), and Shyanne

Shyanne spray painted green wine bottles gold and placed mums in each.  Balloons captured the attention and smiles of our baby, Ayla.

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I made strawberry shortcake on sweet biscuits (recipe to follow), Seven layer dip with tortilla chips, and roll ups (tortillas spread with cream cheese and topped with green chilies then rolled up and sliced).  Shyanne make cupcakes, and ricotta and peach bruchetta, and little tea sandwiches.  The table was beautiful and inviting.  Cardboard cake holders glued to sturdy plastic cups acted as stands.

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Drinks were set up on the island.  Raspberry juice and sprite in one pitcher, coconut rum and juice in another.  I brought a gallon of sweet tea.  Every one helped themselves to finger foods and drinks and met new folks and talked.  The kids were adorable playing together.

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My granddaughter, Maryjane (middle) and her best friends.

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Shyanne printed out three games for us to play.  They were all quizzes about the bride or the bride and groom.  It was a lot of fun guessing things about who kissed who first, who is the best dancer, does the bride like coffee or tea better, and so on.  Small succulents acted as the prizes since that is one of the themes of the wedding.

We had everyone write out advice for the new bride and share it.  There were some very inspirational words.  Young girlfriend’s advice as sound as the women that were married half a century.  It was a lot of fun and made us all nod and strive to be better partners.  Those went into a sweet picture album.

An Instapot, box of Corningware, breadmaker, immersion blender, knife set and cutting board, pressure cooker, and cookie sheets later, the young bride was inspired to start cooking.

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My friend, Tina, and I. This was taken by a mama with a wiggly baby on her hip!

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This is a great picture of Doug and his parents with our granddaughters.  

It was such a wonderful time with family and friends to celebrate a profound new chapter in our daughter’s life.  A wedding is an amazing event and celebrating and preparing the young bride is the community’s honor.  We are very thankful for our “village”.  To help the young couple is a pleasure and being together is always special.

Sweet Biscuits and Strawberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a mixing bowl combine,

1 3/4 cups of flour

2 Tablespoons of sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

1/3 cup of olive oil (I use lemon infused olive oil for half)

2/3 cup of milk

Drop by spoonfuls on greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.

Top with a sprinkle of sugar, whipped cream, and chopped strawberries mixed with a little sugar.

 

Bocce! The Ultimate Family Game

According to my DNA test, I am not Italian. but one might think I was and I feel I should be!  What, with my Italian convertible Fiat (I mean, pumpkin shaped mini-farm vehicle), my great love of homemade Italian food, my extensive knowledge of Italian wines, my closest friend is even Italian!  Oh, and so is my favorite game.  Here I sat down to write to you about bocce and how to play it because it is portable, easy, and so much fun.  But, it turns out I already wrote about it, four years ago Easter.  So I will link that one so that you can see the details and photos of my little Maryjane as a two year old ball runner.

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This year for Easter the kids all came down to Pueblo.  We took the dusty bag of bocce balls from the shed and set them on the front porch.  For some reason, we haven’t taught Reed (who has been in the family three years and is Italian!) how to play yet.  Maryjane threw the small white ball (the jack) and then ran off to play.  Aunt Bree opted to hold Ayla so the teams would be even.  We played on the side of the house, a bit more demure than we usually are.  We tend to like to throw the thing into ravines and over small hills.  Andrew and Emily were deep in conversation the whole time, but still managed to win.

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Do pick up a set of Bocce if you see it at sporting good stores or garage sales.  The game is great for picnics, family get-togethers, or just with two people, a glass of limoncello, and a dusky summer night.

Here is the rest of the story..

Planting in Glass Jars

Planting in canning jars and other large glass vessels is such a fun idea.  I have seen these a few places now and I love the idea.  My bamboo is planted in a canning jar.  I love the idea of giving succulents in canning jars as gifts.

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I equally love the idea of using larger glass jars to showcase pine trees, like this one that we saw at a restaurant in New Mexico.  They really would have to be for a party or a few weeks of decoration because of the lack of drainage.  But they really are charming.  I can also envision miniature rose bushes in large glass jars lining a table.  The ideas are endless.

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My Easter bunnies

My Easter table this year will seat ten.  Bright colored oil cloth of reds and blues and my new Fiesta ware will be used at each place.  I am making a feast of enchiladas, chili rellenos, beans, rice, guacamole, and icy margaritas.  Perhaps a bit untraditional for Easter dinner but shaking things up is my specialty.  Succulents or miniature cacti in canning jars may very well complete the décor.

So grab those wide mouth jars and plant away!  Gifts and entertaining just got more creative and fun.

 

An Epic Mermaid and Pirate Birthday Party (tips for a great party!)

My granddaughter, Maryjane, turned six years old.  Her Pa turned forty-nine.  Our daughters set out to create an amazing sea experience to celebrate both of their birthdays.  This year they put on a Mermaid and Pirate party!

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The coffee shop in Elizabeth is near and dear to us and we were so pleased that the owner gave Shyanne the key and let us have our party there.  It is the mid-way point for everyone in our families.  We live far enough away that we got a hotel room for the weekend and spent time with Emily and Reed and our beautiful little girls.  They stayed in the room with us and it was so much fun.

Every birthday is a gift.  Every year that the kids are small and let us snuggle them is a gift.  Every moment with family and friends is a gift.

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Maryjane’s cake was made with a mouthwatering homemade strawberry filling with creamy vanilla cake.

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Pa’s cake was made with homemade peppermint patties layered into mint and chocolate.  All decorations are homemade and edible!

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Shyanne is the most amazing baker.  She always has been.  She was eight years old in the kitchen (cussing up a storm) making the most amazing confections.  Her craft only gets better and she created from scratch some amazing cupcakes and cakes this year.

She bought simple cardboard cake trays and had me hot glue them to inexpensive water cups.  These created beautiful cake stands.

The key to a great kid’s party is to limit the number of kids.  Have far more adults than children.  Sound ridiculous?  Think about it, thirty kids and six adults?  Or six kids and thirty adults?  The adults all mingle and catch up (these little girls have HUGE families) and the children are easily kept focused and have a great time together.

We served various teas and coffee.  A spread of gold fish, spray painted Oreos, fruit, veggies, dips and chips made great snacks.  Having the party just after lunch (say, 1 or 2:00) allows the host to serve simpler fare.

A great time was had by all.  Five generations of family, lots of great friends, kiddos, and a granddog celebrated these two beautiful people that I am so grateful to have in my life.

(To contact Shyanne about making an amazing cake, cupcakes, or cookies for your next event, check out her facebook page at http://facebook.com/WickedlyDeliciousDesserts or email her at Shyanne@WhiteWolfHerbscom)

 

 

 

A Frightfully Fun Halloween Party for Any Age

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My daughter, Shyanne, is the queen of Halloween.  She drives an old, lifted Jeep Cherokee with a life sized skeleton named Victor in the front seat all year.  When Shyanne invited me to her Halloween day with my other daughter and granddaughter, I didn’t hesitate (never turn down opportunities to be with loved ones).  I hopped in the car with my witch hat and headed to the eastern plains.

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Now there is nothing quite like the sound of a five year old’s bent-over, belly laugh.  And that is what I was met with.  “You look like a unicorn!” Maryjane wailed, a twinkle in her eye.  “I am a witch!” I declared.  “Looks like a unicorn to me.”

There were crafts laid out, and snacks galore, spooky music met me when I entered through the door.  I got straight to work, for this Grammie has a role.  I make the best Halloween hamburgers (veggie burgers) this side of the veil.  I sneaked the bits of cheese from cutting out eyes and mouths to my scary granddog.

Witch’s brew was put on, just like when the children were small.  Ah, it does not seem like it was that long ago at all.  A jug of apple juice or cider, a handful of brown sugar, a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and let that begin to simmer then serve.

Shyanne put on a spread of easy treats, crackers and chips and cookies.  We decorated warm sugar cookies with edible watercolors and sprinkles.

We made puppets out of tongue depressors glued to construction paper cutouts that we glued googly eyes to.  Shyanne had carefully pre-cut Frankenstein heads, pumpkins, bats, and ghosts out.  We painted and glued and sprinkled our way into the Halloween spirit.  I did notice that is hard to get into the spirit when no children are present.  This was a welcome party for me.

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“The neighbors are going to wonder what is going on,” Emily said, as Maryjane and I danced to Disney songs and howled loudly like werewolves.

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Emily posing with her pumpkins. She is very ready for the new baby to come! (a few more weeks!)

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Maryjane’s broom. It’s a compact like my Fiat.

Pumpkins were carved, and we danced, and sang.  Halloween parties can be impromptu and easy.  For any age, for us older children regress rather quickly in the sight of sugar cookies and glue sticks.  I hope you find a few ideas to incorporate into your own spooky Halloween day!

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A “Falling in Love” Baby Shower

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Autumn is such a lovely time to host events.  It becomes its own decorating theme!  I think in this day and age all of us are ready to host simpler parties, to have easier get-togethers, to really celebrate without enormous expense.

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I was inspired by our city park.  Every weekend, if it is warm, one will find entire families in the park.  Portable tents popped up, folding tables and chairs, a BBQ smoking, and children running about while the elders talk.

We chose the old, indoor pavilion at the park in the woods in Elizabeth to have the baby shower.  It was a half way point for most people.  It snowed so only half the people came, but the ones that did had a great time and it was warm and cozy within the red walls of the building.  My friend, Vanessa, and I strewed leaf garlands and mini pumpkins on the tables.  A simple sign, “We are falling in love with Ayla Mae” graced the gift table.

Being somewhat introverted, Emily and I dread those silly games thrown at baby showers.  Reed is excited to be a dad and he wanted to be at the shower as well, so co-ed it was.  We did a contest where each person wrote down their guesses of what day the baby will arrive, hair color, weight, height, and day or night arrival.  The winner will get a gift card in the mail.  A simple journal was laid out for family and friends to write a note to Ayla so she could read in the years to come how excited we all were that she was joining our family.

We had the party at 2:00 so there was no pressure to put on a big spread.  I would have, but I had the furthest to drive and it would have been hectic, so mid-afternoon leaves room for easy snacks like chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, and ranch dip and carrots.  A big pot of coffee and a crock pot of hot cider warmed the guests that ventured out into the snowy afternoon.

The highlight was my daughter’s cupcakes. (http://facebook.com/wickedlydeliciousdesserts)  Shyanne made the most delicious cupcakes filled with caramel apples or ganache and hand made, perfectly sweet frostings with hand made and and hand painted decorations.  Amazing.

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The twinkly lights in the wood building, the smells of hot coffee and cider, the colorful leaves, the laughter, the sweet gifts, the glowing parents, it all was so lovely and simple.  I took the opportunity, having all of the kids there at the same time, to have my dear friend, Alvin, get some family pictures.  It is always a perfect day when families can be together.  And a fall themed party is an easy way to do it!

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The Entertaining Farmgirl’s Yuletide Gathering

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The breeze blew mischievously as Doug continued lighting the luminarias that lined the walk, the oil lanterns, and the dozens and dozens of tea lights.  The house was ready for a party.  And so was I.

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Luminarias are prevalent in New Mexico where they light the way for travelers and carolers alike.  Simply fold down a few inches of a paper lunch bag.  Pour in three inches or so of sand and place a tea candle in the center.  

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An oil lamp makes a lovely welcome outdoors and adds whimsy to the lighting indoors.  Remember, no overhead lighting allowed!  Twinkly lights and tea candles work beautifully to create drama, softened features, and enchantment.  

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We haven’t thrown a Christmas party in four years.  It was wonderful being able to send out invites to a Yuletide Gathering with a few friends.  I chose to serve soups and had my guests bring either wine, bread, or dessert.  Soups are easy to prepare in advance.  They are always delicious and hard to mess up.  Alongside, I served a platter of garlic bread for the Sherry Tomato Soup,  corn chips and sour cream for the Three Chile Mole, and green olives for the Italian Lentil soup.  Friends came bearing garlic and cheese breads, sausages in raspberry chipotle sauce, and lots of divine desserts.

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Make sure you put out little cards stating what each thing is.  The key is to free up as much time to mingle with guests and join in the festivities and you want your guests to feel at home.

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Before guests arrived I put out a platter of my homemade manchego cheese and crackers with roasted orange-parmesan olives (almost all of these recipes are in my new cookbook, From Mama’s Kitchen With Love).  I don’t wait too long after guests arrive to serve supper but something to snack on quells early dinner pangs and gives folks something to do.

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Place all plates, silverware, and glassware out so that friends can help themselves.  Use china.  You can do dishes tomorrow.  

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The couches and the easy chairs are set up in a circle for ease of conversation and it was very easy to pull up other chairs so that everyone could take part in the games and laughter.  I invited an eclectic group of people.  A surgical tech, a Reiki master, the owner of a metaphysical shop, a veteran and her older three children who homestead and homeschool, my oldest, great friends-Rod Sr., Rodney, and my dear Pat.  Everyone had things in common and the conversation stayed lively.

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Start with an ice breaker.  We name all of our animals after movies and so we named off our eight cats and dog to create a fun ice breaker where they had to name the movie.  

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From walking up the illuminated path, to having wine and hors d’oeuvres, to the ice breaker, than dinner, a ten dollar gift exchange, then the game.  We played a fun game called “Catch Phrase” that required no boards or teams, just an electronic device that we passed around that gave us a word and we had to get the group to say it with clues.  It created a lot of great laughter and fun.

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The White Elephant game where people bring odd gifts and people trade and such just creates more items that folks don’t want and may end up in a landfill.  Everyone brought a nice ten dollar gift, such as small oil burners, and salt lamps, crystals, books, and candles, and everyone was delighted with what they received.  

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Pour leftover soup into pint jars and send them home with friends!

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New friends were made, great food was had, joy was spread, and I do believe that is the best party I have had.  Such a beautiful way to celebrate the season of light.

A Wedding to Remember

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Renewing our wedding vows and inviting friends and family to help us bless our new home was amazing.  There were just enough chairs, even though the air turned cold and windy, for the hour or so before and during the ceremony it was clear and a touch warm.  The sun shone down on us with approval as bagpipe music filled the air transporting this little blue collar town into Scotland.  People I expected didn’t make it and those I didn’t expect came with smiles on.  It was all quite perfect.  My husband looked fine in his kilt and sporran and his vows touched my heart, his eyes filling with tears.  I read him mine.  Maryjane was adamant about being the wedding planner.  She stayed in our bedroom as we dressed, ordering my friend, Pat, around as she fastened Doug’s belt, and zipped up my dress.  Maryjane declared herself both ring bearer and flower girl.

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Our friend, Cliff, a blacksmith, member of the Renaissance Scots, and a respected police officer, told the story of the anvil.  The blacksmith was usually educated and was the judge in many matters.  Young people went to the blacksmith to be married.  After our vows and exchanged rings he rang the anvil.  Then the kiss.  Not the giddy kiss of a new couple just getting married, but a sincere kiss of passion and friendship from years spent forging a life together.  We were grateful that Cliff performed the ceremony.

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At 8:00 in the morning our daughter, Emily, showed up with bags and serving dishes and prepared to cater the event.  My children are grown now and this is the first time that I did not have to do anything.  The house smelled so amazing and the aromas of chilies and spices wafted through the door welcoming guests.  Her tacos and salsa were amazing.  I have never had tofu tacos that tasted so wonderful.  At the end Kathleen and Ingrid donned a few of my vintage aprons and set to work cleaning up everything.  Our good friend, Alvin, takes amazing photographs and we were honored that he was there to take all of these.  Shyanne made a cake to remember.  My daughter has been baking our cakes for the past decade.  This one was my favorite.  Lemon cake with lavender frosting.

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Many of my favorite people were there (I missed my son) and it was a fun time for all.  My brother and his family, my great uncle and aunt Norris and Pat, family, children, great friends, all wishing us good will and helping bless the new life in front of us.

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‘Twas a lovely day and I will leave you readers with the blessing that completed our ceremony with a link to see a clip of our amazing bagpiper, Neil, at his finest.  May you all experience the love and support that we received on that special day.

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