Flip or Flop – gingerbread edition

I hope our houses look this good when they’re done!

So, yes, it’s been a while since I posted – over a year now. Up until recently, I hadn’t the heart to write about grandchildren. You see, we had a family tragedy – we lost our grandson, who was still-born.

That was a shattering experience for all of us, especially my son and daughter-in-law. Witnessing their overwhelming grief and feeling utterly helpless in the face of it has been one of the hardest experiences of my life.

But grief has a way of softening with time, and our family is slowly recovering from our great loss. And our 3-year-old granddaughter is back to her usual bouncy self.

Among other accomplishments, she’s learned to call me – sort of. She can wrest the cell phone away from my son and tap my phone number, but whether she’s doing it intentionally is uncertain. 

Sad Doggie

And she is branching out into texting as well.

Recently she dictated a text for my daughter-in-law to send me. At the time, we were all in full emergency search mode because her beloved stuffed animal, Sad Doggie, was missing. (Don’t worry, we found him).

Here’s the text I received: “Hi Grandma hi. Come to my house now.”

Hemingway at work

As you can see, her prose style is succinct and wonderfully minimalist, with just the right amount of repetition. Obviously, we have a future Hemingway on our hands.

But this post is chiefly about my troubled history constructing holiday house decorations for my granddaughter.

It all started a month ago, with Halloween. 

This was the first year the child was noticeably excited about the holiday. Doting grandmother that I am, I purchased a paper and foam-based haunted house kit from Michael’s craft store for us to put together.

I understood that she probably wouldn’t have the dexterity to assemble the house itself, but I thought I could do that bit and she could help me put the stickers on the little Halloween figures.

Well, I was wrong. The box says the kit is for “Ages 6+” but I believe “Ages 60+” would be more accurate. I couldn’t get the blasted foam pieces to fit together, and the “instructions” were nothing but a cruel joke.

The architectural ruins of our first haunted house kit

Next, we tried making a gingerbread haunted house, using a kit I bought at Trader Joe’s.

However, our house-building session also devolved. It became a candy and frosting free-for-all.

Our scary mansion looked like it’d been hit by a wrecking ball, without a single gingerbread wall left standing. However, the little candies, especially the black bats and white bones, were a big hit. We had a sugar-fueled, riotously good time picking through the debris.  

But when it comes to learning from experience apparently I’m a slow study, because now I’m planning to make another gingerbread house with my granddaughter, this time for Christmas. 

So I got another kit. And I decided to call in reinforcements, specifically my sister-in-law, who has a history of making very respectable and structurally sound gingerbread houses for her family.

The secret to a great gingerbread house, I’ve been told, is to assemble the walls and let the frosting “glue” (otherwise known as royal icing) that holds them together dry thoroughly before attempting any decorations. So we’ll give that a try. (And here’s a complete tutorial from the Food Network if you want to try to make a gingerbread house from scratch, rather than using a kit.) 

I wonder how much royal icing was needed to hold this almost life-size gingerbread house together?

The tradition of making gingerbread houses at Christmas isn’t new. It goes back at least as far as early 18th century Germany. And did you know that the cute little structures we delight in making with our kids are modeled after the candy-bedecked house that the wicked witch in  Hansel and Gretel used to lure innocent children into her oven?

Now that’s a terrifying fairy tale. You have to admit that immortalizing this scary story at holiday time by making an edible house like the witch’s is kind of weird.  

But grim fairy tales aside, (or should I say Grimm?) you can’t throw a candy cane around Christmas without hitting a gingerbread house.

These tasty homes are fodder for competitions, Hallmark movies, and cozy Christmas scenes of all sorts.

And if you look around this holiday season, you’re bound to see gingerbread as a  building material for more than just houses. You may also find gingerbread boats, castles and other structures, including replicas of just about any architectural landmark you can imagine. (If you like, can see a gingerbread Eiffel Tower, Empire State building, and Hogwarts Castle here.)

A gingerbread White House, covered in white chocolate

I’m not that ambitious. I’m just hoping our pre-made gingerbread walls stay up. If you have any tips for me, please share them in the comments! 




We’re caught up in a new summer entertainment at our house. Like a Hollywood movie, it has a little bit of everything. Drama! Comedy! Action! Romance! Medical people doing medical things! And, potentially, lots of swearing – all set against a sunny summer backdrop.

No, it’s not Baywatch, the movie my husband and I saw earlier this summer (two hours of our life we’ll never get back). In our family, it’s more like Babywatch.



A hurricane like this will be hitting our son’s house very soon

Yes, our son and daughter-in-law are at that stage in pregnancy where the baby’s been gestating for nine months, but it feels more like ten. Mom is so full of baby that she can’t see her feet and her lap is a distant memory. Our two-year-old granddaughter has accepted this new state of affairs regarding her mother’s altered shape with aplomb. But the child has no idea about the earth-shaking effects of the Category 5 Baby Hurricane that’s lurking just offshore and is about to make landfall right in the middle of her living room.


Our story has plenty of suspense, too, not to mention false alarms. For a grandparent, there’s nothing like getting a 2 a.m. phone call and driving through the dead of night to be at your son’s place so he can take his wife to the hospital without disturbing their other child. (“Let sleeping grandchildren lie” seems like a wise policy.)

It’s exciting, even thrilling, to be right on the cusp of a birth. But in this case,  seeing the parents come back home disappointed after a couple of hours was definitely a low point.

While this story unspools in real time we’re all on full alert, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, night or day. And the baby, I believe, is enjoying the attention, toying with us, when he’s not busy drumming on his mother’s ribcage with his feet or seeing how far he can push out her belly button.



Would you trust either of these guys to deliver your baby?

In our Babywatch tale, there are no ocean waves, sandy beaches, or surfboards, much less a bare-chested David Hasselhoff (for fans of the TV series) or a bare-chested Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (star of the current movie). There are no babes in bikinis, either, though there will be at least one babe in scanty clothing later on.


Like this summer’s movie, our version will probably have a few gross-out scenes, either in the delivery room or when the baby starts getting accustomed to using a diaper. And is it a coincidence that my daughter-in-law recently wound up with Zac Efron, who’s also starring in the movie, as her obstetrician in a Mad Libs baby shower game?

Much as I felt when watching the movie, I’m sure I’ll be relieved when our Babywatch is over. Unlike our film experience, our happy ending will arrive not with an empty bag of popcorn but with a wriggling, precious prize, like the best box of Cracker Jack ever.

And we can’t wait!



Art courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay


Papa’s got a broken heart

sad-674811_960_720I’ve taken a 2-week hiatus from writing a post for an unfortunate reason – my husband had a heart attack. I’ve spent the last two weeks going back and forth from the hospital while he had bypass surgery and recovered in the cardiac care unit. He’s home now, and I have the awesome responsibility of caring for him while he continues to recuperate.

This event has had many impacts, and one of them is that it’s disrupted my regular care of our granddaughter. Her parents took her to see Papa briefly in the hospital – she caught a glimpse of him through the door – and she’s been by our house to see him, too.

But how do you explain something like a heart attack to a 2-year-old? And why Papa can’t pick her up or hug her like he used to, at least for now?

I’ve had to be strong for my husband, our adult sons and their spouses (who were really freaked out) and now our granddaughter. My own reactions have been all over the map. I’ve been scared, numb, weepy, and one memorable day when the hospital staff was dragging its feet about discharging my husband although he’d been there longer than usual (10 days), I had to fight the urge to punch people who got in my way. I guess “angry” covers that reaction.

Now, Nanas are supposed to be emotionally stable and smell like snickerdoodles. That’s hard to do when you’re getting up in the middle of the night to administer pain medication and spending your days cooking heart-healthy meals, cleaning and doing the loads of laundry that seem to come with nursing someone who’s recovering from open-heart surgery.

We were very lucky. My husband’s surgery went well, and we have every hope that he’ll make a full recovery. With the appropriate lifestyle changes, he’ll be a healthier man.

However, I know life will never be the same for us.

I wish I’d known more about the symptoms of heart disease. We dismissed too many red flags as indigestion or anxiety. I wish I’d insisted my husband take the stress test that a few months ago a doctor recommended in an off-the-cuff way. The irony is, just before his attack struck, he was planning to set up that appointment.

Heart disease is scary, and a husband’s heart attack is every wife’s worst nightmare. But as we’ve found, the head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with heart disease doesn’t work. Don’t be as foolish as we were, no matter how frightened or uncomfortable the subject makes you. Here’s a simple chart of symptoms. If you suspect you or your loved one has any of them, please don’t delay getting it checked out.

Do it for those you love – your spouse, kids, and grandkids. They’re depending on you to take care of yourself.


Pom-Poms to the Rescue

IMG_20170318_164944My granddaughter loves balls. Or anything that looks remotely like a ball. She often has marbles and rocks jammed into her little fist. Though I’ve taught her that these items don’t go into her mouth, I don’t really trust her. She’ll lock eyes with me and slowly raise the marble or rock to her lips, waiting for me to object.

“No, no,” I’ll say. “We don’t want to eat that. Yuck.”

She’ll obligingly lower her hand, and then watching my face carefully, she’ll repeat the process.

So, to distract her from the rocks and marbles she finds I’ve given her balls of different colors and sizes. It’s worked beautifully so far.

Until recently her biggest ball was a four-inch clear pink glittery one I got at the dollar store. It was so popular that this week I bought her an even bigger ball at a kid’s thrift sale. Her new ball is red with white polka dots and at least a foot in diameter.

I thought she’d love it, but she’s been giving it the cold shoulder. I think the red ball is too big for her to handle right now, mentally or physically. It’s like giving her a Great Dane when what she really wants is a Chihuahua.

In our granddaughter’s toy box are balls that light up if you bounce them hard enough, small balls with bells (actually cat toys), and a soft, squeezy fabric ball. A few months ago I found a pink golf ball, which I washed and gave to her. She was delighted. It fit perfectly in her little hand, and the pink golf ball quickly became her favorite.



A few of my granddaughter’s favorite balls

However, I have growing reservations about this ball because our granddaughter is learning to throw, and she has a pretty good arm for a toddler. Just ask my husband, who had a split-second to duck when he asked her to toss him the pink golf ball and she lobbed it at his head like she was a pint-sized Nolan Ryan. Grandpa will be the first to tell you that his little granddaughter’s speed and accuracy are really improving.


For that reason, the pink golf ball is beginning to look like a bad idea, especially in the house. But how do we take it away from her? Anyone who’s around children knows that unless you enjoy tantrums you don’t remove a favored toy without trading something in return. Even if the object in question is clearly, ridiculously dangerous, like a bag of broken glass, you don’t yank it out of their little hands without offering a replacement, like a bag of Styrofoam blocks.

So, to soften the disappearance of the golf ball I thought of pom-poms. I got the idea when my granddaughter came back from daycare with a paper cut-out of the letter P covered with pasted-on pom-poms. She carefully pried each pom-pom off the paper and played with them for the rest of the afternoon.

I went to the craft store and bought a big bag of 300 pom-poms in different colors and sizes. I poured them into a round box and when she saw them she dug her hands right in, grabbing as many as she could and throwing them into the air, laughing. And I laughed with her because I’m an indulgent grandmother and more tolerant of messes than I used to be.


IMG_20170318_164030 (2)

“What fresh hell is this?” thinks our cat.

We stuffed pom-poms into her tea set, into her stacking cups, and wherever else we could think of. As we looked for new places to stuff the fuzzy things, she kept repeating “balls” with enthusiasm. Soon we may start sorting them, by size or by color, if she’s interested. But only if wants to.


Now, pom-poms do have some disadvantages. They’re light and fly everywhere. I’ve been finding them under the sofa, under the cat, in the dog’s dish and in crevices all around the house.

But unlike buttons and other small objects, pom-poms don’t seem to be mouth-magnets. If you step on a pom-pom barefoot in the middle of the night you probably won’t hop up and down swearing, like you would if you stumble on a Lego. And if a pom-pom gets thrown at your head, even a big pom-pom, you won’t get hurt.

As for putting pom-poms in her mouth, Little One hasn’t tried that yet, and I’m being vigilant. But I think I could explain a pom-pom finding its way through her digestive system and into her diaper much better than I could a pebble.

Yay for pom-poms!

Weird and Wonderful Gifts for Baby

When to comes to baby gifts, grandparents are under pressure – as the eldest members of the family, they can’t just phone it in with a onesie. We’re expected to come up with something significant.

So I decided to venture into another direction, and research wacky baby gifts. I thought I might find an odd item here or there to elicit a chuckle.

Little did I know I’d find a tacky treasure trove.

Weird baby gifts abound on the web. Most of them are guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two, and some could even get you laughed out of a baby shower.

But don’t take my word for it. After all, one person’s wacky is another person’s wonderful. Here’s a sampling of what I found – you be the judge:

91gdRVGflAL._SX522_The Babymop. An ingenious combination of a onesie and a sewn-on mop, this gift really delivers on many counts – baby gets exercise, the floors get clean, and it’s a fashion statement. Of course, while dusting the floor the baby also becomes a gunk magnet, but you can just give the baby a good shake over the trash can. And if you want to take it up a notch, use some mopping fluid. You can wring your little wiggler out later.

The iPotty. What parent hasn’t sat for what seems like hours nextPAD-POTTY_3_vertical screen no seat_new_im2_350 to a child on a potty chair, reading books and singing songs in an effort to convince their little ones that using the potty is better than wearing diapers? Now, instead of wasting all that time bonding with their children, parents can leave them in the plastic embrace of an iPotty. This award-winning (Worst Toy of the Year, 2013) device allows a toddler to work on those all-important No. 1 and No. 2 tasks while scanning educational videos, catching up on email and tweeting. It’s a real timesaver for busy tykes everywhere.

TheBabykeepercrpdThe Babykeeper. We’ve all been there – at the mall carrying an infant when nature calls. If you’re alone, where do you put your precious cargo while you attend to business? Babykeeper to the rescue! Now you can just hook your baby on the back of the stall door, just like your coat, purse and shopping bag. It doesn’t look weird at all, especially if baby swings on the open door as you exit the stall. Just don’t forget any of your personal belongings when you leave the ladies lounge!

 Why Cry? Why, indeed? With this baby monitor, you don’t have to work to interpret your baby’s fussy mood. Is baby hungry? Tired? A microchip lets you know. Of course, it doesn’t cover unfocused crankiness and general complaints about the state of the world, which are other valid reasons for a baby to cry. So don’t be surprised if sensitive babies who hate being misunderstood throw this thing at your head as soon as they develop the necessary manual dexterity.

41tLqFVvM3LTravel urinal. Just. Don’t. Do it. As a woman who’s raised two sons, I can tell you that it takes lots of practice – years, really – for little boys to develop an accurate aim. What are the odds that they’ll make it inside froggie’s mouth, especially on the fly when you’re out and about? Sadly, not so good. Don’t give this gift to an unsuspecting mother unless you also include a big box of disposable wipes. (A plastic apron wouldn’t be amiss, either.)

Baby perfume. Sick of that new baby smell? Now, thanks to perfume-makers like Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana you can trade a synthetic perfume for the delicious scent that emanates from a baby’s head. That’s progress!

71ZYPUrE5XL._SX522_High heels. Release your baby’s inner Carrie Bradshaw and accustom her to high heels right from the cradle. Like their grown-up counterparts, these high-heeled shoes are impossible to walk normally in. But then, that’s not the point, is it?

Baby bangs. Embarrassed by a bald grandbaby? Tired of people asking6a0133f30ae399970b0192abea773b970d-800wi if she’s a boy? Then you need Baby Bangs –  a fringe of fake hair attached to a hairband for the follically challenged baby girl. And for those of you who saw the satirical skit about baby toupees on SNL years ago and thought it was just a joke, think again. (If you like, you can revisit that skit here.)

There are more crazy baby items where those came from, which I’ll cover in future posts. In the meantime, you can sleep soundly knowing the perfect baby gift is out there, waiting to be bought and presented to grateful parents everywhere.

“Shh – Elmo”

mv5bmtyzoda3ndgwnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzq0odgzode-_v1_As mentioned in a previous post, our 22-month-old granddaughter has developed quite a thing for Elmo.

And I’m beginning to think it’s gone too far.

When she was over the other day I put a Sesame Street video on after her lunch, to keep her occupied so I could eat mine. As I knew she would be, she was transfixed by the moving images, especially when Elmo appeared and started to sing in his unmistakable high squeaky voice.

Quickly finishing my meal and, feeling guilty about putting her in front of the TV, I tried to lure her away.

“Let’s play a game,” I said. “We can do puzzles, or read a book. We got a lot of books at the library today.”

She dragged her attention away from the video for a moment and looked at me. Solemnly she put a finger to her lips.

“Shh,” she admonished, pointing at the screen. “Elmo.”

(Yes, that’s right — my grandaughter shushed me for Elmo!)

That will go down in family lore as one of her very first full sentences  – especially if you don’t count “He up,” which she said a couple of months ago while pointing at a squirrel climbing to the top of our fence.

Her preoccupation with Elmo means that all her old favorite books and videos have gone by the wayside. Now she barely looks up when Baby Beluga swims through the ocean. Old MacDonald doesn’t stand a chance of snatching her attention – he stands alone on his farm, spouting vowels and naming his livestock. And her old book favorite, Baby Ben, continues to cavort, clad only in his diaper, through all sort of adventures without her taking the least notice.


Red-robed Rajneeshi lining up to see their guru circa 1982 in Eastern Oregon. (Copyright 2003, Samvado Gunnar Kossatz)

Talking to other parents, grandparents and even librarians I’ve come to understand that this fascination with Elmo is widespread. I just hope it doesn’t morph into a cult. Oregonians like me who remember the 80s know a thing or two about cults, thanks to the Rajneesh. Come to think of it, his followers wore red, too. Maybe not Elmo-red, but close enough.

Our son told us that our granddaughter recently woke up from her nap drowsily murmuring “Elmo.” If she had the motor skills she’d draw a big red heart and put her name and Elmo’s in the middle of it. Or if she was in school, she’d be scribbling “Mrs. Elmo” over all her folders.

curious_georgeWho’s going to tell her that Elmo is basically a furry red doll, manipulated by strings and sticks? Not me. She may have to endure similar heartbreaks when she’s older and can’t blame a puppet for her pain.

But there may be hope that her obsession will run its course someday soon. Lately, she’s shown a spark of interest in Curious George. Perhaps we can fan that spark into a flame with the billion Curious George books that are in the library. We’ll see. A mischievous monkey may be no better than a nauseatingly cute red monster.

But if, when our granddaughter hits her preteen years, there happens to be a boy band around that features a fuzzy-haired redhead with a squeaky voice, she may be reminded of her love for a certain Muppet.

If that happens, her current thing for Elmo, in retrospect, may look like a piece of cake.


Walmart’s Elmo cake

Baby’s First Food

boy-254185_960_720As I sit here, struggling with a massive cold given to me by my granddaughter (ever notice how rosy-cheeked toddlers can look kinda cute with a stuffy nose, but grandmothers not so much?) I find myself reflecting on baby’s first foods.  That may be because nothing appeals to my appetite at the moment, and I couldn’t taste much anyway.

Also, one of my BFF grandmother pals recently told me that her daughter was about to start her 6-month-old infant on solid food in addition to breast milk. We both immediately assumed that baby’s first food would be Cream of Rice cereal or something similar.

Well, we were wrong. This new mother was planning to start her infant daughter on mashed avocado, followed by cooked sweet potato in a week or so.

No cereal in sight.avocado-885272_960_720

Now, there’s nothing nutritionally wrong with that. In fact, vegetables may be a better way to go. But it did surprise my friend and me as veteran moms. For their first solid food, our babies got cereal, just like the “bowl full of mush” in Goodnight Moon. It wasn’t even a question.

And I couldn’t help thinking about the technicolor glory that mealtime was going to be for my friend’s daughter. After all, drool-infused cereal dribbling down a baby’s chin is one thing, but drool-infused green avocado is another.


A nice dish of poi, ready for baby

But babies are pretty hardy little people, and their first foods reflect the culture of their parents. In Hawaii, a fermented paste made from taro root is a nutritious baby staple. In India, babies aren’t shielded from spices – a popular dish called khichdi combines lentils, rice, and ghee (clarified butter) with a dash of turmeric. And in Peru, babies slurp the seedless pulp of the vitamin-rich granadilla fruit, a variety of passion fruit.

Now, to paraphrase the poet Tennyson, as grandmothers ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die, or at least be careful not to criticize our kids’ parenting decisions.  So, if we want to keep on the good side of our daughters or daughters-in-law, we smile and puree the passion fruit.

I remember that when I was a breastfeeding young mother in the 80s my mother was constantly questioning whether my boys were getting enough food. They were. All she did was make me doubt my own instincts. So, I vowed to be more supportive when I was a grandmother.  And I swear, I do not give my granddaughter food that’s not mom-approved (well, maybe I did give her a raisin or two without checking first.)

There are a lot of good, nutritionally-sound options for baby’s first foods if you think outside the cereal box. Nowadays, parents have access to a lot of useful information on this topic, starting with their pediatricians and supplemented by books and websites like HealthyChildren.org, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So, bring on the avocado!

What’s the most surprising food you or one of your children has given an infant? More importantly, did the baby like it or did it need to be scraped off the wall?