22 November, 2016  |   1 Comment

Thanksgiving thanks for Tisquantum

This year, we’re going to a pal’s house for Thanksgiving. That’s great because I don’t feel much like cooking this year (even though Thanksgiving is in my top 3 holidays). I had a humdinger of a fall last week and my turkey basting arms are all bruised and sore. This is the first time since we were married that I haven’t made the feast, so I’m really excited to see how someone else does it!

I posted a version of this this back in 2011 – but he seems even more important this year. And Tisquantum’s generousity makes the shame at Standing Rock even more grim.

Tisquantum is the real name of the Pauxet Indian history refers to as Squanto.

Thanks Squanto!

In 1615, Tisquantum had lived happily near Plymouth. As is the white person’s way, they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery in Spain (with 26 other locals). Eventually Tisuqantum escaped to England and went to return home, only to find that smallpox had taken most everyone he knew.

Three years of smallpox had utterly decimated Plymouth’s Indian population.
Tisquantum returns (after being kidnapped and sold into slavery) to devastation.

Six months later, the Pilgrims arrived.
And. Tisquantum. Helps. Them.

Tisquantum was the whole reason the Pilgrims survived their first winter.
Tisquantum was the whole reason the Pilgrims weren’t at war with the local tribes.

For the Pilgrims’ first harvest the 20 acres of corn grew well (the plants they brought from England failed). Thanks to this bounty, they decided to celebrate with a holiday. They even doubled their weekly individual food ration to get a bonus peck of corn along with the previous peck of meal.

This first Thanksgiving lasted three days. Captain Myles Standish paraded his group of soldiers and they tooted their bugles. They played stool ball, a sort of croquet. And best of all, they invited Native Americans to join in the fun. Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, came with ninety guests. They played sports – and competed in races and athletic competitions.

Eventually things would go sour between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims, but for now, there were races to run. Deer to eat.

For once in their hardscrabble lives, there was an abundance of food. On the menu was venison, duck, goose, eels, corn bread, leeks, watercress, and greens. Like all good guests should, the Indian braves added five deer to the feast. They rounded out the meal with wild grape wine.

Dessert was wild plums and dried berries, as one would expect.

So thanks, Tisquantum, for that help. Without you becoming an advisor to the Pilgrims, without your translating and negotiating, without you there wouldn’t be us. There wouldn’t be this uniquely American holiday rooted in gratitude.

Gratitude that we weren’t sold into slavery,
Gratitude for grocery stores.
Gratitude for decoratively atmospheric fireplaces.
Gratitude for that extra peck of cornmeal.

And especially gratitude for perspective.

14 August, 2015  |   Comment

It’s Chili Cook-off Time

A whirlywind week with a chili cookoff to host.
It’s pretty straightforward now.
Just the beans, ma’am.

We do it yearly, nine years to be exact.
Can you believe we’ve been hanging out so long?

Let’s hear it for this year’s all-lady cast of winners!

2015 Chili and Corbread Cook-off Winners!

They each won themselves a sweet hand-painted (thankyouverymuch) safari hat.


If you brought something to enter the competition, you’ll have to sign in. We’ll give you a small cup for voting. You’ll set that up next to your chili. We put out jars of Sharpies on the table so entrants could label their chili right on the table.


Drawing a big circle around your chili can help you clear a little space for your creation. If you brought sides, you can put the sides and the voting cup within your chili circle.

Just here to taste?

Grab a bowl, a spoon and two beans to vote for your favorites.
Get to tasting!


Make your way through the chilis bowl by bowl. This year, we had about 18.


I taste by putting different chilis in one bowl. One year we tried individual tasting cups, but the ladles didn’t work so well with the small opening. By the end of that year’s competition, everyone had chili-hands. The bowl below has 4 different chilis in it.


Then taste, taste, taste.





When you’ve decided on your favorite, leave a bean in the cup and get back to your bocce team! You still have a game to play!
(Sadly, we lost the match to the Paisans.)


When most of the chilis are empty, it’s time to count the beans!


Our awards ceremony is totally solemn and terrible.


Just kidding. It takes 5 minutes and everyone gets back to their game as quick as can be.

Chili up!

3 August, 2015  |   3 Comments

Camp HJ – A Fortieth Birthday Adventureparty

I turned forty two weeks ago.
I thought I was cool with it, found out I wasn’t and then quickly got cool with it again.
Want to know how?
I threw a big Adventureparty.


Six months ago, I started planning. I knew I wanted a summer camp theme, I knew I wanted tube socks involved and I wanted food at the end.


I got what I wanted.
(Plus, I got to snuggle some babies.)


And with that, thirty people went on a walking clue-adventure through our small town.


The Planning
As you can imagine, there was a lot of planning. I tried to ensure that each team would hit each destination at a different time.


There were seven stops. Five stops held clues that rotated for every team, and the last stop told the campers where the party was.

Each stop was within walking distance of the first destination and had an activity, a snack or a drink for the campers to enjoy.

The Party
We met at our house and had some drinks while all the guests arrived.


Everyone got a red bandanna because head bandannas for weeks are one of summer camp’s best things. Then, I sorted campers into cabins and distributed the first clues.


I told everyone not to hurry — mostly so I wouldn’t be at the last destination until the end of the party — but apparently it’s just human nature to compete. The teams took off lickity split.


I was particular about who went on each team, trying to make sure they’d all get along and that there were a good mix of energies.


My sister and I each manned separate arts and crafts stations. The rest of the stations were self-service. At my station, campers decided on a group theme to decorate nametag canteens. After they were done, I handed them their next clue.





At my sister’s station, campers made leather bracelets and ate summer sausage snacks.


We used the picnic table behind the library for that stop.


Clare was a tough cookie, and wouldn’t give up the clue until all the holes were filled.


Except for one time.


One of the clues sent you to the alley behind Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen where I leaned a board with team clues up against a wall. It was strange to “tresspass” in public space when I was setting up the clues – I wanted the campers to feel that illicit excitement of getting away with something.




Then, a clue led campers to the wine business center where each team received a special gift.


Tube socks. TEAM TUBE SOCKS!


After they collected their tube socks and clue, campers went to a shopping cart loading area for their next clue. I know.


After campers picked up that clue, they landed at another park, one right next to the police station. Everyone got a compass and their next clue.

That last clue led everyone to our town pay phone, where they found a flyer with a url leading all the campers to the final destination.

After about an hour, about 2 miles of walking and glitter glued fingers, everyone landed at a local park. I’d hired an awesome hot dog vendor to serve weenies to all my successful campers.








I made myself a s’mores cake because I’m grown up now.


It was a lot to do by myself, but I loved the whole darn thing.
I mean, just look at me.



15 December, 2014  |   2 Comments

Dorothy’s Fifth Birthday Party – The Villains Party

Dorothy has never been much for big parties, so when she told me she wanted a Villains Party for her fifth birthday, I was eager to help. So was her Auntie.

Auntafee dressed the part

Dorothy dressed as Maleficent for Halloween this year. We’re learning that she is the kind of person interested in our dark sides. She is interested in every side.

The royal family says, "Hey." Thanks to @kerrygirvs for the pics!

I tried to work off of a Pinterest board of Villains party ideas but we just couldn’t seem to find all the elements that would make our Villains party right for us.

Grownups snacking and watching

It is a testimony to the adaptability of our species that this lack of a complete and total party template annoyed me.


For crying out loud, I didn’t even USE Pinterest two years ago! Now I can’t make dinner without it!

Dorothy will own all the balloons

All this just meant was that we just had to come up with some simple ideas that worked for us.

Dorothy's Villainous Birthday Party Plan

On the menu:
Poisoned Apple Slices with Antidote Dip
Have you ever whipped together 1 package cream cheese with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup brown sugar? It’s the perfect antidote for poisoned apple slices. The kids and grown-ups couldn’t get enough.

The kids also were grossed out by the green and brown goo (guacamole and hummus). Tortilla chips and veggies rounded out the menu.

Dorothy isn't sure who is eviller, Maleficent or Dorothy?

Dorothy’s cake was made by our friends from Model Bakery — the flavors were mint and chocolate and even us cake-haters couldn’t get enough.

Dorothy will own all the balloons

For the decor:
Balloons, and lots of them.
We busted our budget on balloons this year, and it was a great investment. Kids really don’t care about activities as long as there are balloons to push to the breaking point.

Dorothy will own all the balloons

We hung the bunting I made for Halloween a few years ago. Three cheers for reusable decor!

I also cut some mirror mirror frames out of foam core — the kids played with those on their own and there we had an impromptu photo booth!

Dorothy will own all the balloons

We rented a room from our city’s rec department. At $50, it was a great investment. The kids had lots of space to run around and I wasn’t chasing kids away from holiday decorations. I’d encourage you to find out if your city’s rec department has spaces available to rent.

(Since our annual holiday cocktail party was right before Dorothy’s birthday party, let’s also say our house wasn’t yet in good condition for a five year old’s birthday party. Grin.)

Auntafee and Pops

For the activities:
On my to-do list for the three weeks running up to the party I had written, “Invent Villains Games.” I just never seemed to be able to think of anything — Duck, Duck THIEF?! Capture the jewel? We’d invited them to dress up as villains, but I was stuck on an activity.

Then I talked to mom. She told me that if I threw the kids in a room with some balloons and room to run around, they’d be fine.
(Mom was right. She always is.)

Bad Guy Coloring Pages
When the kids showed up, we had a table covered with some bad guy coloring pages and crayons.That kept the monkeys focused as well as provided a space to get some quiet time when running around got a little too hectic.

Dorothy will own all the balloons

Goodie Bags
In the bag we put these sticky, slappy hands (perfect for snatching), an evil plan notebook with erasable evil plan pen, some Pirate’s Booty and Monsters Inc gummies. The slappy hands became the party’s most fun activity.

Three cheers for not coming up with an elaborate game!
Dorothy's villainous goodie bag held a sticky hand, a notebook, a pen and some Pirates Booty

Happy fifth birthday Dorothy. You continue to surprise us.

Happy birthday Dorothy!

19 August, 2014  |   2 Comments

Make a Lego bean bag toss game!

Oh right! I was going to share how we made this Lego bean bag toss game that we made for Nora Lea’s sixth birthday party.

Let’s get on that!

I got my handsome manfriend to help first. That was pretty awesome, but I know you can do this yourself.

We found an old 7/16 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft piece of plywood. We spray painted it orange.

Then we used flat metal thumbtacks to stick plastic disposable plates to the plywood board. It was so easy, Nora Lea could help.

Then, we painted the plates to match the board.

I cut numbers out of sticky-backed foam – these represented the different points you’d get for tossing your bean bag on the right plate.

In my fantasies, I sewed a thematically appropriate bean bag for tossing.

In reality, I found a few unmatched, relatively clean socks. Then I filled them with rice and tied them off. They worked like a charm.

We played a few rounds and the prizewinner received a notebook with some washable markers. I believe the child was originally grumpy about their prize, but I was like, YO THAT’S A MOLESKINE and it had no bearing on the child’s disappointment.

Go make your own Lego bean bag toss!