Closing the Mailbox

October 3rd, 2012

Grandma in the Mailbox made its debut in January 2011.  My goal was to share ideas for making times with grandchildren special for them and for the reader whether it be a grandma, a mother, or a friend.

I have enjoyed over the months talking about Grandma’s library, the playroom, Grandma Camp, cousin play dates and crafts we have made and games we have played, books we read and the times we spent together.  I liked to share recipes that always received “thumbs up” when I served them to my grandchildren.

I hope that I have given some ideas and maybe some inspiration to others on making memories with their grandchildren.

After publishing 95 posts over these 21 months, I have decided that it is time to close Grandma in the Mailbox.  The blog will still remain on-line if you want to check out a past entry or recipe.

To my grandchildren I’ll still remain Grandma in the Mailbox.  I already have purchased the Halloween and Thanksgiving postcards that I’ll send to them. We’ll still have cousin play dates and sleepovers and fun times.

I have often said that I thought on those forms that ask your occupational status, there should be a box to check that said Grandparent.  I have had many occupations from teacher to office manager to human resources rep, but the best job I have ever had is GRANDMOTHER.  The compensation is hugs and smiles and lots of love.  Can’t be beat.

Thank you, faithful readers, for your visits and your kind and thoughtful comments.

Thumbprint Cookies

September 26th, 2012

My granddaughter who lives 3 hours away once told me that her favorite kind of cookie was thumbprint cookies.  Ah, ha, that gave me inspiration for the type of cookie to bake and take along when I recently went to visit her to celebrate her 10th birthday.

From my peanut butter and jelly sandwich experience with her and her brother, I knew that she prefers red raspberry jam.  Her brother is partial to  apricot.

When I walked into their house, I had a plate thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry and apricot jam.    Sampling soon began.

 

 

This recipe  is so versatile.  It can produce a buttery cookie, a vegan cookie or a gluten-free cookie with simple substitutions.  I have made and tasted each option.  They all were tender, delicate, and really delicious.

Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup margarine or butter *

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour **

1/2 cup chopped pecans

jam of choice or frosting for filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the margarine/butter.  Add sugar.  Mix well.  Stir in 1 cup flour.  If using a mixer, add remainder of the flour 1/4 cup at a time by hand.

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls.  Roll the balls in the chopped pecans.

Place the cookies on parchment paper lined cookie sheets.  Using your thumb or the end of a wooden spoon make a depression in each cookie.  Drop 1/4 teaspoon of a favorite jam into the depression.  You can also leave the depression empty and fill with frosting after the cookies have cooled.

Bake 12-18 minutes in the 350 oven.  When I make them, they are usually golden brown and done after 15 minutes.  Yield: 20 cookies

Allow to cool on wire racks.

* To make these vegan cookies, use a vegan margarine such as Earth Balance.

** To make the cookies gluten free, substitute gluten-free flour and 1 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum for the all purpose flour.

These cookies disappear quickly when I take them to my grandchildren.  Everyone wants to try “just one more.”

Thank you for stopping by to a visit at Grandma in the Mailbox.

 

 

Putting Memories Together

September 19th, 2012

I have talked about Grandma Camp – the activities and the adventures and the fun.  I like to  put together a memory album for my grandchildren so that they can look over what we did and years from now remember the fun.  Actually my grandson usually pulls out the albums from the previous years each June before we have our first camp.  He looks at what we did and decides what he wants to do all over again.

I have just completed an album for my grandchildren who live 20 minutes away.  We had two camp sessions during the summer so there were  many photos to put together for the album.  Having put albums together for the past three years for all the grandchildren, I have learned a little something about photo albums.  I search out albums for 4 X 6 photos.  I like the ones with sleeves to slip the photos in.  They seem to be made in two capacities – 60 and 160.  Gr, rr 60 is not enough, and 160 is too many.  Live with it, Grandma.


First of all, I spread the photos out and select the ones that I want to use in the album.

I cut out 4 X 6 rectangles of colored paper to slip into the album to serve as fillers and to hold blurbs that describe the photos.

Then to put the album together.  I laid it out in chronological order and composed some descriptions to accompany the photos.

 

 

I enjoyed reliving the Grandma Camps as I put the photos into the album.  I remember some of the  fun times and hilarious comments of my grandchildren.

And finally I selected a little photo to slip into the cover.  A photo of the three of us.  And here is the finished product.

Thank you for visiting Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week I’ll have a delicious cookie recipe to share with you.  It is a recipe that can alsoeasily be turned into a vegan version or a gluten-free version.  I hope that you stop back again for another visit.

 

Who Lives Here?

September 12th, 2012

When my10 year old granddaughter was just about two years old, I had an idea for a book that I would make for her.  Who Lives Here? I wanted a book that would help her to learn to recognize the homes of her grandparents and aunt and uncle and cousin.  A learning moment as she and her mommy or daddy looked at the book with her.

I accumulated photos of the houses of  the various relatives.  Then armed with scrap booking papers and card stock, I started assembling the little book.  I also purchased laminating sheets and some comb binders.  At that time I was still working and luckily was able to avail myself to a laminator and a comb binder/punch in the office.  Those items made the project easier to do and the end product much more attractive.

First, there was a dedication to my granddaughter using one of her princess photos.

Then I laid out the pages using printed scrap book paper and coordinating cover stock.  I laminated the photos so that my granddaughter could touch the pages and not leave sticky finger prints behind.  Yes, sometimes there are sticky fingers.

On this page I inserted a photo of her younger cousin as a clue since she had never seen the home of her aunt and uncle and cousin.

Of course, I had to have a photo of my house for her to see.

On the remaining pages I included a photo of her home and photos of all the other grandparents’ homes.

On heavier card stock I set up the title page and the back cover.  I punched all the pages with the binder punch and bound them together.  And, voila – Who Lives Here? was finished.

I made a similar book for my other granddaughter.  Her book featured photos of people rather than homes.  It was entitled Who Am I? I included photos of her parents and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles.  Also I included photos of the various families’ pets.

These were such fun projects for me.  They took a little time, but the happy, warm feeling I had when they were finished was well worth the time.  The granddaughters used them and then when they were followed by little brothers, the fellows could look through the books – often with the help of a big sister.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope that you stop again for another visit.  Next week I’ll talk about putting memories together.

The Grandma Gazette

September 5th, 2012

There is a new newspaper in these parts.  It has no advertisements.  Circulation is limited – 4 grandchildren and 2 friends.

The Grandma Gazette debuted in March.  All of my grandchildren can now read.  I wanted to communicate with them.  They are  too young for email accounts.  I have a twitter account; they don’t.  I decided to write a newspaper for them.  I cover family news, cat news,  and I include riddles, of course.

I call it The Grandma Gazette. The masthead carries the paper’s motto – All the news that Grandma can remember.  My 10 year old granddaughter thinks this is really funny.  She is probably the only one who catches me in “senior moments.”

I set the newspaper up in Word using columns.  I have a header for the date and masthead information and a footer for the pagination.  Below is a sample page from the first edition. (Sorry about the small size, but – well, that was all I could get to paste into the blog.  If you click on the thumbnail, you’ll get a larger version you can read.)

 

In June the newspaper talked about softball.  All the grandchildren play so I included photos of each of them at one of their games.  In August my 10 year old granddaughter celebrated her 10th birthday so there were various photos of her all the way back to year #1.  Her grandfather also celebrated a birthday in August, and I was able to get some photos of him taken when he was the age of the grandchildren.  They had never seen those, and they were surprised to learn that Grandpa was just like them – he played with his sister, his grandma baked treats for him, and he got into trouble sometimes.

September’s issue which has not yet come off the presses will be about school.  I’ll include photos of the schools that they each attend since the children who live 20 minutes away and the children who live 3 hours away have never seen each other’s schools.   I also plan to have a photo of the elementary school that I attended and my first grade photo – Grandma with her long braids.

In October there will be another birthday to celebrate  with photos of the birthday girls and maybe even a photo of  Halloween costumes they have worn in the past.   November brings another family birthday to celebrate.  Of course, December will have a Christmas issue with photos of my Christmas tree and Snow Village and a memory or two from past Christmas celebrations.

I print the newspapers out so that each grandchild gets a copy.  With the help of the parents the newspaper often magically appears on the front porch outside the door – delivered just as the local “big people’s” newspaper  is delivered.

This is so much fun for me.  I just love  putting together The Grandma Gazette. My grandchildren love receiving the newspaper.

My grandchildren who live 20 minutes away have both tried their hand at their own newspapers using Mom’s desktop computer.  It was fun helping them with the spelling as they each worked on their first issue.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope that you stop by again for another visit.

 

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

August 22nd, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies are so-oo good.  They have an unusual crumbly texture.  I was nibbling one to give me inspiration to write, but decided I should put it aside until I finish because cookie crumbs are not the best friend of a computer keyboard.

I came across this recipe in the food section of the Chicago Tribune on 4/13/2005.  The Tribune writer  found the recipe in Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans.  They tweaked the recipe a tad.  And, in turn, I tweaked their recipe a tad.  The result is a favorite of young and old in my family.

Because of the crumbly texture, I “suggest” that my grandchildren eat the cookie at the table instead of while they are meandering around my living room.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter at room temperature (I use Planters Natural Creamy.)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup shortening

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

10 ounces miniature peanut butter cups, unwrapped, quartered.  (I found no 10 ounce bags at the store on my shopping trip so I bought a 14 ounce bag which gives Grandma some tasty treats to have on hand. I weighed out 10 ounces from the bag to use in the cookies.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Stir together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Beat the peanut butter, sugars, butter and shortening in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smoothly blended, about 1 minute.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat 1 minute.  Reduce speed to low; add the reserved flour mixture, mixing until incorporated and the dough is soft and smooth, about 1 minute.  With a large spoon carefully fold in the peanut butter cup pieces.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  I used my cookie scoop that is 1.5 inches in diameter.  Space the cookies about 2 inches apart.  I gently patted down the cookie a tad.  The cookies will not spread very much.

Bake 18-20 minutes until the top is firm and several small cracks appear in the top.

Cool the cookies 5 minutes on their baking sheets.  Use a wide spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack.  Cool cookies thoroughly.

Prepare to enjoy and to reap compliments from those sampling the cookies.  My taste testing panel of 2 children and 2 adults gave thumbs up and “may I have another one” when I brought them out recently.

And now back to that cookie that I put down to write this post.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week brings the 5th Wednesday in  August.  I shall take a 5th Wednesday holiday.  See you again in September.

 

Wild about Parks Quest

August 15th, 2012

My grandchildren love scavenger hunts and treasure hunts.  We always have one as part of Grandma Camp when they visit me.

This summer we used our detective skills in a program offered by the Urbana, IL Park District –  Parks Quest.

Wild About Parks Quest is a letterboxing event that celebrates the Urbana Park District’s many parks and facilities.  Letterboxing can be compared with a treasure hunt – where the treasure is a hidden box and the map is a set of clues used to find the box.

To learn more about this intriguing pastime, letterboxing, you can check out this website:  http://www.letterboxing.org/index.php You can click on the map to find letterboxes that are hidden in your city.

Back to Parks Quest.  To become a quester you need a clue booklet.  These can be picked up at the Urbana Park District office or can be downloaded from their website.  You use this clue booklet to find each letterbox.

For example, at one park  you are told to follow the path into the Gazebo and take a seat on one of the benches.  You then read about the large oak tree nearby with a plaque telling how old the tree is.  Reading on, you are asked to look for one tree that is not like the rest.  This tree has blue leaves or needles.  Search below the needles on the south side of the tree and there is the park’s letter box.

My granddaughter agreed to be the one to shimmy under the big blue spruce.

Out she came with the letter box in her hand.

My grandchildren opened the letterbox and took out the stamp.  They inked it up and stamped their Quest Clue Book to show they had found the treasure.  Then they signed the notebook with our names and the date to show when we found the letter box.  Finally it is really important to put the letterbox back where you found it so it will be ready for the next quester to find.  Yes, my granddaughter had to shimmy back under the blue spruce.

“Let’s go to another park, Grandma.”  SO we did.

In some of the parks the letterbox was hidden in a hollow of a tree.  My grandson considered for some time if he wanted to plunge his hand in for the letter box.  He was wondering what besides the letterbox might be in that hole.  We found no wild critters.

Off to another park and then another.

Time out.  It was hot and we were tired and needed a break.

No better way to cool off than with a yummy dip (or two) of ice cream.  As we sat eating, we looked at the booklet planning our next park.  Guess what – there was one right across the street from the ice cream shop.  When we finished, we headed over to look for another letterbox.

The most difficult quest required us to walk on a trail through a park with many gardens.  In each garden we were instructed to find a letter.  The letter was put into numbered blanks in our book.  When completed we would have the title of a sculpture in the park.  The letterbox was behind that sculpture under a flat rock in the brush.

My granddaughter was filling in the blanks so we could find that elusive letterbox.

We explored eight parks and have eight stamps in our Park Quest book.  However, the children were a little unhappy.  The car was packed and it was time for them to head home.  I promised that when they come for another visit, we’ll explore more parks.  I did add that it might be cold weather when they return.  ”We’ll bring boots and gloves and warm jackets, Grandma.  Can we do it?  Can we do it?”

I called the Park District and verified that the letterboxes are left out all year around so yes, we can go out even in the snow – and that might be really fun – to look for the treasures.  I was also told that the Park District sends someone out every few weeks to check on the letterboxes so there will be no missing boxes.

When Daddy asked the children if they had fun doing Parks Quest, I saw two smiles and two thumbs up.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week a recipe for some yummy cookies that have chunks of peanut butter cups in them.  Hope you stop by to visit again.

 

Time for Grandma Camp

August 8th, 2012

It has been a very hot and dry summer, but there has been fun.  My grandchildren from near and those from far have all stopped by for some Grandma Camp action.

When we have Grandma Camp, we always start the day by going to the public library – sometimes by car and sometimes by mass transit.  This time we visited a library, but it was not the large brick and mortar one.  This was a neighborhood “little library.”

Are you familiar with the little free library movement?   http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/

Their mission is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.  To build a sense of community as people share skills, creativity and wisdom across the generations.  To build more than 2,510 libraries around the world.

They offer kits and building plans so folks can set up their own free little library.

The little library a few block from my home is not housed in one of these designed little structures.  It is the Free Mini Library, housed in an insulated cooler.  It rests next to the street in front of a home.  There are two little tree stumps for browsers to sit upon as they look at the books.  There are books for adults and for children.  The premise is – leave a book; take a book.

I have picked up a mystery story for myself and I have taken my grandchildren to pick out books to read at my house.  Of course, we leave a book for each book we take.

 

What a great idea.  After seeing the library, one of my sons plans to set up a library in his front yard for the neighborhood to use.

A walk on a sunny summer day means that you are hot and sweaty when you return.  We had the perfect remedy for this.  We made strawberry popsicles before we left and enjoyed one when we returned.  These are so fresh and tasty that I’ll probably make them even when the children are not visiting.

I altered a bit a recipe that I found on the internet to make this fruity treat.

1 cup of cut up strawberries

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar or less if the strawberries are really sweet

a couple of squeezes of lime juice.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth.  Pour into popsicle molds and put into the freezer.

An enjoyable treat for all ages.

One of my grandsons usually has a “bucket list” when he comes for Grandma Camp.  Sometimes it is “things Grandma never let’s us do” or “can we do this again this year.”  Can we paint the driveway? We have done it before, but he and his sister wanted to do it again so we did.  On the day of camp it was extremely warm and the driveway was in the blazing sun so I suggested they paint the front porch.

The children donned their hand-me-down black tee shirts from a grandpa to keep the “paint” off their clothes and they divided the front porch into – my space and your space.  A yellow chalk line was drawn down the middle of the porch.  We mixed up 4 bowls of “paint.”

The recipe for driveway paint is simple:  1/3 cup of cornstarch, 1/3  cup of water, and food coloring.  Stir the mixture until it is smooth.

Armed with a handful of sponge paint brushes, the painters set off to work on their creations.  My grandson who is a devotee of Star Wars decided that he would paint a solar system.  He added some space ships shooting at the invaders.

My granddaughter’s painting showed her on a giraffe, her favorite animal.  She also included one of her brother with a tiger, his favorite, and of course, there was one of me with a cat.

A rain shower, yes, unbelievable during this drought, but a rain shower washed away the collection of animals.  The space craft are still battling on my front porch.

More tales of Grandma Camp to come next week – a lemonade stand and Park Quest.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope you return next week to read other adventures we had in Grandma Camp.

 

 

A Recipe – Cuban Bread

August 1st, 2012

Let me be the first to welcome you to July 32.  Last week I mentioned that this week was the 4th Wednesday in July.  WRONG.  Last week was.  So I am starting off August with a recipe and I shall finish August with a recipe.

Cuban Bread is a crusty bread requiring few ingredients – no milk and no shortening.  The recipe that I have used for years was clipped out of the local newspaper on September 28, 1974.  An interesting aside  - on the back of the recipe is a coupon for Keebler’s Pecan Sandies cookies.  And the price $.89.  Wow, 38 years ago cookies (and everything else) certainly were less expensive.

Jane’s Crusty Cuban Bread

6 1/2 cups flour

2 packages dry yeast

2 cups water

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

yellow cornmeal

Stir together 2 cups of flour and the yeast in a large mixer bowl.  Heat water, sugar and salt, stirring until very warm to the touch; add to the flour-yeast blend.  Beat about 3 minutes at high speed with mixer.  Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead 12 to 13 minutes or until the dough feels elastic.  Cover with a large bowl and let rest 45 minutes.

Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.  (Rather than grease a baking sheet, I cover the sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle cornmeal on it.)

Divide dough  into three portions.  Roll each  portion into a rectangle about 13 X 10.  Roll up jelly roll fashion from the widest side; press ends together to seal and then fold ends slightly under the loaf.  Place seam side down on the baking sheet.

Make small diagonal cuts across the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.  Brush all over with water.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 20 minutes.  Set oven temperature at 400 degrees and without preheating the oven, place the loaves in it; bake 45-50 minutes.  Cover lightly with foil if the loaves brown too rapidly.  Cool on racks before cutting.  Makes 3 loaves.

When the daddies were young, they loved this bread with pasta.  The loaves can also be cut into thirds and split for hoagie or hero sandwiches.  The loaves freeze well.

When the daddies were young, one loaf was often gone before dinner time.  Nothing like a hunk of warm crusty bread with a little butter spread on it.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Summer time and Grandma Camp time.  Next week I’ll talk about the fun things that we did a few weeks ago at Grandma Camp and the yummy strawberry popsicles that we made.  I hope you will stop by again.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ball game.”

July 25th, 2012

This was the theme song played before Chicago Cubs baseball games years ago.  Of course, Ernie Banks added, “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game.  Let’s play two.”

Indeed last Thursday was a beautiful day for a ball game.  The temperature was in the low 80′s.  The wind was minimal, and our seats were in the shade.

My grandchildren who live 3 hours away and their daddy and I were all set for baseball.  My grandson was wearing the Cub shirt his daddy bought him last year at the ball park.  He added a Cub hat for a perfect outfit.  My granddaughter wanted a Cub shirt and had declared that Alfonso Soriano was her favorite Cub.  We looked and looked – vendor to vendor – shop to shop – and no one had a Sori shirt in youth sizes.  We decided to look after the game.

As we emerged from the tunnel to go to our seats, a roar went up from the crowd.  I asked the children if that cheer was for us, but no.  It was for the Cubs who were taking the field.

On the drive to Chicago my granddaughter had asked about keeping score at a game.  Her daddy explained the numbering system to her.

If keeping score in a baseball game is a mystery to you, here is a short lesson from Major League Baseball.

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/baseball_basics/keeping_score.jsp

In new ball parks like Busch the scoring is flashed on the score board after a play.  Wrigley has a classic scoreboard with scores being hand turned by fellows inside the scoreboard.  No fancy scoring assistance there – except for the H or E to indicate hit or error.

Daddy told my granddaughter that Grandma was the score keeper in the family.  Yes, I have kept score at many a game.  I love to buy the “official” score card that comes with a Cub pencil.

During the first two innings my granddaughter ate her chicken fingers, and I served as scribe writing down the 1-3 or the 6-4-3 or the K’s as she directed.  She was doing a super job figuring out the numbers for the positions.  I was impressed.

In the 3rd inning she took the pencil and off she went scoring the remainder of the game.  She even knew which direction the K should go depending if the strikeout was swinging or called.  Her younger brother really enjoyed knowing  about the K and backward K and would monitor the card to see if she had scored the play properly.

In the 5th inning her favorite player came to bat – Alfonso Soriano.  I suggested that maybe Sori would hit a homer for her.  And he did.  Much screaming and jumping and high fives to everyone.

The game had many great plays – Starlin Castro’s scooping up the ball, spinning and throwing  bullets to first  (yes, that is 6-3) and  Reed  Johnson’s diving catch in rightfield (a 9 on the scorecard).  There was also a fiasco when Reed Johnson was caught between home plate and 3rd base.  The run down required numerous throws to several players.  When he was finally tagged out, my granddaughter looked at me with a quizzical  expression.  ”Grandma, what do I write?”  There was no way I could keep track of the 2-5 and I think 1 and maybe even 6 got involved so I smiled and said, “Let’s just call it 2-5.”

We all stood for the 7th inning stretch to sing “Take me out  to the ballgame.”  More singing when the Marlins changed pitchers – “YMCA.”  And the best song after the final out – “Go, Cubs, go,” as the W flag was run up the flag pole.

The game was only 2 hours and 18 minutes long – a short game just right for short people.

After the game we resumed the search for the elusive Soriano tee shirt.  None to be found.  My granddaughter said, “Your favorite player is Castro, right, Grandma?”  I nodded yes so she took a Castro tee shirt off the rack and up to the counter.

Hm, I might just have to buy myself a Castro tee shirt, too.

It had been a really beautiful day.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope you stop by next week.  The 4th Wednesday is recipe day and I’ll share my recipe for Cuban bread.  I have been making it for my family for 30 years or so.