Make Your Own Spooktacular Halloween Centerpiece

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It’s no secret my favorite time of year is the three month stretch beginning with October. I love the reflection that comes with the end of the year, the way we huddle with our families and gather with our friends a little more and, as a lover of all things holiday, I love the fact that there are three holidays–all of them grand–that inspire our decor, celebrations and family memories. I get a little more into Halloween every year–perhaps because my kids are growing and I want to drink up all these wonder-filled years as best I can. But also simply because I love it, and I’d like to think if I had no children, I’d still be pouring soup into cauldrons for Tuesday night dinner and hanging spider webs across the trees in our front yard because it brings me joy. That said, I’m having fun this year adding celebratory touches and going all out for my own family rather than reserving the special things for a party with more people.

Evidence A: Our Halloween Tablescape.

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I love creating festive tablescapes, and this one was not only so much fun to create but super inexpensive ($20), inspired by some bouquets of black and purple artificial flowers I picked up from The Dollar Tree. The kids think it’s the coolest thing ever, especially with the dry ice potion fog, but it still looks perfectly spooktacular without it.

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Here’s what you need:

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We picked up two spooky trees from The Dollar Spot at Target ($3 each), but I imagine you could bundle some foraged sticks together for free. We used about 7 bouquets of flowers. We found the chemistry Erlenmeyer flasks and beakers at Michaels in the Halloween section (currently 50% off–$2.50 for a flask!) and filled them with some water dyed with food coloring. You can find floral foam at any craft store, and the creepy crawlies anywhere they sell Halloween decor (I think these are also from Dollar Tree).

1. Hot glue your creepy crawlies on flasks and votives.

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2. Slice Floral foam into 3-4 blocks (square or rectangular) depending on how long you want your centerpiece. Ours are about 5-6 in long, and we made four of them. Using wire cutters, cut bouquets down into individual stems and poke into floral foam blocks leaving one side clean (to set on table) but covering foam completely on all other sides.

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3. Arrange flasks and spooky trees (one on each end) across middle of table and tuck floral blocks and votives in between.

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If using dry ice, drop a small piece (about the size of an ice cube) into each flask and beaker using tongs.

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Our flasks bubbled and fogged for about 5 minutes, but if you put a bigger block of dry ice in them, they’ll go longer. Last year, our punch bubbled and fogged for about twenty minutes with a large chunk of dry ice, and then we added more when effects started fizzling out.

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Add some creepy crawlies to your dinner plates…

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And Voila! Dinner is served.

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Need some inspiration for spooky Halloween-inspired recipes? Check out these ones from Delish.com or our spooky party last year (might I suggest Witch Guts & Vampire Hearts…aka black spaghetti and meatballs).

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We are looking forward to our Halloween party next weekend!

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How to Be a Grandparent

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Of all the things I’m grateful that my kids get to experience, I don’t think anything compares to the moments they share with their grandparents. There isn’t a family dinner that goes by–a package of handmade goodies my mom sends, a story Brett’s dad tells Lainey, a sleepover at Brett’s mom’s house, a moon walk with my dad–that I don’t make mental note how lucky we are to have meaningful relationships with grandparents and so many memories stashed away. I have one living grandparent and she means more to me every day–and the memories of the ones who have passed have become comforting reassurances that often lead me home when I’ve wandered away from what’s important and what I want in life.

Each of my kids’ grandparents (we have 8 thanks to the blessings of remarriage and the beauty of family complexities) holds a special place and fills a unique role in our lives, but today I’m thrilled to be sharing a few of my dad’s words on what grandparenting means to him and his tips for maintaining a meaningful bond with the littles…no matter how old they are.

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On Being Poppa
by Rik Cryderman

I’ve been introduced with titles I’ve been proud to hold, taken my place on the dais in the company of greatness, heard kind tributes that stirred my heart and made my eyes pool with tears, but there’s one word that melts me and finally tells me I’ve climbed to the summit of all I’ve longed to ever be…That word is Poppa.

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It begins every sentence their little lips launch or their teenage fingers text. It heralds each announcement they share in my presence. It’s their personal password for plans they propose, “Poppa, maybe we could build a tree fort, you and me”…and, years later, “Poppa, can I bring my boyfriend to dinner on Thursday?”

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“Daddy” was good—I thought nothing could be better, but “Poppa” tops it all, letting us do it all again, with a heart tendered by time, a mind enlightened by experience and a spirit humbled by age. And since my retirement, loving my grandchildren has become even more intentional, inspiring, invigorating. Listening to their uninterrupted narrative, attempting sound answers for their unending questions and accepting their sweet invitations to play, pretend, create and be amused—this trumps every greyhound tempting rabbit I ever chased in my career.

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I have few memories of my own grandparents. Being the youngest in my family, I said goodbye to mine as a little boy, cherishing the few clear memories as treasures. The privilege to imprint my babies’ babies with some stories that will echo when I’m gone, some lessons that will teach when I’ve left, some love that will warm when I can no longer hold them close—that is a blessing sacred and strong. To know them, really know them, and to let them know you—therein is the precious and powerful passing of the baton, firmly in the hands of the tomorrow you cannot enter, except through the hearts of your grandchildren.

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If I were to offer advice to one new to grand-parenting, I would tell them:

Bring your grandchildren home. Just them. Without their parents. Make them your focus. Listen. With your heart. Make them feel their words are wise and wonderful. Let them teach you. Let them try things. Let them fail. Let them try again. Be playful. Be silly. Don’t always be the wisest, the corrector, the one with the last word. Value their dreams, their differences, their dedication to the passions they pursue and the positions they hold. (It’s easier when they’re 10 and a Taylor Swift fan but more important when they’re 17, and at a Bernie Sanders rally). Be a safe listener. This is critical with the older grandchildren. While the toddlers’ antics and anecdotes are fun to share, the teen’s issues and queries should be guarded as treasures. Be a vault not a voice box—and they will continue to trust…and talk—sometimes sharing things with you they bring to no others. Learn their language, know their loves, plot the latitude of their life. I’ve got Toca Boca on my IPhone and Shawn the Sheep on my Firestick, but I also know what Coachella is and can decipher the cryptic captions on my cool teen granddaughter’s Instagram feed.

Tell them they’re wonderful, the brightest, most beautiful, the bestest of all (making up superlative words is perfectly acceptable). Read them bookshelves of stories, but employ bold volume and exaggerated cadence to bring them along. Change your voice, use an accent, falsetto, deep bass.  And make up stories, with drama and details where they have the lead. If you scare them, hold them close and make the ending just perfect. If you want them to laugh, break the dyke on the silly—let it flow ‘til they shake! Decorum’s forgettable, but the ridiculous is remembered forever. Tell them stories where they are the champions, the winners, the greatest around. Let them know of your life—your strengths AND your struggles, your big moments AND your bumbled mistakes. Share your faith, without preaching, persuading or projecting. Share it as an anchor in storms, an ally in lonely times, a comfort in crisis. If it’s part of you, show them, let them know you.

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Create rituals, like simple repeated activities you can almost hear them someday tell their children, “Poppa always let me make pancakes all by myself.” Keep their things in your home like you’re hoping they’ll come, and when they do, they’ll see—you’ve been expecting their visit, there’s room for them here. Buy a step stool to help them work beside you in the kitchen, reach the Oreos in your pantry, brush their teeth by themselves. Take their messes in stride, their fears as quite normal, and an occasional tantrum as a compliment—you’re family, you’re home. Hold them, hug them, give them a kiss. Tell them you love them, with eyes locked and voice sure. Be unexpected, spontaneous, serendipitous too—taking moon walks with flashlights, hearing bird songs before breakfast, sitting down on the curb with your knees on your chin, because the little boy beside you loves big garbage trucks and you’ve heard a distant roar that tells you it’s coming your way. These are the things that will set your heart’s rhythm and carve deeply your profile on the hearts of your grands. These are the things that, long after you’re gone, will make the sound of your name bring a far away gaze and a sweet settled smile to the face of the little who stood on a stool right beside you and made “the best pancakes I’ve ever, ever tasted, and I’m telling the truth.”

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A Shoe Rainbow Giveaway for Good

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 October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. In recognition of that, this giveaway post is sponsored by our friends at Born Shoes to help raise money for Ruby’s Rainbow, an organization that provides scholarships to people with Down syndrome to achieve dreams of post secondary education. 

I’ve been partnering with Born Shoes for over two years now, and one of my favorite things about working with them is that, from that very first e-mail, they were passionate about getting involved in our advocacy for Down syndrome. “How can we get involved?” they asked. “We have lots of shoes–can we do something with those?”

So we’ve been giving away shoes together for two years to encourage people to donate to Ruby’s Rainbow so that they can send more people like Nella to college.

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Earlier this year, I had the great privilege of traveling with Ruby’s Rainbow to Minnesota where we spent three days with a family as they packed up their daughter Kirsta’s things and dropped her off at college. The night before her big day, as we all attempted to help calm Kirsta’s nerves, we found ourselves in her bedroom, perusing the piles of what she had chosen to take with her from the book collection she had whittled down to a small suitcase of favorites to the clothes she had elected as perfect college attire–lots of comfy t-shirts, jeans and a bomber jacket “to wear with anything.” My favorite, of course, was her shoe pile, a small mountain of shoes her sisters helped her select with everything from comfy flats to some Wowza! leopard print booties. I couldn’t help but smile, completely relating to the fact that for all the uncomfortable firsts in life–the exciting new adventures, the hard days, the big challenges–the thrill of heading to a pile of shoes and choosing the most fabulous ones to face those days somehow makes them better.

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Want a pile of fabulous Born shoes to choose from to face those new adventures AND help send someone with Down syndrome to college to chase their own dreams of new adventures? Born Shoes is giving away an entire fall shoe wardrobe–five pairs of Born shoes/boots from their site–to one lucky winner who’s about to look more fabulous than us all. All you have to do to enter the giveaway is click on the giveaway link at the end of the post and make a donation to Ruby’s Rainbow.

I’m loving the versatility of the SOPRIS bootie–a hiker boot that naturally pairs well with jeans, flannel shirt and your favorite backpack but transfers nicely to a long skirt to play up that rugged fall vibe.

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Also pairs well with a cute kid with big dreams.

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It’s been an amazing thing to watch my friend Liz build her organization and witness Ruby’s Rainbow grow a little more each year. I’ve seen countless videos of recipients opening their scholarship letters and have wiped many a tear as they jump up and down while their families clap and hug and say, “You did it! You worked so hard for this.” I’ve visited these students in their dorms, sat in on classes with them and interviewed their parents about what these opportunities mean for their families and what new doors have opened up because of it. Ruby’s Rainbow is changing lives, and I couldn’t be happier to partner with a company that so beautifully recognizes that.

So, drop a little in Ruby’s Rainbow’s bucket. Shop a little on Born’s website. And take comfort in the fact that as we all take on new adventures together, there’s some fabulous shoes out there that will help our feet look and feel good while we’re walking new paths.

Kelle Hampton & Ruby’s Rainbow

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