Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A behind-the-scenes peek at pre-baby shower mishaps March 10, 2016

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WHENEVER I PLAN a major party at my house—and I’m not talking something as simple as a few dinner guests—I make lists. List of guests. To-do lists. A menu.

I clipped lists and recipes to a clipboard, my party planning organizer.

I clipped lists and recipes to a clipboard, my party planning organizer, as I planned the baby shower.

Lists help me focus and not feel overwhelmed. They help me budget my time. But plans and lists don’t always jive with how things actually work out.

Guests loved the cute mini elephant roll-out cookies I made and sprinkled with pastel sugars.

When I was making these cut-out cookies, I had to be careful not to break or burn the elephant trunks.

Take the baby shower I gave for my eldest daughter and her husband last weekend. Weeks prior to the event, I baked cookies. Elephant shaped cut-out cookies to serve at the party. And M & M cookies to place in thank you gift bags for guests. But before the dough was baked and the cookies placed in the freezer, I had my first mishap. My hand-held mixer jammed, spewing bits of whatever into the cookie dough. Into the garbage went the dough and off to the store I went to purchase a new mixer. As for the mini elephant cookies, I proceeded with care lest the trunks break or burn.

Everything went smoothly during the week prior to the shower as I completed tasks and crossed them off my list. But my luck didn’t hold. Friday morning, the day before the shower, I mixed up a cookie dough dip, not to be confused with dough for cookies. The new mixer worked fine. But the spatula broke and there I was, forking through the dip in search of the missing rubber tip. Not to worry; I found it.

Well in advance of the shower, I penned this haiku and glued it to tags.

Well in advance of the shower, I penned this haiku and glued it to tags.

Next, I assembled the thank you bags, placing a bag of microwave popcorn, a packet of flower seeds and several M & M cookies inside to match a haiku I’d written with the words pop, grow and sweet. I’d printed the haiku days earlier and glued the poem to muted pink gold-trimmed tags purchased at Target.

The gift bags, fully-assembled and ready for gifts. I purchased the bags at Party Plus in Owatonna.

The gift bags, fully-assembled and ready for guests. I purchased the bags at Party Plus in Owatonna.

When I was gluing the tags, I remember thinking, I wonder if this glue will hold. I should have listened to that inner doubt. After I’d tied several gift bags, I noticed the glue wasn’t holding. That meant more work—untying the bags I’d already tied and taping all the tags.

A snippet shot of guests gathered in my living room for gift opening at the baby shower.

A snippet shot of guests gathered in my living room for gift opening at the baby shower.

Both the spatula break and the tag snafu occurred before 9 a.m. This, I thought to myself, is not good. But the rest of the party prep went smoothly as did party day. For a March day in Minnesota, the weather was ideal, meaning no snow and good travel for all. We had plenty of food. Guests had a good time and I did, too.

The next day, after I finished washing dishes, I pulled the drain plug in the kitchen sink. The water disappeared, ever so slowly, emerging in the opposite sink. My husband removed the gooseneck. No clog there. He tried a snake. The clog remained. Then he turned on the air compressor and blew air through the drain pipe. That unclogged the clog. But he still had to head to the hardware store to replace the gooseneck section of piping which was now leaking.

As for me, I was simply thankful this problem didn’t occur on party day. Dealing with a clogged drain was definitely not on my to-do list.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Personalizing a baby shower by painting onesies March 9, 2016

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HERS WAS A NOVEL IDEA. At least to me. But apparently not in the current trend of baby shower activities.

Three of the onesies painted at the baby shower I hosted.

Three of the onesies painted at the baby shower I hosted.

When my daughter Miranda suggested painting onesies at her sister and brother-in-law’s baby shower last Saturday, I jumped on board. This hands-on project would allow guests to express their love for the parents-to-be and their baby girl in a creative and practical way.

Art supplies for painting onesies.

Art supplies for painting onesies. The Scribbles brand 3D fabric paint pens were purchased at Hobby Lobby as were the foam stamps.

Miranda purchased the supplies—onesies in various sizes (which she pre-washed), fabric paint in tubes, brushes and foam stamps. I set up the painting station in our basement, complete with a canvas drop cloth covering our newly carpeted floor. Accidents happen. I saved scrap cardboard to slide inside onesies and provided Sharpies.  The paternal grandma added animal stencils to the creative possibilities.

An appropriate design for a March baby shower.

An appropriate design for a March baby shower.

My biggest dilemma was deciding when to schedule this activity during the baby shower. After lunch seemed best. I needed time to clear dishes and store away food before games and gift opening. Unfortunately I had to relocate several guests back upstairs to finish their meals so the painting could begin.

My daughter Miranda, project coordinator, sits at the end of the table.

My daughter Miranda, project coordinator, sits at the end of the table.

When time allowed, I headed to the basement with my camera, observed and documented. The results impressed me.

A niece created the ocean themed onesie on the left.

My niece created the ocean themed onesie on the left. Another niece designed the “little stinker” shirt and Miranda created the zoo animal design.

I didn’t follow the design phase, with the exception of one. A niece was planning an ocean theme, a tribute to the dad-to-be who is originally from California. She was a bit dismayed to learn that Marc grew up, not near the ocean, but in the desert. Still, I encouraged her to go with sunny ocean-side. She did.

My creation: Ewe (you) are my sunshine.

My creation: Ewe (you) are my sunshine!

Because I was busy with hostess duties during the shower, I didn’t paint a onesie until days later. That gave me time to think of an idea without party pressure.

I crafted this design for Baby Girl from her Uncle Caleb, a student at Tufts University.

I crafted this design for Baby Girl from her Uncle Caleb, a student at Tufts University.

I also created a personalized shirt from my son by stenciling a blue elephant. Jumbo the elephant is the mascot at Tufts University near Boston where Caleb is a senior. The university colors are blue and brown. I’ve long lamented to Caleb the lack of elephants on Tufts clothing, although he alerted me that has now changed. Good. But I find university apparel ridiculously expensive. My handcrafted design offers an affordable alternative.

The other grandpa, who will be called "Opa," painted the shirt on the left.

The other grandpa, who will be called “Opa,” painted the shirt on the left.

My husband has not yet painted a onesie. He’s presented several ideas. One I immediately rejected. Let’s just say he’s got a unique sense of humor…

Even more colorfully creative ideas.

Even more colorfully creative ideas.

SINCE IT’S THE SEASON for baby and bridal showers, let’s hear any creative ideas you have for hands-on activities.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Creating a one-of-a-kind baby shower centerpiece March 8, 2016

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I have a sizable collection of vintage tablecloths which I use whenever I have guests. For the baby shower, I placed vintage tablecloths on two card tables, my dining room table, a banquet table and the kitchen peninsula. I love the simple elegance of these table coverings.

I have a sizable collection of vintage tablecloths which I use whenever I have guests. For the baby shower, I placed vintage tablecloths on two card tables, my dining room table, a banquet table and the kitchen peninsula. I love the simple elegance of these table coverings. I considered using real, rather than disposable, plates and silverware. But since I don’t have a dishwasher, I chose plastic.

WHEN I PLAN A PARTY, I desire to create a memorable experience. I want guests to remember the details. I want them to feel welcomed, like they are arriving for a special event. Yet, I want them to feel comfortable and relaxed.

I pulled out the fancy plates and bowls, those reserved for company, to serve food at the baby shower.

I pulled out the fancy plates and bowls, those reserved for company, to serve food at the baby shower. At a party, I prefer fancy to utilitarian. This is the time to treat guests as the special people they are.

Achieving those goals and that balance, especially while also trying to keep costs down, requires a bit of thought, resourcefulness and ingenuity. And a generous family willing to pitch in with food.

While planning last Saturday’s baby shower for my eldest daughter and her husband, I wanted a table centerpiece that stood out. I didn’t want to walk into a party shop, pick up the first mass-produced merchandise I liked and slap it onto my dining room table. I wanted something different. Something unique. Something memorable.

The basic supplies. You can tweak these to your party theme, to a boy or girl and to whatever supplies you have at home.

The basic supplies. You can tweak these to your party theme, to a boy or girl and to whatever supplies you have at home.

It took me awhile to find my supplies and then come up with an idea. But I did. And I think you’ll like it. My sister-in-law Joanne even asked if I’m on Pinterest when she complimented me on the centerpiece. I’m not. The idea was solely mine.

I played around with the blocks until I had a pleasing design.

I arranged the blocks into a pleasing design.

A wooden box of alphabet blocks scored at the Faribault Goodwill store for $3 sparked my creativity. The pottery barn kids blocks are over-sized and are imprinted with letters, animals and animal names. Once I decided to spell out the words baby girl, I built on that idea.

And since zoo animals themed the baby shower, I chose animals as part of the centerpiece. At Dollar Tree in Faribault, I found a package of 15 paper elephants, zebras and lions from Teaching Tree for $1. Now I needed only to assemble the supplies into a work of art.

I dug through my kitchen cupboard for a vase, pulling out a slender Myrtle wood vase handcrafted by my Great Uncle Fritz in 1992. Something with personal significance. If he was still living, Fritz would be the great great great uncle of my soon-to-be-born granddaughter.

Next I gathered three wooden skewers typically used for kabobs during the grilling season, snapped the skewers to the desired lengths and taped the zoo animals to them.

I scrounged a scrap of pink polka dot ribbon, originally purchased at Dollar Tree, to tie around the neck of the vase for a colorful and dramatic flair.

Now I was ready to assemble the entire centerpiece. Needing height, I found a shoebox and wrapped it in animal-themed gift wrap purchased from Dollar Tree.

Then I played around, arranging the blocks until I had a visually pleasing art piece.

The results, a one-of-a-king centerpiece for my daughter and son-in-law's baby shower.

The results, a one-of-a-kind centerpiece for my daughter and son-in-law’s baby shower.

That’s it. Simple. And because I had most supplies on hand, the total cost was $5. Five dollars. How’s that for creatively thrifty?

FYI: Check back tomorrow for another post from my daughter’s baby shower. I’ll show you the onesies painted by guests.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about love & family at my daughter’s baby shower March 7, 2016

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I picked up three helium balloons for my daughter and son-in-law's baby shower for a total of $3 at Dollar Tree.

I picked up three helium balloons for my daughter and son-in-law’s baby shower for a total of $3 at Dollar Tree in Faribault.

THE PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS flew in from California. The aunt drove 300 miles from eastern Wisconsin. A great aunt traveled from western Minnesota, near the South Dakota border.

I created this baby

I created this baby banner from construction paper, shiny paper letters, animals shapes and polka dot ribbon, then strung it across my living room window.

They gathered with 13 other guests (three of whom are pregnant) and three baby girls to celebrate the anticipated arrival of my first grandchild in less than two months.

Family from across the country shipped baby gifts to my home prior to the shower. I started stacking them, along with party supplies, in my daughters' former bedroom.

Family from across the country shipped baby gifts to my home prior to the shower. I started stacking them, along with party supplies, in my daughters’ former bedroom.

I’d been planning this party, this baby shower, for months for my eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband, Marc. It was perfect. In every way.

Guests created personalized onesies using stamps, stencils, paint and permanent markers.

Guests created personalized onesies using stamps, stencils, paint and permanent markers.

From the food to the conversation, art project, games and, yes, even the weather, the day proved lovely.

I purchased these napkins at Party Plus in Owatonna.

I purchased these napkins at Party Plus in Owatonna.

Guests loved the cute mini elephant roll-out cookies I made and sprinkled with pastel sugars.

Guests loved the cute mini elephant roll-out cookies I made and sprinkled with pastel sugars. I borrowed the cookie cutter from a friend.

Beanie Babies were big when the mom-to-be and dad-to-be were growing up. So I asked guests to identify the elephant, lion and zebra. Only one guest correctly names them: Peanut, Roary and Ziggy.

Beanie Babies were big when the mom-to-be and dad-to-be were growing up. So I asked guests to identify the zebra, elephant and lion. Only one guest correctly named them: Ziggy, Peanut and Roary.

It was my honor and my joy to throw this party for my daughter and son-in-law. When I settled on a theme—zoo animals—my creativity sparked. Elephant themed napkins and dainty elephant cut-out cookies. A baby trivia game included questions about the gestational period of an African elephant (22 months), plus questions about the parents-to-be and more. The two grandpas were the lifelines.

The great nieces played while their moms and others passed opened baby gifts around my living room.

The great nieces played while their moms and others passed opened baby gifts around my living room. That’s my husband in the doorway.

Laughter and conversation flowed. Arms of aunts and grandmas and cousins held babies. Wrapping paper fell onto the living room carpet, entertaining the 10 ½-month old who’s beginning to walk.

The adorable "Santa" outfit from Great Grandma Norma.

The adorable “Santa” outfit from Great Grandma Norma for Amber and Marc’s daughter.

The parents-to-be and guests, and grandparents, too, gushed over the red velvet Santa-style dress with matching hat and red-and-white striped leggings selected by Great Grandma Norma in California. You could almost hear the Minnesota dialect reaction, “Oh, fer cute.”

My daughter holds a colorful car seat activity toy for her daughter.

My daughter holds a colorful car seat activity toy for her daughter.

This whimsical creature from Uncle Jon Eric and Aunt Stephani in California drew many admiring comments.

This whimsical creature from Uncle Jon Eric and Aunt Stephani in California drew many admiring comments.

My daughter Miranda, who lives in Wisconsin, bought this shirt for her niece.

My daughter Miranda, who lives in Wisconsin, bought this shirt for her niece. My son-in-law is showing off his daughter’s shirt.

Baby’s first doll, a colorful car seat activity toy, a pink “Someone in Wisconsin Loves Me” long-sleeved onesie. Cute. The hand-stitched burp rags, the floral headbands, the cloth diaper shells. Cute. So many gifts from those who love my daughter and son-in-law and my unborn granddaughter.

The grandparents-to-be flank the parents-to-be. From left to right, my husband, me, Amber, Marc and Marc's parents, Lynn and Eric. We are standing outside the garage door where I hung the banner. I found the banner packed in a shoebox. Next-door-neighbors hung the banner on our garage door 28 years ago when our youngest daughter, Miranda, was born.

The grandparents-to-be flank the parents-to-be. From left to right, my husband, me, Amber, Marc and Marc’s parents, Lynn and Eric. We are standing outside the garage door. I found the “it’s a girl” banner packed in a shoebox with baby cards. Next-door-neighbors hung the banner on our garage door 28 years ago when our youngest daughter, Miranda, was born.

Sure, this young couple could have gone out and purchased most of these items. But there’s something special about gathering in a home, crowding into the living room to eat, visit, play games and then watch the opening of baby gifts.

I was delighted to have my two beautiful daughters in my home, together, for several hours.

I was delighted to have my two beautiful daughters, Miranda, left, and Amber, in our home for several hours. We haven’t all three been together since June.

This is about tradition. This is about family. This is about love. This is a baby shower.

FYI: Check back tomorrow when I’ll show you more baby shower details and ideas.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, baby, it’s shower time March 4, 2016

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I designed a BABY banner to hang in my living room. Here it lies on the bed in a spare bedroom.

I designed a BABY banner to hang in my living room. Here it stretches across the bed in a spare bedroom.

GRANDMA. The word slips off my tongue. Two syllables.

Baby. Also two syllables.

In less than two months, I will hold my sweet granddaughter, my first grandchild, in my arms.

Love. One syllable.

This weekend guests will gather in my Faribault home to shower the mom-to-be and dad-to-be with gifts. The other grandparents are flying in from California. My second daughter will drive 300 miles from eastern Wisconsin to be here for her sister. Aunts and cousins will join us for lunch and a few games. Down in the finally-updated basement, guests will stamp designs onto onesies.

It promises to be a lovely day.

Sure we’ll be a bit cramped for space. But we’ll make do as we ooooh and aaaah over baby gifts and laugh and talk and eat.

There will be hugs and “I love yous.” There will be the usual questions about how my daughter is feeling. Maybe prying questions, too, about Baby Girl’s name. Not even this Grandma knows.

But mostly, we will celebrate. Simply celebrate this baby girl who is already loved by so many.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fancy, fancy food at a baby shower April 20, 2012

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In the background, an aunt-to-be, the grandmother-to-be and the mother-to-be enjoy a little lunch before gift-opening at a family baby shower.

LEAVE IT TO MY CREATIVE SISTER, Lanae, and her equally creative daughter, Tara, to create fancy food which, when photographed, could grace the pages of a food magazine.

No wonder they asked me to simply bring veggies and dip to a baby shower Saturday afternoon for my nephew’s wife, Adrienne. I possess neither the knowledge, skills or talent to pull together a Martha Stewart-like spread, although I suppose I could be taught.

Just look at these dainty and lovely foods. Pretty fancy fare for someone like me who admits that cooking is not her forte.

The mother-to-be, Adrienne, poses for photos before we eat from this sumptuous spread of chicken salad and deli ham sandwiches; bacon-cheese filled phyllo shells; fruit pizza; teddy grahams with fruit dip; cupcakes; chocolate mousse; vegetables and dip; pickles; and homemade mints.

I pulled out my notebook at one point during food preparations and joked that I would be taking notes for future reference. I didn’t. Rather, I will rely on photos to guide me when I am in the position someday as the baby shower food planner.

For this Saturday afternoon, I was quite content to allow the creative mother/daughter team to pull out their pastry bags and their dip mixes, their chocolate shavings and chives spears and more to craft morsels that were almost too pretty to eat.

The mother-to-be was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?

A cheesy bacon mix was piped into each phyllo shell and then topped with a grape tomato, a snip of bacon and a spear of chives. So colorful and absolutely delicious. You cannot eat only one of these.

A triple berry fruit dip mix was piped onto these mini plates for dipping teddy grahams. So cute.

Perfect yellow cupcakes with a layer of raspberry under the frosting, topped with adorable elephant graphics.

After all in attendance ooohed and ahhhhhed over the food and over foamy punch in which a rubber ducky floated, we also discussed pregnancy weight gain and birth weights and the sex of the unborn baby in the 3-D ultrasound images that were passed around. There was also talk about cute babies and ugly babies and whether the unborn child would have “Kletscher ears,” meaning ears that aren’t exactly tiny and head-hugging.

The punch, made to resemble soapy bathwater, includes ginger ale, blue Kool-Aid and pineapple sherbet to form the "bubbles." I may have missed an ingredient in this punch prepared by Vicki.

We laughed and savored each others’ company and the joy that always comes in anticipating the arrival of a new family member. I fully expect that when we gather again, after the birth in mid June, we’ll sit with open arms, each of us awaiting our turn to hold the baby, the precious, precious baby.

With only two months to go until her son/daughter arrives, Adrienne opens gifts.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling