Insuring Good Dreams, One Train at a Time

Older Grandson — the former Capt. Adorable, who made me stop calling him that a couple of years ago when he turned old enough to take control and Family projectstell me firmly, “Kacky, that is NOT my name.” — is absolutely the most creative, innovative, smart and loving almost-5-years-old grandson ever in the world. And I have proof. He recently gave me this painted train engine, and it’s not so much his skillful brushwork and design expertise (you see that, too, don’t you?) that impressed me but the story he wove about his gift. I had bought it for him a few weeks before at the Crossroads Museum gift shop in Corinth, Miss., which he calls “The Train Store” because it’s full of fun stuff celebrating Corinth’s famed railroad crossing. This train actually is a bank — you buy it as a white ceramic blank and then you decorate with the included paintbrush and little plastic pots of paint. Although he’s grown out of his Thomas the Tank Engine phase and now is into Batman, Star Wars and hobbits, Older Grandson’s still likes trains. As an accomplished artist, he seemed delighted with the idea of painting one. So I bought it for him and sent it home with him and didn’t think any more about it. Until recently, when he and his mom — our Older Daughter — and baby brother were at our house. “Give Kacky the present you made for her,” his mommy whispered. He dipped his hand into his backpack, pulled out something I couldn’t quite make out and scampered into my bedroom. I followed and found him carefully placing the train on my bedside table (which also usually holds 1) a coffee cup, 2) a book, 3) my glasses, 4) my cell phone, 5) the TV remote, 6) another coffee cup and 7) another book). “Oh, wow!” I said, thinking how cute that he wanted to put the train where I’d see it every day. “I like the way you’ve made the train so colorful.” (Notice how well I follow Older Daughter’s directives on complimenting my grandchildren: I praise a specific action instead of a lavishing general and unfocused praise. Yes — I can be taught.) But he knew I wasn’t seeing his vision. “No, no, Kacky,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not just a train. It’s a dream-changer. When you sleep, your bad dreams will go in here” — pointing at the coin slot — “and then they’ll get changed into good dreams so you won’t be scared.” His mommy was smiling. “That’s all his own idea,” she said. “He wanted you to have it.” I would have hugged him and thanked him and cried over him a little, but he’d already run off to torment play with the cats, and he’s never said anything about it since. But his dream-changer works incredibly well, and I highly recommend that you ask your favorite 4-year-old to make you one, too.

Cupcakes and Tablescapes

Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is  hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars  with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …