Merry Christmas

Houses today will be filled with Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters, Mothers-in-laws, Daughter-in-laws and if we are lucky enough a few Great Grandmother’s to boot, Grandfathers, Fathers, Sons, Father-in-laws, Sons-in-laws and again if we are lucky enough a few Great Grandfather’s to boot.  We will sprinkle in some Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews and some of us will add a dash of family friends.  Our houses will fill to the brim with the aroma of delicious holiday meals wafting from the kitchen (or take out containers as it may be).  The air will be filled with Holiday music, wrapping paper ripping, the occasional shrieking of a melting down two-year-old, the whining of a teenager who has been disconnected from the world at large by not being allowed to use their phone and the wailsome cry of the family cook as something that was supposed to be delicious was turned to ash by a momentary distraction caused by the first two issues.  Eyes will be rolling liberally in their sockets as older attendees tell someone the same story again because they forgot who all they have told, as parents ask teenagers to disengage from their phones and family couch surfers are asked to help set the table.  Squabbles over the temp of the meat will ensue in the kitchen and family rooms with be full of yelling at the football game.  Dinner tables will become the hotbed of discussions not allowed as a general rule in mixed company and if you are in the Allen household are always sure to devolve to the point of potty humor.  You are guaranteed one hurt feeling in each age group as someone wasn’t able to be the pink ranger, someone gave someone a gift that clearly was from a discount rack with dust still on the shoulders or a joint gift was labeled with the wrong person’s name first on the card.

We spend countless hours getting ready for this one-day event.  We shop until we drop, stress over each and every gift, wrap until our fingers bleed, travel absurd distances for the pleasure, stress over our attire lest we be judged harshly by that one fashionista that every family has and lecture our children and spouses on their expected behavior for fear of being “that” family member again this year.

But in spite of all the craziness and chaos, every year we fling open the doors of our homes and our hearts.   In return for our efforts we receive heartfelt hugs from family members near and far.  Laughter fills our hearts as we are regaled with the silly childhood stories of movies made and terrifying sledding adventures from years past.  We enjoy the memories of family members no longer with us and suck in the sweet new human smells from the family members who are just now joining us.  Our houses are filled with the wonderful unique sound that only our family can create.

From my house to yours—May the love you get today from your family and friends fill your heart to overflowing and last you for the whole year to come.

Baby Luke is Here!


Baby Luke made his debut on Thursday, December 14th at 6:10pm weighing in at a whopping 8 pounds 4 ounces and measuring 21 inches long.  He has dark hair and chubby little cheeks and looks amazingly like his Mommy, Kathleen, in the face.  He sports long arms, legs, fingers and toes that clearly indicate the donation of the long and lanky attributes of his 6 foot 6 inch daddy, Matthew.

In a clear break from all the other Allen grandchildren’s births, Luke made his way into this world with little to no drama.  No pre-eclampsia drama sending Dave and I scurrying across the United States in a whirlwind.  No post-eclampsia worries making the first few days of his life wonderful and fearful at the same time.  No C-section concerns for being too big to exit the womb and no risk of ending up in the Neonatal ICU for being too early to be able to breath on his own.  He just declared his intention to exit, then graciously gave his Mommy just enough time to get to the hospital from her work in Nashville.  When the doctor checked them into the hospital she said he would be born around 6pm.  Sure enough, after just enough labor to make Mommy and Daddy realize that child birthing is hard, he squirmed his little way out into the world at 6:10pm. 

There is one thing I have always said about Matt—he is the king of understatement.  His range of emotion is about an inch and a half.  He is never despondent, elated or irate.  He seems to hover his emotions pretty close to center.  His basic tell of worry or anger is the way he clenches his jaw creating a gill-like flapping of his cheek muscles.  His basic tell of elation is the way his beautiful blue eyes seem to dance with light when he is happy and excited.  After I heard that Luke was born all I wanted was to see Matthew’s face.  In that one quick look his sparkling eyes told me all there was to know.

Standing at the nursery window, after counting all little Luke’s fingers and toes (twice for good measure), this Grandma exhaled a giant breath that she wasn’t completely aware she had been holding for the past few months.  Our little Luke is here and everyone is safe and sound.  Now we can get on to the fun part—Let the Spoiling Begin!

Baby Maybe!

I should have known something was afoot when Matt and his wife Kathleen surprised us with an impromptu trip to the beach house in May.  They walked in the door and gave me a “mother’s day” card with Mother scratch out and Grandma written in.  This was how they told us they are expecting their first baby on December 20th!  A totally fitting due date for a girl that listens to Christmas music 365 days a year and starts her number of days ‘til Christmas counter on the 26th of December. 

For weeks afterward Matt continually referred to their little one as “maybe”.  He said he was not getting his hopes up until the baby doctor confirmed that there was actually a little baby in there.  After for what seemed like forever, the day finally came.  Baby maybe was confirmed as a real live baby!  We are all too excited to welcome another wee one into the Allen Clan!

The Allen Family converged on Chicago to attend the baby shower for my nephew, Nate and his wife, Roxanne.  Baby Furgleton is set to make his debut this month.  As I look around the family I am thrilled that most of the crew is in attendance.   We are missing Jess (who is an adult now and had to work this weekend—boo hiss), Tanner (who is only 2 and unfortunately has to go where his Momma, Jess, goes—double boo hiss) and Bradley (who is an actor in New York and had to work this week end–whoop whoop).  In true Allen/Giovanine tradition we ended up at the Greek Isles on Saturday night.

The Greek Isles restaurant is a tradition in the Allen Family.  For years, the holidays would find the entire Allen/Giovanine family gathered around a large table debating how many servings of “stinky” cheese and Hillbilly Salad to order.  I was a little sad this night because my father-in-law, Paul, has passed on and it was sad for him not to be at the head of our table.  He was a family man from his head to his toes.  Looking down the table I knew he would have been proud as a peacock of all his children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 

Anticipation made me a bit fluttery.  I knew that Matt and Kathleen would be announcing the gender of our little baby Allen soon.  After we had finished our meal a waiter brought a bakery box to the table.  Matt and Kathleen passed out cute little pink and blue cake pops.  

We all eagerly waited as Matt counted us down—One—Two—Three!


IT’S A BOY!!!!!!


One of my super skills is being able to do the same thing over and over again without losing my enthusiasm.  This super skill comes in especially handy when dealing with little kids and frankly, as we found out, people with Alzheimer’s.  With my little Tan Man it has become a thing for us to sing a little “Dip, dip, dip” ditty when he is dipping his French fries into ketchup or tortilla chips into salsa.  When I put him down for a nap if I don’t start singing the Night-Night song soon enough he will raise his head from my shoulder look me square in the face and in a very serious Tanner ease say “Gammama—sing”.  We also have a routine of counting out his five animal crackers, placing them in a nice neat row just before he scoops one up and bites off its head—at which point it is my job to cry out “oh no, you ate his head” and its Tanner’s job to laugh hysterically before dramatically biting off the next cookie’s head and on we go for a full count of 5.

The other day we were watching the Predator’s hockey playoff game.  We had timed dinner so that we could set Tanner up in his high chair and keep him entertained by eating his dinner while Dave and I watched the game.  The first time two players collided against the side wall producing a loud crashing sound Tanner was less than impressed.  Being the ever-entertaining Grandma that I am, I immediately yelled “Boom” and clapped my hands.  My reward from Tanner was a huge smile replacing his scared face and an enthusiastic “Boom” with his little hands thrown into the air.  It was unbelievable but this 2-year-old boy became glued to the hockey game.  For the rest of the game Tanner watched intently, shouting out “Boom” and flinging his hands in the air every time two players smooshed themselves against the wall.

When the game was over I took Tanner upstairs to give him a bath.  In the tub is a wide array of bath toys but his two favorite this night were his dark green shark and a little green frog floating around in an brightly colored innertube.  Tanner spent the entire time it took for the bath water to become cold “’skating” his frog in one hand and his shark in the other over the top of the water.  He would “skate” them over to the side of the tub, then throw them together against the side of the tub sending water flying everywhere, yelling “Boom” and flinging his bubble covered hands into the air.  Then we would laugh hysterically until he retrieved his players and start the game again.

Ok, so maybe we need to go back to the less violent “Dip, dip, dip” game.

Happy Mother’s Day!

For all the Moms that are still deep in the trenches of diapers, bottles and wee hour of the morning feedings—don’t worry, it will get easier.

For all the Moms who are scooping screaming toddlers off the grocery store floor, learning the new language of “baby-ease”, trying to explain how stopping to making water in the potty is somehow better than just peeing your pants while you’re playing, teaching that food and toys are not for throwing, crayons are not for nostrils and dogs are not for riding—don’t worry, it will get easier.

For all the Moms out there squealing into the school pick-up line just in time to be the last parent there, who have found it necessary to develop a color coded google calendar to keep up with when to be at dance class, gymnastics, soft ball, baseball, basketball, chess club, debate team, band practice, orthodontist appointments, sleep overs and parent teacher meetings—don’t worry, it will get easier.

For all the Moms out there who are in the throws of dealing with a child that has just recently discovered their “Sass” gene and the teenager’s eye roll.  Who somehow overnight went from being their kids super hero to the dumbest person in the word with a fashion sense to match.  For the Mom who is trying to explain to their teenage boy that there are 7 days in a week and therefore it is only reasonable to expect 7 pairs of underwear and socks in his weekly laundry. Who is constantly reminding their teenage daughter how some outfits just have too little fabric to be considered outer wear.   For the Mom who sits in the passenger seat of the car petrified, stomping a hole in the floorboard where the brake should be.  Who is beside themselves with worry when they hand over the keys and are not the one sitting in the passenger seat.  For the Mom who feels like they have somehow become a covert agent with the CIA, analyzing their kids friends, deducing if they are going where they say, with who they say and what they may be doing between the here and the there and with whom.  For the Mom who is spending an inordinate amount of their time worrying about “the birds and the bees” and how to explain this phenomenon of nature to their wee ones—don’t worry, it will get easier.

For the Mom’s who have spent the last two decades of their lives raising their children and have finally tossed them out of the nest and into the world hoping and praying that they have taught them every survival skill necessary for them to succeed in the world.  For the Moms who lay awake at night hoping that their child gets the job or promotion at work, who cries in the night over her daughter’s miscarriage, who’s heart aches as they are forced to watch their children struggle with the day to day problems of being a grown adult knowing full well they cannot swoop in to save the day.  For the Mom who is walking on air at the announcement she will be a grandma—don’t worry….

Awe heck, who am I kidding.  Loving another human being with all your heart and soul NEVER gets easier.

Happy Mother’s Day Everyone!

Beep Beep

IMG_2467I popped Tanner into one of the grocery carts with the steering wheels and buckled him in.  When we got to the automatic door I told Tanner, “beep beep and the door will open.”  To my surprise, Tanner slapped his tiny little hand against the center of the steering wheel and clear as a bell said “Beep Beep.”

We wound our way through the bakery narrowly escaping a head on collision with the cup cake display and cruised into the veggie section.  As we passed people I jokingly began saying to Tanner, “Say Beep Beep.”  Sure enough he immediately slapped his little hand against the steering wheel and would say “Beep Beep” in his cute little two year old voice.  As we weaved our way up and down the aisle Tanner began beeping and waving at everyone we passed.  Some people ignored us completely clearly thinking that if they didn’t engage the crazy it couldn’t jump onto them.  Some people had a great time playing along and were left in our wake with big smiles on their faces and just a little bit more bounce in their step.

As we made our last round through the dairy section we turned the corner and happened upon an elderly man all alone parked at the end of the aisle in a scooter.  Realizing this person was a kindred spirit Tanner very enthusiastically slapped his little hand against the steering wheel and loudly said “Beep Beep”.  We turned the corner down the bread aisle and all of a sudden I heard the high pitched whine of a scooter moving full tilt.  Just about the time I realized he was coming our way, the old man screeched up next to us and said “Hey buddy, you wanna race?”  So without missing a beat I began pushing Tanner faster down the aisle as the old man got his scooter zipping along.

Our fun ended abruptly when the old man’s wife came around the corner and yelled, “bad word, bad word—Earl!”  Like all true seasoned street racers, Tanner and I ducked down the nearest aisle in the opposite direction leaving poor Earl to talk his own way out of trouble with the grocery police.

The Race is On

grandmaThe first time I ever thought about what my grandchildren would call me was when Jess became pregnant with Tanner.  There are so many really cute grandma nicknames out there like Bubbie, Bunny, Honey, Kiki, Lovie, Nana, Gammy, Gma, Mammie, Mama and the list goes on and on.   I would love to have a cute little nick name but frankly I feel like a nick name is something someone gives you, so when Tanner and Annika were born I decided to start with the root word common to the female parent of your parent and go with “Grandma” until the kids were old enough to decide for themselves.

Every time I see my two little love buckets, I try to get them to say “Grandma.”  I have spent countless hours whispering in their little ears “Say Grandma” and have yet to get more than a giggle in response.  Imagine my dismay when I took Tanner to pick David up from the airport and the little bird squealed in delight upon seeing David come down the escalator and immediately threw out his arms and called out “Grampa” clear as a bell.

In all honesty though, there have been a couple of near misses in the “Grandma” department.  One morning when I had driven to Tullahoma to pick Tanner up for his Grandma Day he popped his pacifier out of his mouth and clearly said “Gamma” is his sweet little sing song voice.  I was on top of the world and spent the whole day trying to get him to say it again.  But alas, this was a one and done kind of moment.

One afternoon this summer when we were in Phoenix, Annika began pounding her tray for more strawberries and very clearly saying “Na Na” in a somewhat deep and possessed voice.  Houston, we may have a winner.  But alas this very intent “Na Na” phase only lasted a few short days before it was replaced with more incoherent Annika babble.

I hit the Grandma lottery this summer, having both Tanner and Annika in Phoenix for a few days.  Finally it was my day to get them all to myself.  David was taking his two girls to the movies and out to dinner.  I was in Grandma heaven.  Late that evening when we were all three snuggled up on the couch getting ready for night-night, I tossed down the gauntlet.  “Whoever talks first gets to name me!”

Now the race is on.  Every day, Tanner and Annika are slowly moving from baby babble to people babble. I’m very excited to see who I’m going to be when they grow up.

Epic Fail or Epic Win?

img_00161It’s impossible for me to believe as I watch Christi set up the lights, put down the pink backdrop and pull out the pink polka dotted #1 that my precious little Annika Baby has been here for a whole year.  This little one who scared the poop out of all of us by making her somewhat dramatic entrance into the world 6 weeks early weighing in at a whopping 4.5 pounds is now a whole 16 pounds of crawling, standing, climbing, babbling, analyzing everything one-year-old.

Back in February, right after I had made a cute little yellow rubber duckie smash cake for Tanner’s first birthday, Christi asked me if I would make Annika’s smash cake.  I was so excited—Okay, what kind of cake does our little Annika Baby want?  A Monkey Cake.    Ok, Google my friend, help me out with this.  I Googled, Binged and even Yahoo-ed but alas there are no easy as 1-2-3 monkey cake molds to purchase on the internet.  Ok, in an effort at full disclosure there is one but frankly it was basically monkey ugly and therefore not cute enough for my Annika Baby’s first birthday cake.   But this Grandma was not deterred.  I spent days looking up pictures of other people’s monkey cakes and finally came up with a plan.  My first prototype scored major points in the cute department but had a couple of issues not the least of which was the fact that the poor little monkey’s head kept falling off and its tail looked more like the aftermath of a bodily function instead of a cute little furry thing that facilitates swinging from branch to branch.  Back to the internet I went and found some great tips on a website written by a fellow grandma.  Armed with my new grandma certified knowledge the next prototype was a definite go.  We now have a wonderfully cute 3-D monkey cake for Annika’s birthday.

From the day the first prototype sat on my kitchen counter with its head plopped off to one side, I have been envisioning Annika’s encounter with the Monkey Cake.  In my lemonade commercial world she grabs it up and squeals with delight as she shoves huge bites into her mouth.

But alas, this Grandma is reminded once again that she does not live in a lemonade commercial.  My little Annika Baby sat on the floor in her fluffy pink tutu, bare from the waist up with what little hair she has pulled up in a pink bow creating a splay atop her cute little head.  In her very Annika Baby way, she carefully analyzed the little monkey cake with complete disregard for the countless hours her Grandma had put into its creation and ultimately deemed it to be utterly disgusting.  The second her hand made contact with the monkey’s cold squishy frosting she recoiled in what can only be explained as 1 year old baby disgust.  She attempted to touch it a few times coming away with a little bit of chocolate frosting on her fingers. Each time she pulled her hand away shaking it vigorously to remove the filth that had gotten on it.  Kenny, sure that the sweet yumminess of sugar would entice her, lopped off a bit of frosting and put it in her mouth.  But nope, this was met with an even more disgusted face and an instant removal of the foulness from her mouth.

Ok, so the moment did not go the way my lemonade commercial imagination thought it would.   Some people may even go as far as to say the Monkey cake should be considered an epic fail.  But in this Grandma’s world, the cake was awesome (especially when you consider it was make by an accountant) and Annika’s reaction to it was priceless.  The goal was to make a memory to cherish forever.  On this count, we have an epic win.

The Train, The Train!

The creepy feeling that someone is staring at me wakes me from a deep sleep. In my sleep disoriented state I open my eyes expecting to see one of my little kids from 20 years ago, their little faces pressed inches from mine waiting to tell me that they’ve had a nightmare and want me to snuggle them for a few minutes before they bravely make their ways back to their beds. But even before my eyes flutter open I am saddened by the thought that no, those little kids are all grown up and don’t need me to banish the monsters from under their beds anymore. I crack my eyes open and see a sight that has melted my heart for the last 30 years. David standing above me, his sleepy brown eyes sparkling with excitement, his entire being humming with electricity. As soon as he sees the blue of my eyes he excitedly informs me that it’s Saturday and the train is running today!

train-1426245-639x479David has been planning this day ever since we got the word that our daughter, Jess, was bringing our grandson, Tanner, out to visit for a few days. Two blocks from our new condo in Scottsdale is this great little train park. It has swings and pavilions like most parks but it also has train engines and cars to be explored, a museum and gift shop. But best of all, it has a little kiddie train! The engine chugs around the perimeter of the park pulling its precious cargo of little kids and sometimes overexcited grandpas.

Come to find out, David has been standing outside Tanner’s door listening intently for the first peep that would indicate that he was awake. I was excitedly told that he had laid out Tanner’s Thomas the Train T-shirt (purchased in anticipation of this amazing day). David had a plan. As soon as Tanner was awake, they were going to have breakfast, get dressed, slather up with sunscreen, jump into the stroller and make a bee line for the train park. Now all David needed was for Tanner to wake up so they could get going. The logic, that I groggily added, that it wasn’t quite 6am, didn’t seem to curb David’s excitement as he left me to return to slumber and once again took up his vigil outside Tanner’s bedroom door.
Finally, Tanner woke up and the plan was put into action. Lickity Split, the two little adventurers were dressed, fed and out the door. Hours later, just as I began to worry about how long those two little birds had been gone, my phone dinged. David sent me a picture of him and Tanner on their third ride around the park. Tanner proudly sporting his Thomas the Train T-shirt, David happily sporting a pair of sunglasses that read “I Love Trains” across their lenses.

Later that night, after all reasonable people had gone to bed, David regaled me with his epic adventure to the train park during our cocktail hour. For a brief few minutes, I saw the little boy that had become such an amazing man. His eyes danced and he told me about the ride around the park. He was crestfallen when he told me how the train turned away from the tunnel on its first pass. Then his face beamed with joy when he told me that on the next pass the little train chugged into the darkness of the tunnel. Then to my surprise I was informed that cocktail hour was to be cut short—“The train is running again tomorrow!”

Precious Moments

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning.  Hours have passed since everyone else in the house has sensibly run to their beds for a good night sleep.  I, on the other hand, have been sitting on the porch talking to Christi, listening intently to all her words, marveling at what a wonderful full grown person she has become.  We sneak up the stairs being as quiet as two giggly girls can be and let myself into the bedroom where David and Little Annika Baby are snoozing.  I tip toe into the bathroom, quiet as a mouse, put on my jammies and brush my teeth.  I tip toe back out, check on the baby and slip under the covers exhausted from a long day of fishing on the beach but utterly content with this wonderful life I am so lucky to have.


My head barely hits the pillow before I hear my Little Annika Baby begin to make her adorable little squeaky noises.  I lay in the dark, listening to her sweet sounds until I know that she is fully committed to getting up for her nighttime feeding.  Being the ever prepared grandma, I had slipped her bottle onto my nightstand before I got into bed.  Now there is one rule that Christi has with the nighttime feeding—DO NOT ENGAGE THE BABY!  Annika is supposed to get up, drink her bottle and then be put immediately back to bed to fall back asleep until a more respectable time of the morning before she is to be played with.

I get my little love and slide back into the bed propped up on my pillows and give her the bottle never saying a word.  When she is finished I lay her head on my shoulder and pat her back relieved as she relaxes back into that sleep that only infants can enjoy.  Then like a shot she pushes up on her arms, grabs the sides of my face and begins to whisper her little baby secrets into my mouth.  Then she starts giving me those amazing open mouth slobber kisses.  Technically I am not breaking the Christi night time feeding decree—Annika is engaging me.

She spends the next half hour whispering her little baby secrets to me and filling me up with kisses and coos.  My mind races ahead to the years when she is no longer a little baby but a growing child and I make a wish that she will always want to crawl into her Grandma’s bed in the middle of the night to share her little girl whispers with me.

As I finally put her back into her crib I look at the clock—4:45 and realize I will need to be up and at ‘em in a few short hours.  With an amazingly contented sigh, I slide back under the covers to get a little shut eye before my day starts.  Some people would be dismayed that the nighttime hours of sleep have slowly been fettered away, but this Momma/Grandma knows with all her heart that sleep can come another day but these precious moments are too fleeting to miss.