Grammie Hooton’s Chocolate Pudding Cake Recipe

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An easy way to feed a crowd

My Grandma Hooton was an amazing cook.  She was famous for her homemade cinnamon rolls, chicken noodle soup and cabbage rolls- among other things such as fudge and divinity.  Grammie, as we called her, would work in the  hay fields all day with the hay crew and then, while the rest of us were taking a break because we were so tired, she would be in  the kitchen cooking up a delicious chicken fried steak dinner with all the trimmings.

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Sometimes Grammie would round off the meal with a yummy chocolate cake and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how perfect it was for large family gatherings.  The  cake is made in a large jelly roll pan and it serves 24 but it’s easy and fast to fix so you can  make two pans fairly simply.

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Grammie’s Chocolate Pudding Cake

1 (5-oz) box cook and serve chocolate pudding mix (not instant)
3 cups milk (for the pudding)
1 box DRY chocolate cake mix
2 cups chocolate chips (semisweet or milk)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Make pudding to package directions then combine it with 1 package DRY chocolate cake mix. (DO NOT add the eggs and oil etc) Spread in a prepared 9 x 13 inch pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips and chopped nuts on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15  minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.) Cool completely before cutting.

I feel fortunate to have several of my Grandmother’s recipes and some day I’d like to make a “heritage” cookbook but for now I’ll just  share this delicious recipe at my next family reunion.

Making a Family Parade Float

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Small Town Parades

My favorite parades are those in small communities.  The parade in our town is only two blocks long and lasts about 20 minutes, but we always arrive early so we can get a front row seat.  We don’t want to miss those great family floats!

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When I was growing up we always had a Hooton family float.  My Mom and her sister would design and make a float for all of my Grandparents’ grandkids to ride on.  I don’t remember a lot of the details about creating the float but I do remember having lots of fun with my cousins. I also liked getting a free ticket to the local movie theater and 25 cents to buy a treat which was the prize for having an award winning float.

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Highlight Your Family

Having a family float in a local parade can be a fun activity for your family reunion.  It’s also a great way for Grandma and Grandpa to show off their posterity.  The Brown family counted all their posterity and celebrated by building the family float pictured below.

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Here’s some tips to having a great family reunion float:

Register Your Float or Parade Entry

#1.  Be sure to register your float with the parade  committee in advance.  Find out the specifics about entering before you begin building your parade float. Some parades have restrictions about throwing candy or passing out flyers so find out the rules and safety requirements.

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#2. Once you know the size requirements and approved vehicles for floats, you will need to find either a truck and trailer or flatbed that you can use as a base for your float.  If you don’t have access to a truck and trailer let your family ride their bikes or walk in the parade.  Children in the family can dress in their team uniforms, dance costumes or school shirts and ride decorated bikes  in the parade.

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Another option is to put everyone in matching family reunion shirts and make a banner with your family name on it. Give everyone a helium balloon and wah la- you have a “walking” family reunion float.  Like they say, sometimes- “less is more”.

#3.  Make sure  you have plenty of help when assembling your float.  You will have to build your float in a few hours so you will need to be organized. Be sure you have all supplies on hand.

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#4. Money is probably going to be an issue for your family reunion float but floats don’t have to cost a lot of money to be fun.  There are inexpensive supplies that you can use to make a fun float. Colored butcher paper, paint, cardboard, straw bales and balloons can create a very nice float. Cut out props from the cardboard boxes. Try making props more three dimensional by using folds or tape and glue. Make them big, the bigger the better, because your float will be viewed from a distance. Paint these props colorfully and be sure to adequately secure them to the vehicle or trailer.  Balloons are a great filler as are colorful crepe paper streamers. Make skirting to cover the sides and wheels by wrapping and securing colored butcher paper with tape and a staple gun.

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#5.  Last of all, be sure you have a safe driver for your float.  Grandpa is a good option if he doesn’t already have an assignment.  After you have put your family reunion float together with crepe paper, balloons and staples, all that’s left is to add your family.

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And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

How well do “Ewe” know your ancestors?

A game for getting to know your ancestors!

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I’m always looking for fun ways to help family members learn about and make a connection with their ancestors.  We’ve played “Wheel of Ancestors” and “Ancestor Jeopardy” with large groups of our family members and I think most of our family are pretty familiar with many of our family “stories”.

Recently I decided to create a game for smaller groups.  This game is a fun way to really learn interesting facts about your ancestors and to  test the knowledge of those playing the game.  I call it the “Black Sheep Game”.

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Black Sheep Game Instructions

How well do “Ewe” know your ancestors?

Print, cut and laminate several copies of the “Black Sheep” cards. You can make as many copies as you want. You can also glue a colored paper to the back of the game cards before laminating to make it more difficult to tell which cards have the “black sheep” on them.

Write ancestors or family names on each sheep card using the lines one each card. It is fun to also include family members that are well known such as Grandpa and Grandma, aunts and uncles etc. If available, you may even want to put a small picture of the ancestor on the card.

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To Play:

· Turn the cards upside down in the center of the table.

· Draw a card

White Sheep Card

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· If there is a white sheep on the card read the name and tell something you know about that ancestor. If you are correct you may keep the sheep card.

Shepherd Card

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· If a “shepherd” card is drawn you can “take a white sheep” card from any of the players but you must read the name on the card and say something you know about them.

Black Sheep Cards

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If a “black sheep” card is drawn you lose all of your cards, they go back into the card pile.

· NOTE: Players may repeat information already used in the game.

· This game can go on forever, just end when your time is up. Count how many sheep cards each player has at the end of the time and give a prize to the player with the most cards.

Reunion Buddies!

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Get the family reunion started early!

If you’re looking for a fun ice breaker activity and a way to generate interest in your upcoming family reunion try “Reunion Buddies” and get the  party started before the  reunion even  begins.

Reunion Buddies

About four weeks before your reunion make a double sided copy of the “Reunion  Buddies”  printable using the same  information on each side of the paper.

Match family members up into buddies making sure everyone, young and old has a reunion  buddy. 

Write one buddies name on the line that says “My Name Is” and write their buddies’ name below it on the line that says “My Buddy Is”.  You will need to do this on both sides of the  paper but reversing the information.

Send a copy of the reunion buddies printable to one of the  “buddies” with  the  instructions to fill out their  personal information and then mail the  completed  form to their buddy. Be sure and provide an address and if your reunion has the funds, a stamped envelope.

The buddy they mail the form to will complete the form and return it to back to their buddy.

Encourage buddies to spend some time with each other at your family reunion  perhaps even bringing inexpensive gifts (such as their favorite candy bar) to share.  You may even ask some family members to share what they learned about their reunion buddy.

The idea behind  “Reunion Buddies”  is to  make long lasting friendships  between cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents.  Get a new buddy every year!

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Genealogy Icebreaker Activities for Your Family Reunion

Icebreaker Activities

Family Tree Photo

Make a live family tree and take a photo. Arrange family members as they would be on a genealogical chart of the family.  Begin  with Grandma and Grandpa.  Add a branch consisting of their children and spouses.  Add additional branches for each of their children and so on. Be sure and take a picture- preferably from an elevated position.

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Birthday Game

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Mix family members up and divide into groups or ten or so. Challenge family members to put themselves in order of their birth date (day, month and year). If you have mostly young children the challenge should be to get in a line, oldest to youngest.  To make the  challenge more difficult try doing it blindfolded and tell them “No Talking!”  It’s amazing how resourceful they will be communicating in other ways.

To involve your entire family ask those that were born in January to get together in one group; do the same for each of the other months. Then have the members of the January group give their birthdates, such as January 21, January 9, etc. and  line up  accordingly. This is fun activity that forges an immediate bond between those that share the same birthday or even birthday month.  This activity is especially effective with reunions of 100  or more participants.

Family Reunion Concentration Game

This activity takes some  advance planning.  Create a "memory" or "concentration" game. You will need 54 cards with 26 pairs of pictures on them.  With so many digital options this is a fairly easy but still a time consuming idea.  Make two copies of each photo- be sure and include name, birthdate and birthplace of each person.  You can make a game using ancestors or using photos of family members that are attending the current reunion.  With this game you will reconnect with the past or make connections with the present.

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Family Tree Chart

Make a huge family tree on and display it during the reunion. You can have large 36” x 48” “engineering prints” made at Staples for under $10.00 that work perfectly for this kind of presentation. Be sure and make 8 1/2 x 11 copies of the tree for each family to take home.  The chart pictured above is another option.  It is available from My History and is a fill in the blank type chart.

Name Tags for Your Family Reunion

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Be creative  with  your reunion name tags.  When family members check in at your reunion site give them each a name tag.  But instead of the same old  “my name  is” name tags be a little creative.  Put different design on name tags so that everyone with design sits at the same table for meals and are on the same team when dividing for activities.  This helps family members get acquainted or Reacquainted with family members they don’t see often. The tags above are from the family reunion helper Heritage Reunion.

Family Reunion T Shirt

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One of my music students came to class wearing this fun reunion shirt and I just couldn’t help but share it with you.  Such a fun and simple design. Notice the family name at the top and the date and place at the  bottom of the shirt. 

We’ve done a lot of reunion shirts over the years but when this cute little guy wore an old shirt his dad wore I was thrilled.  Keeping old reunion t-shirts year after year means you always have something to wear to the family reunion!

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When You Were My Age Giveaway

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We’re so excited about our new and updated version of “When You Were My Age Party” that we’re giving away a free copy to one of our subscribers.  Just tell us what celebration you might  use this party  for in the comments section of this blog and we will randomly select one person to receive a free copy on December 1st, 2013.

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Our new version of “When You Were My Age” includes a fill in the blank invitation and gives you 37 pages of information for the years 1921- 2010.

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This is such a fun program, fashioned after a Bill Cosby Show episode and was called, "When Mom Was my Age." We have done variations of the program for 70th and 80th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversaries. Each time we do "When You Were My Age" everyone is thrilled and excited to be a part of the celebration. Everyone has a part on the program and an opportunity to highlight world events and significant family happenings throughout the life of your loved one.

This is a great way to honor your Grandma or Grandpa on their special birthday or your Dad or Mom on their 50th anniversary. Celebrating a landmark birthday or anniversary is always going to be a lot of work but with this package you’ll be well on your way to saying "We love you" in a very special way.

When You Were My Age

Time Capsule Dig

Family Reunion Time Capsule

Five years later and we finally got to dig up our time capsule!  Five years ago at our Stewart family reunion we had every family member fill out a questionnaire.  We asked questions about the present, their predictions for the future and invited everyone to set some goals that they hoped to accomplish by the time we opened the capsule in 2013.

On the 2nd day of our reunion this year, we went to Grandma’s house where the time capsule was buried to begin our search for the capsule we had buried five years ago.  We followed a very funny set of clues that cousin Tyler made up to find the capsule. 

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The first clue took us to the "”three pronged wooded fork” and then led us to a spot under Grandma’s bathroom window…. but there was no capsule there.

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Retracing our steps we realized that we had misinterpreted the clues and on this attempt found the time capsule buried at the corner of the house.  It took a little digging and we broke the lid off of the capsule but we found all our questionnaires safe and sound.

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Family History Church

We read our questionnaires at  the conclusion of our annual family history “church” we hold at each reunion.  Some of us found that we had remained focused during the five years and completed our goals and some found that their goals had been forgotten.  Some of us predicted what the price of gas would be in 2013 pretty accurately and some found they were living in a fantasy land. We had questioners from old boyfriends that had attended our reunion that year and from a dear Grandpa who had passed away.

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Our family time capsule was a big hit and family members voted to make another time capsule next year.  We’re already working on the questions for our new questionnaire.

Family Reunion Payback Pockets

Payback pockets are a fun way to pay back family members for the difference they have made in your life.  Payback pockets are a fun way to “pay back” your family for the difference they have made in your life-  way of showing appreciation and a way  of saying thanks.

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Our Payback pockets were labeled in fun way using money terms such as Steve’s Sawbucks, Ann’s Ante and Lynn’s Loot.

Writing Station

Set up a writing “station” and stock it with stationary, stickers, markers and colored paper.  Having fun stickers and stationary encourages family members to write notes. 

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You don’t need to set aside any time for note writing during your reunion.  Family members will find their own time  to write  whether it’s during some reunion downtime or during an activity they may not wish to participate in.

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The little ones in our family had fun writing notes, well, actually drawing pictures, and they loved using the markers and stickers.

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The reunion planners used the pockets as a way of delivering special treats and surprises during our reunion.  One day each Big Six received crackers, chocolate and marshmallows for S’mores around the campfire.  Another day  bouquet of lollypops was delivered to each pocket.

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This is what LOVE looks like…

Organizing Family Photos for Great-Grandparents

I can’t even keep track of my 16 nieces and nephews’ kids- what would I do if I had 40 grandchildren and 52, and counting, GREAT- grand children whose names I wanted to remember.  Well, I guess I’d do what Elgie and Ruth Hale have done- a family photo wall. 

Family Photo Wall

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Most grandparents would like to keep in close contact with the grandchildren, remember birthdays and other holidays and attending special events in their grandchild’s life.  When grandparents turn into GREAT- grandparents, the challenge of knowing the great-grands becomes a bit more challenging.

The Hale’s met this challenge by dedicating one wall in their home to their  grandchildren and great-grands whose photos are displayed in 4×6 frames on their special family wall.  They are listed from oldest to youngest with each name displayed at the bottom of the frame.

Family members know what size of picture fits in the frames and can send updated school pictures or candid shots to be placed in their own special frame.

Grandma’s Brag Books

Of course, if you don’t want to devote a whole wall to your family photos you could keep them in a three ring binder or smaller photo “brag” book and refer back to it before family gatherings and special occasions.  A book such as this would be a wonderful gift for Great Grandma and a fun project for a grand daughter.

Cortina Leather Mini Brag Book Photo Wallet, Price/piece

Family Reunion Photos

Next time your family gets together for a family reunion or party take a family photo.  Take your cue from school class photos and label the photo with family member’s names for easy reference.

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However you choose to do it- helping Great-Grandma and Grandpa stay in touch with their great grandchildren can help connect the child to their roots and enhances the grandparents’ legacy.

The only thing I would change about the Hales family photo wall would be to add the following quote- because at the Hale home this really is what LOVE looks like.

Family Vinyl Words & Wall Quotes #64