Friday, October 24, 2014

Tic Tac BOO!

Okay! Just between your grandkids cheat when they play board games with you? Or is it just me who suspects my little darlings think I'm the one who was born yesterday? Perhaps my eyesight isn't what it used to be, but there are times I detect little hands deftly guiding the spinner to the exact number needed to leave grandma in the dust. On other occasions, a playing piece might go nonchalantly slip-sliiiding past a penalty square. In my most recent experience, "someone" decided to change game rules mid stream, announcing an extra toss of the dice to "anyone who is wearing pink socks and a Cinderella t shirt!" Well, that wasn't me. At least that day!

But this brave grandma marches on. Not only are we still playing games together, but we're making them too! This team effort began with a hike in the woods. "Find grandma a rock that looks like a ghost! How about some round ones? Nice and fat - like a PUMPKIN!" They turned them in like there was no tomorrow; my pockets groaned with every shape and size imagined by benevolent Mother Nature. Then we sorted. Painstakingly. And that's when monsters butted their way into a game that traditionally fields only two sets of combatants. "We can paint these now," I announced. And paint they did. To the lively tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," amply addressing those appendages in colorful homage. When the painting game lost its charm, I was left behind to turn rocks into creatures with features for Tic Tac BOO!

So, I thought our game was "cheat proof." Ghosts play against either pumpkins or monsters. Not both. One scrapbook paper square per token. Three in a row wins. We enjoyed it tremendously, until it occurred to me that strategy isn't a strong motivator for kids who see these zany characters as a collection of personal little friends, not disposable pawns on a game board. With rules relaxed, squares filled up quickly, each with two, sometimes three, occupants. Neighbors went visiting and discussed things among themselves as the game evolved into a multilevel and far more imaginative experience than I'd ever anticipated. There were still "winners," of course, and the inevitable "losers." Oh, and the "cheater," too. Don't forget about her! She just sits here delighted, "braggy," in fact, about how honestly clever all her young grandchildren are with a pile of rocks after she's tossed that pesky old rule book right out the window!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Going Batty!

Things are getting a little batty around here and this time it's not just grandma who's being eyeballed as the culprit! Our Spooky Theater has made its seasonal appearance and the ghost-puppets-in-residence have wailed and waited long enough for a new character to join the cast. We already know (yawn!) that big kid ghosts wear BOO-jeans and baby ghosts crawl around in BOO-ties while their mommies shop for food at the "ghost-ery store." But did you know that bats go to school to learn the "alpha-bat," love doing "acro-bat-ics" and invite their friends to "come over and hang around?" Probably not!

Its been my discovery that the best source of Halloween lore is on stage at a kids' puppet theater. Gathered behind the screen is a squirming, giggling, wiggling and worried crew, just waiting for kick off. Gathered in front of it is a sipping and nibbling rapt audience; grandparents, aunties, uncles and baby cousins. They've paid good money for admission, tasty apple cider and fresh homemade donuts, anxious now to find out "which animal is best at baseball?!"*

A home made puppet show is such an endearing endeavor, engaging grandma and the kids in a satisfying series of tasks that spark creativity and hone organizational skills at every age level. If you don't want to bother with a stage like mine, just curtain a doorway with fabric lengths gathered on a spring loaded rod. We've relied on comedy and joke-telling performances so far, and the puppets have all been made by me. Perhaps next year the kids will take a stab at making their own sock characters and writing an original story script.

I've added instructions for a sock bat puppet here, where you'll also find our ghosts and step by step photos for constructing a Spooky Theater. When the grandkids join me for dress rehearsal on the eve of the performance, we make cute and tasty mini-donuts on this nifty little appliance (see page 8) and sell them at our show's refreshment stand along with cups of cold cider.

*And I won't keep you in suspense any longer! Which animal is best at baseball? Why, a BAT, of course!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Skeletons In My Closet!

Ohhhh yes! There are skeletons in my closet! And it's time for them to come OUT! I love this emerging new national holiday. October 1st appears to be establishing itself as the proper day to infest the house with whatever waited, wailed, scratched, snarled, poked and peeked from within boxes and bags for eleven long months in storage.

I'm late this year, but in the next few I'm going to take this tradition one step further. I'll have my three daughters (fellow Halloween-iacs!) ditch their young families and creep on over to join me late on the eve of that day. We'll sip hot cider and nibble "witch's toes" while viewing seasonal classics, screaming in lusty, loud abandonment when Freddy fleetingly flashes his fearsome face. When the clock strikes midnight, we'll tear open cardboard crypts and festoon my house from head to toe. And then we'll scramble like a pack of rabid rats to the next house! And the next! And the next! At six AM we'll hop back on our bristled brooms, returning home to relish shock and awe on faces of those we haven't seen awake since dusk on 30, September!

Halloween fever is in no danger of abating in our family. In fact, my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, has two life sized skeletons and employs them in "Elf on the Shelf" capers, delighting her children for four fun weeks. The oldest boys dash in after a full day of Kindergarten and race to locate their own "Mister Bones." Those characters have been caught building at the Lego table, snacking on bags of chips in the bushes outside, nestled in, bony skulls on pillows, for a very early bedtime and rattling around, "conducting business" in the bathroom!

Over the past few years, I've designed and posted Halloween projects and activities for the family. When I opened my closet today, this is what tumbled out!

Crafting with grandchildren:

BOO! We made ghost families, carefully constructed of paper mache. Enjoy plenty of extra fun with finishing touches!

A hodge podge of punched paper shapes, ribbon, beads and straws makes lovely seasonal jewelry!

Home made windsocks tumble, twirl and twist in the breeze, dancing to the rhythm of falling leaves and the magic that is Halloween!

Think there's an age that's "too young" to craft with grandma? Ha! Think again! Tiny spiders printed from one month young dainty little fingers make a cherished keepsake.

Make a decorative garland for grandma! Grow it every year with original pictures contributed by each child.

Crafting for Grandchildren:

Encourage all kinds of spontaneous entertainment with a cardboard box spooky theater and simple sock ghost puppets.....

and this year, a batty new character joins the fun!

A seasonal outfit is simple to make with a white t shirt and iron-on fabric scraps. Add matching flip flops too!

What's nice about making your own monsters is that they'll turn out friendly, cute and ready to party! This one's nearly three feet tall and easily made of paper mache.

Party Food and Games:

Here's an easy way to scare kids into eating healthy food at a party!

Big, bright and lots and lots of fun! This home made dart board is perfect fun for kids, but at our house daddies and grandpas can't stay away either!

Here's an original party game that not only personalizes family fun, but ensures that everyone emerges a winner!

Engage kids in scouring the yard for stones shaped like ghosts, monsters and pumpkins to paint as playing pieces for Tic Tac BOO!

Gifts and Decorations:

If I didn't already have six "non-Halloween-color" cats, you can bet that this one would be real and purring in my lap right now. And neither one of us would be loosening our grip on that Mason jar brimming with candy!

I love the elegance of black crows. And the way they remind me of Edgar Allen Poe. And how much I enjoy inserting myself into the eerie ambiance he summons from the point of his pen. And the word "tintinnabulation." I love that too. I think it's my favorite word. Ever.

Party Time!

Gather the family for an afternoon of harvesting food, fun and crafts. Don't worry about keeping grandpas and daddies entertained though. If you pick the right day, they'll be glued to the football game, leaving the ladies alone to glue much more fun things together with the kids!

One of my earliest posts, in 2011, described - in three parts - the annual Halloween party I host for my daughters and their husbands. These parties originated when the guys were still only boyfriends. At that time grandpa was useful for pushing the correct button on the remote control rat that scurried about the foyer as guests arrived. Now we need him for babysitting!

Last year, Mary Jo hosted a small party for her four and a handful of neighborhood children. The kids' table was delightful! - a real riot of color and monstrous fun!

I contributed an assortment of sweets. Rice Krispie pumpkins, red-eyed chow mien noodle spiders, frosted sugar cookies....and a batch of scurrying, lifelike cockroaches! - my favorites!

And here's the lovely hostess herself. The one her husband calls "Mini Martha." She's stirring up a nice potion to serve parents of the guests. I may have mentioned that she writes her own blog. This Halloween party has its own delightful post - right here!

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Art On The Line"

We have a family clothesline art show and sale at least once each year. For several reasons. First is the art educator's obvious position. Every person has something to say, and for many, a drawing, painting or sculpture is the way it is said best. Public recognition and appreciation for one's efforts affirms those expressions, born in abundance at grandma's house where a bounty of art supplies is always available. Here, grandchildren enjoy open invitation to finger paint for the first time at age one or culminate six years of practiced experience in a carefully detailed mixed media masterpiece. These works - all of them - are carefully signed, dated and stored away for the next show. And yes. I am aware of the accusation by some that these days "little Johnny" is excessively praised for the faintest academic effort. I think they're crazy. Excessive? Mind your own business! Over here, grandma and grandpa swoon over every little squiggle and finger painted wiggle and pay big sticker prices for them too. We're grandparents. And that's our job. (DUH!)

Family art shows introduce entrepreneurship too. When little artists observe family members gobbling up their contributions, they recognize that productivity has value. They see, too, that a successful event requires careful planning and cooperative preparation.

At ages four and six, my oldest grandchildren are not too young to offer suggestions on invitations, traffic flow and set up. They show up early to fill popcorn bags and sort and clip artwork for display.

It's not a good idea to sell a food product unless you've tasted it yourself. We handle this task with competent vigor!

When parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents arrive, kids serve as gracious hosts, selling refreshments and seeing to the needs of their patrons with an enthusiasm that is an art form in itself! At show's conclusion, their kid sized wallets bulge with cash to count and save for spending and donating in appropriate percentages. That's important lifelong learning too!

Kaylee, at age one, does not take well to being left out. That's age discrimination! She does a brisk business renting shopping baskets and finding buyers for her original finger paintings.

Scrapbook paper makes excellent framing for a child's artwork. Use purchased mat board frames as templates or cut custom sizes using a quilter's rotary wheel and cutting board. Attach small photos of artists in action too, for a special touch.

Within moments of opening, our clothesline is picked clean, baskets brim with fine art in a wide range of media, and patrons and artists alike report nothing but satisfaction!

And Angeline? Have you any comment on your first family art show experience?

"Sure, grandma! I came. I shopped. I bagged my own purchase!"

And, like the rest of the event, darn if it didn't end up being a perfect fit!

See how much we've grown! Here's where you'll find the story of our very first Clothesline Art Show, Sale and Auction in 2012.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Fairy Lovely Affair


If this impish little sprite were your granddaughter, would you agree to team with mommy to give her the fourth birthday party of her dreams?

Well, I would.....

And did!

Not a thing painted pink and pretty, flowery or fluffy nor lavender and lovely was excluded from careful consideration for this event. Fairy princesses thrive in such environments, you know, which made it necessary to recreate the daintiness they are accustomed to in Brielle's back yard a few weeks ago.

In progress - table for five!

Guests were four little friends, classmates from pre-school, joining Bree at noon on a sultry summer's day to nibble a ladylike luncheon beneath the shelter of a filmy, fairy-colored canopy.

As charming as the table was, it didn't truly blossom until each surrounding chair welcomed its own pretty little pixie!

Wispy wings adorned each one of them. These Dollar Tree treasures are simply accented with silk petals and a flourish of sparkling tulle ribbon.

Headpieces are crowns of florist wire, wrapped with additional flowers and bows of tulle.

From top to bottom tier, there were petite paper cups brimming with veggie slices and tangy, tasty dip, freshly frosted rosebud cupcakes, cheese topped crackers and butterfly shaped sandwiches to graze upon.

Each place setting offered a fairy wand of green grapes topped with a melon slice star. There was pink lemonade to sip too, while plates were polished to perfection!

And then.......!

Brielle's Fairy Grandmother waved her magic wand and proclaimed an announcement! It seems that wee tiny fairies had been spotted frolicking in the garden that very morning! They're shy and playful, though, and might coyly disguise themselves upon approach.

Would five little girls love to stroll among the foliage to look for them?

They would!

I won't keep you guessing. Fairy magic works! Our little ladies carefully inspected every one of a dozen blossoms, discovering fairies in number enough for each to pluck and take home!

Fairy dolls are actually Manhattan Toy Company finger puppets. I found them - along with the net canopy tent - at Hearthsong, an online toy retailer.

We planted fairy gardens too. Bree's mommy offered an appealing array of supplies and invited the girls to choose from among them.

There were fairy dolls destined to live in their own little wonderland, glow-in-the-dark "moon stones" to light a meandering path through it, bright blue gravel for defining a refreshing stream of "water" and personalized trowels for each young gardener.

Little girls just have an instinct for designing to perfection. They chose handfuls of moss, mini "Hens and Chicks," flowering ground covers and bright red begonias for landscaping. Their mommies, who were invited to stay, guided their daughters in the process.

Smiles all around! heartfelt appreciation for an afternoon of great weather, fanciful food and fun, good friends, thoughtful birthday presents and a loving, creative mommy who knows that sometimes a newly four-year-old's wishes just need to come true - exactly in the way she dreams them!

If you can't get enough of the enchanted world that fairies live in, you'll enjoy this blog post - one of my all time favorites on any site. It's written by a grandmother who has become a good friend of mine. Judy is an avid grower - a Master Gardener, in fact - who photographed many charming entries at the 2012 Portsmouth New Hampshire Fairy House Tour. Wouldn't it be fun to find inspiration there and engage your grandchildren in planning and building a fairy house of their own? For us, over here, that's next!

Update 9-22-14: Judy has paid Bree the compliment of designing and entering a charming fairy house in her name at last weekend's 2014 Fairy House Tour. This post on her New England Garden and Thread blog documents it all! Love it!!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Star Wars Party!

The best imaginative adventures of my life have been led by my six year old twin grandsons. Those delightful little boys introduced me to triple-eyed mega-monsters "for sure" hiding behind closet doors, ravenous dinosaurs crouching menacingly in the woods and pirates "yo-ho-ho-ing" in caves of plush pillows and couch cushions. I've been invited to flourish the flag at roaring driveway race tracks and encouraged to "spy" on newspaper-reading grandpa with rear vision secret agent sunglasses.

Currently, we've embarked upon the farthest reaching, most exhilarating journey yet. We're off to "a galaxy far, far away!" - home to the infamous Darth Vader and a colony of cuddly 'n cute, fuzzy-faced Ewoks. I brag now, because just six months ago any characters besides those would have been unrecognized and dismissed by me as "freakin' weirdos." I could not have named a single other player in the Star Wars trilogy. But I'm familiar with most of them now, courtesy of my young mentors. I know Boba Fett and Bo-Katan. You can't trip me up on the difference between Greedo and Jar Jar Binks. A Tusken Raider? A Tie Fighter? Storm Troopers? Think I don't know those people? Ha! Think again! They've been guests at my grandsons' house!

The boys' talented mommy, my oldest daughter, was 100% responsible for planning and executing the Star Wars theme birthday party held recently in their honor. What a night! I was fortunate enough to be invited, to take pictures and to marvel at how a young mother of two sets of twins - all of them under six years old! - could pull off such a fete with such aplomb!

"You really had to be there," they say. So come on in! Join me and eight little boys on a journey that begins the moment we step inside the front door!

Upon arrival, guests are informed that they've been selected to train as Jedi warriors. These are the "good guys." They wear brown robes. They carry laser swords. They are quick and athletic and it's suspected that they'll have no trouble completing a series of tasks that will earn them admission to this elite force.

Parents are invited to stay, and all of them do so. They help little warriors become presentable for the rigor ahead.

Task #1 Save Princess Leia!

But no, not this winsome Miss Leia! She is one of the boys' twin little sissies, both serving tonight as portable "party decorations!"

The actual task is to attack a galaxy of blue balloons, popping as many as possible, in pursuit of a Princess Leia figure. The boys go after them with a vengeance, and arrive one step closer to becoming certified warriors when the damsel is recovered.

We arm ourselves to shoot down the "Death Star." That's headquarters for the "bad guys." Tonight it is represented by a large illustration taped to the wall. Little guys line up to take Nerf gun shots at it and many of them score a bull's eye!

The boys move next to agility testing. They hop across a (paper) stream of "hot lava," being careful to touch only "rocks" with bare feet. They climb a play loft ladder and whip down the slide to move ahead. So far, not a single slacker in the bunch!

With a satisfying end in sight, the warriors can now be trusted to handle the cache of laser swords at the end of the hallway. But what they discover in their path is a dangerous maze of deadly light beams! Will each one be able to safely maneuver their way to the end and back with prize in hand?

They did!

Jedi warriors keep laser swords handy for one major purpose - the defeat of Darth Vader. Is it possible that these newly enlisted recruits could handle that formidable task? Well, let's see!

Warrior candidates are urgently summoned to the base of the staircase. Familiar haunting music..."dum dum dah dum" sets an ominous tone.....and out of the shadows appears......the arch nemesis of the brave Jedi force!

He enters enemy territory and immediately succumbs to the effect of eight "pool noodle" laser swords!

The "bad guy" lays prone on the ground and junior Jedi forces cheer victory! They have earned their certificates!

Yet that's not all.............!

Once the award ceremony has concluded, an urgent message is beeped in on mommy's walkie-talkie. She looks horrified! "Oh no! You're kidding me!" she exclaims. It sounds serious. But she glances at her newly installed troop of good guys and breathes a sign of relief. "We can handle this!" she thinks. She tells the boys that the house has been invaded by Darth's seekers of revenge. They are needed to brandish their pool noodles - oops! I mean "deadly laser swords!" - and creep upstairs to see what's what.

They follow her as directed......

Storm Troopers! A Tie Fighter! A Tusken Raider! The sheer larger-than-life volume and commanding presence of each character is overwhelming. The boys initially gasp in disbelief and retreat in hesitation. But soon they re-approach, eager to shake hands, ask questions and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with folks who've traveled from a galaxy far, far away for the sole purpose of delighting a party of six year old warriors!

Nick saw them first and encouraged his friends to come back upstairs. "They're harmless," he seems to be advising - but (gasp!) - LOOK BEHIND YOU, NICK!!!!!!

The doorbell rings promptly at 7:00 PM. Perfect timing! How does mommy do it?......


I'm sure delivery men are no strangers to wacky goings-on at the houses they visit, but this one nearly falls off the porch when his eyeballs meet a pair of Storm Troopers at the door! He leaves with a nice tip and everybody's invited into a dark, starlit space station to snack and congratulate one another on a job well done in Jedi training camp!

Yoda oversees hydration with a line up of force fuel.

That, along with "Yoda Soda" (a sizzling green combo of Sprite and lime sherbet) are needed to wash down birthday cake too!

The boys open some terrific gifts and then it's an invitation to conclude the evening with an outdoor viewing of the "Lego Star Wars" movie. A cozy fire pit alongside a wine and appetizer bar await parents on the patio.

Party bags too? Wow! Space guns ablaze with light and sound, Star Wars light up candy sabers, a space theme activity book and stickers galore!

"Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!" The boys' list of things to appreciate could stretch to the next planet, but they give it a stab anyway......

"Thank you friends, for coming to our party! Thank you for the wonderful birthday gifts - including our cuddly Yoda dolls from A.J. and Mikey. Thank you Storm Troopers and Tie Fighter and Tusken Raider for the surprise visit! Thank you daddy's friend, Mister Chris, for pretending to be Darth Vader! Thank you little sisters for being the cutest mini-Princess Leias ever! Thank you daddy, for making sure mommy had plenty of help today!" And........

THANK YOU mommy, for once again putting your whole loving heart, boundless energy, amazing creativity and endless patience into a celebration that made us so very, very happy that we are yours!

In our lives, mommy, "the force" is YOU!

Party Notes:

The Star Wars characters who visited our party belong to an international organization of volunteers who make appearances in exchange for donations to charity. Mary Jo chose the Make a Wish Foundation from a suggested list. The four actors who came drove over an hour each way to delight our young guests. They were prompt, professional, patient and wonderful with the children, even presenting small Star Wars gifts to the birthday boys. Investigate them at their website for more information.

"Printables" make any party look neat and coordinated. The ones used at this event were found on Etsy in the "Hello My Sweet" shop.