Monday, August 15, 2016

Ladybug Camp!

Grandma Camp was served up in two parts this year. I was delighted that a trio of little girl cousins, all age three, were anxious to take a turn with me. Ava, one of the twins involved, took special care to emphasize to her brothers that they would not be present during "Ladybug Camp." Only girls this time! Only Ava, sister Angeline, and cousin Kaylee! "No boyz allowed!"

And so it happened! Ladybugs enjoyed a two day, overnight camp that specialized in things little girls like to do. We baked and we crafted, but our biggest excitement was preparing for the puppet show that would follow a display of magic demonstrated by the "big kids" - older twin brothers and cousin Brielle. That entertainment package wrapped up a solid week of Grandma Camping for two groups of three each!

Puppet Making Workshop ingredients: a generous supply of yarn and pom poms and wiggle eyes and glue - and a colorful sock for everybody! At this age, the girls chose colors and I attached yarn hair with a few hand stitches. But gluing was a job for the ladies - one they relish!

We practiced a little skit once each sock developed a personality of its own. Accompanied by a pre-school song, our show was stage-ready!

While I flipped the header on our home made stage during a brief intermission that followed the magic show, parents, aunties and uncles, cousins, and siblings engaged in the energetic sale of tickets that precedes all of our talent productions!

Introductions before stepping behind the stage for a vigorous performance......

Tee hee hee! Giggles galore accompanied a charming showcase of three year old talent; an adoring audience rewarded the effort with wild applause!

And grandma's review? So proud! Just very, very, very proud of them all!

Monday, August 1, 2016

It's Magic!

Oh, the magic! It's everywhere when home is a haven for grandchildren! Here, kids sparkle and shine - they're the center of the universe, and boy, do they know it! It's where they come to be shamelessly hovered over, doted upon, mindlessly spoiled, showered with kisses and compliments, and adored and indulged to excess! And I'm not apologizing either! Loving parents have taken care of the good behavior building that makes it possible for me to sweep them all away into a space of unlimited, unconditional magic that every child deserves to experience - grandma's house!

Annual Grandma Camp week is the most magical one on my calendar. And planning for it extends the fun well before and beyond the actual experience. I am challenged to arrange a mix of activities that will keep the kids engaged for the entire string of days they'll spend with me. This year, I ventured into "real" magic! Would the kids enjoy learning tricks? Would they want to practice them until they performed flawlessly? Would they want to showcase their new skills at a show for parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles? I was surprised and delighted with their response. Yes! Yes! and Yes! To all of the above!

Ideally, we'd use "organic" tricks - those that amaze with manipulation of ordinary household items or ones that we construct by ourselves. That day is coming, I'm certain, but for now we learned from a purchased kit* that adequately served our elementary needs.

I gave a demo to the kids. I made items disappear, reappear, and multiply! I expertly guessed a secret number they chose from a set of cards! They were impressed and very eager to duplicate each trick. We divided them up evenly and the mini-magicians were on their own to practice until perfect! Just wait until that audience shows up! We're gonna "wow 'em outta their seats!"

Finally! Show Time! There's always a wrap-up extravaganza at the conclusion of Grandma Camp. Maybe an art show - or a bake sale. We like to share what we accomplished during our camp time. This year called for a two-part display of talent; "big kids" presented first on the magic stage!

I constructed a frame from pvc tubes. It's seven feet tall, lightweight, and portable. Silky red fabric was a bargain purchase at $2 per yard - seven required. The best part is how interchangeable headers accommodate different productions. When the magic was over, a quick intermission gave me a moment to morph the venue into a puppet theater for the little girls' show that followed.

We opened with introductions - and an amazing feat of "now you see it, now you don't!" The kids flourished their top hats, demonstrating that they contained nothing but empty space. Or so we thought! But the wave of a wand, a shout of "abracadabra!" and a deeper dig into the depths produced a trio of cute stuffed rabbits!** These were distributed to three little girl cousins sitting front row center - and they were delighted!

Kids performing in front of an adoring audience gain confidence in themselves.

Here's Sae, proving that the two silk scarves he put inside a velvet bag are no longer there!

Nick carefully demonstrates how only he can make part of a wand disappear inside a wooden box! Bree effortlessly made a red rubber ball disappear and reappear. She turned a single quarter into a handful of change! Ten illusions completed our repertoire, all to the wild applause of an enthusiastic and delighted audience!

"That's all folks!"

The kids clamored to keep their props; they've since entertained other grandparents and cousins with such enthusiasm that I know my "grandma bag of tricks" is going to continue to fill with more and more of them - and they won't disappear with the flick of a wand, either!

*The magic set we used is made of quality wood, packed inside a box suitable for stage use. This is not a sponsored post, but the Melissa and Doug toy is here, on page 13, of my Amazon shop.

**Do you think those hats might have been hiding rabbits beneath a piece of black foam cut to match the shape of the opening?'s possible!

Here's another resource for magical entertainment for kids. Ken Kelly hosts a delightful website that offers free tutorials and YouTube links for cool tricks and instructions for the home made props you'll need. We'll use his ideas next summer, when the kids are a bit older.

My next post will show what happened when our stage magically became a theater for.........

But now, with a final flourish.....

POOF! I've vanished!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Good Saint Anne

Although not mentioned in the bible, Catholic tradition holds that Saint Anne and Saint Joachim were parents of the Blessed Mother, the pure and holy vessel that brought Jesus, their grandson, into a sinful world. Further stated is that they were a source of love and comfort to the family during his childhood. Were they there when he took his first steps? Did he race to dive into their arms when they visited? Did they tell him stories of prophets and kings from his rich Jewish culture? Did Joachim conspire with Joseph to surprise him with toys crafted of wood? I like to think they did all of those things. Jesus loved his grandparents!

The parish of my childhood honors Saint Anne with an annual nine day novena that concludes on her feast day, July 26th. The parishioner sponsored Society of Saint Anne welcomes all, as it has since 1940, collectively honoring the grandmother of Jesus and praying for members both living and deceased. An elegant gold and white satin banner bears the signature of each devotee. It is ceremoniously unfurled and carried in procession during a closing ritual that I have often attended.....

It is dusk, and candles in white paper cups flicker like wings of tiny angels. I stand silently with others; expectant. A murmur of prayer from the altar. The sanctifying rite of incense. Elevation of the ornately encased Saint Anne relic. A sweep of heraldry as the banner cascades into place. My maternal grandmother once placed her name upon that field, as did my mother and I. We will be included in petitions for God's mercy upon souls long after I, too, am gone.

I take my place in the procession as we exit, row by row. My voice is one of dozens, accompanied by haunting, timeless strains....

To kneel at thine altar in faith we draw near
Led onward by Mary, thine daughter so dear
Oh Good Saint Anne
We call on thine name,
Thy praises loud thine pilgrims proclaim

I pass row upon row of pews. The memorable fifth one, my place on the morning I accepted first communion as a child of seven years. The ones that held me when we buried dad and mom. Ahead is the holy water font where my sisters and I baptized our dolls, slipping into the comforting Saturday afternoon silence of this place during an era of innocence from my long ago past. And here stands the familiar bank of petition candles. I came home to light these in desperation, hoping for final exam week help when God temporally ceased to be important in my life during self-absorbed college years.

Miserere mei, Deus

We move outside now, into a neighborhood once solidly working class, but distinctively less so today. Along this same side walkway I hurried home from parish school, pleated plaid skirt flying. In season, jacket pockets full of chestnuts from the sheltering row of trees my own grandfather helped plant as a Lithuanian immigrant founding member of this congregation. If I dallied late to help Sister clean the chalkboards, I'd sometimes cross paths with furniture factory workers headed home on foot. Before massive wooden doors of the church, they'd pause, lunch pails in hand, to reverently remove a hat and offer a respectful bow. "Within these walls, my Lord dwells." My father and grandfather would have done the same thing. Perhaps that is why I am always happiest here. This is my home. My heritage.

Back within shelter, I reclaim my pew -  my favorite. The one I occupied the year a guest priest, a vivacious young Nigerian, delivered a homily that changed my life. "Jesus is your brother, no?" he challenged. "Well then, Saint Anne is your grandmother too!" Hmmm. I had never thought of her that way. "Who," he continued, with a distinct twinkle in his eye, "has ever been turned away by a grandmother for anything they've asked for?" I liked that. It was true! "A novena is a petition," Father energetically concluded, "Go ahead! Ask your grandmother for whatever you want!" And so I did. "You are a grandmother, Saint Anne," I reasoned, "I want to be one too!" Well and good. But, I am not sure, even today, what prompted me to bolster my request with an addendum. Perhaps it was the urgency of Father's robust words that invigorated my plea. "Twins, please, Saint Anne! I want to be a grandmother of twins."

One year later, in late August, I greeted the first of my grandchildren. Twin boys. Additional babies followed, a total of eight today - a ninth on the way. Enough for everybody! That number includes twin sisters for the boys. Two sets! I'd only requested one! When the irreverently-crazy part of my brain is active and I contemplate the mounting number of Easter baskets and Christmas stockings I am now obliged to fill, I'm tempted to send a playful message to Saint Anne, "All right! Thank you! But you can stop now!" But of course, I won't. This is my grandmother we're talking about. She knows what I need. And, with approval from her divine grandson, she will always intercede for me. That, with all my heart, is what I believe.

To all who invoke thee, now lend us an ear
Thou soothest the sorrows of all who draw near

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dino Egg Diggers!

See that little blue one up in front? We had to pay him to sit there!
And that little red one? Him, too. To not snatch Ava's shovel! 

The dinosaur couple who live in my backyard woods are a curious twosome. Like most normal reptiles, they lay their eggs here and there, and then frolic away, leaving them to fend for themselves. But family legend asserts that this grandma has conversed with that parental pair, and is now the keeper of an extraordinary secret: These are not, by any means, common, garden variety dino eggs!

But how was that to be confirmed? The only way to solve this nagging mystery, it seemed, was to invite the grandchildren to helmet up, shovel up, team up, and follow a twisting and turning trail of clues to discover for themselves what lies within those ovate forms!

And they're off!

Plenty of parents to go around, serving as assistants who read initial clues, such as.....

Jump up and down, yell "DINOSAUR!"
Hop into the woods, 10 steps more
Flags in a row wait up ahead
Dig for a clue by the one that's red!  

Locating proper places proved productive! Unearthed eggs yielded additional clues!

Close your eyes and count to ten
Stop to think, then do it again
Look for a flag up ahead that's blue
Tied to the tree is a clue for you!

The choice was yours - mommy or daddy could read your clue - or you could give it a go by yourself!

Stay on the path that's long and narrow
Dig where you see a big yellow arrow!

Arrows and flags dotted the trail, and each happy hunter was assigned a dino symbol. The sight of that familiar shape assured that your feet were stomping in the right direction!

Look for your dino symbols up ahead
That's where you need to dig instead!

One by one, the search paid off! We started findin' and haulin' em in! Some were almost bigger than we were!

This picture of Kaylee reminds me of a wee fairy tale forest gnome who lives inside a mushroom and forages for berries during the day!

If you were just a little guy on your first expedition, it was nice to have daddy along. Ryan's egg was laid up in a tree by a pterodactyl! No way could he reach it by himself!

Nick had no trouble haulin' home the goods, but it was nice to have daddy admire his accomplishments!

Just don't think girls can't keep up with boys!
oh yes we can!

One might think that an egg camouflaged in foliage green would be tricky to find, but Brielle wasn't defeated by that tactic!

We gathered back at camp and took a head-and-egg count. Eight of each! Good! Our entire crew was anxious to dig in and shovel out!

Ava tore a little peep hole for herself. After all, it's good to be cautious. No Easter bunny has ever left eggs this big for us!

Piles of wrapped goodies spilled from each egg.

Bubble wands! Stickers! Lego sets! Star Wars key chains! Craft kits! Bath tub toys! Books! Art supplies! Fairy play sets! Candy!.......

And smiles all around, because these dino egg diggers delivered dynamite sized success!

This wasn't our first foray into the woods seeking fun-filled eggs! We did the same three years ago, posting it all, full of details on how to host your own dig at an event no grandchild will ever forget! Here's where you'll find it all!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pretty Birds, Pony Beads, and Pizza!

It's summer and Drop-In Days at Grandma's are back! These two+ hour, weekly opportunities are open to all grandchildren* ages three and up. Cute craft projects and drawing lessons await them. Kids interact with cousins and sample a variety of media - oil pastels, chalk, tempera and water color paint among them. We build inventory for family clothesline art shows and make seasonal decorations and gifts for parents. I'll eventually introduce origami, hand sewing, and weaving. So far, I've kept things simple and limited to what I already know. Very firmly set in my ways, you might say! That is, until dozens of light bulbs went off in my head on a recent visit to Grandma Honey's House!

Now, this remarkable lady, Pamela, is a well-seasoned multi-category baking and recipe contest winner; honors include three stints as a Pillsbury Bake Off finalist! But reading between the lines, I suspect she's most proud of her role as a grandmother who delights in entertaining her kiddoes with cooking/baking lessons. And I don't mean just the push-button ice cream machine output we call "cooking" over here! "Grandma Honey" directs youngsters through the proper process of making healthy breakfast menus, tasty fruit snacks, decadent pastries, and, most recently, pizza! In fact, her blog series on kitchen skills for kids is so clearly outlined that it comprises an excellent guide for achieving the same satisfying results with your own grandchildren. She's done all the homework for us, sharing basics like measuring tips and proper use of equipment - things people like me don't ordinarily consider. All I needed to wake myself up was the fleeting image of my own grandchildren, stranded on a deserted island, knowing nothing but how to glue sequins to a Popsicle stick! From now on, Drop-In Days at Grandma's include Grandma Honey's cooking projects as well!

This week, three year old Kaylee and five year old Brielle dropped in for "Pretty Birds, Pony Beads, and Pizza!"

But first - pizza!

Grandma Honey suggests a packaged dough, but I "short-cutted" that step with a two pound recipe churned up in my bread maker. That quantity was more than enough to yield a pair of nicely sized pies that went home hot in "official" pizza boxes** - dinner for family that evening - rolled, sauced, cheese-sprinkled and pepperoni-topped by very proud little ladies on their way to lifelong self-sufficiency in the kitchen! And how do I know this? Mommy told me that Brielle's enthusiastic comment on the way home was, "I fixed tonight's dinner! You guys just sat on the couch!"

I also scored well with the pet "wrist birds" we made. These were inspired by a design you'll find here at a creative blog sponsored by Princeton University.

Three inch wrapping paper tube sections form the body of these happy little chirps. Kids choose their own colors and punch out oval and circle shapes to decorate. Once feathers are firmly glued, a pipe cleaner is threaded through a pair of punched holes for attachment to wrist.

Sigh!....watching glue dry....not the "funnest" part of anybody's summer!

But don't worry, sweetie! Grandma's got another project for you........!

Little ladies plowed through piles of pretty paper, plastic straws, and pony beads galore. These were the ingredients for summery necklaces (modeled by Kaylee) that offer pattern setting experience - (or not!) It's my suggestion that grandmas offer sumptuous quantities of choices: colors! textures! patterns! In this case, a 2" daisy-shaped paper punch made quick work of the finest in paper jewelry!

Use thin yarn to string necklaces, but roll the ends in a strip of masking tape to make threading easier. I offered a red, white, and blue star option with striped paper straw beads, but both girly-girls wanted to sport daisies - and I didn't blame them one bit!

 *Currently, I'm entertaining just the grandkids. But a "Bring a Friend" event is something I'm considering, too.

**I found pizza boxes locally, but they're available at Amazon and Uline. I received excellent service a few years ago from the latter when I ordered Chinese take out boxes. Both items create a special touch when cooking for the family - "curb-side pick-up" dinners for my daughters' families are very much appreciated!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lemons to Lemonade!

When life gives you a free lemonade stand (that's deeply appreciated but just not up to your standards of lemonade stand artistry!) - say thank you, take it home, take it apart, paint it, decorate it, make lemonade, cat toys, and dog treats and sell everything to make money for a local cat rescue! That's what my granddaughter and I did, and here's our story of sweet success!

Brielle's neighborhood association organizes an annual garage sale event. Weather usually cooperates during the first week in June, so a fresh audience, pockets full of jingling coins, enthusiastically descends upon these normally quiet streets .....

And a competent sales manager shows up after a full day of Kindergarten to serve them!

We chose a very deserving local cat rescue as the beneficiary of our efforts. Lemonade alone wasn't enough for us, so a few of what the industry calls "add-on purchases" were also available!

For example.....

I'm kinda famous 'round here for my catnip snakes! The full story behind them is right here - with a link for instructions on how to make your own.

I supplied 20 of these crazy-eyed, be-ribboned critters - enough to net $100 in sales. But a $5 cat toy is a bit pricey for a garage sale clientele, so these did not go "feline-in' outta here" like "hats for cats" do in the hilarious GoDaddy commercial! We delivered the leftover 10 to the rescue; their audience of volunteers and new pet-parents will snap them up quickly!

Leftover scraps from the snakes were screaming, "Make us into spider toys!" So I did. At 50 cents each, quite a few went itsy-bitsy-ing home!

Layer 5 or 6 strips, each 3/4" - 1" wide, 6" - 8" long, and knot tightly at center. Tie random knots at ends of individual "spider legs." You'll find them under your couches, soggy with cat saliva, after they've disappeared!

We sold out of home made dog treats - eighteen of them at $1.00 each! I had searched a long time for a recipe easy enough for kids to make and also suitable for my silicone paw print mold. This excellent product is found here on page 10 of my Amazon gift shop. Large 6-unit mold makes 3" treats - doubled recipe yields 18 of them.

Here, at Dancing Dog Cabin is where you'll find a lovely decorating blog and the peanut butter/oatmeal treat recipe. We included that web address inside each bag so nobody would have to sit, stay, and beg for it! Thank you, Melissa! This one's a keeper!

Need a simple, inexpensive recipe for lemonade that doesn't involve tedious squeezing?

Mix together: 8 cups of water, 1.5 cups of powdered sugar and 1.5 cups of bottled lemon juice. Add ice and fresh lemon slices.

I think we were wise to price our 9 ounce cups at only 25 cents each. I suppose you could call it a successful "loss leader," because customers who approached often purchased a pet treat or toy - and many really nice people declined their change since our proceeds went to a charity with an excellent reputation!

Here's something that kept young customers coming back for more! I've had this delightful mechanical kitty bank set aside for Bree for several years. Now was the purr-fect time for it to change paws! Customers placed their quarters and stood back to wait for a distinctive meow! Sloooowly the lid raised, just high enough for an eager kitty to quickly snatch the coin and disappear!

Want your own sneaky little coin grabber? I'm sure you do! Here she is on page 4 of my Amazon gift shop.

Tips for a successful learning and giving experience:

1) Decorate your stand so it is bright and appealing. If possible, plan along with a neighborhood garage sale effort to take advantage of built-in traffic.

2) Choose a worthy charity as beneficiary, but ask permission first. Share pictures with them - to post on Face Book or include in a newsletter story. Your grandchild may not expect public acknowledgement, but it is encouraging when it occurs.

3) Measure the lemonade and bake sale items together. Involve the child as much as possible.

4) Role play customer and service provider before opening. Practice greeting with a friendly "hello," brief comment on the charity's value, and a sincere "thank you" when the transaction is completed.

5) Network on Face Book to bring neighbors, friends, and relatives in as customers.

6) Deliver money promptly. Here's Bree, cuddling one of the shelter kitties we met when we dropped off our proceeds the day after the sale ended.

Our first Lemonade Stand benefit brought in $98 after a three day, part time effort! That doesn't count the additional $50+ worth of cat toys pending sale. I am proud of my granddaughter for the poise she demonstrated in operating her business. I am also pleased with the compassion she has for animals. I'm kind of pleased with myself, too, to be honest. It's been my privilege to be part of the effort to lead my grandchildren toward a lifestyle that considers the needs of others. Enjoying an experience like this one is memory making fun with so many dimensions and so much added value to the life of a child - and to that of a grandparent as well!

This wasn't our first charitable project this year! Read about our Girl Scout spay-neuter clinic contribution here!