Saturday, October 3, 2015

Birthday Safari!

A batch of birthdays (seven to be exact!) descends upon us in mid August and doesn't depart until the 13th of September, politely leaving us perennial party-people plenty of time to prepare for another priority...Halloween! Thank you, birthday bunch! We couldn't have planned it any better!

This event began with Bree's sweet little voice on the other end of the phone, sometime in April, I believe. "Grandma? Can you help me with my birthday party this year? I want lots of animals! I think maybe a safari!"

The wheels begin to spin that moment. Mommies, daddies, aunties, uncles and grandparents - a virtual ant farm family - set to scurrying about with ideas and contributions, determined to make a soon-to-be-five-year-old the day of her dreams. It's team work, of course, that gets things done - but Safari Camp Central is always mommy's desk. That's where assignments originate and return to pass inspection. Bree describes her wishes here and mommy moves to make them all come true - with astonishing success!

Our safari is no ordinary event. Wild animals agree to gather amicably to be searched for, petted, and toted home for long-time loving. Nana, Bree's paternal grandma, contributed invitations that serve as passports to the fun. When guests arrive, they "scooch" under the welcoming arch that graces the front porch. Hmmm. Which hoarder of cardboard boxes do you suppose built that party prop?

You can build an inviting entry for any event with stacked columns of covered boxes flanking one long, skinny topper (or a group of smaller boxes glued firmly together.) Decorate generously to hide the seams. Easy going; epic results!

Safari kids - the birthday girl and her 16 guests, munch first on lunch. Bree's backyard hosts an ideal setting; woods, a pond, and an adjoining grassy plain provide perfect habitat for lions, tigers, elephants and more. We're fueling for a grueling expedition!

By the time we've eaten, daddy has transported the arch to our safari entry point. We sport the proper headgear as well as sunglasses framed in tiger, zebra and leopard prints!

First in line, the birthday girl listens carefully to mommy. She's found a clue at the entrance to the sanctuary! Let's listen in!......

Look up in trees for small, cute faces,
Monkeys love those high up places!
They wait for us, they want to play,
Let's round 'em up before they scamper away!

We find them! Monkeys galore! They swing from branches as we pass through. Kids leap up and snatch themselves one or two!

(By the way, our huntin' style is huggin' - never hurtin'!)

And the clues continue!

Do you see a tiger sneaking?
I think I saw one peeking!
I spied an orange face and I heard a roar,
Follow me! Let's look for more!

Lions are big, and lions are brown,
Let's keep our eyes open, just look around!
Count 20 big steps, straight up ahead,
Look for a flag that's square and that's red!

Giraffes aren't small, 
They're really quite tall,
Watch for them closely on a big patch of grass,
They know we are coming, they're watching us pass!

Zebras are a beautiful sight,
They're easy to spot in the bright sunlight.
White and black, black and white,
Run up ahead, look on the right!

Elephants are big and grey,
They're easy to spot - HOORAY!

Mommy leads the charge along the savanna, reading clues and making sure every little hunter finds a friend to take home for hugging.

See the herds waiting up ahead? We didn't miss a single thing!

Successful little adventurers make their way back home, single file, through the waiting arch......

......toting tigers and zebras and giraffes, oh my!

But wait! There's more to explore!

How about lining up for a round of tossing rubbery, dangerous snakes into a pit?

Or choosing a cute jungle tattoo (or two, or three or more!) for Nana to expertly apply to your arm?

Or joining the fun of a two team Cheetah Relay Race?

So sweet, this group of little guests. Every cheetah reaching the half point first waited for a competitor to catch up before heading back to the finish together - as co-winners. :) Love these kids!

There was chocolate cake, too, because we needed even more energy......

......for the BOUNCE HOUSE!

I suppose I can get away with the unfortunate placement of that sign in my picture because those three little fun loving "monkeys" are my grandchildren!

Present time!...which some might say is the best part of any party. But I think we might differ on that opinion, just for the day, simply because......

What fun would it be to go on safari without all sixteen of your cousins and friends to share that happy adventure with you? Nope, I'm sure we agree - not much fun at all!

Party notes: Inflatable animals, sunglasses, tattoos and hats all from Oriental Trading Company. Safari hunt clues are original with me and shared for personal use. Thank you!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tie Dye Trio!

I waited for the perfect day - one breezy, warm and sunny - to experience this happy craft with my grandkids. Everybody's fascinated with this unpredictable art, even grandmas like me who will dye (but probably never wear!) a shirt exploding with vivid tied and dyed neon color. I just love the twisting and tying and waiting in wonder to see what we've got after fabric has dried and anxious fingers tug and pull to open bands, revealing joyful, one-of-a-kind splashes of excitement.

My high school students looked forward to this ancient art every year, even though I led them through a maze of authenticity. We experimented with vegetable dyes alongside a selection of bottled colors. The results were spectacular and well worth departure from the gimmicky kit I'm using today. It's different working with young kids, though. They don't want to wait, dipping repeatedly for saturation, or bothering to come back a second or third day for additional colors.

I carefully considered the merits of many commercial kits before deciding on this one. I have no doubt that everything on the shelves at the three major craft stores would work, but I found my favorite locally at Hobby Lobby alone, or here on page 13. Some sets called for an eight hour wait before opening the bands. Sorry! We're seven and five years old over here. Do we look like we want to wait for anything (except bedtime)? Other kits required the traditional water bucket dye and rinse bath. Yeah right. That too. No thank you! I settled on this product mainly because the dye is sprayed directly on fabric, allowing maximum control. No rinsing needed. Air dry, open, then set with a short spin in a hot clothes dryer. Perfect!

This isn't a sponsored post. I buy up a storm at the stores I like and then rant about exactly what I think of my purchases. Just ask grandpa if you don't believe me!

Now back to the art studio!

Grandma tightly twisted rubber bands on each shirt, but the kids did the rest. Shirts dried in an hour. Once they were opened and admired, it was time to twist and spray again. This product allows kids to just freestyle it - bold and bright splashes of everything!

I probably should have titled this post "Tie Dye Trio and a Half." We also made a pint size t-shirt for Marshall, Sae's normally friendly little pet. My fingers are "dying" to type that the little guy was "purr-fectly" happy with his stylin' new look, but that would be a departure from what really happened when we pulled it over his furry little head!

"Sorry, humans. Totally. Not. Amused."

Monday, September 7, 2015

Over Before It Began

"It was over before it began!" so many now lament. And I heartily agree.
Five, four, three......the summer of 2015......going, going......gone!

But there was time for little boys and baseball. 

And a grandma "poet" with a camera......

See those numbers, five and three? 
Both of them belong to me!

Weeks of leisure, days of fun,
Handsome faces in the sun

Pretty ladies everywhere,
This is summer, not a care

Cousins "old"......

And cousins new!
Lots of things we found to do!

                                         (date of arrival: June 10, 2015)

Trains to ride.......

Places to hide

Lovely lilies in the park......

Scary stories in the dark!

Oh, the places we went!
The times well spent........

Each moment thrives within my heart

.....and also at my side. Because, you see, every time I accompany my little loves on an adventure away from home, I pick up a treasure from nature to remind me of the day. A heart shaped rock, a tiny perfect pine cone, an oval shell, a driftwood chip......

Grandpa asks why I don't label each item with place and date. But that's not necessary for me. It must be a "grandma thing" to have trouble remembering my grocery list or where I left my keys, but none recalling the origin of these. 

I do have trouble, though, but it's not inside my head! Somebody's "busy paws" think my little basket of memories holds suitable toys! Over and over again, I have apprehended him helping himself. Here, for immediate press release, is his latest mug shot...... 


For Petty Larceny!
Habitual Offender!

Oh, Charlie! Don't worry. Mommy will bail you out! (again)

Just one more caution, if you will,
Excessive rays are known to kill!

(actually just "playin' 'possum!")

Goodbye summer of 2015. You were a friend to me. A good, good friend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Garden Princess

Once upon a time, there lived a perfect little princess.

One day, the little princess decided that she would enjoy a wee jewel of a backyard playhouse. So, her handsome, smart and brave daddy built one for her. Her pretty mommy painted it pink and white, adding an inside lime green chalkboard coating so she could draw pictures on the walls with her cousins and friends.

The little princess was very satisfied with her happy little home.

After awhile, the grandma of the little princess decided that there needed to be an enchanted garden attached to the charming pink abode. She hounded her gardening-grandma-blogger friends, Judy and Debra, for tips on how to accomplish this. They graciously complied, and soon a lovely patch of lettuce and beans and marigolds burst forth, thriving enthusiastically in the sun........

And every day the little princess enjoyed the process of planting and weeding and harvesting in this prospering place.

But alas! Curious critters living near the pond beyond began to emerge, stopping by to munch contentedly on produce produced by the little princess!

Oh noooooooo!!!!!

A call was put forth for a competent garden watchman.
Pumba, one of several loyal subjects of the little princess agreed to interview for the position.

He considered an offer of employment carefully, but decided that his best "watching" was done from inside the house. Under the fan. On the couch.


What was the little princess to do????

Fortunately, a pair of brothers - "Bert" and "Ernie" - just happened to be in the neighborhood that day. They agreed to assist, offering to stand guard, furiously spinning their wings in exchange for room and board. Visiting critters would scamper off to do their snacking elsewhere.....


And grandma? Well, to be truthful, she ended up just "armchair gardening" this entire project. Her grandma-blogger-friends, the little princess, her mommy and daddy and Bert and Ernie actually did all the work.

But never mind that.

Grandma is very content. She frequently receives personally delivered, freshly plucked organic lettuce from the little princess, and enjoys writing blog posts that make it sound as if she's done all the work!

The end........

And everyone mentioned in this story lived happily ever after!

It is truly an honor to have been selected by the esteemed online publication, Grand Magazine, as one of 11 best grandparent blogs for 2015. Delighted. Surprised. Shocked, actually! I find myself in the company of 10 other writers who celebrate grandparent-hood in 10 distinct ways. For that I am profoundly grateful, particularly to editorial director, Christine Crosby, for her gracious gesture of support and recognition.

Enjoy timely articles and receive a complimentary online subscription to Grand Magazine at this link!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 8 - Final Report!

Over the past few weeks, I've shared highlights from the first Grandma Camp I hosted for my three oldest grandchildren. I've appreciated your gracious comments and the dozen or so email messages from grandmothers who wrote to request more details or share personal stories. I recommend that grandparents host a camp like this. With a little effort, our homes become the heart of the extended family - a welcoming center where cousins and parents bond into a strong, fun-loving unit that benefits every member.

I promised my new grandma friends a summary post of camping tips -  my trial-and-error list of things to do for a happy, successful week of your own! Here it is, in all its "hodge-podgy" imperfection!

1) Determine age-appropriate projects and adventures far in advance; have many more than you think you'll use! Get ideas from books, blogs and Pinterest. Place everything you need for each project into its own box. To do otherwise is to reinforce an unfortunate senior stereotype: "Grandma disappeared an hour ago to look for the glue she's holding in her hand!"

2) Make your camp as "official" as possible. Email a list of supplies to parents a few weeks in advance. Ask them to pack sleeping bags, pillows, jammies, stuffed animals, etc. When campers arrive, host a lunch for everybody - parents and younger siblings, too. Follow that with an "orientation session." Explain your rules and hand out your own supplies. Blow a whistle and act all bossy and corny. Set up sleeping quarters before parents depart.

3) Pull names to appoint the order of "Kid of the Day." Rotating turns solves every single problem you'll have in determining first choice on everything, including who holds the dog leash! Worried you might forget? Ha! Your little campers will remind you. Every day. Every minute of the day. Trust me!

4) Balance your activities to allow for rainy days. Mix in active fun with quiet games. Consider field trips, even if those only include neighborhood walks or nearby restaurants. Be ready to hear, "Oooooh! What adorable grandchildren you have!" Smile politely and say, "Thank you. Yes. I already know that!"

5) Helpers. Don't ever turn anybody down! I relied on grandpa to clean up after us, to prepare a few meals and to entertain while I made dinner or set up a project. After three full days at my house, one daughter took the kids for the entire afternoon and evening. Much appreciated!

6) Schedule a "quiet time" every day and enforce it. Supply the kids with books to read and puzzles to solve. Each of my own also brought a Leap Pad and I gave them new games to play.

7) It's nice to have an ongoing large project that can be returned to time and again over the course of the week. Lego sets are perfect. I presented the boys with a cargo train, and Bree with a box of "girlie" bricks. At the end of the week, we had a fast moving remote control engine and a long line of pink bunnies and birds waiting to hitch rides on the open boxcars!

8) See those bright blue buckets the kids are sitting on? Best idea ever! I learned it from Grandma Shelley's blog, in her camping series, right here. A bucket with lid (from Lowe's) is about $4 total. They are suitable seating and storage. At orientation, I handed them out. Each contained a new kid-size basketball, spinning toothbrush and toothpaste, small flashlight, a nature sketch pad with color pencil box glued to cover and art supplies such as glue sticks, scissors and paintbrushes. Each child is responsible for maintaining those items and storing completed projects for taking home. Perfect, too, for sitting in the woods to sketch the wonder of nature!

9) Keep parents on speed dial! Every time a camper said something cute or funny, I grabbed my phone to report it. (Just make sure they don't hear you!) And have the kids call mommy and daddy every night before bed. It's nice to hear them yak up a storm about how much fun they're having and how they want to stay for an extra week!

10) Extra week? Oh dear. Let's face it. That wouldn't be easy! I held a five day camp. Four days, including the half one at Aunt Christy's, would have been enough. It's me, not them. There's a reason lively, inquisitive kids are born to people less than half my age!

11) Take lots of pictures and compile them into a scrapbook that stays at grandma's. Cousins will have so much fun revisiting their week every time they come over.

12) Reserve some art and craft work to show at a family event later on. The kids and I host a clothesline art sale annually, one like this. Or, you can welcome parents at pick-up time with a chance to view some lovely pieces - many still dripping with glue!

13) Feedback. This is where you learn the most for future planning! Parents will tell you afterwards what the kids enjoyed best. For us, it was individual sleeping quarters. The kids were thrilled with their A-frame tents - their cozy home-away-from-home nests. A small purchased tent, set up inside would be fun too, with room for everybody. And if you're brave, (the way I am not!) just camp outside in the backyard like normal people do!

14) Finally, start to plan for next year the second your little loves back out of the driveway. Keep a notebook for your ideas. Watch for sales on the craft supplies you'll need and squirrel those away. It won't be long before those adorable little faces show up again, dragging sleeping bags 'n pillows, quizzing you on "What's for fun this time around, grandma?"

I often reflect on what a privilege it is to have these moments, knowing well that just a few years separate us from these long, lazy days and the frantic pre-teen pace of sports camps and outside-the-family friendships that will eventually preempt them. The effort? The expense? The exhaustion? No regrets. None. So worth it. Just so worth it!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 7 - Feed Me!

Once you've successfully lured your lively little recruits to Grandma Camp, take note that you've got to feed them! Each day. Multiple times each day! I'd grown accustomed to filling a kitty bowl or two every morning in our empty-of-kids-but-not-pets nest, watching six cats follow up one meal with an 18 hour nap. (18 hours? Really? Yep!) Kids, in contrast, like to graze for that amount of time, not sleep! Be ready!

One solution for round-the-clock munching is self-service snack boxes. Here's what mine look like. They're from Pottery Barn Kids.

I fill 'em up each morning with fruit, veggies, crackers and cheese. The kids know that in between meals they are welcome to munch on whatever they want. It's in the fridge, inside their own color coded box.

That leaves grandma responsible for only breakfast, lunch, dinner and a bedtime snack. Assign grandpa a few mornings of home made pancakes and a grilled dinner of organic hot dogs and you've cut your work in half. Works for me!

But not everything "worked for me." I had individual fish pot pies planned. A charming little salad bar. Home made veggie burgers. Gourmet mac and cheese....Foolish! No time for those delicacies, especially when kids only want grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches! So I succumbed to the basics, just inserting cutesy little touches to make ordinary eating a little more appealing.

For example!.......

Teddy bears clustered, deep in conversation, beneath a paper umbrella liven up an ordinary fruit cup.

Mini sized hot cheese bagels move down
the hatch at a faster pace than "grown-up" ones sliced in half!

Grandma's salad challenge: "Get it before that hungry caterpillar does!"

On our last evening together, we revisited an adventure from the past. When they were "little kids," these campers loved to play beneath our second story deck. I would surprise them by lowering a basket filled with snacks, drinks and hand wipes. They were delighted. Oh, the anticipation watching that basket of mysterious contents bump its way slowly downward to meet them! But this time it was dinner. Individually boxed, hot, and ready to dig into!

I had set up a picnic style table at the edge of the woods. They scampered away with their meals to enjoy themselves. I suspect it was one of the week's highlights because Bree animatedly described the experience to mommy later. "The basket was looooowered down to us very carefully!"

Three boxed dinners to-go, and three hungry kids to gobble them down! Grilled cheese, steamed veggies and a handful of grapes - GONE! All of it!

But wait! What about dessert? You never mentioned dessert! 

Not to worry. Of course we had dessert!.....Every day. Once each day. In an official "grandma camping" sort of way!

Each day, one camper was "kid of the day."
We rotated, automatically assigning first, second and third choices, assuring that grandma would never have to sit in "time out" again for forgetting whose turn it was to flip the popcorn maker switch. (Happened once. Lesson learned!)

Here's Nick, enjoying alpha male status on his day. His dessert choice was Star Wars brownies.

"Kid of the day" could also choose from home made ice cream, popcorn, cookies, or mini donuts. He or she supervised the process and grabbed the first sample bite.

Sae chose mini-donuts in this nifty little appliance. Grandma is happy with unadorned treats, but a generous, multi-colored icing and over-the-top sprinkle bar was well utilized by the kids!

We didn't forget the "folks back home" either. An assortment of samples from each day's dessert was packed inside small bakery boxes and brought home for siblings and mommy and daddy.

So there! I fed them all. Each day. Multiple times each day.
Indeed, I did!

But where did all this stuff come from?

Bakery boxes, 6" square, in sets of three, are from Michael's.
Silicone caterpillar mold (use Jell-o jiggler recipe) for salad visitors are here, along with the mini donut maker. Star Wars cookbook is on page 11, also in my Amazon gift shop.