Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Halloween-ies!"







































"Halloween-ies" defined: quick, easy-to-make decorative bursts of the spooky season!

Everybody's looking for these this time of year because there's not a moment to spare. Why waste seconds that could be spent eating Halloween candy purchased in July because it was on pre-holiday special and satisfied that smug feeling of being stocked up? I'm on my third bag and

Errr....Never mind!
Okay! Moving on!.......

Paper Punch Drink Lids

I love the way bottle toppers dress up a kids' table. They also ensure that sippers-and-wanderers will eventually find their way back to their own drinks. Bats, spiders, or a combo of both....simply punched, stacked, glued and poked!

A 3" circle works for the base of each topper. Find shapes progressively smaller to layer in contrasting colors and patterns. Plastic spiders, ants, or flies are welcome, too! I use recycled Starbucks coffee drink bottles for perfect kid-sized servings. Poke a hole in each topper for a festive paper straw and hand them out!











Spooky Snack Baskets (pictured at top)

If you purchase your coffee drinks in the four-pack size, you've got a handy little tote to stuff with snackable monsters! Spray paint it black, decorate with punched orange dots, and round up some wraps! The green spinach guy holds a savory cheese and veggie filling, while his paler sidekick supplies dessert in the form of a PBJ spread. Attach baby carrot noses and big buggy confection eyes with a tiny dab of peanut butter. Personalize each snack tote if you're expecting more than one little grand-goblin at your family Halloween event!

"Dying to Know How Many!" Estimating Jars

This is my way of contributing to the classroom Halloween parties my daughters enjoy planning as "room mothers." They're charged with providing games and treats, and I like the way this educational activity creates a whirl of excitement and suspense for the classmates of my grandchildren.



Three clear, plastic jars stuffed with small toys and candy are accompanied by slips of paper for names and guesses.

















Teacher receives everything - including the answer sheet! - the day before the event so there's plenty of time for each child to carefully inspect every jar before estimating. Winners (those who guess closest without going over) are announced at the party.

I found my 32 oz. jars at Just Artifacts, although I see that Oriental Trading carries pint size (16 oz.) ones now, too. Present them smartly decorated in the same style as paper punch drink lids - and don't forget to make "freebies" for your own grandkiddoes!

This is not a sponsored post. The brand names and businesses I've mentioned are for the convenience of my readers. And that includes the Snickers coma I'm currently immersed in - thanks pre-season Halloween candy sales! 👻

Thursday, September 28, 2017

5 Must-Have Resources For the Self-Employed

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated.
All content and graphics provided by VSP Vision Services.

The results* are in: baby boomers are rethinking retirement in favor of  'Encore Careers' working for themselves. Are you one of them? If so, you may be wondering where to start, and how to make it work with the life you already live. Here are just five of the many must-have resources available for your "second act". A full list of resources for the self-employed can be found here.

1) ALTERNATIVE WORKSPACES - Many towns and cities offer pay-as-you-go or affordable short-term workspace. Co-working options include informal open spaces with shared amenities like break rooms and fitness desks, or more formal offices that mimic the corporate environment. Perhaps "maker spaces," "commercial kitchens," or "incubator space" suits your business. Check out local social and traditional media for shared workspace locations near you.

2) GROUP BUYING & LOCAL DEAL SITES 
Sites like Rewardli or AppSumo leverage the power of the crowd to save money on office supplies, travel services, and more. Research group-buying sites with the best offerings for you.

3) BANKING & FINANCIAL SERVICES
Banks have specialists to help self-employed people manage their banking and credit card options. Online financial services groups like Lendio make it easier to get small-business loans. For that retirement nest egg, self-employed folks can create a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA).


4) INDIVIDUAL INSURANCE COVERAGE
Self-employed individuals are three times more likely to be uninsured than the national average. But, there are lots of individual insurance options from major insurance brands like VSP Individual Vision Plans, Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Delta Dental, Cigna and Humana. Coverage can be the key to thriving in the new economy because it reduces the stress related to working for yourself and makes it truly financially rewarding. Talk with your eye doctor, physician and dentist about the care you need. Research plans to identify the one with the most coverage for your budget.

5) MEMBER DISCOUNTS & DEALS
Many Chamber of Commerce and industry groups like the Freelancers Union offer member discounts and deals that more than cover the cost of joining.



And speaking of vision coverage...

Did you know nearly 50% of Americans don't have vision coverage? And many are self-employed and/or retired. Some may think vision coverage is unaffordable.

Luckily, that's a misconception, thanks to VSP Individual Vision Plans. With individual and family vision plans, people who work for themselves can have the same benefits and savings as they would under an employer's plan.

Visit www.vspdirect.com for more details or to enroll in an individual vision plan today. Enrollment is open year round so you can be covered in as little as five days after enrolling in a plan.

Eyes do more than help you see; they have an impact on your quality of life. From increased effectiveness and productivity at work, to fewer headaches and reduced eye strain, it pays to keep your eyes healthy.

*https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2015/06/02/how-entrepreneurial-baby-boomers-are-rethinking-retirement/#4307bac810b0

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Spooky Spotlight!







































"Halloween-ery" has extended its sticky tentacles deeply within my family, infecting yet another generation. Mommy recently caught two year old Austin intently poring over a catalog, exclaiming with glee, "Want that! Need that! This, too!" at every spotted spider, hallow-eyed haunt, and gasping ghost within its pages. Two years old! Could this be an inherited trait? Any aspiring geneticists out there in pursuit of a dissertation topic? We'll help you prove this thesis with a hearty supply of test subjects for your case study experiments!

I offered a day of respite to Austin's mommy last week when daddy flew overseas on business for ten days. Meals, snacks, housework, babysitting, crafts.....all graciously accepted with only one specification: HALLOWEEN PROJECTS, please, grandma?!

And so, today I focus my spooky spotlight on Austin and older sissy, Brielle,* for a trio of satisfying seasonal crafts easily doable with your very own little grand-goblins!

*(One year old brother, Channing, still can't be trusted not to eat glue sticks. That's okay. We'll reel him in next year!)
















Pumpkin Portraits!

This ages-old decorating exercise is suitable for the five year age span I entertained here. That was my biggest challenge. Which activities would keep Bree engaged while not frustrating Austin?













Prep was as easy as the embellishing both kiddoes enjoyed. Wide open mouths invite a collection of teeth cut from the paper scraps you'll provide along with safety scissors, glue, and glitter! Dig out your craft punches to supply giant, friendly eyeballs!














Haunted House!

My grandkids are sticker crazy, and quite frankly, so am I! Problem is, sometimes these pesky little things (also known as "tickers!") end up on inappropriate surfaces - windows, walls, shoes, and dogs' ears! So, whose fault is it when there's not a worthy place to plant them?

Leave it to grandma to find the best solution at Sarah Jane's! This ultra-creative lady provided exactly what I was searching for - full instructions and a free haunted house template sporting open-and-shut windows that invite filling with small spider, cat, and pumpkin stickers.







This one takes a bit more time to prep than the pumpkin portrait, but the kids were delighted with the 3-D effect, and I was treated to many exuberant challenges to "Open it, grandma! See what's inside!" I wore myself out fainting in horror over a flutter of bats and grinning ghouls peeled from the pages of these books priced at only one dollar each at JoAnn Fabrics! Hurry on over if this one appeals to you - or if your pets need earfuls of cute "tickers!" :)















Spider Races!

Time for something the kids don't need to work at! I constructed every component of this game myself, although kids as young as four could put it together with a bit of help. All you'll need is one game board, and a pom pom spider and paper straw for each player. Then stand back and watch the competitive fun!

The board is a 12" x 24" strip of orange paper - piece it together if needed. I used decorative craft tape to indicate a start line as well as interim markers. Lay out a web opposite start line with purple craft tape (or draw it with a marker.)

Spiders ("pie-ders!") are 1.5" craft pom poms. Glue on a pair of wiggle eyes and yarn strand legs to complete each one - different color bodies, legs, or eyes suggested for each competitor.






Ready for action?! Place your runners on the start line, pick up your straw, and BLOW! First one to reach the safety of the web without flying off the board is the winner of each fast paced heat! Prizes optional - although when grandma's in charge, I think you already know they're an "everybody's a winner!" requirement!
















And finally! Enjoy rattling the funny bones of your grandkids with hoots of laughter while they craft and play. Challenge them with the 47 howling cute Halloween jokes you'll find here, at Grandma's Briefs. Thanks, Lisa! (she's my ghoul-friend!)

Bet you don't know why the skeleton didn't dance at the party!
Well, I do!
He had no body to dance with!

Monday, September 11, 2017

STEAM-ing Along!







































Back in the day, my sisters and I decided we needed a backyard swing set. Crayon met paper, and blueprints for a carefully engineered three-seat contraption of sticks and strings emerged, promising a soaring summer of giggling glee.

But grandpa caught wind of our plans, was appropriately appalled, and instructed mother to take his money and install the best in store-purchased backyard entertainment "before those girls break their necks!"

Dear, sweet, indulgent grandpa. He meant well. But sometimes drafting, calculating, and trial and outrageous error are the best parts of unrealistic dreams nurtured among siblings who see the stars and seek to glide among them on scrap wood seats secured with jump rope knots.

I am delighted to see the preponderance of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design, and math) toys available today for purchase for my grandchildren. Books and toys that tease, unleashing the brain, are all I ever plan to buy for the near-monthly frequency of birthdays I face today. Once these ten kids hit the age of six, look out! Here comes grandma with her bag of favorites, the fruit of well researched and well tested creative satisfaction!

This is not a sponsored post. I just enjoy sharing the success I've had with these excellent mind-enriching products!

The Kiwi Company ranks "number one" with me. While most commonly recognized as a monthly subscription service delivering age appropriate STEAM projects directly to a child's door, I also like the convenience of Kiwi's online store. Here, we pick and choose reasonably priced, individual "crates" that contain everything needed to build enticing, quality projects. Cranes. Electric Circuits. Pinball Boards. Hydraulic Valves. Lanterns. Bottle Rockets. We've bought 'em all - and love 'em all!

Four year old Ava (top) holds an endearing yarn critter, part of the Arcade Kiwi Crate. Twin sissy (right) made one, too. Many kits keep more than one kid busy.....














Eight year old brothers built the accompanying wood claw, and all four siblings enjoyed operating it to grab critters for points. Crafting! Engineering! Cooperating! Family Fun! All in one!




















My faves are the mechanical sets (Tinker Crates) for older kids. Below, our young electrical apprentice concentrates on the construction of a trio of translucent multi colored battery operated lanterns. Easy and clear step-by-step illustrated instructions allow kids as young as eight to do-it-themselves while grandma sits nearby, taking pictures and beaming with pride!

Everything you need is included. Everything! 
















Take a look and see what you think! This link will net you a $10 discount on a year long subscription!

Okay. Switching to dinosaurs now!

Mindware offers a product I heartily endorse. Open the box to a slab of plaster-like material. Grab the included archaeological tools and a cup of water and begin chipping away! You just know there's something here that needs finding! DIG IT UP! 

The fearsome favorite T-Rex! Triceratops also available!












I passed these out at Grandma Camp to the older kids; six year old Brielle, and eight year old twin brothers, Nick and Sae.


For nearly an hour, heads were studiously bent over the puzzle before them......
















Finally! Pay dirt!....a hint of something just beneath the surface! Smooth, shiny, and "rib-cagey!"













More digging!
Is this project a mess? Oh heck yes! Just the way kids love it! Perfect for a sunny day out on the deck!


















What? An hour of work and all we get is this pile of bones?

There! That's better! A quick session of easy snapping yielded a trio of (14") take-home treasures just RAWR-ing to go!











Mindware DIG IT UP! Dinosaur kits can be found in my Amazon Gift Shop on page 15.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Scrap Trash Robots!







































Leisurely hours on a shaded deck during Grandma Camping days serve several purposes when the topic at hand is a crafty project or two. For one thing, the grandkids love to create. For another, they know that activity is encouraged here - paints and paper and glitter and glue always lay nearby. And for still another, a seat on a chair is grandma's welcomed landing place during a souped up week of energetic fun!

My artsy-craftsy soul renders it impossible for me to discard any humble household castoff. I see beauty and potential in each and every plastic lid, bottle cap, or spool that enters this space, hoarding all with vengeance. Those items joined scraps of wood, a choice of bonding agents, cans of silver spray paint, and the directive, "Build yourselves a robot, kiddoes!" for an hour or so of remarkable - and frugal - crafting creativity.



Craft glue, safe and perfect for smaller detailing, takes so long to dry. I manned a hot glue gun, following kids' instructions on where it needed to go.










My only other job was to watch the thoughtful creativity unfold.....






















Pill bottle legs, wood block heads, paper tube arms....






















Any packaging contraption works!























I loved the jet pack constructed from larger pill bottles.























Fully constructed and waiting patiently for a coating of metallic silver spray paint!






















Possibly the very best part of any crafty project at grandma's - your very own can of paint!






















I was impressed with the methodical way the kids built their scrap trash robots. Much attention to detail, balance, and symmetry. I attribute those skills to the problem-solving play they enjoy at home with science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) toys, including Lego sets. Next time, my (unsponsored) post will share several of my own buys that found the kids building and learning with enthusiasm.

Hope to see you here!























This is the fifth (and last) in a series of Grandma Camp 2017 posts that begins right here!

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Who Goes There?"







































Grandma Campers are, by their very nature, explorers! They like to know stuff. Probing, seeking, speculating...."What is that made of, grandma?" "What would happen if we did it this way instead?" Encouraging and rewarding curiosity is the most challenging - and best! - part of this annual summer experience for me!

Last year, we brought home ladybug shaped rocks, painted them, wiggle-eyed them, and secreted them in neighborhood flower beds and mail boxes under the spine-tingling cover of night. How many would still be there the following evening?  Anxious with excitement, we had our answers when we ventured back to see!

But our backyard wooded lot consistently holds the best source of adventure and discovery. We've filled cardboard tubes with peanut butter and added a clever method for detecting critters who might enter for a nibble. Oh, they were there, all right, we learned the next morning, but speculation over what they looked like has hung in the air for over a year! Tiny footprints left behind are simply not enough!

We need to know, "Who goes there?" 


My purchase of a trail camera has been a satisfying investment. It's delighted even the biggest kid among us (me!). The small device I've linked to below (this is not a sponsored post) is perfect for strapping to a tree, a foot or so above a carefully arranged peanut/corn/berry buffet of wildlife treats.


















Daylight hours capture full color images (both video and still shots - audio, too!) of scampering squirrels and chipmunks. An occasional blue jay will swoop down to snatch a peanut. But our best mysteries are solved in the morning after all night monitoring. That's how we discovered our inquisitive raccoon guest. He's one of the wood dwellers who only come out at night!


I've coupled the camera with a wildlife guide that we consult daily during Grandma Camp. Clearly illustrated are animals we're likely to see here in the midwest - turkeys, white tail deer, opossums....pretty tame compared to the rattlesnakes and exotic lizards you Arizonians might be fortunate enough to capture! We envy you!







"Hey lady! We're out of peanuts again!"





But I might add some manufactured drama of my own when the kids get a bit older. We'll set the camera right around Halloween. Under cover of late, late night, wearing a spooky skeletal mask, I'll peer into the lens, grunt menacingly, and shake the camera vigorously before the screen goes blank! "Who goes there?" you ask? I don't think the kids are gonna want to know!

Find the battery operated XIKEZAN trail camera (and required memory card) I've been happy with in my Amazon gift shop on page 14. It's a handy 3.5" x 5" easy-to-set-up and use, water proof, motion activated device with instantly view-able images to download to a computer or television set.

The classic Reader's Digest North American Wildlife Guide is also here, on page 15.

This is the fourth post in a series of 2017 Grandma Camp highlights that begins here. Enjoy! The fifth, and last is here!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Where Fairies Flutter







































Our second annual Ladybug Camp hosted twin sisters, Ava and Angeline, with cousin Kaylee. This four year old trio enjoyed a multi day, overnight affair busy with crafting, baking, play-acting, and exploring. On day two, we ventured into a magical wooded realm - the place where fairies flutter!

My little lady guests arrived well versed on the topic of those daintily winged garden dwelling nymphs, but they were delighted to reexamine their characteristics and the habitats they frequent in pop up books I couldn't resist buying for the occasion!*

This is not a sponsored post, but my, my! Looking to fascinate and educate? This is the set for you! We pored over each page, mesmerizing and rich in three dimensional glory, finding fairies in hidden nooks and crannies.











Gardens, woodlands, and more....I sent each little lady home with her own book (there's a third in the series) to secure delightful memories.









Armed with fresh tips on places to look, off we go a-hunting. Backyard woods held promise for finding fairies of our own.

















Nestled in foliage, the first of three petaled sprites awaits discovery! (A favorite moment saw precocious Miss Ava animatedly point out that these fairies were actually not "the real thing!" They were "grandma-made" substitutes that might serve our purpose for today, yet still, not "really real" ones!) And of course, she is correct! Thank you, Ava! :)







Angeline and Kaylee cradle their new friends.











Forging ahead, an enticing vision beckoned! Were guests expected here? With places set for six?














Six indeed! One for each successful fairy finder, another for her newly acquired friend!


















Months ago, the thoughtfulness of a cherished blogger friend, Judy, made my dream of today's event even more special. She sent me the tiny tea set pictured here. Her own granddaughter had reached the teenage years, and it was time for pretty vintage pieces to find another home, one where younger girls would take their turn pouring magic tea to serve in teeny tiny portions. This was the perfect occasion to introduce our gift. Thank you, Judy!











Room enough, and food enough for everybody!

Ladybug Campers nibbled cheese wraps and tangerine slices. Pot de creme bowls cradled hummus and baby carrot sticks.















But "real bugs" were not welcome at our repast, so craft punched, flower themed paper covers topped tasty drinks. Friendly butterflies alight on each straw.





















Oh, what magic we found today in our foray into the place where (grandma-made!) fairies flutter, little ladies stop to snack in dappled sunlight, and grandma beams away in pride and satisfaction!




















My friend, Judy, a master gardener, blogs about beauty in nature, in fabric, and of charming places both near and far at New England Garden and Thread. She is also a fan of fairies. Her 2012 Fairy House Tour  is one of my favorite posts ever!

Fairy dolls are easily made from wooden peg bases found at craft stores. Dress them in petals pulled from silk flowers.

*The three Cicely Mary Barker pop-up fairy books I purchased for my granddaughters can be found on page 14 of my Amazon Gift Shop. Fairy sticker books found on the same page kept my little ladies busy during "quiet time."

This is part 3 of my Grandma Camp 2017 series. It begins right here. Click here for part 4.