Saturday, October 10, 2020

I have a new job! And I love it! 

For the next few weeks at least, all of my school age grandchildren are at home, learning virtually. That process involves classmate Zoom meetings, something they've adjusted to well after a bit of initial glitching. In our two local families, however, two testy little "bugs" remain in the system. Checking in at about three feet tall, self-liberated from nap-taking, the pair is alert and impish, equipped with acute sensing that detects mommy's Zoom time busyness. And then....

Let the shenanigans begin!......

Or so they thought! 

Because that's when GRANDMA reports to work! Yep, that's my new job! I've taken on those two little just-three year olds with the task of keepin' 'em occupied so older siblings can Zoom in peace while mommy supervises them and not the little tornados who previously found high hilarity in antics like video-bombing family cats! (Now, just between us, do I secretly find that adorably cute? Oh heck YEAH! Shhhh!)

From previous experience, (since these little tykes are #9 and #10 in my batch of ten) I know that this age can be a challenging one to keep fruitfully occupied. Working on my side, though, is their motivation to be included - to be one of "the big kids" - and to "do it by myself!" They also enjoy the direct one-on-one attention from a devoted adult. I've concluded that successful experiences result when a few points are kept in mind:

  • projects are age appropriate and safe 
  • more than enough planned for anticipated time together
  • prep work in place, complete ingredients at hand
  • immediate, satisfying results
  • respect for the process

Pretty much anything that involves a puddle of paint is a winner. Brushes optional, since the multi-eyed monster shown above required only a blob of green, a straw for blowing it around, glue stick, paper scraps, and a crayon for adding menacing, spidery arms and legs!

A splash of orange and half a small potato transforms a paper sheet into an endearing patch of pumpkins. This activity is great for practicing patterning and scissors skill. 

Healthy snacks - like veggie pizza - allow pint sized bakers to deliver treats with genuine "I made it myself" swagger. Cut veggies and make cream cheese topping at home so assembling is all that remains to be done once cooled crust is out of the oven. (Kitty in background agrees with me that our interpretation of "spread carrots out evenly" differs from that of a three year old!) 

Sneak in some learning fun wherever you can. An Amazon shopping spree supplied each of my little guys their own counting scale. I call out a digit to place on one plate; an equivalent amount of froggies must be carefully added to the other side to achieve a successful balance. Lots of laughs, especially when a stray Lego guy shows up to throw things off when grandma isn't looking! (froggin' around again!)

And, of course, we supplement the artsy-craftsy stuff with floor puzzles, book reading, and board game playing. Those standard grandma fallbacks fill inevitable attention span gaps that lead to "What'll we do now?!!" panic. Kids are full of surprises. A finger painting session you thought might last an hour (HA!) might keep 'em busy for a fourth of that time. Then, you'll discover that leaf printing captivates enough fascination to go on and on, covering sheet after sheet of the pristine pack of paper you've carefully piled inside your bulging grandma bag! Let's steal from the Boy Scouts here...."Always be prepared!" 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Diggin' Dinosaurs!

We've all entertained the perspective of those who believe toys and interests should be "gender-nonconforming" - i.e. traditional role reversal that introduces little ladies to the mechanics of fire trucks, their brothers to doll house keeping. Nope. I've tried. Doesn't work for me here. When offered a choice, grandsons grab for snakes and granddaughters glom onto butterflies - 100% of the time! And since social-psychological analysis is well above my grandma pay grade, that's all okay with me! 

I'm not surprised, then, when eyes that ignite like fireworks belong to the boys when dinosaur activities tumble from the mysterious confines of my grandma bag. Sisters enjoy the artsy aspects of each project, but brothers are the ones who linger for follow up research in picture books and ask the most questions. They're the ones who can identify an Apatosaurus. They're the ones diggin' dinosaurs! 

We tested our skill and explored the species on recent drop in visits!...

A stack of appealing books whets the appetite for what's ahead. Pop-ups are always a favorite, especially when fun facts accompany each reptile. This is where we discuss herbivores and carnivores, noting size, speed, habitat, and defense capability. It's where we choose the beast we'll learn to draw and paint!

The giant Brachiosaurus was our unanimous choice to immortalize in tempera and collage. We sketched in basic shape building technique: large horizontal body oval first, smaller vertical leg ovals next, etc. I used an out of print Usborne title as a guide, but Art Projects for Kids is an excellent resource for teaching kids this method. Use that blog link to see a curvy Diplodocus come alive before your very eyes, and then let art teacher/author Kathy Barbro lead you to other prehistoric era friends, plus many, many more subjects to successfully draw and paint! You'll love this site!

Now back to the studio!....

Completed critters needed spotted texture and a careful cutting out. At age just-three, little guys need grandma's aid for the latter. That skill is developmental, so we're working on the proper way to manipulate scissors. It helps when I hold paper in place while he chomps away until two-handed competence is achieved. 

Deep blue background paper was selected with a purpose in mind. Why not let our family of Brachios dwell in the swirling, twirling world of Van Gogh's Starry Night? Why not let the kids begin a learning journey into art history as well, combining that adventure with science facts and crafting skill? 

For that purpose, I employ a nice deck of Usborne cards, available at Amazon. The sturdy set of 30 depicts a significant number of fun-to-know famous paintings. We talk about this artist and the way his technique brings the canvas alive. Then, we reach for construction paper in yellow and orange, tearing orbs that mimic his turbulent night scene......


Doesn't this finished work just dance with the same energy as the original starlit sky?  

I like the tearing technique. Kids know results aren't supposed to be perfect, thus eliminating the anxiety of precise cutting on the lines. 

One more thing!

Can't get enough of being busy on Planet Dinosaur? Here's an easy way to keep a three year old anchored to a chair, enjoying an activity that's 100% done by him/herself. Offer a bright background sheet, scraps of contrasting paper for tearing, a glue stick, and a sheet of dino stickers. 

What a world of possibility lies within this deck of fine art! 

Munch's The Scream is dying to inspire a vivid Halloween painting! I see a little study in perspective there, too!

We might have to go wild outside with brushes and buckets of paint to capture the feel of Pollack's Number 6, (although I never could figure out the accolades afforded that guy and his mess of gloomy drippings!) 

When it's time to draw portraits the right way, (no eyeballs in the middle of the forehead!) we'll take a look at Picasso and da Vinci for comparing and contrasting. 

We'll employ soft pastels in study of Degas ethereal ballerinas, and "paint with scissors" the way Matisse described his work in collage......

Lots of learning fun ahead! Promise you'll come join us?


If you seek "go big or go home!" dinosaur activities, you might enjoy past posts of mine. "Hunters and Gatherers" details the dino egg hunting experience I hosted for my two oldest grandsons when they were four years old. Star of that show was a 9' home made paper mache T-Rex! This one brings us back to a more recent time when eight hunters stormed the woods, following clues to giant personalized eggs crammed with goodies! 

The pop-up book I've pictured above is the Dinosaurs title from a series of Sounds of the Wild volumes by Maurice Pledger. It is out of print, but National Geographic sells one I'm tempted to buy. The Dinosaur Museum features a huge T-Rex face that bursts out at book center! Great reviews, too! 

This is not a sponsored post. I share my purchases with readers only because I've been personally pleased with them. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Fly Eyes, "Candy Grab!" and More Crazy Fun!

Crazy times, crazy stuff!

It's been hard on everybody. In all my grandmotherly years I've never known disruption of this magnitude. But making the best of things is a talent that lies within each one of us, particularly those who answer to the name of "Grandma!" 

After several long months of pandemic distancing on all branches of our family tree, it was decided that limited in-person contact would be acceptable. What a joy to pack my big bulging "grandma bag" and head on over for quality time with two families of locals - six kids total - to tackle my version of the ABCs  - academics, baking, cooking, and crafting! 

Important: I relied heavily on Amazon purchases to create the experiences we enjoyed, but this is not a sponsored post. I earn no commission from products you might choose to buy at my suggestion. I do, however, have a favor to ask of you that's related to Amazon, and I've outlined it at the end of this post. Hint: 😺😺😺!

Now, let's get on with the fun!

Sessions with grandma begin with heartwarming, robust doorway greetings. Accompanying me are all the ingredients needed for what's ahead. That's important. Mommy deserves a break from her daily grind of playing fetch! If I need something too awkward or impractical to bring over - like a large mixing bowl - I ask her to have it out in advance. That's appreciated!

We begin in the kitchen....

Eager little bakers gather around, awaiting their turn to measure, pour, or mix. They carefully crack eggs and accurately use a measuring cup. The items we make are either for immediate consumption - such as English muffin pizzas or deviled eggs (bring them pre-boiled and peeled!) - or for later on - such as banana bread, ice cream (electric appliance), or slow cooker mac and cheese. 

We retire to the dining room next, the place of my biggest challenge. The oldest of three sibs in each family is a girl. At ages seven and ten, they're independent and academically focused. Younger brothers are eager new learners at five, and a final pair of squirmy little delights checks in at three. Interests, abilities, attention spans, academic levels - they're all over the map! What's a grandma to do? 

Well that's easy!

I sit the kiddies down for some academic pencil work on math facts and phonics from colorful, appealing Usborne workbooks. (See a favorite pictured below.) Dollar Tree offers a selection of early elementary topics that serve well, too. Kids get right down to business because they know that in "Grandma World" there's always a reward for diligence!.....


Don't ask me how I came up with this one, but it's an oft mentioned hit! At table center, I sprinkle a dozen wrapped chocolate mini-size goodies. Here's the rules: We go 'round the table, luxuriating in the fact that it's our choice alone when to break suspense with a lusty yell of "CANDY GRAB!" With squeals of joy, we reach for a piece, evenly divided so no one ever comes up short. Silent busyness is a requirement for participation, and the loot must be saved for post-quiet time enjoyment at mommy's discretion once grandma has departed. A welcomed side bonus has been the new absence of "tomfoolery"* during that daily respite! 

* "tomfoolery!" SUCH a grandma-era word! πŸ˜‚  

Now back to the books......

So, what's the buzz about those sporty "fly eyes" modeled above? Well, just a bit of hands-on fun for that little guy and his pizza-making cousin. Those two require one-on-one attention while older sibs complete workbook pages. This week, it's a session on bugs! Who they are, what they do, and how they see the world! It's all there in this little gem of a very attractively priced book** showing page after page of "normal" bugs (caterpillars, fireflies, grasshoppers, dragon flies) your kiddoes mostly already know and love. Full page color pictures draw us in, and the boys and I enjoy fun facts on each page about those critters. When we emerge, we know that spiders are not "insects"...they're eight-legged arachnids! We know that those "roly poly" bugs under backyard rocks are crustaceans! And finally, we see for ourselves why flies are so quick on their feet and hard to swat because the multi-lenses in their eyes watch us coming from every angle!*** 

**The Backyard Bug Book for Kids by Lauren Davidson   ***Fly Eyes by Play Visions 

But WAIT! There's MORE!

Beyond the bug info in Davidson's book, a handful of related activity pages allow a three year old to feel part of the schooling gang. Matching, counting, tracing....a spider web maze....we complete a few each time we meet. My little entomologists don't know it yet, but there's a fun reward waiting for them when they graduate this book!...

is a treasured name in puppetry. And it doesn't disappoint when it comes to being "cute as a bug!" Each firefly finger puppet is approximately 5" long. With slight pressure, tails light up in a comforting greenish glow. Perfect little companions to take to bed and communicate with while easing into slumber, dreamily recalling the day's fun with grandma! (Oh, had to have that roly poly, too! Just couldn't resist!) 

Winding up.....

Crafting and art projects are looked forward to the most at each visit, so we save the best for last. This time, we tear strips of green construction paper and glue a grassy habitat for the ladybugs we paint in bright tempera red. Black spots are the product of finger tip printing, and six legs (only six!) are carefully drawn in marker. Mixed media ventures employing multiple skills are my favorites, and the kids enjoy them, too.

Next time, we'll learn step-by-step dinosaur drawing, paint them in texture, then cut and glue them into a habitat that recalls Van Gogh's Starry Night masterpiece. Art history, too, is on the agenda! Please come join us! 

And finally....a favor!

If you're an Amazon customer without an "Amazon Smile" account, I'd like to invite you to create one to benefit a very worthy cat rescue, Crash's Landing and Big Sid's Sanctuary. This free roaming shelter and adoption center cares for cats plucked from the streets in all states of trauma, abuse, and neglect. An all-volunteer staff, including the beloved founder, a veterinarian, responds to each need with medical care and lifelong security. Here they are on Facebook! 

Signing on for "Amazon Smile" is a simple procedure from your account page. It costs you nothing but does so much! A 0.5% credit will benefit this charity every time you make a purchase. 


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Book Review: Grandparenting: Renew, Relive, Rejoice

Now there's a word I'd have brushed aside in irritable haste during the frenzied years three very active daughters lived at home. Even defining "mindfulness" would have been a head scratching puzzle amidst deep dives into self-set goals and challenges: birthday parties, science fairs, sports practices and games, homework help, prom dates, friend sleepovers, family vacations......Did I beat the deadlines? Hang those decorations? Take the pictures? Earn the accolades? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. But how many of those hours were dedicated to mindful fulfillment (i.e. deliberate, kind awareness) of my parental duties?
Ummm......not so many......😞

Grandparenthood, they say, is a second chance. This stage of life, with significant lessening of caregiving responsibility, is an opportunity to get it right; it's a slowing down period of adjusting values and reworking what went wrong in the past. We can now be a mindful presence in the lives of a new, wide-eyed generation eager to hear what we have to say, anxious to imitate what we do. This, I tell myself, is not a time to goof things up again!

But how is this done? Where are the guidelines? The ideas? The real-life exercises? Where do we go for a step-by-step map of mindful living that will enrich relationships between grandparents and children? 

Well, HELLO! Right here!.....

Pam Siegel and Leslie Zinberg have collaborated to share a path to deeper communication with our grandchildren, no matter their ages. Grandparenting - Renew, Relive, Rejoice is a 127 page volume offering 52 Ways to Mindfully Connect and Grow with Your Grandkids. Within the pages of this book, you'll find mindfulness defined and developed for your personal imitation. Significantly, the authors don't just toss a breezy "talk to those kids!" your way (like many self-help books do). These ladies tell you what to say, where to go, and how to act once you get there! I like recognizing myself in some of the suggestions and sidebar quips from other grandparents. We've taken leisurely strolls, paper sacks in hand, gathering stuff of nature to take home to talk about, comparing textures and colors. But page 61 has additional ideas for me - activities that enhance "the journey (more) than the destination," and they are ones I'm going to put to immediate use!

We find a pointed absence of purchased fun in the mindful approach. Here is a place where our "presence," not "presents" are valued. Spontaneous, cost-free bonding experiences are true lasting gifts of love, not a shameful warehouse of redundant toys.....

Right under my nose (sorry! πŸ˜‰) is a fun game of "scent awareness" (page 69) that older kids will enjoy right along with younger sibs and cousins. They'll remember it for years, especially when a familiar smell (grandma's kitchen?) evokes peace and comfort. You'll find reasons and rules for modeling "do as I do" compassion for people and respect for our planet on page 55. And, I like the "glass-half-full" solution on page 47 because it's taken me decades to just stop and breeeeathe when things go wrong. I want to spare my grandkids the same needless anxiety. There's more in the Meditations chapter near the end of the book on tips and tools for calming oneself through the inevitable storms of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, learned much from it, and highly recommend it. It has firmly nudged me to practice a mindful lifestyle with my grandchildren - one that I expect will strengthen our relationships and shape all of us into deliberate, kind, and aware human beings.

Read the easy going style of Grandparenting - Renew, Relive, Rejoice once. Then keep it at hand to savor week after week, point by point, for an entire year. That's what I'm in the process of doing!

Purchase the book here - at Amazon.

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated with a free product sample 
              in exchange for my honest review. Photograph and opinions are my own.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Prancing and Pawing!

Tuesdays with a two year old - what a joy!

Channing and I spend the better part of that day together each week, getting lots done! Baking, for one thing; so proud to take home a loaf of banana bread, a pumpkin pie, or snack size bags of cookies to share post-dinner with family. And, grandma's kitchen is also where he's mastered the delicate art of egg cracking - a favorite task accomplished with gusto! 

We read books, too, of course, and it's heartwarming to learn that he's gone home to recite "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" to mom, dad, and the siblings.

The influence of a grandparent must never be undermined; I've read that, and now I live it every day!

We do arts and crafts together, too, swinging paint brushes with vigor, splashing colors clear and bright on acreages of paper stacked up and waiting patiently in pristine rolls.

Seasonally, we shine. Potato print pumpkins, leafy lanterns, ornaments for the tree....just love that mischievous little smirk anticipating gifting of decorative contributions underway! 

It was in that spirit we printed a feisty little reindeer from hands (two of them!) that fortunately still fit inside a standard size of paper stock. Keep this in mind, grandma, while struggling to hold your little wiggle worm in place! It may be a three-person job today, but next year may be too late!

Fortunately for me, Channing is an "old hand" πŸ˜‰at the craft; he paints and plants with authority, leaving me with a nicely printed specimen to complete with glued on paper scraps. I'm no math genius, though. πŸ˜•My excitement over festive candy-striped matting left me with an oddball finished size that fit no standard frame. I glued the piece instead to a lightweight cardboard backing and threaded a hanging ribbon instead. Easy solution, allowing Santa's wild-eyed transportation manager to go prancing and pawing home in the nick of time!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Pre-Party Puzzle Pieces!

Welcome Thanksgiving guests! 

Back in antiquated days, when politeness personality, "Miss Manners," prominently tutored the ignominy of uncouth behavior, this game would have fallen solidly under the category of "ice breakers." Those desperately-reached-for gimmicks offered a loosen-up cure for guests who awkwardly assemble to hold up the walls while Madam Hostess frets the unsavory social spectacle of an evening spent in sullen silence.

At our house, the ring of the doorbell on Thanksgiving Day initiates a cacophony of barking dogs, stampeding grandkids, blaring football, scattering cats, beeping oven timers, clinking wine flutes, disappearing appetizer platters and.....grandma - smiling on the outside, but stressing on the inside because turkey's yet un-carved, soup's on and rapidly cooling, veggies still need roasting, and.....what if everything just doesn't come together on time?

What's a grandma to do?

That's an easy one! Hand out Pre-Party Puzzle Pieces and let dinner guests (18 total in our case!) get busy finding the two other guests who complete their personal unit while you put finishing touches on the feast that follows. You'll find both kids and adults engaged in the fun, racing to be the first trio that presents itself to you - for a prize, or for the privilege of passing out prizes - in our case, foil covered chocolate turkeys for everyone. (Grandma doesn't tolerate "losers" when she's solidly in charge of things!)

So, I know what you're thinking now: "Where was she a week ago when I still had time to divide my guest list by three and make enough puzzles for everyone?" Fair enough. But you can also take a grandchild's line drawing and run it through your printer for a simpler version. That'll work. Not everyone loves to putzy with paper the way I do!

My puzzles are about 6" round. Each is cut into 3 free-hand pieces, make sure they are all different! Mix up the pile before passing them out.

Another variation of this game is to hide all the pieces for kids to find and then mix and match on their own. And, of course, the fun is adaptable for any holiday or event. We used it as part of an Easter relay competition a few years ago, and now I'm wondering if upcoming classroom Valentine parties wouldn't launch with a lively start while 25+ kids scramble to find their mates.....allowing teacher and room-moms a moment to settle back and enjoy the happy chaos!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers and friends! 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day: "I know what it feels like to be hunted."

This one is for me. And my family. And for those of you who were born of a veteran, or loved one, served as one, or simply appreciate what they have done for us.

My father, Frank, was an army veteran of World War II. I have his draft notice to prove it. And his Purple Heart, his Honorable Discharge certificate, and the black rosary mother prayed daily for his safe return. Beyond those mementos there's not much more I can tell you. Dad never, ever spoke of his experiences, and I never asked him about them. What little I do know was relayed to me in bits and pieces by mother:

My father was a tank commander, bonded to four younger charges who affectionately called him "dad." ("Dad" was 26 years old at the time.) When that tank was hit by enemy fire in Germany, everyone but he - mercifully blown from the vehicle - perished. I'm not sure if it was that incident or another of two "wounded in action" citations listed on his Record and Report of Separation that merited him his Purple Heart award.

Dad and his fellow soldiers knew "something big" was coming when those with fathers who were "somebody" were abruptly culled from infantry. Dad wasn't one of them. He was deployed to Normandy Beach the day after D-Day. What he witnessed there was never shared, guarded fiercely for his lifetime, even from mother.

Dad was part of a convoy that rumbled through European death camps after they were liberated. He humbly absorbed the adulation bestowed upon that population's heroic savior: the American soldier. I wonder if that's when dad picked up the German medal now also in my possession. The one I stiffen and recoil from at the sight of the ugly symbol it bears, the one suggestive of the very worst of four letter words ever uttered: Nazi. At one time I researched this medal. If it had value, I'd seek to sell it to get it out of my sight. But it is a common one: a German Mother's Cross. The word "mother" in its title softens me, so I force myself to make allowances for it. This token was once borne, perhaps unwittingly, by someone who contributed an acceptable number of "genetically superior" children to her country. One who secretly may not have embraced the nasty ideology of its regime. Possibly one with a son conscripted to serve, not because he wanted to, but because he had to - like my father....

.....who gratefully returned home at war's end to put down his weapon and never again take up another. Not even for sport. "Because," he explained to mother, "I know what it feels like to be hunted."

Mom and dad were married and had their firstborn child (me). My father's reaction to the birth of his daughter? "Good. She will never have to go to war like I did."

He was right, of course. The flailing tentacles of Vietnam snatched friends from me named Jerry, Don, and Dan. And it was the faces of my male classmates that I dared not seek out on the night we gathered at the campus radio station to hear the birth date roll that would draft more of them from my midst. Those years, a tumultuous time of anxiety, anger, activism, and rebellion set the stage for reemergence of this salient question: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Let that settle for a moment. Do you ever wish that, from now on, it was our reality?

I do.