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.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Leafy Lanterns

Isn't this pretty? 

For me, it captures nostalgia: fistfuls of autumn brightness, collected and brought home to mother for pressing between sheets of waxed paper. I studied those carefully then, sometimes taping them to the window of my room so the back lighting of sunshine could enhance their collective beauty. But how much nicer to capture that translucency in a lantern! - a portable showcase of the season's finest - free to those who need only to stoop to pick them up.

Pinterest is awash with variations of this gentle craft. But few give exact measurements or simplify the cumbersome attachment of paper wall to base. And, to my knowledge, no one else involves assistance from a two year old grandson in the collecting and arranging process! But here it is! Teacher-ly bossiness at its best! I've outlined everything for you here, step-by-stepping your way to a successful seasonal project, utilizing items you probably have at hand - although the pint sized side kick is a strictly optional ingredient!

Here's what you'll need to make a 6" x 6" lantern exclusive of handle:

1. Assortment of leaves 3" - 4" preferably a colorful variety - 10 fit nicely here - best results if                pressed between paper towels in a heavy book overnight
2. Wax paper - 16" length from a 12" wide roll
3. Thin flexible cardboard - 4.75" diameter circle and 3 strips 3/4" x 16.5"
4. Narrow ribbon 18" (optional)
5. Tea light
6. Iron, glue, scissors, transparent tape

And here's what you'll do:

1. Fold wax paper in half horizontally to 6" x 16". Open. Arrange leaves on bottom half, fold top            down and press quickly with hot iron to seal.

2. Cut and attach 2" strips of tape (sticky side up!) all around cardboard circle as shown at left. This will serve as lantern base.

3. Carefully attach bottom edge of wax paper to base by folding tape up as you go around. This part is clumsy, but doable! See photo at left.

4. Overlap vertical ends and run tape from top to bottom along seam to close.

5. Run glue along bottom edge of wax paper. Wrap one 16.5" strip around lantern bottom, overlapping ends. Glue ends together so strip fits snugly against wax paper.
6. Repeat for top edge.
7. Glue handle ends to inside top edge of lantern. Adjust size as desired.
8. Tie ribbon into bow on one side at base of handle as shown in top photo.
9. Insert tea light.

And here's what will happen if this project includes a two year grandson!:

1. You certainly will get your leaves! But prepare to sort them! Wrinkled, torn, bug holes, mold....scooped right up like a manic vacuum cleaner!

2. "Pie-ders," not leaves, will take hunting priority. Those may not be evident, but a cute little tree frog might make an appearance!

3. Your little nature hunter will want to catch and hold it gently before you insist it be set free to go home to mom and dad!

4. Back inside, he'll carefully position his leaves, but won't be interested in a lecture on "dicot vs. monocot!" Just trust me on that one!

5. While you complete the lantern, he'll happily park himself, snack in hand, in front of Paw Patrol.

6. When mommy picks him up, he'll gleefully hand her the lantern and exclaim, "Look what I made for you!"- because, of course he did! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sewing For Kids: Pudgy Pumpkin Potholders!

Pudgy potholder pairs - plump pumpkins and sneaky spiders - serve several purposes. They're a kids' learn-to-sew adventure introducing basic running stitching coupled with hand quilting basics. And, results make charming decorative gifts for mommy - so much fun to have on hand while easing mummy meringues out of a hot oven during this giddy season of anything-goes craziness!

I've just begun to sew with grandkids; six and nine year old girls are anxious to learn. But there's a surprise in the crowd, too! Four year old Austin doesn't mind one bit being the only dude to hone the trade. He's working on a small stuffed cat now, sandwich-stitch-inching his way around the perimeter of a simple felt shape. For that, he's earned his own post. And it's coming soon! (I'll direct it at his future mom-in-law saying, "You're very welcome!" in advance!) But for now, little ladies are sole producers of Halloween potholders - with some (okay - a lot!) finishing touch contribution from good "old-ish" grandma!

Here's how we made them, starting with a few tips to make intro sewing a fun first experience:

1. Keep projects small and appealing. Kids like to see results quickly, and the repetitiveness of sewing triggers boredom.

2. If possible, show a completed sample so kids see a goal worth poking along for!

3. Expect thread to tangle and pull off the needle. Have threaded extras ready to go.

4. Kaylee, (at left) handles holding and sewing quite well, but if needed, hold the fabric for your child while he/she moves the needle.

5. Avoid jumping in to fix every wayward stitch! (This is hard - sometimes I wait til they're not looking! 😏)

6. Don't worry about whisking the project off for finishing touches. Good results mean next time they'll want to do more for themselves.

I build my originally designed potholders over Dollar Tree purchases for reasons of economy and less work. The 2-in-a-pack ready-made purchase means there's no need to assemble an insulating layer. I found some (pictured below) with solid black backs, also eliminating a complimenting seasonal print back cover (more "less work!"). Here's the link to step by step instructions from a past post featuring turkey handprints on potholders gifted to mommy seven years ago! That's where you'll go to complete this project once you've assembled the hand pieced tops shown above:

1. Begin each potholder with a 6" square - orange or black. Cut 4 squares, 2.5" each, from contrasting color and position in all corners (one shown). Draw a diagonal sewing line on each one.

2. Sew each small square along traced line in a running stitch.

3. Clip corners and press open. This 6" square is now spider or pumpkin shaped and ready to decorate.

4. For spider:

a. Cut 8 ribbon lengths, about 5" each, and knot close to ends for legs. Pin them to sides of body, laying inward. Cut 2 lengths of contrasting fabric, each 2.5" x 6" and sew them to sides (right sides together) with a running stitch, enclosing ribbon legs. Press open. Cut a long narrow strip of ribbon about 12" long for web line (used for potholder hanger) and pin to center top, folded downward. Cut 2 more strips, each 2.5" x 8" and sew them to top, enclosing ribbon hanger, and bottom. Press open.

b. Make a sandwich of thin cotton batting between assembled square and an 8" square of scrap fabric. Use quilting thread to hand stitch, outlining triangles and body shape.

c. Iron fusible web to scrap of white fabric and cut 2 circles, approximately 1.5" each. Apply them to body for eyes. Sew black 1/2" buttons on top.

d. Finish potholder following assembly directions found here. Stitch a 5/8" ribbon bow to center top of completed potholder.

5. For pumpkin:

a. Cut 2 contrasting fabric strips 2.5" x 6" and 2 more 2.5" x 8". Sew 6" strips to sides with running stitch. Press open. Fold a 6" green ribbon scrap (5/8") in half for stem, and pin to top center, folded downward. Sew 8" strips to top, enclosing ribbon, and bottom. Press open.

b. Sew black buttons to face. Iron fusible web to scrap of black print or solid fabric and cut and apply triangle nose.

c. See step "b" above for spider to hand quilt the square, then sew a smile in running stitch through all 3 layers.

d. See step "d" above for spider to complete pumpkin potholder.

This original design, like all blog content, is intended for personal use only. Copyright 2019. All rights reserved. Thank you!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Treasure Trays For Tots!

I have to admit, keeping a two year old fruitfully occupied is a challenge. Collectively, they're famous for a few things: wriggling, whining, and wailing. When you're not looking they'll pop anything smaller than a basketball into their mouths, swallow it, and run. Oh sure, they're cute as a bug and cuddly as a kitten, but that's not to say that babysitting stints don't push every high alert button on each of grandma's five aging senses!

I was given a bit of short notice this week for hosting two year old Channing (top photo - isn't he just presh?) and his older sibs for the good part of a day. While four year old brother and I usually pass the time with vigorous board game rounds, and newly-nine sissy learns to sew or sculpt, this little guy needs all eyes and ears on deck for the duration!

What's a grandma to do?

Pinterest parents tout "sensory bins" as lifesaving devices, and I've observed my own daughters' success with them. Pounds of colorful pasta and rice fill tubs to the brim. Sandbox shovels are offered to temperamental toddlers who dig in with delight. Those burial grounds for plastic treats and goodies keep them safe and happy. Mommies are free for an hour or two to sip from a coffee cup (or wine glass, perhaps, depending on how the day is going!).

My "Treasure Tray" version for Channing began with a trip to Dollar Tree. Mostly in the floral department. My goal was to create an enticing play yard of movable parts (beans, gravel, stones, sticks) for manipulating into a dino habitat. For less than $12 I snatched up ingredients enough to entertain not only that little guy, but his siblings as well - with plenty of stuff left over for next time!

Work trays (12" square), bowl set (4), gravel - white (large chunks) and lime green (small) - pinto beans, smooth black "river rocks," sparkly green "glass gems".....just part of my very economical order shown above.

To complete our stations, I snapped off a handful of backyard sticks, supplied a pair of plastic spoons, and made a recipe of play dough to divide. Lizards and dinos were characters we already had "in stock," but Dollar Tree has similar creatures looking for a friendly home if you're in need of them!

Photo documented: expressions of intensity as critter parks spring alive with trees and bridges and ponds that glimmer. Paths of stone, barriers of brick. Islands controlled in random chaos. Oddball extras with purposes known only to their youthful creators!

Final verdict, cautions to heed, and further inspiration: 

I hand this one to the Mommy World. It works! Busy little boys dove right in for nearly an hour, delighted with free range play, sorting exercise, and sensory satisfaction. I thought sissy might turn up her nose, but I was wrong! She dug in, too, constructing a sophisticated oasis to populate with a handful of small plastic reptiles.

But be cautious, grandma! Nearly 100% of ingredients for this activity pose a swallowing hazard! 

In fact, at drop-off, daddy advised me that he'd dealt with a "play dough up-the-nose" incident that very morning! Yikes. It makes sense: sit next to your little designer and watch every move made. It's also your chance to supervise practice on "what goes in," and "what stays out" of the mouth! - and ears, and nose, too, I guess!

And, of course, the activity makes a mess! Especially when you incorporate play dough into the mix. I thought it was worth it - the additional tactile experience - to vacuum (and vacuum, and vacuum, and vacuum....!) globs of it from the rug. But that's up to you. Had it not rained, we'd have been out on the deck, enjoying a sweep-away experience. I'd have also offered bags of colored sand, way too messy for indoor play. Next time, a plastic Dollar Tree tablecloth will cover our space and I'll just swoop everything up to toss when we're done.

Other themes, too! As she worked, older sissy, Brielle, and I brainstormed more fun. We have zoo animals here, fairies, and insects. They wouldn't mind their own kid-built habitats, too. I mentioned that my shopping spree also netted a bag of black beans, and how I admired small sparkly spiders on the rack. "HALLOWEEN!" we shouted together. And that, I believe, is what we'll be busy with next!

Five years ago, I scored another big project hit at Dollar Tree with the Pennywise Play School Set I made for Brielle. Many of the items I used (or ones very similar) are still on the shelves, making that store a "must-stop-by" for any grandma looking for unique, economical babysitting fun!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Middle Kid

I've no idea what it's like to be "the middle kid." I'm the oldest of three sisters. The queen. The leader. The instigator. Status as the smartest one (no), the boldest (yes), or the most creative (maybe) played no part in my role. My only qualifier? I was there first. I gathered 'em in, told 'em what to do, then watched 'em obey me (wearing stuff I outgrew!). What a life!

I paid no attention to the significance of birth order until parenting advice in the 80s alerted me to its perils and privileges. I could clearly see myself in my own oldest daughter. She took that power ball and ran it with gusto. (Just ask her two younger sisters for confirmation of that little tidbit!)

It's easier to observe birth order behavior from the sidelines when you've reached the state of grandma-hood. No soccer practice pick up problems or bulging baskets of undone laundry to cloud your vision. Grandmas sit back and watch the show. And they make astute observations. About their own behavior. And that of others.

I admit to catching myself swept up in meaningful conversation with the oldest child - the one who's in school and has lots and lots and lots to say! Then there's that adorbs little toddler. OMG. What's he doing today that's soooo cute 'n funny? Here he comes now, struggling into my lap, gurgling away, picture book in hand. Awwww! He wants me to read to him! 

But, wait! There's one more! 

"The Middle Kid."

With us, only a pair of four year old boys qualify as "middle kids." The third family has no "middle child." Huh? How is that riddle even possible? Well, try not one, but two sets of twins! In that fam, there's privilege at both top and bottom: "Oh my! What those handsome young men have accomplished today!" and "Oh dear! How pretty and talented can those little ladies be?" Nobody's complainin' in that family! (Especially mommy, the aforementioned firmly-in-command "oldest child," now smugly enjoying the middle-kid-dilemma-dodge!)

I am out of suggestions here. I make no presumption to hand out advice or solace. I don't often see exhibited distress from our middle kids. For the most part, they both enjoy duel roles as best buds to older sissies, as well as "boss man" to little brothers. But I am prone to magnify things and rush in to fix stuff that might not even need fixin' (just ask grandpa! he'll fill ya in!), so I make special provisions for my own middle kids. They're invited to special "Drop-In-Days" at grandma's where it's all about them. Just them. Lunch and a craft. Play time, too. No older sibs to show-and-tell 'em how things are done around here. No giggling littles to snatch a paintbrush and run.

They seem to enjoy it, demanding a return really, really, really soon for another round of being "the oldest," "the youngest," and "the middle kid," all in one happy package of smiles and fun!

I've pictured Austin (top) at last week's event. He joined cousin Ryan (above) for a Kiwi Crate assembling session. We made cool lanterns followed by lunch and a squirt gun fest. I captured the moment middle kid Austin applied a sticker sheet remnant to his face and asked, "Do you think this is funny, grandma?" Well, of course I do, sweetie! I think everything about you (both of you!) is funny and cute and heartwarming and creative and just the most special thing I've ever, ever seen anywhere! And I am very happy and privileged to be right in the middle of it!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bugs! They're Everywhere!

Bugs! It's summer! They're everywhere! Enjoy 'em!

Grandma Campers indulged themselves in the world of bugs this year, welcoming them by the  swarm. Those curious and often creepy critters offer a world of intrigue for study in several categories of interest: biology, engineering, and art.....

Let's put a magnifying glass on the activities we explored!

Library learnin' is the basis for all successful endeavor. We took a studied look at a fascinating inventory of bugs - large, small, fierce, and friendly. Book based bug chatter focused on a few basic facts: insects (the correct term for "bugs!") have six legs, three main body parts, and most adults have wings. Spiders are not insects; they are arthropods, creatures with eight legs, only two body sections, and no wings. We'll save those guys for Halloween!

We determined our favorites: butterflies, ladybugs, and honey bees. Non-faves are mosquitoes, flies, and hornets. We were ambivalent about grasshoppers, moths, and black ants (even though they are "cute and busy" - like we are!). I'll bet you might agree with us on those choices!

Armed with new awareness, we dipped courageously into bags and boxes of wood scraps, small plastic bottles, and caps of various sizes and shapes - all squirreled away by grandma months in advance for this purpose.

We are going to engineer our own bugs!.....

Toothpaste tube cap eyes bulge like the real ones do, and that odd little topper with the pointer makes an excellent proboscis. We needed six long, skinny little legs apiece - making grandma, for the first time ever, grateful for the number of times markers were left uncapped to dry out! (Also appreciative for the amount of cute little round "caterpillar body" pill bottles at our disposal due to the grandfolks dependence on BP meds!)

I found it best to man the hot glue gun at the disposal of my little engineers. They told me where to adhere their choices. In the process, we added an interesting word or two to our vocab: symmetry, for one (try to find a bug that's not a mirror image of itself from side-to-side!), and monochromatic (what grandma's sample bug would have been, save for the blue sparkly wings!).

Snack Break and Bug Census

We took a bug break next, nibbling on an array of veggie sculpted ants and dragonflies perched on cracker rounds. (See Nature's Path for the cutest collection ever!) And then into the woods we marched, paper sacks and magnifying glasses in hand. The latter helped us find 'em - often in their hiding places beneath leaves and under sticks. The former served our census inventory - every time we spotted a bug we popped a small stone into them. It was fun to sort and count back home on the deck, chattering away about our finds!

Fingerprint Art

My fun find at Rays of Bliss blog served us well as a guide sheet for the Bug Books we created next. Each little lady received six sheets of white paper and two light cardboard covers, all 6" square. Choosing from this delightful chart, each page featured a colorful winged friend. We tied our books together with a slip of ribbon through holes punched in left top corner and carried home a sweet memory of "Bug Day" at Grandma Camp!

Ava completes a pretty blue butterfly on one page of her book.

Moth Sheet

Grandma Camp late evenings find us still up, even at 10 P.M. It's a privilege we enjoy in anticipation of traditional "Night Hikes." Venturing out after dark as a brave flashlight-toting team offers thrills and chills and opportunities to observe things that aren't visible in the glare of summer's vibrant daylight. Weird bugs, for instance. Like the plethora of moths we attracted on the white sheet we draped over a fence, spotlit by a flashlight. Boy, did those critters show up in droves! And while we avoided reaching in to "pet them," it was fun to observe different sizes, shapes, and colors!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Canvas Factory Review - WIN something wonderful!

This is a sponsored post for which I have been compensated with a free product sample 
                                          and a giveaway prize for my readers.

I am grateful for a second opportunity to offer you a chance to win a beautiful memory-capturing canvas print that will well satisfy your expectations. In this world of hit-or-miss customer service, Canvas Factory rates as one of the very best with me.

The product, most importantly, is top quality. Along with that, communication and ordering ease make doing business with Canvas Factory a breeze! 

Follow this link to the Canvas Factory site once you've decided on an image. I chose a 16" x 20" family portrait of my youngest daughter on the occasion of her son's second birthday - the Fourth of July! The photo I took celebrates an eye-popping festival of red, white, and blue in the blistering squinty-eyed heat of mid summer! My finished canvas blazes with the same bright clarity and crisp image. I love it!

On the Canvas Factory site, you'll be greeted with an invitation to initiate your order by choosing size and orientation. If your image isn't suitable for the process (my alternate choice, lifted from Face Book, was not!) you'll be advised of that. Complete satisfaction is the goal here, with "live chat" availability just a click away in case you need it.

You'll move on to wrap style next. I opted for "gallery" after considering both "mirror image" and a palette of solid colors for outside edges. Take your time trying everything on. It's fun!

Choosing an effect allows you to play with a variety of options such as "sepia" or "gray" etc. I wasn't about to dim the lights on my patriotic party, but one of these specials might be just what you are looking for!

Almost time to wrap things up with adding text. I considered a few colors and fonts for my portrait but decided that my image was vibrant enough - lots going on in that space! - but you'll enjoy playing with multiple options (font, color, text background, etc.) to see if one of them is right for you!

Once you click to order, rest assured you'll remain a priority. Status emails follow, and you'll receive a tracking number once your order is shipped. (Allow about three days lead working time.) My very well packaged parcel arrived via UPS less than a week later. I was delighted with the perfect craftsmanship (no slap-happy corners!) and ready-to-hang convenience!

Okay! Enough about me! Let's talk about your chance to win a canvas in your choice of size: 16" x 20" (retail value $45.15) or 18" x 12" ($34.30) from the wonderful folks at Canvas Factory! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post if you are a resident of the U.S. or Canada only. Tell me something interesting about your history of hanging portraits in your home. Any favorites? Kids? Grandkids? Pets? Weddings? Graduations? Vacations? You know you've got a real treasure hiding away somewhere that would look dazzling on your wall in a Canvas Factory print! I'd love to hear about it!

Please enter by Saturday, August 17, 2019. That's when I'll choose a winner in a random drawing and announce the name right here, on this post! Good luck!

Congratulations, mary! You are the winner. 
I do not have a contact email for you, so please forward it to me by end of day on 08-19-19.
Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway!