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! 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Pretty Hats, Pretty Purses, Pretty Ladies!







































Oh, the fun that lurks inside a paper pack of plates! 

Like most little ladies rockin' the age of six, my trio of Grandma Campers loves crafting and performing. Just moments before their arrival, I quickly added a back-up, time-filler project - one heeding my own advice to "over-plan" the hours ahead. Did I expect it to be the hit it became?

Absolutely not!

Dig out your paper plates and bowls, grandma, I think you're going to enjoy this one, too!





















10" plates and 6" (10 oz.) bowls make fine hats and purses to match. Little ladies relish decorating them, and the entire family will pack the stadium to applaud the fashion event you narrate to show them off!

Place a bowl face down on the back surface of a plate, centered. Trace with pencil. Cut center of plate out on a line about 3/4" inside that one. Run a line of craft glue all along cut edge and put bowl in place to dry. Spray paint the hat.

Fold a 10" plate in half, bottom surface out, and staple both sides about 3" up from folded edge. Spray paint the purse.

My campers made their color choices, opting to "match" rather than "mix" purse and hat colors. And then we gathered at the outdoor crafting table, greeting a smorgasbord of decorating choices.....

There were stickers and feathers and yarn skeins galore, 
Crepe paper streamers, buttons and beads, and lots and lots more!










I tutored a quick tissue paper flower making session first - a skill that all little ladies need to own! The results were duly plopped atop, but deemed too time consuming to repeat. The immediate allure of the aforementioned goodies was just too irresistible!

With my occasional assist to staple purse handle choices, cousins chattered away, exchanging ideas, making each hat and purse a couture creation of personal originality.





















What surprised me most was the enthusiasm with which the girls anticipated the upcoming fashion show. Our tradition concludes each Grandma Camp week with a showcase of talent.....magic shows, puppet shows, bake sales, art exhibits.....all before an appreciative audience of parents, siblings, and aunties and uncles.

The girls embraced dress rehearsal, insisting I take group shots: models with hats alone, then purses alone, then finally with both hats and purses! (whew!) They giggled uncontrollably when it was decided in unison to end the show with a bang up surprise - a final group deep bow to send all hats flying!

Pretty hats, pretty purses, pretty ladies....I think they did a pretty good job being pretty amazing!

Models wait in the wings to strut the fashion show stage!

And yes! -  that final bow most certainly did have the impact we expected!








Friday, July 19, 2019

KA-BOOM! Situation Averted!







































My grandkids are seasoned problem solvers. Since they could toddle, they've nosed out secret stashes of birthday gifts and flushed worried cats from under-the-couch security. Hide something waaaay up high on a shelf, and you'd find them perched on the edge of a chair, pointing upward, asking, "What is that, grandma? Are you hiding stuff from us again?"

It was time to send them on a deliberate adventure - one where inquisitive eyes and noses-for-the-news could be put to the test. It was time to enlist "the big kid trio" at Grandma Camp as secret crime solving agents so I could sit back and encourage a delve into the mysterious nooks and crannies of my house! I'd give them an ultimatum, too. If they were unsuccessful in their mission, they were likely to be blown sky high right along with a candy-thieving perp's home made bomb!

Secret Agent adventures are a popular party topic, and Pinterest boards bulge with ideas. It seems that moms and grandmas share freely with one another, tweaking for the best personal experience. That's what I did, finding sources that I deemed "good" and "better," but settling for only "the best!" I recommend two of the latter. And here they are!....

One Creative Mommy blog - This resource is a treasure trove of detailed ideas - the one I relied on almost exclusively to produce a problem-free experience. Heidi (an elementary teacher and mom of two) owns the organizational skills you'd expect from an educator. She's generous, too. Her printables are top quality and she offers them free of charge. This site is a "must-visit" for invitations, badges, code names, spy agent training, a very clever bomb pinata, and exciting clues galore. I'll reference this source frequently in my post.

Grandma's Little Pearls blog - On this page you'll find Grandma Shelley's list of links to every feature of her Spy Agent Grandma Camp experience. Learn along with her youthful gang to make a spy gear box, security scan, edible bomb snacks, secret messages, and themed crafts!

Shhh! Do you hear the sinister tick-tick-ticking of a time bomb? I do! 
Let's go see what's up!





Ten year old twin brothers joined eight year old cousin, Brielle, for a high voltage spy mission described in an eagerly read intro message.












Here it is! Ooooo sounds dangerous!


I found the free "top secret" clip art online and used OCR extended font on Word for "government generated" official looking print!

















Accompanying that letter was Heidi's "stretched word" clue. I appreciated the "print-and-go" convenience of this one. It was quickly deciphered to read "fridge" - something everybody's got at hand!

Inside the fridge, the kids snatched up a "Mirror Clue." I printed Heidi's directive to "reflect on this message" along with my own advisory:

When the doorbell rings,
and the dog starts to bark,
you reach for the handle
and open -- --





the door!









Taped to the front porch was a "Mason Clue." I found this one fascinating! Never heard of it before! The kids dove right in to solving it, taking turns at being lead investigator.
















And what did it say? "Look behind the garage!" With a mighty whoosh! and a race to the door, the trio was GONE! - headed out to collect clue number four!

This was also grandpa's signal to set up the next event! He dutifully dumped inflated, clue-filled black balloons (bombs!) on the family room floor.

But meanwhile, back behind the garage......

Junior agents puzzled over a "Scytale Clue." Yes, I know. That one was new to me, too! Let Heidi guide you through it right here.















"Family Room!" After a few moments of team work, Scytale letters spelled out that simple prompt. Once again, with a vigorous shout of enthusiasm, campers scattered in a flash, breaking for back inside the house, triggering a heart-bursting moment of joy for grandma. Campers were really, really, REALLY enjoying themselves, and I was so proud of myself for putting it all together for them.

I hurried along behind to deliver instructions for what was ahead. Junior agents were to break the bombs by any means possible, watching for individual parts of a clue to pop out of select ones. All needed to be broken - and this time grandma sighed in gratitude for the $1.59 Hobby Lobby 24 pack of black 12 inchers!

KA-BOOM!











Excitement spiked when words on paper strips appeared. Bent studiously over the collection, agents shuffled them a bit, consulted in brief, and sprang for the stairs when "Where are the tents?" emerged. That targeted campers' sleeping area, and moved detectives out of the way so the stage could be set for the final confrontation with our bomb-bearing candy thief!

Upstairs, our spy trio clustered about a "Substitution Code Clue." Expert de-coders by now, it didn't take long to decipher "Find Grandpa!" on the grid.

















Kids raced back down. "Where is he? What does he have for us?" How could this benevolent soul figure into the mystery we've been charged with solving?

Whoa! What's this? On the floor? A trail of......no way!.....not CANDY WRAPPERS??? Leading straight to someone familiar perched on the couch holding - WHAT? - a bomb in his lap???

Noooooooooo!!!!!!! NOT GRANDPA????!!!!!!

But there he was - with a mouth full of rotten teeth that removed all doubt over his criminal identity!

(If you think the kids look a bit apprehensive over his appearance, you'd be correct! The grandpa they're used to is one who brushes his teeth and doesn't wear a goofy fake set just for fun!)

In fact.......








Here he is on an ordinary day - at the pensive moment he's just learned he'll be the star player in our rotten-toothed candy thief escapade! (He sighs, knowing very well no argument will get him out of this gig!)









So, our junior FBI agents recovered quickly from their initial shock and tore the bomb to pieces just in time. They devoured the "fuses" (Twizzlers) and divided the "sticks of dynamite" (cardboard tubes) stuffed with candy. The cats carted off attached "detonation wires" (sparkly pipe cleaners), and grandpa promised he'd ditch the crazy teeth and revert to his law abiding ways, requiring me to resume shoo-ing the ladies away from handsome-him at the grocery store!

And grandma? Well, she's just content to have this long-wished-for adventure checked off her "to-do-with-grandkids" list - and heartily grateful to Heidi and Grandma Shelley for their creativity, inspiration, and generosity!

Pictured at right are goofy fake teeth, and clues and codes available at One Creative Mommy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Unicorn Romp!







































Visions staged on fairy tale fields in the long ago past recall maidens a-glide on steeds of bright white. A twirl of horn accents each noble head, as a cascade of mane shivers and shakes, rustles and quakes, through hoof-beaten travel on forested paths that hide treasure galore.....

Lovers of unicorns they are.....my six year old trio of little lady cousins! What other invitation need present itself to challenge pursuit of the magical majesty of a Unicorn Romp at Grandma Camp this year?

























But allow me to lift my head from a fluff of glittered clouds for one moment. Angeline (at right) cautions me that "unicorns are not real." She is not, to be clear, disqualifying herself from a mounted trounce through grandma's backyard woods to snatch treasure from a hidden trove, but merely stating a fact.....This is a family of solid truth tellers, I might add. Two years ago, twin sissy, Ava (at left) pointed out that the "fairies" we sought among the same foliage were also "not real," instead, ones handcrafted by.....well, I think you know by whom! :) Kaylee keeps peace in the middle, probably admonishing her cousins to just let grandma have her fun - "If she wants to believe her woods are enchanted with fairies and unicorns and gnomes and flying squirrels and talking butterflies, well let's just make her happy and play along for today!"  

Thank you, ladies, for indulging me!....

Sensing imminent arrival, a stable of free spirits snorts and paws the ground in excitement!

Hark! Princesses are near! 

















Each fair maiden is delighted with her steed, names her quickly, then mounts, awaiting the signal to embark.....












Meet "Flower" at left, "Diamond" at center, and "Star" at right.

Grandma hands out gift bags, pretty and pastel. Little ladies trust their mounts to guide them through their mission: draw a path through dappled woods, gathering treasure wrapped only in the designated color of your own!

Away we go!


Ava finds hers first - one of six for each - necklaces, bracelets, and rings, a card game, sticker book, candy, and one or two other wonderful things!





















Sissy is close behind. Her bag fills up, too......






















Kaylee announces: "Mission accomplished! We're headed back to the ranch!"

































But Angeline arrives first! She finds a picnic spread, box lunches, and a cool spot for both "man and beast" to rest and recover in the shade! 
















Fair maidens gather at mission's end to open treasures, munch on lunch, and chatter away in the language of little lady cousins. And while there might be acknowledgement that unicorns are not "really real," a romp through the woods in the companion of a "grandma made" one is considered a very fine adventure indeed!


Yes, I did make three unicorns in my own original design! Pinterest has lots of inspiration because animal "costumes" built from cardboard boxes are nothing new. Here's general instructions for making one like mine:

Begin with a box that's suitable in size for your child. Mine are about 18" x 22" and 14" tall. Cut bottom off. Cut a rectangular opening into top, about 6" back from side where head will be attached. (A serrated kitchen knife works well.) Sketch a horse head and neck profile on a large sheet of paper (piece together if needed). Mine is 24" at its highest point, and 18" at its widest. Trace profile on cardboard and cut two. See photos for the way to cut into profile necks so they will nestle, centered, into front of box. Situate them 4" apart and tape firmly. Cut a few 4" strips of flexible cardboard in long lengths, at least 24" each to start. Beginning at bottom back, tape this "gusset" to each side of the profile, closing the 4" gap between them. Continue around to front of head, cutting additional gussets as needed until entire head is closed. 

Cut tissue paper into 4" squares. (Dollar Tree has large packs of good quality paper.) Cover an area on unicorn body with craft glue (like Elmer's) and bunch up tissue squares to attach to surface until entire box is covered. Use colorful craft paper for strips of mane, bridle, ears, eyes, and tail. Use tissue paper to make flowers for head, and shiny card stock for horn. Horn is 11" right triangle cut and wrapped around a pencil for a few hours. (Secure with rubber band while waiting.) Shoulder straps are wide ribbon threaded through slits at front and back edges of box top and knotted inside to hold. I threaded 18" thin wooden dowels through each head so girls could hang on and pull head up as they travel.