Friday, June 29, 2012

Grandmother Bloggers Know Best. Period.

I am beginning to realize that anything worth knowing can be found on a blog written by a grandmother. This rich source of reliable and straight-forward information has never disappointed me. One example is last week's desperate search to identify alien-looking nodules that began to appear on our pumpkin vines as they matured. I did recognize newly sprouted  little "curlicues" that accompanied them. Those are supposed to be there. I have seen them gracing pumpkins on illustrated Thanksgiving Day cards! But what the heck are those extra little knobs that are definitely not leaf clusters? Could they possibly be flower buds? Surely there are educational sites that would enlighten and assure me that, indeed, our vines are crawling down the correct path to a healthy fall harvest........

Typed in "stages of pumpkin growth." Nothing. Well, not unless you want to count the agriculture site that advised me to approach my plants at dawn and force them to pollinate one another using a paint brush. Eww! That just doesn't sound ethical to me! I would never do that to our pumpkins! Isn't that what God made bees for?

And then I remembered. Grandma blogs! One I follow and visit regularly is the sweet and simply told journey through life of "Grandma Kc" and her beloved granddaughter, Amara. Several years ago that happy little pair attempted to grow pumpkins in a large garden pot. The Summer of the Pumpkins is richly illustrated with striking close up photos of plants at various stages. Finally! The exact scientific info I needed! On a grandma blog! But wait! There's more! The Summer of the Sunflowers followed that post, because sadly, "pickable pumpkins" were never meant to be for grandma and Amara. God had other plans for them. Instead, they were blessed beyond their wildest expectations with a robust crop of sunflowers so huge and aggressive that grandpa described them in a follow up comment as "creepy!" (Yes, these are fun people!) Feast your eyes on the gorgeous photos of these flowers as they grow up, up and away and become tall enough to peer inside the house while the "creeped out" gardeners hide deep within and wonder what they unleashed by plunking those fertile seeds beneath the soil! Wow! That is gardening success I sincerely admire!

Thank you, Grandma Kc! Now I know that what we coaxed forth are pumpkin blossoms. They began to burst open yesterday and the kids enjoyed examining them through magnifying lenses today. I have also handed grandpa a sunflower seed packet and asked him to plant them for us. Nothing yet, but it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe the final score will be pumpkins for us and sunflowers for Amara!

Are YOU a grandma?
Because, if you are, I think you're very smart!

Friday, June 22, 2012

If You Eat Our Pumpkins, We Are Gonna Eat YOU!

"What on earth is THAT?" you ask. Well, I don't blame you! And I will get to a suitable explanation in a minute. But first, bear with me as I divulge my "pre-becoming-a-grandma" vision of gardening with my grandchildren - one that is quite a bit different from today's reality!                                

In former dreams, those longed-for children and I would frolic merrily through weedless, verdant acres of plump ripe berries and corn husks so tall and healthy that we could carve with ease our own haunted Halloween maze each year. Exotic varieties, such as spaghetti gourds, would thrive so eagerly that they would brazenly climb the front steps, enter the house, and lay a carpet of fertile blossoms upon the living room couch! Whatever we liked we planted, and it grew with reckless abandon because it was always very anxious to please us!

This fantasy garden, my picture-perfect plat of symmetrical artistry, begged earnestly for protection and that came in the form of an entire extended family of scarecrows - ones that held hands across ripened rows and were fashioned to resemble each one of us - all three generations! Their attire was traditional preppy-scarecrow - denim overalls, crisply pressed plaid shirts and wide brimmed straw hats shading jaunty, toothless smiles that grinned beneath thatches of straw hair. For a final whimsical touch, grandma would perch life sized fake crows on each shoulder and those birds would attract curious live ones who would smile at the irony, respectfully refusing to eat our produce. They would instead confine themselves to the bounty of a mischievous cat-shaped feeding station that we ourselves hand fashioned from sun-baked clay and replenished daily with premium seed also grown and harvested by hand. Whew! That's some tough wheelbarrow to fill, huh?

My reality is a scratch of a dirt patch, roughly 18" x 36," where six undersized pumpkin plants struggle to touch the sun. I stand over them numerous times each day to wring my hands and debate the ethics of sneaking in "otherwhere grown" pumpkins next fall amid these scrawny leaves so the grandkids won't be disappointed when the gigantic fruit that grandma has promised never materializes. 

And the agony doesn't stop there! Last week I gathered the kids to tutor the topic of scarecrows. At least we'd have those, I thought, and a really, really cute American traditional family of them would attract such acclaim that the absence of robust vining curled about their feet would go unnoticed! I'd looked and looked for a charming folk tale to accompany my lesson in "scarecrowology" but alas, with the notable exception of the Wizard of Oz, no such animal exists! I was on my own, relying on pictures from worn pages of an old, old Country Living magazine for explanation and visual stimulation. 

One of many, many things I love about the boys is that they will never hurt my feelings by saying, "Grandma, that is a goofy idea," even though sometimes I can clearly read that very sentiment in their eyes. This time, they glanced at each other uneasily and then the braver of the two declared, "Grandma, those scarecrows are not gonna scare anybody away from anything. What we need out there is a scare-MONSTER! - a green one! with lots of eyes...and big, big hands!" At that moment, the brutal truth stared me boldly in the face. I am never going to have my rolling acres of perfectly planted heaven and I am never going to have my primly groomed three-generation scarecrow family sporting plastic crows on straw-stuffed shoulders. I am simply going to have to settle for two happy little boys working side by side with me to make the best-ever green, multi-eyed, extra-large-handed scare-MONSTER anybody ever saw! And if he doesn't end up looking like something that would say, "If you eat our pumpkins, we are gonna eat YOU!" well, I don't know what would!

The boys chose red and yellow paint to decorate the scare-monster, made from a "blob shape" traced and sewn on a folded yard of green burlap. They stuffed him really well with plastic shopping bags. (I also discovered that this is a very handy way to dispose of the dilemma created when grandpa persistently asks, "Why do we always have so many bags from Michael's and Hobby Lobby?")

The stuffing crew, hard at work.

I poked in a stick about 4' tall and tied up the open bottom with an old shoelace. At this point, we brainstormed the way our scare-monster would look when he was finished. The boys gave the orders and grandma wrote them down. It was my job to complete the project alone. Five eyes, I was told - FIVE! (milk bottle caps), a pointy nose (dried teasel), sharp teeth! (rotini pasta painted white), blue buttons! (blue buttons) and of course, the aforementioned BIG HANDS! Reallly BIG hands!" As further proof that these two are such very nice little boys, I will mention that their original order called for blue hair and LOTS of it. I must have slumped in my chair a little then, thinking longingly of the bright yellow raffia strands I could pluck from a long discarded luau party skirt (not mine!) that still lurked in the basement. "Ohhh, but what about YELLOW hair?" I asked in a spooky, menacing tone of voice. SOLD! Immediately! See what considerate little boys they are?

And so, to answer your question, "What on earth is THAT?" may I present our home made scare-MONSTER, custom designed to grace a scrappy little garden plat that has somehow managed to exceed my dreams of unrealistic perfection, even as it has scared them all away!

Hmm, if you can't manage to scare a 2 year old, do you think you can scare away crows? Well, we don't know yet!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Helping Hands Potholder Factory


Yes, I know this looks like a crime scene, but don't worry! What you are witnessing is the first step in the process of mass producing potholders that will appear in the gift shop of our upcoming Family Clothesline Art Show, Sale, and Auction! Last month's "Works in Progress" post has all the details on this first annual event that will allow the grandchildren to sell their hand made artwork at highly inflated prices to an adoring audience of parents, aunts, uncles and of course, grandparents!

My grandkids know exactly what to do when they see me approach with a brush and a tube of paint. They have had their little hands printed so often for grandma's projects that even Bree immediately presents her palm to me! After paint is applied, she firmly plants her dainty hand on whatever I've put in front of her. I think someday these kids might tell their own grandchildren, "If my memory serves me correctly, I think your great great grandma was a prison warden. She was forever fingerprinting us!"

I'm not an "official business woman" either, but it seems like common sense to target an audience when you want to move merchandise! Happy Helping Hands Potholders don't mess around. They get to the point really fast. For example, "Nick + Mommy =  heart button." And "Bree + Nana =  heart button." Think those little heart-tugging tactics will appeal to Mommy and Nana when they come to shop? I think they might turn out to be the same kind of challenge that the old familiar saying describes...."it was like shooting fish in a barrel!"

I have streamlined making these appealing little gifts by building them right on top of purchased potholders from the dollar store. The ones I used were packaged with two in a set. That's lots cheaper and much less work than making them with my other option - layered quilt batting that doesn't insulate.

Here are the materials needed to make one hand-stamped potholder:

8" square bleached muslin or white cotton fabric
8" square cotton print fabric for back of potholder, coordinated with handprint color
Bias tape (home made or purchased) or purchased ruffled trim, 28" length  (3 yards trims 4)
Fabric paint and brushes, wider brush for hands, detail brush for lettering
Heart shaped button
Ribbon, optional
Potholder, 7" square, light color, all tags and loops removed
Miscellaneous sewing notions and sewing machine

Begin by printing the child's hand at center of muslin square with fabric paint. Print name or message on Word in a simple font and place beneath fabric, trace with pencil and then again using detail brush and paint.                                                                                 

Center printed white fabric on potholder, pin, and machine sew all around along inside bias edge to attach fabric. Trim fabric close to stitching. Repeat with backing fabric on reverse side of potholder.

When both sides are sewed on and excess fabric is trimmed away, (as shown on right, above), sew trim all around outside edge. Completed potholder, reverse, shown above, left.

Sew on button, add ribbon accents, or hand quilt a line about 1/2" inside trimmed edge.

No one wants to think about February now I know, but these would be cute as Valentine's day gifts, too!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Guess Who Loves Daddy?

It really isn't my job to provide Father's Day gifts to my sons-in-law, but I am just soooo nice and they are such good fathers to my grandkids that I love coming up with something for them to open on those Sunday mornings. Last year we made "Artwork For Daddy"  folders, but this year the gift idea has to be quick and easy to put together. I have been so busy with lots of things and don't have a moment for anything that takes more than an hour to assemble. And that is about the amount of time this Father's Day gift takes to complete once you have the few items you need for it! It is also adaptable for "Who-me?-I-don't-need-anything!" Grandpa!

The "actual gift" is a cute photo of your grandchildren. It is nested into the last of four gift wrapped boxes, each tagged with a one word clue that spells out "Guess who loves daddy?" and ends up with the "WE DO!" answer inside the last box with the picture.

Here's all you need!

  • 1 cute photo of the kids
  • 4 cardboard boxes, sized so they nest within each other
  • 4 colors of wrapping paper (but just one is fine)
  • 5 computer printed clues on white paper, trimmed as tags (I used Word font AR Christy, size 72)
  • Scissors, tape and optional bows or stickers
When the gift is assembled it is done in reverse order, of course, but this is what will happen when daddy or grandpa is handed this box......

"What? A gift for me?"
"Yes! Yes! OPEN IT!"

Inside the red box he finds this dark blue one!

and inside THAT dark blue box is THIS light blue one!

and the light blue box contains THIS yellow one!

The final yellow box contains the GRAND PRIZE.....the picture of your grandchildren and the answer to the puzzle that took four unwrapped boxes to solve! I also think this "grand opening" event will yield some pretty cool photos of daddy on Father's Day morning, too!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Got anything for us 'normal' people?"

LOL...or at least I think I'm supposed to laugh at that question! A few of my grandma friends, one in particular - (and she knows who she is!) - continually asks me that. She says she doesn't have room in her basement for an "entire circus" (very funny!), the time to hunt down a puppet show audience or the patience to make life size monsters. She claims she "just sits" in front of the TV set with her grand kids without a clue in her head about what to do with them. (Editorial note: omg!) "Give me some easy ideas, some very obvious ones," she demands, "ones that I can do without any elaborate planning or thinking!" Activities, I presume, that the kids will enjoy and ask to do again and again. Well, sure! We can do that! Although I am certainly not the only source of quick, clever ideas with which to engage grandchildren. Other grandmothers have been there first, authoring sites that feature a full spectrum of tested, age appropriate projects to share and enjoy. Although, be warned! These blogs also include wonderful experiences that do take time, effort and creativity to produce. The best part is searching through them like a hungry, sharp-eyed treasure hunter for the best ideas adaptable for your own use. Here are three favorite grandma bloggers who specialize in these kinds of activities, each one only a click away! How easy is that?

Whenever I settle in to read Grandma Connie's blog, I feel as if I am right at home. We share the same love of sewing and crafting with our grandchildren, however she manages to keep nine kids happy! The Family Harvest Day Connie hosts every year will delight you and guide you toward planning one of your own. This family bonding experience features a scarecrow making session and lots more wholesome fun. Clever everyday ideas, however, are the mainstay of this site. For example, make a set of Connie's scavenger hunt chore cards and watch kids beg to clean up after themselves. Really!  

Heartwarming. That's my one word description of Grandma Shelley's lifestyle. Observe her deftly entertain up to ten grandchildren at a time with events such as Grandkids' Christmas Day Camp. Click on Craft Ideas for Kids for an amazing array of easy-to-make, very cute designs that include my favorites, a marshmallow launcher and a Haunted Halloween Village! What I love about this section is that not one single idea is a junky "space-filler" that you'd never dream of wasting your time on!

But the "great-grandmother-of-us-all" has got to be Susan Adcox at  While Susan is, herself, a fun-loving, family-enjoying, bursting-with-energy grandma, she acknowledges that everything about grandparenthood is not always "fun and games." Sometimes family conflicts arise, and this professional site is where the wise go for advice, solace and information on a wide variety of topics that include diverse opinions and suggested resources. Sign up for Susan's email newsletter and join in to read and comment on the discussion questions she periodically poses. And yes, there are also sections on the "fun stuff," a wealth of ideas gleaned from other grandparents with photos and detailed instructions to follow.

Okay! My turn! I have found some luck keeping my grand kids entertained using three small household mechanical devices.

All three of the kids really enjoy chasing streams of bubbles spewed by a battery operated machine that even produces "baby bubbles" - sometimes 4 or 5 of them! - inside of huge "monster" ones! These machines can be tricky though. The one I bought, Vertical Mega Bubbles Generator ($20) is wonderful, but I had to return the first one because it abruptly stopped working after only four uses. Online reviews for all toy bubble machines aren't that great, so save the packaging and receipt and buy locally from a store that is nice about returns - just in case! Other than that, pull up your lawn chair and watch the kiddos wear themselves out right before nap Brielle does, below.

In this age of microwave-everything, the twins are as fascinated with my little air-popper machine as if it were a rotary dial telephone! I am glad their mommy has never introduced buttered and salted popcorn to them. They happily eat it plain and share some of it with the birds. Then, while they nap grandma polishes off the leftovers with her own layers of custom seasonings!

Making popcorn is such a frequently requested activity that we have our own system for taking turns.
One twin gets to pour in the kernels and the other pushes the button. Then, the "kernel-pourer" gets to be the "first-piece-eater."  The boys are very good at remembering whose turn is up next!

Around here, a carefully watched popcorn maker DOES pop
Do you own pencils? Check! Do you own an electric pencil sharpener? Check! Do you have grandsons in the three year old range? Check! I need not say more. Once the twins observed me sharpening, all I had to do was provide the utensils and a chair to plunk down in while I watched every pencil we have ever owned become restored to a deadly point. Of course some safety considerations are in order here, but other than that, a little boy + any mechanical device = pure fascination + a nice break for grandma!

I started filling my "Grandma's Crafty Jar" the second I knew I would become a grandma! Use a large, clear plastic jar. Fill it with "pipe cleaners" (now known as "chenille stems" I guess!), pom poms, glitter, crayon and paint boxes, glue sticks, kid scissors, and any cute crafty items you find on sale. Make sure, of course, that contents are always age appropriate. Then let it be known to the kids that they are welcome to it whenever the "crafting bug" bites! I also offer three little plastic totes, identified by color and filled with paper, kid scissors, stickers, and glue sticks.

The kids can take their own totes whenever they want to draw, cut or paste. This opportunity introduces a good time to teach responsibility for taking care of supplies and cleaning up, too.

LOOK at me! Can't you SEE that crafting is contagious?

Every crafting session does not need to be structured. The best results often come from free play using the supplies children see before them. Like, for example, when Iggy showed up unexpectedly to make himself a purr-fect pair of yellow pipe cleaner eyeglasses and then hung around to model them for the camera!

Finally, it's always fun to grow something. Whether it's a window sill sweet potato vine or a backyard family of sunflowers, gardening can be a multi-level learning experience. If I lived far from my grandchildren, I would send them a packet of seeds to plant. I would sow the identical ones in my own garden on the exact same day. Then I would initiate a race to see whose plants grew faster. My grand kids would tend their own seedlings, photograph them and email the pictures to me. We would compare measurements and write creatively about the progress we observe. I would probably not resist telling about the little family of gnomes I discovered living under the shelter of leaves in my own plot. I would encourage them to look very carefully for evidence of same amid their own plants. I might even sculpt some little clay critters wearing dandelion hats and leafy clothes as "evidence" that my little visitors exist! For now, my kids are near by and we share a pumpkin patch at my house. But even if all we end up producing is pumpkin leaves, it sure has been fun watching the excitement generated by our hopes of a huge October harvest. For the record, here's what our pumpkin leaf garden looks like today!

There! Have I been helpful to grandmas who seek "normal" ideas for "normal" people? I hope so, even though I remain puzzled about one thing. Usually people who seek "normal" ideas go to "normal" people for answers! Here, after all, we are a family that sharpens pencils for fun and owns a cat who makes and wears his own pipe cleaner eyeglasses. Now really. Be honest! Does any of that sound "normal" to you?