Friday, August 31, 2012

What Happens at Grandma's When We're Hungry?

Okay, let's see.....Nick will not eat cottage cheese. Bree loves it. Sae won't eat blueberries, but Nick gobbles 'em up if they are mixed in with applesauce. Bree used to love strawberries, but currently hates 'em. Everybody adores apple slices but nobody will eat tiny tomatoes, unless they are part of a pasta salad. Carrot sticks always disappear, as do slices of cheese, and Sae gobbles up salad like a hungry little rabbit. But Nick? Nah, he calls Romaine lettuce "stinky leaves" and makes me feel like I am trying to poison him!

So how does any of this become "my problem?" Well, because twice a week I babysit all day for all three of my picky picky (but adorable!) grandchildren! And you know, I do have to feed them while they are here!

I wish I could say that snack times on those days are as well disciplined as ones I remember from my own early elementary school years. Benevolent Sister Mary Patrice would precisely deliver one (1) saltine cracker to each first grader. That humble wafer was accompanied by one (1) small carton of whole milk. Silently, in days that well preceded the era of Facebook, we ate what was placed in front of us, never once venturing to "unlike" what we were given!

Today, a friendly, "This is what I have right now, dearie, and you will simply have to decide whether you will eat it or starve," is not the language one uses to address one's grandchildren. For heaven's sake! Even when a solution is direly needed, a comment like that remains the intellectual property of mommy and daddy. Grandpa and grandma must find their answers elsewhere.

I have heard that it is all in the presentation. In other words, people can be tricked into eating things they might otherwise pass by if those items are offered in an attractive package. That's why I pounced when I found roomy, colorful bento boxes at Pottery Barn Kids. Each grandchild now has a lunch container- pink, blue, or green. And every babysitting morning finds me happily filling each cubby with something wonderful to discover. Carrot sticks, ants-on-a-log, melon and apple chunks, grapes, cheese sandwiches, crackers spread with peanut butter, pasta salad, cottage cheese, applesauce, bananas......and everything is getting eaten alive these days!

Our former "non-applesauce-eaters" have become extinct. They have been replaced by a trio of cousins who race to the fridge to grab their own lunch box and see what grandma fixed for them that day. They love the self-service feature and the independence of selecting their own treats whenever they are ready to eat them. They don't mind trying something new, especially if it is "sold" to them on the tines of a cute little animal shaped bento fork! Each grandchild has excitedly told mommy and daddy about grandma's new lunch box plan, described the healthy eating within, and expressed excitement about enjoying their own self-scheduled snack times.

And good old grandma? Well, she just likes remaining stationary, appreciative of having former days of chaotic snack time a happily forgotten thing of the past!

Now this photo may look like an "official endorsement" and it sort of is one! But the endorsement is for grandma's idea and, not for any product mentioned here! I always just buy what I like and say whatever the heck I want to about it. And Bree? She just eats whatever she likes and says whatever the heck she feels about it. That's why the two of us are such a great team!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Family Carnival - Back for More!

When it comes to putting on an epic event like this one, experience is definitely a best friend! I could not believe how much simpler it was this time to repeat last year's first annual family carnival. I easily controlled everything - including, it seemed, the weather! The only disappointment I encountered was that a few of my favorite people were unable to attend. But since there will always be a "next year," even that issue will eventually be resolved!

Last year, everything was new - fresh out of my basement. Untested palm trees wavered precariously on a sloped lawn, wrapping paper tube game booth posts threatened to collapse, and fluffy pink feather boa prizes made their escape on frequent gusts of wind. All these unexpected glitches kept me scampering last year, battling hot, humid, windy conditions, not-so-sturdily-constructed cardboard contraptions and an uneven surface upon which to position them all. Even then, we pulled it off, but this year's games that needed a flat surface had one, a shelter of trees kept wind damage to near zero and each booth - new and old - came to the party engineered to withstand several hours of fun - exactly what we experienced last Saturday, August 18 at 5 P.M.!

My personal favorite, "Monkey Smackdown" was once again the party centerpiece. With seven foot trees and green metallic accents flashing in the sun, I wasn't surprised when "gawkers" begin to slowly circle in front of our house shortly after set-up began. A few even brought cameras, and I loved that!

This is a knock-down game, where players throw plastic bananas at a stack of decorated cans. More detailed photos can be seen here where it was posted last year. Below, Christy and Brielle are helping a little customer win her monkey-shaped squirt gun prize after a successful hit.

Christy's husband, Keenon, played varsity baseball in high school so he's a good source of pitching tips and encouragement for his nephew.

It's traditional to have a "girls only" booth where nothing but claiming a prize is required of our little lady guests. I named it "You Are So Pretty," gave it a pink and white awning, positioned mirrors for preening, and sprinkled it all over with paper butterflies and flowers. Last year's post shows more - photos of the booth and the princess attire that was offered. This year, guests found a pretty butterfly visor and a be-ribboned gift bag of neon jelly bracelets, rings, and star-shaped sunglasses waiting for them.
And what about fearless little boy guests? Well, our "Alien Invasion" encounter was back with a blast!

Mommy and Nick are deciding which number to choose. Once that decision is made, we slooowly lift the alien, hoping to find a little green man hiding underneath. Lucky choosers win! Inflatable aliens, glow-in-the-dark silly putty - only the kind of prizes you might expect to arrive on a space ship carrying the critters you see above! And exactly how many of the five creatures hide little green prize-qualifying dudes beneath them? Well, you'll have to check out last year's post to find that answer and to see more detailed pictures of this popular game designed just for brave little boys!

Our Tattoo Kiosk was back again of course, with no such thing as "one per customer!" As something of a "carnival legend" around here, I am frequently asked for helpful tips to make an event like this a successful one. "Invite only nice people!" is always at the top of my pointedly frank list. See how well I follow my own rules? These two little ladies wait politely in line for "Aunt Sheila" to apply more "Hello Kitty" body art....which brings me to my second piece of practical advice. Make sure that my lovely neighbor, Sheila, is your friend. She will be there for you every step of the way, taking great pictures, and not only working a booth but bringing her fun-loving husband along with her to expertly man yet another one! (Carnivals never have enough working staff!)

It finally occurred to me why the "Goldfish Splash" game is such an attraction for little kids. The height of the base is perfect for them to see what's going on!

Every one of the games has rules, of course, but "creative interpretation" is left to the players. Adults just stand by, smile generously, and take plenty of pictures. Here are a few examples of what I mean.....
Take a few fish from daddy and then try to toss one of them successfully into the bowl to win a bubble wand!

Wow! So easy even a two year old can do it! And indeed, we have a winner!
Now let's take a look at the Duck Pond game. Those ducks need to have these rings tossed around their necks... usually (but apparently, not always!) while they are swimming!

Demonstrated here: the best way to (w)ring a duck's neck...and win a mini rubber duckie prize!

The "Go Fishing" game made a return visit and so did "the old man in the sea" behind the screen! Visit last year's post here to find out his identity and see a full picture of the game booth. Anyway, continuing on with our list of "creative ways to play and win carnival games," here's Sae, ready to fish for his catch. We did provide a bucket of cute little fake rubber worms to bait poles with, but he chose to hook up the toy airplane he had in his pocket. Seemed to work, though! He reeled in a big one right alongside that of his brother! Must have been a Flying Fish!

While these old favorites provide their share of fun, it is my goal to add a few new attractions every year. That might mean grandpa and I will end up running out of storage space and living on the roof, but that's the way it goes sometimes! I'm not worried. Sheila will see us up there and bring over blankets and food!

One of the new games was intended to keep competitive daddies busy. I called it the "Beer Box." A decorated styrofoam cooler filled with ice held bottles of Oberon. Those, arranged with their skinny necks sticking out over the top edge, were accompanied by a bucket of plastic cane rings. Is that all it takes to keep daddies happy in between making sure their kiddoes don't eat the sticky darts? Yep! That's all! I was too busy enjoying the kids, but I couldn't help but hear shouts of laughter from behind the garage as the guys vied to show off their beer-bottle-neck-ringing skills!

And speaking of sticky darts....
Dart games are such a part of carnival life that it's almost criminal to ignore them. Yet, it's also "criminal " to allow young kids to run around unsupervised with sharply pointed devices, especially once the adults discover the "Beer Box!" I came up with a way we could "have our fun and drink it too" - or..... Oh never mind! You know what I mean! 

This double-size foam board has pictures of balloons instead of the annoying real ones you'd need to replace every time one of your little sharpshooter guests scores a hit. This year, since the kids were so young, I didn't devise a system for points. That might be fun to do with older kids who could use their math skills as they play. If you are unfamiliar with sticky darts, I do have to promote them to you here! The harmless flat tip is coated with a flexible sticky surface that really does last the twenty or so uses that are promised. They are inexpensive too, about ten cents each. When used on a game board like mine, the occasional greasy spot left behind won't be a problem, but I wouldn't allow kids to toss them at painted walls....even though that sure sounds like it would be fun!

Maria, a very ladylike little guest proved that darts are not just an activity for boys. She kept
hitting numbers with deadly accuracy!

I do not favor the practice of giving live animals away as carnival prizes. In fact I always cringe when I hear of "goldfish games" that do exactly that. It is so wrong when children are allowed to view living creatures as toys to be won in games. It is especially wrong because so many cute items are available that accomplish the same thing without causing harm to an animal. Toy hamsters, for example! When I saw the cute little foam and stuffed bean bag critters that Oriental Trading offers, I immediately thought of the tabletop carnival wheel I bought last year from that company. Instead of using it again as a dessert wheel I decided to re-purpose it as a hamster game.

One hearty spin of the hamster wheel earned a number for each little player. On that number awaited a chubby portable pet, complete with a starter supply of food (chocolate candy chips). The food came packaged in colorful mini Chinese take-out boxes. Attached name tags let you know if your new little pet was named "Pokey" or "Speedy" or "Sunshine," etc......

Nick's turn! And here's his new little buddy, "Rocky!"
I'm not sure I want to showcase piracy, although I doubt that our almost-four year old twins even understand it. But with the popularity of the theme for birthday parties, it won't be long before they come in contact with it. Last winter, when I decided that a pirate treasure cave would be one of my new carnival features, I was just attracted by the spookiness of crawling into a dark interior with only a flashlight for a friend! Once inside, it would be the job of the lone explorer to scour deep crevices in search of a numbered chest filled with goodies to claim as one's own. In the process, grinning skulls would cast an unearthly glow to guide a seeking pair of hands. Yikes. I just scared myself! Is this too much of an adventure for little boys in that age range? Apparently not! My little carnival guests had no problem diving right in. But ahoy, matey! What do you think?

The curtained opening to the cave is about three feet tall. That's where you enter once you've selected a gold coin from the parrot-guarded basket. Those coins are numbered, and when you venture inside you are to seek only what is yours! Beware! There are eyes everywhere! You are being watched!

Wise explorers look carefully before they leap. Wiser ones invite their little sisters to take a close look too!

Oh sure! It's easy to be brave when the noon day sun is shining on the interior!
But what about when it's totally dark in there? Do you dare reach in for that little chest marked #1?!

Well this courageous explorer did! He swiftly found his treasure box and went about the task of discovering what lurked inside!

By the time every little guest had paid a visit to each attraction, party bags were stuffed full of prizes. One of the few things I could have done differently was to make those a little bit bigger! Winning toys and candy is the best part of any carnival for kids, but for me it's about something else. Time spent with family and friends create memories that last forever. We'll be back next year with even more fun! I can't wait to get started!

Update: Family Carnival 2014 will premiere my newest game of skill, Tic Tac Toad! Here is where you'll find more details. And here is another game for little girl guests, "Cute Little Chicks!"

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mason Jar Monday #1

A Mason canning jar is a curious object to someone like me who can't even figure out how to grow the fruit that might eventually wind up inside of it. Really hoping though, for a notable exception this year - a few sizable pumpkins from the grandkids' first backyard patch. But then wouldn't those be a little big to fit inside of a quart capacity jar? Oh, just kidding! Even I know that! You'd have to cut them up into little chunks or something first.....right? :)

Okay, it's obvious. I have never paid much attention to Mason jars. That is, until my grandma blogger friend, Connie, authored a few ingenious posts that really caught my eye. She demonstrated a little known way to save cooking time and cleaning effort by subbing a Mason jar for the pitcher on a household blender. Enlisting her husband's help, other jars became enchanting solar lights. More of them were commissioned to hold party food or bear gifts to family members. I was amazed. What else can this remarkable woman do? Not surprisingly, I wasn't the only one asking this question. Another talented blogging grandma recognized Connie's skill and acknowledged it publicly with a charming gift. Debra artfully arranged a lovely bouquet of garden flowers in a Mason jar and posted a picture of it on her Homespun blog in tribute to the resourceful home keeper we both admired. That gift was reciprocated by Connie shortly thereafter, followed by a second one posted for me last week. And then a  really cool one from Debra went to Lisa at Grandma's Briefs. With those thoughtful gestures, an alliance of virtual-gift-sending-grandma-bloggers and "Mason Jar Monday" were born!

Connie's home page has a "pantry" that will virtually store the fruit of her lovely idea. Right now it is nearly empty. There is plenty of space on the "shelves" to fill with Mason jar gifts designed for someone special by readers, followers, bloggers, me, and most! We are all invited to participate in a celebration of the versatility and potential of these timeless utensils that evoke nostalgic memories of the warmth and emotional safety of steamy kitchens occupied by aproned grandmothers working hard to deftly transform bountiful garden produce into preserved quantities enough to last an entire winter season. Has a Mason canning jar ever suggested an unpleasant memory to anyone? Nope! Didn't think so!

I was delighted to find a vintage canning jar in my basement, long forgotten in a box of kitchen items that belonged to my grandmother. I used it to create a gift to virtually present today to yet another blogging grandma friend. A few weeks ago, I mentioned our mutual attempts at growing pumpkins and sunflowers  for the benefit of our grandchildren. After that fun experience, I don't think I will ever see a sunflower again without thinking of Grandma Kc! In subsequent emails, she related that both she and her granddaughter, Amara, are huge fans of ladybugs. In fact, they collect the little critters! I studied and studied my newly discovered Mason jar, discarding several ideas before the perfect one occurred to me. I would grace the lid with a sunflower, creating an ideal place to store premium seeds for bird feeding. A ladybug button perched atop would allow me to acknowledge how much I enjoy reading Kc's posts from Amaraland, the supportive comments she leaves for me here, her friendly reply emails to my comments and the painstaking tech help she has given me in the past. (How many people do you know who would take step by step pictures of their own computer screens so that "totally clueless" here (me) could learn how to properly link up sites? I only know a few, and one of them is Grandma Kc!)

So, Grandma Kc from Amaraland, with affection for your fun loving and helpful spirit, I present my first ever "Mason Jar Monday" creation to YOU!