Saturday, July 20, 2013

Night Crawlers

Oooooo.....they're not kidding when they say the outside holds a host of new observations and sensations once darkness descends upon it. For this reason, nature books often challenge adults to take kids on a night hike through the neighborhood. And so we did that, my grandsons and I.

With flashlights in hand, children cannot help but note things that are easy to overlook during the day. Distractions are minimal and the smug satisfaction of being up waaay past bedtime contributes to a conspiratorial camaraderie. A hint of danger lurks within the deep, dark backyard woods, keeping otherwise adventuresome little boys close at the side of grandma.....who, in turn, looks to fiercely protective Roxie (a German Shepherd mix) for her own half ounce of bravery!

But where to look first? There were spooky shadows to make on brother's face and some intense inspection of a cable box. It was up to grandma to steer us all toward things less obvious, yet far more fascinating!

Oops! Too late! They're gone!
Look quickly! Tiny insects "chill out" on top of bark until you shine a light. Then they scamper to hide in the blink of an eye - all of them!

We accidentally rustled a bush and observed a moth take flight from its protective cover. Does that mean insects hide beneath leaves? Well, let's take a closer look and see!

Those weird noises you hear only in the dark come, in part, from little brown toads. We found not one, but two clinging easily to shutters on the house. Later on, we'll look through books to find out why those little toes stick so effortlessly!

Upper left quarter - teeny tiny bright dot!
Firefly? I dunno. What do you think?

And then, at last! The errant flicker of a firefly - and his brother! Oh, and there's another! Was I actually quick enough to capture one in action here, or was that just the neighbor's porch light? Some things even grandma doesn't know -
secrets keep very well in the dark after curfew has paid visit and found only empty beds!

I did, of course, seek and receive parental permission for this late night sleepover adventure, and I do advise it, even for those who live by the "What Happens at Grandma's Never Happened" policy! When we came back inside, the boys insisted on calling mommy and daddy (11 P.M. by now!) to chatter on and on about the fun they had outside at night, bravely tiptoeing the line between the chill of excitement and the danger of darkness. They want to do it again and again and again!

And so we will - to just enjoy whatever it is that we see - "taking only pictures" (most of them very poor!) and "leaving only footprints" - heeding classic, wise advice to those who own respect for every living thing. Sure, we could have easily captured, imprisoned, inspected and released a specimen or two, but every creature has things to do and needs to get them done. Besides, we are well tutored in a benevolent way of living. Poems by Christina Rossetti are among our favorites, and we heartily applaud her admonition to:

Hurt No Living Thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat,
Nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

And on that peaceful note I say, "Goodnight, dear friend. Goodnight!"

Repeat After Us. (1872). Hurt no living thing. Retrieved July 19, 2013 from

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hunters and Gatherers

I don't know how to say this except to come straight out with it. There's a dinosaur lurking in my backyard woods. It's hard to say how tall it is because, so far, it just peers at me from a menacing crouch. The nose to tail tip length, though, is about nine feet. It appears to be constructed of paper mache, and there's a good chance that I made it myself. I'm not a teenager anymore, you know, and forgetting things is what I do best these days.

I have never regretted that my children are all girls. Yet I admit to occasional pangs of envy while observing the sons of my friends effortlessly sweep up bags of groceries, twist jar lids open, or shoo away a garden snake for their moms. At our house, all four of us girls huddled and squirmed together on the couch waiting for daddy to come home and transport a spider back outside where it belonged. Girls in a creature invasion crisis? Worthless!

But now I have grandsons! - big and brave four year olds who thrilled to the task of taking up shovels to venture into the woods to hunt and gather dino eggs. Grandma can't handle a dozen pairs of beady ping pong eyeballs back there after the next crop of thought-to-be-extinct reptiles hatches. My fearless twins have made certain that will never happen.

This is the story of how we accomplished that formidable task......

Gathering time on Dinosaur Day was noon. Lunch was in order. What better place for a mood-setting edible Jurassic park than my kitchen table?

Let's active mashed potato volcano is standard fare at a dino buffet. I guess it's because hot lava was a possible cause of extinction. Gooey tar pits didn't help early mammals stay healthy and happy either, but this curious gang doesn't seem troubled by the imminent danger. Must be that extra small heads encasing extra small brains = not a care in the world. Ah, to live like that! If only for one day!

A grove of bread stick trees provided a place to nestle a clutch of green grape eggs. It set the stage for the boys and their parents to graze on a meatball meal....if they could grab them before the four-legged carnivores did! But not to worry! The menu included something for everybody.......

The friendly Brachiosaurus eats shoots and leaves.

His companion, the ferocious T-Rex, eats, shoots, and leaves!

I'm actually a little annoyed at the Smithsonian Museum right now. They claim there were no dino bones found in the famed La Brea tar pits - only those of other species well after total extinction occurred. I didn't know that! How do I explain my chocolate-pudding-mini-Halloween-bone-sprinkled lake of doom to the boys?

"See anybody you know in there?"

Can you believe how realistic these candy rocks and pebbles are? They are filled with chocolate and taste great!

As soon as teams were sated with shoots, leaves, bones and rocks, real work for real men commenced......

Our egg dig was carefully planned. The boys were well armed with safari helmets, binoculars, and a sturdy transport basket. Just to be safe, grandma tossed in a pair of cute bottles for juice in case hydration was required, because......

What if the boys encountered a problem out there?.........

.......After all, our little hunters ventured into a suburban area not one hundred feet from the nearest house. They arrived slathered in sun screen and bug spray, toting maps, a set of walkie-talkies, parents to team with, and a pair of overly anxious grandparents who hovered with cameras and home made energy bars! Any wonder why I'm called "Grandma Dino-Maniac?" (That's Paleontolian for "nervous one who leaves no fossil fragment unturned!")

All geared up and into the woods we go!

"Take ten big steps, count twenty more....jump up and roar like a dinosaur! Stay on the trail that's long and narrow, dig where you see a big red arrow!"                                                                      

Mommy and daddy read clues from maps so digging took place only where evidence suggested there'd be a find!                                    

Walkie-talkies made it easy to contact brother for extra help as needed.

With a total of eight eggs from five digging sites
it felt good to take an occasional break.

Was curiosity one of the things that killed the dinosaur? We're not sure, but we were certainly anxious to see what was hidden inside those eggs!

Will you look at that?! Toys and Candy! Dinosaur stickers! Bubbles! Glow Sticks! Play balls! Star Wars toothbrushes! Matchbox cars! Freeze dried dinosaur food! Silly String! WOW!

How could we possibly be afraid of that prolific and generous egg layer who makes her home in grandma's woods? She's our big green friendly friend!

We introduced ourselves and promised to come by often to play. She bellowed out an affectionate roar, exclaimed that she'd love that, and promised us she'd make every Halloween an unforgettable candy-collecting experience!!

How'd you like to open your door to this?

"Trick or Treat!
Fill these pumpkins!
BOTH of them!
Or I'll huff and I'll puff and
I'll blow your house down!"

Dinosaur Day was over. I sat down to enjoy a moment's satisfied reflection. Happy grandkids a happy grandma make. That is, until a horrifying thought occurred. What if the boys are sent to Kindergarten Time Out for challenging teacher on the extinction of dinosaurs? What if they enthusiastically wave their hands to proudly tell that it's not true?....that they themselves dug dino eggs in grandma's yard as recently as this summer?

So now it's back to the drawing board. I need to create a small paper mache brain inside a small dino shaped head for myself. Perhaps one of those would allow me the stumbling, bumbling, worry-free "what's-that?-a-tar-pit?" bliss that those creatures enjoyed. If only that were possible! Oh what a happy Dino-Maniac I would be!

See Notes From A Dino-Maniac for further details on everything you see here!

The end!

Notes From A Dino-Maniac

Readers often ask for details on my projects and I am always happy to share what I know.
Here's a list of things I learned - both the hard and the easy way - as I bumbled along in pursuit of a backyard dinosaur egg hunt for my twin four year old grandsons. See Hunters and Gatherers for the full story.

The "life-size" egg laying dinosaur!.....

Life size? Well, I wish! She might have been if I'd been allowed to keep going and going and going....but alas, grandpa stepped in and asked -as gently as possible!-  if I realized the monster would never fit out the door - (think he might be afraid of the ferocious roar of an unhappy grand-dino? I do!). We carefully eased her out of the house and into the garage, amputating a limb as we went along. After that, it was easy sailing....if you don't mind parking in the driveway for six weeks or enduring the attention of neighborly gawkers!

See this post for basic paper mache instructions. The dino was built the same way, however I envisioned her as a "costume" for my grandsons. She was constructed over two large boxes with openings cut into the tops. There was space above for the boys' heads and a cut out window so they could look out. The completed structure was too heavy to be supported by children of that age even though all newspaper was removed from the shell. It is, however, usable when they want to crawl inside and issue mighty roars to frighten unsuspecting curiosity seekers!

Finished size is 9' long (4' tail included) x 4.5' tall, crouching.

If you are crazy enough to try making one, then I am crazy enough to help you! If you run into problems, email me.

Dinosaur eggs......

Seriously, if I were asked to name three things I'd bring along to a deserted island, I'd choose newspaper, flour, and a bucket. The water would be free, I presume. From those supplies I'd make myself a paper mache house and plenty of furniture to fill it. After I became bored reading old news by the fireplace - oops! never mind! - no fireplace! I'd make myself a sturdy little canoe and float away from it all. Such is the trust I have in the craft of paper mache! Any problem you have....solved!

Here's how I made eight dino eggs ranging in size from 10" to 16":

1. Bunch up newspaper to size and shape desired. Use masking tape to hold it together.
2. Tear newspaper strips about 3" wide, dip them into a bucket of paste made from flour and water and cover entire egg, slightly overlapping each strip - two or three layers total.
3. Dry on plastic bags so they don't stick and can be easily turned over during the process. Usually one day is enough time, two at the most.
4. When shell is hard, use a serrated kitchen knife to cut egg in half. Pull newspaper stuffing out to hollow the egg.
5. Insert candy and prizes. (See main post for ideas) Close egg along seam line and secure with two or three strips of newspaper dipped in flour paste. Dry. Spray paint to finish.
6. Supply the kids with plastic toy tools to open their eggs.

The Table......

For a rich, jungle atmosphere, I made a newspaper pattern of my 44" x 58" oval kitchen table. I traced and cut it out on "Tropical Foliage" bulletin board paper. Both Hobby Lobby and Michael's carry this item in the teacher's supply section. Cover table. Top with a smaller piece of well cleaned glass. Food can be placed directly on the surface. Set paper dinosaur print plates on wicker chargers and arrange them around the perimeter so guests can graze from the assortment. Drape a raffia table skirt around the chandelier to create an enclosure.

The Volcano......

This was made with an 8.5" glass vase and an 8.5" long flashlight that will fit inside of it. Cut strips of 5" flames from red, yellow, and orange tissue paper. Secure them around the light end with a rubber band. Boil baking variety potatoes, mashing and seasoning them, but omitting butter or milk. When potatoes have cooled to an easy handling state, firmly press handfuls all around the vase  - tapered with widest at the bottom. Just before guests arrive turn the flashlight on and insert into vase.

Grove of trees.......

Make bread sticks in varying lengths and thickness from packaged dough or your own recipe. Poke holes into a slab of Styrofoam and insert foil wrapped ends of bread sticks. Cut leaves from green tissue paper. Tie them to tops of sticks with raffia strands. If bread sticks do not stand up well, insert wooden skewers next to them and tie together with raffia.
Cover base with tissue grass.

The Eats......

I like to serve meatballs for an event like this because they double as convincing boulders in the landscape. Blanched broccoli heads make great ground cover, and both items enjoy being served with a side of breadsticks. I offered a home made tomato sauce too. Was tempted to drizzle the sauce down the sides of the volcano but decided not to press my luck! I went around the table and ladled it as requested.

Puff pastry strips cut to 1" x 9" and stretched a bit as you fold each end into a knot make T-rific bones! Bake per package directions. Lay a bone or two on each plate before guests arrive. Remember these for Halloween!

Pile up extra bread sticks wherever there's room for them.

The tar pit is simply an instant chocolate pudding recipe spooned smoothly into a shallow serving dish. Wilton bone shaped sprinkles are available during Halloween season.

I found the rocks at and ordered both a bag of "pebbles" and "boulders" in gold. Not only were these unbelievably real looking and tasty, but the company offers outstanding customer service. Immediate shipping, email notification, and a very generous sized free gift of candy are all included!


The table top dinosaurs are sold at Toys R Us for $10 each. They are part of the "Animal Planet" collection and are a perfect size (12" tall x 20" long T-Rex) for an event like this. Not only that, but the boys couldn't claim and snatch them up fast enough! Besides the T-Rex, a Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Brachiosaurus are part of the family. I bought two T-Rexes "just in case" and sure enough! - good old grandma instinct prevailed again- the second one needed to come thundering out in a hurry! Stegoes can be shared, but every little boy needs his own T-Rex!

Sippy-saurus cups - $2 each in the beverage aisle of my grocery store - also available in red. Saw them online for almost five times that. Yikes! Not cool!

Safari helmets - $2 each at a local party store, but Dollar Tree carries them seasonally in a light tan color and they are much sturdier - for, of course, half the price! The "fearless hunter" badges were home made with a large paper punch and a dinosaur stamp.

Finally....My wish is that my grandsons will not only remember our dinosaur egg hunt with fondness, but that they will enjoy learning more about these fascinating creatures. After much research I found two wonderful books, Amazing Dinosaurs printed by DK Publishing and Dinosaurs from the "Sounds of the Wild" series by Maurice Pledger. The boys have seen the books and absolutely love them, but I intend to make my own bookplates before I give them back as gifts. Each book will have a Dinosaur Day photo of the boys and a personal message from grandma, reminding them of how they bravely saved her from a prehistoric encounter of the most terrifying kind!

Here's where you'll find product details and /or ordering info on both those exciting books in my Amazon gift shop.

A roaring good day to you, dear friend!
Grandma, The Dino-Maniac

These original designs, as well as all blog content, are intended for personal use only. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Thank you!