Thursday, July 31, 2008


Do you have seasonal traditions with your grandchildren?
I've been checking with my kids to see when the grandkids go back to school. The past few years I've tried to bake “back-to-school cookies” for each grandchild who's going to school, even if it's just pre-school.
I learned the hard way, though, that I have to begin planning in time. If I want to have cookies to the kids on that first day of school I can't wait too long -- some of our kids go back to school in three weeks!
For the grandkids who live farther away, I mail the cookies, and of course, that also takes time. The United States Postal Service offers flat rate boxes that are just the right size for a good supply of cookies. I wrap each cookie individually in wax paper or plastic wrap to keep them from crumbling, and add a kid-friendly magazine or coloring book in the box as padding.
For the grandkids who live close enough for a personal delivery I try to make the cookie presentation fun, wrapping them up in a special bowl.
Sometimes I add some cocoa packets, and always an encouraging letter.
Baking in the summer isn't as cozy as baking on a snowy day, but the end result is the same: happy kids and grandkids!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stories and Stuff

I noticed the other night that it's getting dark just a little earlier each night. It made me remember summer nights when I was a girl -- bike rides at dusk, walking home from the local swimming pool after dark, ice cream with mom and dad on the front porch -- even an occasional summer thunderstorm echoing over the river that ran a block away from our house.
Each of us has stories to share with our children and grandchildren about what our growing up years were like. Have you told those stories to your children and grandchildren? Have you preserved any of the photographs or other mementoes that call those stories to mind?
We have an entire small room, about the size of a walk-in closet, with nothing but family artifacts and photographs. They are semi-organized, and every now and then my husband says “We need to get those photographs in some kind of usable form.”
He's right, and the best use I can think of is to let our kids and grandkids know their family history, using the photographs we've collected and the stories we remember.
Hallmark Magazine has a special publication out right now called Memory Keeping; I picked up a copy today at our local Hallmark shop. It's full of scrapbooking ideas, free clip art, and encouragement. Some of these ideas might be helpful as we set about sharing these family treasures.
The trick is to connect the stories with the stuff so that our family understands why the stuff has value to us. What good is a bowling trophy without the story about your high school bowling team? Why keep those old cookbooks unless you know the story of how your mom learned to cook from them?
It may seem as if our kids don't want to keep the stuff or hear the stories, but these things are like vegetables: they're good for you, even if you don't realize it now. Having things organized and written down is a good way to be sure our kids get the benefit of what we've experienced and learned, even if they aren't willing to listen right now. Chances are good that someday they'll want to know what we're trying to tell them!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Celebrating a New Baby

We received the gift of a new grandchild last week, our tenth. You might think it gets to be familiar but it doesn't -- each time, each grandchild is a thrill, and watching our kids become parents is an incredible blessing.
It's a privilege to celebrate with our kids as they add to their family. How do you celebrate a new baby?
Here are some ideas:
* Be there if you are welcome. Don't underestimate the value of your presence. On the other hand if your kids make it clear that they would like privacy, give them that, too.
* When it comes to gifts, think about what will bring joy to your kids. Do they enjoy fresh flowers or a planter from the florist? Flowers from your garden? Or maybe a freshly baked pie?
* If you bring something for the new baby, try to make it something they need, or something that will make them smile. We try to bring something the baby needs -- clothes, blankets, diapers, but we've also taken the dresses our daughters wore home from the hospital to our daughters when they've given birth to their first daughters, and we've taken the photograph of our new-born son taken in the hospital as a gift when he celebrated the birth of his son.
* Consider the gift of a book for the baby -- a book is always a good gift.
* Another good gift is a CD of music for the baby -- lullabies, or quiet classical music, or a mix of your favorite kid songs.
* Celebrate with a special meal with the new family. Fix it yourself, carry it in from your favorite restaurant (not fast food!) or give the new parents a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant.
* Let the new parents see your joy and affirmation.
* If you go to help when a new baby is born, do the dishes, the laundry, and the sweeping up -- let the new parents take care of the baby!
* Thank God together for the blessing of new life.
How do you celebrate?

Friday, July 25, 2008

4-H Fun -- Learning with a Purpose

All over the country, kids and their families are celebrating the end of another year of 4-H with a fair. And there's reason to celebrate! 4-H is an organization that helps kids acquire proficiency in life skills of all kinds, with the help of caring adults intent on passing on their own skills.

I wrote about passing on skills in a column for Hearts at Home which is currently running on their website; you can read it here.

If you know a child who'd like to learn a new skill -- and what child wouldn't? -- offer to teach her. You'll both have fun!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Books to Share . . .

If you're looking for a good book for a grandchild, Violet Comes to Stay might be just what you're looking for. Published by Viking's Penguin Group in 2006, the story is written by Melanie Cecka, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, and presented by Jan Karon, the author of The Mitford Series of books. In those books, her character Cynthia Coppersmith, a popular author of the Violet series of books about Violet, a little white cat, marries Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest with sturdy faith and a loving heart.
Did you follow all that?
The book itself isn't that complicated – it's a delightful story about how Violet finds a home, and is suitable for reading to a pre-schooler, while an older child will enjoy reading it for herself. The illustrations invite inspection; you'll have fun looking at them, noticing details. Be sure to keep an eye out for the mouse!


Another book we've enjoyed around here lately is one of the Sterling Publishing Company's Poetry for Young People series, The Seasons. This series of books includes collections like American Poetry or Animal Poems, as well as books for individual poets like Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, and Emily Dickinson.
The Seasons, a lovely book edited by John N. Serio, includes poems for summer, autumn, winter, and spring, including poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nikki Giovanni, and Elinor Wylie, among others. Robert Crockett's illustrations are as evocative as the poems they illustrate.
Reading poetry to grandkids is fun; they have fun with language, and are able to make the imaginative leaps that bring a poem to life. Memorizing a favorite poem together creates a special bond between you! Choose something age appropriate, something you both enjoy, and work together to commit it to memory. You'll be sharing something special with your grandchild!
A poem is a good gift!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Fun

Some of my best memories are of spending time with my grandma in her kitchen. It was the place she was most at home. Not only was she a wonderful cook -- she liked to just sit and visit at the kitchen table, sometimes doing little chores like snapping beans or shelling peas. (Who shells peas any more?)
I work as a volunteer with Hearts at Home, a Christ-centered organization designed to encourage, educate and equip moms. Currently a column I wrote several years ago about summer fun in the kitchen is on the home page of the website. You can read the full article here.
If you have grandchildren visiting this summer, check out these ideas for breakfast pizza, summer smoothies, and summer refrigerator art!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ways to Pray

I've been thinking about the importance of praying regularly for our grandkids. Is there anything else we can do that has such long-lasting, far-reaching results?
Here are some of the things we can pray about:
* for their health and safety
* that they will have good friends, and that they will learn to be a good friend to others
* that they will have enough of what they need
* that their character will develop in godly ways
* that they will have fun learning new things
* that their parents will enjoy them
*that they will have a desire to know, love, and obey God
And that's just for starters!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Baby Gift Ideas

Whether it's a new grandchild in our family, or a new baby or grandchild in a friend's family, I love to go shopping for baby things – and there are so many new wonderful products out there! Here are two of my favorites:
Peas and Carrots – my friend Megan tipped me off to this wonderful company, which offers things for baby – burp rags, blankets, and other necessities – in fresh, colorful fabrics, as well as cute purses and bags for mom! A great place to shop!
And Susan Branch is one of my favorite artists – very sweet but with a twist. I love her use of color and quotation! She has a line of things for grandmas that include the practical as well as the whimsical.
If you're shopping for a little one – or for a little one's mom – both of these sites are worth checking out!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sandwich Generation . . .

As grandparents we are sometimes caught in the middle between being involved in the lives of our children and grandchildren, and caring for our own aging parents or other elderly relatives. Some of us still have children at home as well.
I wrote about this dilemma recently in the Springfield State Journal-Register's Heartland article Caught in the Middle which you can read here.
You may be experiencing a similar situation. What's most difficult about it for you and your family?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Something Fun . . .

I found something fun at our local Target store recently in the stationery aisle.
Marianne Richmond Studios has published a book of postcards for grandparents to send grandchildren, as well as a “Grandma & Me Activity Book.”
The 21-count postcard book includes brightly colored postcards that will appeal to kids of all ages, and even includes riddle and puzzle postcards to delight older kids.
The 32-page activity book is designed to provide a “grand” time together, and includes quizzes, recipes, games, and simple crafts to do together.
If you are looking for something to jump-start your own creativity, I recommend the activity book. If you like to send postcards to your grandkids, I think you'll be pleased with the postcards Marianne Richmond Studios offer. They may not be obviously available on her website, but watch for her at Target.
And if you visit Marianne's website, check out her blog – it's fun.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Libraries and Learning Moments

Yesterday I went with one of my daughters to The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It wasn't our first time there, but we found ourselves moved again by the story of President Lincoln's life, his losses and triumphs, his death.
“It made me cry,” I said as we left.
“Me, too,” said my daughter. “That's why I didn't stay right with you!”
This museum in Springfield, Illinois tells the story of President Lincoln's life in a way that evokes emotion as well as educates. Some areas are exceptionally intense. The Whispering Gallery, with editorial cartoons that vilify not just President Lincoln but also his wife, is hard to walk through – but also familiar; we still make mean fun of our President, no matter who he is.
Another part of the exhibit includes a White House bedroom where Willie Lincoln lies dying even as a Presidential ball takes place “downstairs” -- the exhibit is set up so that we hear the music from the ball, see the President leaning into the room, having left the ball just for a moment to check on his boy; see Mrs. Lincoln leaning over Willie in bed.
As we walked my daughter wondered if it would be appropriate to bring her 7-year old son to the museum. He's asked to come, but she is having a hard time deciding if it would be something he would understand, be able to put in perspective, or if it would be too much too soon.
Besides the personal stories the museum tells, there is a great deal about the Civil War. The museum doesn't sugar-coat the death and dying.
How much is appropriate for a child to see? At what age?
How does a parent or a grandparent decide?


Which brings up some of those “I wish I'd been more careful” grandparenting moments.
Two of our grandkids spent a week-end with us recently. After a busy afternoon they were both tired – not quite tired enough for naps, but too tired for much of anything else.
“Would you like to watch a video?” I asked, and of course, they would.
Shuffling through our collection of old videos, they came across The Wizard of Oz. “This one,” they said.
“I don't know,” I said. “Maybe your mom wouldn't like for you to see this. It can be kind of scary.”
“Oh, mom won't mind,” said the older.
“Yeah, grandma. You can sit with us and watch it so we won't be scared,” said the younger.
So I relented, put the video in, and when the scary tornado came I sat with them, and the scary witch, and the scary monkeys. Everyone was deliciously scared – I thought – and then the movie was over with everyone happy, back in Kansas.
When the grandkids went home, they were excited to tell their mom about the scary movie they'd seen. She called right away.
At first I thought her concern was that I'd let them watch a scary movie, so I explained I'd been right there with them, we'd talked about the scary parts later, and I thought they were doing OK.
“But we wanted to watch that movie with them ourselves. It's a classic and we were saving it to watch together when they are a little older,” she explained patiently.
My heart sank as I realized I'd messed up. I should have checked with my daughter before I let the kids watch the movie.
Later, accepting my apology, she said, “How could you possibly have known we wanted to watch that movie with them?”
But the principle is checking with the parents before doing anything you aren't sure about – and I didn't.
It's like coaxing my daughter-in-law to let her 2-year old stay up “just a little longer” to do one more thing, then watching as, just as she said, he had a melt-down because he was too tired.
As a grandma it's important to listen to our children tell us about our grandchildren, and to ask when we don't know. It's important to recognize their parental insight, as well as to respect their right to parent the way they think best.
I think I need to remember that!


So, when it comes to deciding what a child is ready to do or see, a parent's gut feeling is important. A mom or a dad probably have a good sense about what a particular child is ready for, what they can handle.
My daughter was doing something smart: she went to see for herself, again, just what her child might see and experience at the museum. Although she's been there before, this time she went and walked through, trying to see the exhibits from the perspective of a curious 7-year old. That's wise.
She also noticed some parts of the museum were more appropriate for her son at this age than other areas. Areas that tell the story of President Lincoln's early life – the log cabin, the store at New Salem, the law office where his two sons are making a big mess – these parts of the exhibit might be fine for a 7-year old. Other sections of this part of the exhibit – particularly the slave market section – might not be easily explained. If she lets him see that part, she'll at least have time to prepare to talk about it with him.
It's important to encourage a child's curiosity, but you don't want to overwhelm a child with information or emotions they aren't ready to process, either.
It's a good thing to think about when we consider vacation plans.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Are You There, Grandma???

It's easy to forget how difficult it is to accomplish anything easily measured when there are toddlers and pre-schoolers around.
As a young mom I remember feeling like a failure most of the time because our house was hardly ever neat and tidy. It was a constant challenge just to keep toys picked up, laundry done and meals on the table – and I hardly ever seemed to catch up.
This summer we've tried to make lots of time to spend with grandchildren, and I'm remembering just why it's difficult to accomplish anything easily measured while the kids are around: because they like to talk.
Specifically they like to talk to any adult within listening distance. And they like you to listen, and maybe talk back.
These conversations are interesting and important, but they don't lend themselves so well to efficiency. It's hard to watch a bug on the sidewalk and fold laundry at the same time!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kit Kittredge, American Girl movie

The 5-year old and her mom invited me to go with them to the new American Girl movie, Kit Kittredge, this afternoon. While the 5-year old eventually got wiggly, her mom and I enjoyed the movie a lot.
Kit Kittredge is one of the American Girl character dolls; her story is set during the Great Depression, and the movie is faithful to that setting. The sets, costumes, and story all reflected that time-period realistically, and for a young girl (maybe a little older than 5 years old!) who has a Kit doll, or who is interested in history, or whose heart can be captured by a good story, this is a great movie.

Shopping Notes . . .

One of my daughters and one of my daughters-in-law both told me a neat shopping secret: Stride Rite shoe stores carry a great line of toys, at least in our area.
I love Melissa and Doug toys, for their quality, for their variety, for their – play-ability. I observe that my grandkids love them, too – they are often the first toys the kids go for. Our play kitchen is well stocked with Melissa and Doug play food and kitchen utensils. We have their wooden puzzles, and I'm sure as time goes by we'll acquire more of their toys for our play stash, as well as give them as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Our local Stride Rite shoe store carries great shoes, as well as a good selection of Melissa and Doug toys. If you haven't checked out these products, you can get an idea of what they offer or find a store near you at the Stride Rite website or the Melissa and Doug website.