Monday, July 27, 2015

Gramma Mimi's Wild West Cousin Camp 2015 - Preparations

The key to planning a camp with your grandchildren is starting early. I recommend the day after the previous camp ends when you can review what you might change for the next year.

I first pick a theme and start coming up with ideas. A second theme came to me around Christmas this year, but I stuck with #1. I will do the other theme next year. No changing horses mid race! Starting early allows you to shop clearance and sales for theme items, especially after Halloween and Christmas. If you do "experiments", you need a collection of squeeze bottles and those are summer clearance items. Visit the dollar store often.

Pinterest is a goldmine of ideas. Anyone who works with kids knows to start with preschool ideas. When working with a group, you want the younger ones to have a lot of success, and try some extra things to challenge the older ones. I also plan more challenging ideas when the little ones are napping.

I usually plan the camp for a week and then something comes up that shortens it to three days and three nights. This is more manageable.

A great help to me is my youngest daughter. She is an elementary teacher and does not yet have children of her own. She is my right hand! My younger son's wife is also a teacher (which means they both have summers off) and she was able to attend with her 14 month old son. People under age 2 need one on one help. You will either need to recruit a parent or an older cousin to be their partner. You will need at least 2 adults at all times and remember, the more adult help, the merrier.

I usually schedule a big event around dinner time. By evening time I am getting pretty tired and providing supper means the parents can come by after work and lend a hand.

I mail out the invitations after Christmas. This gives the families time to schedule their summer activities around the camp.  It also forces me to get to work on the theme and start planning activities.

I love camp t-shirts, but having shirts made can be very expensive. Craft stores will offer shirts on sale, so watch the ads. Unfortunately they do not offer infant and toddler sizes. Walmart stocks these shirts early, so start watching for them late winter if you need those sizes in certain colors. It is easier to buy the littlest sizes first so you can match colors for the others. Carry shirts with you. I wanted red shirts, and the reds were totally different even in the same store when I switched departments. Black is black, so I always include black shirts for picture day. Having camp shirts also means you don't have to be careful not to stain a special or expensive shirt that their parents send with them.

Avery makes an iron on printable especially for dark shirts that works for light colors, too. You can come up with a logo and run it through your printer. It has a peelable backing and you iron the white decal directly on the shirt. You can make multiple logos on the same page. I made this year's iron ons a little smaller and I have enough sheets left to do next year's shirts, too.  I keep meaning to do shirts as Christmas presents, but I haven't made that goal yet.

After I determine my camp schedule, I start gathering supplies. It is easier to put each activity in a separate box so that you can just grab and go. I start collecting small boxes and plastic containers so I can do this and make a "staging" area. I was a scout and 4-H leader, so I have misc scissors, paint brushes, etc. It is nice if you have enough for each box. For example, we did a lightening bug craft. I bought plastic eggs on clearance after Easter.  I gathered miscellaneous pipe cleaners from my stash. I added a sharpie for drawing eyes (I had campers too little for wiggle eyes). Shortly before camp, I added packages of LED lights from the dollar store. - craft in one box. Try to do little things before camp starts. The eggs needed holes to attach legs - I heated a large needle on a candle and poked them through. This needs done before camp.

I only have the out of town guests sleep over. I also require sleep over guests are potty trained.  This will require keeping up on laundry during camp since it is amazing how many towels a child can use to shower.

I plan "themed" meals that are simple and easy to prepare. I do as much as possible ahead of time. Next year I plan to include freezer meals that can be prepared in the crock pot. I prepare desserts ahead of time. I also plan several snacks during the day. Remember to keep children hydrated.

Field trips are a special part of our camp.Field trips are great because someone else (the guide) is doing the talking and kids get tired of listening to you.  Last year our camp dates fell in with our library's summer reading program and we were able to attend free craft and activity sessions. These are based on age, but the other children were able to explore the library on the day they weren't in the activity.

This year we were able to visit a local museum. I had scoped it out prior to camp and the annex, where the arrowhead collection was kept, had smooth floors, ideal for strollers. We spent about 45 minutes at the exhibit, which is plenty. We did not visit the entire museum (which was included in our admission price) since the attention span is not that long. We want things to be fun.

Another field trip this year was to the Dollar Store with the gold we mined from our goldrush. This was a huge hit. They each had a few dollar coins and knew they could only choose that many items. I paid the tax. We were there about 20 minutes.

Our big field trip is to a local beach that charges by the carload. We arrive the minute they open at 10 a.m. and stay until 11:30 a.m. We are usually the first and only ones there and there is a playset in the sand. We only go wading in the lake due to age of campers and because there is not life guard there. By 11:15 the beach starts to get crowded and we start packing up. We stop for lunch on the way home (our only meal outside of camp). After returning home, we have a movie/nap time since they are exhausted.

Field trips do require use of car seats. I try to schedule these when I have parent drivers. Car seats are so large these days that you can usually only put 2 in a regular backseat. You also cannot have children ride in your front seat with airbags. So there is a little finagling when you do field trips.

I really feel that the two keys to camp success are ORGANIZATION prior to camp and lots of HELP, as in aunts, uncles and parents.  It also helps to keep in mind that this is FUN and it doesn't matter if an experiment fails or a craft falls flat, it is the experience, not the result.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Gramma Mimi's Wild West Cousin Camp 2015 - The Beginning

I know it is obvious to you, but anyone who would plan a sleepover camp for six grandchildren under the age of 7 is OBVIOUSLY a nutcase. I will try to blog about our activities after camp and some sleep :)

The Desperados.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gramma Mimi's Cousin Camp

I always planned to entertain my grandchildren each summer with a Gramma Camp. I am not sure when I got the idea, but it was way before I ever had grandchildren!

I was my children's scout leader and always volunteered as a camp leader. My husband and I did a two year stint as the local day camp directors. (well, I volunteered and he went along with it!). I presented programs for years at our local 4-H camps. I guess I just wanted to plan that experience for my very own grandchildren.
Finally I had a grandchild! He lived several states away, but came to visit the summer he was 6 months old. Here is a picture from my first Gramma Camp. He is wearing a onesie I found that says "Camp Grandma". I believe it was a gardening theme.
Then I took a break for life, caring for both of my elderly parents and then another family member with issues. Summer of 2014, I revived the camp!

I was up to five grandchildren at camp time last year. The oldest had completed kindergarten and was aged 6, his twin brother and sister were 4, their cousin was 20 months and we had a new cousin who was born in May! The 3 oldest are overnight guests and I was glad I had waited until they were potty trained.

I planned several days of activities, crafts and field trips all tied to the Under the Sea theme. I made matching t-shirts for each day of camp and had themed food at every meal.
2014 Camp Photo with shirts. Assistant Camp Director, Aunt Sissa, on the right.

This year I have increased the number of campers to include another grandchild born 3 months after last year's camp and hopefully the 11 year old son of my oldest boy's fiance.  I plan to feature a series of posts of this year's theme crafts, activities, experiments, foods and outings.  Camp starts tomorrow and I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Life can be so cruel. And that is the thought that will keep me awake tonight.

I saw a post on facebook. A local family's life has gotten even worse.

Worse than the day their little boy kept falling down at a tee ball game. And they found out he had a horrible disease that would leave his body a waste. And worse than the day they had their other little boy tested and find out he would have the same fate.

The community has watched this adorable little boys grow up into inspirational, kind, intelligent men with twisted bodies. The family has always been overwhelmed with the kindness shown to them by every organization and person who has helped as much as they could.

The time has come where the oldest son is ready to leave us. Hospice is at the house and a friend posted something about a "meal train". A service to the family where you could sign up to bring dinner one night on the calendar. I signed up.

Tonight was my night. It wasn't easy. My husband scheduled an electrician to rewire our house starting at 6 a.m. Monday (and it took until almost 10 p.m.). All my refrigerator items had to take a trip across town for 48 hours to live in my son's frig. This put my grocery shopping a few days behind. The meal train required you list your menu in advance so I was stuck with my time consuming stuffed shells, a salad and a homemade pie. I had a lot to do today, besides all the cooking, so I was rushing and trying to get all this prepared by the late afternoon deadline.

So grateful my husband was able to deliver the meal with me.  We were able to meet with the father for a few minutes. A man whose only sons were dealt a cruel, terrible fate. A man who has had to watch his sons deteriorate every minute of the last 29 years. And a man who knew this day would come, but prayed and prayed it never would.

I cannot imagine the sorrow in these parent's hearts. I cannot imagine watching your dreams, your children, live life like this.

And as sorrowful as this time is, I cannot imagine the sadness and emptiness when this son leaves them

I cannot imagine what the remaining son is feeling and will feel after his brother passes.

I cannot imagine the emptiness when both sons are gone and this couple remains in that empty house.

Life can be so cruel.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Little Loves

I had mentioned in my Bridesmaid Cookie post that we had also made cookies for the flower girls that were on solid food. I was thinking (since the wedding pictures are starting to trickle in) that I should elaborate on that.
My daughter and her husband have four siblings each. Theirs was wedding #8 in the sibling statistics. This meant that by the time they were planning their wedding, they had an abundance of nieces and nephews to choose from for the wedding party.  They love to spend time and babysit all the little people and refer to them as their "little loves".  Rather than choosing a favorite (since they are all favorites), they choose them all.
This was not my first choice. I think is challenging enough to include a ring bearer and a flower girl in the group and they have FIVE nephews and FIVE nieces. Add to that the fact the oldest of the ten were a set of four year old twins and their six year old brother.  But the bride is always right and they were adorable.
The groom's step mom is a great seamstress and created gorgeous dresses for all the nieces. The three coral dresses for the youngest ladies were created from her daughter's former poofy prom dress which even included the ribbon roses. The two oldest ladies wore navy to match the bridesmaids.
The little boys all managed to find gray pants and white dress shirts (the youngest two in dress shirt onesies - who knew such things existed). And luckily I had plenty of bowtie making experience from the wedding last summer.
We also made sure that the "opposite" grandparents were all available to attend the ceremony and reception as "baby wranglers". Since the siblings were all members of the wedding party, we needed backup for these tiny treasures!
The wisest decision was that they were all a part of the wedding party, but not necessiarily part of the ceremony. The final decision was that the five oldest (2 two-year-olds, 2 four-year-olds and the senior six year old) would head down the aisle, but after the rehearsal, one two-year-old was cut. Guess which one!
 The oldest tried to step in and steer the others in the right direction!
And these two sweet cousins were in the back of the church sharing secrets.
 Even taking a photo was a challenge. After all the snapshots and the official wedding photos, the hoping on and off the couch, tipping babies and frustrated toddlers, frantic mothers and bored children, this is as good as it got.

 Totally adorable! Tyler, Avery, Drew, Ethan, Bryce, Claire, Sebastian, Emme, Ellie, and Abigail all a part of Aunt Sissa and Unkies wedding memories.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Just A Small Bite

My son hosted a wonderful backyard picnic following our small town's major event of the summer. 

That would be the Fourth of July Parade. It was even longer when I was a child. The major business in my town was a trucking company (our football team is still the Truckers!) and every semi in the business was in the parade. We still have every fire department in the county, including townships, every military vehicle in anyone's collection, the 3 wheeled motorcycle club, the 4-H clubs, every civic organization, every police and fire department, every band or marching group. Every vintage tractor, every antique car, pick up trucks of Little Leaguers, scouts and even tumbling down the street by dance studios. Every fair and festival princess and every veterans group. And I can't forget the politicians. Floats include our garden clubs, every church and every vacation bible school, family farms and, new this year, two floats that featured live bands! A new bar/burger place had their evening entertainers on a float (we were all rockin') and a local bluegrass festival had a 3 piece on their float, too. It was really fun and I hope we see more music next year. All in all, this year's parade lasted about 2 1/2 hours while we were sitting in perfect weather in the high 70's on a shaded tree lawn. I am always amazed at the crowd watching the parade since it seems like everyone in town is in the parade!
Mr Merry discussing the parade with our second youngest grandchild.

After the parade we headed to his gorgeous backyard where the dining delights began. He and his lovely wife had invited all my children and grandchildren, as well as her family, too. And because they are good neighbors, they included the neighbors on either side, too. And that meant even more food. We enjoyed hamburgers and hot dogs from his new grill, potato salad, cole slaw, a fruit salad, a red and blue jello salad with a layer of homemade whipping cream that was to die for, two different and delicious baked beans, cheesy potatoes, sausage and cheese with crackers, spinach artichoke dip, brownies, vanilla cupcakes with red/white/blue sprinkles, cupcakes with candy centers and the richest frosting you ever tasted, and a layered sponge cake with blueberries and strawberries. And an appetizer I found on Pinterest the night before.
We had our three oldest grandchildren spend the night. The oldest is 7 and the twins are 5, so I knew I couldn't get too fancy. These were very well received! Inexpensive and tasty. I ran to Aldi's and bought some cherry tomatoes, the precooked bacon and cream cheese with onions and chives. I almost ran to the grocery for basil before I remembered I have two new basil plants in my flower bed! And I have accumulated tons of those flag toothpicks over the years.

These are so easy that my 5 year old granddaughter could make them herself!
Rocking the cat's eye sunglasses on her uncle's new stamped patio. 

I hope you all had a wonderful celebration this weekend.

Update: We were caught by our local newspaper's roving photographer! In the picture below, my two oldest grandsons are still saluting our flag while their sister has her eyes peeled for candy. Mr Merry and I are standing in the background. One of my lovely daughter in-laws is in the red shirt and everyone to the right are her cousins and their children. My oldest daughter and her husband are behind their children and the man in the red shirt between my grandchildren is someone I went to school with, who is married to the sister of one of my daughter-in-laws's aunts. He lost his first wife to lung cancer before she was 30 and his current wife (also a classmate) was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer almost a year ago and is fighting a valiant fight.  To continue the small town vibe, the lovely lady in pink, mother of the two adorable girls, the boy on her dad's lap and a newborn somewhere in the crowd is my daughter in-law's cousin and was one of my dad's hospice nurses when he was in the veterans home.

Miss Merry