Be the fun grandparents

Necessity (or boredom or a long car trip) is the Mother of Invention


Hello, gentle readers. I'm back! After a busy 2015 holiday season and surgery at the beginning of this year, I'm sharing our grandparenting adventures with you once again.

It's January and I've begun planning activities for our granddaughters' annual and much anticipated month-long summer visit. High on the agenda are games, games and more games. Boy, do they love games! Among their favorites are Mancala, Headbands, Taboo, Uno, MadLibs and any number of  captivating ones on their electronic devices. But by far, when we are all together, Jain and Sofia relish playing the games we've made up. Thus, this blog is about the cooperative games we've invented. I stress cooperative because I do not like competitive games among siblings, and especially not during a car trip. There is more than enough opportunity in their lives for competition. Vacation spent with their grandparents is NOT that time. I might have already addressed some of these games in past blog posts, so please forgive me if I am repeating myself.

Long ago, when our own kids were still at home, we invented a game called Apartment Baseball. The batter sits in the recliner and prepares for the pitch with an invisible bat (in other words, we use with our arms and/or hands as the bat). The pitcher winds up with a crumbled up piece of tinfoil (or damp paper towel, or wadded up waxed paper) fashioned into a round shape, and throws to the batter. The batter swings, either hitting a ball that is so lightweight it couldn't possibly hurt anything it hits, or misses entirely. Nobody runs base; batters stay in the chair and try to hit as many balls as possible. That's it. Of course, the pitcher tries to throw in such a way that the batter in the chair cannot possibly make contact with the ball. And that becomes fun, and funny. Unless, of course, the batter is very young and then the pitcher shows mercy and pitches right to the batter. Young children delight in making contact with the ball and we often hear, "More, more" or "Again!" Great game to play during inclement weather.

One Jain and Sofia were old enough to understood how to play the usual matching games, the ones where all cards are face down and get turned over one at a time to find matching pairs, I made cards for each girl with photos of famous women with their first names. Famous Janes or Jaynes and famous Sofias or Sophias! Of course, they were far too young to even know who those women were or are, but as they played we told them a bit about each person. So it became an educational game at the same time. Bonus! Soon Olivia will be old enough to understand matching games and I will make a set of famous Olivia cards for her. Ditto for her little brother, Lucas.

A photo in a book of a kitten standing on its hind legs as though it were going to either fight or dance got the attention of our oldest granddaughter one summer and inspired her to imitate that stance. She modified it by holding her nightgown out, in curtsy stance, and chanting, "I'm a pwetty pwincess. I'm a pwetty pwincess." I'm just glad I wasn't drinking or eating at the time or I'd have lost it all. She looked and sounded hilarious! In that bit of theatre, hunched over and affecting an accent, she was anything but a pretty princess. We collapsed laughing! A couple of summers ago, the rest of the family joined in. Grampy became the Kooky King, Sofia the Cwazy Queeen and I the Daffy Duchess. So, it's more of a theatrical endeavor than a game, but we have fun marching around the house acting out our own unique royal performance. So silly!

OK, we didn't make this game up. It's been around for years. But our grands put the silly spin on if as only they can. By far, the most ridiculous final version of an original statement evolved from the sentence, "The poor giraffe has laryngitis." I will not share what that final statement was. Suffice it to say, it had the girls rolling with laughter. That in turn made us laugh more, so much so that we were all holding our sides and jaws in agony. Now, of course, the telephone game is an absolute must every summer.

WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE? (more commonly referred to as WMYS?)
This is my serendipity activity. Serendipity is discovering unexpected joy. Serendipity is my absolute favorite word and I love that definition. Think of all the little things you encounter every day that make you smile, that make you just so glad to be alive. A baby's laughter, puppies and kittens, a beautiful sunset. Throughout the day, take notice of the things you see or that happen to you or someone else that make you smile. Go home, put up a piece of posterboard on a wall in a common area of your home, and write those things on the board. Or draw on it, paste a photo or illustration from a magazine -- any way you want to remember what made you smile. Invite all family members to contribute to it. A lot. We have our poster(s) hanging in a hallway leading to the guest bathroom where anyone who visits can also see and add to it. And we fully intend to keep adding more posters, filling and sharing them with everyone. This is not so much a game as it is a very unifying activity. Everyone loves reading the posters and adding to them. Some of the additions can be a conversation starter, too. Why does hearing J. Geils "Centerfold" make me smile? Because when our son, Seth, was about 3 years old he kept asking me to sing the "NaNaNa" song. I didn't understand what he meant until finallly it hit me! That part of the song that goes "NaNaNaNaNaNa, my angel is a centerfold." Thank God he didn't know what the song meant! But whenever it comes on the radio, it makes me smile! Hey, nobody ever said it should only be rainbows and unicorns that make us smile. Happiness and joy come in all forms, even in the most unexpected moments. When Seth got married, I suggested putting that song on their dance list for the reception. That made me smile. Seth vetoed the idea. It still made me smile.

This is a game I thought up just recently. I was contemplating common occurrences among the general population. There is more that unites us that separates us, even when it comes to what happens to us. I began to ponder the thought that at some point in your life such and such will probably happen to each of us. My mind took off at that point and I started to list some of those very probable things:

At some point in your life you will probably...
...burn your tongue drinking something too hot
...kiss someone romantically
...change a baby's diaper
...have a driver pull out in front of you
...encounter a rude driver
...have several bad hair days
...experience brain freeze
Silly Grampy can never take much seriously, and added his own spin to the game by saying "At some point in your life you will have a philosophical discussion with a squirrel." Alrighty, then. Why not put the silly spin on the game, too? Let your crazy out and come up with some improbable situations:
At some point in your life you will...
...walk through town with your underwear on your head
...sit in a rocking chair on top of an ocean wave tetherball with a hedgehog
Get the idea? Oh, I can hear the laughter now!


Ok, whew! Long title, eh? This was a game I came up with a couple of summers ago during a very long car trip. First player says, "When I grow up, I'm going to have three (or whatever number they choose) children, and their names will be X, X and X." At this point, the player searches for words on signs or buildings outside the car and names her children. When it was my turn, one of my children's names became Twp Rd (abbreviation of Township Road), which I pronounced Twip Rud. Jain and Sofia lost it. And I laughed so hard I could hardly see to drive! After that, they became determined to find names just as ridiculous and silly as that one. We do suggest that you limit the number of children a player is allowed to have or this game will never end. Warning: Hilarity and laughter are major side effects of this game!

Sometimes restaurant service is so slow it seems your meal will NEVER come. Solution? The Restaurant Quarter Game! Sitting across from one another, slide a quarter back and forth. If there is a line in the table's surface immediately before the edge, you gain one point if the quarter goes over that line. If you can manage to slide your quarter so it goes over the edge of the table without falling off, you get two points. Whoever has the most points by the time the food arrives wins. This is the ONLY instance we hope the cooks take their time in the kitchen! Certainly, the game keeps kids entertained while you're waiting. Just be sure to be considerate of other diners. If the quarter makes too much noise sliding across the table, please don't irritate your fellow patrons. For that reason, this game is best played in a noisy environment.


Ever wonder how a place or business got its name? Grampy became the creator of this game when he saw a sign for this creek during one of our recent car trips. Now we are eager to engage Jain and Sofia in making up stories about the origin of place names. How did Dawson's Fork Creek get that name? Was a fork involved? Did people come from miles around to admire it? And just who the heck was Dawson anyway? The girls love this kind of stuff, and I'm sure we will be highly entertained with their answers. They might even turn it into a Round Robin-type game where everyone in turn adds to the story. I can see that happening.

Here's a game we want to start this summer with the girls. Ever watch a show where one of the characters, in response to someone else's inane or ridiculous comment, says, "You should put that on a shirt?" One of our favorite British shows is "Sherlock." At one point in an episode, Watson said, "I don't understand," to which a frustrated Sherlock replied, "You should put that on a shirt." A bit later in their conversation, Watson said, "I still don't understand." And Sherlock testily quipped, "Aaaand there's the back of the shirt." Now Grampy and I can't help but listen to television show dialogue intently for comments that would qualify for the front and back of the shirt! His latest favorite quote for a shirt comes from the most recent Star Wars movie, "Escape now, hug later!" We can hardly wait to find out what Jain and Sofia's choices will be.

It's good to be back, dear readers. We will be sure in a future post to let you know how our game playing days evolve. In the meantime, if you have stories and adventures to share, please do. We look forward to knowing how you have fun and games with your children and grands!
Whatever games you play, remember, as Grampy always says,


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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


This month marks my dad's — our granddaughters' great-grandfather — 87th birthday. When he turned 80, I made a huge greeting card for him that featured several famous people also born in 1928. Among those folks was Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister turned children's television programming advocate. He began his educational preschool TV series, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, in 1968, but my childhood was spent with Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. I'd never heard of Mr. Rogers until a neighbor in Vermont, where we lived from 1979 to 1981, urged me to watch it with our toddler son. He was barely one year old at the time, so I don't know how much he absorbed. But the show became a favorite with him and later on, his little sister.

Fred Rogers has been on my mind these past several days, perhaps because he and my dad share the same birth year as well as the same ethics and values. I was eternally grateful that Mr. Rogers brought morals, values and character education to the forefront of television entertainment. Along with Sesame Street, our children — now 36 and 32 — had the bounty of growing up learning the virtues of friendship, kindness, compassion, neighborliness, helpfulness, courage and caring — to name but a few — these shows offered. Today, amidst the flurry of fast-paced cartoons, I find myself longing for the slower-paced, relaxed and thoughtful children's TV programs again. They afforded children and parents quality time as well to address issues that affect families. Television was not used as a babysitter but as a way to connect with one another, both by viewing those programs together and talking about what was watched afterward. Unless I am wrong, can we really say that about today's children's television shows?

I no longer watch children's television, but I am aware of some wonderful children's musicians who have introduced families to good music with excellent messages. Our children adored the Canadian musician Raffi. Who doesn't love the song "Baby Beluga?" It has transcended the decades from being one of our daughter's favorite songs to now being a cherished song of our son's little girl. In fact, when I asked her earlier this year what her favorite animal is, I fully expected her to give me the typical answer of most two-year-olds: puppy, kitty, pony. Nope, beluga. Beluga?!! Yep, beluga! So Raffi's influence lives on! YAY!

Raffi has gone beyond being only a children's musician. I am delighted to share with you his vision for creating a humane and sustainable world that addresses the universal needs of children. He calls this program "Child Honouring." What a lovely, thoughtful title! What a marvelous, thoughtful human being! More can be discovered about this endeavor in an anthology he co-edited titled "Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around," offering thoughts on restoring communities and ecosystems. Raffi's efforts have been recognized in Canada as a "vast change in the human paradigm." Wow!

Raffi also refuses to advertise or exploit his talents via endorsement offers. He wishes for a child's right to live free of commercialism, has never directly advertised or marketed to children, and flatly refused a film proposal for "Baby Beluga," fearing the mass marketing campaign targeted at children that would surround any such movie. Lo and behold, I even discovered a connection to Fred Rogers in Raffi's life that honored him for his dedication to keeping his music free of commercialism. In 2006, he won the Fred Rogers Integrity Award for consistently refusing to wed his music to endorsements that market products directly to children. Deservedly so, Raffi has been hailed as "Canada's all time children's champion."

Another amazing children's musician we happily discovered is Red Grammer, who is best known for his music that teaches human virtues. Grammer came on the children's music scene in 1983, the year our daughter was born, although we did not discover his music until we bought the CD "Teaching Peace" in 1990. It was hailed as "one of the top five children's recordings of all time." This album and two others have received either the Parents' Choice Classic Award or The Parents' Choice Gold Award, and the delightful "Be Bop Your Best" was nominated for a Grammy.

Our son and daughter's absolute most favorite Red Grammer song from "Teaching Peace" is "Barnyard Boogie," about a rooster who loves to sound the alarm every morning but in a rather unusual voice. Seth and Katie loved to perform in their grandparents' basement, and this song was the one to which they loved to boogie and pantomime the lyrics. Such a fun little ditty that brought all of us great joy!

That same album was shared with our granddaughters Jain and Olivia, but they had different favorites. Performing for us and their great-grandparents, they sang along to "I Think You're Wonderful" and "Listen." Their sweet little voices brought tears to my mama's eyes. Red's songs have a way of touching his listeners deep in their souls. He sings about food in a way that makes you want to try different dishes from around the world. He speaks of both well-known and exotic places around the world, teaches various ways to say 'hello," and encourages us to listen for the heartbeat of the family of man. All this and more on just one exceptional album.

One of my favorite Red Grammer songs is "The ABCs of You." Found on the "Down the Do-Re-Mi" album, he acknowledges wonderful virtues from A to Z in each of us. Several children have performed this song with him after having memorized this very long and complex list of virtues in alphabetical order! That's the best thing about performers like Red and Raffi. They don't speak down to children, and their songs aren't the kind that adults can't stand to listen to. Watch any of their concerts or go to any of their performances and you'll see parents and children all getting into the groove, dancing and singing right along. That's what makes for powerful musicians and performers: the connection between them and the audience, and a message with which everyone can agree.

Recently, Red has collaborated with Carol McCloud, author of the best-selling "Bucket Filler" books. Excited and encouraged by her message of spreading kindness, appreciation and love — "filling buckets" — he released a CD titled "Circle of Life: Songs for Bucket Fillers." If you are not familiar with this series of books, I encourage you, dear readers, to go to to discover these little gems! My granddaughters and I created a family project with little slips of paper that each have a virtue written on them. When we notice someone doing something wonderful we choose the virtue we are seeing in that person and add that slip of paper to their bucket. Bucket filling becomes in every sense of the word a friendly competition, in both filling someone else's bucket and getting your own filled!

Red began his interest in children's music by writing and singing his songs to his sons when they were young. His youngest son, Andy, has obviously been influenced by his father's messages of practicing virtues, as is evidenced by the song "Honey, I'm Good." Andy Grammer's hit about marital fidelity has topped the charts at #9, a clear indication that people are yearning for songs with positive messages. Thanks also to his mom's influence, he was taught to treat women with respect as evidenced by the lyrics to his song "Ladies." And his first big hit, "Hold Your Head Up," encourages perseverance in difficult and trying times.

Keep up the good work, all you positive and wonderful artists! The world needs you! Children, grandchildren and parents everywhere adore you! This tiny marble we are all floating on is a better place because you're in it, and it is, indeed, "a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor." I'm certainly glad you're mine!

Red and Raffi, this 60-year-old grandma still listens to your music! And Andy, you are one of my favorite current musicians! Parents and grandparents, keep playing this kind of music for your children and grandchildren. Share your stories with us of your favorite artists, and remember, as Grampy says,



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Summer Art Traditions


I am wrapping up our granddaughter's summer visit with stories of artistic family traditions. Jain and Sofia insist on going to MegArt, a local paint-your-own-ceramics store, every year. They love to browse all the unfinished ceramics to decide what they want to paint. This year Jain discovered crystal paints that create a multi-colored look and used those to paint a mug. Sofia decided on a cupcake — influenced by Grampy, who made up lyrics to the Herman's Hermits song, Dandy, wherein I, Dandy, "eat all the cupcakes!" I always paint with them, so I made a cupcake, too. Mine turned out to be a red velvet concoction; Sofia's cupcake was much more colorful.

Last summer we began a family tradition with our peace pole creation. This summer our joint project with Grandpa Guy (my dad) was done on a gorgeous piece of barn wood found at an antique store. According to the owner, the piece was originally part of a horse stall and featured a groove in the top where the horse rubbed its neck back and forth to relieve an itch. I knew then that horses would somehow have to be incorporated into this mixed media piece.

Grandpa Guy stained the wood and the two of us, looking at its shape and the direction of the grain, envisioned mountains on top and a stream. I kept seeing horses in my mind's eye galloping upstream. The groove in the piece became part of the mountains, and just below the mountains is where the river runs. Three unpainted wooden horses were transformed into carousel horses (Sofia's horse is blue, Jain's is purple, mine brown and pink). I painted the mountains and river on the barn wood, and Jain and Sofia added flowers and grass to the meadow. Our horses were added last as we thought up a name for this fabulous piece of artwork. A story formed that these were three carousel horses that broke loose from the circus and ran away, so we titled it "Three Run Free!" This joint effort masterpiece hangs proudly in our living room where I can see it every day and remember all the fun we had creating it!

Jain and Sofia had the bounty this summer of going boating on the lake again. Their cousin, Erica, came down from Ohio to visit and took them out on Lake Norman for a day. Jain saw a grouping of trees that impressed her when they were docked and later painted them from memory on canvas. She presented it to me as a gift for my 60th birthday and I will cherish it always.

My kitchen table has served as our craft area for many summers now. Every year the girls want to know what crafts we'll be doing. In addition to making the marker-dyed t-shirts (see previous story), we wrapped up our time together making veggie print art. Did you know a rose can be made from a cut celery stalk? Leaves from a single piece of celery? Flowers from peppers and okra? Simply dab on some acrylic paint and press onto your material of choice (we used canvas bags) and, voila!, you have instant gifts to take home to Mama! What a wonderful artistic end to their visit!

I'm already thinking of ideas for next summer. Please, dear readers, if you have suggestions, stories or ideas, I'm eager to hear from you! Until then, as Grampy says,


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BOOM! Happy Birthday, America! Happy Birthday, Granddaughters!


Well, the Fourth of July was certainly interesting. We left Massachusetts early that morning to head back to North Carolina, knowing it was going to be a looooong day of driving. Our daughter, Katie, was still with us on this leg of Jain and Sofia's vacation, so we took advantage of having a third driver and made the trip back home all in one day.

As we were nearing home, it got dark enough for communities to start their holiday festivities. And, as I'd hoped, we began to see fireworks going off all around us. The girls were delighted as we drove by and saw not one or two displays, but several explosions in many different directions lighting up the sky!

The fireworks inspired us the next day to create our tie-dyed explosion t-shirts. Decorating t-shirts has been a tradition for several summers now, and this year proved to be one of the most fun times ever! If you haven't tried this craft yet, I highly recommend it. Here's what you need and the how-to, including a YouTube video I liked best. Please watch the video if my directions don't make sense. It explains everything except preserving the color with vinegar. Go to

Items: 100% cotton t-shirts (preferably white), t-shirt cardboard, 94% rubbing alcohol, eye droppers, regular —not fine-tipped — Sharpies (as many colors as you desire except black), one fine-tipped black Sharpie for outlining designs (if desired)

How-to: Insert cardboard inside t-shirt so marker ink won't bleed through to the back side of the shirt. Make small designs (asterisks and 5- or 6-dot "flowers" worked best for us) on the front of the shirt with two or three different colors of marker. Drop rubbing alcohol from an eye dropper in the center of your design — the shirt will absorb the liquid and allow the design to spread out. Be careful, though. If you want your design to stay small, don't drop too much rubbing alcohol on it. The more you add, the larger the design will be. After you've completed your shirt, spray it with white vinegar to set the colors. Then wash in cold water; otherwise, the colors will fade when the shirts are laundered. We didn't know this until after we'd washed them once, and now they are quite faded. Live and learn.

You can see in the photos how our designs turned out. The girls really got into this project and made one for their mama, too. We plan to make these shirts again next summer. So knowing they'll want to make more than one or two shirts each, I am gonna have to stock up! Jain made a really cool design on a light-color shirt that looks like a floral necklace going around the collar. If you don't want to wear a white t-shirt, color ones will work. Just be sure they are light colors so the ink from the Sharpies shows up well. All t-shirts, no matter what color, should be 100% cotton, since they accept the ink and rubbing alcohol best. Cotton blends just don't work as well.

I followed the video's suggestion on one of my shirts and outlined the designs with a fine-tipped black Sharpie. And, WOW, that really made the design pop!

Our new method of tie-dying came in handy a few days later. Our girls have quite an eclectic taste in music, the 1960s being among their very favorite. Often we will have a combined birthday party for Jain and Sofia while they're here, and I thought it would be a blast to have a '60s-themed event this year. Peace signs, smiley faces and groovy signs decorated the party room and we all wore our new far out t-shirts! Jain, Sofia, family and friends enjoyed trying out some 1960s dance moves, playing Twister, hula hooping, making peace sign necklaces and testing their historical knowledge of the era against the adults with a trivia quiz I dubbed "Are You Smarter Than a Hippie?" The girls (ages 9-13) guessed a lot and knew more than I thought they would, but the adults won.

I think the most fun we all had was with my long-haired Halloween wig. To the dulcet tones of "Hair" and "Aquarius," each of the girls (and Grampy, to the girls' delight!) took a turn wearing the wig and having everyone else create a hippy look with the items provided: scarf, beads, ribbons, daisies and other flowers, feathers, and even a bird's nest. Why not, eh? As the song says, his hair was "a home for the birds and the buzzing bees!" Needless to say, their coiffures were more of a hilarious hot mess than a true hippy look. Ummm, on second thought, maybe not. Hippies weren't exactly neat and tidy most of the time.

Great fun and memory-filled times with family and friends! And we can't wait to see how we celebrate their birthdays next summer!

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The Mennillo Name Lives On!


We have a grandson! No longer would we have to wonder whether this Mennillo line will end with our son. After three granddaughters arrived on the scene, we had begun to think it might never happen. But in early June of this year, my son called me with the happy news, "Say hello to your new grandson!" I was at work and, fortunately, was in the break room when I screamed, "Yay, I knew it! I knew you'd have a boy!" So, just as we did when we met big sister Olivia at the age of three weeks, we traveled to Massachusetts when little Lucas Emerson Mennillo was the same age.

This time our daughter and two granddaughters, Jain and Sofia, made the trip with us. It was so, so wonderful to see the joy spread across their faces as Katie held her nephew and the girls their cousin. Not to mention our own happiness! I marveled at how sweet our son is with his own little boy. I swear to you, when he held him Lucas smiled! He has such an endearingly gentle way with babies. No wonder they smile! Happiness all around!

I worried a bit how the age difference between granddaughters would affect their interaction, but I had no reason for any such concern. Sofia, nearly 9, and Olivia, 2 and a half, became shadows of one another. Where Sofia went, Olivia followed. They played together very well, Olivia delighting in a never-ending game of hide-and-seek. Several times over the few days we were there, we could hear Olivia pipe up in her toddler voice, "So-FEE-uh! Where ARE you?" and then run off to find her, squealing in delight when Sofia popped out at her. And when they weren't actively playing, we would find Olivia curled up next to Sofia listening as her cousin read to her. And not just listening, but asking questions about what was happening in the story. I have never seen a young child take reading to the next level like Sofia did! It was heartwarming to watch the two of them. They truly had a connection!

I found out prior to our visit that Olivia's favorite animal is the beluga whale, so I ordered some plastic whale beads for easy stringing on an elastic necklace. Those belugas were a hit, and the girls sat and strung beads for hours on end. Olivia was very proud of her creation.

If they weren't stringing beads, all three girls were in the backyard playing in the sandbox or going down the slide. I brought along some plastic frogs to hide in the grass, then asked Olivia to find them and put them in a pail. But she took much more delight in dumping the bucketful of frogs over her head and giggling when they landed on her. Which made us laugh. Which made her do it over and over and over. Too cute!

Craft time was also a concern for me. With a new baby in the house, I wanted to be sure I had enough activities to keep Olivia busy. Some worked, some didn't. The "mess-terpiece" we did with Jain and Sofia several years ago was not ideal for a 2-year-old. This art activity involves dipping squish balls of varying textures in tempera paints and rolling them across a long piece of paper taped to the ground to create a mess-terpiece. Great fun for older kids, way too messy for a toddler. Lesson learned.

We found success, though, with marble painting and glitter glue. Oh, my, did she love her glitter glue creations! She didn't want to leave the table to do anything else! This was a great art project for all of us. No matter the age difference, everyone is curious to see what their glitter glue designs would look like.

Auntie Lynn and Poppa Ben drove up for a visit, bearing gifts for Olivia and Lucas. Olivia's favorite gift from Lynn was a doll that could be bottle fed and then emitted a loud burp. Hilarious to Olivia. She cracked up every time! It was another joyous moment to see more smiling faces as the two of them met Lucas for the first time. Poppa is 92 years old, so these opportunities to get four generations together are precious to us.

The hottest day there were spent playing with bubbles or in her kiddie pool tossing squish balls to each other. Jain loved the hammock, and Olivia would climb up to lie down and swing back and forth with her. But only for a little bit. Otherwise, she was up and running, every fiber of her being involved in play and exploration of her world. And what mimics 2-year-olds are! I was watching from an upstairs window as the girls played in the pool. Seth tossed a ball to them and no one caught it. I yelled out teasingly, "C'mon, Pops!" indicating he should have better aim so the girls could actually catch the ball. Olivia immediately echoed, "C'mon, Pops!" Naturally, that generated laughter from the rest of us, which further prompted her to keep saying it — much to the chagrin of my son who prefers to be called "Daddy."

We wrapped up our vacation with a puppet show Jain and Sofia had co-written. We ducked down behind one section of their sofa and used plush toy sea animals and one hedgehog to act out the story. Olivia loved it, especially at the end when someone decided to start a play-fight with all the animals. Over the back of the couch they went, Olivia and Seth catching them and throwing them back. Much screeching and giggling! I guess an interactive puppet show is better than one where the audience just sits back and watches!

Sadly, our time with our New England families was over much too soon. We left on the Fourth of July to head back to North Carolina and the remainder of our summer together. More next week, dear readers, on our summer fun in the South. Until then, as Grampy says ...


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Hartford Heritage


Granddaughters' first trip into the Big Apple . . . check!

Family connection to NYC, the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus . . . check!

Now on to learning a bit more — actually, a LOT more — about their Connecticut family and ties to Hartford and other cities. A couple of years ago, we ventured to southern Connecticut and visited Mystic (yes, Mystic Pizza is quite good) and Stonington, where Grampy wanted to show all of us the Stanton homestead. Thomas Stanton was an ancestor of Grampy, Katie, Jain and Sofia on Grampy's mother's side. Jain and Sofia learned that Stanton was quite an important figure in his time. He managed to keep two Indian tribes at peace with each other and the English settlers in the earliest days of Connecticut's history (1600s), in great part because he was fluent in the language of the Pequots and Mohegans. In addition to being a founder of Hartford, he was a founder of Stonington, where he befriended the Mohegan chief, Uncas, and assisted him in writing his will. We never did find the Stanton homestead, but the girls learned a lot about their genealogy.

This summer we continued the history lesson with a visit to two cemeteries. Before the girls arrived, we went to Mount St. Benedict, in Bloomfield, Connecticut, with Auntie Lynn and finally located Tom's great-grandmother Emilie Stoddart's marker. Emilie's story is fascinating as well. Her line of Stanton forebears moved from Connecticut to Nova Scotia in the 1750s to farm land abandoned by the Acadian French (we know them today as the Cajuns of Louisiana, where they ended up) after their defeat by the British. After her husband, Allan James Levy, was killed in battle in World War I, she was forced to place her children in a Catholic orphanage while she trained to become a nurse so she could support them. Later, she remarried and emigrated with her new husband and her children to Hartford — the very city that, probably unbeknownst to Emilie, her ancestors had founded three centuries earlier. It's through Levy that Grampy, Katie and the girls are related to Emma Lazarus, who wrote the sonnet immortalized on the Statue of Liberty.

Our hotel in East Hartford overlooked the Connecticut River and the pedestrian Founders Bridge. We crossed the river into downtown Hartford one morning to visit a graveyard where family members who founded the city in 1636 are buried. Along the way, the girls noticed symbols in the cast iron railing on the bridge and were curious about their significance. The tree is the Charter Oak, where the royal document guaranteeing limited self-government to Connecticut was hidden so it couldn't be confiscated by agents of the next king; the church is Center Church, the oldest church in Hartford; the building is the Old State House, the state's first capitol; and the airplane symbolizes Connecticut's place in aviation (most passenger and military planes are kept aloft by Pratt & Whitney engines). What looked like a dog's paw print was stamped on concrete section of the bridge, and for a minute we couldn't figure that one out. Finally it occurred to one of us it's the UConn Husky, mascot of the flagship state university! Who knew walking across a bridge would offer such a fun way to teach a bit of state history?

Our destination was the very same Center Church and its historic cemetery. There we embarked on a graveyard scavenger hunt for headstones with the name Lord, and successfully found those of the parents and other family members of Anna Lord, Thomas Stanton's wife. Thomas Lord, Anna's father, was the first physician in Connecticut. We could only take photos since grave rubbings are not allowed, the markers being too old and fragile from the passage of time and inclement weather. As a result, some markers were quite difficult to read, but that just made the hunt more challenging!

There are no Stantons buried in the Center Church cemetery (Thomas and Anna were buried in Stonington), but an obelisk was placed by descendants of Hartford's founders that names all of them, including Thomas Stanton. So, photos taken, genealogy learned ... check!

We proceeded to walk back toward the East Hartford side of the river, but decided to take a respite from the heat in the Old State House. Inside was a history museum where we could learn even more about Connecticut! Jain and Sofia relished dressing up in colonial fashions and UConn women's basketball uniforms (UConn has won 10 national titles in women's basketball and four in men's basketball and the teams are revered statewide), pretending to be a television newscaster, looking at all the antiques on display and learning about some of Connecticut's famous sons and daughters such as Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. They greatly admired the LEGO Mark Twain house at Bradley airport, so a visit to the real house is planned for their next visit!

Our walk into Hartford was fun and informative. Not only did the girls learn about their Connecticut roots, they also learned the most important thing about history. What happened in the past affects how we live today. Who knows whether Thomas Stanton's quest for peace with the Indians carried through to present day and gave them an awareness of other cultures and a desire to live in unity with others? So much has been revealed to us in this past year about our genealogy, it gives us pause to reflect and wonder, "Oh, maybe that's why I like ..." or "I also wanted to go to Nova Scotia. Now I know why!"

Interestingly, growing up, Grampy never realized his family's connection to this history. He went swimming at Lord Pool in East Hartford, where he grew up.  Was it named after the Lord family? Probably. Until a year or so ago, he never even knew he was related to the Lords. Friends of ours in Georgia are Lords and, as revealed in genealogical research, BOTH husband and wife are related to Grampy! The mother of Grampy's college roommate was the pastor at Center Church and Grampy worked one summer at the Center Church's camp, again never realizing the family's connection to the church until much later in life.

History is important. It links us to people and family we never knew but might very well have affected us in many ways. History give us connections to parts of the country where other family members lived, and it certainly broadens our view of the world. Visiting cemeteries, museums, historical towns and homesteads and listening to the stories of older family members makes all that history come alive and become more real to us. I urge you, gentle readers, to take every opportunity to explore your own genealogy with your children and grandchildren. Document it with photos, especially, so that the history lessons become a valued part of their lives. And, above all, while doing so remember, as Grampy says, to ...


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First-Time Adventures in the Big Apple — Part 2


Our Big Apple history and genealogy lessons in the Battery ended and it was time to move on and see some more of this huge metropolis. We rode the subway to Canal Street Station, walked east through Chinatown and on to Little Italy for lunch. Auntie Lynn lived in New York City for a while and wanted us to experience Little Italy. The neighborhood has changed dramatically over time and is no longer the enclave of Italian immigrants it once was. Chinatown is encroaching on the area more and more, but there are still vestiges of Italian life here and there. Lynn took us to a fabulous Italian restaurant to get our first taste of New York pizza (we still like Connecticut pizza better — sorry New York!), and got a great window seat where we could watch the world go by. Upon leaving the pizza place, Sofia spotted a restaurant next door called Sofia's. Camera time! I snapped a couple photos of her pointing to the restaurant's sign. Decked out in her Statue of Liberty sunglasses, her stance made her look just like Lady Liberty.

Back on the Canal Street subway we went and rode to Central Park West. This was a highly anticipated part of the day, since we are all Beatles fans! Jain and Sofia were eager to go to Strawberry Fields and John Lennon's memorial. They flashed peace signs at the entrance and while kneeling at the Imagine plaque on the grounds. Sofia ran free through the park and did cartwheels while Jain purchased a small calligraphic print of the word "IMAGINE" with a rose.

We could not have asked for better weather for this venture into New York City! North Carolina had been so hot and we were begging for a reprieve from the heat and relentless sunshine. The day we had planned to come into the city had been rainy and cold, so we waited until the next day. It was perfect. Temps no higher than the low 80s, a cool breeze blowing — strolling through Central Park was just glorious. Sofia spotted its immense boulders and dashed off to climb all over them. She was in her little athletic glory!

Finally, it was time to end our day, but not before window shopping along Fifth Avenue. I felt bad for Jain that we didn't get to go in any of the stores so she could drool over the fashions, but we had accomplished all we could in one day and everyone was pooped.

The girls really wanted to visit a museum, and I would have loved to take them to the Central Park Zoo. But we know now the next time we go into the Big Apple we'll have those things to see and do! Maybe even a Broadway play!!!

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First-Time Adventures in the Big Apple


NEW YORK CITY! YESSSSSSS! This trip much anticipated since last summer, our granddaughters, Jain and Sofia, could hardly wait to fly east for their very first visit to the Big Apple. But before that trip would come to fruition, their first days of vacation were spent relaxing after a long red-eye flight from California to Connecticut. After the delightful, unexpected attention their 92-year-old great-grandfather received from a group of middle-aged women (see last week's post) and the good-natured ribbing he took from all of us, things settled down and we spent quieter moments with him and their auntie Lynn.

The first thing our daughter was curious about were the newly redecorated rooms of my husband's childhood home: carpeting gone and wood floors resurfaced, fresh paint upstairs and down, new furniture in the living room. Poppa and my sister-in-law Lynn did a great job, although I think my daughter would have preferred that everything remain the way she remembered it from her childhood! Quality time was spent looking through old family photos, driving around the countryside of the southern and eastern parts of the state, listening to Jain play her viola and enjoying our traditional game of UNO as we rested and saved our energy for our upcoming trip to NYC.

NYC! Jain and Sofia were beyond excited! Jain even had a special outfit to wear. And a hat. The little fashionista! Very early on a Monday morning we drove to New Haven and took the train into that huge, sprawling metropolis. Coming up from the tracks into Grand Central Station is still a riveting experience for me. I especially love the ceiling there. It is just spectacular! I regret now that I didn't register the girls' reaction.

First up was a jaunt to Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park. Our daughter, Katie, pointed out NBC Studios, where one of her all-time favorite shows, "Saturday Night Live," is taped. We passed by Radio City Music Hall and the New York public library, and Jain, our young fashion designer, recognized the green in Bryant Park on which Fashion Week activities were once held. Naturally, she had to pose and model, imagining her own designs being featured there some day.

In Times Square, we pointed out the spot where the ball drops on New Year's Eve. The girls were fascinated by all the flashy advertising, the lights, the sights, the neon Broadway signs — everything that is typical New York City!

On we went by subway to the Battery to gaze out at the Statue of Liberty. We would have taken the ferry to see Lady Liberty, but didn't want to spend the time getting over and back when we had so much else to explore. Tom and I did, however, want to make sure the girls understood the family's connection to the statue. A poetry contest held in 1883 for the statue's dedication was won by Emma Lazarus, the well-known poet and advocate for the rights of immigrant Russian Jews. Emma, as it turns out, is related to my husband, Tom, on his mother's side. The last lines of that sonnet are achingly relevant today, with all the news of so many refugees from other lands seeking safe harbor. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Would that we take these best known lines of Emma's poem to heart and, like her, be advocates for immigrants everywhere; for people who just want to "breathe free" and live in peace.

Continuing along the New York waterfront, two more very important structures came to our attention. In the distance we could see the Freedom Tower, erected in memoriam of the fallen World Trade Center buildings. At first glance, my heart stopped for a split second, I drew in a sharp breath and offered up a prayer for the many souls lost and lives affected in that horrifying tragedy. Rising up much closer to where we were standing was the Korean war memorial, in itself a remarkable statement to freedom. Carved out of the center of a 15-foot-high piece of black granite is the image known as "the Universal Soldier." Standing on one side of this stele, viewers can look right through him and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance! The monument also serves as a functional sundial, indicating the exact moment of the Korean conflict ceasefire. Every July 27 at 10 a.m., the sun shines through the soldier's head, illuminating a commemorative plaque at the foot of the statue. We discovered this information long after they'd gone home when my father asked about the significance of the way the monument was carved. I wish now we had been able to point this out to the girls at the time. It would have made the monument so much more meaningful. The juxtaposition of these two edifices for me was like the phoenix of hope and peace rising from the ashes of death and destruction. And the Statue of Liberty was there in the distance standing strong, representing freedom for all. I didn't think about it when we were there, but it would have been a great teachable moment to ask the girls what these individual monuments — the Statue of Liberty, the Korean war monument and Freedom Tower — meant to them. Reading this post, I hope they and their mama will have the opportunity to do just that, for I believe it will impart a deeper appreciation of their ancestor, Emma Lazarus, and make her poem engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty come alive for them.

Next week I will continue with the tales of our adventures in the Big Apple. Until then, gentle readers, please share what special moments you had with your grandchildren this summer. And remember what Grampy always says ...


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The Wisdom in a Child's Sense of Humor


I apologize for the long delay in posting anything to this blog. This summer was a tough one for me. I turned 60, and while I'm looking forward to this new decade, this age gives me pause and makes me realize how very little time I have left on this earth to enjoy my grandchildren. None of us knows how long we will live, so we need to make the most of each day. When you see your grandchildren only once or twice a year, making the most of your time with them can be exhausting. Fun, yes, but exhausting. I think I felt it this summer more than any other. Not so much physically, but emotionally once it's all over. And now I'm just coming out of that post-visit slump where I was stuck for weeks. I love having our oldest granddaughters with us for four or five weeks each summer, but every time they go home I get the blues. My goodness, time to shake it off!

One thing that always, always helps me is humor and laughter. Sofia reminded me of that in a way only her quick-witted, 9-year-old mind could. Let me first tell you that after we picked up our daughter and granddaughters at the airport in Connecticut, we met my husband's sister and dad for lunch. Driving up to the restaurant, we saw my father-in-law had been dropped off at the front door while his daughter was parking the car. He was surrounded by a group of middle-aged ladies who were happily laughing and chatting with him. We rolled down our windows to shout hello and these women began oohing and ahhing over our granddaughters, Jain and Sofia. "Oh, is this your daughter and great-granddaughters?" they squealed to him. What in the world is going on? Who are these women? Ben had apparently been telling them we were there for a visit and he was waiting for us to show up. Walking up to him after we parked our car, they surrounded us, remarking how lovable and sweet he was. A couple of them asked me, "How old is your father-in-law?" to which I replied, "92!" They were absolutely amazed at that and said they all hoped they would be doing so great at that age. I smiled and thought to myself, "Wow, Benny, you've still got it! Way to go!"

We good-naturedly ribbed Ben about being a chick magnet for a bit, but then never gave it a second thought. Or so I thought.

On to Massachusetts to see our son and his family. Newborn grandson, Lucas, was three weeks old at the time, and his sister, Olivia, two and a half years.

At the end of this year's visit, Sofia must have had the age differences between her and her teenage sister and her young toddler and infant cousins on her mind. With my birthday approaching, she asked me how old I would be when Lucas is 10. I replied I would be 70, and 80 when he's 20, and 90 when he's 30! Good Lord! At the 90/30 year difference, I moaned, "Oh, I don't know if I want to even live that long!" Sofia, without missing a beat, piped up, "But, why not, Dandy? You could be like Poppa and attract women!" All of us just lost it! How do you argue with that kind of logic? I know what she meant, though. So I guess if I'm attracting the opposite sex at 90, I'll be doing all right!

As I reflect on the summer past and all the fun we had, it makes me smile ear to ear when I remember the funny things my grandchildren say. And that is a surefire cure for the blues!

Much, much more to come! Stay tuned for everything we did during the rest of the summer! And remember, as Grampy always says,


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Here We Go!


"Here we go!" My dad always, always says this whether he's the one driving or in the passenger seat. Everyone is buckled in, and as we're backing out of the driveway we can count on him saying this. And now I find I say it, too, chuckling to myself if I'm alone in the car, but definitely saying it when I have passengers. Those three little words hold so much meaning when you think about it. "Here we go!" implies a journey, an adventure, excitement, not knowing what's in store for us, anticipation of what we might encounter, eagerness to be ready for anything. "HERE WE GO!"

Fantastic words to start a vacation! "HERE WE GO!" Grandchildren in the back seat with plenty of travel games, knowing we'll make some up as we do every year and having no idea how those will take shape! Venturing forth to uncharted territories, exploring city and countryside, wondering what lies just around the next bend, delighting in treasures discovered in a museum or on a hike, hearts racing in anticipation of nearing our destination, the hugs and smiles greeting us when we visit family members. "HERE WE GO!" So much is conveyed in these three words, knowing that together we will experience happiness, joy, laughter and love in everything we do.

Car travel with our granddaughters is never boring. They can hardly wait to be on the road! We have travel tunes on a CD, a small case filled to the brim with travel games and activities, and the two of us keeping them on their toes with thought-provoking questions. Yet somehow, in spite of all my planning and organizing, I think they'd be perfectly happy with one or two books of Mad Libs and all the nonsensical games we invent along the way. They key to fun travel with children is to keep them busy. It's better to have too many activities for them to do than not enough.

Vacations in our family are always well thought out with travel routes, itineraries, daily schedules  and places to visit in hand. We follow our schedules, but always leave room for serendipitous moments to transpire! Will we feel like singing and dancing down the streets of New York City? Why not, if the urge strikes? Can we enjoy quiet time with older relatives and be patient? Absolutely, because we're learning our family's history! Is slowing down for a child's walk through the woods hampering us? Not at all, for they are enjoying the world around them, discovering its hidden secrets and loving how awesome mica found in a stream bed is! Can we manage age-appropriate activities for cousins who, among the three of them, are teenage, tween and toddler age? We have no idea, since we've never tried it before. But our older granddaughters love their little cousin and will certainly want to make playtime with her as fun as possible. Are we disappointed when an activity doesn't go as planned? Nope. Scratch that one off the list and move on to something our grandchildren enjoy more. (This is why I over-plan!) Time with our grandchildren is infrequent and precious, and we are extremely flexible with their likes and dislikes. We have little opportunity to get to know them better, since we are able to spend quality time together only one month during the summer.

So, dear readers and loving grandparents, we encourage you to plan well but remain flexible. Entertain the child within as you play with your own grandchildren. Be ready for anything and everything that happens during your time together. Embrace change as much as you embrace one another! Be excited, be eager, be happy to be together! Enjoy your summer, and enjoy the ride, because you know what my dad would say: "HERE WE GO!"

(This might be my last post for a while as we vacation with our families during the month of July. Stay tuned for all the grandparenting fun and adventures we are sure to have! We will be happy to share them with you in August.)

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