Be the fun grandparents

A Day at the Museum


Summer is a great time to take your grandchildren to a museum or two. School is out, but that's no reason not to keep learning. And what better way than an excursion to see dinosaurs and fossils, gaze at the solar system, or be captivated by art!

Museums are no longer just a brick-and-mortar edifices that house exhibits roped off merely to look at. They strive today to interact with visitors, engaging our thoughts and emotions in ways that link the past to the present and point us toward the future.

There are children's hands-on museums, science and technology museums, art museums, living history museums, etc., etc., etc. You name it, there's a museum somewhere for it. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is probably the most well-known and most visited of all museums in the country. We love it because there is so much choice, and we've been to the ones showcasing the American Indian, aerospace, natural history, and Asian art. Nearby, but not part of the Smithsonian, are two we have yet to explore that we really, really want to get to some day: the Newseum (all about the press) and the International Spy Museum (all about espionage).

My husband and I grew up visiting museums, often as part of school field trips. I can't remember my parents taking me to one, but we have surely introduced our granddaughters to them over the summers they've spent with us! At earlier ages, Jain and Sofia enjoyed the hands-on children's museums the most, where their visits were sensory-laden experiences. Children should be encouraged to see, touch, feel, and listen to everything in those environments. These are places where they are allowed to be noisy and excited. The best children's museums will have many, many stations for exploration and pretend play: be a cook, tell stories, race cars, play with bubbles, perform on stage, create art, splash in water, build with blocks, run a grocery store, serve food in a restaurant, look through a telescope, examine wee things under a microscope, and experience scientific phenomena first hand. These experiences broaden their horizons and might even give them an inkling of what they'd like to do for a career.

Once they are older and can appreciate fine art, take them to as many art museums as you can. Some art museums allow hands-on exploration. But for those exhibits that are hands-off, let your grandchildren know the reasons certain items cannot be touched. You might want to ask the museum staff which items, if any, are OK to handle. That way, permission is granted and no one gets in trouble.

Antique stores, as I mentioned in a previous post, are also museums. It is here that grandparents come in quite handy to explain what certain items are and how they were used. And just about everything in an antique store is hands-on! Hats can be modeled and clothing tried on. Jain and Sofia love to go "picking" with me and we've found some fantastic deals!

Recently, Tom and I came across an excellent website from Great Britain with a manifesto titled "Kids and Museums." Twenty bullet points highlight what a museum — and a museum visit — should be. Among these ideals are:

  • every staff person welcoming every visitor in every part of the museum, including the cafe
  • posting a list of what visitors CAN do and not a list of what they CAN'T
  • grandparents sharing their insights with grandchildren to make history come alive (I did this with Sofia when she didn't understand how a rotary phone worked)
  • encouraging and inviting teenagers to hang out in the museum, getting them involved and valuing their opinions
  • using social media and websites to be more family friendly and up to date
  • providing guides, trails and activities for all ages so everyone feels included
  • making the most of every interior and exterior part of the museum to enhance visitors' experience
  • building relationships with visitors so they will feel valued and involved in the museum's future

If you would like to read the manifesto in its entirety, it can be found at This organization works with museums to help them welcome and include families, teenagers and children. They encourage your input in making the museum experience a better one.

Now comes the question we want to ask everyone reading this post. What makes the museums you've visited so much fun, so wonderful that you want to return? Have you referred them to friends, family or co-workers? Said things like, "Oh, you MUST go to the XXXX Museum. It is fantastic! You and your kids/grandkids will just adore it. It is sooooo much fun! We just love that place!" We know you've been to some! What thoughts and emotions did these museums bring out in you? Let us know and I will share your suggestions in a future post!

As for us, we're off to New England this summer, with a day trip to the Big Apple, which is one gigantic, sprawling museum all on its own! Jain and Sofia want to see at least one museum there and we will most certainly be sharing their experiences with all of you, dear readers. We'd also like to take the girls to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta before taking them to the airport for their flight home.

And, remember, as Grampy says,


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Go Outside and Play! I Triple Dog Dare You!


When I was a child in the 1950s and '60s, life was much simpler than it is — or seems to be — today. Perhaps that's because those of us who are now grandparents reflect on those days from a child's point of view. Because that's what we were then. Our parents and other adults probably didn't think it was so easy, or simple. Maybe they did. I don't know.

But I do know that our generation, the baby boomers, experienced things no other generation will ever have the privilege of doing unless we share our stories and encourage our grandchildren to go back to those activities and discover for themselves how much fun we had!

When was the last time your grandchildren went outside to play? Do they regularly ride a bicycle or scooter? Have they strapped on a pair of four-wheeled roller skates or gone to a skating rink? Climbed a tree and let the breeze sway them back and forth on the farthest limb? Rolled down a hill, giggling all the way? Built a tent from twigs and bark? Made forts from blankets and chairs? Skipped rope? Played jacks? Whacked a tether ball around its pole? Swung as high as they possible could 'til it felt like they might touch the clouds? Waded in a stream or tried to catch minnows? Collected rocks or fossils? Invited friends for a sleepover? Had a rousing pillow fight?

On a hot summer day, have they floated on their backs in a pool and tried cloud spotting (looking for shapes in the clouds)? Run and splashed through a sprinkler? Captured grasshoppers with their bare hands just to see if they would spit "tobacco juice"? Slurped water from the garden hose when they got thirsty? Split a double Popsicle with a sibling or friend? Caught fireflies and made a lantern? Relaxed by a campfire at night roasting marshmallows or making s'mores? Listened to the crickets chirping as they drifted off to sleep? Been awakened to help look for nightcrawlers by flashlight to use for the next day's fishing trip?

Do your grandchildren know how to play the games we enjoyed? Dodgeball, kickball, tag, hopscotch, London Bridge, Ring Around the Rosie, Kick the Can, Hot Potato, Mother May I?, Simon Says? I certainly hope so, but one never knows these days when children seem to stay indoors so much. Have they ever in their life spun a hula hoop around their waist? Or played Twister? How many even know what Red Rover, Red Rover is anymore?

(Incidentally, I introduced my two oldest to Red Rover, Red Rover on their school playground until a supervisor informed us the game is forbidden because smaller kids, or their parents, complained they were getting hurt when they tried to break the line. That is just sad. We played this game ALL THE TIME and it would have been an embarrassment to cry or complain. What is happening? When did we become so overprotective that our children can't even have a decent game of Red Rover? It would have been better, in my opinion, just to remove the smaller children from the game and have them play something more age-appropriate. But then I'm a child of the '50s and '60s when a few minor scrapes and bruises were OK and, as many adults claimed, "built character." How many times did we hear those words?)

When was the last time you bought Cracker Jack for your grandchildren just to watch their faces when they found the prize inside? Some cereals used to have prizes. I wonder if there are any that still do?

In my day, decisions were made by chanting "eeny meeny miney mo" or by playing rock paper scissors. Mistakes were handled with "do overs" and if anyone "threatened" us with a challenge it was simply a dare, double dog dare or triple dog dare. Nothing was ever taken that seriously. Cooties were the worst disease you could possibly get from the opposite gender, water balloons were the ultimate weapon, and we played outside until the street lights came on.

Our house seemed to have a revolving door for all the kids in the neighborhood, and Mom welcomed everyone cheerfully. Mom was always the prettiest girl and Dad the handsomest man. Boo-boos were instantly and magically made better when Mom or Grandma kissed them. Someone somewhere always had a plate of freshly baked cookies. Any adult in the neighborhood could parent your children and, if necessary, reprimand them without fear of a lawsuit! Village parenting was actually welcomed and no one thought a thing of it. Our neighborhoods, by and large, were safe havens, and the only reason we were in fear for our lives was because we didn't want our parents to be mad at us.

Oh, how I wish we could go back to those days. Before technology sapped our children's motivation. I experienced every single one of these things mentioned above and our two children had a glorious childhood doing a lot of them, too. Our daughter won't allow technology to rule her daughters' lives. They each have a Kindle and access to the Internet, but they both have enjoyed the vast majority of the things mentioned above. In fact, they would both rather be outside playing with friends than inside watching TV. And they are the richer for it. During one particular slumber party, Jain, Sofia and a friend made a teepee using natural materials they found on the ground behind the house. When our daughter posted the photos on Facebook, she added this caption: "My girls had a friend over for a sleepover last night, and they spent the evening and part of this morning making this amazing teepee. Doesn't it make you feel better about the world knowing that kids still do stuff like this during slumber parties?" Yes! Indeed it makes me so happy and gives me hope for the future!

The children of the '50s, '60s and '70s are now grandparents and will one day no longer be around to share stories of their childhood. I beg of you, dear readers, to tell your grandchildren what your childhood was like, and keep that history alive today. Technology and the information age have transported us to a much different world, and it has many fantastic benefits. But we still need to remember what childhood was once like and encourage our children and grandchildren to play outside, climb trees, build forts, run through sprinklers, talk to and befriend their neighbors, develop a deep, abiding appreciation of nature, respect their elders and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what came before is an excellent foundation on which to build their own path to adulthood. Now, let's go play! And remember, as Grampy says, HAVE FUN!

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Summer approaches! Get those cameras ready! Be sure your camera phones are always fully charged, and have the extra battery for your larger digital camera all set to use! The grandchildren will soon be visiting and you'll want to be sure to capture all those glorious summer memories.

Our family is just a wee little bit camera crazy. Grampy likes taking action shots and unposed pictures. My sister has her nieces "work it, work it" as they model their new clothes, and she does wonders with digital enhancement of her photos as well.

My advice? Create photo albums every year. And don't procrastinate. As soon as your grandchildren have returned home, get those photos onto the computer and create a digital photo album. We do this times for each "event" during our granddaughters' visit. Grampy uploads photos per trip or occasion (birthday photos go in one album, trip to the beach in another, and so on). If you want a physical photo album in your hands, print out your favorite photos from your time together and make a keepsake that way. The physical albums I create are primarily for us as the grandparents. We can look at them throughout the year and remember all the fun we had. Our granddaughters enjoy looking at them each summer, too. But everyone has access to the digital albums. Family and friends all over the globe can share in our fun. I call them my electronic brag books!

My first physical photo album was created after they were both old enough to visit, and I did it up big! It's all in scrapbook form, complete with decorative pages, stickers, photos and captions. Swimming and boating pictures on blue, water-themed pages; hiking trip pics on leafy, green sheets; stickers of bubbles and rubber ducks on bath time photos; glamor girl/girls rock/divas rule/absolutely fabulous and similar words scattered among the modeling photos. You get the idea. It takes a bit of time and work to create this kind of album, but they are truly keepsakes!

Of course, digital photo albums can be created this way, too. Choose your backgrounds, caption your photos, etc., etc., etc. You can even make a book if you wish, and let the computer do the work for you instead of creating a handmade scrapbook. No glue, no stickers, no fuss. You just have to know how to make a digital photo album. I am not tech savvy, thus I prefer to print out photos and put them in physical albums. Still old school, I guess.

A word about digital albums.You can upload photos of your choice to albums on a site such as Shutterfly, share those albums and order prints if you'd like. But you might not be able to download photos in full resolution from such a site. (If that's important to you, check out a site's rules before committing to it. We found out the hard way when Shutterfly, which does not allow full-resolution downloads, inherited our photos from the now-defunct Kodak Gallery, which did.) In any case, it's important to safely store ALL of your photos in the "cloud" using Dropbox or the like. And label those photo so they're easy to find.

Whoever the shutterbugs are in your family, just be sure they don't spend all their time behind the lens. Encourage them to interact with the children AND be included in some of the photos with them. Otherwise, the children might wonder what Uncle Charlie looked like if they never see any pictures of him!

Let the children take photos of you (and your pets, family members, rainbows, waterfalls, zoo animals, nature scenes), too! They already know how to use the ones on their phones. But put a real camera in their hands and teach them how to use that as well. Here's to yet another teachable moment, and you may very well have sparked an interest in someone becoming a professional photographer!

Above all, as Grampy says, "Have fun!"

and say "CHEEEEESE!"

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J Month Babies


Recently I realized all three of our granddaughters were born in months beginning with the letter J: Jain in June, Sofia in July, Olivia in January. And our soon-to-be-born grandson, lest he arrives ahead of schedule, will be born in June, too. The J months. These cousins ought to form a J babies club of some kind!

The beauty of Jain and Sofia having been born in June and July is that we can celebrate with a combined birthday party when they visit every summer. Some of those parties have been all-out, gloriously fun-themed ones with guests; others have been quieter, family-only affairs. Both kinds are eagerly anticipated and joyful, and it really doesn't matter to either Jain or Sofia so long as everyone has fun.

The first year the girls were both with us for the summer, Jain was 8 and Sofia 4. It was a delight and a blessing having both of them here and I wanted to make their birthday party one to remember. At the time, unicorns and fairies and all the magic they bestowed were a big topic of conversation. "The Last Unicorn" was one of their favorite movies (and if you've never seen it, you really must — it's a treasure!), and we often went unicorn hunting, searching diligently for the elusive creature on our hikes and walks. A unicorn theme was perfect for that summer's birthday party!

I ordered unicorn party supplies and decorations online, tailored games to be unicorn-based (Pin the Horn on the Unicorn was a hit and caused a lot of giggling when they saw where they'd all placed the horn!), and had a dear friend bake a beautiful rainbow cake for the girls. They and their party guests went on a scavenger hunt, made unicorn crafts, played unicorn Bingo with pink and purple M&Ms, and had a contest to see who could create the most beautiful unicorn with streamers and ribbons. They even bestowed magical unicorn powers on their great-grandma by decorating her hair with the curling ribbon from their presents. Mom was such a good sport and loved every minute of it!

Oh, but that rainbow confectionery masterpiece was "the icing on the cake" — pun intended! I found three unicorn figurines, two with fairy companions, to place on top of the cake. We kept it well hidden until it was time to sing "Happy Birthday." Once seen, their expressions were priceless. And when the cake was sliced, well, don't you know when unicorns sit on a cake they make a rainbow appear inside! WOW! AWESOME! Best. birthday. cake. ever!

Yes, that year the birthday party was definitely a hit. In other summers, the actual party has been downplayed because we've celebrated their visits with trips to New England, Washington, D.C., the Jersey shore and Columbus, Ohio. Two years ago, we combined their birthdays with the birth of our nation and made patriotic-themed desserts for the occasion. No matter how we have celebrated our grandchildrens' birthdays, it's all good. Most of all, they love spending time with family.

This year Sofia will be 9 and Jain 13. 13! A teenager! When did this happen?!!! And it's the last of the single digit years for Sofia! They're growing up so fast! Hardly babies anymore, but still looking forward to all the wonder and magic birthday celebrations offer. I knew I had to make this year's celebration a special one.

Knowing how much Jain and Sofia love music, and especially tunes from the 1960s, I decided to go with a '60s-themed party this year. I had wanted a blacklight party, but that proved to be too difficult where we're holding the party so we scrapped that idea. Instead, we will play the girls' favorite songs of that era, decorate with psychedelic posters and decor, and make s'mores (which they had last year for the very first time). I have some other things planned as well, but cannot divulge too much in case the girls read this post! Sorry, Jain and Sofia, but you'll just have to be surprised! Because Dandy and Grampy love surprising you, and making your birthdays so much fun! After all, we specialize in being fun grandparents!

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All the Awesomeness of Childhood — on Steroids!


Happy Mother's Day a week late, gentle readers! I took the day off to celebrate, so please excuse my tardiness with this post. Let's just say we're extending the celebration a wee bit!

Mother's Day is a bittersweet day for me and probably the hardest day to celebrate for two reasons. Both of our children are many miles away, one on the West Coast, the other on the East. Too far away to be with them on a frequent basis, and we are hardly ever together for holidays. But at least we can communicate via Skype or Facetime. Thank goodness for those technological advancements, eh?

My own mother, God rest her sweet soul, has been permanently gone for three years now. Each holiday is difficult without her, but Mother's Day is saddest of all. Seeing Mother's Day greeting cards and advertisements for gifts hits hard, realizing I'll never again be able to send her a card or buy her a present. My mother-in-law has been gone even longer, yet I know my husband misses her terribly. Both of us would give anything to have them around, sharing in all the joys and happiness of parent- and grandparenthood.

This holiday is sweet, though, because our daughter arrived — as I psychically knew she would — on Mother's Day! I think I willed it to happen because my own grandma was born the same month and day and I really, really wanted my little girl to be born on that day, too.

As I reminisced about and sorely miss my children on this special day for mamas, I knew I wanted to make this week's post all about my mom and mother-in-law and the influence they both had on our children as grandmothers.

My mom was the kind of parent that all my friends, and all my sister's friends, would often remark they wished was their mom. I knew growing up I wanted to be just like her. Our house practically had a revolving door. When we had friends stay overnight, Mom often stayed up late with us talking about everything under the sun. She included everyone in family game night, invited them over for holidays and meals, treated our friends as if they were her own children and welcomed them into the family with open arms, a big smile, and always, always a hug. Mom joked and laughed with us, commiserated and cried with us, and genuinely cared about our welfare. That was my mom and I loved her for it. She was my role model, my mentor and my friend. Is there any wonder I aspired to be the same kind of mother?

Oh, but when the grandchildren came, she kicked it up a notch. Summers were often spent at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Outings were planned, trips were taken, worlds were explored with my parents at the helm. Mom was usually the sillier one and it was very easy to make her laugh — often to the point she would fall off her chair, much to my children's delight. They loved her easy sense of humor and her willingness to be a little wild and crazy at times.

Some of my children's best memories of their grandmothers involve comfort and sense of smell. One of my daughter's favorite places to be was on her grandma's lap. It was "plump and enjoyable and the most comforting place in the entire world."

Her grandma was also "the best cook ever, especially her meatloaf and the astonishing number of cookies she made at Christmastime." That holiday holds the strongest memories of smell, probably for all of us. The minute you opened the door, pine and bayberry, clove and tangerines, not to mention the smell of woodsmoke from the fireplace, practically begged you to hurry inside. In fact, aside from Christmas, my daughter says she can still call to memory the fragrance of each and every room of that house.

My dad was an electrician by trade and created a special room of our childhood home's basement where we could paint on the walls. He installed black lights, bought neon paints and let us go to town. Parties in that room were so much fun! Our kids thought their grandparents were the coolest parents ever and they enjoyed the blacklight room as much as we did. Grandpa created a stage from a huge wooden spool and our son, daughter and niece used it to put on plays and performances. Seth was always the director, Katie and cousin Erica the actors/singers/dancers. Many, many performances were given as a result and the Hammen Club (a combo of the children's last names) was born!

My folks were quite creative, a virtue I like to think I inherited from them. We all have a talent for picking up on clues, remembering them and turning those into gift-giving ideas. One of my daughter's favorite childhood books was "Katy No-Pockets" about a kangaroo born without a pouch. Grandma read that to her over and over and over, so much so that she got the idea to make our Katie an apron with multiple pockets. Katie loved the apron and has it still today, along with a lot of the clothes my mom, who was a fantastic seamstress, made for her. And our granddaughters, Jain and Sofia, are wearing them now. What a legacy!

Nana, my husband's mom, was more serious as a grandmother. She was tough and strong; stern, but very kind, never mean. Gen took care of her own mother, and our children would often accompany her on visits to Grammy's house. Never one to like her own picture taken, Nana took pictures of Seth and Katie on the arms of Grammy's chair with their great-grandmother. Those photos, and many more of other relatives, ended up on tables and bookshelves all over Gram's small apartment and gave her lots of joy. Every time we took photos at home, or the kids' school pictures arrived, we always sent some copies to Gram.

Nana and my father-in-law also volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Katie still remembers the smell of those hot, prepared meals as she rode along in the delivery van. Likewise, she associates the smell of Nana's cooking with time spent at her house, especially her delicious ravioli. And Nana was the only one who would fix round toast (no crust) for her, and Katie adored her for it.

My father-in-law is Catholic; Nana did not adhere to any particular religion. While Poppa went to Mass, Nana let our children stay home with her. Katie was amazed that two people with such varying beliefs could be happily married. Unity in diversity was evident very early in her life and it made a huge impression on her, for she previously thought a husband and wife had to share the same faith.

Nana and Poppa were gentle grandparents. We played games together as a family, most famously UNO and Boggle. Vacations were frequently spent in Wildwood, NJ, at the beach. Nana, with her hat and beach umbrella, would set up the blankets and chairs, bury her toes in the sand and enjoy the day reading. No one in my husband's family would venture very far into the surf, much to our children's dismay. Nana was the only one who would take them out past the breakers. Naturally, they loved her bravery and delighted being "way out there" with her.

No matter where they went, Nana had two things she would always say that have been implanted in my daughter's brain. Heading out the door, she'd admonish the kids, "Go tinkle before we leave the house," and even if you didn't have to you went anyway. The other, upon returning home from anywhere, was "Home again, home again, jiggity jog!" as the car pulled into the driveway. Every time. And now my daughter finds herself saying the same things repeatedly to her daughters. It's true what they say, "Children live what they learn" — not only from their parents, but grandparents, too.

Like every child, you truly appreciate your own parents once you become a parent yourself. It's pretty safe to say the same thing happens to us as adults when we see our parents as grandparents. And when our own children see us as grandparents, the appreciation deepens. To quote my daughter, "Even after you develop a new appreciation for your parents, something even more magical happens when you discover your parents as grandparents," and I think it truly does. You realize they want to give your children as much fun and magic and wonder and awe as they can absorb. Not that they didn't do that when you were growing up, but now as an adult you can more easily witness it happening. And you begin to think, "When I have grandchildren, I'm going to be exactly like my parents are with my kids!" It's transformative! Or to quote my daughter again, "It's like all the awesomeness of my childhood on steroids, and I love it so much!"

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How Were You of Service Today?


Last week I wrote about traveling with grandchildren and all the fun we have on long, long car trips. This summer we will be convening in New England to visit family — and our first grandson! — and take a day-long side trip into the Big Apple!

If you recall from last week's post, I mentioned a game called "And Then What?" where at day's end we will have Jain and Sofia think about what happened from the time they woke up that morning. Then we'll talk with them about the day's activities and ask questions. When did you get up? What did you wear? What did you eat for your meals? Who did you see? Where did you go? How did you get there? What was your favorite activity today? Their answers will be quite memorable, I'm sure, and we plan to log them in a journal of vacation memories they can treasure for years to come.

I have felt the need for a long time now to incorporate acts of kindness and service into our travels and reflect on those at the end of every day, too. Recently, I saw a blog by a woman named Ellen called Eyes on Heaven wherein she encourages asking our children three questions every night:

What is something that made you smile today?
What is something that made you cry today?
What is something that you learned today?

She poses these questions to her very young son at bedtime and, in addition to his responses warming her heart, she believes these conversations with him will pave the way for further mutual meaningful communication. She says his eyes light up at the first question, he gets a bit more serious at the second one and feels proud of himself when he's able to answer the last one. Their time together is such a precious and long-lasting gift.

She has so inspired me that we want to do the same with our granddaughters during their month-long visit every summer. What a marvelous way to capture each day's special and meaningful moments! We will add one other question, though, that we believe is of utmost importance:

How were you of service to someone today?

The response to that question alone, we believe, will instill in them the desire to think of others first — to not only know the Golden Rule, but to LIVE it. How will we encourage this on a daily basis during our time together? I'm so glad you asked!

Jain and Sofia have become quite aware of the importance of service as they get older and can grasp the idea a lot more concretely at their current ages. Earlier this year I sent them a list of service project ideas that are age-appropriate, and immediately they latched on to several of them. Among their favorites are walking the neighbor's dog, helping fellow students with homework, making pillowcases for hospitalized children, baking treats for firefighters, donating used books, DVDs and games to a children's hospital, and performing music for folks in a nursing home. We will continue to do service projects such as these while they're with us this summer, too.

While we're on vacation, we will encourage them to pay close attention to their surroundings. Who needs assistance? Who could use a bright and sunny smile, a word of thanks for a job well done, a hug of appreciation, some words of encouragement? We have no doubt the girls will probably seek out ways to help others in these ways and many more.

The highlight of our summer vacation will be welcoming our baby grandson into the family! Jain and Sofia are eager to meet their little boy cousin and will certainly, and most gladly, help keep his 2-year-old sister, Olivia, occupied while Mommy and Daddy take care of the baby. That will be a huge service to the family!

Living the Golden Rule and practicing the virtues will continue as it does every summer. We'll talk about the virtues, what they mean, and how to employ them in everyday life; play cooperative and virtue-themed games; measure their height on our Character Growth Chart at the beginning of their visit (whatever virtue is on the chart at the place marking their current height is the one they try to master during the summer) and again right before they go home. (Inevitably, they will have grown — I don't know what is in the food they eat here! — and acquired a new virtue to practice at home.)

Whether we are traveling or at home, we know we are doing our best to instill service to others in our grandchildren, and having fun in the process. Truly being of service to others is, after all, the best of all virtues, for it incorporates many others while it is being practiced: love, kindness, selflessness, courtesy, appreciation, caring, charity, cheerfulness, understanding, nobility, joyfulness, commitment, compassion, respect, purposefulness, responsibility, consideration, devotion, empathy, reliability, fairness, generosity, patience, gentleness, gratitude, mercy, helpfulness, honor, reverence, humility, sacrifice, self-discipline, thankfulness, sincerity, thoughtfulness, trustworthiness and unity. Imagine mastering all of these virtues in your lifetime!

Should you wish to play virtue-oriented games, I highly recommend the character-building card game What Do You Stand For? as well as Virtue Game. Virtues cards are a lovely way to teach the virtues with each card describing a virtue and suggested ways to practice it. There are many variations of these cards — Virtues Reflection Cards, Family Virtue Cards, and Classroom Virtue Cards — all lovingly illustrated and easy to use. The Family Virtues Guide is a wonderful book that highlights one virtue per week for an entire year. Most of these items, as well as virtues magnets, stickers, posters, buttons, and the growth chart mentioned above, are available from, a wonderful company seeking to promote a better world through character building and education.

Here's wishing each of you a happy and healthy, service-oriented summer vacation! Please share with us ways you and your family are of service to others. We so look forward to hearing from each of you, dear readers and friends!

Remember, as Grampy always says,


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On the Road Again ... Traveling with the Grands


It's that time of year once more. Planning for our granddaughters' summer visit is always fun for me, and this week I've been researching travel games. We make the long trek to New England or the beach from North Carolina just about every year, or we have other destinations from time to time that require several miles and hours in the car. Never fear, Dandy is here! And I make our travels fun, fun, fun!

On our first car trip from Charlotte, NC, to the beach in Wildwood, NJ, I tied a length of rope between the two front seat head rests and strung beads in a repeated pattern of three red beads and one gray. Calculating the miles from home to the beach, we determined it would be around 600 miles. That seemed like a very long trip to our granddaughters, but we made it a game by letting them know every time we'd gone 25 miles. At that point Jain and Sofia were instructed to slide a red bead from left to right for the first 75 miles of every 100 miles. The gray bead was moved after the three red beads, indicating we'd driven 100 miles. This was repeated every 25 miles for the rest of the trip and the time just flew by. They were so excited when they moved that last gray bead because then they knew we'd arrived at the beach! Oh, by the way, if we forgot to tell them we'd gone 25 miles, they got a special treat at our next stop. That happened more than once, so this game definitely keeps the adults on their toes. Watch that odometer!

Another cute game we intended to play, but kept forgetting about, is marking everyone's first initial with a piece of chalk around the outside of one of the car's front tires. When you stop during your travels, check to see whose initial is at the bottom of the tire (the part resting on the ground). That person gets a special treat! The only drawback to this game is that you have to hope it doesn't rain or the chalk marks will wash off.

Sometimes creativity and imagination are sparked and games are randomly and suddenly invented. When our two were young, we played a game called License Plate Roulette. Three columns describing vanity license plates included "It's A Winner!," "OK, but Why?" and "Bazooka Bait!" Once a player sees a vanity plate, its message gets written under one of the three columns. For example, KIDS RX (obviously a pediatrician) would get entered under "It's a Winner!" Others that are just a nickname or something along those lines would be written down in the "OK, but Why?" column. Vanity plates that just make absolutely no sense at all are entered under "Bazooka Bait." These drivers are considered so lame and unimaginative that we all then pretend to hold up a bazooka, lock and load and blast that car out of existence. Sitting in the car for hours on end can be very difficult for people of all ages. This was simply a passive-aggressive way the Mennillo clan let off a little steam! Please don't judge!

Last year I came up with a game I call "I'm Goin to Have (#) Children and Their Names Will Be (first road sign, billboard message, animal or thing you see when you look out the car window)." This game is hilarious, especially when your child's name will be TWP RD (Township Rd) and you pronounce it Twip Rud. Our granddaughters cracked up! Imagine naming your child that, or Motel 6 or McDonald's Golden Arches or Construction Next 10 Miles or Grazing Cow! Too funny!

If you've ever searched for travel games, whether it be actual games or books about games, you know there is a plethora of material out there from which to choose. The Internet abounds with websites full of ideas. Alas, not every website, book or kit is helpful or even entertaining. But don't give up. If you're a bargain hunter like I am, you will eventually find some serendipitous treasures! Just recently I found a spiral bound gem titled 365 Travel Games & Activities by Stan and Shea Zukowski at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Its chapters include observation games, arts & crafts, imagination games, break time games, mazes & puzzles, word games & trivia, and odds & ends. Gleaning from it last night, I was delighted I'd spent a whole dollar (that's right, $1.00) to add it to my collection. I found 24 games I know the girls will love, but the book is too big to take on our trip along with all the other stuff we'll have in the car. I printed out the pages of those 24 activities I selected that can easily be stored in the car's seat pockets. Once we're home and making shorter day trips, we can keep the book in the car for quick and easy reference.

I think my favorite activity from this book will be one called "And Then What?" Each night before going to sleep, we will have Jain and Sofia think about what happened from the time they woke up that morning. Then we'll talk with them about the day's activities and ask questions. When did you get up? What did you wear? What did you eat for your meals? Who did you see? Where did you go? How did you get there? What was your favorite activity today? Each of us will try to remember as many details as we can. This is a great way to improve your memory, too! It will be interesting to see who remembers the most that happened on any given day. In addition, we will encourage the girls to keep a daily log or journal of their vacation experiences. Imagine how much fun it will be to look back on them in the future!

Now is the time to start gathering ideas for your summer car trips. I wish you happy hunting and gathering! Many of the books I have in my collection are no longer in print but can be found used on Along with the one mentioned above, these include Kids Travel from Klutz Press and Travel Games: How to Play More Than 60 of the World's Greatest Travel Games for 2 or More Players by Joe Gannon. I got a real bargain at $4.99 on Keep Us Busy! Travel Activity Pack at Marshall's last summer, but this item is currently available in limited quantities on, too, for only a couple dollars more. And don't forget to stock up on a few Mad Libs. It's an oldie but a goodie and will keep everyone in stitches!

Please share your travel experiences with us. We'd love to hear how you keep your children and grandchildren entertained on long trips!

Happy Trails and Safe Travels, and as Grampy always says,



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Age Gap? What Age Gap?


Oh, dear! I had no idea I had gathered this much information from all my research on summer activities for our granddaughters' visit. Usually I remove pages from the previous summer's binder to make room for the current year. The old 1-inch binder wouldn't even close! So I upgraded to a 1 1/2-inch binder and even it is already very close to being full. Seems I've collected a wee bit too much. Ah, well, as my dad says, "It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it."

One reason for the expanded file of fun is that our extended families will all be together in New England. Our son and his wife are expecting a baby boy in early June -- our first grandson! -- and our daughter and granddaughters are joining us to visit them and their 2-year-old daughter, Olivia. While Mommy and Daddy are busy with the baby, I want to be sure we are excellent caretakers for Olivia.

This presented a new challenge for me. Sisters Jain and Sofia are only four years apart and have always loved everything we do each summer. But this year I needed to find activities, arts & crafts, and games that are easy enough for a toddler and still fun enough for her cousins who will be 9 and 13 this year. I don't anticipate any problems with the age gap, though. When Jain and Sofia met their little cousin, Olivia was only 5 months old and they made her laugh uproariously. This will be their second visit with her, and I'll bet they get along famously!

Nevertheless, the old Girl Scout in me says to "Be Prepared," so after researching the Internet, checking books out of the library and thumbing through Family Fun magazines, I've come up with nearly 40 activities that are age-appropriate for Olivia. Jain and Sofia will join right in the fun, assisting her as need be. I've selected art projects that can be done both inside and outdoors, topping it off with one of our own inventions from a few years ago we fondly call "Mess-terpiece." A large piece of white butcher paper is taped to the driveway. Several bowls of tempera paints are set near it on the ground. Items (different size balls, squishy toys, etc.) are dipped into the paints and rolled across the paper. Or splatted onto the paper (they loved that part!). TIP: Be sure to put your kids in bathing suits so you can hose them off afterward. Eventually, they coat their hands and feet in the paint and add handprint and footprint decor to the artwork. This art project is a huge hit, as you can tell from the photos I've added.

I can't possibly explain all the activities in detail in this blog, but I will share with you at a later date those the girls enjoyed the most. Suffice it to say, I've followed my father's advice (see comment in first paragraph), and the Girl Scout motto, to a T. We certainly won't get all of them accomplished, either, but Jain, Sofia and I will consult on our favorites and try to do those with Olivia.

One project I've handed over to Jain and Sofia is putting on a puppet show for Olivia. I asked them if they'd be willing to write a script for a play and bring a couple of their favorite puppets to be the actors. They both eagerly agreed and knew immediately which puppets they would pack! We have a few days together prior to visiting our son, so during that time we will practice the puppet show.

All three girls love to read, so quiet time with Olivia will most certainly involve them reading to her and her "reading" to them. Great time for the parents, grandparents and auntie to take pictures and videos! And, boy, does Olivia love videos. Babies love to see pictures of themselves and people they know. I encourage you to share all photos and videos with your grandchildren, especially if distance separates you and visits are not as frequent as you would like.

Speaking of photos, since a lot of our extended family lives in New England, we are hoping to take some four-generation pictures, too. My father-in-law is 92 and we see him so infrequently that we want to be sure to get these pics of him, my husband, our son and his two children while we have the opportunity. Most certainly there will be a lot of photos taken during our vacation, but these are the ones that mean so much. When we return to NC we will be doing the same with my family before our daughter returns to California. And all of these vacation photos and memories will be added to scrapbooks I assemble every year for the girls to enjoy when they visit. It connects us over time and keeps family the most important thing of all. Have a great summer with your children and grands, and as Grampy says,


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Water Water Everywhere & Not a Drop to Drink


I fear, lest we take the issue of water conservation seriously, the title of this blog soon will come to pass. Personally, I don't want to leave it up to the next generation to save the planet. I would like to think all of us want to take responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. As grandparents, we have an obligation to our grandchildren to make this earth a healthy and vibrant home for them and their children and grandchildren. The planet is suffering in myriad ways, but the use and misuse of water lays heaviest on my heart. Perhaps it's because my oldest granddaughters live in California, a state that is in serious jeopardy of major, life-threatening drought.

We need to be very concerned about this precious natural resource. The Environmental Protection Agency states that "less than 1% of all the water on Earth can be used by people. The rest is salt water or is permanently frozen and we can't drink it, wash with it, or use it to water plants. As our population grows, more and more people are using up this limited resource. Therefore, it is important that we use our water wisely and not waste it."

I couldn't agree more. The fact that our own bodies are made up mostly of water should convince us we need to preserve our water sources. Humans will actually die first of dehydration before they could starve to death. We cannot go long without water to sustain us. That said, what are we doing to be proactive in conserving water? First of all, are we discussing critical environmental issues with our children? What are we doing as individuals, families, schools, faith communities and the wider communities in which we live when it comes to environmental concerns? How are we reducing our carbon footprint?

One thing I realized I was doing and wasn't even aware of it was letting the water run as I brushed my teeth. Turning off the faucet while you perform your toiletries can make a huge difference. I also no longer flush every time I use the toilet, but try instead to follow the old adage, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." This might sound disgusting to some, but two or three uses of the toilet before flushing is not going to stink up your house. (If you're concerned it might, lower the toilet seat lid and shut the bathroom door.) This one simple practice can save gallons and gallons of water!

There are many websites filled with water-saving tips and advice for adults, and I encourage you to read them and put them into practice. But the following are things to discuss with kids about how they can save water:

  • Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full.
  • There's nothing quite like a long, hot, luxuriating shower, but that's not a good way to conserve water. Try to limit your time in the shower to five minutes or less.
  • I know I'm going to upset bath lovers, but you should limit the number of baths you take. A tub full of water uses anywhere between 35 and 70 gallons of water as opposed to the10 to 25 it takes for showering.
  • If you drop ice cubes on the floor, don't throw them in the sink. Instead, plop them into a house plant and let them melt.
  • Tell adults when faucets are dripping if tightening the handle doesn't work.
  • Make your friends and other family members aware of your good water conservation habits. Encourage them to do the same!
  • Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator for drinking water instead of getting it from the tap.
  • If your toilet won't shut off, it means water is continuously running through it. Ask your parents to fix it. If you think you have a leak, add a few drops of food coloring to the tank. If the toilet bowl water turns that color before you've flushed, you have a leak. Ask your parents to fix that, too.
  • Need to dispose of a tissue? Throw it in a trash can, don't flush it down the toilet.
  • Collect rain water in a barrel or tub and use it to water plants and gardens.
  • Walk through the house before you leave it or go on vacation to be sure all faucets are completely turned off and no toilets are running.
  • Watch videos and documentaries about water conservation and ways to reduce our carbon footprint with your family. Be knowledgeable about what is happening to Mother Earth and how we can all help save the planet.

We need to remember in the midst of our water-saving endeavors to maintain our own hydration. When you consider that nearly all human illnesses are a result of dehydration, it's pretty apparent the majority of us simply do not drink enough water.  In case you don't know, the general rule of thumb for adequate intake is to divide your weight in half and drink that number of ounces each day. So please drink plenty of water to stay as healthy as possible.

Even if you only do one thing to help save water, it will make a huge impact. Imagine if everyone around the globe did just one thing. So much more water would be available for generations to come! Now imagine if everyone did everything listed above. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Let's not allow the title of this blog to ever, ever happen!



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'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ...'


As you know from his November contribution to this blog, Tom has a passion for genealogy and dives headlong into research at on both our families. Jain and Sofia are well aware of the heritage of both their mother and father, know all the countries where their ancestors lived, and brought that information to life by coloring in those countries on a blank world map last summer.

That activity led to lively discussion of where they would like to travel someday. Jain has a passion for Greece and "going to all the places where mythology happened." Sofia yearns to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower (she hopes to have her wedding ceremony beneath it!). We hope they get to fulfill their dreams one day, but this summer we're going to stick a little closer to home.

The surname Levy is found in Tom's mother's family. Her maiden name was Kelly, and that being a Celtic name Tom always figured Levy was perhaps shortened from the Irish McLevy or Scottish MacLevy. His cousin Susan, who also likes to see what bounty shakes from the family tree, discovered, instead, that the Levy family was Jewish. It was Levy and had always been Levy. And it was the maiden name of Tom's grandmother, whose father, Allen James Levy, a corporal in the Canadian Army, was killed in action in Belgium in World War I. Some time after his death, Tom's great-grandmother remarried and the family emigrated to Connecticut — coincidentally, perhaps, the very place ancestors of hers had left for Canada in the mid-1700s to farm land in Nova Scotia. Interesting that no one ever revealed any of this family history, if they even knew it.

Through the Levy family line, Susan also found they are related to the Lazarus family of New York City. Most famous among them was Emma Lazarus. Early in her life she was a writer and well-known poet. But once she became aware of the plight of destitute Russian Jewish immigrants coming into the city, she made it her mission to provide them with vocational training to become self-supporting.

Emma's literary skills attracted the attention of another well-known poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. When the Statue of Liberty was erected, an auction to raise money for its pedestal was held. At Emerson's insistence, Emma submitted her sonnet, "The New Colossus." In choosing it as the winning poem, event organizers hoped it would "awaken to new enthusiasm" those who were working on the pedestal. Today, you can find the entire sonnet on the plaque, but most of us know well these lines that have lifted the hopes, dreams and spirits of so many U.S. immigrants:

"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-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We are acknowledging and celebrating our daughter's and granddaughter's Jewish lineage — indeed, all our forbears — this summer by taking a trip into New York City and going to the Statue of Liberty. Standing next to the poem on the great lady's pedestal, we will most certainly take lots of pictures. Gazing up at her crowned head, torch held high, we will thank that other great lady, Emma, for her service to the poor and her inspirational, poetic guidance to those who came and continue to come ashore to make America their new home. After all, had it not been for brave souls who left their homeland to make their way in this one, no one in either of our families would be here today.

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