Monday, August 19, 2013

When the Grands Come to Stay

When I first started having Our Little Princesses every summer for Grams Camp, our girls were babies. Now that they are 2 and 4 years old, it requires a little more planning and preparation.

We are very fortunate that Our Little Princesses live only two hours away and visit often. We love having them any time. We especially enjoy having them come to stay while their mom and dad take a much deserved break from parenting.

I starting calling it Grams Camp so the girls would think it was something special. At first it was just something cute. But as they get older, I am putting more planning into it to make it more of an outing for the girls. I want it to be something they anticipate with excitement every year and I want to make memories for them that will last a lifetime. I think next year I'm going to actually mail them invitations to Grams Camp.

With every visit from them I've learned a few things I want to share with you.

1. Make sure your house is ready for the grands, whatever their age. Since it's just been Grandad and me in our house we've gotten lax about keeping a lot of things secure. When it's just the two of us, we don't have to worry about keeping medicine out of reach of small children or making sure the cleaning supplies are locked away. When our kids were little we had safety latches on all the cabinets, but we thought they were a pain in the butt, so we eventually took them out. I'm embarrassed to tell you that we have had two very close calls where one of the girls put things in their mouths that we should not have left within their reach. We were very lucky that both items turned out to be harmless. You do not want to make a similar mistake.

I have a step-stool that I keep in the bathroom the girls use so they can reach the sink when they need to wash their hands or brush their teeth. After they left this time, I discovered that they had pulled the stool up to the cabinet where I keep my daily medicines. Fortunately, they were on a shelf that was still just out of their reach, but I was still very disturbed that apparently they had tried.

Before the Princesses visit again we will be installing safety latches on our cabinets. Installing safety latches is a little bit troublesome for us, because Granddad has arthritis which sometimes makes small latches difficult and painful. So we'll be installing latches that can be disengaged when the girls are not here. I looked around on the internet and found these.

2. Consider sleeping arrangements. Our Little Princesses share a bedroom at home, but they have separate beds. Neither of our rooms have twin beds. We have two spare bedrooms, one has a futon which makes a double bed and the other has an old double bed which is too high off of the floor to be safe for a toddler. I was afraid she would fall out of bed and get hurt. Up until recently, Princess J was still sleeping in our Pack 'n Play so this has not been a problem. We would just put Princess E on the futon and Princess J right next to her in the Pack 'n Play. This time we moved Our Littlest Princess to the futon and Princess E into the other room on the "big bed."

I went to our local Dollar Tree and bought two pool noodles. When we made the bed the pool noodles were placed along the sides of the bed, under the sheet to form a "bumper" around the bed. It worked like a charm. You can see how it's done here.

3. Establish your own bedtime routine. Find out what their bedtime routine is and incorporate something similar at your house. Our routine is something like this. Dinner is a 7, after dinner, the girls get their baths. They're still little enough to bathe together, so we take our time and let them play. Once both the girls are bathed, shampooed, and in their pajamas, we let them watch television or play for a little while. Then give everyone goodnight kisses, read a book, and put them to bed. Alternatively, sometimes after bath time, we buckle them into their car seats and take a drive over "the rainbow bridge." We don't do this very often now, because it doesn't get dark until almost 9 o'clock. That means the girls usually fall asleep before we actually get to the bridge which is about a 15 minute drive.

Buckled in and ready for a bedtime drive
4. Be prepared to change your own routine. In the summertime especially, my routine is not to get up early. I'm rarely out of bed before 8 a.m. and I'm not one to hit the ground running. I usually stumble to the coffee pot then watch the Today Show while I drink my first cup of coffee. Needless to say, that doesn't work out when the girls are here. They do sleep much later at my house because their bedrooms are dark. But, once they're up, they're up. And I have to be up too. One of my favorite moments of this year's Grams Camp was having Princess J come crawl in bed with me in the mornings before her sister woke up. It was precious to have a little cuddle time with her in the quiet of the morning.

5. Stock up on snacks. As a general rule, I don't keep many snacks in the house because I don't want to eat them. But when the Princesses are coming, I stock up on cookies, goldfish, fruit snacks, cheese crackers, graham crackers and other snacks I know they will eat. I also put snacks out of sight because when they see it, they want it. There is always a bowl of fresh fruit in my dining room window. I do have to be careful not to leave it where they can reach it because they have been known to take one bite out of every apple in the bowl. I also learned this time that it's a good idea to limit their sugar intake. By the end of the day one day, they were running through the house like wild things. Along with that they were bickering and pulling hair. The next day, I made sure they were busier and had less sugar. It worked miraculously.

6. Plan menus around the grands. My kids never really stayed at their grandparents for extended visits, so our rule was when you're at grandma's house you can eat anything you want. At my mother-in-law's house, that always meant sugary cereal instead of meals. But, since the girls often stay for several days, I try to plan meals I know they will eat. Macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with meatballs are always a hit. They always ask Granddad to make his special pancakes for breakfast at least once while they're here.

Lunch at their own table

6. Include the grands in your regular activities as much as possible. During our recent Grams Camp the Princesses helped make breakfast muffins one morning. At two, our littlest princess is big enough to help set the table with supervision and instruction. She loves doing it and it makes her feel like such a big girl. And Princess E has helped me make the beds since she was little. Okay, maybe helped is a bit of an exaggeration, but she is enthusiastic and it's a lot of fun. And both of the girls tried their hand at sweeping my kitchen.

7. Check your toy stash for safety. If, like us, you have a toy box or basket for your grands, you need to go through them between visits and check to make sure nothing is broken. Remove anything they've outgrown. And, if necessary, add a couple of new items.

8. Give them a place to play and make sure they have some unstructured play time. We've made one of the spare rooms into the girls' room. Their toys are stored there and there is a table with crayons, coloring books, paper, and story books. When they visit, I move their table and stools into the living room so they can play where I can keep an eye on them. I let them have plenty of time just to play and I like to play with them when I have time. We color together, we read books, and I try to let them take the lead on what we will do.

9. Plan some activities they will enjoy. If your weather permits, take them on an outing to a park. When they're here in the summer, it's just too hot in South Texas for outdoor play in the daytime. So, we plan our outdoor outings for late afternoon and early evenings. We also discovered that our local mall has an indoor play area. Sometimes we go just to play instead of shop. We've also found some excellent deals on outings for children on our local Groupon and Living Social sites. Our girls really love the Texas State Aquarium. The Aquarium participates in the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program and since they have a family membership at the San Antonio Zoo, they get half off admission to the Aquarium. Many zoos and aquariums participate in the reciprocal programs, so you should always call ahead and ask for details.

10. Be prepared to deal with separation anxiety. We've had some problems with Our Littlest Princess crying for her daddy in the past. This time we decided to be honest with them and deal with it up-front. Mommy and daddy came in and said goodbye while the girls were in the bathtub. The girls were so pleasantly distracted that they just gave them kisses and waved bye-bye. There was no more mention of where they were until the little one asked for her daddy two days later. We told her where he was and when he would be back and she was fine.
Distracted while Mom and Dad leave

11. Divide and conquer. On the day when they were wild and crazy, as soon as Granddad got home from work I had him blow up the wading pool and take them outside while I made dinner. Once dinner was under control, I poured us both a glass of wine and we sat outside while they splashed for a while. Then we came inside, had dinner, got them ready for bed, and took them for a drive. They were out for the night within about five minutes.

12. Be sure you enjoy them . Let them crawl into your bed early in the morning for cuddles. Hold them in your lap and rock them to your heart's content. Read to them. Pass on your family traditions to them. Show them your own wedding pictures and show them their parents' wedding pictures. Our Princess E wanted to know what my mother's hair looked like so I dug out my photos and showed her what her great grandmother looked like as a young woman.

Happy to be going home

Tell them how special they are to you. Make memories together. Then kiss them goodbye and send them home with their parents. Be thankful you had a great visit with your beautiful grands. Then pour yourself a glass of wine and put your feet up ... you will have earned the rest.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Grams Camp 2013 - Bonus Day

We were expecting Friday to be the last day of Grams Camp. Katy and Travis came in on Friday evening and had planned to leave on Saturday morning because Princess E had a dance class around noon on Saturday.  But as we ate breakfast that morning, Katy asked if we had any plans for the day. We didn't. Then she asked how we would feel about going to the Texas State Aquarium. Naturally, we would go anywhere with them. It was a bonus that we all got in for half price because they have a family membership to the San Antonio Zoo.

We started out by visiting my new favorite lunch place in Corpus Christi, Hester's at the Art Museum of South Texas. The view is nothing short of spectacular and the food is outstanding. The windows look out over the ship channel. You can see the Texas State Aquarium and the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay.

After lunch we headed across the Harbor Bridge (known by our Princesses as the Rainbow Bridge) to North Beach and the Texas State Aquarium.

The aquarium was extremely crowded. It was the kickoff of Shark Week and it was Stingray Day at Stingray Lagoon. We first looked at all the interior tanks. The girls especially enjoyed the touch tanks where Mom and Dad helped them get an up close look at anemones and hermit crabs. The also really liked the seahorse tank that allowed them to get underneath in a bubble for an up-close look. The shark hat that Princess E is wearing was part of the Shark Week promotion.

After our trip through the aquarium, we headed outside to Dolphin Bay. It was an extremely hot day with temperatures in the upper 90s. The wait for a seat in the theater was more than half an hour. Even then, most of us ended up standing at the back of the bleachers. But both of the girls enjoyed the show.

Next up was the bird show at the Hawn Wild Flight Theater. The show features hawks, owls, falcons and parrots with a very strong message about conservation. The Texas State Aquarium is very involved in rehabilitating and releasing injured animals and the show at this theater features a variety of animals. It's a very small venue and even though you are not allowed to interact directly with the animals, they are very close and you can get a really good look at them. The wait for this show was only about 15 minutes. It was just enough time for the girls to enjoy a sherbet push up pop.

As soon as that show was over, we headed over to the HEB Splash Park. It is definitely the girls favorite part of a visit to the aquarium. We always have to save it for last because, once the girls get to the splash park, they are not interested in anything else.

One part of the waterpark is a big bucket that is suspended right over the middle of the park. It slowly fills with water, then when it's full, it dumps the entire bucket on whoever is standing right underneath it. Our Littlest Princess got caught right on the edge of it pretty early during their play time. After that she steered clear of that part of the splash park. But, Princess E started working up her courage a little at a time and eventually went and stood in the splash zone to get soaked several times. I was very proud of her. You can see in this little cell phone video how excited she was. That's her in the pink swimsuit. You will notice that it's mostly the older kids who play in this area.

We stayed until the aquarium closed, then went directly to the nearest Whataburger for dinner. The girls were so tired they were falling asleep as soon as they got in the car. We put them directly to bed.

It was awesome to get a bonus day for Grams Camp. I'll be back in a few days with one more Grams Camp post. I want to highlight some of the things I learned in my second year of Grams Camp. Not only will I be sharing some tips for planning a visit from your grands, it will help me remember what I need to remember for next year.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Grams Camp 2013 - Day 3

Day 3 of Grams Camp was a Friday. It was extra special because Grandad took the day off to spend with us. We got a little bit of a late start because the girls had stayed up too late the night before and because Grandad kept getting calls from the office.

We didn't really have a plan for what to do on Friday so we discussed a few options then decided to check our local Groupon site to see if we could find something. We decided on a one-hour pass to Brinca! for $15. Brinca is the Spanish word for jump. It was a great choice. Brinca is an indoor bouncy-house paradise with couches and wi-fi for the parents and a bunch of different inflatable games.

I was a little worried that our littlest princess, Princess J, would be too timid or afraid on some of the games, but there was a good variety of inflatables. Several of them were very appropriate for a two-year-old. In addition they had a big play area for little ones right in front of the sofas. But I needn't have worried. Our two-year-old has reached the stage where she wants to keep up with her big sister. She went on every slide, no matter how big it was. And, all but one of them, she went on multiple times. The only thing that frightened her was that at the bottom of the biggest slide was a maze. When she got to the bottom of the slide, she couldn't find her way out. I heard her shout for Grams and start crying. Without hesitation, I went in after her. She was fine after that, but didn't go on that slide again.

Princess E had so much fun. She immediately made friends with a couple of little boys who were there and was soon the leader of the pack going from slide to slide.

As you can see, Princess E had on her headband that looks like a tiara and she kept it on the entire time she played. Most all of the adults there that day were grandparents with their grandchildren. As we sat around talking with each other, one of the grandfathers marveled at her ability to keep it on while going up and down slides and climbing in and around all the games. When she came over to talk to me, he told her that he liked her tiara. She replied in a very matter-of-fact voice "Oh, it's not a real  tiara" and turned and ran away to continue playing. I thought every grandparent there was going to fall off the sofas laughing.

Princess J really liked the bouncy horse a lot. She would go around and get on every slide and toy, but she kept coming back to this horse.

I have included this photo collage so you can get a perspective of how big the slides were. This is the second tallest slide. Grandad is 6'5" tall and he had a hard time climbing up. On the other hand, Our Little Princesses scooted right up it without much trouble. Try as I might, I could not get a photo of any of them actually coming down the slide. They were too fast for my camera shutter.

Just before we left, Princess J came running over and asked Grandad to go on the slide with her. He reluctantly agreed and climbed up behind her. As usual, he did not escape unscathed. He scraped his elbow on something and it's still sore a week later. I'm thinking these toys were not meant for 6'5" grandfathers. 

We were fortunate that there were only a few children there at the time we were there. Almost all of them were toddlers. There were a few older children when we arrived, but they didn't stay long.

Since there were so few children there, we were actually allowed to stay beyond our allotted hour. But we soon got hungry and decided to go to lunch.

We decided to try Corpus Christi's newest cafe, The Corner Bakery. We ordered macaroni and cheese for the girls. When it arrived, it was not to their liking and they absolutely refused to eat it. Grandad went back to the counter and ordered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the girls which he paid for. One of the employees explained that they had given us the gourmet macaroni and cheese when they should have given us the children's macaroni and cheese. When the sandwiches were ready, the manager brought them out and refunded the additional charge. He also brought each of us a cookie. I was very pleased with their service. The salad I had was delicious. I will definitely eat there again.

By the time we finished eating, both girls were almost falling asleep at the table. They were napping in their car seats all the way home and for a while after we got home. Shortly after they woke up, their parents got back from South Padre in time for us all to go out for our Friday night dinner.

Grams Camp lasted one more day. On Saturday we all went to the Texas State Aquarium. More on that in another post coming soon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grams Camp 2013 - Day 2

I am slowly recovering from Grams Camp. On Monday and Tuesday, I managed to put everything back in its appointed place. got all the laundry washed, dried, and put away, swept, mopped, and vacuumed. Yesterday, I hosted Bunco for my mother-in-law. At 83 years old, it's just gotten to be too much for her. So yesterday, I cooked dinner for 12 and hosted burnco. But, back to Grams Camp.

On the second day of Grams Camp, the girls slept until almost 9 o'clock. They always sleep well at our house because the bedrooms are very dark. We keep the hurricane blinds on the outside of the house closed in the summer. It helps keep the house cooler. Our daily high temperatures have been running 96-100 degrees with a heat index around 105. Air conditioning is the most important and most expensive thing we pay for in South Texas. The fact that the dark helps The Princesses sleep in is a bonus.

We had muffins and strawberries for breakfast. I let the girls help make the muffins. We used Krusteaz One Step Muffin Mix. It's super simple. You just add water and shake, then you pour the mix into muffin tins and bake. I've used it before with good results, but these came out a little bit crumbly. The girls loved helping to make breakfast and the muffins tasted good. The girls were also highly entertained by my strawberries. I always cut the stem end out and it leaves a little round hole, perfect for little fingers.

Because the muffins were so crumbly, I had to sweep my dining room and kitchen after breakfast. I moved the chairs into the living room and showed the girls how much fun it is to make a train. As you can see, we had a variety of passengers on our train. Besides Princesses, we had bears, giraffes, and monsters. We even had a bell to ring. They thought it was great fun. The even added my red kitchen step-stool at the back of the train because all trains have a red caboose. I wish I had snapped a photo from the back, too.

After lunch I sat down with the girls to work on a craft project. It was hard to find something that both a two year old and a four year old would be able to help with. I decided on a "treasure hunt bottle." Before they arrived, I went through my craft supplies and chose several small items that would fit inside of a water bottle. Most of them were buttons that were shapes. Each girl got a turtle, a button with two birds in it, a gold ladybug, an angel, a Santa Claus, a flower, a seashell, a penny, a nickel, a dime, and a few other tiny items. We filled the bottles with pony beads that I got at Dollar Tree. We also added star-shaped sequins and white glitter. Each girl filled her own bottle. I had to give the little one a little extra help. After they were finished I put the lid on using super glue so they could not remove them. They had a lot of fun doing a craft with me. I think it made them feel like big girls to get to use my craft supplies. They especially liked my button box, exactly like their mom always has. Princess E picked out some very sparkly buttons that she wants me to use on a dress for her. (I had them leave the bottles here for their next visit. I plan to remove the glitter and also about one-fourth of the pony beads. The bottles are too full to allow the beads to move freely and the glitter just sunk to the bottom.)

When Grandad came home we had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. After dinner, when it finally started to cool off a little outside, Grandad helped us roast marshmallows over a sterno fire, so we could make s'mores.  The girls had never had s'mores before and they were a big hit. They loved the s'mores. I loved their s'mores faces. Priceless!

This was a very busy day and when bedtime rolled around, both Grandad and I were ready. Princess J went to bed without much complaint but only after removing all the "scawy bad guys" from her room. (I will post separately about that.) On the other hand, Princess E was determined not to go to bed. She must have gotten out of bed twenty times. It made me very cranky. Ultimately, we just outlasted her.

I learned a lesson on this day of Grams Camp. Too much sugar is not a good thing. I think that was part of the reason we had trouble with bedtime. After this, I was very careful to restrict their sugar intake and try to keep them on a schedule for meals. We also tried to do more physical activities to help tire them out. You will see that in my posts about days 3 and 4 which will be posted over the next few days.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grams Camp 2013 - Day 1

It's quiet at my house this morning. Even though I'm watching The Today Show and drinking coffee, the house is quiet, too quiet. There are toys strewn hither and yon and the laundry hampers are bursting with dirty clothes and towels. The floors need to be swept and mopped, there are tiny fingerprints on every surface, and nothing seems to be in its proper place.  But I've got memories that will last a long, long time.

Last week there were tickles and giggles. I was awakened each morning by a toddler climbing into my bed for morning cuddles. All day long I heard "Grams, look at me" and "I'm hungry." There were stories that had to be read, bubbles to blow, and water to splash.

Last week was Grams Camp! And it was so much fun.

The Princesses and their parents arrived on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday morning, Katy and Travis left for a couple of days at South Padre and Grams Camp kicked off. I was prepared for our littlest princess to have a problem with her parents leaving. But they took their time over breakfast and coffee. Then, while they gathered up their stuff and loaded the car, I put the girls in the bathtub. They were playing in the tub when Mom and Dad came in and said goodbye. Both of the girls actually just waved and said "Bye-bye, Momma. Bye-bye, Daddy." After that, we spent the morning watching movies in the living room. I made french bread pizza for lunch which they really liked.

Last time I visited their house, I mentioned to Katy that I wanted to get a table and chairs for the girls. She told me not to buy one because she had one in storage. It was a little bigger than I planned, but it worked out just great. I put it in the living room right in front of the fireplace. The girls sat there to eat, to watch movies, and to color. It was perfect. After they left, I cleaned it up and moved it into the front bedroom where it now holds their coloring books, crayons, and books. Instead of chairs, it has stools with built in storage. There was only one problem with it.

Katy has been working with the girls to get them to put their plates on the kitchen counter when they finish their meal. Princess E got up from the table and did exactly that. I looked over and noticed that Princess J's plate was gone too. I thought she must have done the same thing. Then I went in the kitchen and only saw one plate. So I came back and asked her where her plate was. You can see in the photos below what she had done with her plate.

We spent the rest of the day just playing at home. When Grandad got home, he blew up the wading pool and let the girls play in the water while I made dinner.

More on the rest of the week tomorrow.