Tag Archives: toys

Popsicles and pastimes of summer.

“Grandma, look at that wasp!” This colorful insect was resting near us on a geranium leaf.

“I’m impressed that you know that is a wasp, Ivy. Lots of people call all bees and wasps ‘bees.'”

“Bees have hair,” she informed me, “and wasps don’t.” The supposed wasp had floated away to a lamb’s ear flower, but not before I’d snapped its picture, wondering why it was so lazy and unthreatening, unlike our ubiquitous yellow jackets who seem only to rest when they perch on the rim of my fountain for a drink. We zoomed in on my picture to see that indeed, it was pretty bald — but maybe not entirely. After looking at more pictures of wasps online, I’ve decided this is very likely not a wasp after all, but a syrphid or hover fly. It’s more like a fly in its shape and wings, and pictures of syrphid flies came up as “yellow jacket look-alikes.” On the other hand, this insect approaching the salvia has more the look of a wasp, with its legs dangling down:

But as an example of hairy bees, I showed Ivy a picture of my favorite bee of all, which you might have seen here recently in a slightly different pose. She definitely has the darling fuzzy hairs:

It’s always fun for me if the grandchildren are visiting during hot weather. Popsicles and water play and the play house keep them happy outdoors, where I can play also, doing little garden tasks and walking back and forth to the clothesline with the towels and swimsuits. And many pairs of shorts, because Jamie was too tidy a boy to endure having popsicle drips drying, as I thought harmlessly, on his clothes. Eventually I gave him a bib, a largish bowl for his lap, and a spoon, so he could enjoy the treat to the fullest.

When the sun is baking all the air and sucking up moisture, I think it the most fun ever to wash a little shirt or whatever in the kitchen sink and hang it on the line. One shirt didn’t get that far, but dried in no time draped over a pomegranate bush.

I clipped my fast-growing butternut vines to the trellis, and swept the patio while the children sat in the old galvanized trough we call the Duck Pond, named for its use in another time and place, keeping three ducks happy in what was mainly a chicken pen.

Ivy played in the “pond” by herself one afternoon while Jamie napped, and I sat nearby rereading passages in Middlemarch. She found the tiniest spider floating in the water and held it on her finger, wondering if it were dead. “Why don’t you put it on a hydrangea leaf, and maybe it will revive,” I suggested. Of course, I took a picture of it on the leaf, because neither of us could see the minute creature very well with our eyes only.

When I zoomed in on my photo, it revealed a flower with eight petals. 🙂

At the patio table a few feet away I trimmed my six Indigo Spires salvia starts that I had propagated from a branch I accidentally broke off several months ago; I’m reluctant to transplant them to 4″ pots during this hot month, but that’s probably what they need…

Having gained confidence about African violets from a Martha Stewart video that I watched a few weeks ago, I tackled my plant that had grown two baby plants, one of which was already blooming. The babies I managed to cut off with roots attached, and potted them up snugly.

 

We thought to walk to the library, but the tires on the Bob stroller were too flat and I didn’t feel like pumping them up, so we drove. It happened to be a craft day there, and Ivy wanted to do all the things — but first, to design a Loch Ness monster from clay, because she said she had recently watched a video about that creature. Jamie patiently held the monster and observed, while she went on to make a jeweled crown and a flag.

 

The children actually looked up unprompted into the dome of the kids’ room at the library, and we talked about the stories pictured. I picked out some books to borrow but wasn’t thrilled with the three we read later at home. What I did love was a book someone gave me recently — was it one of you? — titled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. I read it twice to the children, because they liked it, too.

Joseph seems to be a Jewish man, and his overcoat gets tattered, so he cuts it down to a jacket, and when that gets overpatched, into a scarf, and so on. When he ends up with nothing at the end, it seems he doesn’t exactly have nothing after all. Good-natured resourcefulness and humor make for a charming story. I loved the ending, and the proverbs and sayings, and the many unique outfits and beard styles and colorful details. Joseph looks like this every time he realizes that his garment needs altering>>

Some of the artwork includes photographs in collage. I think if I were Jewish I might enjoy the book even more because I suspect that the photographs might be of famous people pertinent to Jewish history and culture.

A typical proverb quoted in a frame on the wall of Joseph’s house,
showing barely over an inch square on the page:

Over four days I read lots more books, like In Grandma’s Attic, The Ugly Duckling, Finn Family Moomintroll, a Thomas the Tank Engine collection (not my favorite, but a chance for Jamie to share with me his vast knowledge about that series), and one that I’ve read more than once to them via FaceTime, How Pizza Came to Queens. I got out my collection of costume jewelry, much of which used to be my grandma’s, and which I keep in her broken down jewelry box; and my small group of Moomin figures, and puzzles that are many decades old, but The Best and treasured.

One morning we cleaned in and around the playhouse
before eating a breakfast of sourdough pancakes in the garden:

With more washing up afterward…

As I was showing Ivy some rosemary and oregano she might pick for pretend cooking in the playhouse, I glanced up and gasped so that she started. “My milkweed bloomed!” She looked on admiringly and I told her that I had seen the same species of milkweed growing wild near her house up north.

Ivy and Jamie departed with their mama this morning, and I’ve been transitioning back into my quieter life. They all were the best company for kicking off summer.

Changes, always changes…

I’m not speaking of anything life-shattering, but just the day-by-day
and year-by-year transformations…. nothing is ever the same,
and yet everything important remains steady.

Brodie eating some of the Boston Brown Bread his father has been making:

Every time I am with my children and grandchildren I am overwhelmed with joy and also with awareness of how the moments are golden — and then gone.

For Thanksgiving Pippin’s and Soldier’s families were here,
ten extra living souls in my house for a few days and nights.

The children love my vintage toys, many of which are about forty years old now!

And crafting salads in the playhouse, with gleanings from my garden.

This year we did not eat turkey, but tri-tip barbecued by the guys.

 

 

 

And I helped the children make these puff-pastry goodies I saw a video recipe for on Facebook. They are pretty but not very tasty, because the pastry dough in the bottom of the muffin cups can’t puff, and comes out too dense and doughy. But it was fun, and they look pretty!

 

 

 

 

 

The days were full of matchbox cars, Playmobil, Legos, and children
sitting up at the table yet again for more pie, eggnog,
Fuyu persimmons and whatever was leftover and handy.
Thanksgiving comes but once a year!

We took a walk and wondered over live oak acorns with stripes.
Pippin is usually the one who notices such things first,
but we all learn from her attentiveness.

She also showed me three new birds in my back yard!
I was captivated by the flocks of kinglets
flitting from plum tree to snowball bush to rosemary.

I had collected leaves on my walks and pressed them briefly,
and we enjoyed comparing them and watching them change
over the days they were on the table.
The only ones we knew for sure were liquidamber and tulip tree.

Yes, those are Moomins who are also admiring the leaves!

As is typical but always amazing, both my son and son-in-law found projects to do for me.
Soldier remade some junky broken drawers into useful shelves,
and the Professor cleaned rain gutters.
I am the most loved woman on earth.

Joy brought this simple and much-enjoyed cranberry building activity for the children,
and Pippin and I collaborated on materials for needle-felting.

When Scout was in San Francisco with his parents one day, and Jamie was napping,
Ivy and I had girl time, happily poking our needles into wool roving
to make ducks and monsters and a bunny.

All my family have departed now, and left me in this lovely afterglow of sweetness.
The leaves are still changing… and fading. Soon I’ll need to replace them with berries!

Lettuce and other summer playthings.

ivy alligator 6-16

LIVING

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

–Denise Levertov from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

This book, edited by Schmidt & Felch, is helping me to remember to treasure these days I have with my grandchildren again this week; this time they are staying at my house. I have a few photos, too, that show glimpses of peaceful moments, which seem way too few.

jed water 6-16

Yesterday I made play dough for the first time in decades, and the pot of sludge simmering on the stove was just one of the most interesting things that I forgot in the constantly distracted state in which I live these Grandchildren Days, and I went outside to help someone with something. The one other adult in the house smelled the same aroma of burnt toast I was smelling and turned it off. Kit departed an hour later for the summer so now I am back to being the only adult.

I was able to salvage at least two-thirds of the play dough, and made four pastel colors with it. I added scents using some essential oils. I don’t know if it might have been less sticky if I had paid closer attention to my project, but Scout and Laramie had a lot of fun with the dough. They also got it all over two sets of clothing each, plus a fair amount on the floor, and I am content to buy the store kind from now on.

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<< Chairs to discourage Jamie from climbing the stairs.

The children are enjoying all the birds that come and go throughout the day now that I have the kind of garden birds like. When we sit at the dining table we can watch them at the feeders and fountain — and one good thing is that on this visit, there has been no testing of the rule against children playing in the fountain. It’s not to be touched. “It is for the birds, and for us to look at and listen to.” I emphasize how yucky the water actually is, from the birds, even though it looks clear.

We walked to the library yesterday — that is, Scout and I walked, and Ivy perched on the front of the BOB stroller where Jamie was strapped in. It’s about a half-mile away, which was just about right for our entourage. The warm air carried the scent of the juniper that lined our path, and we stopped to pick of off needles of the different forms to compare.

My town’s library has a stellar children’s area, which these country children much appreciated, for its size and design. Ivy took a turn on each of the horses as reading chairs. We spent some time in the the outdoor area with a giant granite boulder for climbing, and wished we had brought our lunch, and swimsuits for the water play area.  Maybe we will go back tomorrow for our non-book activities.

lib 491

Children always want to drop things from my open hallway upstairs, which wraps around and looks down on the entry below. Through the decades the rule has been the same: the only approved droppables are paper flying machines or balloons. So today, lacking any grandpas or uncles, I had to learn how to make a paper airplane. Internet to the rescue! And I did a really good job! Even Scout was super-grateful.Ivy wash 6-16

That was just this morning, and afterward Scout went with his other grandmother for the day, which is why I have a little mental space to think and write. The children who remain are, miraculously, napping at the same time.

But earlier, it was the perfect opportunity for Ivy to do some housekeeping just the way she likes it, in and for the playhouse that she considers Her House. To practice cutting with scissors, to have some water play, and reading with Grandma, all without big brother interference.

One thing I loved about Seventeenth Summer, which I recently finished reading, was the way no one in the story felt the need toIMG_2499 manz be doing Special Things every week, in order to enjoy the season and the time off school and regular routines. People have jobs and housework, and the tomatoes need to be picked. Many of us like to be home washing the dishes these evenings when a breeze is blowing through the open window, and the sun sets late. And of course, working in the garden in the cool of the mornings, and sitting under a leafy arbor in the afternoons.

Margarita Manzanita is in her peeling season. >>

Ivy and Scout like to notice all the trees and flowers and even ask me the names of them. I’ve told them they may pick anything in the front yard, because it’s all coming out soon, but nothing in the back, except the lettuce that has bolted. So they have played with lettuce. And I did give Ivy a calla lily stem to use as a gasoline hose for filling up the tank of “her” Little Tikes Cozy Car.

gl 6 toy pop up men

This toy with four bouncing men is one of Jamie’s favorites, and it has been a favorite of dozens of children in my house over the last 28 years or so. It actually belongs to Kate, and was one of the few things that she as our fifth baby received new. I am so glad I found it for her back then, and that somehow we have preserved the set, because now I don’t think the Toy Police would allow it; a child might shove a little man down his windpipe.

I’ll leave you with a few more words from the introduction to Summer‘s collection of stories, Psalms and readings on this blessed time of year. I’m certain that children have some perspective on leisure that I have completely lost and probably can’t relate to, so I do not try to write from their perspective, even if they are a big part of my summer.

“The Psalms themselves declare the pleasures of leisure, in which we may sing songs and play music in moments when we are not in our work routines….to step back for a moment from our self-importance and our drivenness to provide a larger perspective.”

“…It is delight; it is merriment. It is a pause in the action, a moment to let this thought come: maybe I am not so critical to the world after all… a humbling time when we might dare to believe that stopping and looking round us might be more important than driving toward the distant horizon.”

Summer is for tea parties.

P1100600teapotWarm weather means that if we have any grandchildren around, we can have tea parties outdoors. The other day at Scout’s suggestion I made tea from what could be had in the garden: lemon balm and three kinds of mint.

Ivy and Scout and I sat on the patio with our little plastic cups of tea. Four-year-olds think the sugar cubes are the main event, and the toddler just wanted to put her chocolate kisses, cherries, and cubes of cheese into her cup.

P1100601ivytea

 

When I had my head turned she put cherries into my tea as well. Soon she had moved on to the washing-up, which she liked even better than the dining (or soup-making) part.

 

Ivy wash 6-14

Unfortunately, chocolate doesn’t come off with cold water.

P1100609 kids alyssum 6-14

Later in the day I sheared the alyssum and the kids tried to help with their little scissors. But the challenge of getting the piles of cuttings into the yard waste can turned out to be the most fun.

 

 

P1100621 can

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By the time Liam arrived a few days later, all the work was done, but he was well pleased with the toys and books galore. Little wooden people from his parents’ past were the most popular.

P1100643 little people

Some toys that I keep around you would not be able to find in stores anymore, because their parts are too small to be considered safe. If I had a child who’d choked, I might feel differently, but I am sorry that some of the most charming and fun playthings are now forbidden.

Remember Micromachines? We just ran across one of those this week and were amazed. They seem small enough for a child to ingest without much problem. Of course, I never would let the older children bring them out if there were crawling babies around.

Liam 6-14 play

This last toy that Liam is focused on was Kate’s 25 years ago. Many many children have enjoyed it since, but I am thinking of stashing it away so that all the pieces will still be there when her own children are ready to play with them down the road. This week she showed her nephew how to hit the little stick people just so, to make them bounce out of their holes. A good toy is a joy forever.