Category Archives: Grandparenting

Grandma’s Holiday Shopping

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It’s that time of year again, when we have to decide in what material way we will demonstrate our love for each other. Don’t get me wrong. I love the holiday season and I love seeing how little kids eye’s pop open as they squeal with delight while opening presents. However, shopping is problematic for this Grandma and Grandpa.

Reason one is that we go to the south for the holiday season so we aren’t physically around. That makes it difficult to wrap packages and deliver them and enjoy the holiday joy. Reason two is a bit more complicated. My husband and I practice as Jews but the kids of a mixture of no religion, Christian, and Jewish. Therefore it can be all too easy to mix things up and upset someone by saying or doing the wrong thing. Reason Three is I want some direct interaction with the grandkids and just sending a cheque isn’t good enough for me. Reason four is I know they know I love them and they love me but it still smarts when I get a present for them and discover they no longer collect those things or they have outgrown what I picked or their tastes have changed.

We have come up with a perfect compromise that is working very well for our family. We decided a few years ago that while we will observe birthdays for the adults, we do not get them holiday gifts. Instead we make a budget and decide what we can afford, and we divide that amount between the grandchildren. Since we are now up to nine in total including members who joined us by blending of their own families, we need to be able to concentrate our resources on the children. (We don’t differentiate between “step” and “biological”. A grandchild is a grandchild is a grandchild. No child can have too many doting grandparents.)

Each year, about a month before the holidays, we tell the parents how much we can afford per child. We then ask them to take the kids shopping on line to a place like Amazon.ca or Toys R Us Canada, and let us know what they want. We order, pay, and have it delivered to them directly at their home. This saves us the entire hassle and cost of buying presents, wrapping and mailing them over the border where they are subject to theft, confiscation and addition of import taxes and costs. Many companies will even send the package prettily wrapped with a special message from Grandpa and Grandma for little or not additional cost. And I get a message when it is shipped and when it arrives so I know it got there safely.

There have also been some pleasant surprises doing things this way. The kids are getting old enough to use social media and this year, I got to exchange a bunch of messages with one grandchild via Facebook as he planned his purchase. The other nice surprize has been that they sometimes decide on one big thing for the whole family. For example, one year, one family wanted an air hockey table and they all played it, including us when we visited. Now that is a good way to max out our limited grandparent resources.

The other wonderful thing is it gives me a yearly glimpse into what the kids are really “into”.  Letting them choose something they want on line, means when I order it I get to see what is special and important to them. This often leads to more conversations and insights about them as individuals. Each child is precious and any chance to learn about them as individuals is wonderful, especially for those grandchildren who were blended into our little clan instead of being born into it.

And there has been one other totally unexpected bonus. The kids have a budget and they have some special limitation on where they can shop. They take the shopping very seriously carefully combing the websites, comparison shopping, and looking for the best possible deal to stretch their money. So the experience is also a lesson in money management, addition, subtraction and prioritizing wants and needs. Now what grandparent would not want to spoil their grandchildren while also teaching them valuable life skills?

This gift giving method also sets us apart from the other grandparents. Children have four grandparents in their lives and with blending, that can grow to eight. One set of our grandchildren are fortunate enough to have grandparents on the other side who can afford very extravagant gifts, the best of everything and anything they might want. Even though they give much more, we give in our own way that is special because the kids shop and choose exactly what they want. Our gift stands out because they got to pick it themselves even if it is not the most expensive of the bunch. I always like it when a child picks a needed accessory for the big fancy present from the other side. It makes me feel like we are sharing the wealth in a way proportionate to our means.

In another family, we are the “rich” grandparents. Their other side gives things like hand made mittens and dollar store specials, made with love and carefully chosen but not costing a lot of money because they just don’t have it. The cousins on that side get very little for the holidays. We do not place our grandchildren in the position of having the modest gifts from the other side opened on Christmas morning next to ours, which are so much more expensive by comparison. Rather, the kids pick what they want from us, and they get it when it is delivered and not when the other side gathers to exchange gifts. And so we get to teach lessons like being compassionate and thoughtful of those who have less material goods.

Finally, with the parents guiding them, we know the kids get what they actually need, even the little ones. When children were very little Mom and Dad did the shopping for them. I learn too. I had this psychological block about playpens. I don’t like them. So I was perturbed when I was asked to send a baby fence to create a quasi playpen area. I trusted my daughter-in-law and ordered it anyway. Later, visiting their home, I could see how she was right. The baby had his safe space and the household had some peace, especially big brother who is very fussy about the special Duplo creations his toddler sibling has absolutely no respect for. My gift was not a playpen to confine my grandson. My gift made for peace in the family and respect for everyone. I would never have gotten him something like that because not being around everyday and living in that house, I either wouldn’t know or my personal prejudices might get in the way.

This is how we solved the problem of being grandparents during the holidays. Every family is unique and will find their own solution but if you haven’t reached it yet, perhaps this one might help you. Happy shopping!

My Present

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Well there it is. This lovely antique rocker was a silly splurge. $80 from the Mennonite Central Committee thrift store in Portage and I am in love with it. It fits like whoever made it was built the same way I am. I like to think it was carved with love and affection for a special woman. Maybe babies were rocked in it and knitting for grandchildren  was completed in front of a fire in winter. We really didn’t need to buy it since we are $3000 over budget now, but hubby dearest absolutely insisted I deserve it and how could I argue with such a wise man?

What a week it has been! We have spent the entire week running and shopping. I hate shopping. I do enjoy a good bargain. We went to the local Habitat for Humanity centre because I am cheap. I also like recycling and repurposing more than retail, partly because it satisfies the cheap in me and partly for the earth. We found to lights for the kitchen and living room/work area because the lighting is very poor there in our house. One is a lovely Tiffany style stained glass with double the wattage of our current light ($40) and the other is a ceiling fan still in the box ($65) for the living space. I love ceiling fans because the slow turning is soothing and the movement of air gets rid of hot spots in summer and cold spots in winter. While we were there we also found shelving, a second doorknob for the front door with a set of keys, and assortment of odds and ends at less than half of retail for resolving various small issues. We also picked up the heavy duty 70 pint, can be set to autodrain to the sump pit, dehumidifier ($235 on sale from the Sears Clearance catalogue). We have a small one for the trailer but it can’t even begin to keep up in our basement and we still need it for the trailer anyway. I got more curtain rods, storage containers, shelf organizers for the kitchen, electrical stuff, tape, tools, ect.

I had a box of stuff left at one son’s house of assorted knick knacks of no value except sentimental that I could not bear to part with when we downsized and had no place for in the trailer. The box is now in the truck waiting for the trip home. I also reclaimed a small corner china cabinet that once belonged to my grandmother that my daughter got, and then sold to me a few years ago when she moved to Israel and then agreed to store for me when she moved back and I downsized. The knick knacks can go in there and it can take up one empty corner of my new home. We picked up a painting we had in storage, currently riding on the trailer futon still wrapped. (See the rocking chair picture.)

Yesterday, we rounded out the shopping with a trip to some garden centres. I now have all the plants I need for my garden and seeds, a rake, a hoe, some small tools, and fertilizer and tomato cages. I also bought three flats of annuals for my flower bed and a raspberry bush. Hubby dearest has some plans of his own for the mess the sump pump makes in the yard and we got supplies for those. I closed off the garden sales with an on line purchase of a horseradish root which I simply could find anywhere else.

I also got a visit in with all the grandkids except for the baby who is sick and could land me in hospital again with pneumonia with his baby cold. I got a special big hug from our eldest on a five minute fly by between stores that was heart warming. Spontaneous displays of affection when startled are really the very best. Today is a pause day with nothing special before we head back to Alonsa and home with all our treasures. I plan on sunning a lot and maybe taking a bike ride around the lake. On the way out, we will stop and get two new tires for the trailer and go by Superstore to stock up on a lot of food because we don’t intend to be back in the city until August long weekend.

My trailer is still home but how I miss my little house! It will be good to have the trailer home parked in the stick house home’s drive again. And then back to work. So much to do! Strange how in retirement you end up busier than while working.

Ikea, we love you, we hate you.

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Yesterday was a frenetic day. We left for Winnipeg after getting up at 6:00am. We went to Ikea and we bought a new bed frame, a new table and a bookshelf. The new table is now together and fits exactly right. We have a long extended narrow table that can double as my work space which still leaves room for the door and having a meal. In summer we can open door, which will be essential because the widows are almost all painted shut! The new blinds arrived and I have set them aside for now. The bookshelf is mostly assembled, as you see. It fits precisely in that corner, not blocking the one plug there, or the window. Hubby dearest has begun migrating his few books from our trailer to the house. At this point they should all fit in the one shelf along with my assorted bird and plant identification books. I am very happy with bright cheerful colours. I will leave him to set the heights of the shelves to suit the books.

Putting together the table was a snap. It took me one episode of Law and Order on Netflix. The bookshelf was a quite a bit more of a fuss. I didn’t follow my son’s rules about putting together Ikea.

Rule 1: Don’t let the kids help. That’s his rule. I have no little kids these days but that goes double for cats. If you possess one of those demon cats, do not put all the little screws and bits into a bowl and leave it on the counter. One advantage to Ikea is they give you a chart to count all the parts to make sure you have the right number of everything. This allows you to clean up spilled bits without moving the refrigerator to be certain all the pieces are present.

Rule 2: Read the directions. Read them again and make sure you really really really understand them before you actually do anything. That way you don’t have to take something apart again. Ikea is great stuff as long as you only try to put it together once. Everyone I have talked to who ever took their Ikea stuff apart to move or for some other reason ended up with broken furniture. So one must be very careful. I had to take one side apart and put it back. My own fault. I added glue.

Rule 3: Do not work with a spouse or someone else you do not have a strong stable relationship with. Ikea is a multi cuss job and while it feels really good once the thing is done, I suspect it could fracture an unstable relationship.

I also bought the last of the groceries and utensils I needed to get the kitchen functioning without having to be running back and forth to the trailer and when we pull out with the trailer we won’t need to spend a long time packing and find we have inevitably forgotten something.

I am fretting about money. We made a calculated decision to use our line of credit to finance some of the expenses of the purchase and to pay for the new furniture planning on keeping the costs low being able to pay it off the next month. The old rule about plan your expenses and then multiple by ten apparently works for this kind of situation. Well actually I am only 50% higher than we budgeted and so we will need two months instead of one to get back to debtlessness. I always pay of the credit cards in full each month because they are loan sharks with their interest rates. If I am short, I use the much more reasonable line of credit to pay them off and just spend less the next month. For the past four years we have been debt free and putting aside modest savings each month, not using the line of credit and living below our means. So this really bugs me. I just hate using the line of credit. I know that short term using it will save me money to use that line of credit because our savings are locked in and there are tax penalties if we take money out early. I still really hate owing anyone money. I decided to make due with the chairs we borrowed from the cabin and get the ones that match the table when the line of credit is paid off. That offset the cost of the big dehumidifier we pick up next week from Sears. In the meantime, I look at those ugly vinyl and chrome chairs and with the hideous floral pattern and think debt and say out loud “They are vintage!”. Thank goodness there aren’t any more major expenses coming. I have to finance planting the garden but gardens usually bring in more than they cost several times over so that is an investment not an expense.

Yesterday we closed the frenetic day by visiting with my kids and grandkids. It was wonderful. I felt very loved and matriarchy. I have wonderful kids who have grown up to be fine adults. And in addition to some thoughtful gifts, I got a big hanging basket of flowers from Superstore for spending more than $250 on groceries on Mother’s Day. One of the gifts I got was two hooks for hanging plants so we are good to go. And two kids asked me to plant kale. So kale is now on my seed list.

Back in Manitoba and all is well, except the weather.

We returned to Manitoba April 17th and we have had a hectic few days. There are only two campground that are open and offer service this time of year. One is south of the city and one is west. The western one is marginally closer to our family so we went there first. However we arrived to find that because of all the contraction they had after last years flooding they are open but do not have water or WIFI. So we are at Arrowhead Campground which is open and has full services. This is actually quite a nice campground, very clean and well run. My only complaints are the lots are small and they are a lot fussier about dogs. We prefer to dean up the dog droppings by keeping them on a very short leash outside the door at night and when we go out in the morning we clean up. Everything is right near the trailer so only our own lot is affected and this works in most places. However at this place, you are expected to somehow get your dog to hold it until you can race with it off the property and then have it go. If the dog doesn’t hold it or needs to go out at 2:00am you must catch it basically before it hits the ground or risk complaints. Oh well, every campground has its peculiarities and you adjust and this one is a minor. They get around the low temperatures by having a network of hoses all over the campground and they come back and fill your tank at every time you ask so the service is great. Plus it’s hard to find a campground open for us snowbirds in April.

After getting settled we began the seemingly endless run of stuff to catch up on. Visit the son who receives our mail for and go through a huge pile. Even though we have converted to every possible coming by electronic mail, we still found ourselves with a HUGE stack. Most of it junk or stuff we could really do without. And then there are a large number of things to be dealt with. Income tax by April 30th (just sent that off). Off to the doctor to renew regular prescriptions since most of them only allow you 6 months at a time maximum. We both had dental checkups. Dick came through clean which is great considering all the trouble he had the last two years including a $3800 bridge. I have one small cavity and will be going back in a couple of weeks but otherwise everything is fine. Last two years I have had cracked molars to fix and I was dreading that again.

Also because of the house purchase, we had to run to the Credit Union, sign papers, run to the lawyer, sign papers, run to the insurance company, sign papers, and so it goes. We have visited with all the kids now, hugged all the grandkids, distributed books, gifts, duty free booze and stuff. All our assorted families look great and the kids are all grown handsomer and bigger. We keep in touch all year of course but there’s nothing like a hug, smelling their scent, and seeing them all looking so good. We are blessed. Even the youngest, who is 18 months, remembered me after a few minutes.

Naturally Manitoba needed to make sure we continue to plan to go south each winter. We were greeted with bitterly cold weather and snow, several centimetres of it blowing like it can only blow on the prairie. Last night the temperature was down to -10C and we have had to do all the cold weather stuff with the trailer, UGH! Monday night the highway was even closed due to blowing snow. The dogs have been giving us dirty looks before going out. I can almost hear them thinking “Why did we have to leave the south too soon?”

Today is the first day we have had no running catchup to do. We can breath and relax. Tomorrow we go shopping to stock up for our extended stay in the country with a decent store hours away and hubby dearest gets a blood test just to check things. We meet the real estate agent Monday 10:00am to get our keys and finally get into our house. Then the real fun starts as we do a full inspection to decide what renovations we want/must do now, what can wait, measure all the rooms to decide what furniture, curtains and stuff we need and a bunch of other things that go with a new house.

This morning the cold is finally breaking and more temperate weather is back. The sun is warm through the window and the sky is finally blue blue Manitoba blue under the wide open sky. I can hear a meadow lark. I joke about how I as born in Winnipeg due to sins of a past like but Manitoba is my home. It’s good to be home.

Never turn your back on the ocean: my shark/dolphin encounter.

I had one of those once in a lifetime type experiences today. Naturally I did not have a camera. The camera is with hubby dearest who is in Dallas doing his academic thing. I went off to the beach at Alligator Point with the two dogs. It was cold, with a nasty wind so the place we were was empty of other beach denizens. I was delighted to see a large group of dolphins feeding on fish I presume were mullet very close to the shore. The dolphins were coming so close into the shore that a good portion of their bodies were up out of the water and they were really close. The dolphins feeding were the larger dolphins in the group. It was the four very large ones I have seen before plus some of the medium sized ones driving the fish into shallow water and attacking them. I could see other smaller dolphins surfacing and some even jumping completely out of the water in what looked like racing play beyond them. I was enthralled. I love dolphins anytime but to see real live wild dolphins doing their wild and free thing is just a delight beyond describing. I have walked the beach at Alligator Point many times and seeing dolphins there just never gets old for me.

In the midst of this wonderful display I heard a particularly high shrilling squeak noise and I looked up to see a very small dolphin racing toward the large adults. The baby was leaping clear out of the water as it raced. It was making a bee line towards the adults at a 45 degree angle from the shore, swimming at top speed making this weird squeaky noise. I saw a fin behind it and my first thought was

“Oh isn’t that cute, they’re playing tag with the baby.”

Then I looked again.

This was no dolphin following that baby. It was a large shark. Baby was racing full speed towards the large adults on the shore and I assume the noise was a terrified baby distress scream. With the hair rising on the back of my neck and every Mommy/Grandma instinct I have on full alert, I watched that baby and then out of nowhere one of the medium sized dolphins threw itself hard against the side of the shark knocking it off course and slowing it down so the baby gained some distance as it raced straight toward the adults near the shore. I found myself screaming at the big dolphins to do something and I felt sick thinking I might soon be seeing a baby dolphin get killed.

And then the fight started. The shark was about 20 meters from the shore and right behind that baby when suddenly the water was full of thrashing smashing adult dolphins. The baby was gone. For a long moment the shark was rolling around in a mass of bodies and foaming water snapping and bending its body but unable to get a grip on anything. The four biggest dolphins appeared to be attacking it in a coordinated manner and keeping well clear of the front end, taking turns smashing it with their full weight. With the crashing about as the big dolphins attacked, the shark at one point was shoved into water so shallow it was half exposed and I saw the big head with all the teeth in profile in the air for a split second as it flailed. The dolphins made loud ferocious exhalations with deep harsh grunts, spewing spray from their blow holes as they slammed the shark with their bodies and heads. I could also see the shark was about a foot or two shorter than the biggest dolphin crashing into it. I had a crazy urge to jump in and beat on that shark myself but fortunately good sense asserted itself and I stayed on the sand. The dolphins were handling it quite well without me. The shark finally rolled back towards deeper water, thrashing hard. The shark vanished under water with the four dolphins right behind. I watched and after a moment I spotted two of the big dolphins surfacing and then going down again, far away, moving very fast to the south east, and then it was quiet.

The medium sized dolphins, six of them, were very near the baby and there was a lot of blowing and squeaking and I ran down the beach like an idiot shouting “Are you okay baby?” wondering if the baby was hurt, hoping it wasn’t. I stopped when the dolphins, probably alarmed by the lunatic human, moved further away. I was very happy to see that the baby seemed to be unhurt.

After another long moment the four large adults were suddenly back and there was much swimming close around the baby and all the smaller dolphins, and many gentle body nudges and heavy blowing. The entire group then took off along the beach in the opposite direction from where I saw the dolphins presumably chasing after the shark, all moving very close together, baby surrounded by adults. No one seemed injured, which was a huge relief. The whole thing probably took five minutes or less from start to finish but I had such an adrenalin surge I felt head achy, nauseous and I was shaking. My two dogs appeared to be completely oblivious to the whole thing. I was too shook up to finish our walk so we headed back home.

When I got back to my computer I went on line to look to see if I could identify the kind of shark. The first problem I had was that the shark appeared to be entirely black but none of the Florida sharks in the identification guides are black. The only thing I could conclude was that it was not a hammerhead. However, as I considered it, I realized the black colour was likely a trick of the light because the dolphins also looked completely black to me in the bright sun, thrashing in the water with all that white foam around. Yet, I know these dolphins are common bottle nose (Tursiops truncates) and these dolphins are grey not black. So ignoring the black colour and going only by the shape of the head and the shape of the dorsal fin and the small far back placement of the fin near the tail, small eyes and general body shape, I would say it was most likely a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Given that adult bottle nose dolphins can reach 10-12 feet in length and these adults were the biggest dolphins, that would make the shark about 8-10 feet long. The little dolphin was only about 3-4 feet by contrast with the adults, making it a very young dolphin and a tasty meal for a hungry bull shark.

I then went and read up on bull sharks and the whole thing makes sense. Bull sharks like to hunt in shallow water. They do attack and eat baby dolphins. They do appear in Florida in winter even when the water is colder. This was a big shark too, fully adult sized and quite dangerous as sharks go. The scientist in me can stand back and objectively say the shark was just being a shark and doing what sharks do. It is not evil or bad. The scientist in me hopes it was not killed by the dolphins but rather got away. The mother and grandmother in me is 100% behind those brave dolphins risking themselves defending their little baby, especially the medium sized one who knocked that shark away before the big dolphins arrived. That part of me says I sure hope those dolphins killed that awful shark so it can never hurt a baby dolphin again.

Another day at the beach. And people wonder why I don’t like to go into the water.

Noccalula Falls

Noccalula Falls is located in Gadsden and we stopped in here. This is one of those “wonders” which everyone is supposed to see on the one wonder per state list. Again the same cavern underneath the falls, the same general shape but this one was easily the highest and biggest of all the ones we saw. There is the inevitable legend of the Indian princess who leaps from the falls into the water to avoid a marriage she can’t stand. What was interesting is this legend is supposedly true. The Cherokee were forced eastward and were crowding and fighting with the Creek so the wedding was to make peace. She jumped instead. The statue has a maiden ugly enough that it should have been the Creek warrior she was betrothed to who would have been the one jumping. No matter. The park is lovely and has a campground. The problem is they were all closed up for their break between Halloween and the preparations for their Christmas festival so we could only see the falls and then leave. The cold arctic air has arrived and after days of T shirt weather we had to bundle up warmly. We will spend the night in Oxford and move along to Milledgeville Georgia in the morning.

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Attempts to Lure Grandma Back to Winnipeg.

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My grandson Luke with his Mom, Ann on the day she became a fellow Canadian Citizen.

It’s hard when you are four years old and you don’t get the snowbird concept. I spoke to Luke on my telephone today.

“Grandma! You come here!”

“I can’t sweetheart, I am too far away.”

“But why? Grandma.”

“I hate snow, Luke. I need to stay away from snow.”

“You hate snow?”

“Yes, snow makes me sick so I stay away. I’ll come back after winter. I’ll come back after the snow is gone.”

“But Grandma I miss you, You come here now!”

“After the snow is gone.”

Clattering sound as the telephone is abandoned. Running feet, then an excited voice.

“Grandma! I checked! The sun is out. The sun is shining all the way down to the ground! You come here now, Grandma! The sun is shining all the way down to the ground!”

Yes it is. How do you explain to a four year old that this bright sunny weather we are having is an anomally that will soon be over and freezing weather is just around the corner? Meantime I can enjoy the way the sun is shining all the way down to the ground right now.

It is hard being away from the kids and grandkids! Winter better arrive soon or I will lose the courage to stay away much longer.