It has become a Cousins Camp tradition that the grandchildren don’t learn the theme of the year’s camp until they arrive on the first day. From the day they leave each year until the time they arrive the next year, we are constantly asked to give hints about the theme. We rarely comply. Past themes have included: exotic animals, underwater creatures, around the world, Hawaii, sports and music. This year the theme was very logical to Steve and me — although the grands had not quite put it together. After all, we had just moved into a new house (exactly 2 weeks before camp began!!!!!), we built a new pool, and everyone would be sleeping in a different place than they ever had before. The trick was to figure out NEW THINGS in the way of foods and activities — something of a challenge since we’d already gone through ten previous camps. Here are many of the things we did that were new:
Thank you, Pinterest and fellow grandmommas, for helping me with these suggestions. Make-Your-Own Texas Toast Pizzas were a big hit, as were S’Mores using candles, Homemade Pop Tarts (pie crusts filled with jam, Nutella or cinnamon and sugar) and Homemade Donuts (using biscuit dough). Another recipe we tried was Ice Cream in a Bag. The taste was delicious, but cleaning up the mess made me think that store-bought ice cream would be the saner choice for the future.
Once again, Pinterest came to the rescue. The grands loved painting canvases and wooden initials during one session and decorating with buttons and sequins in the next session. When my brother’s two grandchildren joined us for most of a day, we had boards (cut from lumber left in building the new house), short nails, hammers and 14 different colors of yarn. Each child chose a design, drew it on the board, hammered nails to make an outline, then strung yarn to fill in the design. I wish we’d had a hammer for each child (we only had 6 for 13 children), and I wish I’d taken some Tylenol before the hammering began, but, oh well, you live and learn. The results of both craft projects were satisfactory and are probably hanging on various bedroom walls in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.
Our general way of handling meals for so many people for a week is to have breakfast at home — with Granddaddy as Top Chef. We have either lunch or dinner at home, but the other meal is at a restaurant. Group favorites include Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, and pretty much any Mexican or Chinese restaurant. This year we allowed them to sample a completely different cuisine — Ethiopian. The Ghion Cultural Hall is in the Pizitz Food Hall in downtown Birmingham. Our sweet Birti, who was born in Ethiopia, was THRILLED at our choice. She particularly loves the bread-type food called injeera, but she was clearly pleased with everything offered on the buffet the day we visited. Happily, the rest of the grands were good sports and found things they could enjoy also. It turned out to be our most expensive meal of the week, so we might not go again with so many, but I’m still very glad we let the cousins give it a try.
One more thing — 99-cent Taco Nights at 2 of the Mexican restaurants in Hartselle were life- and budget-savers. Woohoo! Thank you, Las Vias and Don Alejo. I predict this will become a Cousins Camp tradition. Please don’t stop.
For about 5 years now, we have taken the kids bowling at River City Lanes in Decatur, and we’ve played some rounds at Funland Putt-Putt, also in Decatur. We’ve honed our skills at several different art studios and created paintings, generally related to our theme for the week. In past years, we’ve visited Cathedral Caverns, Harmony Park Safari, Birmingham Zoo, Nashville Shores, Jesse Owens Museum, EarlyWorks Museum, Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Space and Rocket Center — among other places. But, what could we do this year that was NEW??
Golden Flake Potato Chip Factory in Birmingham — This is actually a very popular place for tours, and we were lucky to find a time in their schedule. The rules are pretty strict — close-toed shoes, no photos, must wear a hairnet, etc — but the tour is free, and it only lasts about 30-40 minutes. At the end of the tour, you walk away with 3 bags of chips in your hairnet. Win-win!
Kelly Ingram Park across from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute — The Institute has an entry fee, but you can walk through the park and see the outside of 16th Avenue Baptist Church for free. The park has many explanatory signs and sculptures scattered throughout. It makes a deep impression. Metered parking spaces surround the park.
Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham — Any time 13 people can get in an attraction for less than $50, I consider that to be reasonably-priced. At the Vulcan, you can walk around the grounds, tour the museum and gift shop, ride the elevator to the top for amazing views of the city, and have a picnic or snack at the shaded tables. I took bottled waters and snacks that hit the spot after checking out the surroundings. It was fun to tell the kids about how the Vulcan used to have a torch that was either green or red based on traffic fatalities and to explain about the iron/steel connection leading to naming “The Game” the Iron Bowl.
Top Golf in Huntsville — This was one of our splurges for our week — about $150 for an hour for 12 players — but the place is SO NICE. I told Steve I hope he’ll take me back for a date sometime. Before noon is the cheapest time to go, and it’s great that the computers handle all the scoring. All you have to do is manage to get that ball off the tee and out onto one of the target areas. Not as easy as you might think. Clubs are provided, even clubs for kids. This was a hit with almost all of the kids.
UpSurge in Decatur — Another splurge on our itinerary, UpSurge is an indoor trampoline park in Decatur behind Wiley Sporting Goods. The cost was $167 for an hour for 11 kids, but that included about $40 worth of special socks that are required — something we won’t have to purchase the next time. It was clean, well-supervised, and surprisingly uncrowded. The kids got a lot of exercise and NO ONE GOT HURT. Hallelujah! Waivers are required, so I had the Mommas fill those out on-line and submit them ahead of time (without spilling the beans to the kids).
Ivy Green, Helen Keller Birthplace, in Tuscumbia — Ivy Green, like the Vulcan Park, was less than $50 for 13 people. The tour was very well-done, and the displays, grounds, furnishings are well-preserved. It is a place and a story that makes you proud that Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan are associated with Alabama. It takes about an hour to take advantage of this historic facility. I recommend it.
This year’s group of grands ranged in age from 5 to 17. All of them appeared to enjoy at least some aspects of each of these attractions. Now, what in the WORLD will we find next year?
P.S. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details of hosting your own Cousins Camp, look for the book Steve and I are in the process of writing to be published in the coming year.