Sunday, October 8, 2017

Googie's Night with Catwoman

You can't go wrong with a Catwoman costume and a vanilla-glazed angelfood cake. Light seven candles, and you have all the ingredients needed for the perfect Bootsie birthday.

Just a baby when I began documenting the kids' adventures in "Googie's Attic," Bootsie has turned into a beautiful blonde first-grader who likes to read, do artwork, and play the piano. She also swims like a champ and bakes cookies like a pro.

This past summer, Bootsie and I took in a professional lyceum theatre production of Beauty and the Beast, where we both marvelled at the stage magic that transformed a shaggy, unsightly animal into the most handsome of princes.

Then, along with her sister and brothers, she attacked our state fair with a vengeance. There, no carnival ride  remained unconquered, and no morsel of fried corn dog batter escaped. Bootsie is a kid who not only embraces life but squeezes it for all she can get.

For Pa-pa and me, Bootsie's birthday dinner last Wednesday night (I'm late posting this, I know--sorry!) proved to be a welcome stop along the stretch of bumpy road that has been this year. We loved sharing the food she picked out (pizza rolls and shrimp--I kid you not), and seeing her face bathed in candlelight as she waited for us to finish  "Happy Birthday":


With the cake pretty well demolished, presents monopolized the spotlight--and Bootsie morphed into Catwoman when the first gift she opened proved to be the costume she had hoped for. A Farmer Barbie (complete with a chicken tucked under her arm) and several new outfits for another of her dolls capped off the evening.

I hope your birthday was the best ever, Boots. I can hardly believe you are already seven years old. Your sweet spirit always gives me a reason to smile--and reminds me how incredibly lucky I am to be the one you call "Googie."

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Number 10

There is something about the number 10 that commands attention: "Ten Little Indians," Ten Commandments, ten bowling pins, "ten little monkeys jumping on the bed."

By the time an institution or a relationship gets to that magical number, it is usually time to celebrate. The tenth wedding anniversary. The tenth class reunion. A business surviving ten years often calls for a major customer appreciation event with free hot dogs and door prize drawings.

We rate things from 1 to 10, with 10 usually representing the most or the best. Remember Bo Derek from the 1979 movie 10? On a less pleasant note, if your pain nears 10, you probably need medical attention.  Across centuries and cultures too numerous to count, the number 10 has represented completion or perfection.

Today, I celebrate the number 10 because it is Sooby's tenth birthday.


All the grandkids' birthdays are important, but this one is a special milestone. It was on June 30, 2007, that I first became "Googie." A short six years later, Sooby had three siblings and two cousins, bringing the grandkid tally to six and insuring that the glass doors to my back deck would be covered with precious little hand-prints for perpetuity.

I got to wish Sooby happy birthday on the phone tonight as I sat in my living room here in the Midwest and she and her family crossed the state line from Pennsylvania to New York. Tomorrow she will have a belated birthday party in New Hampshire with another set of grandparents that don't get to see her as often as Pa-pa and I do.

Happy tenth birthday to you, Sooby-girl. Tonight you may be on the road literally, but figuratively you are on your way to so many new, different experiences that come with fifth grade and 'tweendom. As the oldest grandchild, you are our trendsetter, our explorer, our example for the other kids. You alone started this decade of utter delight and utmost blessing.

On this, the 3,655th day of your life, Pa-pa and I wish you the very best and look forward to the week you will spend with us soon after you get back home. I can hardly wait.

We will swim, eat lasagne, go to Kids' College, and make homemade ice cream. I'm thinking that, as weeks go, it should rate pretty high. Yeah, that song has a good beat, it's easy to dance to . . . I'm giving it a 10.







 













Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Birthday Wish from Hoppy and Bob

"Googie?"

I knew by Zoomie's tone that this was going to be a serious question--one of many he asked while he was staying with me last week.

"Why is your arm loose?"

With no small concern, I ran a quick check on my left arm from shoulder to wrist. When all appeared to be in order and no dismemberment seemed imminent, I breathed a sigh of relief. That's when an inquisitive little hand reached out to wiggle-pinch that flap of skin on the underside of my upper arm. Yes, Zoomie had discovered that bane of existence plaguing every woman with an AARP card.

"It's not exactly loose," I reassured him. "It's just--kind of--soft, I guess."

Instantly my mind traveled to the iconic Lake Wobegon, home of writer Garrison Keillor and his elementary teacher, who demonstrated this same anatomical anomaly when writing on the chalkboard. Who could forget that scene where a classroom of little north country smart-alecks in the '50s immortalized the arm flaps of their teacher by naming them "Bob" and "Hoppy"?

Shuddering, I changed the subject before the creative side of Zoomie's brain kicked in and he began to contemplate names of his own. Knowing him as I do, and aware of the preoccupations of four-year-old boys, I figured any names he would come up with would reflect rather crude body parts or functions.

"Just think," I said. "It's only a few more days until your birthday." I was thankful for the direction our conversation took from there as he tried to guess what Pa-pa and I had gotten him for a present.

Today is the birthday of the sweet little guy who entered the world five years ago today looking like this:


Now, like his cousin Beenie, he is ready to enter kindergarten in the fall. It is hard to believe how he has grown and changed:


Happy birthday to you, Zoomie. What a joy to have spent with you the last glorious week you were four. It will be fun to hear your take on the new worlds that kindergarten will open for you. I know you will love it, and your natural curiosity and desire to learn will take you far.

One suggestion, though. Should your teacher turn her back and write on the board, it might be prudent not to ask her questions that involve flaps or jiggles. Just keep your focus on those letters and numbers, and you will sail through your first school year like a rock star.

Good night now, sweet boy. Bob, Hoppy, and I have had a busy week, thanks to you, and we are ready to call it a day. May your dreams be filled with cakes, candles, and presents, and may these first days of being five years old be your best ever!





Sunday, March 26, 2017

Game Boy!

The writer of a blog titled "I Can Teach My Child," on April 4, 2012, explored several good reasons for playing board games with preschoolers. At the top of that list is the direct human interaction that electronic gaming negates as well as the undivided attention the two of you commit to a shared project. In addition, board games teach kids "how to take turns and be graceful losers." Finally, they offer a fun context for teaching strategy and age-appropriate cognitive skills.

I noticed these things myself a couple weeks ago, when Beenie pulled my Hi Ho Cherry-O game off the shelf and asked to play it rather than Temple Run or some of the other iPad games he likes. That was the first of several days filled with counting and fruit-picking and groaning when the spinner landed on the bird, the dog, or, worst of all, the upset fruit basket. In fact, he loved the game so much that he asked me to give him his own Hi Ho Cherry-O for his birthday.

When I showed him some You Tube videos of kids playing other vintage children's games, he was enthralled with another Hasbro product--Hungry, Hungry Hippos--and asked for that one as well. So last Monday, on Beenie's birthday, we spent a delightful afternoon whooping and hollering and watching Bottomless Potamus, Veggie Potamus, and their hippo friends make a quick lunch out of a batch of marbles.


As Beenie's birthday celebration reached into this past weekend to include a small party of friends and cousins, the focus on games continued. Another addition to his toy shelf, contributed by his aunt and uncle, was "Cavity Sam" and the popular game Operation. Here, in extracting the likes of Sam's Adam's Apple, Funny Bone, and Charley Horse, was the chance for not only whole new rounds of laughter but a honing of the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills begun with Hi Ho Cherry-O.

I look forward to more game-playing with this cute, smart kid as spring unfolds and his preschool season gives way to kindergarten. Like most kids, he prefers to win, but I will try to discourage those sneaky little attempts to fudge ("Did that spinner really land on the line, Beenie?") and offer sympathy when he lands on that upset fruit basket. When he beats me fair and square (which is actually quite often), I always try to say, "I know I didn't win this time, but I still had fun playing."

Happy fifth birthday to you, my little game boy. I hope our games together help prepare you for school and for life. You can't win every time, but that doesn't mean you can't have a whole heck of a lot of fun in the process.








Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pooh's Magical Day

In our family, Mr. Groundhog has to take a back seat on Feb. 2. He may get all the attention in other parts of the country, but around here all eyes are on Pooh.

Our focus is not on worrying whether or not some rodent in Pennsylvania has seen his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter weather; instead, we have a birthday to celebrate, and two days ago, quite unbelievably for his Googie, Pooh turned eight.

This year, Pooh donned a black top hat and set out to perform some magic tricks.


"What kind of candy is your favorite," he asked as he grabbed a cup and a magic wand.

"Chocolate," I said, preparing myself to play along. I expected that he would pretend to make a piece of chocolate "appear before my very eyes." As it turns out, no pretending was necessary. To my surprise, after a few flamboyant maneuvers and some carefully chosen magic words, Pooh did actually pull a miniature candy bar from the cup.

"How'd you do that," I asked, but no decent magician gives away his secrets. So I was left to speculate that the cup contained several popular candies, and this time our magician was lucky enough that I happened to ask for one of them.

After all, who in her right mind would have wanted anything BUT chocolate? Next time, I will make the trick a little more challenging by asking for sugar-coated orange slices. That'll show him.

As the afternoon spun away into evening, Pooh entertained Pa-pa and me with a piano solo (which also sounded magical) and a demonstration of the new remote control race car we took him for a present. Eight times now, we have been privileged to share a birthday with this sweet, special, quirky kid.

Looking back, I see that a piece of chocolate is nothing compared to this boy's best magical accomplishment. Yes, somehow he was able to transform himself into his present shape and form from this:


Here is Pooh seven years ago as he waits to plunge his face into a chocolate birthday cake. Coincidentally, the photographer (yours truly) caught him with his little forefinger raised, as if to say, "Yeah, I'm one now, and I know I'm devastatingly cute."

Seven years have flown by in a heartbeat, it seems, but thanks to this guy, his siblings, and his cousins, they have been a wonderful, crazy whirlwind of diapers and sippy cups and make-believe and storybooks. They have been blessings beyond what I ever expected.

Happy Birthday, Pooh. I hope your party with the "guys" went well today. I hear that old groundhog did see his shadow, but I don't mind. You are just the spot of sunshine I need to warm up the coldest of winter days.

The best part is that you're not yet too big to sit on my lap and snuggle. That keeps me warm, and that is the best kind of magical.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

And the Winners Are . . .

You may recall from my previous blog post that, on Thanksgiving Day just past, twenty-four Christmas storybooks wrapped in festive holiday paper jumped into a red bag and headed home three hours away with four of my grandkids. Their mission was to open and read one together each night from Dec. 1 through Dec. 24, then let me know on Christmas Day which one each of them liked best. It was an Advent alternative to the popular chocolate candy version.

It was a job this distinguished panel of judges did not take lightly.


When the time came to tally the results and name the favorites, the vote ended in a tie. Sooby and Zoomie, pictured above on the ends, both chose Christmas Wonderland by Vilhelm Hansen, while Pooh and Bootsie opted for Santa's Toy Shop.


The way both books focus on Christmas preparations make them ideal reading as the nights count down to the holiday itself. Both have been around to entertain multiple generations of children with their imaginative characters; simple, uplifting story lines; and superb illustrations.

Christmas Wonderland, in particular, is a masterpiece of rich, detailed illustration. Published in 1981 and given to daughter Cookie by her aunt and uncle on the Christmas she was two, this masterpiece by popular Danish illustrator Vilhelm Hansen presents the delightful antics of a group of gnomes as they immerse themselves in all things Christmas.

Besides the artwork--which is, in itself, reason enough to open the book and share it with a child--another particularly engaging aspect of Hansen's book is the way he invites child listeners to answer questions. "Can you count how many birds there are in the tree?" he asks at one point, and "How many names do you know?"

Finally, many humorous situations arise when the gnomes go about their Yuletide business in unorthodox ways. For example, you might imagine how their decision to tune their fiddle using pliers and an oil can affects their Christmas caroling. Or what happens when they share a cup of hot tea with a snowman ("Ice cream would have probably been better."). Then there is the happy mess that occurs when mother gnome falls asleep and lets her rice pudding boil from the stove-top pots onto the kitchen floor.

Santa's Toy Shop, with its illustrations by The Walt Disney Studio, is a Little Golden Book from my own childhood. Published in 1950, it takes us to the North Pole where Santa and his elves are frantic to get all their toys made by their Christmas Eve deadline. Finally, with no time to spare, Santa loads his big bag with all the vintage toys I remember--including train sets, model airplanes, wooden alphabet blocks, checkerboards, and old-fashioned dolls (whose smiles we have seen him detail with a paintbrush).

Santa's one regret is that there is no time, after all this effort, for him to play with any of the toys himself. But the ever-resourceful Mrs. Claus whispers a solution in his ear as he departs from the North Pole: he should stop at the last house on his delivery route to engage in a little playtime along with his milk and cookies.

It was fun to sit here on those December nights and imagine how the kids' bedtime ritual was playing out, and we all agree that the Christmas Book Bag was a fun and worthwhile Advent project. Since I couldn't read the books with them in person, I had no choice but to revert to the less original version of the countdown, the one involving a piece of chocolate candy every night.

I tried not to let it bother me, though. A Googie has to do what a Googie has to do.


.





Sunday, January 15, 2017

Advent Without Chocolate

If you are a kid, the word "advent," apart from its religious context, usually suggests "calendar," and that in turn brings to mind one thing: candy.

In Christmas seasons past, I have given the grandkids those grocery store advent calendars with twenty-four little doors, each hiding a piece of foil-wrapped chocolate. These enable the kids to "count down" to Christmas by opening a door and indulging in a bite of chocolate every day from Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve.

This year, however, I decided to adapt an idea I stumbled onto on Facebook: buy children's Christmas books, wrap them individually, and let kids unwrap one each day in December until Christmas. That suggestion was enough to start the wheels turning in this old Googie-brain.

I have bookcases full of books to read with the kids when they are at Googie's house. Some are leftovers from my own children, and others I have picked up at clearance events and garage sales. But I have noticed that the Christmas books are hardly ever read. December is usually so busy with Christmas parties, programs, and other events that the kids rarely visit then--and who wants to read a Christmas book in spring, summer, or fall?

On a mission, I scoured the kids' bookcases. Was it possible I could find as many as twenty-four Christmas books? It didn't take long to see that I actually had a few more than that, so I grabbed a bright red bag, dubbed it the "Christmas Book Bag," and lost myself in a whirlwind of paper, scissors, and tape. I would try this "Advent-ure" first with daughter Cookie's four kids. Here are the directions I attached to the bag, which I sent home with them Thanksgiving weekend.

Dear Kids:

Here is a fun way to count down the days until our Christmas together. As you know, I have lots of books at my house, but it seems like we don't often get to read the Christmas ones together. So . . .

Here are the rules:
  • Inside this bag are 24 of my Christmas stories, individually wrapped. Take turns choosing and unwrapping one book each night. Zoomie starts on Dec. 1, then Bootsie, then Pooh, then Sooby--and so on until you read your last book on Christmas Eve.
  • Anyone who can may do the reading aloud to all of you--but you must enjoy each night's story together after you have brushed your teeth and are ready for bed.  
  • Bring the bag of books back on Christmas Day so I can do this project with your cousins next year. That day, I will ask each of you to tell me what your favorite story was.
Have fun reading!
Love, Googie

Post-Christmas feedback indicates that the Christmas Book Bag went over well. I hope to follow this blog post with a review of the books the kids liked most. As for my own favorite, I saved Charles M. Schulz's A Charlie Brown Christmas for Christmas Day itself.

                                   

This Hallmark Gift Book, published in 2010, follows Charlie Brown's angst-ridden search for both a suitable tree and the meaning of Christmas itself. Its interactive sound bytes enable us to hear Linus reciting the Biblical Christmas story from Luke 2 and the whole Peanuts gang singing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

True to form, however, Christmas Day came and went in a flurry, and I had to set it aside for another time. That's what often happens to Christmas books--and all the more reason to consider your own version of the Christmas Book Bag for the children you love.

Watch out, Beenie and Heero. There is a big red bag full of books headed your way in a little over ten months.

Afternote: Displaying A Charlie Brown Christmas above is Chi-Chi, a lovable primate who was inadvertently left at Googie's Thanksgiving weekend. You will be glad to know he was reunited with Pooh as a joke "present" on Christmas Day.