Sunday, November 4, 2018

Changing Times


It was the quietest little whisper tiptoeing across the darkness of the kids' bunk room at 4:30 this morning. Heero and his brother Beenie were spending the night, and our world had just "fallen back" from daylight savings time a couple hours earlier.

"What do you need?" I whispered back. It is Heero that often calls me "Goog."

"I lost my pillow."

I felt myself smile. Heero was sleeping on a trundle bed we had scooted out from under the daybed where Beenie was still asleep. I knew the pillow had to be on the floor only inches from his head, but I got up, went to him, and conducted a proper search anyway.

"Here it is," I said, straightening his blanket. "Can you sleep just a little more until it's time to get up?"


Heero went right back to sleep, but I lay awake for just a bit, contemplating the significance of what had just happened. My youngest grandchild had gone to bed as a four-year-old and, only several hours later, shared his first conversation as a five-year-old with me. Before drifting back to sleep myself, I decided that was a pretty special thing.

Although Heero's birthday is officially today, Pa-pa and I enjoyed a big party his mama and daddy hosted for him and others of his extended family yesterday at lunch time. The Superhero party featured all the appropriate accoutrements--including the present of his dreams (a huge Hot Wheels garage from Mom and Dad), Superhero masks, balloons, and a big plate of cupcakes adorned with a "5" candle that he extinguished quite efficiently.

Happy birthday today, little Heero. It was great to celebrate with you yesterday and to have you at my house for a quick overnight. I will remember it as the night we did backwards somersaults, ate pizza and candy corn, played pirate, drew bedtime pictures, read Toot and Puddle books, and tried out your new "phlat ball."

And I will remember it as the night you "lost" your pillow. You have to watch those things, or they can get away from you.

Five years ago today, I became "Googie" (or in your case, "Goog") to my sixth grandchild in as many years. It is bittersweet to realize that, quite suddenly, I don't have any babies anymore.

That is what makes those 4:30 a.m. conversations so special.   

Thursday, November 1, 2018

If You Build It . . . .

Ever since Pa-pa and I moved to a lake neighborhood nearly fifteen months ago, I have been hearing voices--the kind Kevin Costner heard nearly thirty years ago as the star of the classic movie Field of Dreams. There, Costner repeatedly hears a cryptic voice whisper, "If you build it, he will come." To summarize, Costner takes a leap of faith, builds a ball diamond in his corn field, and in so doing conjures up the Chicago White Sox team of 1919.

For a year now I have scrutinized my new back yard, trying to envision what I could build there that the grandkids could call their own--a place offering unlimited play potential and plenty of growing room. A one-of-a-kind place where siblings and cousins and friends could gather to role-play or read, to "camp out" or just dream. A sort of clubhouse for Googie's kids.

I didn't want a structure from a kit. I didn't want swings, slides, and other apparatuses that would make it sprawl across the yard. I scoured the internet for pictures and took vacation photos of play sets as far away as Minnesota and even Switzerland. Finally, I took my ideas to a talented builder who converted them to actual plans on paper. The building process spanned several weeks of October, and this past weekend the kids came together to initiate their new play space.

Here you see all six of them--Zoomie, Beenie, Pooh, Heero, Bootsie, and Sooby--lined up across the front of the second level, a 10-foot square with a banister railing. Both this and the first floor have five-foot ceilings. Following is a guided tour of the rest of the building.

This front view shows all three levels. The second and third stories are accessed by indoor ladders, with a rock-climbing wall also leading from first to second on the opposite wall. The top level, fully enclosed, features a window that opens inward and a floor large enough for several sleeping bags. The "front door" on the left opens inward and closes with a gate latch. The lap siding on the first floor is cedar, and all other wood is treated to withstand Missouri weather. The structure rests on concrete blocks at the corners, making it movable with a skid loader.

This photo shows the open front door and one of the two movable wooden boxes. This one on the first floor stores outdoor play equipment, while the one upstairs holds wood scraps of all shapes I salvaged from the construction for use as building blocks. When closed, both boxes double as seats that I will equip with cushions next spring.

This inside shot of the first floor shows the rock climbing wall at the back left and, in the foreground, a drop-down table for snacks, games, or whatever. The two wooden stools were donated from son Teebo, and I will have them cut down to better fit the height of the table.

This view of the second floor shows where the rock wall comes up from below and the ladder to the third floor, or loft.

This picture shows the loft as viewed from the top of the ladder coming up and looking toward the front of the clubhouse. I plan to put a square indoor-outdoor carpet remnant up there next spring to enhance the coziness of this neat spot. On the weekend just past, we put a "Halloween Party" CD on the player, opened the window, and let the likes of "Ghostbusters" and "Monster Mash" lend a spooky-fun atmosphere to our family wiener roast on a glorious fall day.

Back down two ladders and we are on the ground again, looking at the clubhouse from the back. And that completes your tour of the house that Googie built.

If I built it, will they come? I surely hope so. I look forward to many days when this little house of mine will be filled with laughter, imagination, and love. But what will I do if a baseball team shows up? I will just have to hope there is enough room along the other side to accommodate a dugout.

Sunday, October 7, 2018


In my college theatre classes, we used to play a metaphor game called "Essence." In that game, designed to encourage us to extract the "essence" of character, the person whose turn it was would choose a well known real-life person--perhaps a celebrity--and the rest of us would ask questions in an attempt to guess the identity of that person.

The questions asked had to be designed in the following format:

  • If this person were a car, what would he/she be?
  • If this person were a dance, what would he/she be?
  • If this person were one of the crayons in a Crayola 8-pack, what would he/she be? 
And so on. If the answers to these questions were Corvette, rock and roll, and black, those doing the guessing might gradually narrow their thoughts toward Elvis Presley. If the initial guesses were incorrect, then more questions would be asked until the "essence" of the person in question was finally made clear by the metaphors. 

If it were my turn to answer these same questions about my granddaughter Bootsie, I would say Volkswagen Beetle, ballet, and yellow. With those clues, you would be well on the way to extracting the "essence" of this beautiful little girl whose eighth birthday we celebrated three days ago.

Of the metaphors above, the one that best describes Bootsie is yellow. From her buttery yellow braid to the delicious three-layer lemon cake her mama baked for her birthday, Bootsie exudes yellow. In our lives she is like a bright ray of sunshine that bounces around a room and warms us all.

Pa-pa and I were glad to get to spend the night at Bootsie's house this year on Oct. 3 just like we did on that same date in 2010. It was in the wee hours of the morning of Oct. 4 that year that Bootsie's mama rapped on the guest bedroom door with the words, "Mom, we're going now." And just a few hours later, that little trip to the hospital made our world the cheerful yellow place it has been ever since.

Happy birthday to you, Bootsie. You are butter and sunshine and lemon cake--and sometimes a little bit bananas . . . .

But we love you that way and never want you to change. We love the special shade of yellow that is the essence of you. Pa-pa and I are sure you will brighten your second-grade classroom all year long and leave a trail of shiny sunbeams wherever you go. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

More About the Harvest

The kids' book is just days away now. Yesterday I received notification that it had been shipped. It won't be long until I can start watching out the front window for the mail truck.

Harvest the Stars has been good for me. Most importantly, it has motivated me to gather the kids' poems stashed in the various corners of my life and give them some kind of logical platform that allows them to work together. The collection's goal is to take readers on a playful, imaginative romp through the wonders kids find in a typical day.

I can't say enough about the way Billy Jack Boatman enhances the poems with his illustrations, drawn and colored to imitate the pages of a child's coloring book. His style complements the words perfectly, with most of his drawings featuring animals and/or the little boy character on the cover.

Sandy Selby, an accomplished free-lance writer and editor whose work I respect greatly, says,  "Noland's clever poetry dares to challenge and expand a child's vocabulary and ignite his or her imagination. There's wisdom within that adults will appreciate, too." Sandy's comments target exactly what I wanted to do: build a collection with appeal for a wide range of readers and listeners.

Again, Harvest the Stars will be available for $10 from me in person or $13 by mail. If you have let me know you want a copy (and I thank you profusely for that!), your name is on my list and I will contact you before long regarding distribution. Please add a comment to this post or send me a personal message if you would like me to add your name to that list.

The book's back cover calls it a "rhythmical, rhyming world where stars are available for the gathering and nothing is impossible." This affirms my belief that anything can happen in a child's imagination--and yours too if you let it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Harvest the Stars

When Beenie came to spend the night with me several years ago, he latched onto a plastic dinosaur in my toy box. He played with it all evening, slept with it, and "fed" it Froot Loops for breakfast the next morning. At some point, he named the dinosaur "Darryl."

Darryl ended up going home with Beenie later that day and hasn't been seen around here since. But shortly after that visit, I composed "A Dinosaur Named Darryl," a poem written from the viewpoint of a little boy with a toy tyrannosaurus. At the time, I published it here in "Googie's Attic," and you can read it in my post for March 6, 2015.

But wait. Maybe you would rather read it later this month when it comes out in my new book Harvest the Stars, a collection of fifteen poems for kids. Creatively illustrated by my friend (and pastor) Bill Boatman, this project has been a couple years in the making, but 100 paperback copies should arrive within the next couple weeks. Needless to say, we are excited.

Initially, Harvest the Stars will be available from me in person for $10 a copy or for $3 more by mail. I think it works nicely as a read-aloud book for preschool and the early grades, while older elementary children may like reading it on their own. Measuring 6 x 9 inches, the book makes a good Christmas gift or stocking stuffer.

As I wait for the books to arrive, I will be doing a series of blog and Facebook posts providing more information about the project. And, I have already tried out a proof version on Beenie, as you can see here:

I hope you will watch the blog and social media as this latest writing adventure unfolds. I look forward to sharing more of the backstories explaining how these poems came to be and some of the nice review comments we have received.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Recipe

Take six kids ages four to eleven. Stir in a couple warm August days. Add the annual state fair to the mix, and you have a recipe that serves up a big batch of fun for all of us. This year was no exception.

Our Missouri State Fair has so much to offer that it takes us two days to do it justice, and even then there are things we miss. But, as always, we once again gave it our best effort and, from what I can tell, we were left with the usual aftertaste of pleasant memories. Here are some of this year's key ingredients.

The fairgrounds never lack for free entertainment. Although we have yet to enjoy the annual circus, we finally made it to the pig races this time. Heero would be the first to tell you that "our" pig won the big race, meaning he got to the Oreo first in the third and final lap. Here, Heero, Zoomie, Beenie, and Sooby wait for the races to start.

Other entertainers stroll the grounds, like this pair of human Transformers. You can tell by the kids' Highway Patrol hats that we had just come from numerous conversations with Otto the Talking Patrol Car.

The Petting Zoo, where the kids can pet and feed exotic animals, is always a favorite, but I couldn't pull my camera out there because my hands were covered with llama slime. The Children's Barnyard is a little less interactive but no less fun, as Bootsie demonstrates with her cousins. No, this cow is not one of the many real ones you can see at the Fair.

In addition to agriculture, Fair exhibits also promote an awareness of conservation. Here, none other than Smokey the Bear himself warns Pooh, Bootsie, and their cousins about the dangers of forest fires.

Just outside the Conservation Department buildings, the kids gather for a group shot around another friendly bear.

Our second day at the Fair takes us to the midway, where the kids do all they can to get Googie's money's worth out of six unlimited-rides wristbands. I can safely say I have never left the Fair feeling cheated. Our matching yellow shirts, which have made it successfully into their third year, make us a force to be reckoned with. They also make it easier for us to find each other in the mayhem.

This year, one of my friends told me she had seen a video clip of our gang on MSNBC as the "Fair Family of the Day." Since I missed it, I am left to wonder what I was doing and how I looked during those few seconds. But one thing I am sure of is that we were having a great time.

Now, a couple weeks post-Fair, I relegate this recipe for fun to the box until we pull it out again this time next year. The kids (and I) will all be another year older then, but I won't worry too much just yet.

I know that one of these days I will wake up and the t-shirts will no longer fit. Instead of the Fair, there will be a whole slew of graduations and weddings, and carnival money will go for more tangible presents. That day will come all too soon.

That's why, for the time being, I don't mind investing in wristbands and enduring the occasional kiss of a llama.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Art Bag

If your grandkids are elementary-school age, Staples can be your best friend this time of year. In late summer, usually the latter part of July, the office store features deep discounts in their school-related merchandise. Traditionally, this is when I like to re-stock my supply of crayons and markers for the kids to use at my house. But this year I am going a step further.

For the first time this fall, all six grandkids will take to classrooms from preschool to sixth grade. So with the help of Staples, I am making each of them a fun "school supply" bag of art supplies to while away the remaining days before school starts. And--drumroll, please--I am doing that for the cost of only $3.44 plus sales tax per child.

Here is what each kid receives: a spiral notebook (25 cents), a box of ten Crayola markers (97 cents), a box of Crayola colored pencils (97 cents), a box of 24 Crayola crayons (50 cents), a colored folder to keep their finished artwork in (17 cents), two mechanical pencils (8 cents), and a pack of 100 index cards (50 cents). At regular Staples prices, the per-child cost for these items would have been $12.21 plus tax. Since I have a bunch of those printed tote bags that come from advertisers at fairs and trade shows, I am going to gather each kid's supplies into one of those.

Next comes the really-fun part. Along with their bags of supplies, I will also give them a printed list of suggestions for things to draw. Here are my ideas so far, but you might want to suggest other activities appropriate to the ages and interests of your own kids.

1. Draw a picture using only your green pencil, marker, and crayon.
2. Make a design using only circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles.
3. Draw a picture using only primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).
4. Draw three different rainbows--one using markers, one using crayons, and one using colored pencils. Which one do you like the best?
5. Draw a picture that shows how you think you will look when you are 16.
6. Imagine that you will visit a place named "Rainbow Beach." Draw what you think that place looks like.
7. Imagine that a storybook or fairy tale character invites you to lunch. Draw a picture of your plate with the food on it.
8. Sometimes we look at clouds and imagine seeing pictures or shapes. Draw a cloud that takes the shape of something you might see. Add blue sky around your cloud.
9. Draw three things you think Santa Claus might have in his bag of toys.
10. Draw two people or animals and add "speech balloons" that show them talking to each other.
11. Draw a picture showing your favorite holiday.
12. Pick a season and draw how a tree looks then.
13. Draw a place you would like to go on vacation.
14. Draw a house that a giraffe might live in.

You get the idea--and the list can go on as far as you and your kids want it to. Maybe they can even contribute some ideas. As for the index cards, older kids might want to make flash cards, a deck of playing cards, or greeting cards. Add a pair of scissors, and they could even design paper dolls or action figures with clothes or accessories. Who knows what they might come up with if you added a glue stick?

Keep your eyes peeled for the summer school supplies sale at Staples, and you can offer your grandkids hours of creative projects to do at your house or at their own home. The art bag can be a way to celebrate a new school year,  a good Christmas present, or just something special you can take along when you go to the kids' house to visit.