Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Yellow Shirt Gang

Our state fair pulled up stakes and moved out a few days ago, but not before the grandkids were able to make their mark on it. This year, the group of us painted a wide yellow swath as we traversed the grounds in matching T-shirts purchased just for the occasion.

The seed of that idea germinated when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the rack of shirts on my way to the toothpaste aisle at Wal-Mart. Easily sidetracked, I gave a fleeting thought to how funny it would be for each of us--four adults and six children--to wear one of those on our annual visit to the fair.

Imagine my surprise when, on my way back past the clothing section, ten yellow shirts--of their own accord--jumped into my cart. When I finally regained my senses, I was in the check-out line forking over $75. Following is a little photo-saga of our day at Missouri State Fair 2016.

Our fair is, for the most part, an agricultural showcase that includes many educational features for children. Here, the kids listen to what Beenie, far right, calls "the talking corn."

Pooh, Zoomie, and Heero check out a hands-on book display in the Agriculture Building.

Sooby and Bootsie watch chicks hatch in an incubator in the FFA's newly remodeled Children's Barnyard.

Zoomie engages in a serious conversation with Otto, a talking antique Missouri State Highway Patrol cruiser.

Beenie and Heero play among barrel statues in the Highway Gardens.

Heero, Beenie, and Bootsie paint rocks in the Family Fun Center. The shirts weren't quite so yellow after that.

CORN DOGS! No trip to the fair is complete without them.

We closed out the day with the kids' favorite part--the carnival rides! With the discounted wristbands Googie buys before the fair opens, they get to ride as much as they want.

All of us agree that last Thursday was one of our best days ever at our fair. The older the kids get, the more they find to enjoy.

This year, we loved the added feature of our matching T-shirts, which may represent the best $75 I ever spent. Besides the fact that we looked adorable as a sea of yellow washing down the streets of the fairgrounds, our identical shirts made it incredibly easy to keep up with each other. They made a pretty effortless job of keeping up with six excited children exploring the nooks and nuances of a once-a-year event that, I have to say, is getting to be even more fun than Christmas.

As an unexpected added bonus, there is a pretty good chance the shirts will still fit everyone next year. If you are lucky enough to attend the Missouri State Fair sometime between August 10 and 20, 2017, be sure to watch for a yellow splash that is sure to brighten your day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Birthday Festival

Grandkid birthdays are sprinkled through my calendar year like confetti. Those falling in February, March, October, and November transform ordinary days into parties that I revel in right along with the honoree.

But when the other two birthdays fall only five days apart during the last week of June, those call for a festival. We have barely licked up the last crumb of Zoomie's cake when a whole new one pops out of the oven for Sooby.

Turning nine years old today, Sooby celebrates a milestone. She begins the last year she will write her age with a single digit. She stands poised between the relative ease of the primary grades and the more rigorous expectations that come with fourth grade.

As the first grandchild, Sooby is something of a milestone herself. She was the first one to call me "Googie," and she started the avalanche of delight that became six grandchildren born in six years. Together, they have equipped my early retirement years with diapers, booster seats, sippy cups, extra toothbrushes, Legos, coloring books, Barbies--and the list goes on.

I won't get to see Sooby today, but I got to spend this past weekend with her, Zoomie, and their other siblings as their mama rehearsed and sang in concert with a professional choral group. Zoomie's birthday fell during our trip, calling for presents, a visit to Cici's Pizza, and a Funfetti birthday cake served in our hotel room.

While Mama rehearsed, the five of us kids did McDonald's twice, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt once, a hands-on science center for kids, Finding Dory, and a nice park complete with ducks, geese, and fish. The weekend had all the characteristics of any self-respecting birthday festival. Because of it, I think we will always remember the year Zoomie turned four and Sooby turned nine.

Happy Birthday today, sweet girl. I hope you like the new Spirograph from Pa-pa and me. I know you won't always be as carefree as you look atop this carousel pony at the state fair last summer, but I wish you the happiest of days today, and I can't wait for the phone call that will tell me all about it.

It was great being with you the day you reached the four-year mark, little guy. I love this picture of you blowing bubbles so seriously and intently on Mother's Day. Guard that giant jar of gourmet jelly beans Mama got you for your birthday, and don't forget to share some with your brother and sisters. Maybe you will still have some left next time I come to visit.

Every birthday I get to spend with a grandkid is a treasure to cherish. I reflect on weekends like this one just past and realize once more that I am rich indeed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Sole Survivor

Part IV of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

"[My house] caught on fire and only I escaped," Bootsie writes (with considerable help from her older sister).

She has been asked by her director to think what her past life (all five years of it?) might have been like before arriving at the workhouse that constitutes a significant part of the setting of Oliver! Hopefully, this will give her a sense of character and a sense of belonging in the overall dynamic of the show.

"[O]nly I escaped" reminds me of the opening of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In that, the novel's first-person narrator, Ishmael, establishes himself as the sole survivor of the whaling vessel Pequod. But at that point, Bootsie parts ways with Ishmael. Here is the rest of her backstory:

"It was snowing outside. I happened to look through someone's house through their window, and so I knocked on the door, and I was quite scared when they opened the door. It was a little boy, and he said: 'Oh, not another one.' And then I walked in angrily, and I stayed there for the rest of my childhood."

In Bootsie's case, the time invested in thinking about her little ragamuffin character must have worked. Although all three kids (and their rose-selling mama) did a wonderful job in their musical theatre debut together, it was Bootsie alone who garnered actual press coverage.

"One particular child in Oliver! stood out from the group," writes hometown reporter Patrick Murtha in the St. Marys Star. "Perhaps it was the impishness of her looks and actions. Perhaps it was the hat that was many sizes too large, slipping suddenly and sporadically over her eyes."

Wow. What must it be like to be singled out, at the ripe old age of five, for notice in a newspaper review? But Murtha isn't finished yet.

"[H]er rollicking antics appeared to be no act; rather, they seemed to flow like reality, unprompted and unprepared, from her little limbs and seemed to erupt from an unrehearsed soul. She played a spirited and spontaneous child, whom anyone, if I can paraphrase an old-timer, would love to have as a grandchild."

Bingo! I can vouch for that last comment. From her animated delivery in the chorus of the show's opener ("Oliv-ah! Oliv-ah!") to her little center-stage dance feature with the character Nancy, Bootsie handled her role with outstanding stage presence. I was amazed--but then--I am supposed to be amazed. That is the role of a Googie, and I am hopelessly typecast in that delightful part.

And, yes, little Bootsie, anyone would love to have you as a grandchild, and I am one of the very few lucky ones who get to actually do that. I look forward to watching you dance and sing your way right through this summer and rollick right into kindergarten.

You are a joy--and I am so glad that you alone escaped that house fire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pick-pocket Pooh

Part III of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

"The curtain rose, and homeless children burst upon the stage . . . ," writes Patrick Murtha in a recent op-ed piece in the St. Marys Star, the weekly newspaper of the town where the kids live. The reporter then describes the show's opening as "a lark with mischievous and rambunctious rascals, in an apparently harmonized cacophony of motion, being at one place and everywhere about the stage."

Mischievous. Rambunctious. Cacophony. Had I not known that Murtha penned these in reference to the musical's opening scene, I would have thought he was writing solely about Pooh. Although those words are certainly appropriate for his onstage role as an orphan/thief in Oliver!, they also describe his everyday personality and behavior to a "T."

My oldest grandson has displayed a penchant for the theatrical as long as he has been able to walk and talk. I have written about this numerous times here on the blog, and, in case you should wish to revisit some of those great stories, you can do so by googling the blog titles/dates below. (I tried to imbed the actual links, but ran into a problem.)

To read about how Pooh, barely two years old, assumed the character of the dog thief Horace in our playtime enactment of 101 Dalmatians, google "Googies Attic: Just Horacing Around" from 15 June 2011. Perhaps it was this experience that prepared him for the pick-pocketing required by his character in Oliver!

To laugh boisterously about the time that, in his role as a "mean mouse," Pooh mistakenly tried to kill the title character of The Nutcracker, google "Googies Attic: Attack of the Rapacious Rodent from 15 Jan. 2012."  Finally, if you care to meet, in all his glory, the special superhero Pooh created (and costumed) for himself, check out "Googies Attic: Naked Man" from 8 July 2012.

Although he was easily the smallest boy in the play, Pooh, a first-grader, executed his part in the manner I would have expected. In the "Pick a Pocket or Two" scene, he stole quickly and furtively among the Londoners to--well--steal. Finding himself nose to nose with the menacing Fagin, he emitted a trailing, high-pitched scream that demonstrated the Doppler Effect better than an Amtrak barreling past your local train station. Two magnificent cartwheels showcased his wiriness and agility, and a time or two I even saw him" smoking" a pipe.

At the director's suggestion, Sooby and Bootsie were happy to come home after the earliest rehearsals to contemplate their characters and give themselves a "past" to help them empathize and to blend into the milieu of 1850s London. No such nonsense for Pooh. He was pretty sure he already had this down.

I am expecting this resourceful little pick-pocket for a Mother's Day visit this coming weekend. It will be my first time to see him since closing night, and I am anxious to hear how the third weekend of shows went. But just to be safe, I think I'd better remember to lock up my jewelry and find a safe place to stash my other valuables.

He was that convincing.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Michael Brogen

Part II of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

I know the challenges of working with amateur child actors in community theatre. I have been mauled backstage between scenes by orphans in Annie. I have repeatedly straightened the babushkas of a village full of little Russian peasant girls in Fiddler on the Roof.

I know the challenges of getting little ones to maintain focus and meld into the collective spirit of the show. That's why I greatly admire the young woman who directed Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie (and all those less important characters) in their recent production of Oliver!

"Go home and think about the part you will play," she told them when the cast first assembled. "What was your life like before you came to the orphanage? How did you end up here? How do you feel about what happens here? Write down your character's story. Give yourself a name."

"Give yourself a name"--BINGO! That's all it took for Sooby, a third-grader, to grab pen and paper and fabricate a history for the character she would play. She named him "Michael Brogen," and here, in Sooby's own words, is his story:

"I used to have a family, but my parents could not afford to feed me. They thought that the work-house was just a cozy orphanage, so they sent me there. Well, I didn't think I would mind it there, but, boy, I was wrong! This place is pure torture!

As an aside here, let me say that I had to chuckle at Sooby's use of the phrase "pure torture." It is one of her favorites. Over the years I have heard her use it  to describe many situations which, though they appear quite trivial to the untrained sensibility, take on life-and-death proportions for her.

It may be the way her brother behaves during a play session, or the fact that lightning is keeping us temporarily out of the pool. Whatever the case, I was amused to see the "pure torture" mentality follow Sooby into her new incarnation as Michael Brogen. Here, by the way, is Michael in all his glory:

Indeed, Michael sang, danced, and picked pockets with the best of them, and he even had a down-center-stage solo line in "Food, Glorious Food." All eyes focused on him as he projected his line clearly and enthusiastically for all to hear.  "What, then, is the question?" he sang out, and, oh my, his Googie was so proud!

Great job, sweet Michael. Keep up the good work. I wish you many, many opportunities to shine onstage and to experience the wonderful camaraderie that comes only from being a cast member in a musical classic like Oliver! 

Good luck at your next set of auditions. But--hey--just a bit of advice. Maybe you'd better wash your face first.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Somewhere on my list of Top 10 Most Fun and Rewarding Parenting Experiences would have to be the time Cookie, Teebo, and I became villagers of the little Russian village of Anatevka in a community theatre run of Fiddler on the Roof. Though the kids were just eight and five that year, it was a great chance for them to experience the way poignant family drama and masterful music come together to create a two-hour onstage miracle.

Twenty-six years later, what went around back then has made another circle. This time I got to be in the audience watching and listening as Cookie sold roses and Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie took on the roles of orphans and thieves in a community theatre production of Oliver! I attended on April 15 and 16.

No, once was not enough. I had to make a weekend of it and see every ounce of cuteness twice. Proudly, I wore my new sweatshirt that says "My Grandkids Shine Like Stars"--and sweatshirts do not lie. Although anyone could see that the kids--ages eight, seven, and five--were truly the stars of the show, the production was certainly not hurt by excellent casting, wonderful set and costuming, strong vocals, and a phenomenal five-piece orchestra.

I saw the show the second weekend of a three-weekend run, when most of the bugs had been ironed out and the cast had jelled into a comfortable ensemble of 1850s Londoners. Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens, the musical transported its audience to a bleak landscape wrought with poverty, disease, hunger, and an ominous criminal element. It was a place where kids went to bed hungry and were spirited away from workhouses to learn the art of  picking pockets.

This writing introduces a series of four blog posts devoted to the kids' experience as actors and singers in their first stage production. For each of the next three days, I will feature one of them, along with some observations about each one's unique experiences with the show.

Here is a preview of what you will get to read about in the next several posts:

Now, sit back, and enjoy the show!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bootsie's Spring Art Show

You may not know that I am a connoisseur of art, but I am. This is because I have a five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter who is an artist.

One of the hidden pleasures of tidying up after all the grandkids have been here for a big Easter weekend is exploring the more obscure nooks and crannies of the house. Inevitably, in so doing, I will find remnants of their visit that I was too busy to notice while they were here.

One such treasure is the many drawings left behind by Bootsie, who expresses her talent through the media of colored pencils and paper snitched from the laser printer. Here are just a few of her masterpieces of the weekend past, along with a little Googie-analysis of her technique and her motifs. I am calling this installment of her work "Images of Spring," and I share them with you here.

First is a pastel I have named Spring Promises. Here, we find the promise of fair weather, indicated by the blue sky and the sunshine in the upper right corner. The cross on the top of the building, along with the stained-glass windows tell us this is a church filled with the promise of resurrection and life that comes with Easter. A second religious theme is executed in the rainbow that reaches earthward from the sky and completely envelops the church. Even casual observers have to admit that, for a five-year-old child with one piece of paper, there is a lot of promise in this one.

This one I like to call Pink Ocean. Here, the artist gives the color blue, routinely reserved for bodies of water, to a dolphin, which constitutes the focal point of the piece. Instead of blue, this water is pink, and it is obvious that this makes the dolphin very happy. ( I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never seen a dolphin with a smile this big.) Looking on, two winged creatures--an owl and a goose (maybe)--hang suspended in the orange spring atmosphere wishing they, too, could immerse themselves in a vast pool of pinkness.

Finally, we have Leaning into Springtime. Here, the artist adds an international flair as she juxtaposes Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa with the majestic tulips of Holland. Of the three pieces, this one displays the most vibrant and varied colors, and I would not hesitate to award it the coveted title "Best of Show." Unless you have tried this yourself, you can't imagine how hard it is to draw a tower that leans to this precarious degree without falling into the tulips.

Left behind along with Bootsie's artwork was a story by Sooby, "The Serpent of the Island of Rapheliaton." But I will share that with you another time. It is close to bedtime, and it might bring on the nightmares. So for now, I will leave you with the soothing and optimistic images of Bootsie's spring art show and wish you sweet dreams.