Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Money Game

Over the years, my mother, now 88 years old, has contributed much to the festive nature of our family Christmas dinners.  It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when these things became a part of our celebration; all we know is to expect them every Christmas Day like clockwork.  They are quirky and fun, reflecting her personality and her love for her children, grandchildren, and, now, great-grandchildren.

First is the rather unusual treat of her famous cranberry pie.  Nowhere else have I ever encountered the likes of this delectable, whipped-toppinged pastry she concocts with a bag of cranberries and a recipe handed down by her older sister, my Aunt Mary. 

Then there are the stockings she filled every year for all of us, a feat that has become increasingly challenging as we two kids added first spouses, then two children apiece, and now a new generation of seven little ones ages six and under.  Often, for us girls, the stockings will be stuffed with tea towels sporting Mom's signature style of embroidery.  Indeed, without the stockings, my brother might never get new socks.

No one can remember exactly when our after-dinner Christmas agenda came to include the money game.  For this, Mom will count into some kind of container a designated amount of change known only by her.  She will pass it quickly under our noses, hand us a scrap of paper and a pen, and have us guess the total amount.  The closest guess wins the pot.

Over the years, I can remember only one time that I was the winner of the money game.  This came after an untold number of years when my guess seemed to be barely off the mark, within just cents of some other, more accurate family guesser.  Needless to say, the money game brings out the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of what is usually a rather docile and amicable group of people. 

This year, the money game went around in a small blue solo-type plastic cup.  When a suspicious mishandling of the cup between Mom and son Teebo took place, its contents ended up on the living room carpet.  Some claimed this gave others of us an advantage as we scrambled for an advantageous position from which to watch Mom scoop up the coins and replace them in the cup.  It didn't help me any, however, as my guess of $1.39 was way off.

This was five-year-old Sooby's first year to participate in the money game.  As the cup went around, Pa-pa asked her if she wanted to guess how much money was in the cup.  Not really understanding how money works, Sooby's guess was "four hundred."  Translating this into cents, Pa-pa wrote $4.01 on her slip of paper, adding the penny because Mom has never been known to stop at an even number of dollars.

To make a long story shorter, the amount of change in the cup totalled exactly four dollars.  Not only had Sooby won, but her original guess was, we could say, right on the money.  We were all incredulous, but no one more so than Sooby herself.  Uncle Teebo put the money in a screw-top jar for her, and she paraded around with it in a state of shock and disbelief.  It looked like an awful lot of money to her, and she couldn't believe her good fortune.

A day or two after Christmas, I was talking to daughter Cookie on the phone as Sooby was transferring her winnings to her piggy bank.  She was also giving some of the coins to Pooh and Bootsie for their piggy banks.  How great of her to share, I thought.

And how great of you, Mom, to start this silly, fun tradition of ours.  For only a few cents each year, you enable us to have the kind of fun that no amount of money can buy.  The best part is that no one goes home a loser, as the consolation prize for the rest of us is a piece of that awesome cranberry pie.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Googie's Little Slice of Heaven

The day after my son Teebo moved out of our house six years ago, I confronted the empty nest head-on by making his bedroom into a home office.  At the time, I simply did not foresee that the next six years would bring on this slew of grandkids who would need extra bedroom space for overnight visits.

Thus, at times like the Christmas holiday just past, Teebo's room reverts to its former life as a bedroom with the addition of a portable Graco Pack-'n'-Play that, at present, accommodates two-year-old Bootsie.  In the corner sits an armless wooden sewing rocker where Pa-pa usually piles an overflow of stuff waiting for his attention.

However, when Bootsie is here, the rocker becomes the spot where she and I read books or, more often, sing songs before bedtime.  This gives us a handy, quiet spot, away from the hubbub of her older siblings where she can enjoy Googie's undivided attention and an earlier bedtime as she winds down from the day and prepares to slip into sleep mode.

Next to the rocker sits our three-shelf bookcase, the top of which is the designated showcase for Pa-pa's more recent golf trophies.  So, you can maybe imagine Bootsie and me last night, rocking away and singing from our Christmas repertoire songs about the likes of Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa Claus.

As we do this, the night light glints off the row of golden golfers, all frozen in various stages of their classic club-swinging positions.  One has just completed his swing and assumes the familiar pigeon-toed stance with the club poised just overhead. 

Another draws his club back and prepares to swing, while yet another, in the same position, looks rather ridiculous because his club is missing.  I imagine it has fallen behind and underneath the bookcase, a victim of one of the dusting sessions I regularly execute with careless abandon.  At any rate, the golfers glint golden in the soft, low light--and Bootsie thinks they are angels.

As you might guess, this sparks a conversation that I have to struggle to carry my side of without coming right out and laughing.  In my mind, golfers and angels are pretty much diametrical opposites.  I have never watched as a golfer, robed in translucent iridescence, fluttered his way from hole to hole on the back nine.  And few golfers I know sport a halo or, after missing a putt, speak in a language that I would classify as cherubic.

But I am fascinated and delighted to know that Bootsie thinks these are angels--that as she drifts off to sleep here at Googie's house, in Uncle Teebo's old bedroom-turned-office, she imagines a row of angels watching over her and keeping her safe.

I hope she outgrows the Pack-'n'-Play before she realizes that there are not really angels in this room where, for the past two nights, I have rocked her to sleep before gently laying her just below the row of what are really nothing but cheap plastic golfers.  It is kind of sad, I think, that there are really no angels in the room at all.

No, wait--there is one precious angel here after all.  And hers is the steady, rhythmic breathing I listen to as I cast one last glance behind me and pull the door shut.

"See you in the morning, my angel," I whisper. "You sleep tight." 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hateful Day

When Sooby spends the night at our house, she is usually the first one awake.  I will be lying in bed in that state of semi-sleep that comes with early morning, and I will hear her feet brushing along the carpet by my side of the bed--whereupon I will turn back the covers, scoot closer to Pa-pa, and make room for her to climb on up.  She will snuggle in and try her best to be quiet, and for about five minutes or so, she can usually manage to do that.

That's why, when her morning routine varied from this not so long ago, we all knew something was up.  On that particular morning, everyone had come downstairs except her.  I was sitting in my overstuffed living room chair, gazing occasionally toward the stairs and wondering why she seemed to be sleeping in.  She had never done this before.

And then, like a storm cloud, Sooby materializes at the top of the stairs.  Her beautiful little face is fixed in a frown, with eyebrows furrowed and lightning flashing from those blue eyes.  She takes the stairs slowly, one step at a time, looks daggers down on all of us, and spits the words out like sleet:  "This is a hateful day."

The problem soon became apparent:  This was the last day of the family's visit, and Sooby did not want to go home.  She never wants to leave, and I never want her to.  I think that is the hardest thing about the kids' living so far away.  It seems like we are always saying good-bye, and doing that never gets any easier.

In fact, I can't even bear to stand in the driveway and watch the van back out and turn down the road out of our subdivision.  So I stay in the house while Pa-pa assists with the carrying out and buckling in and final drinks of water. 

Alone, I face an empty house where remnants of their visit still loom large in every nook and corner.  The pack-'n'-plays are still up, and toys are scattered everywhere.  A scum of dried food covers the kitchen floor.  In the summer, wet swimsuits and towels litter the clothesline on the back deck.  The bathtub toys are still wet, and three little toothbrushes stand at attention around the bathroom sink.

For empathy and comfort in these situations I turn to words of the immortal Charlie Brown:  "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely."  He is, of course, right.  Another time, he said, "Goodbyes always make my throat hurt.  I need more hellos."

The irony, I suppose, is that the goodbyes are necessary in order for there to be hellos to anticipate and revel in later.  I love hellos.  These days, the kids are into ringing the doorbell when they arrive.  Pa-pa and I go to the door and act surprised and delighted to see them standing on the porch.  The surprise is fake, but the delight is not.  Hello is what I live for.

It is almost time for the annual Christmas visit with its whirlwind of food and presents and general mayhem.  It will be our first Christmas with Beenie and Zoomba, our grandsons born nine and six months ago.  I am looking forward to a couple days of early-morning snuggles and good morning hugs involving little elfin creatures in flannel, footed pajamas.  I am looking forward to hello. 

On the distant horizon, another of those inevitable hateful days may be brewing, but I refuse to think about that right now.  The hello side of a visit is a thing to be cherished.  Surely, even Charlie Brown, in his infinite wisdom, would understand that.               

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Santa Rhymlet

My brain is jelly.  This happens every year at the point when the shopping and the wrapping and the card-sending and those other seasonal trappings not only catch up with me on the Racetrack to Christmas but leave me behind in a cloud of dust just as I am reaching for that one last chocolate-covered cherry.

I offer this report on the condition of my brain as a feeble explanation of why I would compose the thing you are about to read.  Not quite a poem, it defies known genre.  As best I can tell, it is a little rhymlet, meant to be recited aloud with your grandkid and accompanied by the kind of rhythmic lap-clap-slapping sequences we all learned back in the days when the lady with the alligator purse ruled the playground.

I will give you the text first, then the actions and stage directions.  Doing this will make it look more complicated than it really is, but, unfortunately, that is the nature of such directions. 

But if I can explain it clearly enough to give you an idea of what I have in mind here, maybe it is something you and your grandkids can have fun with over the holidays.  If not, I will be locking my doors and watching out my window for the guys in the little white coats.  Here goes:

The Text:

Santa in-a sleigh-a go-a fly-fly-fly.
Reina-deera pull-a through the sky-sky-sky.
Land-a on-a roof-a up-a high-high-high.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa! Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Santa wear-a furry red-a suit-suit-suit.
Santa wear-a pair-a black-a boot-boot-boot.
Santa bring-a kids-a lot-a loot-loot-loot.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa!  Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Santa see-a cookies on-a plate-plate-plate.
Not-a crumba-a left-a 'cause he ate-ate-ate.
Santa see-a time-a get-a late-late-late.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa!  Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Now, think of each line as having seven "beats," which you might count like this:  "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and  5, 6, 7."  Notice that counts 5, 6, and 7 always fall on three identical words at the end of each line.  Counts 1, 2, 3, and 4 (in the first three lines of each stanza anyway) fall on stressed syllables.  With that clear-as-mud explanation, you are ready to add the clapping movements detailed below.

The "Choreography":

First, sit facing your grandchild.  Introduce these basic movements:
     LAP:  Hit your lap with both open hands simultaneously.
     CLAP:  Self-explanatory.  Your grandkid has done this successfully since the patty-cake days.
     SLAP:  Both players bring their open hands up chest-high and reach forward to slap the other person's similarly open hands.

OK.  So accompanying Lines 1, 2, 3, and 5 of each stanza will be the following sequence:

On Line 4 of each stanza, there is no clapping, just shared dialogue.  You take the first half: "Santa says what?"  The kid answers: "He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"

And that's it.  I can't believe you are still reading.

In my mind, Sooby and I are going to have a field day doing this when she comes for Christmas.  Even the littler kids might have fun with the silly words.  However, if this kind of thing lacks the dignity you and your grandkids aspire to this Christmas season, I hope you can find some other way to share the magic of words and music with your little ones.

As for me, I will let you know if this works, or if, instead, Googie is a candidate for "The Gong Show."  Stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Yuletide Procession

"Can the kids spend the night with you on Nov. 30?" Cookie asked me several weeks ago.  She and hubby and Baby Zoomba were planning to stay overnight in Kansas City with friends.  Since Kansas City is the halfway point between our home and theirs, it was a logical question.

She needn't have asked.  Of course, Pa-pa and I are glad for Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie to stay with us any time they have the chance. 

I was even more excited when I looked at the calendar to see that our town's annual Christmas parade was set for 10 o'clock on the morning of Dec. 1.  Realizing the kids' visit would coincide with this, I did a quick calculation to figure out if Pa-pa and I could manage kids ages 5, 3, and 2 in a throng of Christmas revelers congregated along the half-mile-long main drag of our downtown.

When the weather forecast promised temperatures in the low 60's, I decided that Pa-pa and I might be able to do this and live to tell about it. So I needed to discuss the particulars with Cookie when the family was here over Thanksgiving weekend. 

Trouble was, it was impossible to conduct this discussion without finding ourselves in the presence of at least one child.  I didn't want any of them to know about the possibility of going to the parade until the details had been worked out and it was a certainty that we would go.

I took a deep breath and said to Cookie, "You still expect the kids to stay here Friday night, right?"


"You know--the following 24-hour period is the date designated for a certain annual event in our traditional commercial district," I began.  Cookie looked at me as though the tryptophan had taken away my ability to communicate.  I, too, thought that might be the case, but I forged on.

"I mean the procession of tissue-paper concoctions and instrumental musical ensembles with a Yuletide theme," I explained.  "The one that includes the classic vehicular specimens and the canine and equine fauna adorned in their festive holiday regalia."

Cookie was catching on.  "Oh," she said.  "And the opportunity for gleaning multiple confectionary projectiles from participants traversing northward."

"Exactly," I said, remembering that I would need to take along a bag for this express purpose.  "And then there is the obese, bearded, furrily-clad masculine Yuletide personality who always perches atop a gargantuan vehicle used for extinguishing conflagrations."

"Oh, the prospect of that would be simply adored by the three onlookers in question," she said.

"Then I think we will enlist every effort to make that a reality," I said, and the plan was hatched without the slightest suspicion from even our word-wise Sooby.

I am glad to return to a more normal vocabulary and report that Pa-pa and I did indeed take the kids to the Christmas parade and that the outing was a success in every way.  The day was gorgeous, the candy was abundant, and even son Teebo joined us with Baby Beenie.

I had not attended a hometown Christmas parade since the days when Cookie herself marched down the street with the local high school band.  This was the perfect way to experience it again, standing at the curb with four of my five grandkids, heralding the month of December and the Christmas season.

In fact, my enjoyment was extreme to the extent that I prognosticate a repetition of this particular transpiration approximately twelve lunar cycles from the present.  But I have a feeling we will no longer be able to hide our plans with the verbal puffery that Cookie and I had so much fun with this year.

I have a feeling that, when Thanksgiving rolls around next year, the kids will already be looking forward to the "Christmas candy parade," and I will dare to hope for another day as perfect as this one.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Little Voice

Last week, Sooby's kindergarten teacher asked her class the proverbial pre-Thanksgiving question.  "What are you thankful for?" she asked each child in turn, prompting them to share the objects of their gratitude with the class.

The answers were as predictable as the question.  "My family," some said.  "My home," said others.  These were the most common responses, with perhaps some "moms and dads" sprinkled into the mix. 

I have been around children enough to know that there is a lemming-off-the-cliff effect with questions like these.  More often than not, kids this age will take their cue from their peers and give the same or similar answers.  So I would guess this was a pretty ho-hum kind of exercise--until  Sooby's turn rolled around.

"And what are you thankful for?" the teacher asked Sooby, to which my oldest grandchild, in keeping with an infinite wisdom ranging far beyond her five short years, replied, "My conscience."

Her conscience?  Really?  Where did that come from?

Sooby's mama filled me in.  It seems that, not long ago, Sooby had gotten into some sort of trouble at home and was crying because she thought she would never be able to be good.  Cookie explained to her that, at age five, she was still learning what it means to behave correctly.

"When you don't know whether to do something or not," Cookie told her, "just listen to that little voice inside your head that tells you what's right and what's wrong.  That's called your conscience.  When you listen to your conscience, it will help you do the right thing."

Sooby's response to her teacher's question shows that she has been thinking about--and probably listening for--that little voice inside her head that helps her make sound choices regarding her behavior.  More importantly, I think, is her growing awareness that her little five-year-old failures are things to be understood and even expected by those of us who love and nurture her.

I am glad that Sooby is beginning to see, in her own way, that making mistakes can help her to learn.  Hopefully, the little voice has explained to her--using kindergarten vocabulary, of course--that parental (and grandparental) discipline is something administered out of love and with the goal of helping her to act more appropriately in a world she shares with others. 

So Ms. Kindergarten Teacher, in a couple weeks, when you ask the kids what they want most for Christmas, don't be caught off-guard if Sooby seems to pull another answer out of the blue.  After all, this is a child who not only knows what her conscience is, but is thankful for it.  So don't be surprised if she announces that she wants a microphone to make that little voice a little easier to hear.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stockpiling Doves

When you remodel an old farmhouse, you never know what you are going to find hidden behind the walls.  This is what my friend recently learned, and the story fascinates me.

First, some background.  For a long time she and her husband have enjoyed a glass of wine and Dove chocolates in the evening between supper and bedtime.  When this became a nightly ritual, they often left their opened bag of candy out on the coffee table.

Fast-forward to the recent remodeling.  When they removed the sheetrock in their entryway, which adjoins their living room, what do you think she found?  A stack of Dove chocolate squares piled neatly behind the wall.  Only one had been unwrapped and bore the marks of very small teeth.  Close scrutiny revealed the smallest of spaces where, on the living room side, the original baseboard had pulled away from the wall.

What happened here sinks in slowly, and then she realizes--as do we who hear or read her story--what had to have been going on for who knows how long.  In the dark of night, while our friends slept upstairs, furry little chocolate-loving critters were busily stocking their larder.

It is almost too much for the imagination to picture--a mouse, his jaws stretched open enough to accommodate a Dove chocolate, hopping down from the coffee table, scurrying across the floor, and virtually disappearing into the woodwork.

Oddly, the comparison that struck me as my friend pointed to the wall and told me this story involves my dad.  Not that he was mouse-like at all, oh no.  He was a towering hulk of a guy, and even now, fourteen months after his death, I cannot quite fathom that such a huge presence as his can actually be gone.  But the mouse's steady, quiet work routine and his attention to providing for the future are what make me think of Dad.

The past year has made me aware of Dad's diligent daily effort over sixty-six years to provide for my mother in the event of his death.  As I have cashed in life insurance policies, renewed CDs, and consolidated checking accounts, I can clearly see the tracks left by his forward thinking.

I can see that he had to do some squeezing to make things work as a garage mechanic, small business owner, and farmer.  But now, as we work to remodel our lives without him, we have found the stockpile of Doves behind the wall for Mom and, ultimately, for my brother and me.  Dad put them there by the work of his hands and the sweat of his brow, and I grow to admire his work ethic and philosophy more every day.

I originally had in mind to write this as a tribute to Dad on Nov. 11, which would have been his 88th birthday.  But life intervened, a senior moment occurred, and I couldn't remember what I was going to write when his birthday rolled around.  Although I racked my brain for several weeks, I didn't remember the mouse story until this morning.

So here I am, Dad, two weeks late with your birthday tribute.  Sorry about that.  I would do well to do a little stockpiling myself when it comes to those fleeting ideas that flash through my brain and sometimes hide behind a wall where my thought processes can't immediately retrieve them.

I think of you every day in a wistful and nostalgic sort of way. But now I will also smile every time I unwrap a Dove chocolate, and I will imagine a stack of them, left by you, piled neatly behind the closest wall. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yellow Friday

I don't think I like the phrase, "Black Friday," and I like the idea of it even less.  When I was growing up, you never heard the Friday after Thanksgiving called "black" or anything else for that matter.  It was just a nice, lazy day that gave us an extra reprieve from school and a menu of delectable leftovers.

As I teen, I might've enjoyed some limited shopping with my friends on that day, but it was never like it is now.  The stores, many of them hometown merchants instead of today's retail chains, didn't open at some insane hour of the morning, and no one got trampled in their bid for the ubiquitous bargain.

I guarantee you that when our Friday rolls around tomorrow, it will not be in any way black.  It works out that we will be having our family Thanksgiving at Googie's a day late this year.  Both kids observed the holiday with their in-laws today, so I have used the time to get a jump on tomorrow's festivities. It is the first Thanksgiving since we have been married that Pa-pa and I have not spent with some manner of family--and that's OK.  I still find much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for good friends.  We shared lunch at a local restaurant with friends whose children celebrated Thanksgiving with them last weekend.  It was laid-back and leisurely and entirely enjoyable.  The fact that we ran into another good friend from high school that we had not seen in nearly twenty years made it even better.  For the first time in my life, I had pancakes for lunch on Thanksgiving.  I am not complaining.

Meanwhile, at home, my turkey for tomorrow was roasting in the oven.  I am thankful that I won this turkey in a recent Halloween costume contest, for which the prize was a "dead body."  I love the quirky humor in that.  Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? 

I am especially thankful for my mother, who turned eighty-eight years old today.  She has had a tough go of it since my Dad died in September 2011, but she is a trooper.  She will be here tomorrow bearing homemade noodles and leftover birthday cake.  I suspect we will probably have to light a candle or two for the grandkids to blow out.  (We always try to look the other way and not think about the shower of germs raining down on a perfectly good cake.)

So--since I have rejected the notion of "Black Friday," I am declaring that our Friday will be yellow. That is the color of sunshine and daffodils and coconut cream pie. That is a happy color, and it makes me happy to have all the people I love most under my roof all at once.

Yellow Friday will mean a hectic morning.  There are rolls to thaw, dressing to mix up, iced tea to brew, and a pumpkin dump cake to bake.  When everyone arrives about noon, the house will overflow with that wonderful, crazy chaos that I have grown to love.

I hope that you have had a blessed Thanksgiving Day.  And, if your Friday should happen to be yellow like the one I am anticipating, then may you continue to enjoy this season of gratitude like a gift to be unwrapped slowly and savored to the fullest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finally! I Know Why Giraffes Are Selfish!

I was born on Andy Griffith's birthday. 

When I first learned this from a celebrity newspaper feature years ago, I took note.  You never know when little informational tidbits like this will come in handy.  And, besides that, I was proud to share a birthday with Andy, undoubtedly my all-time favorite show-business personality.

As it turned out, knowing Andy's birthday won me a a free CD titled Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin' at the Missouri State Fair summer before last.  I was clappin' and tappin' at a free concert performed by the Grascals, a bluegrass band with a penchant for Andy Griffith trivia.

In fact, they were so confident in their knowledge of the episodes and music from The Andy Griffith Show that they invited members of the audience to literally "stump the band."  Anyone who asked a show-related question they couldn't answer correctly would win the free CD.  So my hand shot up, and before I knew it, I was asking them if they knew Andy Griffith's birthday.

The Grascals knew Andy's birthday was in June.  They knew how old he was at that time.  But they missed their guess on the exact date, and I went home with a new CD.

This is not just any ordinary CD, no siree.  It features some of the timeless tunes performed by the ever-memorable Darlings, the hill folk who often made their way into Mayberry for some pickin' and grinnin' with Sheriff Taylor.  It also features several songs written by the Grascals themselves about Mayberry and its unforgettable citizenry.

One of those songs, titled "Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish," always puzzled me.  The words--something about dogs and jail and lightning--just didn't make any sense.  One time, Sooby even took exception to it as we listened to it in my van.  "Giraffes are not selfish," she asserted, as though she had been personally insulted.  "They're nice."

I offer you this background so that you can share my epiphany of a couple days ago.  I was in the family room playing with Beenie, who, by the way, is eight months old today, and stays with me three days a week.  Two episodes of Andy Griffith are always on our morning agenda.

In this particular episode, Opie is distressed because some stray dogs his pa wouldn't let him adopt had been returned outdoors to fend for themselves in a terrible thunderstorm.  Opie was worried particularly about the lightning, and Barney was trying to reassure him. 

Dogs are low to the ground, Barney told Opie, and they take care of their own.  Then, in typical Barney fashion, he goes on to compare dogs to giraffes.  If they were giraffes instead of dogs, Barney said, then there would be trouble.  Their long necks make them tall and thus susceptible to lightning strikes.  They don't take care of one another like dogs do, Barney said; instead, they are just worried about "Number 1."  And then came the line that set the bells off in my head:  "Boy, giraffes are selfish."

I listened to the song again, and it is obviously based on this particular episode of Andy Griffith.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  Apparently, this was an episode I had either never seen or else long forgotten.  It was like a light came on somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind and, suddenly, I knew why giraffes are selfish.

You can google "giraffes are selfish" and find Barney's insightful lecture on YouTube.  You may also find a link to Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin'.  I highly recommend it if you have a bluegrass fan or Andy aficionado on your Christmas list. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

The Mean Cook

"You see that door?" I said to my daughter Cookie as we sat in a corner booth near the kitchen at our local Mexican restaurant sometime in 1984.  "There is a mean cook who works here, and if you don't sit down and behave yourself, he is going to come out here, and you are going to be in big trouble!"

Not the best parenting strategy, I will admit, but I was desperate.  Pa-pa (who was just Daddy then) and I were trying to enjoy a rare opportunity to eat out in public. Quite unfairly, our almost-two-year-old daughter was the only one having a good time.  She was jumping on the cushions.  She was crawling under the table.  She was knocking stuff around.  I was at my wit's end.

I don't know where the story came from, but it worked.  Cookie sat down, fascinated by the thought that a mean cook lurked somewhere on the other side of that door.  She had a million questions:  "What does he look like?  What will he say?  Does he like kids?"

"Not kids who act up," I told her sternly, and every time the door swung open to reveal a waitress with a tray of food, Cookie's eyes got big in anticipation.  For the rest of the evening, she was one very good little girl sitting very still, trying to get the smallest glimpse into the inner recesses of the kitchen where a monster-like being wielded a spatula or maybe a huge butcher knife and barked mercilessly at anyone who dared to cross his path.

Over the years we have laughed many times together over the story of the mean cook.  All the time my kids were growing up, it was not at all unusual to invoke the story for our amusement as we waited for our food in some restaurant somewhere.

And now, the most unusual thing has happened.  It seems that Sooby and Pooh love the story of the mean cook.  Recently, they both shinnied up onto my lap to hear it yet again.  They are fascinated by the fact that their mama was once two years old and that she (and not one of them) was the one misbehaving and causing her mother grief.  That their disciplinarian was once an ornery kid just like they are seems almost beyond belief--and, for some reason, very, very funny.

Of course, I embellish the story a little more every time they ask me to tell it.  I drag it out just a little more and build the suspense.  I mimic the voice of their mother at age two.  I really lay it on when I describe all the bad things she was doing at the restaurant.  They clap and giggle every time, and then ask to hear it again.  And again.  And again.

Cookie just smiles.  She is a good sport.  She knows she was ornery and that it is payback time for her.  For the kids and me, though, it is just pure delight.  They love the story, and I will never tire of hearing those stereophonic fits of the sweetest laughter I have ever known.  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bootsie's Morning Haiku

Besides "granddaughter," there are many words to describe two-year-old Bootsie, among them "big sister," "little sister," "tease"--and poet.  I knew about those first three descriptors, of course, but Bootsie's penchant for poetry was revealed to me only yesterday, in the form of a Facebook status update posted by her mama.

Titled "[Bootsie's] Morning Haiku," the post reads as follows:

My feet cold.  Eat food.
Me have a little freckle.
Blue sky, blue window.

Now I ask you, is that not genius?  I wish I could be so insightful and prolific myself first thing in the morning.

Notice first how the poet accomplishes the traditional haiku format.  The poem is three lines long, with a total of seventeen syllables arranged 5-7-5.  Amazingly, the three lines are approximately equal in their number of characters, and thus, their length.  Since this evenness is not so typical of haiku, it makes this one all the more remarkable.

Like any self-respecting haiku, this one is rich in imagery, that is, words suggestive of the senses.  Here, Bootsie cleverly includes three of the five senses--touch ("cold"), taste ("eat food"), and sight ("blue").  These, of course, are the three main senses with which the typical two-year-old experiences her world. 

If you were to read this piece aloud, you couldn't help but notice the sound patterns.  Line 1 contains internal rhyme with the words "feet" and "Eat."  There is consonance, or the repetition of end sounds, in the words "cold" and "food."  Alliteration is apparent in the repeated /m/ and /f/ sounds in the first two lines, and the repetition of the word "blue" in Line 3 leaves the poem and thus the reader with a pleasing color image.

Finally, the three lines also mirror the physical act of waking up.  Bootsie notices first that her feet are cold and she is hungry--internal sensations.  Then, she moves on to her external appearance with the notation of the "little freckle."  Finally, she looks beyond her two-year-old egocentrism toward the world outside of herself to catch a glimpse of blue sky, which, to her, also makes the window through which she looks appear "blue." She perceives herself as a part of this larger world and is ready to get up and start her day.

When Cookie posted this haiku yesterday, she asked her Facebook friends for analyses, and here is mine.  Am I amazed?  Yes.  Am I just a bit biased?  Most certainly.  But that is the prerogative of a literary critic who also happens to be the poet's "Googie." 

Keep 'em coming, Baby Girl, and Cookie--whatever you do, keep writing them down.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Bootsie Saw

I swear, it was the cutest thing I had ever heard Bootsie say.  It happened last Sunday night, after she had seen me dressed in a Halloween costume earlier that day.  "Googie?" she said with no small amount of incredulity in her little two-year-old voice.  "I saw you a boy."

She had indeed.  That afternoon, I had stuffed my hair under a short black wig, slathered the area around my eyes with dark shadow, spirit-gummed on some eyebrows and a mustache, and velcroed a fake bird to the shoulder of my mortuary-black jacket.  Why?  For three hours last Sunday, I became Edgar Allan Poe.

My other major writing interest, apart from this blog, is to help a former student of mine, known this time of year as "Joseph Nightmare," to produce poetry/prose readings every couple months at various venues in and around our town.  We call our organization "SpoFest."

In October, we become "SpookFest," complete with scary material, costumes, and special effects.  This year, in an effort to increase audience involvement, we added a three-round Edgar Allan Poe trivia contest.  Emceeing that contest was yours truly, outfitted to look the part from head to toe. (If you are interested, you can see our readings and trivia rounds on our website at

Googie as Edgar Allan Poe
I saw Bootsie eyeing me curiously as I left the house for SpoFest.  I was glad she didn't seem frightened or unduly alarmed.  She just kind of took in the sight, processed it during the evening, and, I think, was glad to see me morph back into the real Googie later.
I have always been fascinated by the way children use language to describe new experiences.  They take the limited vocabulary and syntax they know, and find a way to adapt it to an event or situation not yet in their repertoire.  People often think of these adaptations as "cute."  I think they are the brilliant epitome of creativity.  My baby girl saw me a boy, and, thanks to the photo, you can see me a boy too. 
We are thinking about Stephen King trivia for SpookFest 2013 (that is, if we are still around after our "Doomsday" SpoFest, set for Dec. 4, 2012).  That costume will probably be a little more challenging to put together, but I guess I had better prepare to see myself another boy.
I wonder what a then three-year-old will have to say about that?   

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Balloon Curriculum

The other day, when I was talking to Sooby on the phone, she was lamenting the short life of the balloon.  Her little sister's birthday balloons from earlier this month had either popped or developed leaks.  The Princess, Spiderman, and Elmo mylars I had taken the kids at the end of June lay deflated on their toy room floor.  Indeed, Sooby assured me, she had every reason to be "so, so sad about them."

"Well," I told her, "some things just aren't meant to last very long."  I reminded her of Wonder Bubbles and of Charlie Brown's kite, a victim of the infamous kite-eating tree.  We talked about cupcakes.  "Sometimes," I heard myself say, "the fact that things don't last very long is what makes them so special while we have them.  If we had them all the time, they wouldn't be so much fun."  I even taught her a new word to describe these things: "temporary."

Now, I could go on and use this as some kind of metaphor for life itself, but that would be too obvious and melodramatic.  What I am really fascinated by here is the fact that something like a bag of air secured by a knot can be at the center of so many life lessons.

I love a story that my cousin tells of a trip she took with her parents to Disneyland when she was little.  Her mom and dad bought her a balloon and handed it to her with the stern warning NOT to let it go, no matter what.  "All I could think about," she said, "was 'What will happen if I let this go?'"  Sure enough, curiosity got the best of her.  She let it go, and, as far as her parents were concerned, she was one dead cat.

Balloon lessons seem to pop up in the curriculum of every new generation.  I remember a set of pictures a friend took of my daughter, Sooby's mother, playing with her first balloon at less than one year of age (A bad idea, I know.  I can still hear my mother screaming, "She'll pop that thing and suck it down her throat!").  Back then, the series of photos led me to write a poem, part of which I will quote here.

It begins, "I watch you enrapt/as air wrapped in red rubber/evades your chubby grubby grasp,/once more endures the test/of two new teeth."  The second stanza contemplates possible outcomes of this scenario (except the one my mom warned of): the balloon could pop suddenly, scare the baby, and make her cry--or she could wake up in the morning to find all the air gone out of it. Either way, I mused, she would be disappointed.  Like Sooby, who was feeling especially close to her balloons because she had just learned to blow them up by herself, she might be left "so, so sad."

The final stanza voices what I think must surely be every mother's hope for her child: "I wish I could spare you/now and always/sudden loss, shattered hopes,/dreams dissolved overnight."  Of course, no mother can do that.  We all have to learn to live with loss and to cope with the deflated shells of hopes and dreams that failed to pan out. 

That is life, and--oh, shoot!--life is like a balloon.  I said it after all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Poem and a Song

You hit the age of sixty and immediately, it seems, the old clock starts to tick a little louder.  This is good, of course, because you probably can't hear as well as you used to.  Still, there is something about writing your age with a "6" that whispers in your ear, "Better get it done if you're ever going to.  You're not going to live forever, you know." 

I know this, of course (and the producers of The Bucket List made a fortune off this very idea).  But I just haven't ever thought about it much until now.  Maybe it was losing my dad a little over a year ago that slapped my cheeks, squeezed my nose shut, gave me two quick breaths, and yelled, "Wake up!"  Maybe it has been the yearlong process of going through his things with Mom, of dispersing tools and guns and vehicles here and there, of realizing that, even if you have seen the Kaufman and Hart play, you really can't take it with you.

About now is when you start thinking about a legacy.  What am I really leaving behind?  Fifty years from now, what will my life have meant?  Most likely, no one alive then will remember that I played piano (This is probably a good thing.) or acted in college and community plays or sang.

Except maybe the grandkids.  Maybe they will remember that I sang.  Maybe they will be singing those same songs to their own grandkids, and, in their so doing, I will have left a legacy of sorts and achieved a kind of immortality.

I am reminded of Billy Joel's beautiful lullabye, "Goodnight My Angel":  "Someday your child may cry/And if you sing this lullabye/Then in your heart/There will always be a part of me," he sings toward the end of the song.  And then, "Someday we'll all be gone/But lullabyes go on and on/They never die/That's how you/And I/Will be."

This, I think, is one of those rare songs where the lyrics and melody are perfectly married to one another.  Joel's words are a poignant testament to the power of words to travel across time, to lodge in the hearts of subsequent generations and thereby leave a living legacy.

Maybe this, in part, is why I write.  I have things that I think and feel, and I desperately want those things to survive.  When I write, both people who know me and those who may not can come to my buffet and fill their plates with anything they find somehow practical or palatable.

The written word triumphs over the human life span, and thank goodness for that.  Thank goodness for the buffets spread years ago by King David, by Shakespeare, by the blind Homer, by the likes of Frost and Poe and Whitman.  Thank goodness I have had the opportunity to taste their delectable morsels and to leave a few of my own behind for readers who may come through the line after I, too, am gone.

Luckily, these pensive and somewhat melancholy states of mind don't last long.  It's just that I have been struggling lately to stay afloat in this ocean of life insurance policies, powers of attorney, health care directives, and beneficiary deeds.  Indulge me in one last morbid thought, but just before I started writing this post, I was thinking about what I might want engraved on my tombstone.

This, I think, is what I want it to say: "Life is a poem and a song."  Because when this is the case, life, like Billy Joel says, lasts forever. 



Friday, October 12, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Ending

[Headnote:  This is the conclusion to a piece of children's Halloween fiction recently written by Googie and illustrated by Sooby.  Before reading the ending, you might want to consult the previous two blog posts for the beginning and middle.]

The story continues . . . .

Jacky Joe sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.  He stretched a big stretch, yawned a huge yawn, and smiled a gigantic smile.  He jumped out of bed, found his house slippers, and headed for the kitchen, where his mama was already measuring out the sugar, flour, and cocoa for the cupcakes.

On the way, Jacky Joe nearly ran into his dinosaur costume hanging in the doorway.  He stopped a minute to look at it.

"It might scare some of my friends," he thought, "with those sharp, pointy teeth and that slimy green tail."  But Jacky Joe didn't think his costume looked scary at all.  He no longer thought of ghosts or witches or spiders as scary either.  Instead, he thought it all sounded like a lot of Halloween fun.

"I'm not scared at all, Mama," he said, grabbing a wooden spoon to stir the cupcake batter.  "I just know this is going to be the best party ever!"

The End
About the Illustrator

Sooby is a five-year-old kindergartener.  She lives in Kansas.  She loves all kinds of stories and hopes to illustrate many more.  She and her Googie wish everyone a Happy Halloween!

Sooby at work

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Middle

[Synopsis of the story so far:  As his mama tucks him into bed on the night before Halloween, Jacky Joe thinks about the Halloween party he has planned for the next day.  In doing so, he worries that, during the night, a ghost, a witch, and a spider might make their presence known in and around his bedroom.  He admits to being "a little bit scared."  His mama tells him not to be afraid of such things; further, she suggests that, if they do show up, he should just invite them to his party.  Jacky Joe contemplates this advice as he drifts off to sleep.] 

Suddenly, Jacky Joe found himself right smack in the middle of his Halloween party!  A ghost, a witch, and a spider surrounded him.  His mama was nowhere to be found.  He tried to think what to do.

Just then, the ghost said, "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe.  I will spread out my white sheet and be your tablecloth.  I will hold the bowl of punch and the chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting for you.  I will help you to have the best party ever!"

 Before Jacky Joe could answer, the witch spoke up.  "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe," she said, and her voice was only a little bit cackly.  "I will give you and your friends a ride on my broomstick.  It will be fun to ride up to the moon and back--you'll see.  I will help you to have the best party ever!"
 Jacky Joe was just beginning to think about how it would feel to ride right across the face of the moon when the spider piped up.  "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe.  I will spin beautiful webs to decorate your playroom.  Your friends will think this is the best party ever!"

Just as Jacky Joe was trying to decide what to do about all his strange guests, he felt someone gently shake his shoulder.  It was his mama.  "Time to get up, Jacky Joe," she said.  "Today is Halloween.  It's time to get everything ready for your party."

To Be Continued . . . .


Monday, October 8, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Beginning

[Headnote: If you have done much rummaging in "Googie's Attic," you know I like to experiment with different writing formats.  That's why, in the course of a little over a year and a half now, you have seen poetic, dramatic, epistolary, and question-and-answer sides along with the regular diet of essay or what I prefer to call "creative nonfiction."  Until now, I have never tried my hand at fiction, at least, with the idea that anyone else would read it.  However, when a local writing contest included a category in children's short story, I wrote one and entered it just for fun.  This past weekend, I read the story to Sooby and Pooh, and Sooby decided she liked the idea of being an "illustrator."  It was a joy to see how, at age five, she visualized  characters and  brought scenes to life with nothing more than a pencil, crayons, and scrap paper.  I thought it might be fun to record the story along with her drawings here in the blog. This post features the story's beginning and the first couple pictures.  Sooby and I hope you enjoy it and will continue to follow it through the next two blog posts.]

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party
When Jacky Joe's mama tucked him into bed on the night before Halloween, he felt a little bit scared.  "Mama?" he asked.  "What if a ghost flies by my window and hollers "BOO!" and tries to haunt my room?"

"You won't be scared," Mama said, smoothing the wrinkles out of Jacky Joe's top blanket.  "Just invite him to your party."

Jacky Joe thought about the Halloween party he was planning for the next day.  He was looking forward to wearing his dinosaur costume.  He was looking forward to bobbing for apples and eating chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting.

But did he really want a ghost at his party?  Jacky Joe wasn't sure--so he thought some more.

"Mama?" he asked.  "What if a witch rides by on her broomstick and cackles and covers the moon with her scary black shadow?"

"You won't be scared," Mama said, bending down to give Jacky Joe a good-night kiss on the forehead.  "Just invite her to your party."

Jacky Joe wondered what it would be like to have a witch at his party.  She might dip her broom right into the sparkling orange punch.  Worse yet, she might let her black cat eat all the chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting.


Did he really want a witch at his party?  Jacky Joe didn't think so--but he thought some more.

"Mama?" he asked.  "What if a spider tiptoes across my pillow in the dark, and his eight tickly legs crawl right through my hair?"  The thought that this might happen scared Jacky Joe the most.  But his mama remained calm.

"You won't be scared," she said, turning to leave Jacky Joe's room.  "Just invite him to your party."

Jacky Joe definitely did not want a spider at his party.  That would be just too creepy, and it might scare all his friends away.  Why, that spider might even bite him right through his dinosaur costume!  Just as he was beginning to think some more, Jacky Joe fell into a troubled sleep.

To Be Continued . . .


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tigger Bounces into Bootsie's Birthday

Dear Bootsie:

Sorry I am a few days late with your birthday letter.  But I have a good reason.  I just got home this afternoon from spending three great days with you, Sooby, and Pooh while Mama, Daddy, and Baby Zoomba went on a weekend trip.  You guys kept me very busy.  But let me take time now to remind you what all we did during the weekend of your second birthday.

First, we ate chocolate cake and ice cream, a feat that you managed much better this year than last year when you turned one.  This time, you didn't need to go straight from the high chair to the bathtub. You are growing up.

Speaking of which, it is probably time for you to think about ditching the diapers.  That is quite a trick you do, climbing up onto Zoomie's changing table and waiting for me to come and change you.  You are as big as the tabletop, and maneuvering a diaper underneath you in such close confines is not that easy.  I think Mama plans to stuff your Christmas stocking this year with big girl underwear, so you might as well get ready.

This was the year Pa-pa and I brought you the Elmo toy that snores and plays a lullaby when you push his tummy, and it was a lot of fun to see how much you liked it.  But my favorite memory of your second birthday weekend will always be the one about Tigger.

Of all the kids, you have been the one most taken with Googie's Winnie-the-Pooh shirt (clearance rack at Sear's last winter).  So I wore it to your house three days ago on your birthday.  Remember it?  It looks like this, a yellow long-sleeved shirt sporting a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore:

When you saw the shirt this time, you studied it disapprovingly.  I couldn't imagine what was wrong.  It turns out, you were disappointed because Tigger wasn't there along with his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood.  I didn't know how I was going to fix this problem, But then, you figured out what to do.  Once again, you climbed on the changing table and picked off a little stuffed Tigger from the mobile hanging above it.  You brought Tigger to me and demanded that I attach it to the above scene.  This is the best I could do:

Understandably, I felt a little funny going around all evening with Tigger protruding in this manner, but he does look happy, I guess, and having him there certainly made you happy. 

I wish for you always to be happy, sweet little girl.  Your smile lights up a room and warms my heart.  Tigger, Elmo, and Googie all hope you had a happy, happy birthday.


P.S. I hate to hijack your birthday letter, Bootsie, but I want our other friends to know about something coming up in the blog later this week.  Last week, I wrote a Halloween story for a local contest, so I tried it out on the kids this weekend.  I asked Sooby, now a kindergartener, if she wanted to draw some pictures to go with it, and she was greatly excited to be an "illustrator."  So, while I am in this highly irregular (for me) picture-posting mode on the blog, I am going to publish the short story in three installments, complete with the illustrations that Sooby drew.  It is called "Jacky Joe's Halloween Party," and Sooby and I hope you enjoy the fruits of our teamwork.  We certainly did.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kissing the Helmet

Beenie arrives at Googie's these days with his game face on--or maybe I should say his game head.  That is because for a few months now he will be sporting a piece of headgear that greatly resembles a football helmet.

Beenie wears this apparatus, called a "cranial helmet," because he has a mild case of plagiocephaly, meaning the back of his head is a little bit flat.  The helmet, basically a foam shell encased in plastic, will enable his noggin to attain a more symmetrical shape during this crucial, formative phase of cranial growth. 

Last week was our transitional period, during which we had to leave the helmet on a little longer each day as the baby became accustomed to it.  Now, he wears it twenty-three hours a day, which means he also sleeps in it overnight.  He is doing pretty well with the whole thing, as are those of us who act as his coaches.  All in all, it hasn't turned out to be the ordeal I was afraid it might.

And now, mark this down as a red-letter day for "Googie's Attic."  New ground is about to be broken.  Drum roll, please.

I am about to post a picture of Beenie in his helmet, breaking my own rule against pix in the blog.  (This is because I have always challenged myself to make the words alone responsible for creating the pictures in the minds of my readers.)  But this time, I am willing to compromise my self-imposed blogger code of ethics to show you what the helmet actually looks like.  That way, you will be better able to envision what I have to say following the picture.

There.  I did it.  (My heart rate has accelerated only slightly, and I am only mildly dizzy.)  You can see why I likened the helmet to football gear, and I am thinking a numbered jersey and a pair of plastic cleats ought to complete this year's Halloween costume quite nicely.

In the course of our days together, the conversation between Beenie and me is pretty well ongoing.  Of course, I am the one who does most of the actual talking, but the thing is, I talk to him almost constantly.  I did this with my own kids too, so I am not really surprised at hearing the sound of my own voice pretty much all day long.

But I am surprised to learn how often I apparently (and without really noticing it) lean down or over and kiss my babies on the head.  This has been brought to my attention rather abruptly of late because, at least a hundred times a day, I find myself kissing a helmet.

No matter how many times I do this, it always takes me by surprise.  Instead of warm, soft, fuzzy baby hair, I am greeted by a shell of unrelenting plastic that sticks its tongue out at me, thumbs its nose, and says something like, "You idiot.  You did it again!"  Once again, there is a flag on the play and I grudgingly accept the penalty.

As for Beenie, he will come through football season just fine, and by Superbowl Sunday he should be bobbing his newly rounded little head in front of the TV with the rest of us.  My helmet-kissing days should be over, and we will be looking forward to that all-important first birthday party for one of our star players.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Pinky

For better or worse, I am the product of a father whose motto was "well, figure it out" and a mother who elevated "making do" to a science.  Thus inspired, I often find myself striving to attain new heights of resourcefulness.  Babysitting Beenie this past month has given me ample opportunity to practice those valuable philosophies my parents preached.

With four other grandkids who visit often, I like to think my house is fairly kid-friendly and kid-ready.  However, keeping an almost-six-month-old all day long for three consecutive days every week has acted as a harbinger of its inadequacies.

For example, one thing I had never used for the grandkids was a walker.  This means Beenie had to  pretty well either sit on my lap (or beside me in my big, armless recliner) or he had to lie down, either on a blanket on the floor, in the playpen, or on our king-size bed.

Realizing what a nice option the walker would afford us, I looked to my good friend Facebook to spread the word: Googie was looking for a walker to borrow or buy at a bargain.  To keep a short story short, I typed in the SOS about 8:30 one morning, and at 10 I was loading into my van a very nice walker, donated generously by a good friend I had made previous plans to walk with that day.  Beenie and I have found the walker to be a great asset ever since.

About a week later, on my way to see my mom, my car, on its own, braked for a garage sale I happened to pass enroute.  From the end of the driveway, a small pack-and-play was reaching out to beckon me with its crooked forefinger.  "Come here," wafted its siren song through the fall air.  "You have two baby grandsons, and I need a new home."

Only five bucks poorer, I left the sale with my new treasure.  Now, Zoomba has a place to sleep when he and the other kids come to visit; meanwhile, Beenie has a safe place to enjoy these fall afternoons on our screened deck.

But wait--he can't quite sit up alone for very long yet.  Even with the playpen's soft sides to cushion him, it was no fun for him to topple over again and again or for me to keep returning him to a sitting position.  Let's see, WWMD?  What would Mom do?

A quick trip upstairs, and I am back from my closet with one of those big upright, armed pillows that you put on a bed for the purpose of sitting up to read or watch TV.  It turned out to be the same width as the playpen, so instead of falling Beenie either leans straight back or onto one of the arms. Between the walker and this new rig, Beenie is much better able to enjoy Googie's seemingless endless stash of baby toys.

Perhaps our biggest crisis of the past several weeks occurred when Beenie's mama and daddy forgot to pack his pacifier.  Now this was serious, as we depend on the binky to transition from the bottle to the nap.  We had our system pretty well down, but without the binky, well, you know that line about the best-laid plans of mice, men, and Googies.  We found ourselves in crisis situation #NBNN--no binky, no nap--and this was unacceptable.

"Well, figure it out," my dad would have said.  So I thought hard.  Then, I sealed off the bottom of an extra bottle nipple with duct tape and--voila!--a makeshift binky was born.  Unfortunately, however, the only duct tape I could find was a bright, fluorescent pink.  This is why we call it "The Pinky," and I am glad to report that, though it may not be much on looks, it did the trick.  The nap was saved.

So far, we have only had to use The Pinky that one day.  But I take great comfort in knowing that it is there in the drawer in the event of another crisis.  Whatever the new week brings, I am ready.

I am strong; I am invincible; I am Googie; and my mama and daddy taught me well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Grandparents' Day Letter

Dear Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, Beenie, and Zoomba:

It will be a year next Thursday since your great-grandpa T died.  I have found some interesting things this past year while helping your great-grandma go through mountains of drawers and files.  The other day, I found a copy of something your mama (your aunt, Beenie) wrote about him in 1992 when she was in the fifth grade.  I vaguely remember her doing this as a school assignment to interview and write about a special person.

Because only Sooby and Pooh may really remember Grandpa T, I decided to copy most of what she wrote and give it a place here in Googie's Attic for you to read when you are older.  This way, all of you can know a little bit about the man your great-grandpa was.  Here is what she wrote:

                                                                A Simple Hero

[My grandpa] was born on a farm near Florence, Missouri on November 11, 1924. . . .  He was the middle child of six brothers and sisters. . . .

He didn't like school; sometimes he played hooky and went fishing.  He was raised during the Depression.  "Times was hard," he says.  During that time, his family raised everything that they ate, such as chickens, pigs, and cows.  They also grew many vegetables.

He and [my grandma] were high school sweethearts.  One time [she] threw a spitball and [he] took her whipping for her.  He graduated ("Thank goodness!" he says.) from Otterville High in 1943.  He married [Grandma] on March 3, 1945.

With no college education, he and his brother started an auto shop.  [Grandpa] worked by his own terms.  He wouldn't work on foreign cars because he didn't want to learn the metric system.  He didn't believe in advertising.  His garage blew away in the 1977 tornado.  He rented another building, and business continued.  He was a mechanic for 42 years, and in 1990, at age 65, retired and sold the garage.

In 1990, he began to have heart trouble.  His heart was beating too fast, and he ended up having triple bypass surgery at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City.  However, with proper medication and exercise he can still lead an active life.

He and his brother bought their home place when their parents died in the early 1960s.  Now he raises Hereford cattle and sells hay and calves in the fall.  He used to belong to the Rod and Gun Club, the Saddle Club, and the Coon Hunters Association.  For a while, he raised Palomino horses.  Now his hobbies are riding horses, hunting, and fishing.  His favorite TV show is Gunsmoke.

In June, 1952 he had a daughter [Hey guys, that's me--your Googie!].  In April, 1959 he had a son.  He now has four grandchildren . . . .

[Grandpa] is 68 years old.  He has white hair (if any) and wears glasses.  He is 6' 4" and weighs around 190 pounds.  He has a wonderful and eccentric sense of humor.  His philosophy is life is, always has been, and always will be written in the form of a poem:

     When the Great Scorer comes at last
     To write against your name,
     He'll write not if you won or lost
     But how you played the game.

[An aside by Googie:  Kids, I have to say this used to make me SO MAD when he would start reciting this.  It doesn't make me mad anymore.  While I have the floor here and before I type Cookie's conclusion, let me just say how much I appreciate what she wrote and how grateful I was to find it at this particular time.  This Grandparents' Day, it can serve to remind us how the simple life of an ordinary grandparent can touch a child.  And now, her ending:]

[Grandpa's] ideas have always been simple, but smart.  I'm very proud to call him Grandpa.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The "Lucy" Coincidence

At the tender age of only five and a half months old, Beenie is into animals.  He likes the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  Although I haven't heard it yet, his mama says he has one particular scream that shows his desire to imitate a pterodactyl.  So it stands to reason that he would like the song "Old MacDonald's Farm."

I first noticed this last week when I was singing "Old MacDonald" to him.  He would look up at me with his eyes riveted on my face, sucking away noisily on his pacifier.  But when I would get to the place where it was time to make the various animal sounds, he would stop sucking and listen.  Of course, this encouraged me to really ham it up on the quack-quacking here and the moo-mooing there.

The funniest thing happened today.  We had just finished an episode of singing while, across the room, the black-and-white genius of "The Lucy Show" emanated from the TV.  True to her penchant for getting herself into a jam, Lucy was in a jail cell, with Ricky, Ethel, and Fred on the outside brainstorming the best way to get her out. 

Add to this cast of characters Lucy's hillbilly cousin Ernie, played by none other than the great Tennessee Ernie Ford, arriving on the scene with guitar in hand.  Together, this resourceful little group decided to sing a song in an attempt to mask the sound of the files they were using to saw through the bars of the cell door.

You guessed it: the song they sang was "Old MacDonald's Farm."  The way it happened, it fell right on the heels of my version of the same song.  Beenie's attention focused instantly on the TV, and he got the funniest look on his face.  I couldn't help laughing out loud at the impeccable timing of this (and at the prospect of Desi Arnaz oink-oinking here and there with a Cuban accent).

As it turns out, the sheriff liked the singing so much that he decided to release Lucy from her imprisonment.  Of course, when he unlocked the door and swung it open, the rectangular segment of door they had sawed free remained in Lucy's ever-guilty hands.  So, as usual, Lucy had some serious "splainin'" to do.

I don't think I will ever sing "Old MacDonald" again without remembering this incident.  What are the chances this would happen?  But then, what are the chances of getting to be "Googie" to a little guy as neat as Beenie? 

I am lucky indeed, and, maybe one of these days, the screech of a pterodactyl will make me laugh again. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Snax

McDonald's may have cornered the market on the Happy Meal, but I lay claim to Happy Snax.  These are delightful little bags of goodies you take along when you go to visit your grandkids.  I made my first Happy Snax delivery this weekend, and I have to say (in all modesty, of course) that they were a huge hit with Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie.

To assemble Happy Snax, begin with a brown or white lunch-bag-size paper sack.  Decorate it with colored cut-outs from the Sunday comic strips.  For my kids, I used mainly the Garfield and Peanuts characters.  Try to match the characters to the age and personality of each particular child.  For instance, I used Lucy for Sooby, a spongy drawing resembling SpongeBob for Pooh, and Linus with his blanket for Bootsie.

Next, choose from your stash of garage sale bargains an unopened, unwanted toy that some other kid got in a Happy Meal or Kid's Meal from one of the fast-food chains.  Again, make appropriate choices for each kid.  This weekend, Pooh got the "Gulliver" character in a wheeled boat, and the girls got Pet World toys.  Gulliver, especially, afforded much entertainment for the quarter I spent a couple months ago for him and the other packaged Happy Snax toys.

The food items I put into the bags were the same for each child, except for the flavor of the Dum-Dums suckers.  (I thought making them all identical might help to keep the peace, if you know what I mean.)  They included a 10-ounce orange juice, a six-pack of Keebler peanut butter crackers, a NutriGrain apple-cinnamon bar, a Quaker chocolate chip granola bar, and a 1.5-ounce pack of Goldfish snack crackers.

Here, you would have many choices depending on what you have around or what you want your kids to eat--for instance, you might like Little Debbie cakes, small boxes of raisins, or a plum.  This time, many of my items were leftovers I already had on hand, and this was a good way to make some extra space in the cupboard. To myself, I rationalized that these particular snacks represented an appropriate cross between healthy and junk food.

For the finishing touch, I folded the sack top over, punched two holes, and tied a ribbon on to secure the bag and make it seem more like a gift to open.  The fact that the ribbon, another leftover, was imprinted with the words "Pool Party" didn't seem to matter.  If I'd thought about it, I might've color-markered each kid's name on his or her bag to personalize it even more.  But in my case, this was kind of a last-minute brainstorm, so I will have to wait until next time to do that.

I loved watching Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie open and enjoy their Happy Snax.  They turned out to be even better than I had hoped.  If you are looking for a simple little something to take along next time you visit your grandkids, Happy Snax may be just the thing. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The ESP Cycle

Babysitting Beenie three days a week reminds me of a truth I used to know well but had kind of forgotten since the days when his daddy was five months old:  Babies have it pretty easy.

Our days have fallen into a pleasant, easy (Dare I say lazy?) rotation of three basic activities--eat, sleep, and play.  Always in the market for a good acronym, I think of this as our "ESP" cycle.

Eating is easy right now, consisting primarily of a four-ounce bottle of Enfamil formula every three hours or so.  Before long we will graduate to some baby food solids like sweet potatoes and bananas (I always loved both of these!).  Most likely, doing that will involve a high chair, an extra bib, and a little more intensive clean-up operation, but I am looking forward to it anyway.  Among other things, it means that Beenie and I might be able to eat lunch at the same time.

Sleeping usually follows eating (Is this a guy thing?).  Beenie's naps vary in length from fifteen to ninety minutes and in frequency between three and five on a typical day.  Once in a while I hold him while he sleeps, but lately I have been practicing putting him down either on our king-size bed or in the Pack 'n' Play.  This gives me the chance to do a few chores, think ahead a bit to the evening meal, or maybe catch a wink or two myself.

When Beenie gets to rolling around more, I will try the technique of putting a foam swimming noodle under our bed's fitted sheet on three sides, an idea I saw on Facebook.  If that doesn't work, I will just put him on our bed when I plan to lie there with him in order to keep him from rolling off.  Meanwhile, I will hone my skill at lowering him into the Pack 'n' Play, which gives me the option of putting him down on whichever level of our house might be quieter at the time.

Playing is the best part of our day.  One of my friends, recently gave me a walker, which enables him to sit up alone and play with an eclectic assortment of baby toys on the tray.  I should say "on the tray AND on the floor," as these toys have a way of moving back and forth frequently between the two places.  Other times, our "play" session involves reading; Beenie especially likes Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? 

Our last mode of play involves the timeless and more physical baby games like "Peekaboo" (with his blanket), "This Little Piggy Went to Market" (with his toes), and "Patty Cake."  Once or twice a week we deviate from our indoor play and take a field trip around the neighborhood in the stroller or into town to visit Beenie's great-grandma.

Put these all together and you have our typical day, which may rotate through the ESP cycle four times or so.  I guess, realistically, our acronym should include a "D" for "diaper," but I wouldn't know for sure where to put it because of the unpredictability (and sometimes urgency) that activity implies.

Beenies's cousins, my other grandkids, live so far away that we rarely get the pleasure of this lazy, day-to-day routine.  With their once-or-twice monthly visits, it is often a special occasion of some sort and a couple-day visit into which we try to cram as much fun as we all can stand.  One manner of grandkid contact is not necessarily better than the other, but I enjoy the variety and, of course, the chance to be with any of the kids any time I can.

If you are a regular rummager in "Googie's Attic," you know that all the kids and I have lots of fun, but right now I am also enjoying these more laid-back days with Beenie.  I think Beenie is pretty happy with the deal too; he doesn't seem to cry much.  With the ESP cycle in place, he has things pretty good, and so do I.            

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Boy Beenie

Beenie is five months old today.  At this stop-and-take-stock moment, he is a cuddly chunk of baby boy with fat little thighs, dark hair that sticks straight up (and that I have threatened to help along with a little gel), and a ready supply of the cutest little smiley faces you have ever seen.  Appearance-wise, he is a perfect cross of both his parents, and he is a joy to have around.

The best thing is, he is going to get to be around a lot.  His mama officially started her teaching year today, so Beenie was at my house for the first of three consecutive days we will spend together this week and every week of this new school year.  Beenie is the only grandkid I have who lives in the same town as I do.  I look forward to seeing him often and watching him reach the many milestones of this all-important first year.

He has already reached one of those, his first word--a sort of gurgling vocalization that sounds amazingly like "Googie."  Of course, I know this is probably just an accident, but I am doing all I can to reinforce it anyway.  He can almost sit up if I set him on the floor in front of my chair and support him with both legs.  He loves having little rattlers and teething toys on the floor around him.  His favorite is a little red, plastic, liquid-filled teether shaped like a purse, but don't tell his daddy about that.

Today I got an inkling of how our daily routine might develop.  He will get here early and finish out his night's sleep, maybe while I hold him and maybe in the playpen that will remain at the ready down in the family room.  This gives me a chance to eat breakfast and have a second cup of coffee.

Today, after he woke up and was fed and changed, we broke out the umbrella stroller, put on his sun hat, and took a gorgeous mile-and-a-half stroll through the impending-autumn beauty of our neighborhood.  Doing this regularly should help me take off the six or seven extra pounds that took up residence in my mid-section over the summer.

We will come home to some vintage TV shows that I will enjoy seeing or seeing again.  Today we saw snippets of Andy and Barney, Lucy and Ethel, Rob and Laura, and the Cartwright brothers down on the Ponderosa.  By winter, Beenie should take an interest in Sesame Street, which will probably replace our walks during the colder weather.

For the rest of the day, in no particular order, we will play with toys, read board books, eat, and nap.  At least one day a week we may venture to the grocery store or to town to visit my mom.  There, Beenie will find a loving great-grandma and a whole new set of toys to investigate.  By late next spring, maybe we can go to the park. 

If I should accidentally be able to get something done around the house during one of Beenie's longer naps, that will be nice.  But I'm not counting on it.  I love the lazy, carefree nature of these days with the baby.  He is a perfect excuse for me to kick back, relax, and not worry about what's clean and what isn't.  I figure, if I really want to, I can always get something done on the days he's not here.

Here's to a Happy New School Year to everyone.  As for me, I am entering my ninth year of retirement from teaching.  With Beenie around, this is the first new school year I have looked forward to for a long time. 


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Suspected Robot Speaks Out

Let me examine myself carefully:  My arms bend at the wrists and elbows, and my legs at the knees and ankles.  True, my overall gait may have slowed and stiffened a bit, expecially when I first get out of bed in the morning, but I don't believe I would call what I do "mechanical," at least, once I get past the part where I crank up the coffeepot.

Now, let me assess my vocal qualities:  La-la-la-LAH.  Nope, that is not what I would call robotic either.  No monotonous drone, despite what some of my former students may have said (They wouldn't know anyway--they were asleep.).  Certainly,  there remains a modicum of modulation as I skip my way up the musical scale, although I will admit that I may have once choked when I fell into some kind of hole between "la" and "ti."

Finally, the scary part.  I will look in the mirror, where I fully expect to see the likes of the Jetsons' maid Rosie.  Well, this early in the morning the color is similar, and then there is that thing about Rosie's behind that we won't go into.  But, basically, I see just my old familiar self staring back and watch my chest deflate (another thing we won't go into right now) as I breathe a sigh of relief.  Conclusion:  I am still me (I know I am supposed to use the nominative case "I" here--predicate nominative, you know, but that WOULD sound like a robot), and I am clearly NOT a robot.

Why, then, do I keep having to prove that I am not?  Time after time, I go to post a comment on someone's web page, only to be required to type in two ridiculous bits of wavy, smushed-together garbled-letter nonsense.

"Please type these words to prove you're not a robot," says the prompt. (And just for the record, I am NOT impressed by this facade of politeness.)   Sometimes I have to try three or four times while Big Internet Brother, lurking somewhere inside my monitor, smirks and watches me sweat. 

On about the third try, I begin to wonder myself if I may actually BE a robot.  The only thing I can figure is, robots must have even worse eyes than mine as they try to decipher those impossibly intertwined travesties of the alphabet.  Thus, apparently, a robot, no matter how much he or she wants to, cannot comment on someone's blog.

Now what, I ask you, would be so bad about this?  I personally would welcome a comment on my blog from a robot or two who found the time to take a break from their space-age housecleaning and contemplate the adventures of me and my five grandkids.  It would be insightful to see how their totally logical algorhythmic minds would process these experiences.

Most likely, however, the human element would be something their circuitboards just could not compute.  I don't think I ever saw Rosie pick up little Elroy Jetson and give him a hug.  If Rosie were to read "Googie's Attic," she would probably just type something like, "SCAN COMPLETE; ATTEMPTING TO PROCESS."

If you are a robot attempting to read this blog post, go ahead and try to post a comment if you want to.  I won't mind.  But try to keep your mechanical buddies off those sites that, for whatever reason, don't want your input.  That will make it a lot easier for us humans to comment freely without having to strain our tired old eyes, endure the frustrations of trial-and-error typing, and worry that we may be becoming more like you.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Snow Cones and Amphibians

At some point in the middle of the green lemon-lime snow cone we were sharing, Pooh became Frog and I became Toad.  These, of course, are that lovable amphibious "odd couple" from the Arnold Lobel children's books of the 1970s.

The aforementioned transformation occurred yesterday at a picnic table situated in the middle of the carnival midway at the Missouri State Fair.  Sooby, sitting near us with her own cherry snow cone, seemed unaware that the change had occurred, as did the throngs of fairgoers parading past.

It was pretty well requiring all of Sooby's concentration and acrobatic skills to balance her own
mound of syrup-saturated crushed ice perching precariously atop the paper cone.  She did pretty well unassisted, but Pooh and I were sharing partly because he is only three and partly because I like lemon-lime better.

I am pretty sure these were the kids' first snow cones, and they added a dose of cold, sweet delight to a wonderful but very warm day.  I am thinking I was pretty brave to face the midway alone with two preschoolers, but we had survived the predictable crises:  Pooh, at barely thirty-six inches tall didn't measure up to the height requirements of some of the rides he wanted to go on, so there were times when I had a kid on each of two nearby rides, running back and forth to fetch one before another got off.  So by the time I morphed into Toad, I was ready for a break in the shade and the chance to take a load off my clammy webbed feet.

Pooh and I probably did a little too much poking at our cone in an attempt to get the ice to melt so he could sip the gooey green liquid from his straw.  Before we were quite ready to abandon the project entirely, Frog's paper cone developed a hole in the bottom, requiring some innovative thinking.  This is when I began to hold the dripping cone above Pooh's open mouth, a technique he referred to as "drinking the leaks."

In Lobel's stories, which usually reinforce the themes of friendship and problem-solving, Frog is Tony Randall to Toad's Jack Klugman.  Frog is lively and green, while Toad is warty and brown; Frog is always upbeat, while Toad at times borders on the curmudgeonly.  So, what I am saying is that, in these new roles Pooh assigned to us in the middle of his first snow cone, we were pretty appropriately cast.

When we finished, we stashed our soaked, disintegrating cones in a nearby trash can, shaped like a clown whose mouth gaped open to receive our offerings.  Rested and refreshed, we made our way back through the whirly mechanical wonderland of kiddie rides--through dragons and circus trains, through race cars, boats, and planes.  We took one last ride together on the carousel, its painted ponies pumping up and down to "It's a Small World After All."

A small world indeed.  A world where Frog and Toad are fast, forever friends who aren't above the less than ideal but sometimes necessary process of drinking leaks.  A world where magical spells are cast by something as simple as a lemon-lime snow cone.