Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Star Is Born

With Heero's arrival on Nov. 4 came numerous implications for our family holidays.  Among other things, it meant that his mama might be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner minus the heartburn.  It meant our Christmas Day gathering would, once again, be larger this year than at the one before, and there would be another name added to our Christmas shopping list.

As it turns out, the timing of the Nov. 4 birth date also gave Heero a chance to star in a Broadway show.  (I say this because in our town, the place where Heero made his acting debut is actually located on a street named Broadway--I kid you not!)  This year, Heero was the perfect size to play the role of Baby Jesus in a local church pageant.

This particular church, where Heero's parents are members, regularly performs a walk-through pageant called "Journey to Bethlehem."  Here, audience members assume the role of travelers moving past a series of live scenes reminiscent of the time and place that was the Bethlehem of Christ's birth.

Such scenes include a dramatic pronouncement by the prophet Isaiah, an inside look at King Herod's court, and an outdoor venue featuring shepherds and real sheep.  Late into the journey, the traveler enters a marketplace featuring beggar children (who exact real coins from passers-by) as well as artisans and craftsmen demonstrating basket-weaving, pottery-making, bread-baking, and other period-appropriate trades.  "The Journey to Bethlehem" ends, predictably, with a final scene at the stable of an inn, where Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus are found.

When Pa-pa and I got to the end of the Journey, I lagged behind the group to sneak an anachronistic photo of Baby Jesus and his mother.  Admittedly, the pic is a little off-center due to its being snapped hurriedly in an effort not to destroy the ambience of the scene for others. However, I didn't let myself feel too guilty: after all, if Baby Jesus' grandmother fails to preserve such a scrapbook-worthy moment as this, then who will?

Here, then, is our little Heero, pacifier and all, in his first role as a star on Broadway:

I am thinking he looks and acts the part quite well.  Granted, he may not measure up to the divine perfection of the historical Jesus, but he is close enough to perfect for us.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Redneck Swimming Pool Sleigh

When I rewind to some twenty or more years ago, I recall playing trivia with son Teebo and his sister.  Time after time he would give some wacky but totally sincere answer when his turn came to answer a question.

"Where was Abraham Lincoln born?"  I asked him.

"In a log cabinet."

"What did Benjamin Franklin have in his hand when he discovered electricity?"

"A light switch."

Yes, very early in Teebo's life I learned that we could always depend on him to think outside the box, and that hasn't changed now that he is a dad himself.  We saw our latest example of this today.

Give Teebo a light skiff of icy snow, a riding lawn mower, a plastic swimming pool, and a toddler, and this is what you get.  He named it his "redneck swimming pool sleigh."

Teebo explains that he drilled a hole in the pool above the fill line so that it can still hold the water Beenie and Heero will need for their summer splashing.  Next, he ran a rope through the hole. knotted it on the inside, and attached it to the front of his lawn mower.  By running the machine slowly in reverse, then, he could pull Beenie over the snow without taking his eyes off him.

If you follow the above steps carefully, this is what you get--a little boy sharing the joy of an early winter snow with his Daddy on a nippy Saturday morning:

Just look at that little face!  Is he having the time of his life, or what?

Way to go, Teebo.  I hope you have only begun to think of ways to make these ordinary days with your little boys special.  But if I may be so bold--based on past experience, I might suggest that you leave the history lessons to their teachers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Secrets

If you've been wondering where I've been lately, I have been lost somewhere in the time warp of that week I was supposed to have between Thanksgiving and the first of December.  So like a lot of other people I know, I have been like a frustrated Christmas mouse running through a maze of shopping, card-sending, decorating, wrapping, program-practicing, partying, and--well, with a week less than usual to get ready for it, you too may be feeling the oppression of the holiday season a little more noticeably than usual.

Yep--I said oppression.  I don't have the heart to break it to the grandkids yet, but one of these years they will catch on to the unfortunate reality that (I hope you're sitting down for this!) Googie doesn't enjoy the Christmas season much. It is just too much work.

The problem goes back to the time I was the working mom of two little kids who had parties and programs (and needed gifts--and cookies) for school, church, 4-H, and a host of other events the season always brought about.  It seemed like every organization we belonged to had to have its obligatory Christmas luncheon, dinner, or afternoon soiree.  To complicate matters further (and this was my own fault, I know), son Teebo arrived on the Christmas Eve when his sister was 3 1/2, and through the years I was determined not to let his birthday fall into the sinkhole of the holiday season.

Work obligations and the inconvenient timing of the school semester put a crunch in my mid-December that was almost audible.  For many years the week before Christmas brought five sets of final essays that had to be graded and averaged into semester scores at the same time there was something going on every night.  I recall many years at my school when grades were due at noon on Christmas Eve.

So "Bah Humbug!" I always thought.  I was a Scrooge, and I knew it.  Although some of the madness has subsided since the kids have grown up and left home, the truth is, I still don't appreciate the Christmas season as I should.  I know that, so don't lecture me.  I am working on it.

Anyway--this was my frame of mind when I sat down at the computer yesterday to compose a piece to read last night with my local poetry group.  Once again, the experience of writing afforded me a pleasant surprise, as I watched my usual Christmas whining rant evolve, through the process of writing itself, into something therapeutic and fun.  I share it with you here, and I hope you enjoy it.

The Christmas Secret  

Thanksgiving's barely over; the turkey's barely done.
Now Santa's snuck up on me, and it ain't no fun!
I'm sabotaged by details; there's clutter in a heap.
I'm frozen under snow that feels like three feet deep.
Tangled up in tinsel, buried under lights,
I'm feeling claustrophobic, and I can't breathe right!
Shoved around at grocery stores, trampled at the mall,
I've used all of my nine lives up, and that ain't all.
Christmas cookies make me hyperventilate and pant.
I burned myself and used up one whole aloe vera plant.
There's cards that need addresses, letters needing sent,
And hubby with the checkbook yellin', "Too much money spent!"

I need to take a break from this and sip a glass of wine--
Chardonnay's my favorite, but they all taste fine.
Some burgundy, some Riesling, and now some white Merlot--
The little glass goes upside down--and down the hatch they go!
By the way, I wonder why I picked this piddly glass?
A gallon jug would better make this bad mood pass.
Yes, wine goes down quite smoothly in a bunch of little sips--
(What's this?  That's kinda funny.  I no longer . . .  feel . . .  my lips.) 
But--my heart no longer races; I no longer feel it throb,
So, I best forget the wine and get my butt back to my job.

I nestle 'mid the holly; I wrestle with the wreath,
Then grin and find some mistletoe is stuck between my teeth!
There's ribbon on the ceiling--but paper nowhere near--
Oops!  I think I see it draped around the chandelier.
I try to light a candle and catch my couch on fire.
(I feel just like Aeneas watching Dido's funeral pyre.)
The ornaments are broken; they jumped right from the box.
And why, upon the mantle, have I hung my shoes and socks?
(And what's that right beside them:  Is that my underwear?
Good grief!  I sure hope someplace I can find another pair!
I have to go outside real soon, and it could be quite drafty,
So I'll make some from this tree skirt; I have always been quite crafty!)

Well--I don't recall so much at all that happened here last night.
The living room's a shambles and the fireplace a fright.
My eyesight's looking fuzzy for some reason, and--oh boy!
My head feels like a log that someone split for Yuletide joy.
My tummy feels quite queasy now, and just how can it be
That I'm sprawled out in my living room atop a Christmas tree?
There's a tree skirt 'round my ankles; how it got there I've no clue.
    ( But maybe we could keep last night between just me and you?)

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Seventh Daughter

I can't imagine what the couple must have thought when, on Nov. 22, 1924, their seventh daughter came into the world.  With a houseful of girls already ranging in age from sixteen down to two, was there disappointment?  Was there resignation?  Was there joy?

Story and song give us fascinating accounts of the psychic powers sometimes attributed to seventh sons. Just ask Johnny Rivers, because after all, as the song goes, "[He's] the one, [he's] the one," you know.  Is there any witchcraft or voodoo attached to a seventh daughter?

No--not this one, anyway.  She had what must have been a pretty uneventful childhood; at least, she doesn't recall much of it.  She grew up and came of age, it seems, pretty much spoiled by her older sisters and their husbands.

Of course, she was of that generation that walked miles to school in all kinds of weather.  This, she remembers.  She went on to graduate salutatorian of her high school class, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a stay-at-home mom before it was really a choice.

She stretched her own curtains.  She never drove a car.  Every Monday she ran clothes through an old Maytag wringer and, when she was done, carried the water out to the back yard a bucketful at a time.

Her birthday is noteworthy for numerous reasons.  Over the years, it has occasionally fallen on Thanksgiving Day, as it did last year.  Fifty years ago today, on her thirty-ninth birthday, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  There was cake that day anyway.

Today she turned eighty-nine.  She is mother to two, grandmother to four, and great-grandmother to eight. Her youngest great-grandson came not quite three weeks ago, and she was one of the first to welcome him.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  You and Heero are like bookends, framing our month of November with your birthdays and giving us two great reasons to celebrate.

I don't know what your mom and dad thought when you were born.   I never got to ask them.  But I, for one, am glad they had Daughter #7--and I know a whole slew of little rug rats who would be quick to agree.    


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Heero's Welcome

I love this picture of Beenie and his sign from last summer.  In the midst of a tennis-ball-fetching game with his dog, he advertises to the world of Facebook and beyond that he is going to have a little brother.  He even looks rather happy at the prospect.

Then came last night, when he found himself and his daddy thrust into the middle of a new and puzzling family dynamic.  His new expression reflects, at best, a little apprehension about the whole thing.  At worst, we see the first inkling that the universe as Beenie knew it--the one in which all the planets revolved around him alone--may have ceased to exist.

Barely 24 hours ago, we discovered a brand new star in our galaxy.  Here in the blog he will be known as "Heero."  Born at 6:46 p.m.CST on the birthday of my own paternal grandmother, our little Heero weighed in at 8 pounds, 4 ounces and measured 20 inches long.  Sizewise, he is pretty much a carbon copy of his brother at birth.

For the better part of a year now, I have been carving out a spot for you in "Googie's Attic," little Heero.  I look forward to writing about you here as you learn and grow.  As you snoozed in my arms at the hospital today, I wondered once again at the miracle and the sheer potential of new life.  Once again, I am humbled to be so incredibly blessed for the sixth time in a little over six years.

Don't worry, Beenie.  Just look at that face.  He will fit in OK.  Give him a year, and he will be running to keep up with you and Zoomie.  And, I'm betting, all of you will be giving the three older kids a run for their money. 

And as for you, little Heero, welcome to the wonderfully unpredictable but always entertaining world of Googie's kids.  For a new star, you are already shining pretty brightly.    

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Goo!

"Googie?"  Sooby will ask.  "Do you want to hear the shortest story in the world?"

"Sure,"  I answer, knowing full well what is coming.  At this, Sooby stretches the corners of her mouth up ever so slightly, and her eyes grow round with anticipation.  She thinks she is about to get my goat with the funniest possible punch line.  Again.

"Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after," she will say, giggling at my latest demonstration of fake surprise.  Again.

"Sooby," I think to myself.  "We need to discuss plot development."  The need for this discussion is even more apparent now that Sooby is writing books.

One of Sooby's "books" consists of three or four sheets of paper she has filched from my computer printer and stapled, more times than really needed to hold the pages together, down the left-hand side.  She does this not so much because she is afraid her masterpiece will come apart, but because she loves to work the stapler.

This weekend, inspired by a batch of homemade "flubber" my neighbor made for the kids, Sooby authored a book titled The Goo! (The exclamation mark is her doing.)  This title she featured prominently on the cover, along with her name and a "note" that identifies her as a "child writer." (She offers this thoughtful explanation, no doubt, to those readers who might not otherwise discern this particular fact of authorship.)

Next comes the page of dedication/ownership clarifying that the book belongs to her brother Pooh and her sister Bootsie.  A bright yellow sun is crayoned cheerily below their names.

Page 3 looks promising.  It reads, "there onece was a BloB of Goo," text she has printed into a blue rectangle.  Below that, in all its glory, is an illustration of the goo itself, a formidable green splotch that strikes fear in the heart of even the bravest reader.  (It is enough to make you wonder what Stephen King was writing when he was in the first grade.)

And then, just when our suspense has reached nearly insurmountable heights, Page 4 comes along and takes the wind right our of our literary sails.  "The End," it says, and it is over.  Finished.  We experience the kind of letdown known only by people who watch soap operas on Friday.

We are left with troubling, unresolved questions that would stump even a graduate class in the American novel.  Just who is this goo?  What is its back story?  Is it protagonist or antagonist?  In what time and place do we find this goo?  How, exactly, does goo handle conflict?

Does it demonstrate a biographical connection to the author's life?  Is it a symbol of modern man?   Does it demonstrate existential angst?

Is its color imagery related to the theme?  Does its story share similarities with the works of other science fiction writers?  Will there be a squabble over the movie rights?

Yep, Sooby and I need to talk about plot development if there are going to be enough scenes for Steven Spielberg to do something with.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I will say it right out:  I am cheap.  Life just doesn't get any better than when you get it at a bargain--and for me that usually translates as a quarter at a yard sale.  This is the way, over the past six years, I have accumulated a sizable, diverse library of like-new kids' books that wait on a $5 bookcase to transport the grandkids and me to wonderful, imaginary places every time they visit.

So imagine my surprise a couple weeks ago when, on my weekly whirlwind trip through Wal-Mart, I heard a display of brand-spanking new books call my name.  One second I was Googie heading for the toothpaste aisle and the next I was Odysseus lured right into the rocks by the song of the sirens.

I crashed hard.  They were Halloween books, and I am a sucker for Halloween.  What could it hurt to look, I thought.  I wasn't going to buy any of these at $6.99 a pop--I never pay full price for new books.  And I wouldn't have done it this time either--if there hadn't happened to be the perfect book tailor-made for each one of the five kids.  If this picture doesn't scream "FATE," I don't know what does.

Sticker Doodle Boo! is perfect for Sooby.  It contains page after of page of Halloween-themed activity pages for her to add stickers to or doodle on to complete pictures.  She can design a mask from a whole page of sticky eyes, noses, and mouths, or draw sharp, pointed toenails on the foot of a creepy monster. She loves artwork and design, and she should have a field day with this.

Lisa McCourt's Happy Halloween, Stinky Face will be fun for all the kids but especially for Pooh.  Time after time, he is the one who requests that I read McCourt's original story, I Love You, Stinky Face, when we are together on Skype. This little Halloween variation is no less charming as Stinky Face concocts a whole new set of "what ifs" to ask his mama, whose answers continue to demonstrate the wisdom and creativity of a parent who makes it clear that she loves her child unconditionally.

For Bootsie, my little poet (see my post "Bootsie's Morning Haiku" from 11/7/12), there is a delightful little story in rhyme titled Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson.  In this National Bestseller, a lovable but slightly clumsy witch loses her hat, her bow, and her wand while riding through the sky on her broom with her cat.   The lost items are rescued and returned to her by a dog, a bird, and a frog, who each ask to ride along.  When the broom finally snaps from the added weight, the odd menagerie lands in a swamp and ultimately has to pool  resources to save the witch when she is threatened by a scary dragon.

Beenie gets the Baby Einstein Halloween, a touch and feel board book of bright colors and textured objects. This is perfect for him because of his love of the video Baby Mozart  (this was a 25-cent garage sale item), which we watch once almost every time he spends the day at Googie's.  We have done this for over a year now.  Julie Aigner-Clark's colorful toys moving to the timeless compositions of Mozart keep his attention as well now as they did the first time he saw them.  The video is a restful, relaxing oasis in every day we have together, and I hope he likes the book as well.

Finally, little Zoomba has his challenges with food allergies, but he can eat Cheerios.  Enter The Cheerios Halloween Play Book and the little bag of Cheerios I got to go along with it.  In this interactive little book, Zoomie can complete various Halloween scenarios using Cheerios for things like black cat eyes, buttons on Halloween costumes, and the letter "o" in the word "Boo!"  Then, he can eat the Cheerios, and they won't make him sick.

So, along with a theater-sized box of Skittles (for the older kids), my grandkids will each get a new book for Halloween this year.  If they have as much fun reading them as I did picking them out, it will be well worth the little bit of extra money spent.  All in all, I would call this a successful trip to Wal-Mart--except that I did forget the toothpaste.



Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Legacy of Baba Edis

My children, Cookie and Teebo, first met Baba Edis in the 1980s, welcoming her into our home as a visitor from the county library.  A Ukrainian peasant woman, Baba Edis is the unlikely heroine of a delightful children's story, first published in 1979 by Carolyn Croll, titled Too Many Babas.

The story offers a clever, literal treatment of the idiom "Too many cooks spoil the broth."  In it, Baba Edis, awakening on a winter morning, decides to make some soup "to warm her bones."  While she is in the process of simmering a bone with beans, carrots, celery, cabbage, and onion, she is visited by three of her friends--Baba Basha, Baba Yetta, and Baba Molka--who each in turn determine that they should all stay for lunch because the soup smells so scrumptious.

During the course of the morning, each of the other babas ventures to the kitchen to taste the soup.  In doing so, as best I remember, Baba Basha adds a "fistful" of salt, Baba Yetta turns the handle of the pepper grinder a few too many times, and Baba Molka throws in a whole garlic bulb.

When everyone finally sits down to lunch, they belly up to four bowls of soup that tastes "terrible."  Even the face of Baba Edis' cat is contorted into a grimace.  So the babas have to start from scratch in order to produce another pot of soup for supper, this time working together but leaving the seasoning to Baba Edis alone.

Even as the kids outgrew the reading of this endearing tale with its memorable folk-artsy illustrations, references to it continued to pop up at random times in our conversations.  Maybe we were having some kind of soup for dinner.  Maybe we saw an old lady in a head scarf.  It seemed that Baba Edis and her baba-friends were never far from our minds.

One time, when the kids were a tween and a teen, we were talking about the story and realized, to our great horror, that among the three of us, we could come up with the names of only three of the babas.  I racked my brain over this to the point that I actually went to the library to find the book and ferret out the missing baba.  Barring Alzheimer's, I will not be forgetting Baba Yetta again.

Several years ago I ran into a copy of Too Many Babas at a yard sale for a quarter.  It was like I had found gold.  Because we had enjoyed this story so much as a family a generation ago, I sent it home with Cookie, hoping the tradition would continue with her children.  It seems that it has.

On speakerphone with  Pooh the other day, I heard Cookie prompting in the background, "Tell Googie what we're making for dinner."  Whereupon Pooh told me, to my utter delight, "We're making Baba Edis soup."

Indeed, Cookie had bought a soup bone and all the vegetables mentioned in the story.  She bought a loaf of dark bread just like the four babas ate with their soup.  (She was surprised that the kids liked pumpernickel.)  Finally, in an effort to stay true to the story, she topped the meal off with some tea.  I love the whole idea of a family meal based on this great little children's masterpiece.

By the way, baba is the Ukrainian word for "grandma."  A diminutive of babushka, it would compare in our language to something like "grammy"--or, with a slight stretch of the imagination, "googie."

Here in our part of the country, winter is coming, and with it, soup weather.  If you find yourself spending time with a little person you love, may I suggest for you a good book to snuggle up with and an easy, fun baba-inspired meal to warm your bones on a cold day.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Starbucks Poster Child

Truth be known, I expected a little more preferential treatment last week at the original Starbucks, founded in Seattle, Washington, in 1971.  To be quite honest, I expected to walk in the door and hear a sharp intake of breath from the barista, who would whisper frantically to the rest of the crew something like, "Heads up, guys!  That's Googie!  I recognize her from her blog pic!"

At the very least, I expected a free venti decaf skinny vanilla latte--skinny, of course, to balance out the calories in the hunk of iced lemon pound cake they would insist on serving me, also compliments of the house.  However, hard as it was to believe, their eyes showed no glint of recognition as I found myself forking over the same amount I pay three or four times a month at the Starbucks in my smaller Midwestern hometown of around 20,000.

This is where I am a celebrity.  Here, I am well known as "Beenie's Grandma."  This Starbucks was the venue of my first public appearance with Beenie when he was a little over six weeks old.  On that visit, I was inspired to ask for an extra cup so that I could snap this pic with my cell phone:

The extra print I made for the Starbucks crew shot us into an orbit of fame and notoriety, and it has been on their bulletin board ever since. Every time I go in, I glance at the wall to see if it has been taken down yet, but it has not.  Because the pic has made such tremendous waves locally,  I thought surely our fame would have preceded me to the west coast.

Just before the Seattle trip, I archived the pictures from my digital camera and cell phone in preparation for the fall and winter holidays.  In the process of that, I made the Starbucks crew an updated print, snapped by my good friend and fellow Starbucks addict during another visit with Beenie over a year later:

Notice the intent look with which the child contemplates the cup this time.  (It was empty, of course, so don't turn me in to the Division of Social Services for child endangerment.)  With Beenie wide awake for this photo shoot, I'm sure you will agree that, once this pic goes up on the bulletin board Friday, we will surely be going viral.

At that point, it will be only a matter of minutes until our faces are recognized not only at the original Starbucks location at Pike Place Market in Seattle, but at its other 139 locations in that city alone (according to a "Show Me Seattle" tour guide named Dan) and its other 17,432 locations in this and 54 other countries (Statistic Brain, 12 Aug. 2013).

I am thinking I will take Beenie to Starbucks with me and snap his picture once a year until he goes off to college.  (I may have to bribe him when he reaches those sensitive middle school years.)  That way I should get not only worldwide facial recognition but also all the coffee and lemon pound cake I could ever want.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hostage

Bootsie didn't quite understand why we were having cake and ice cream if it wasn't really her birthday. I tried to explain we were having this early party at Googie's house because we wouldn't be able to be with her on her actual birthday six days away.

So when Bootsie and her three siblings ended up spending the night with Pa-pa and me during the weekend before Oct. 4, it just made sense to stage our own celebration.  To properly observe this momentous third birthday, we invited her great-grandma and her cousin Beenie's family out for a Saturday pizza lunch topped off with the "white cake with chocolate icing" that Bootsie herself ordered last week on Skype.

Such events involving five children age six and under are always lively, to say the least, and this one was no exception.  It is never unusual when the transition between the lunch part and the dessert part goes less than smoothly.

On this particular day the transition seemed to take an especially long time.  Boots sat patiently, looking at her cake with its sprinkling of nonpareils in fall colors and its recycled "3" candle propped in the middle.  I was running around, lighter in my hand, for what must have seemed to her like forever.

Every time I got ready to pull the trigger, it seemed like something else demanded my attention:  hands needed wiping here, a face needed wiping there, a stray pepperoni hit the floor, the ice cream needed to be set out.  Where was the dipper?  Were we out of napkins?  Was that a whiff of dirty diaper?

Anyway at one unforgettable point in the chaos, Bootsie herself, usually a pretty quiet little girl, levered her voice above the hubbub to proclaim, "LET THE PARTY BE RELEASED!"

Released?  Really?  We all looked at her in a kind of stunned silence.   I froze in place, my mind racing to analyze that remarkable choice of word by a not-quite-yet-three-year-old.

Amid the laughter that followed, the cake was cut, the candle lit, the ice cream dipped, and the traditional "Happy Birthday" song chorused--all with an efficiency uncharacteristic of our parties. Our captain had spoken, and we took our marching orders seriously.

Happy Birthday next weekend, little Bootsie.  Have a great time at the party you will have at your house on your real birthday.  Keep everyone in line and, whatever you do, don't let anyone else make the mistake of taking a perfectly innocent party hostage.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Morning Meandering

Over the years Pa-pa and I have clocked a lot of hours on the outdoor walking track at our local community college.  It is a meandering strip of blacktop, three-quarters of a mile long, that snakes it way east and west along a state highway and then southward toward a wooded area flanked by farmland.

Until fairly recently Wells Fargo fitness stations dotted the landscape along the track.  At these, the serious fitness buff could pause from his cardio workout just long enough to stretch a hamstring, execute a sit-up, or pull himself arm over arm along an overhead ladder.

After enduring thirty-some years of weather, the wooden stations finally had to be dismantled for purposes of aesthetics and safety.  However, the idea of a walk punctuated by stopping-stations is alive and well in the way Beenie and I have been spending some glorious late-summer mornings.

Warm-up:  We grab Bunny and buckle into the stroller.  (Bunny was an Easter gift to Beenie's cousins a couple years ago.  Strangely, he still lives at Googie's house, possibly because, with the slightest push on his little paw, he begins to sway, wiggle his ears, and belt out a saxophone solo that puts Kenny G to shame.)

Beenie loves Bunny and all my animated plush creatures that sing and dance and do all kinds of loud things that other people consider obnoxious and I consider charming.  I have a baby chick that does a frenzied "Chicken Dance"; an Elmo in chef garb who sings a duet with a talking pizza; an Ernie that sings "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and snores; an angel bear whose pink wings flutter wildly to the tune of "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"; and a hamster, dressed in full black and white prison regalia, who sings, "Jailhouse Rock."  But I digress.  Back to our walk.

Station 1: The Jack-o'-Lantern on the Porch.  We tool up the driveway of a neighbor down the street to contemplate this big orange harbinger of Halloween that sits at the bottom of her front steps.  Sometimes her cat watches us from the front porch, as does her dog from inside the front door glass.  We make doggie and kitty sounds and say "ooooh" to acknowledge how very scary Mr. Jack-o'-Lantern is.  Beenie claps his hands.  This means he likes what he sees.  But we can't tarry long, so on we go, strolling to a wonderfully cacophonous musical background provided by Bunny and the cicadas.

Station 2:  The Tree-Trimmer.  This is a skillful performer we have stopped to watch several times lately as he removes dead and broken branches at various locations along our path.  We are fascinated as he rises up, up, up from his truck in a white bucket and then stops to let his chainsaw perform its magic.  The saw is loud and momentarily drowns out Bunny.  We leave the show and move on.

Station 3:  The Swing.  Moving on around the corner, we detour off our beaten path to stop at another neighbor's backyard playground.  Here we take a break from the stroller long enough for Beenie to feel the rush of cool morning air through his hair as we take advantage of an open invitation to use the baby swing.

From the swing we head back toward Googie's, either via the street, where many other "stations" await us (like The Black Dog Who Always Barks at Us) or by way of a short cut through a couple of back yards.  Back home, we park at the foot of Googie's steps for juice and animal crackers before going into the house.

Beenie munches and I contemplate.  Our box of cookies is just about down to the crumbs.  Bunny's batteries are running down.  The summer is just about gone.

Cookies and batteries are easily replaced.  But nothing can ever replace these special mornings I am blessed to share with my grandson.  All too soon, they will pass into history.  He will outgrow the stroller.

But right now the air is crisp and the cicadas' song soothing.  Beenie claps his hands, and I join him in a celebration of this moment.   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Witch Fingers

I really can't remember where the witch fingers came from.  My best guess is that Cookie and Teebo brought them home some twenty years ago as prizes won in little gallery games at their elementary school carnival.

The witch fingers, some fifteen or so of them, are hollowed-out plastic toys that you wear on your own fingers when you want to do your best witch impersonation.  Even Beenie, at just shy of eighteen months, knows to cackle when he wears them.  Most of our witch fingers are green with red nails, and my most fashion-conscious witches prefer a matched set, as Beenie models here:

Of all the toys at Googie's house, the witch fingers seem to have cast a spell on all five grandkids.  They love to wear them, fight over them, and chew on them, to the point where I worry some about the little ones ingesting too much paint.  But the older kids have survived, so I am cautiously optimistic that the babies will too.
I wonder why it is that children are fascinated with witches?  As a child myself, I was so enthralled with the witch in Hansel and Gretel that I imagined her living in my bedroom closet, and Oz's Wicked Witch of the West has long mesmerized Sooby.  Pooh and Bootsie both love for me to read  Little Boy Soup, a picture book about a little boy who must outsmart the Witch of the Woods in order to avoid being converted to soup stock.  (Refer to my review of this great little story in my April 25, 2012 post with the same title.)
In fact, Pooh had witches on the brain during one of our recent breakfast conversations.  He looked particularly thoughtful as he watched me stir the milk into his Fruit Loops.
"Googie?" he asked.  "Why are your fingernails so long?"  I didn't get the chance to answer before he continued with his musings, which, incidentally, indicate a pretty sophisticated thought process for a four-year-old.  See if you agree:
"You know?" he said, narrowing his eyebrows to indicate he was thinking very hard about this.  "If I didn't see you for a year . . . , and I forgot you . . . , and then I saw your fingernails again . . . . , then I might think you were a witch." 
I was trying to follow this logic, decide if I had been insulted or not, and manufacture some sort of response, when the ever-practical Sooby piped up and saved the day.  "They're perfect for scratching backs," she offered.
I smiled.  The girl does like to have her back scratched.  Earlier that morning, she had padded into my bedroom, crawled into bed beside me, wadded her nightgown up around her neck, and whispered, "My nightgown is ready."  This, of course, meant that she was ready for the back-scratching to commence.
For the past couple months, I have been having one of my "good fingernail" episodes.  That usually means (1) nothing is making me nervous enough to bite or tear them off right now and (2) they haven't started getting in my way yet.  Good fingernail episodes happen more often now than when I was teaching school and living with teenagers.  But, seriously, I am not really seeing a likeness between them and our witch fingers.  Do you?
Nevertheless, the whole thing leaves me thinking about the hypothetical situations Pooh presented at breakfast.  What if he didn't see me for a year?  Well, as long as I can help it, that ain't gonna happen.  What if he forgets me?  Perish the thought!  What if he mistakes me for a witch?  I will have to hope against hope that any remote similarity starts and ends with the occasional good fingernail episode.
Daughter Cookie may disagree, but I like to think that any evil spells she thought I cast on her as a tween and teen are long broken.  I am Googie now, and things have changed.  Now I get to scratch little backs and have my fill of Little Boy Soup.  Best of all, I get to share random morning musings over bowls of Fruit Loops.
Halloween is coming next month, and we witches will be in season.  Let us disguise our ordinary hands with witch fingers, and let the serious cackling begin!     

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Katie and Me

Katie Couric and I are living parallel lives.  This I learned from an article she wrote for the November, 2012 issue of Woman's Day.  (Yes, I am a year behind on my magazines.)

Granted, Katie makes a little more money than I do (okay--a lot more) and, I will have to admit, ranks a little higher across the country on the facial recognition scale.  (In fact, Reader's Digest [June 2013, p. 95] lists her as the 37th most trusted person in America).  But I consider these minor differences only.

Demographically, Katie and I are female Baby Boomers who write, who graduated from college in the 1970s, and who are mom to two kids.  But the subject of her Woman's Day piece, titled "Family Ties" (p. 34), makes it clear that experience connects the two of us in such a way that her words leaped right off the page, traveled to someplace deep inside my mind, and lodged somewhere close to my heart.

Katie and I both lost our dads in 2011.  In the wake of that, we find ourselves buried in what she calls "the sandwich generation," engrossed in the delicate task of looking out for our 90ish-year-old mothers.  She says she "often feel[s] like the peanut butter between two slices of bread" as she works to meet the vastly diverse needs of the generations before and after hers. 

Katie notes that her mother still lives independently in their old family home, as does my mom, and that she vociferously rejects the option of an assisted living facility.  At the suggestion, Mrs. Couric refers to it as "God's waiting room."  My mom, a little more blunt about the proposition, says simply, "I'd rather be dead."

I am thankful that Mom is able to live alone, but I worry constantly that she will fall.  This concern is not entirely unfounded, as she has taken three moderately serious tumbles in the past two years.  Fortunately, there have been no broken bones, but I have to wonder how long our luck will hold out.  Katie worries about this too, noting that she has often found her mother's life alert necklace draped over a picture frame.

Katie calls our situation "the inevitable role reversal that comes with age."  I wonder if she also misses the thing I miss most:  the chance to just relax and visit with each other in the kind of carefree manner that I took for granted for so long; the chance to stroll leisurely through yard sales or face off in a heated game of Scrabble; the chance to just sit out on the porch swing with a dish of ice cream.

We can't do these things anymore because, now, it requires every waking minute to take care of business.  The checking account needs to be balanced.  The CDs are maturing.  It requires a multitude of doctor's appointments to maintain the various systems related to a heart that has been beating for nearly ninety years.

The bathroom stool is leaking.  The front bricks need patching.  The kitchen sink is draining slowly.  The front door knob is hard to turn.  The milk jug is empty. 

Sixty-six years of paperwork and mementos need to be sorted or disposed of.  We need to clear the outbuildings, the basement, and the attic.  Everything we do these days involves taking care of some kind of business, and some urgent task seems to rear its ugly head every single day.

Katie didn't mention things like this in her effort to keep an upbeat and positive tone.  But I read between the lines of her impeccably crafted prose and know they are as much present for her as they are for others of us experiencing her "peanut butter" syndrome.  The truth is, assuming the responsibility for another adult's physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual welfare can be overwhelming.

That said, I think back to a day a little over two years ago when I sat with Mom and Dad in an exam room in the cancer center of our local hospital.  It was the day we learned that the chemo was no longer working, and Dad's cancer had spread past the original site in his lung.  We didn't know it then, but in just a few weeks he would be gone.

I knew exactly what Dad was thinking when he looked straight at me through misty eyes.  Mom's whole life had revolved unselfishly around him, and she had always depended on him for so many things.  "I'll take care of her," I told him, and I meant it.  I am doing the best I can.

I am confident that Katie knows all about this.  She may have more resources at her disposal than I do, and her fame may offer her a broader network of support services.  But at the heart of the situation is a 60-ish woman and her 90-ish mom who views her, like it or not, as some kind of lifeline.

Thank you for buoying me with your article, Katie.  As you point out, ours is a situation shared by many of our generation, and you are right--there is comfort in knowing that. 






Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Body Parts

The other morning my grandson mooned me on Skype. 

It was Pooh, so I can't say it was entirely unexpected.  The boy has always known how to capitalize on the element of surprise that results when he chooses to unveil certain of his body parts.

Mind you, this is the child whose self-created superhero persona is "Naked Man."  You will be relieved to know that, at his mama's insistence, his original image has been modified to include underwear.  (This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gives Naked Man a place to stash his sword.)

An aside: No pic with this blog for fear of being arrested by the kiddie porn police.  But I have to admit that a picture of Naked Man in all his glory is my current choice showcasing Pooh in the "googery," or gallery of grandkid photos hanging on the wall in the kids' room here at Googie's.

Anyway, the word "bottom" was one of the originals in Pooh's vocabulary, and he understood what it referred to long before he ever said it.  This brings to mind a favorite story from the vast annals of "Pooh Lore" we have been collecting for the past four and a half years:

Once, when he was only eighteen or twenty months old, he was sitting on his mama's lap brushing his teeth before bedtime.  "Brush your top teeth," Cookie coached, and he did.  "Now brush your bottom teeth," she said-- whereupon he stopped abruptly, and you could see the wheels turning in that little head.

Immediately, he turned the toothbrush upside down to brush the seat portion of his fuzzy, footed jammies.  I happened to capture the whole incident in a digital camera video, which should make good blackmail material when he is a teenager.

Now that Pooh's repertoire includes other words for "bottom," he continues to interchange them, sometimes with amusing results.  Last time he was here, he asked me to retrieve a toy that had sunk to the floor of the swimming pool. 

"Where's your water gun?" I asked.

"It's down on the pool's butt."

"You mean bottom?"

"Yes," he said, unaware of any semantic problem whatsoever.  "Can you get it for me?"

Although Pooh seems to be the one most preoccupied with body parts, his sisters will occasionally throw in their two cents' worth.  Sooby, our own little artist in residence,  recently produced a pen and ink version of an anatomically correct horse family, which I was most happy to have shared with me as a text message but which again, for obvious purposes, I hesitate to share here.

And even little Bootsie has coined a term for a woman's upper undergarment with her recent reference to her mama's "booby lids."  (Well, it kind of makes sense if you think about it.)

With two other baby grandsons only beginning to talk and another expected in November, I would imagine we are hearing only the beginning of the tome of "body parts" stories we will end up with.

But considering the recent Skype experience, I am thinking Pooh is the one we will have to watch the closest.  Unless, of course, we really don't mind being caught as the bottom of one of his jokes.



Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bosco Jar

Ever since my dad died almost two years ago, my mother has been on a cleaning out and purging mission.  In that time she has emptied two outdoor sheds, the basement, the attic, and numerous drawers, closets, and cabinets.

While some of the more meaningful family heirlooms have been parceled out to kids and grandkids, she has advertised her treasures and trinkets by way of radio, newspaper, and phone calls to unsuspecting second-hand store proprietors.  In addition, she has had six or seven two-day garage sales in an effort to disperse some seventy years' worth of collectibles, each object somehow representing both a moment in time and a memory.

For me, this process has been like watching my own life rewind in slow motion.  As we have dug more and more deeply into the bowels of the house and outbuildings, I have stood at the curb of a nostalgic parade of photographs, keepsakes, and mementos. 

The top layer of objects recalls events my own children shared with their grandparents.  Further excavation reveals the stuff, some of it long forgotten, of my teen years and childhood--for instance, old glass Pepsi bottles like the ones we used to cash in, at two cents apiece, for a candy bar down at Mary's corner store. 

As Mom opened the garage door at her most recent sale, I was just settling myself into the official cashier's chair when an especially unusual object caught my eye:

It was an old Bosco chocolate syrup jar, and just the sight of it triggered a flood of memories and a sweet return, however brief, to the late 1950s.  It opened some long-forgotten door to a room where lived a little girl, who, with hair in a ponytail and bare feet, rode a red Schwinn with saddle baskets over the back fender down an uneven brick sidewalk.

She would spend lazy summer days playing paper dolls on a blanket spread in the grass or knocking locust shells from tree branches with a broomstick.  Toward evening she would wait patiently on the front porch for the first firefly to flicker, her cue to grab a hammer and a nail to poke holes in the lid of an empty jar--like this one--and prepare for the night's catch.

With nightfall she would perch on an old tree stump, unscrew the jar lid, and watch her orange-bellied quarry take off, one by one, from the open jar's glass lip.  Once airborne, each one would give a final flicker and buzz away into the vast, open arms of the night.

They disappeared so quickly, I remembered, like the smoke from a blown-out paper match--there one second and gone the next.  Like the last ray of sunlight from beneath the horizon.  Like childhood itself.

Maybe this is why I savor this time with the kids--the parties, the stories, the make-believe games.  Right now, they can't fathom a time when we won't have these. 

But I know that fireflies climb up the inside of Bosco jars and take flight. Their lights grow gradually fainter as they fly further away.  You get to have them for only a little while. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Wristband

I am not too old to squeeze an impressive amount of value out of a carnival wristband.  This is the truth I learned this week when our State Fair returned to my hometown for its annual August visit and the kids came for their traditional opening-day trip there.

One of the pleasures of being Googie is that I get to buy the kids, during the week before the Fair arrives, a discount wristband at our local Walgreen's.  This little strip of paper adornment entitles them to unlimited rides for the duration of our adventure on the carnival midway.

Last summer I bought the bands for only Sooby and Pooh, since Bootsie, not yet two, was still too little to know all the fun she was missing.  But the problem was that Pooh fell a little short of the 36" height requirement for many of the rides that Sooby was more than tall enough for.  So I spent my midway time putting one on a ride, then the other, then returning to pick up first one and then the other in an intricately choreographed dance that kept me hopping all afternoon as I tried fervently not to lose a kid. 

This year, with the kids 6, 4 1/2, and almost 3, I could see that we would need a total of four wristbands.  To maximize the ride experience, it was clear that we would need an adult to accompany Bootsie, and often Pooh, on some of the rides where their little blonde heads backed up against the measuring sign and came up short.

So it was I who occupied the "swing" position when an adult was needed, sometimes with Bootsie and other times with both her and Pooh. As a result, I did five stints standing beside Bootsie's carousel horse and scrunched my long legs into more little trains and cars than I could count. 

As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that Sooby was casting a wishful eye at many of the more daredevil-type rides that only she met the height requirement for.  So there came the moment of parting when Pooh and Bootsie went off with their parents while Sooby and I spent the rest of the evening getting my money's worth--and more than I bargained for--out of my wristband investment.

In analyzing my evening's experiences, I have carefully identified several desirable changes in my behavior and record them here for next year's reference under the heading "Notes to Self":
  • Do not go into the house of mirrors.  The only way out is a two-story corkscrew slide that is not conducive to your body size and shape.  You should have noticed this before you went in instead of worrying about a claustrophobia attack.  The scab on your elbow serves as a reminder of your folly, and the way that man laughed at you explains a similar scab on your ego.  Let Sooby go alone all sixteen times next year.  She doesn't need you anyway. 
  • Do not ride in a bumper car with Sooby driving.  She nearly killed you more than once.  This is why even now, three days later, every bone in your body still throbs, and your neck and back still smart with whiplash.  Remember that when the announcer says, "Push down on the pedal and turn the wheel," Sooby does this with a motion that can be described only as "sudden" and "drastic."  Your old body was not made to spin in tight circles while being slammed into from every direction.  Use some common sense, and send the kid in alone.
  • Listen when the announcer says to take nothing with you on the white water log ride.   Remember how you had to hide your billfold down the back of your pants and stuff the candy apple under your T-shirt?  Sucking your gut in to hide the apple from the ride attendants does not optimize your comfort just before experiencing two drenching, death-defying plunges.  Next time, it would be better to leave all your stuff with a total stranger.  If that person decides to make off with all your personal belongings, you will still come out ahead.    
Next year, I resolve to be more generous.  Maybe I will give the extra wristband, if we still need one, to the kids' mama.  Wait a minute--what am I saying?  Next year, Zoomba will throw a barely-two-year-old into the mix. 

Make that five wristbands at $18.95 each.  That may sound like a lot of money, but, I assure you, this year's purchase was a bargain. 

It was priceless to hear Sooby cackle non-stop as she tried to maneuver our bumper car and to hear Pooh's exclamations, from the top of the ferris wheel, that the people and other objects on the ground looked "like toys."

Oh heck--give me the extra wristband.  Scabs heal with time, and candy apples do survive.            


Saturday, July 27, 2013

In the Interest of Science

When your particular field of science involves writing a grandparent blog, your summer affords abundant opportunity to conduct field research.  While some of these raw data are substantial enough to support blog entries, others remain simply random scribbles in a notebook, unrelated to one other and lacking the length or depth needed to stand as posts on their own.

Nevertheless, they capture poignant or humorous glimpses into a kid's unique, creative way of looking at and talking about the world.  Or, perhaps, they offer "snapshots" of a moment that, though it may be inconsequential in itself, begs to be preserved.  Following, then, is a sampling of such notes from Googie's research log dated "Summer 2013."
  • "If you shoot a man deer, you get ham."--Sooby on hunting, gathering, and the culinary arts
  • "To make lasagna, you need monsterella cheese."--Pooh, on Italian cuisine
  • "Here is a whole basket of 'gift tops.'"--Sooby, on discovering a stash of pre-made gift-wrapping bows (in a closet where she shouldn't have been looking).
And then, a few of my favorite anecdotes:

"What do you want to hear?" I ask Bootsie, who is wanting to sing at bedtime.
"Fecal, fecal," she answers, matter-of-factly.
My mind races.  What could she mean?  Then, suddenly, it dawns on me.  I smile to myself and begin the well-known children's favorite she has requested: 
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star . . . ."

Sooby is staying a few days with me and I am trying to get her to think about going to bed after an especially busy day.
"It's late," I say.  "Your little body needs to rest."
"No, it doesn't," she tells me.  "It's aching for action."

Another time, she is on Skype demonstrating how to drop a coin in her piggy bank.  She releases the coin with a dramatic flourish, then, in a tone of near reverence, remarks, "It sounds beautiful when it crashes."

Pooh has convinced me to let him sip chocolate milk out of a quart jug with a straw. 
"You spill that," I warn, "and I'm going to make you eat toenails for breakfast."
He considers this carefully. 
"That's too hard," he says, contemplating a compromise.  "Maybe I could just go without dessert."

Sometimes I picture these kids rummaging around in "Googie's Attic" in years to come--maybe when they are teens or college kids or even young parents.  I may or may not still be around then.  It makes me smile to imagine them reading about the things they did or said when they were little.
They are things that, otherwise, they might never know.  That is why I record them here.  That is why I practice this field of science. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Technology Junkies

My grandkids range in age from one to six and every one of them is a technology junkie.  So these days, scenes like the one below tend to be the norm rather than the exception.

Mostly, their parents and I have our iPhones to thank for this.  Even the two baby boys, Beenie and Zoomba, use their little forefingers to scroll expertly through my camera roll file.  Beenie will stop every time he sees the right arrow symbol that signals a video.  He loves watching the clips I have recorded of him and his cousins doing just about everything children do. 

The older kids are always insisting that I "take a movie" of them doing this or that.  And so, my camera roll is filled with documentation of such things as Bootsie singing the ABC song on the potty and Sooby and Pooh singing "Charlotte Town Is Burning Down" over pancakes at breakfast.

Other equally captivating footage preserves for posterity the fab five as they dance, read, tell jokes, build blocks, laugh, cough (fake), tell jokes, learn to crawl, learn to walk--and the list stretches on.

The other morning Sooby's mama just about spewed an ill-timed sip of coffee out into the living room when Sooby asked me if she could send a text message.  (I always hope that Sooby and Pooh won't tell all our secrets, but in the end I usually get caught.)  She and I had collaborated on a series of texts to Beenie's mama on an earlier visit.

The handful of games I have downloaded to my iPhone have opened a whole new can of techno-worms to the mix.  I once lost a close game of Word With Friends to my son Teebo when one of the kids hit the button that skipped my turn.

During his recent week-long visit at our house, Pooh, at age four, became quite proficient at the game "Temple Run," which the kids all call "Guy."  (It was two-year-old Bootsie who first called it this, because the game features a "guy" running through a hazardous obstacle course to escape a flock of demon monkeys.)

With practice, Pooh has gotten good enough to occasionally attain boosts that give "guy" extra speed or make him invincible (Pooh says "convincible") for a short time.  These different powers are designated with different colors, so, as he plays, it is not unusual to hear Pooh holler things like "Googie!  I got the blue guy stuff."

I try to watch pretty closely when the kids are even in the same room with my iPhone, but once in a while I pay dearly for the sin of slight inattention.  Twice now, Pooh has somehow managed to share his "Temple Run" score to my Facebook page.  At least his game skills have improved to the point that it doesn't embarrass me that much anymore.

The old Atari system that my own children first knew seems so antiquated now.  The later-generation Mario and Luigi could not, in their wildest dreams, have run with the speed and finesse of our beloved "guy." 

I never cease to be amazed at the way these kids today seem to embrace and adapt so naturally to the new state-of-the-art technologies.  I admire that ability and encourage it because, like it or not, they are the way of the future to which these children belong.

I don't think it is too bad a deal that the kids are technology junkies on a limited basis.  After all, we still have our songs and our books and our hugs.  There are plenty of other times during the day when we rely on those old stand-bys.  Even "guy," in all his high-tech glory, is not always convincible.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Missouri Compromise

Anyone who grows up in Missouri or Kansas knows that a rivalry runs deep between these two states.  Some speculation attributes this rift to the fact that, during the Civil War, Kansas was a free state while Missouri was a slave state.  Others translate this deep-lying chasm in terms of collegiate sports that pit the Jayhawks of Kansas against the Missouri Tigers. 

Whatever the case, we on the Missouri side mutter comments about "Kansas drivers" under our breath, while Kansans, I'm sure, have the same or worse to say about those of us who dare to crawl behind the steering wheel of a vehicle and venture westward across the state line.  Likewise, we Missourians are quite sure that the only reason anyone would drive through Kansas is because that is the only direct route to the ski slopes of Colorado.

Since four of my grandchildren live in a little Kansas town three hours away from my Missouri home, I find myself crossing frequently into "enemy" territory.  But I was never so aware of how far these differences reached until recently when Pooh came to spend a week with me here in Missouri.

He came during a week our local community college was hosting a "Kids' College" course for preschoolers called "Adventures in Science."  Thus, he spent a great week learning about dinosaurs, volcanoes, plants, planets, and the like every morning from 9 until noon. For this occasion, his mama packed his travel bag with five clean, nicely matched sets of shirts and shorts.

On the first morning of Kids' College, Pooh and I both woke up excited.  We basked in the anticipation of the activities ahead amid a flurry of cereal and fruit and yogurt.  We were going along great with our preparations for school when, suddenly, Pooh balked.  "But I am in Missouri, Googie," he lamented.  "I can't wear Kansas clothes."

Just like that, the boy took on a problem that I thought belonged solely to the teenage girl.  He had nothing to wear.  The clock was ticking, and I had to think fast.

Luckily, all the grandkids have a little size- and season-appropriate "stash" of extra clothes, mostly from yard sales, that I keep on hand for just such emergencies.  Usually, we can scrounge up the likes of underwear, a swimsuit, a pair of jammies, or an extra shirt. 

However, there has been a lot going on lately, and I haven't had a chance to restock the stashes.  Although there are ample hand-me-downs for the younger kids, my on-hand supplies for the biggest boy and girl are a little slim.  To make a long story a little bit shorter, I had plenty of Missouri shirts, but was sadly lacking in the pants/shorts department.

With the situation escalating to crisis proportions (meaning we were about to be late for the first day of school), I had to do some fast talking in my most convincing tone.  "Nobody notices your shorts," I told Pooh with my fingers crossed.  "They just look at your shirt." 

I don't think Pooh bought into this explanation completely, but I didn't really give him a chance.  We zipped up his Kansas shorts, threw his Missouri shirt over his head, stepped into his clogs on the run, and ended up in the van, where he was easily distracted by a SpongeBob movie.

It was our version of The Missouri Compromise.  It would work, I figured, as long as I remembered to do a laundry load of Missouri shirts about mid-week. 

Here, you see Pooh, on the right, instructing his cousin Beenie on the logistics of a shape sorter.  Obviously, his Missouri shirt shows up quite well, while the Kansas shorts are barely noticeable.  A crisis was averted, and I am now, more than ever, a believer in the value of compromise. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

News Flash!

Been waiting for the call since one
O'clock, and now the waiting's done.
Didn't know what next would be
A-hanging on our family tree.
Ultrasound: today's the day
The sex is for the doc to say.

Babies one and three are girls
Who tie bright ribbons in their curls.
Two and four and five are boys
That we love loads despite the noise.
So will we balance three and three,
Or will the girls outnumbered be?

Will there be playing house and dolls
Or teams with boys and basketballs?
Will we have closets filled with pink,
Or blue stuff soaking in the sink?
Will playtime proffer pirate kings
Or pixie dust and fairy wings?

We've wondered ever since we knew
That Teebo's kids would number two;
That Beenie's sib was on the way
To meet us one November day.
If you have read this far, you too
Are just about to know what's new.

I'll tell you this, and be quite blunt:
We'll have to teach him how to punt
And how to catch the ball and then
Run for the goalpost at the end.
No girl has ever gone so far
As being a great football star!

So now you know: there'll be a boy
Who'll bring more special grandkid joy;
Who'll be a little Beenie clone
And wear the clothes that he's outgrown.
So thanks for reading; now adieu;
It's great to share this news with you!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Morning Games

Since Sooby was born six years ago today, I have discovered and re-discovered a lot of ways to have fun.  But I have to say that, right there at the top of that list, standing head and shoulders above everything else, are the morning games.

Unlike most forms of entertainment, the morning games require no money.  They don't require tickets.  You don't have to get dressed up; in fact, you don't even have to get out of your nightgown.  You don't need to comb tangles out of your hair or brush on mascara to make your eyes look like they are open.

Our best morning games have taken place at Sooby's house. They often transpire not long after daybreak during an overnight visit.  On game days I will awaken while the house is still quiet, lie there, and wait.  I am never disappointed.  It is never long until my fellow player pads up alongside my bed, pulls back the blankets, and snuggles in beside me.

Sometimes she pulls up her nightshirt so I can scratch her back.  She may drowse a little longer before starting the first game, or she may launch right into it.  I caution her to be "a little bit quiet" so as not to wake up everyone else.  The morning games will still be fun when the other players arrive, but right now they are best when it is just Sooby and Googie.

Yesterday was my last opportunity to play the morning games with Sooby as a five-year-old.  It was six years ago today that she came screaming into our world, and she still has the volume.  She still charms me and amazes me and keeps me pretty well wrapped around her pinkie.  She still holds my heart in her pudgy little hand.

The morning games usually grow out of some conversation that eventually arises when both of us realize that neither or us is going to sleep anymore right then.  Yesterday, in a conversation about the highlights of her past year, I asked her, "What's the best idea you've had while you were five?"

She thinks hard a couple seconds and then says, "It was an idea I had that I was a real princess."  She went on to tell me about the castle and its four inhabitants--Queen Julie ("because she wore a lot of jewelry"); King John; Prince Johnson ("because, of course, he was 'John's son'"); and herself, the princess.

She talks of a lavish ball (Cinderella influence, I'm guessing), at which she dances with all the young fellows in the kingdom while Prince Johnson dances with all the young ladies ("womens" and "mens").  The music playing in the royal ballroom is from The Nutcracker.

We are about to cast ourselves as the princess and Queen Julie in one of our dramatic improvisations, when Bootsie arrives on the scene demanding to be cast as "the baby."  Since there is no baby in the castle, Sooby and Boots suddenly become a mother and her baby who are in the hospital. 

Our dramatic enterprises demand spontaneity and versatility.  Just when I am about to be promoted to queen, I become a lowly nurse who, it seems, has to administer a lot of medicine and shots. 

And so it goes for a bit, until Pooh jumps through the door brandishing a scowl and plastic baseball bat, with which he (a "bad guy," of course) engages in some serious bashing and smashing.  By now, the morning game has pretty well morphed into chaos, and, in order to save innocent lives (mostly my own), it is time to promote breakfast.

When I left the kids' house yesterday afternoon, Sooby's mama was making a strawberry birthday cake, and Sooby was painting a papier-mached balloon red for a strawberry piñata.     

Happy Birthday today, my strawberry girl.  It was six years ago today that you made me Googie.  I cannot even remember an identity before that.  That was many, many morning games ago.  



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Zoomba's Surprise Birthday Present

Happy Birthday, Zoomster!  You now have a year under your belt, or should I say, under your onesie.

Pa-pa and I are looking forward to seeing you in a few days for a proper celebration of this momentous occasion.  But for now, this birthday blog will have to suffice.

Just look at that toothy little grin, those big blue eyes, and that headful of blonde curls!  How could any self-respecting Googie not fall in love with those?
I did my birthday shopping yesterday following my usual two-ingredient formula: something to wear and something to play with.  Since you can't read yet, I think it is safe to show our friends what I got for you.  Then, when you are older, you can look back at this and know what your first birthday present from Googie and Pa-pa was.
First is a pull-along frog who can serve as your faithful companion as you learn to walk.  Your cousin Beenie is just learning to walk too, so you guys and the frog should be able to have yourselves a good old time before long.
Next is a Batman outfit.  Your brother Pooh is big into the preschool superhero culture, so I think it is time you were initiated too.  Now you will have the proper apparel to join the fray along with Wonder Woman, Naked Man, and Bat Baby.
In years to come, little Zoomie, you won't remember this day or these presents from Pa-pa and me.  And, fortunately, you won't recall the little present your siblings have given you and with which you observe your first birthday.  We can never know exactly which one of the three is responsible for this little "gift," but we suspect it might have been a team effort.  Most things in your full, busy household are. 
Anyway, we wish as happy a birthday as possible to a cute little guy with a toothy grin, big blue eyes, a headful of blonde curls--and patches of splotchy, blistery bumps.  You won't remember it, Zoomie, but the rest of us won't easily forget that you spent your first birthday with the chickenpox!  
By the time Pa-pa and I get there this weekend, the worst should be past.  Then, we will open up the pull-along frog and try on the Batman duds.  Meanwhile, hang in there, little guy, and whatever you do--try not to scratch! 


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Riding Sandy

The old gray mare may not be what she used to be, but you really can't say that about Sandy.  Sandy is a coin-operated mechanical horse that has galloped and whinnied in the entryway of my hometown grocery store for well over fifty years now. 

As a child in the '50s and '60s, I stepped up into the stirrup and swung my leg across Sandy's saddle many times, as did my own children in the '80s.  With Pooh's discovery of Sandy last week, the tradition reaches down into another generation like a sweet, old cowboy campfire song.

Here's how it works:  You slide a quarter into Sandy's slot, give the coin box a little jiggle, and hold your breath for a split second to see if the old horse will lurch into his full, jerky gallop one more time.  Then, you stand back, enjoy the accompanying "William Tell Overture" ("The Lone Ranger" theme to us '50s kids), and watch the eyes of your grandson light up for the duration of the minute-long ride.

The sign on Sandy's coin box, lettered by a store employee, is a testament to the fact that his performance may be a tad irregular.  This close-up of the sign explains it all:

A store manager recently told me that their company's two stores, both named Bing's, opened their doors in 1952, the year I was born.  In the late '50s, they bought a Sandy horse for each store, and they both remain operational to this day. 

Clearly, the machinery that makes Sandy go hails from an era in American workmanship when things were built to last.  But with the technological changes of the past half century, the parts that trigger Sandy's mechanism have become obsolete. 

Thus, there will be no replacement parts when Sandy balks on his final rider or when his saddle finally wears out.  The leather reins that I used to pull back to make him buck a little harder are already gone.  As a result, Sandy's saddle horn is shiny from the grip of hundreds of little hands.

A few Sandys remain available on the internet, but only for the kind of big bucks clearly out of reach for a small hometown grocery business.  There will come a day when a local welder can no longer wield his soldering magic.  At that point, Sandy will have to be put out to pasture for good.

But for now, at least, Sandy rides relentlessly on, charming a sixth decade of riders with his novelty and his simplicity.  And when Pooh came to spend the week with me last week, the Sandy Fan Club gained another enthusiastic new member.

On the day of our last grocery store visit of the week, Pooh, who is not especially open with his expressions of affection, bade Sandy a fond farewell.  "I love you, Sandy," he said as we walked past.

Sandy's face didn't register much expression.  I imagine he has heard this before.