Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Winter Wonder

Here in mid-Missouri, it is like someone filled the Big Dipper with snow and then turned it over and dumped it on us several times in the last six days.  On the negative side, we have had to endure power outages, stuck vehicles, fender benders, damaged trees, and collapsed roofs.

But, at least for Pa-pa and me, the severity of Old Man Winter's bite has been tempered by a fire in the fireplace, a pot of soup on the stove--and numerous batches of snow ice cream.  It has been several years since we have had snow like this, I reasoned, so why not put this ample supply of white stuff to good use?

I will be the first to admit that I was out of practice, and there are so many suggestions on the internet that a person hardly knows which one to begin with.  But after considerable ingredient-tinkering and by-guess-and-by-gollying, I have arrived at a recipe that I consider simple, economical, low-calorie, and, of course, yummylicious.

Basically, you need a large bowl containing about four cups of loose, clean, fresh snow.  Stir into that a scant 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/2 to one teaspoon of vanilla to fit your taste.  Period.  Eat and be amazed.

Variations of the recipe will suggest using half and half or sweetened condensed milk, but if you are like me, you are less likely to have these on hand than plain old milk.  Milk works just fine.

Once you master the basics, you can get creative if you want.  For instance, here is the basic recipe dressed in its "sundae" clothes--in this case, caramel syrup and a maraschino cherry:

Or, if you are a chocoholic like me, you might prefer to make your whole recipe chocolate by adding the desired amount of chocolate syrup to the milk before adding the milk to the bowl:
Whether you prefer to stay basic or branch out to one of the variations, you will have yourself a delicious snack or dessert that is cheap, quick, easy, and calorie-friendly.  The basic recipe above makes enough for four small bowls (62.5 calories per serving), three medium bowls (83 calories per serving), or two big bowls (125 calories per serving). 
Disclaimer: These figures are based on 1/2 cup 2% milk at 60 calories and 190 calories for 1/4 cup sugar.  But caveat eater here--remember that I am a word person, and math has never been my strong suit.
In closing, let me suggest just a couple things I learned in my snow ice cream test kitchen this past week: 
  1. Don't make the ice cream until you are ready to eat it.  It won't last long, and it doesn't freeze well.  The mixing takes under five minutes, start to finish.  Work quickly.
  2. If you can, set the bowl out and let the snow fall into it.  This insures that your snow will be clean, and you won't take the chance of dipping down into dirt or other debris and compacting the snow in the process.
  3. Add the sugar to the snow first, and maybe use a fork for this to preserve what fluffiness you can.  Then stir the liquids in with a big spoon that you can also use for dipping.
  4. Don't use snow from a wintery mix.  Sleet makes the consistency too icy to get a good blend of your ingredients and a smooth texture.
There you have it--everything in the world I know about making snow ice cream.   Trust me--I speak from a position of authority based on copious recent practice.

I can't help thinking that lyricist Dick Smith, who penned the words to the song "Winter Wonderland" eighty-some years ago, must have known something about snow ice cream.  If you get a chance to try it, you will agree that it is truly a winter wonder.




Monday, February 25, 2013

Googie's Superhero Award

With this year's Oscars behind us, the time is right to focus our attention on the much coveted Superhero Award.  My name is Googie, and I am your emcee.  Welcome to our show.

Actually, the show is coming to you on tape-delay, as the actual event occurred two days ago.  Last Saturday, our local Parks and Recreation Department hosted a Superhero Party for children ages 2 through 7.  Held at a convention center in one of our city parks, the party consisted of three large rooms filled with games and craft activities for children to engage in on a walk-up basis. 

Manned by young men and women in superhero attire, the carnival-like stations invited children, most of whom were also costumed, to deflect balls, throw foam mallets at balloons, or shoot flying disks at targets depicting the evil Joker.  At the craft tables the kids could choose stickers and markers to decorate cardboard masks, swords, and shields, or to put their personal touches on a fabric cape. 

They could get tattoos, run an obstacle course, or get their pictures taken with the Superhero cast.  In short, the party was an hour and a half of pure Superhero-themed fun topped off with a cookie and a juice drink.  (At this point, just let me pause to thank our sponsors for the hours of effort that went into creating such a fun, memorable time for these kids.)  And now, back to our program.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure and self-appointed task to introduce to you the three finalists for Googie's Superhero Award.  First, we have the inimitable Pooh, clad as Spiderman from the shoulders down, but jauntily sporting the mask he colored at the party:

Next is Miss Sooby, who purports the highly contested theory that Buzz Lightyear could, in fact, under that space suit and all that buzzamatazz, have been female:

And finally, the reticent Bootsie, illustrating that even Supergirl can suffer a moment of weakness.  However, after receiving a much-needed dose of Kryptonite from her mother's pants leg, you will be relieved to know, she recovered sufficiently to hurl a foam bat-a-rang and knock over a tower of upside-down solo cups in true Supergirl fashion:

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you have all been waiting for.  Although all three are deserving, only one of these three finalists will be awarded Googie's Superhero Award.  Drum roll, please.  And the winner is--

Wait!  It seems we have a write-in candidate.  Yes, folks, yet another Superhero has clawed her way to the top of the competitive heap to garner this most prestigious honor.  And here she is:

Yes!  I am proud to announce that Googie's Superhero Award goes to Cookie, the kids' mother.  Cookie braved the aftermath of a huge winter snowstorm to undertake a three-hour one-way drive with four children ages five and under just so that we could all go to this party and make this wonderful memory. 

In the picture she appears to be holding up a vehicle, but I guarantee you this is nothing compared to the weight she shoulders every single day in the anything-but-simple act of being mama to the other three finalists and their baby brother.

Take a bow, Cookie.  You are a Superhero in every sense of the word.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Styles of Love

I love the prospect of scouting thrift stores and after-holiday sales for creative craft activities to share with the kids.  So I knew I had found a bargain when a recent shopping venture offered up two identical 99-cent kits for making a nifty little Valentine's Day doorknob hanger.

I use the word "kits" in the most basic sense of the word.  Each packet contained a 3- x 5-inch foam placard fitted with a yarn string and accompanied by a sheet of stickers.  This past weekend, I gave the kits to Sooby and Pooh, giving them free reign over how their finished products would take shape.

The results surprised me, although they shouldn't have.  I know the kids differ greatly in personality and attention span, in their interest in visual art, their meticulousness, and their sense of aesthetics.  Nowhere are those differences more obvious than in the style used by each child to place his or her stickers on the door hangers.

Shown first below, Sooby's project reflects a meticulous precision and symmetry.  She worked patiently and diligently over ten minutes to assess her choices and place her stickers painstakingly.  She used the word "LOVE" as the central focus of her design and placed the "Happy Valentine's Day" sticker at the bottom, like a caption.  Here is the result of her effort:

Pooh, on the other hand, approached the task with an eye toward the finish line.  His stickers went on in a hurry, with his whole effort clocking in at about three minutes.  His sticker placement is random, with some of the pieces, even those with letters, upside down.  While Sooby's style mirrors the classical, Pooh's is clearly more avant-garde.  Strangely enough, one of his ladybugs is mounted with the sticky side up, hence the white blob you see in the picture below:

I thoroughly enjoyed watching as these two very different art pieces evolved in a way reflecting each child's idiosyncrasies.  Both, however, are beautiful in their own way, as are the children who designed them. 

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.  May you spend precious time with someone you love, and may you celebrate that love in a way that celebrates its wonder and its uniqueness.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Orlando By Storm

It took me sixty years, but last month I finally made it to Orlando, FL, to see for myself what all the commotion is about.

Piggybacking along with Pa-pa, who went there to represent the community college where we both worked for thirty-plus years, I got to spend a four-day-long second childhood in the distinguished company of Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse, and assorted other icons of a world where the name of the game is Imagination with a capital I.

My adventures took me to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure and three of the four Disney parks (I didn't make it to Animal Kingdom), where I spent a full ten-hour day trying to see everything and do everything I could.  I could say I was scouting things out for a future trip with the grandkids, and that might happen.  But mostly I was revelling selfishly in the near inebriation that accompanies an unbelieveable level of sensory overload amid a setting of balmy Florida weather.

Late January proved to be a perfect time to experience the Orlando theme parks.  With the exception of Magic Kingdom day, I enjoyed light crowds and a leisurely pace.  I saved a considerable amount of money (probably about $50) on Disney tickets by buying them in advance from AAA, and I maximized my time in those parks by using the free "fast pass" feature.  By staying in a Disney-property hotel, I qualified for free shuttle transportation to and from the three Disney parks.  Round-trip shuttle fare between the hotel and Universal was an additional $19 plus tip.
Of the four parks, my far-and-away first choice is Disney's Hollywood Studios.  This is where I most want to go again, and where I would take the kids first.  Standout attractions there include Toy Story Midway Mania (an arcade ride), Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and Fantasmic! (an evening multi-media extravaganza involving a water, fireworks, and laser lights show). 

For my grown-up, adventurous side there was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith.  The Great Movie Ride satisfied my aesthetic and nostalgic cravings.  In short, there was nothing in Hollywood Studios that I didn't enjoy.  Based on this first-time visit, if I had to choose between the two, I think I would rather take the grandkids there than to the Magic Kingdom.

As someone who cut her teeth watching The Mickey Mouse Club, it seems almost sacrilegious to say this, but the Magic Kingdom disappointed me.  Parts of it seem dated, and the traffic flow doesn't work well.  Compared to Hollywood, at least on the day I was there, it seemed dirty and stinky, and I couldn't go anywhere without tripping over a stroller. 

The fact that you can get there only by ferry or monorail means that you have two lines to fight in order to gain admission to the park--one at the point of transportation and another at the turnstiles.  The day I was there, the monorail broke down as I was midway up the ramp to get on, so numerous additional ferries had to be dispatched to accommodate the crowd.  This caused a bottleneck of people arriving at the same time, and that may have contributed to the crowd flow problems even as the day wore on.

Upon entering the Kingdom, I found it ironic to see a crane working at the site of Cinderella's castle.  I noted to my Facebook friends that "maybe even dreams sometimes need reinforcement."  Looking back, I can see the crane may have been an omen.  This is not to say I didn't have a great day.  Maybe I just expected too much, but for me, the Magic Kingdom this time around seemed a little short on pixie dust.

In my book, Epcot Center ranks a close second to Hollywood Studios.  It boasts my favorite attraction of all four days, a hang-gliding simulation ride called Soarin'.  Like Hollywood, it is laid out with thought to crowd traffic, dispersal, and management.  Its Future World is a testament to the power of scientific thinking, and its World Showcase is a celebration of world cultures.

Compared to the Disney parks, Universal Studios and its companion park, Islands of Adventure, are enjoyable but not quite so tourist-friendly.  This is a more expensive admission to begin with, and its "express pass" to minimize waiting time for the various attractions will bring your investment in the day close to $200.  It will even cost you $5 for five minutes in a booth that blows hot air on you when you get soaked on the water rides.

Despite the expense, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located in Islands of Adventure, is well worth your investment.  The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is five minutes of intense flying twists and turns as you follow Harry on his broomstick through a field of super animation and special effects.  Because of Harry, Universal ranks a close third in my hierarchy of park experiences.

I am glad for this unexpected opportunity to check out these four Orlando theme parks.  I approached each attraction with a mental yardstick that I would use to assess how the kids, particularly Sooby and Pooh, might react to it.  Some, I know they would love; others might scare them.  Overall, I think they would appreciate Orlando more and remember it better if they were, say, nine and ten rather than four and five.

I hope that, in five years or so, Pa-pa and I will be able to take them to the Disney parks.  Perhaps we can all be initiated into Animal Kingdom together.  Meanwhile, I will be content to hope for that, or, perhaps, as my good friend Jiminy says, to "wish upon a star."


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Before the World Catches Up

Headnote: As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have recently taken part in a college mini-course for which the focus was using photos to inspire poetry and taking photos to illustrate existing poems.  The poem that follows was inspired by a photo I took of Pooh at the farm nearly a year and a half ago, when he was not yet three.

Before the World Catches Up

Blowing white fluff
off a dandelion stem
is one of those things
you know to do innately,
like writing with a pudgy
finger on windows
where water condenses
to make a slate
just for you.

A kid thinks nothing of
the weed-filled yard,
the smudged glass,
but only of pure
pleasures like these:
decorating a picture window
with ABC's and stickmen
and watching dandelion seeds
loft lazily up, up, upward
against a cloud-filled sky.

Footnote: This picture of Pooh has been hanging on the wall in the kids' room since I took it a year ago last September.  It is one of my all-time favorite shots of him.  But he is four now, and the gallery needs updating.  It is time for new pictures and new poems.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Jester and the Cabbage

When the hour was dark and the moment was drear,
A huge cabbage terrorized New Windermere.
So green was its hue; so tremendous its bulk
That it went by the nickname "Cruciferous Hulk."
It stormed through the woods; it stomped through the vale;
It marched into town flanked by parsley and kale.
Could the kingdom be saved?  The folks had their doubts
'Cause it came with an army of huge brussels sprouts.
They bolted their doors, but all was in vain.
The veggies grew more when it started to rain.
Worse than Godzilla, worse than King Kong,
The cabbage would kidnap the kids--and that's wrong!
So the townspeople rallied, implored of the law
To grate it to death in a big bowl of slaw.
They had to be careful; the cabbage had spikes--
It let out the air from the tires of their bikes.
It punctured their fences and poked through their walls,
And left a big trail of green slime in their halls.
The dukes were outnumbered; the damsels, distressed;
The king tore his hair, and the queen beat her breast.
A committee convened, but to no avail--
The cabbage cried, "Tear down the town!" to the kale.
The king took some action; he didn't think twice:
He summoned the jester to ask his advice.

The jester arrived in his bells and his cap
And his big, pointed shoes that reached up to his lap,
And he said to the cabbage, "Wait! Wait 'fore you strike.
I'll show you a trick--and this trick you will like."
The cabbage was startled and stopped in mid-poke,
And asked if the jester was playing a joke.
"Well, actually, yes," said the jester with glee
As he balanced a kumquat on top of his knee.
He reached in his pocket and took out a pear
That he squeezed and then smashed right onto his own chair!
Then what happened next you just wouldn't believe--
A big orange pumpkin rolled out of his sleeve!
With a thud and a clatter it lit on the floor,
Then, gathering momentum, rolled right out the door!
Meanwhile, the jester was not nearly through
With the trick he was showing the cabbage and crew:
He had grapes on his fingers and plums on his toes,
And he balanced bananas on top of his nose.
The king couldn't help it; he let out a laugh
That soon spread to the duke and the rest of his staff.
The brussels sprouts snickered; the parsley's big frown
Wiggle-jiggled a bit and then turned upside down.
The curly-leafed kale couldn't stifle a grin
When the jester did handstands on back of a hen.
And what of the cabbage?  A gulp and a cough
And a snort and a chortle--he laughed his head off.

With one headless cabbage no longer a threat,
The jester replied to the veggies, "I'll bet
That you'd like to join with me and be in my act
And perform in the circus for crowds that are packed.
We'll go on the road; we'll perform in a tent;
I'll make you all stars--and I won't charge you rent." 
The brussels sprouts blinked and the parsley agreed.
Said the kale, "Ever since I was just a wee seed,
I have wanted to act, to perform in a show,
So draw up the contract; I'm ready to go."
The king and the queen and, in short, everyone
Gave a cheer just to praise what the jester had done.
He had rescued the kingdom, had kept it from harm
With a trick he had kept up the sleeve on his arm.
For he knew that no problem could ruin the day
If those with the problems would laugh them away.
So the veggies and he took the vaudeville route,
And the cabbage? Some spices and heat made him kraut.

A Much-Needed Note of Explanation:  Several weeks ago I was part of a community college lifelong learning class taught by one of my writer friends, wherein we considered how photographs might inspire poems.  The first night, she gave each of us a photo prompt and asked us to engage in a brainstorming process to generate words and phrases it might suggest, and, ultimately, to derive a poem related in some way to the picture.

As you can see below, the photo I selected (sight-unseen) was a doozy.  I could tell it was a specimen of some kind of green vegetation, but the close-up shot pretty well abstracted it beyond recognition.  I learned later that the photo depicts a hosta flower, but that knowledge came only after the above piece, a narrative kiddie poem, took shape in my head and then found its way onto paper.

I have yet to try the poem out on the kids, but I am hoping they get a kick out of the rhythm, the rhyme, and the far-out story situation. After all, Dr. Seuss made a fortune this way.  Maybe Sooby will want to illustrate it.  I hope so, and I hope you enjoy the piece as well.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Super-Hero Turns Four

Dearest Little Pooh:

On this, your fourth birthday, I am playing with the present I had planned to bring you today.  It is a soft, squishy Spiderman toy that features "over 15 sounds and phrases" when you push the spider picture on his tummy.  "You're my crime-fighting buddy!" he will say one time.  "You're web-tacular!" he will say the next. 

I am not able to spend your birthday with you this year because your mama has the flu.  I think it may be the first birthday I have missed for any of you grandkids.  But don't worry.  Our celebration won't be cancelled; it will just be delayed for a little while.  Spiderman is very patient that way.

It has been my pleasure to watch you learn and grow and become your own little person this past year.  Although you share your sisters' love for story and song, it is clear to see that you would rather be on the move than sit still to draw or paint or do other crafty things. You would rather lick icing off the knife than decorate the cookie.  Clearly, you prefer action to artistry.

You loved your role as a mean, sword-bearing mouse in The Nutcracker, but didn't much like being one of only two boys in the summer dance recital.  You are much more comfortable dressed as Spiderman or Batman than in a white dress shirt with a red bow tie.    

Why tap and twirl, you must wonder, when you can run like the wind?  After all, the infamous, underwear-clad Naked Man, the super-hero you invented yourself, wouldn't be caught dead in tap shoes and dress slacks.

Mama tells me that she has bought you Spiderman presents too, and that your cake also follows through with the super-hero theme.  I imagine you are spending the day wearing your Spiderman costume, the one I bought for $1 at Wal-mart during the after-Halloween clearance sale last year.

Even though it is about four sizes too big, it made you so happy that I am pretty sure it was the best buck I ever spent.  I hope that, today of all days, you can wear whatever you want to wear, do whatever you want to do, and be whoever you want to be.  This is your day. 

Happy Birthday, sweet boy.  It has been four years since you first spun a web around our hearts and trapped them for good. You are a special blessing to our family, and in these four short years you have already contributed much toward saving this old world.