Friday, May 31, 2013

A Little Winter Magic: The Conclusion

The Story So Far:  Two little bears, Honey and Beezer, disregard their mother's advice to nap for the winter.  Instead they want to stay awake to see snow and ice for themselves, because their friend Squirmy Squirrel has told them all about ice skating and snow ice cream.  When they sneak out of the house, a strange, rather unorthodox creature who calls herself their "Hairy Fairy Bearmother," uses a series of rhyming chants to convince them they might not enjoy ice and snow so much after all.  Honey and Beezer decide to return home for now, but to dress warmer and try the adventure again next year.

"Where did the Hairy Fairy Bearmother go?" Honey whispered, as she and Beezer sneaked quietly back into their warm den and underneath their mountains of warm blankets.

"I guess she just disappeared," said Beezer.  "After all, she's magical, you know."

Honey didn't even hear Beezer answer.  Her eyes wouldn't stay open any longer.  Beezer himself felt his mouth stretch into a gigantic yawn.

In her room next door, Mama smiled at the sound of soft little bear cub snores.  Just as she was crawling into bed, she noticed the pile she had left on the floor.  In it were a shimmery gown, a lopsided crown, a sparkly veil, and a branch from the walnut tree right outside.

"Oh, well," she said, snuggling down under her own mountain of blankets.  "I'll pick those things up next spring.  The way it sounds, I may need them again next winter."

Commentary:  So now you know that the story is really about a mother's resourcefulness as she comes up with a creative solution to the problem of two little bears who don't want to go to sleep.  Hopefully, it is not apparent until the end that she and the Hairy Fairy Bearmother are one and the same.  I want that to be something children can figure out for themselves.  

I didn't know myself that this was going to be the case until I was trying to think how to end the story within the 750-word maximum imposed by the contest.  For me, watching a piece develop in the actual act of composition is always a real thrill.

The names Honey and Beezer, I suspect, arose from my subconscious through a circuitous route that winds back to A.A. Milne and the honey-loving, bee-beleaguered Winnie-the-Pooh.  The kids and I have read a lot of those charming tales over the past five years.  Last weekend, Sooby said she would again lend me her illustrating expertise when she comes for her extended visit this summer.  If that happens, I will share her illustrations here on the blog.

As I mentioned several posts ago, the fiction-writing thing is relatively new to me. However, the recent experience of having five grandchildren in five years has given me much opportunity to contemplate and analyze the literary strategies of those who write for children.  Likewise, I have had a lot of fun trying my own hand at it, so I was glad for the opportunity to enter the contest sponsored by my local senior center.

Thanks for giving the story a look here on the blog.  I have learned much from your comments, and I thank you for those as well.

And--oh yeah--I promised to tell you the outcome of the contest.  Honey and Beezer, it seems, garnered second place.  Good enough to be encouraged.  Room to grow.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Little Winter Magic: The Middle

Headnote:  This is the second installment of the kids' story begun in the previous post.  In that segment, two little bears, Honey and Beezer, disregard their mother's advice to nap for the winter.  Instead, they want to stay awake to see snow and ice for themselves, because their friend Squirmy Squirrel has told them all about ice skating and snow ice cream.  At this point in the story, they have just escaped from their beds into the winter wonderland outdoors.

Sure enough, a layer of ice topped the pond like cake frosting.  Squirmy was already gliding and sliding on tiny skates made of walnut shells.  Snow was falling all around, and its soft whiteness made the world appear magical.

Suddenly a most interesting creature appeared before Honey and Beezer.  She wore a shimmery white gown and a lopsided crown.  A long sparkly veil hid her face.

"Who are you?" Honey asked. "Are you our fairy godmother?"

"I am your Hairy Fairy Bearmother," said the strange creature.  "Is it true that you want to stay up all year and see what winter is really like?"

"Oh, Yes," Beezer exclaimed.  "Can you show us how to ice skate?"

The Hairy Fairy Bearmother raised her magic wand (which, by the way, resembled a plain, ordinary stick).  She cleared her throat and chanted:

          If you think that ice is nice,
          Think again not once but twice,
          For you might cringe and hear a thump
          And find you've landed on your rump!

"Ouch!" said Beezer.  Just thinking about that made his bottom hurt.  "Maybe I don't really want to skate.  But I sure would like to eat some snow ice cream!"

The Hairy Fairy Bearmother seemed to know a lot about winter.  Once again she raised her wand, cleared her throat, and chanted:

          You may think in your wildest dream
          That you would relish snow ice cream,
          But just when you are saying, "Yum!"
          The frosty cold will freeze your tum.

Hearing this sent a little shiver rippling through Honey's hair.  "I'm already a little cold," she said, pulling her night cap down over her ears.  "Let's go home, Beezer."

Just then Beezer saw Squirmy tumble head over heels on the frozen pond.  The cold air seemed to whistle right through his new night shirt.

"Well . . . OK," he agreed.  "We'll go home for now.  But next year, we'll wear warmer clothes."

                                                                                                            To Be Continued . . . .

Footnote:  Originally, I had planned to make the character they encountered a talking snowman who would impart some kind of wisdom to the bear kids.  But halfway in, I saw that doing that would put me over the word limit imposed by the contest I was writing the story for.  Hence, the Hairy Fairy Bearmother appeared, and I thought it would be fun to have her talk in rhyme.  

In a day or two, I will post the story's surprise ending (Can you guess it?) along with a few observations on the process of writing it.  Oh yeah--I will also let you know how I fared in the contest.  Thanks for your feedback.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Little Winter Magic: The Beginning

Headnote:  This is the opening of a children's fairy tale, written last month for a local competition, on the theme "The bears decided to stay awake all year."  When Sooby comes to stay in a couple weeks, I will see if she wants to draw some illustrations for it like she did for "Jacky Joe's Halloween Party" last fall.

Once upon a time, on a cold night in early winter, a sleepy mama bear called to her children.

"Hurry, Honey!  Come on, Beezer!  Winter is here," she said.  "It's time for our long, long nap."

"But Mama," Honey protested, "Squirmy Squirrel stays up all winter, and he says it's really fun.  There's snow and ice and--"

"--we want to stay awake the whole year too," Beezer chimed in.  "Please, Mama?"

"That Squirmy Squirrel is nothing but trouble," Mama said, frowning.  "I wish he would quit filling your heads with those newfangled ideas.  We are bears, and when it's cold outside, bears are supposed to sleep."

Honey's face fell.  Beezer puffed out his mouth in a genuine baby-bear pout.

"But look here," Mama said, changing the subject.  "I made a new lace nightcap for you, Honey.  It's pink."  Honey brightened a little.  She did love pink.

"And Beezer, come try on your new striped nightshirt.  It's warm and stretchy, with plenty of room for those long arms and legs."  Mama helped Beezer put his arms through the sleeves.  Then, she led the cubs to their matching beds in the nursery and tucked them tightly under mountains of soft, warm blankets.

"Spring will be here before you know it," she reassured them.  "Now sleep tight."

After Mama left, Beezer climbed out of bed and tapped Honey on the shoulder.

"Honey!"  Let's tippy-toe outside.  Remember what Squirmy said.  The whole pond freezes over with ice.  What fun skating will be!"

Wide awake now, Honey also remembered Squirmy's words.  "And there is something called 'snow' that we can make ice cream with!" she said.  She wanted to stay awake as much as her brother did.  Very quietly the two little bears ventured outside.

                                                                                                To be continued . . . .

Footnote:  From long-ago college classes, I learned that part of the fun of reading to children and of teaching them to read for themselves is stopping mid-story and asking them what they think will happen next.  What do you think Honey and Beezer will find outside?  Will they get into trouble?  Will Squirmy Squirrel be involved?  What do you think?

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Little Winter Magic: The Foreword

If you have spent much time rummaging around in "Googie's Attic," you know or at least suspect that I prefer to write poetry and creative nonfiction rather than fiction.  If not for my hometown Senior Center (which, by the way, I barely qualify for on the basis of age), I probably would never have mustered the motivation to try my hand at fiction in any serious way.

However, as a result of becoming better acquainted with the Senior Center writers, who put their fingers to the keyboard under the amazing tutelage of a former creative writing student of mine, I have somehow amassed the courage needed to branch out into the unknown territory inhabited by the mysterious, elusive beast known as fiction.

Since I have spent so much time reading to the grandkids over the past five years, it stands to reason that some of my earliest efforts in this genre have been stories for children.  You may remember that I published the first of these, "Jacky Joe's Halloween Party," on the blog last October, along with some great original illustrations by Sooby.

This spring the Senior Center again sponsored a contest with a category for children's fiction.  This time it was to be a "fairy tale," 300 to 750 words, using the theme "The bears decided to stay awake all winter."

Knowing this, I drifted off to sleep several nights with my thoughts focused on a family of storybook bears.  I pondered why they might want to stay awake.  I considered what might happen if they did.  I wondered if the whole family would stay awake, or just the kids.

What resulted from these musings is a story titled "A Little Winter Magic."  This month, I will share the story in segments here on the blog, along with some commentary on the experience of writing it.  I hope you will want to read it, share some feedback with me, and--better yet--try it out on some imaginative preschoolers you know.

So next time in "Googie's Attic," watch for the answers to these thought-provoking questions:  If you were going to create a little boy bear and a little girl bear, what would you name them?  What kind of antics would you expect from a character named "Squirmy Squirrel"?  What does a mama bear do when her kids don't want to go to bed?

On the edge of your seat, are you?  Transitioning into the nail-biting stage?  Watch the blog for the first installment of "A Little Winter Magic" in a couple days.       


Friday, May 10, 2013

The Bazinga

Three months ago a nearby university--my old alma mater, in fact--released to the media an earth-shaking announcement:  mathematicians there had discovered--drum roll, please--a NEW PRIME NUMBER.  Holy inter-terrestrial integers, Batman!  Now we can all sleep at night.

Never mind that this 17-million-digit miracle would require reams of paper just to be printed so that we could feast our eyes on it.  Though the article I read failed to specify just how this numerical wonder would ease world hunger, bring the country together over gun control, or tell us what really happened in Benghazi, I have no doubt that such answers lurk there somewhere.

Indeed, such an arithmetical anomaly causes us more alphabetically-oriented types to hang our heads in shame.  Why can't we find something new?  After all, just how long have we been using these same old twenty-six letters? 

In fact, we have so few letters that some of them, like c and g, have to do double duty by representing more than one sound.  Those poor little letters must exist in a continuous schizophrenic quandary as we require them to shuttle constantly between "hard" and "soft."  And just think of those poor vowels!  They never know what they are supposed to sound like, so a lot of times we relegate them to an undignified "uh" and go on.

Resting my head on my hand, barely able to type on, I gaze in bitter remorse on this sadly impotent computer keyboard.  I am just about to put it out of its misery with a sledge hammer when--wait!--there it is!  It has nestled quietly there below my fingers all this time, just waiting to be discovered and lavished with the recognition it deserves.  Sure enough, quite by accident, I have discovered the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet.  It looks like this:  [:].

How could I have missed something so phenomenal as this?  Oh, how I rue the years, fraught with nonchalance and complacency, when my fingers flew across this keyboard oblivious to such potential just waiting to be tapped.  Guiltily, I take my right forefinger and scrape it repeatedly along the top of my left.  Shame, shame, shame on me.

The potential uses of this newly-discovered letter are myriad.  I don't think even Carl Sagan could count them all.  Like the new prime, it would take reams of paper to explore them all, so I let it suffice here to mention only a few.

How many times, when deeply engrossed in your writing, have you settled for using the clumsy and verbose phrase "electrical outlet cover"?  Or how about "shirt with two buttons"?  Or "jar with two suspended peas"?  With potential this awe-inspiring, I must give it a name that reflects its true wonder.  I hereby christen it "bazinga."

"X-Y-Z-Bazinga."  At this point my mind virtually explodes with possibility, so I must hurry on to seek out media coverage of this life-transforming discovery. 

Welcome to our world, bazinga.  The forty-eighth known prime number pales alongside the likes of you.     

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Words for the Wise

At the moment, each of my five grandkids is in a different stage of language development and expression.  Zoomie still operates at the nonverbal level with the typical peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake gestures.  Beenie voices only simple, repetitious words like "tick-tick" and "uh-oh," although it is clear that he understands many more when he hears them said (like "no" and "cough").

Boots, at 2 1/2, says most anything she wants to but is sometimes hard to understand.  Four-year-old Pooh spews a veritable fountain of words that sometimes find it impossible to keep up with the pace of his busy little brain.  But at almost six and nearing the end of her kindergarten year, Sooby is the one whose creative, multi-faceted use of language is the most fun right now.

First, it is interesting to hear how she couches certain experiences she doesn't yet have the vocabulary for.  For instance, not long ago, she was explaining to me how the human brain grows.  "It starts out as a little piece of stuffing," she said, "and then turns into a pink ball."

Another time she was giving me instructions for producing a glottal click (the sound you make when you tell a horse to giddy-up).  "Put your tongue on the top of your mouth," she told me, "and then slap it down."

The fact that Sooby can now read just about anything has opened up a whole new world for her, but she sometimes finds that world confusing.  Several incidents that occurred the last time she was here illustrate that quite well.  For example, when she saw the word "Master" on the combination lock that secures our yard shed, she asked Pa-pa who the master was and why he had locked up our building.

Years ago I brought home as a door prize from somewhere a rustic wooden sign that says, "Here let the fires of friendship burn."  It hangs on my indoor deck as a motto for our summer swimming soirees and barbecues.

Sooby digested the message of that sign with no small degree of concern.  "Googie?" she asked in a voice tinged with alarm.  "Are fires of friendship going to burn RIGHT HERE?"  Sometime, when you are up for a challenge, try explaining metaphor to a five-year-old.

That same visit included a Monday that happened to be a holiday at her school but not here.  Thus, First Student, Inc., the bus transportation company our district uses, was running its regular route.  As a big yellow school bus with "First Student" emblazoned on the side came toward our house, Sooby's mama beckoned her to the window to watch. 

"Look," she said.  "There's the bus picking up a little girl to go to school."  School buses are new to Sooby, as she lives just a couple blocks from her school and doesn't ride a bus.

The bus glided slowly past our window as it worked to gather speed.  Sooby watched intently, read the words on the side of the bus, and then said, "Yep.  There goes the first student."  I guess she thought the second and succeeding students would have their own buses, all with the appropriate ordinal signage.

My favorite of Sooby's recent verbal adventures happened at her school a couple months ago.  As a test, the teacher instructed the class to take a clean sheet of paper and write their numbers from 1 to 100.  When it came time to grade the tests, the teacher found Sooby's paper near the bottom of the pile, one of the first to be turned in.

There were no numbers at all on Sooby's paper, but she did give her teacher an explanation of sorts.  On the paper, she had written, "I am not going to do this."  How great is that?

Of course, Sooby's mama was mortified, and Sooby paid dearly at home by having to write her numbers from 1 to 100 twice.  I imagine she got the expected lecture about following the teacher's instructions and all that.  But from a Googie's perspective, I think this is about the funniest thing I have ever heard.

First, Sooby's mama was a willful child herself, and there is delicious poetic justice here--but I won't go there now.  Instead, I will just enjoy imagining the teacher, lost in a bored daze of number-checking, coming across this paper.  How many written notes do you think she gets from her five-year-olds?  Not many, I suspect. 

I don't think for a minute that Sooby intended any disrespect.  Reading between the lines of her words and knowing the child as I do, I am sure she simply meant, "I know how to do this.  You know I know how to do this.  I am busy with something else right now."

I have threatened to buy Sooby a cell phone for Christmas so that she can text me.  Her mama does not see the humor in this, so I probably will try to resist that urge (for now).  But I love seeing this kid grab this thing we call language by the tail and swing it around to her heart's content.

In a little over a month Sooby will be coming by herself to spend a whole week with me.  I think it may be time to dust off the Scrabble board and acclimate myself to the idea that, at bedtime, she will be the one reading the stories.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Beenie's Other Christmas Present

Just two nights ago I was frying up three skillets of morels, which Mom, Pa-pa, Teebo, Beenie's mama, and I inhaled in pretty short order as we enjoyed a textbook spring evening out on our screened deck.  As we worked to founder ourselves on these delicate offspring of wet weather followed by hot sunshine, we gloried in a concert of birdsong and distant lawn mowers against a backdrop of lush green lawns and flowering trees ruffled by a welcome breeze.

As the evening wore on, the breeze picked up and turned cold.  By last night the temperature had dropped fifty degrees and a wintery mix of precipitation began to assault the tulips.  Today, we woke up to a historic cover of May snow that has continued to come down through most of the day.  Never, in all of my six decades of life, do I recall seeing snow in Missouri in the month of May.

And so, on a day when I was supposed to be having a garage sale with the other families in my subdivision, my thoughts have rewound themselves to the things of winter.  Chili is simmering on the stove, and I am thinking about Christmas.

Specifically, I am thinking about what I will get for Beenie, who is Grandkid #4 of the Fab Five.  Since Beenie and I have spent three days a week together most of this school year, I have a pretty good idea of the kinds of things he might like to find beneath the paper and bows next Christmas, when he will be twenty-one months old.

A typical boy, he likes trains and cars and basically anything with a set of wheels that he can push along the floor while making that cute little "bmm-bmm-bmm" motor sound.  He also likes phones, from the most basic rattler toy to my iPhone.  Every day, at some point, he will hand me the rattler, shaped like a landline receiver, and expect me to go through my familiar one-sided dialogue:  "Hello?  Yes.  Yes.  No.  OK.  Bye-bye."

I also have the Fisher-Price chatter phone and numerous toy cordless and cell phones.  Although he likes all of these, none holds a candle to my iPhone, whether we are looking together at the pictures and videos of Beenie and his cousins stored in my camera roll file or watching a musical You Tube video like "Five Little Monkeys" or "I'm a Gummy Bear."

Finally, I am proud to say that Beenie has taken after his Googie and seems to have an affinity for Beanie Baby stuffed animals.  (With a blog name like "Beenie," I guess he didn't really have a choice.)  Although most of my nine hundred (yes, you read that right) Beanies occupy a closet out of the grandkids' reach until they get a little older and more hand-tag-friendly, I do keep eight or ten  of the "better-loved" ones on a shelf in the family room for them to play with.

Every day Beenie will use the loveseat to pull himself into a standing position so that he can then point a little forefinger at the furry little critters he sees up on the shelf above.  This is my cue to get them down, one by one, and repeat their individual names as I put them within his reach.  Thus, Casanova, Woody, Mystique, Ally, Yours Truly, Kissy, Glory, Giraffiti, and Chocolate Kiss become an integral part of our play.

So toy vehicles, phones, and stuffed animals are all good candidates for Beenie's special present, come the more welcome and opportune snowfall that heralds Christmastime.  I will keep these in mind as I watch for sales and bargains that may present themselves over the summer.

However, whichever of these I buy will have to take second place to the other gift I have in mind for Beenie.  This is something I have been thinking about for a couple months now.  I get more excited about it every day.

It will be a tee-shirt that says "Big Brother."  Consider this the official announcement of the expected arrival of Grandkid #6 on or around November 10, just a day before what would have been my sweet dad's eighty-ninth birthday. 

This means I am going to have to spray-paint that sixth 8- x 10-inch wood frame for the googery, the gallery of grandkid photos I have hanging in their room here at Googie's.  (See "The Googery," my March 18, 2013, blog post for further explanation and a photo.)  It will be chocolate brown this time.

So, although this comes a little early, Merry Christmas, Beenie.  I hope you will like your present this year, whatever it is, and I know we will like ours.