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.