Monday, December 29, 2014

The Yellow Giraffe

What are the chances that I would happen to have a yellow giraffe perched on my closet shelf?

As it turns out, just such an animal has been sitting there among my t-shirts and sweaters since the half-price clearance sales after Valentine's Day. Sporting a stuffed heart that said "Kiss Me," he was about to be raffled at the February fundraiser for my local writers' group.

However, this year Beenie's Christmas wish list necessitated an abrupt change of plans. The only things he wanted from Santa, he said, were a taxi cab, a trumpet, and--you guessed it--a yellow giraffe. (As you can see, Beenie has rather eclectic tastes.)

Beenie's mama looked to Amazon for the first two items, but, alas, the third one proved more elusive. It seems a dearth of yellow giraffes had been manufactured at the North Pole this year. A day or two before Christmas, she mentioned this to me in passing.

"Well, actually," I said to her, "I think I may have a yellow giraffe." Later, I texted her a picture of it to see if she thought it might fill the bill. Luckily, she thought it was perfect.

I took another close look at Mr. Giraffe. He was the right color and the right size. He was appropriately soft and furry and cuddly. But there was something about the "Kiss Me" heart that just didn't seem quite right for a two-year-old.

Upon inspecting the heart more closely, I saw that it could be easily removed with three swipes of a seam ripper. Better yet, the surgery would leave no scars. The heart was only loosely tacked onto the giraffe's hands (Do giraffes have hands?) and tummy. Post-op, he looked totally suitable for our purposes:

So, in the spirit of happy Christmases, Beenie got his yellow giraffe and Pa-pa found this under his pillow that night:

And that is the story of how a $4 stuffed giraffe from the Big Lots store translated into a "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."

BUT--if you are worried that my writers' group is without an animal to raffle this year, don't fret. You see, early last summer I was at a garage sale, and there in a basket of 25-cent items was this brand new stuffed Siberian tiger . . . .

Monday, December 22, 2014

Joy to the Squirrels!

to the squirrels!
The walnuts fall-
They'll gather up them all!
They'll nibble and they'll bite
All day and half the night.
They'll chomp and gnaw and chew
Until their cheeks turn blue.
They'll chomp,
They'll chomp,
And gnaw and chew.

to the squirrels!
The hick'ries drop--
They wiggle loose and--PLOP!
The squirrels rush and scurry
So they won't have to worry
When ground is white with snow
That blankets all below--
When ground,
When ground
Is white with snow.

to the squirrels!
Pecans are found
'Neath trees upon the ground!
This year the squirrels may try
To make a pecan pie,
A tasty Christmas dream,
And top it with whipped cream--
And top,
And top
It with whipped cream.

Merry Christmas, everyone, from Googie. Have fun singing these words to the traditional Handel melody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Other Holiday Turkey

There are times when, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I bake two turkeys.

One is the two-legged kind, the stuff of wishbones and drumsticks--the kind whose rich broth makes possible classic holiday fare like homemade noodles and dressing and giblet gravy. The other is my famous Brownie Turkey Pizza.

The recipe for the latter has been a staple of my recipe box--and of our family holidays--for nearly twenty-five years. It came my way via my hometown newspaper sometime in the early 1990s, one of those things I clipped out because it looked like something fun that the kids might like.

Basically, the Brownie Turkey Pizza consists of a boxed brownie mix prepared according to package instructions and baked at 350 degrees on a round pizza pan for twelve or thirteen minutes. When it has cooled, icing, nuts, and candy pieces give it its "turkey" design:

As you see, brownie toppers consist of generous portions of pecan halves, chopped Butterfingers (or walnuts--or both), and M & M's (or Reese's Pieces). These are arranged into turkey formation atop a still-gooey layer of canned chocolate and vanilla (for the head and neck) frosting.

Forming the turkey's beak and wattle are a single piece of candy corn (or a pecan half will work) and a small length of some sort of red gummy candy. Among other choices, you can enlist a gumdrop or a gummy worm for this purpose. This year I sliced the center out of a gummy spider I found at the after-Halloween clearance sales.

A couple tips make the decorating process easier and the outcome more successful. One is to make a pattern (approximately 4" by 6") for the head/neck unit by folding a piece of paper double and cutting freehand until you get about the size and proportions you want. 

Then, lay the pattern on the brownie where you want the head to be, and trace around it with a toothpick. Finally, if you apply the white frosting first, it will not be so likely to get swirls of chocolate in it.

From experience, I have learned that, once the frosting is in place, it works better to add decorations from the outside in. Doing this gives you a better chance of giving your feather structure a round, rather than more oblong, appearance.

Finally, be ready for a fight over the gummy worm or whatever you use for the wattle. No matter how many delicious morsels of M & M's or Reese's Pieces you use, and no matter how thoroughly you saturate the empty chocolate icing spaces with crumbled Butterfingers, every kid at your party is going to want that one irresistible piece of gummy candy.

I have found this to be true through two generations of turkey-eating children, and nothing I have witnessed hints that a change is imminent. It is simply a rule of the universe, and you just have to accept it.

The recipe I clipped from the Sedalia Democrat newspaper (adapted from a source titled "My Own Creation!") so many years ago is yellowed and chocolate-stained. Nevertheless, it has provided the blueprint for more turkey brownie pizzas than I can remember.

This past Thanksgiving is no exception, and, for posterity, let the record show that this year it was Sooby who got the wattle.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Gothic

When it happened last year, I thought it was just a fluke. Surely, I thought, we would do better this year.

But, despite our high hopes and best efforts, the unhappy reality of the situation has only been confirmed: It is impossible to get a good Christmas card photo with six little kids involved. There are simply too many eyes to keep open, moods to appease, and heads of hair to run a comb through all at once.

Up until last year, our annual Christmas card photo had posed no problem. In fact, the year before that, we had successfully added both Beenie and Zoomie to the mix without incident. Apparently, however, the addition of that sixth little body complicates things (through no fault of the baby himself, of course). It is the sole piece of evidence needed to prove the validity of chaos theory.

Indeed "chaos" is the only word that describes the five minutes immediately preceding the flash that added our Christmas 2013 photo to my iPhone camera roll. I will remind you how that ill-fated photographic specimen turned out:

Here, in a shot I will title Christmas Gothic, everyone is visibly unhappy and all for different reasons. At the top of the stairs Pooh and Sooby cannot agree on who gets to hold the bigger part of the stocking, so they are mad at each other. So much for my costuming efforts with Santa hats and red mittens.

In front, Bootsie is aggravated because we are crowding our photo session in right before lunch. She is hungry and wants to eat. Left of her, Beenie perches sullenly on Pa-pa's lap. In his defense, I have to admit the surly look is not entirely unjustified. In the moments just preceding, Beenie's mama attempted to confiscate both his sippy cup of milk and his pacifier.

Although she successfully commandeered the cup, we had to leave the pacifier in the spirit of compromise. Shrill squeals, we quickly learned, reverberate most unpleasantly in the close confines of a stairwell. (These account for Pa-pa's dazed expression,)

Meanwhile, Zoomie, in the center, marshals his cat-like reflexes and seizes the opportunity to grab the aforementioned sippy cup. Normally, this shouldn't pose a problem. But Zoomie is very allergic to dairy products and begins to feel nauseated. You will notice that, wisely, none of us chooses to sit directly in front of him.

Baby Heero, barely a month old, just wants to sleep. Quite understandably, he is unhappy with the noise and the jostling and the general melee. You will notice that I am the only one smiling--"grinning like a possum," Pa-pa would later say--apparently oblivious to the goings-on around me.

So you can see why, this past Thanksgiving weekend, I had high hopes for our 2014 picture. Everyone would be a year older, and the whole process should go more smoothly. That seemed to be the case, until we all took a closer look:

Sooby, it seems, thought it would enhance the photo if she appeared to be asleep. So, in the midst of a gargantuan effort to make sure sixteen eyes are all open in the same split second, Sooby closes hers on purpose in order to look like she is sleeping. Oh well. I guess she does look rather angelic.

And so, in this 2014 Christmas season, Pa-pa and I present to you our official holiday photo with this colorful little string of Christmas lights that illuminate our lives all year long. Sooby, our oldest, is already asleep, waiting for Santa. If you look very closely, I am sure you can see visions of sugar plums dancing somewhere in the vicinity of her head.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I pause this Thanksgiving night to think about the sheer blessing of what I experienced today. No, it was not the day you probably expected me to talk about, wrapped in the lively but wonderful chaos that my six little grandkids bring to any celebration. That will happen tomorrow.

Instead, I spent today in the laughing, loving bosom of my extended family--a gathering of some fifty or more of us representing five generations of descendants from my paternal grandparents. In that family, I fall in the chronological middle of fifteen grandchildren, as my dad occupied the middle spot among the seven siblings of a Depression-era farm family eking out an existence alongside Flat Creek in Morgan County, Missouri.

I remember my dad once remarking that my grandma could not envision a world where cars would one day zoom across the country at 70 miles per hour. That makes me wonder if she would ever have imagined our gathering today, realizing the extent of the legacy she and Grandpa would leave in the generations to come.

Though the sheer number of us is impressive, I am much more taken by the fact that, as an extended family, we still gather together regularly, once for a summer reunion and again on Thanksgiving Day. In spite of the geographically mobile society we have become, most of us still show up for at least one of these yearly events if we can. So do many of our kids and grandkids.

We represent states as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Texas, and still we come together. We do this because we are family, and, simply put, we love each other. My cousins and I gather to renew early friendships forged climbing our grandparents' trees and playing in their hayloft. We have kept up with each other all our lives. I know many families who couldn't--or perhaps just didn't--do that, and I am sorry they had to miss this special brand of camaraderie.

Today nine of the fifteen of us, along with one older and three younger generations, shared turkey and the trimmings in a lavish and traditional Thanksgiving feast. When our grandparents passed away some fifty-three or so years ago, we were all children and teens--and one of us was not yet born. But here we are in all our turkey-stuffed, dessert-laden glory, in a rare shot captured by what seemed like a million cell phones all flashing at once:

In another fifty years my own grandkids will be nearing the age I am now. I can only hope for them the blessings that can be theirs only through nurturing the bonds that join an extended family such as mine. It seems that, with each subsequent generation, doing that in our world will prove to be an even greater challenge.

Don't get me wrong--our lives have not been perfect. Among us we have faced broken marriages, strained relationships, and job problems. We have endured the deaths of loved ones and serious illnesses among ourselves.

But through it all we remain a fan club that exists to cheer one another on through this life, and for that, on this Thanksgiving night, I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The age span between the oldest member of our family and the youngest is eighty-nine years. As a family, our four generations span nearly a century, with birth years ranging from 1924 to 2013.

My mom turns 90 on Saturday, marking the beginning of her tenth decade on this earth. Just a couple weeks ago, little Heero, pretty well the only baby we have left after seven-plus years of rather rapid-fire grandkid production, blew out the single candle on his Old MacDonald cake.

The past two weekends, in a flurry of November pre-Thanksgiving celebrations, various components of our family have hosted two landmark birthday parties, a 90th and a first. Both were loving expressions of our gratitude for these two special family members, the oldest and the youngest, the temporal bookends between which all the rest of us fall.

Below, you see the guests of honor in a photo taken the day after Heero was born:

Of the two, of course, Heero has changed the most:

He is running around everywhere and doing some serious jabbering, much of it consisting of "bah"--which might mean ball or bottle or what a sheep says. Change the vowel sound to oo, and you have a pretty close approximation to cow language. It has been fun to watch what could be our last baby grow a personality and toddle along in the footsteps of his brother and cousins.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, I give thanks for the added blessings of this particular November: the long, healthy life of my mother and the year-ago arrival of this disarmingly charming little boy who came along in his own time, a couple years before the master plan dictated.

A week from tomorrow we will gather once again for Thanksgiving Friday. Framed by our two special bookends, we will once again unwrap the gracious gift of family and, I'm sure, find there many, many more reasons to celebrate.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Many Faces of Halloween

One of the things I love about Halloween is its versatility. It does not restrict itself to certain mandatory activities like opening presents at Christmas, shooting fireworks on July 4, or cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving.

It also allows itself to be celebrated on gorgeous October days other than the 31st. That is especially helpful if distance and family schedules don't always allow Googie to see her kids on that particular day.

In past years the kids and I have embraced the Halloween spirit in numerous ways. When they were smaller, the older ones sometimes trick or treated on our subdivision, or we moved the festivities to the farm for a family wiener roast. Three years ago Sooby, Pooh, and I resurrected "Scarecrow Man" (see the post from Sept. 24, 2011) for the first time since my own children were younger.

This year our Halloween celebration took its spooky, fun-filled place a week early. When the kids got to Googie's last weekend, this is the list they found posted on the pantry door, giving them a variety of Halloween-themed activities to choose from:

Following is a pictorial chronicle of some our accomplishments. First, the foam Frankenstein crafts, followed by the poster-making, aptly demonstrated by Bootsie:

Then, on to the anatomy lesson afforded by our skeleton puzzle, a new-in-the-package garage sale treasure I snagged earlier in the month:

Our "spooky dessert" was a duet of chocolate cake and orange sherbet, but, sadly, it did not last long enough for me to capture digitally. The veggie skeleton, our contribution to a neighborhood wiener roast, fared better:

Finally, in time-honored Halloween tradition, we carved a pumpkin (facial features designed by Sooby and Bootsie). Although it wasn't on the list, Sooby decided a spontaneous toasting of pumpkin seeds was appropriate. (I had forgotten exactly how to do this, but we washed them, put them on a cookie sheet, sprinkled them with olive oil, shook on some seasoned salt, and baked them at 350 for about 13 minutes, turning once.)

The one thing I was looking forward to that didn't get done was wrapping the kids up like mummies in toilet paper, but we can always save that for next year. For several years I have also been saving a plastic jack-'o'-lantern leaf bag for the kids to fill--but I forgot to put that on the list, and we ran out of time anyway. Maybe next year.

Tonight my little spooks will be trick or treating in their home neighborhoods, and I will be home by myself dispensing candy to other little goblins--but that's OK. We have had a large dose of Halloween fun for this year, and October 2015 is just eleven months away.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkin Faces

I love the kind of stuff that stores put on sale after a holiday, and last year's Halloween clearance at our local Kmart did not disappoint. That is when I bought three wonderful bags of body parts.

By "body parts," I mean little plastic eyes, teeth, noses, and other colorful facial features. Their purpose is to make a Mr. Potato Head look-alike out of your pumpkins. The three bags, all containing different pieces, gave the kids and me several dozen objects with which to give our leftover pumpkins one last spooky hurrah. The results, as you will see, were quite captivating.

The pumpkin faces were funny enough in and of themselves. But before I snapped a photo of each child with his or her Mr. Pumpkin Head creation, I told them to try to mimic with their own faces the expressions they had created on their pumpkins. Here is what Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie came up with:

There are two shots of Sooby because she was our most prolific purveyor of pumpkin art, and I just couldn't pick between the two. You can clearly see that the kids had a great time with our little post-Halloween pumpkin episode--but, in all likelihood, the one who had the most fun was Googie.

And now, off to the closet where last year's pumpkin-face parts are stashed in a three-pound plastic coffee container. There may be leftover pumpkins this year too, and I need to be ready.

Disclaimer: No pumpkins were totally demolished as a result of this activity.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bootsie's Pink Lemonade Birthday

Even though I lived it over half a century ago, I remember many things about my childhood quite vividly. When it comes to the goings-on associated with specific birthdays, however, I remember very little, and there are no pictures to nudge my memory.

I have clear recollections of only my sixth and tenth birthdays. Mom threw a surprise party for my sixth birthday, and that was also the year I got to appear with Happy the Clown on "Birthday Party," a half-hour program broadcast from the TV station in our small town.

Specifically, I remember winning the game of musical chairs on that program and, secretly, lamenting that the grand prize--a large jar of peanut butter--fell a little short of the something more glamorous I had envisioned. But I got over it--and the peanut butter, I'm sure, glued together many pairs of square Krispy saltine crackers that summer.

I begged a long time to have a party for my tenth birthday, and Mom finally caved. At that one, I remember all my friends gathering around our dining room table while I opened presents--although the only present I can actually name is a Nancy Drew mystery book titled The Whispering Statue.

So, Bootsie, chances are, you may not recall much about the great time we all had at your house nearly three weeks ago on the day you turned four. That is why I want you to be able to come here to Googie's Attic years from now and see a little about what went on then.

First, you asked for a "lemon cake with pink icing," and your mama gladly complied. That day, Pa-pa and I picked up your cousin Beenie and made the three-hour drive to your house to watch you blow out your candles and share some "pink lemonade" yumminess. Here is what it looked like:

This dessert capped off a great menu, also chosen by you, of turkey, dressing, and sweet potatoes--a little preview of Thanksgiving that your daddy cooked up for us.

The unveiling of the presents came soon afterward, and you hit the jackpot this year. Pa-pa and I brought you a couple shirts, a Buttercup (a horse from Toy Story) flashlight, and a Lamb Chop puppet. Your great-grandma sent along a puzzle.

Mama put together the cutest assortment of playthings based on a Little Red Riding Hood theme. Along with a basket and the storybook, you got a reversible doll that could be the wolf, the grandma, or Red Riding Hood herself. The best part was this bright red cape that was just your size:

Another big hit was the Little Mermaid guitar that Beenie brought for you. While you spent a lot of time that night tripping your way through the woods to Grandma's, the rest of us pretty well fought each other for a turn at the guitar, which you are demonstrating here:

Sooby, Mama, and I even burst into a spontaneous rendition of "Dooley," a bluegrass song from the old Andy Griffith Show. Pooh caught us on video with my iPhone, but with any luck that particular performance may be lost over the years.

It was definitely a night and a party to remember, and it makes me sad to realize that as the years roll by, your own memory of this fourth birthday will likely grow dim. By the time you get to be my age, many years from now, you may not remember it at all.

So you will just have to look at these pictures, read this story, and trust me when I say that your fourth birthday was a wonderful time for our family. You were the queen of the evening, and it is an immeasurable blessing to see you happy and excited and thriving in your four-year-old element.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl. Your pink lemonade birthday will be a hard one to top.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Smokey Makes History

As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in a generation of kids who loved their bears. Of course, by the time I arrived on the scene, "The Three Bears" had long been prominent in the kiddie lit world, and the market had been saturated with teddy bears. (Mine was named "Sandy.")

But with the arrival of our family's first black and white TV in 1958 came "Dancing Bear" on Captain Kangaroo and the  "pick-a-nick"-basket-stealing Yogi ("smarter than the a-a-a-average bear") who, along with his sidekick Boo-Boo, modeled for us many clever ways to outsmart forest rangers. It was at about this same time that I first became aware of Smokey, who convinced me that I and I alone had the power to prevent forest fires.

Every year since I can remember, I have seen Smokey at our Missouri State Fair, held every August in my hometown. He is a staple in the Department of Conservation building there.

This version of Smokey is a large mechanical creature, decked out, as the song says, "[w]ith a Ranger's hat and shovel/and a pair of dungarees."  Against a backdrop of forest timber, he stands ready to deliver a little mini-lecture on fire safety in his gruff bear voice anytime a little forefinger dares to reach out and push his button. After a number of such button-pushings, Sooby poses with Smokey at last month's Fair:

As it turns out, Smokey celebrated his milestone 70th birthday on Aug. 9, the third day of our Fair. Hoai-Tran Bui in USA Today (7 Aug. 1014) identifies Smokey as "the face of the longest-running public service campaign in the U.S." Conceived primarily for children, Bui reports, Smokey came about due to the danger forest fires could pose in the western U.S. due to enemy fire during World War II.

The lovable bear's popularity got a further boost a decade later when a cub saved from a New Mexico fire was dubbed "Smokey" and given a home in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. "Smokey even had his own zip code to accommodate all his fan letters," Bui writes.

Smokey's image has kept pace with the times and with modern technological trends. Not only does he have his own website, but he also has a place in today's social media. According to an Aug. 11 post on the CBS News website, Smokey has "joined Facebook and . . . has nearly 25,000 followers on Twitter."

The grandkids and I had a good time talking about Smokey's birthday. The occasion added a little something extra to our visit to the Conservation Building this year, although little Zoomie still prefers to keep a safe distance between himself and any bear,

When I told the kids that Smokey is just about the same age as Pa-pa, that really made them think. But then, when one of them asked me if Smokey had any grandkids, I had to do a little quick thinking of my own.

"I'm pretty sure he does," I said. "They probably had a big birthday party for him in the forest before he came out here to the Fair."

Happy Birthday, Smokey. Thanks to you, CBS figures the number of forested acres destroyed by fire is less than a third of what it was when you were born in 1944. Keep up the good work, my furry friend, and we'll see you at the Fair again next summer.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Teenage Girl Chickens

Last Saturday Pooh and I were sitting in his mama's van waiting for her to fetch us a couple hot drinks from their small-town coffee shop. On a day that, technically, was still supposed to be summer, the morning temp had registered 39.

Pooh had just finished a soccer game that pretty well froze his fingers and ears, and I had tried to keep warm by pacing up and down the sideline while he dribbled and kicked. (Let the record show that he scored the first goal of the game, which his team went on to "win" 5-4.)

With Mama stymied by a long line of frozen soccer fans and slow service, it occurred to Pooh and me that we would be warmer if the side door of the van were closed. (Yes, we are that astute.)  But when I got out to shut it. I was reminded that their van doesn't have a push-button door like mine does. I was standing there puzzling over how to close the door when Pooh suddenly yelled, "Pull it!"

I am always amazed by the triggering process whereby some random sensory stimulus pulls a seemingly unrelated thought up into the consciousness. In this case, I immediately associated "Pull it!" with the word pullet, meaning a young chicken.

From there my mind tripped down a neural pathway where I found a long-hidden game my dad used to play with us. Of course, I had to share it with Pooh, so I clambered back to where I could reach him strapped into a back seat and began.

I touched his forehead with a forefinger and said, "Rooster," his nose and said, "Pullet," and his chin and said, "Hen." Then, as Dad did with me many, many times, I went back to his nose and asked, "Now, what did I say this was?"

"Pullet," he said, and I said, "Okay," before giving his nose a little tug. Pooh cackled at the joke in his best chicken fashion--but he didn't know what a pullet is.  To get my facts exactly right, I consulted Mr. Google before explaining.

"A pullet is a girl chicken that is not quite one year old," I paraphrased. "She hasn't lost her feathers yet, but she has already started laying eggs." We both pondered this. "It's kind of like a teenage girl chicken," I added.

Pooh marveled that a chicken could be a teenager in just a year. I marveled at the timing of this spontaneous little episode on the day that marked the third anniversary of Dad's passing. It was almost as though he had come back for a moment to laugh and play with us.

I finally got the door shut. The drinks arrived, coffee for me and hot chocolate for him. The magic of the moment was gone, but the memory of it is still as warm and delicious as the first sip of coffee on a cold morning.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Fairest of Them All

If you find the month of August little more than a hot, boring hunk of time sandwiched between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, you need to spend some time where I live. For those of us here in my little hometown, August is synonymous with the eleven-day extravaganza known as the Missouri State Fair.

I have been to this Fair every year that I can remember. As a little kid I didn't think much past the carnival on the midway, but since then I have grown to appreciate the cultural significance of the much broader fair-going experience. Among other things, I have realized that a ninety-pound watermelon is a thing of beauty and that eating a corn dog is an art to be cultivated.

Over the years I have heard quite an impressive line-up of concert performers, mostly rock and country, who have sung and played in our outdoor grandstand. There are so many I can't remember them all, but at the moment I specifically recall Alabama, Three Dog Night, James Taylor, George Jones, Brooks and Dunn, Sarah Evans, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams, Jr., and the list goes on.

The arrival of six grandchildren over the past seven years has added a new dimension of Fair enjoyment that looks something like this:

We are minus the two youngest in this particular photo, but here you see Pooh, Sooby, Beenie,  Bootsie, and me on a route of exploration soon to include a petting zoo of exotic animals (who will gobble a $5 cup of feed out of our hands) and the amazing, life-size pair of cows sculpted (in the manner of the painting American Gothic) from a huge block of butter and housed in a refrigerated chamber at the Dairy Bar.

You would think I might grow tired of the Fair after sixty or so years of going there every August like clockwork. But, no, it is a much-loved tradition in our town in spite of the crowds and the traffic and the flies it brings in. And with this new generation coming on strong, I don't think the Missouri State Fair is a habit I am in danger of breaking anytime soon.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Zoomie Hops Aboard!

Well . . . "hops" might be an overstatement. After we had talked all week about "riding Thomas," I don't think the Amtrak that came whistling and roaring into our local station on July 4 was quite what Zoomie had envisioned in his little two-year-old head.

Yeah, scratch "hops." When Zoomie, Bootsie, and I climbed aboard the Missouri River Runner at 12:46 p.m., he pretty well had a death grip on my neck and was trying to climb me like a tree.

But all was well once we were aboard and seated and got out the Fruit Loops. The thirty-four-minute train ride would take us thirty miles down the road--er, track--toward the kids' home. The plan was that Pa-pa would meet us at the next station in the van, we would grab a quick lunch, and it would be nap time all the way to Topeka.

For a little boy who loves trains, I hoped that this train ride, a slightly-late second-birthday present, would be a dream come true. Here, you can see he was feeling no pain. (The protruding tongue is what happens when, prior to picture-snapping, I say, "Where's your happy face?")

I am happy to report that our plans stayed pretty well on track with only one major derailment that involved a major diaper "event" after lunch at McDonald's. I won't go into detail, except to say that during the course of diapering two children and six grandkids, I have never had an experience quite so--well, let's just say--comprehensive, and leave it at that. (I apologize for the fact that I was preoccupied and therefore unable to document with a photo here.)

Just how memorable this event was is evident even today when Zoomie himself recalls our train ride. Inevitably, when asked about the train, he will also mention the "beed poop."

I may be able to talk about it myself some day after the therapy sessions have ended and the McDonalds' lawsuit has been settled. Meanwhile, I will take comfort in the certainty that Zoomie's birthday train ride will have a permanent place in the Annals of Googiedom.    

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bootsie's All-Holiday Cookies

It was July 3, and Bootsie had been staying here at Googie's for almost a week. In that time we had more than done justice to Pla-Doh, bubbles, storybooks, and the swimming pool. She was going home the next day. What, I asked her, was the one thing she wanted to do that we hadn't had time for?

"Bake cookies!" she said, and that set me to wondering.  What kind of cookies do you make to celebrate the Fourth of July? My cookie cutter collection offered something for just about every other holiday, but there was nothing shaped like a firecracker or a watermelon slice. Whatever to do?

As it turns out, this was not a problem for Bootsie. She surveyed the collection and selected an array of cutters based on how pretty the colors were: that gave us, among other things, a blue gingerbread man, a red heart, a green clover, a red heart, a purple Easter egg, and an orange leaf.

Add a roll of ready-made gingerbread cookie dough bought for a buck at the after-Christmas clearance and a couple leftover jack o' lantern plates, and we were ready to go. If we couldn't find a cookie cutter to celebrate the holiday at hand, well then, we would just celebrate all of them.

The enterprise was teamwork at its best. Googie did the rolling; Bootsie did the cutting (usually, I might add, from right smack in the middle). Googie transferred the shaped dough to the cookie sheet . . .

. . . and Bootsie added the sprinkles. Googie popped the cookies in and out of the oven . . .

 . . . and Bootsie performed the milk test for quality control. Happily, she was glad to report no rejects. When we were finished, we had a plate of cookies for Googie's house . . . 

. . . and one for Bootsie to take home on July 4.

With only a slight stretch of the imagination, Bootsie and I rationalized that the Fourth of July should be a celebration of all things American, including the holidays we celebrate as a family throughout the year. The fireworks and burgers at her house the next night were fun, but Bootsie and I couldn't think of a better way than our cookies to top off the holiday meal as well as her week-long stay at Googie's.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Things in the Sky

I doubt that Mozart, composing his variations on an old French melody, had any inkling that the little tune would go down in history as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Or, that lyricist Jane Taylor, penning her six-stanza poem beginning with the aforementioned line, imagined in 1806 that her first stanza would be a childhood staple for generations of children to come.

Lately I have been contemplating the appeal of this charmingly simple nursery rhyme/ lullaby. Why do children like it so much? Possibly, I am speculating, because they seem fascinated by the things they see in the sky.

On several occasions lately I have found myself lying flat on my back on the floor with Beenie staring up at a bedroom ceiling where there is nothing but a fan. Yet, he loves to tell me what he "sees" in the "sky" there, including airplanes (and, more recently, helicopters), clouds, and the usual host of celestial bodies.

This may be why, at nap time yesterday, he wasn't content to stop with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"; he wanted me to sing about the moon and sun as well. Should you ever find yourself in need of additional verses to pacify your little astro-babes, we offer several of yesterday's variations for your consideration.  The one I like best is about the moon:

Shining, shining, silver moon,
Mellow as the month of June,
Blue as sapphire, cast your light;
Beam serenely through the night,
Shining, shining silver moon,
Mellow as the month of June.

Or, perhaps your child of summer prefers to sing about the sun, in which case we offer this one:

Blazing, blazing, golden sun,
Lie down when your day is done,
Bathing with a ruby glow
Every creature here below;
Blazing, blazing, golden sun,
Lie down when your day is done.

Over the years the kids and I have gotten a lot of mileage out of made-up, off-the-wall verses for existing songs. I would encourage you to share the same kind of creative wordplay with your kiddos.

Of course, if not all the things your sky-gazer wants to sing about are as pleasant and peaceful as those above, you will have to improvise accordingly.  Say, for instance, your child spots a buzzard:

Buzzard, Buzzard, circle down.
Tell your buddies, "Gather 'round"--

OK.  I'll stop right there. This "darker" subject matter would appeal less to Beenie and more to Pooh, with his quirky sense of humor and his affinity for the "bad guy." For now, we will stick to the romantic notion of sun, moon, and stars.

Whatever the case, you and your kids can have a great time with your own song lyrics. When you get your imaginations going, the limit is--well--the sky.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tools and Such

Not a day goes by that I don't think about my dad. On this Father's Day, my third such occasion without him, he is very much on my mind--but not in the usual way.

I am not thinking about the time he cut a "switch" from the cherry tree for a much-deserved spanking or the way he finished off every meal with a dollop of butter, a stream of white Karo syrup, and a slice of bread. I am not dwelling on the heartbreak of his terminal illness or the night I watched him pass peacefully on. Instead, I am thinking about his hands.

Dad was an old-fashioned farmer and garage mechanic whose hands were his livelihood. He used them to wield wrenches, vaccinate calves, and put together furniture. During his years in the garage, I never saw his hands without grease stains under his fingernails. After he retired, the hardest thing for me to get used to was the fact that his hands stayed clean.

Over the years Dad's hands suffered about every injury imaginable. He burned them, cut them, smashed them--just name it and Dad could show you the scars. His left hand bore the brunt of the abuse, as you can see in this shot of him holding Sooby in April 2010:

His ring finger was shriveled and stiff, and the nail end of his pinkie had been lopped off long ago. Still he was more adept with slightly over eight and a half fingers than most men are with a full ten. Dad's large hands fully matched his 6'4" frame, but he could manipulate a tiny eyeglass screwdriver with the best optician. There was virtually no tool those hands hadn't mastered.

My dad was one of those self-made, self-taught, self-sufficient miracle men of the Greatest Generation. Although never what you would call "rich," he worked in a relentless (albeit penny-pinching) fashion to make a comfortable life for our family of four. He left my mom with adequate resources for the rest of her life. I know that was no easy task, and I admire him greatly.

Although he was never one for fancy material possessions, Dad did love his vehicles, his guns, and his tools. One of the hardest things toward the end was watching him disperse some of these things among us. He sold us his pick-up with the thought that he could use it again if he was able. I watched with a lump in my throat as he presented son Teebo with a prized rifle.

But he was never able to bring himself to part with his massive collection of tools. It had taken him his whole life to get them, he said, and he just couldn't let them go. Somehow, they were integral to his identity, an extension of his very self.

"Man is a tool-using animal," said Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist from the 1800s. "Without tools he is nothing; with tools he is all."  I'm sure Dad never read Carlyle, but at some level it is clear that the two of them were on the same page.

Over the past almost-three years, it has been hard to watch those tools walk away box by box or one by one from our garage sales. Neither Mom nor I had any clue about what many of them were.

But I can never look at the tools without picturing those hands that encircled or gripped or maneuvered them--those hands that were somehow able to work wonders.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Make Tissue Paper Flowers

It rained all day last Saturday, leaving Sooby and me to figure out something fun to do indoors. When she announced that she was in a "project" sort of mood, we decided to make a vase of colorful tissue paper flowers to brighten up an otherwise dreary day.

This is such a quick and easy craft that I'm surprised we had not thought to do it long ago. Or maybe it's just that the two of us don't find ourselves alone very often, and activities requiring scissors don't work so well with Sooby's younger sibs around.

Anyway, today we are sharing our procedure for creating a vase of flowers so beautiful that some people are having to look twice to make sure they aren't real. Here is what we did:

1.  We began with these supplies: three 8" x 10" sheets of colored wrapping tissue paper; a cardboard circle, 4" in diameter, that we used for a cutting pattern; a 10" pipe cleaner; and a pair of scissors for each of us.

2.  We folded the paper in half, and then in half again, leaving a shape that was not exactly square, but close. We placed the pattern atop the thicknesses of paper and cut around it. (Sooby traced the pattern with a pencil first on hers.)

3.  At that point, our paper circles looked like this. (The photo shows eight of our twelve circles.) We also curled down one end of the pipe cleaner--this is to keep the flower petals from sliding off the top end as you push them up.

4. Next--and this is the part Sooby loved--you poke the sharp end of the pipe cleaner (the end you did not curl) into the middle of ONE circle of paper.  Slide it all the way to the top, and gently scrunch it.

5.  Slide the other circles up and scrunch them, also one at a time.  When you have all your circles on, your flower will look like this:

6. Finally, find a small vase to display your artwork. If it is too tall, you can always add some paper filler to the bottom, as we did here.

7.  Make as many flowers as you want in your bouquet. Here is what ours looked like at the end of about an hour and a half:

8.  If you wish, experiment with sizes, shapes, colors, and tools. For a couple of our flowers, we used pinking scissors for textured edges.  On others, such as the yellow one with the red center, we used circles of different diameters.

Sooby and I recommend turning your kitchen into a flower factory anytime the weather keeps you indoors. This would also be a very practical, easy activity for early elementary classrooms, Bible School craft sessions, or daycare center art projects.

If your flower-making session produces more tissue flora than you need, just save them until next May Day and go ring a few doorbells. The flowers would twist perfectly around a door knob or handle and would be certain to brighten someone's day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Butterfly, Dragonfly, Ladybug, Bee

I understand about the teddy bears. I get it about the Disney princesses and Thomas the Tank Engine. There are just certain things that naturally endear themselves to children.

But bugs? A Pixar movie expounds on A Bug's Life. Beenie likes a little board book named Lucky Ladybug, which comes with a built-in plastic ladybug toy that squeaks when you press it. Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and Zoomba loved a library book, The Bugliest Bug, that I took to their house over the winter and reviewed in a previous blog post.

So I guess it's not surprising that even little Heero, seven months old now, is into the bug scene with this soft, chewy insect-laden play ring:

The other day, as I was bouncing Heero on my knee in an effort to entertain him and score a few "Googie" points, I found myself pointing to the various insects and naming them in a kind of chant: "Butterfly," I would say, and then, "Dragonfly, Ladybug, Bee."

Well, as I was doing this, a cadence popped into my head and later morphed into the following verse that catapulted Googie onto the band--er--bugwagon.  My little critters and I hope you enjoy the sound devices and imagery as you recite it to a little person you love.

Butterfly, Dragonfly, Ladybug, Bee

Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee--
Buzz about a buttercup,
Scuttle up a tree;
Flit about a flower,
Fly away free--
Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee.

Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee--
Flash your colored spots and dots
For everyone to see:
A red and black and yellow
Palette of potpourri--
Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee.

Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee--
Flap your wings a-flutter
In a buggy jamboree!
Sing a fuzzy, buzzy song;
Sing it just for me--
Butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, bee.

Bonus:  As I was typing this just now, I realized that the verse works roughly with the tune of "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep."    

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Happens on Choctaw Ridge Stays on Choctaw Ridge

A Facebook friend reminded me this morning that today is the third of June. A few quick mental calculations later, I realized that it has been nearly fifty years since Billie Joe McAllister, for whatever reason, jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" hit the charts in the summer of 1967 as I was car-hopping at our local A & W and grinding the gears between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Many of my ilk and era cut their teenage molars on this memorable tune and its ambiguous Southern Gothic lyrics. Basically, it tells of a young Mississippi girl who, along with the rest of her family, learns of Billie Joe's demise during a dinner-time respite from their plantation chores.

As the narrative proceeds, it becomes clear that the girl (the song's narrator) and Billie Joe had a "thing" going on. Further, we learn that, according to the young pastor there on Choctaw Ridge, there is a better than fifty-fifty chance she had been seen previously at the same bridge with Billie as the two of them were "throwin' somethin' off" it.

Speculation about what that "somethin'" might have been ran rampant back in 1967. Some thought it was a ring, while others advanced the darker suspicion of an aborted baby. Of the numerous possibilities that have been suggested, I would like to propose those I, after careful consideration, consider to be the four most likely:

  • Brussels sprouts. It was no secret that Billie Joe detested them. The girl, too, much preferred a meal of black-eyed peas, biscuits, and apple pie--although Bobbie Gentry documents that, on the particular June 3 in question, she purportedly didn't eat much.
  • Clari-tabs. These were water-clarifying tablets that Billie Joe had concocted earlier that spring in his chemistry class. The Tallahatchie River was known to be extremely muddy, and the young couple was merely trying to clear up the water there. Billie had a penchant for catching frogs and putting them down people's backs at picture shows, and the mud made them so much harder to spot. Billie had great hopes for his invention, and a patent was pending when he met his untimely demise.
  • Billie Joe's senior term paper, plus the research he had painstakingly hand-written on fifty unlined 3 x 5" index cards. Miss Gogglesnit had given Billie an F for the project because the cards were supposed to have been lined and 4 x 6". Further, she had criticized his illustrations for the paper, the topic of which was "The Fascinating Mating Habits of Fruit Flies." Billie thought he would get a whoopin' if his parents found out he had failed an assignment, so he and the girl decided to destroy the evidence.
  • Zeke Delaney. Zeke was the Carroll County bully. Years ago, when they were both children, he had convinced Billie Joe that it was fun to pee on an electric fence. Earlier that week, he had stolen a kiss from the narrator that had lasted a full five minutes. Billie Joe thought that was the last straw, and it was his turn for revenge. The girl didn't think it was that bad, as kisses go. 
Personally, I am torn as to which of these possibilities seems most credible. They all seem equally plausible, wouldn't you say?

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Bosom Buddy for Beenie

Beenie is coming to spend the night with me tomorrow, and this time he won't be going home alone. There in his bag--tucked amid clean clothes and diapers, conspicuous among the animal cracker crumbs and random playthings--will be something old and brown and hairy and--yes--ugly.

Finally, after living here at Googie's over a quarter of a century, son Teebo's much-loved, much-mauled replica of the infamous Gordon Shumway is going home to be reunited with his original owner. Tired of sitting on the top shelf of Teebo's old bedroom closet, Gordon is striking out to seek the companionship of a new generation of little boys.

You may remember Gordon better by his nickname, ALF. With his name derived from the acronym for "Alien Life Form," Alf was an extraterrestrial from the planet Melmac in the NBC sitcom aired in the late 1980s.

Perhaps resembling an aardvark more than anything else, Alf was a wise-cracking, cat-eating creature taken in by the Tanners, a typical middle-class American family, when his spaceship crash-landed in their garage. Despite his cynical one-liners and voracious appetite, Alf managed to endear himself to his TV family--and to many kids growing up at the same time in real American families such as ours.

When Teebo got his 18"-tall Alf doll, the two of them were inseparable. It was not unusual for him to tell me things like, "Alf and I went for a wagon ride," or "Alf and I picked some strawberries."

I became quite accustomed to hearing from Teebo that he and Alf had done this or that, even when it came to a little boy's imaginings. "Alf and I went for a ride in his spaceship," Teebo would say, and I would smile, say "That's nice," and go on with my vacuuming.

In first grade, Alf would often accompany Teebo to school, and I heard about many of their adventures at recess. So I didn't think anything about it when, on the day school pictures were taken, Teebo came home and told me, "Alf and I had our picture taken today."  Once again, I just said, "That's nice" and smiled--that is, until I saw this:

Sure enough, Alf had stuck his long, hairy nose into Teebo's first-grade picture! Fast-forwarding to what this was going to mean come Christmas card time, my mind screamed that surely this was some kind of joke. I shuffled frantically through the envelope for the real pictures, but what I saw was what I got: "Merry Christmas, everyone, from our family--and Alf!"

Well, I managed to live through that Christmas, and "The Time Teebo Had His School Picture Taken With Alf'" lives permanently among our well-loved family stories. So much so that Alf, decked out in the pomp and circumstance of mortarboard, graciously served as centerpiece at Teebo's college graduation party.

That's why I was struck the other day when I saw Alf lying listlessly on the closet shelf. It was obvious that he again longs for the companionship of a special little boy, and I know just the one to fill the bill.

Beenie, Alf is going home with you. You guys have fun together, and be sure to take good care of him. Because in about four years, he needs to look his best for your first-grade picture.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teddy Bear's Alphabet Tea

Last week my friend Faye set a kitchen timer for five minutes. "Freewrite until you hear the bell," she told us. "The subject is 'teddy bear.'"

Some twenty years ago or more, Faye was a student in my creative writing class. Now, with the tables turned, she instructs a group of writers who meet once a week at our local senior center.

The following children's poem exists as a result of that activity. I hope you will read it to a little person you love, and tell me how it went. (And thanks to Beanie Baby "Miami," who agreed to pose here for purposes of illustration.)

Teddy Bear 's Alphabet Tea

Teddy bear,
Find a chair.
Grab that one right over there.
Sit with me,
And have a cup of tea.

Teddy bear,
We're a pair!
How we love to sip and share!
This can be
Such fun, as you will see!

Teddy bear,
I don't care
If you just sit there still and stare.
We can play
This party game all day.

Teddy bear,
If there's a tear
Upon your head below your hair--
I can mend
The hole for you, my friend. 

Teddy bear,
Where oh where
Is heaven, and can we go there?
Can we go far
And wish upon a star?

Teddy bear,
Do you dare
To let me see inside your lair?
And will there be
Vast treasures hidden there?

Teddy Bear,
A lovely air
Is lilting 'round us everywhere.
I hear and see
Magic when you play with me.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Morel of the Story

Maybe some anonymous doorbell-ringer left a basket of flowers on your doorstep today in celebration of May Day. That is a nice enough tradition, I suppose.

But, truth be told, many of us here in mid-Missouri would gladly skip the flowers in favor of a mess of morel mushrooms. I get the whole thing about blooming and fertility and all that, and I can appreciate a colorful, aromatic bouquet of flowers as well as anyone.

But despite their noble effort to totally monopolize the five human senses, flowers score a three out of five at best. Granted, they get high marks for the senses of sight and smell, and maybe a C+ for touch, but that is about all they can realistically accomplish. We have no choice but to give them zeroes for the senses of taste (in the normal human diet, at least) and hearing.

Morels, on the other hand, are a five-ring sensory circus. It is a pleasure to search them out in the woods and watch them rise layer by layer in your bag or bucket. No other feeling rivals that spongy softness as you cradle them gently in one hand while slicing them off at the ground with the knife you are holding in the other.

A day or two later, after numerous salt-water soaks and rinses, you are still on a sensory high as you dip them in beaten egg, roll them in flour, and set them sizzling in a skillet of hot grease. At the end of it all comes the most divine taste ever experienced by man, civilized or otherwise.

We have had a rather cool spring so far, and morel season--which usually comes and goes within a week or two, depending on the weather--has run later than usual. For our family, the annual morel feast occurred last night, thanks to the keen hunting instincts and prowess of son Teebo.

Last night four generations of our family gathered to devour the circle of seasonal delicacies you see above. Mom, at age eighty-nine, was our oldest morel muncher, while two-year-old Beenie got his first taste of 'shrooms. (He called them "cookies.")

Morels are one of those carpe diem kinds of things that require us to live in the moment. When that special combination of wet weather and hot sun comes together for that all-too-brief week in April, you have to drop everything and do mushrooms, or you will miss the chance until next year. You have to abandon the diet, put the menu plan on hold, heat up the grease, and enjoy one of the truest culinary pleasures of this life.

Encouraging us to revel in life's temporal beauties, poet Robert Herrick says, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." That is okay if you like flowers. As for myself, I am happy to leave the rosebud-gathering to others and just sit here in this house where the faintest hint of fried morels still lingers.  



Monday, April 14, 2014

The Problem With Sports

There is a certain challenge inherent in discussing sports with little kids; at least, that has been my experience with Sooby and Pooh. The problem is neither the sports nor the kids; it is the ambiguous nature of the terminology.

Take, for instance, our discussion of bowling, spawned by a great little book titled Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand. In that story, Mitchell's dad takes him to a bowling alley, a magical place where it is acceptable to "knock things down."

However, Mitch experiences some understandable angst when he is unable to knock all the pins down at once like his dad does. This leads our little reading circle to contemplate the word strike.

"A strike means you knock all the bowling pins down," I explain. "A strike is good. You try to get all the strikes you can in ten turns."

"But what about baseball?" someone asks. "Are strikes good in baseball?"

"No, strikes are bad there," I say. "If you miss the ball three times, that's three strikes, and you're out."

"Out of the game?"

"No. You just don't get to bat anymore right then. It's like losing your turn. Strikes are good in bowling, but not in baseball." I leave it at that before one of them asks me if strikes are good for the team that is not batting. That would be just too complicated.

Fast forward a month or so. Our local community college basketball team is playing in the national tournament, and the kids and I are listening to the radio as the game's final minutes are broadcast. Our team is three points ahead with only seconds to go.

A commercial airs. "It's a time-out," I explain.

"Someone had to go to time-out? What did he do?"

"Nobody did anything wrong," I say. "A coach says 'Time Out' when he wants to call his team over for a little talk."

The next few quite harrowing minutes require explanations of foul (called on our team--controversial, though), free throw (three of them awarded to the opponent--all good!), and overtime (which, thankfully, we were able to dominate for the win).

Later that night, I switched off the televised tennis match. I was afraid someone would ask me why a score of zero is called love.

Hence, my earlier assertion that sports terminology is arbitrary, confusing, and makes absolutely no sense. How is a kid supposed to understand when a strike can be good or bad, a time-out does not carry a stigma, and love means who knows what?

Keep the sports, and give me the clear, sensible world of the arts where the actors I see on my left are stage-right and the alphabet stops at G.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pooh's Bedtime Lesson

Night before last, Pooh chose My Visit to the Dinosaurs by Aliki for his bedtime story. Unlike the usual bedtime fare of fairy tales and talking animals, Aliki's little science book lured Googie in with the potential for some serious discussion in the areas of archaeology and paleontology. I could hardly wait for Pooh to finish brushing his teeth so that we could make our way toward bedtime by way of the Prehistoric Era.

Pages 1 through 8 were pretty predictable. We joined a typical storybook family on a trip to the museum where the dinosaur skeletons ruled.  We marveled at the long apatosaurus, preserved in sand and mud until the first dinosaur fossil was unearthed nearly 200 years ago.

Then came p. 9 with its illustration of a nest of fossil dinosaur eggs, and that's when the discussion got really interesting.

"Those eggs won't hatch," Pooh tells me with authority. Sniffing out a teachable moment, I prepare to pounce. Getting a whiff of the chance to discuss the stone-like condition of fossils, I prepare to lecture the boy on the nature of archaeological finds.

"No, they won't hatch," I said. "Do you know why?"  I was sure he did not. I was anticipating some lesson I could teach him about, say, sedimentary rocks.  Maybe we would even discuss the long-ago processes of carbonization and petrifaction.

"Yes," Pooh said, surprising me. "The eggs won't hatch because the daddy hasn't done anything special to them."

Say what? The daddy? Does something?  Special?  To the eggs?

I pulled my head out of academia and my eyes back to p. 9 and the nest of eggs. Sure enough, there was no sign of a daddy anywhere in the vicinity.  I had to give in on this one.

On the eve of a long day celebrating family birthdays and an early Easter, I was not interested in inquiring further about the special contributions made millions of years ago by dinosaur daddies--or, for that matter, by any daddies anytime. I am quite content to let Pooh's parents explore the concept of special with him at whatever time they--or he--chooses.  This time around, I am just the storybook reader.

So I would have to say that, night before last, I am the one who got the bedtime lesson:  Fairy tales and stories about talking animals are much safer, at least for now. As I learned, dinosaur eggs can lead you into fields you might not be quite ready to excavate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beenie and the Car Tote

Since Beenie turned two a couple weeks ago, he and I have added "Happy Birthday" to the repertoire of songs we regularly sing when we are together. He refers to it as simply "Happy," so when he says that word, I know that what he wants is for me to burst into a rousing rendition of that well-known song.

At first, it was no big deal. He would look at the pictures on the wall of the kids' room and name the six grandkids in turn. I would respond appropriately by singing a verse of "Happy Birthday" with each child's name inserted in its proper spot in the third line.

Then, he would ask me to sing a verse for Mommy, Daddy, Googie, Pa-pa, and his dog Bernice. Still no big deal--and actually kind of fun.  After all, I had been waiting a long time for this kid to start talking, and there is no phase of a child's learning I would rather observe and be a part of than this one.

A few days after that, as I was tucking Beenie into the toddler bed for his nap, he swept his sleepy little eyes around the room to land on a series of random objects. Many of those he has just begun to refer to by name in the stage of rapid language acquisition that typically follows on the heels of the second birthday.

So on that day, I sang "Happy Birthday" to, among other things, the light, the ceiling fan, the cordless phone, a book lying on the floor, the window, and the wall. Still no problem. Still pretty cute, really.

You may sense the subtle movement of things to a head here, but apparently I was oblivious. There is no other explanation for why, when Beenie was with me two days ago, I dug into the playroom closet to retrieve "The Car Tote."

The Car Tote is a plastic storage box containing all manner of little vehicles. Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, Transformer, fast food meal toy--you name it, and, if it has wheels, I guarantee you it is in there.

Significantly, The Car Tote houses a collection begun more than a quarter of a century ago when Beenie's daddy was himself a toddler. By some miracle, said vehicles have managed to survive periodic house purgings, relocations, giveaways, and garage sales. With surprisingly few loose wheels, missing doors, and bent axles, they have assumed an immortality that enables them to thrill, entertain, and nurture the playtime imaginations of yet another generation of little boys.

By now, you may have guessed where this is going, and you would be right. It seems that, two days ago, every one of these little cars had a birthday that needed to be celebrated in song: "Happy Birthday, dear race car," I sang.

"Happy Birthday, dear garbage truck."  "Happy Birthday, dear moving van."  You, too, long oil tanker, and green choo-choo, and black convertible. Same for the yellow pickup; the recycling truck with separate compartments for paper, plastic, and glass; and the bright red fire truck [insert siren sound effects, performed by Beenie, here].

What a fun way to pass the better part of an hour with my favorite two-year-old. We didn't make it all the way through The Car Tote, but Googie sang until her voice was ready to give out.  Beenie, on the other hand, never tired of picking out the next little vehicle to be appropriately serenaded.

I love a world that still offers the simple joys of song and celebration--even if it means I have to sing to over a hundred little cars. As long as the song is "Happy," it's all good.  


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cells and Gravity

PBS's Sid may be the definitive science kid, but he'd better take note of the competition. Whatever knowledge the first-grade teacher is imparting to her students in a little Kansas school, Sooby is paying attention, and, apparently, loving every minute.  She also found several occasions to share her newfound knowledge with me on her most recent visit.

Take, for instance, the biological expertise apparent in her definition of cells and her description of of their purpose.  "Cells," she informs me, "are little bags of life that, when they are dying, get pushed into hair holes and make your hair grow."

"Alrighty then," I think. I am still pondering the metaphor of the "little bags" when she turns to physics and the topic of gravity.  "Gravity is making my stomach feel heavy," she says, whereupon she throws herself across Pa-pa's exercise ball and proceeds to wallow around the bedroom floor.  "There," she tells me as she dismounts.  "That feels better."

Although I have to laugh at the way a six-year-old ingests science concepts and makes her own kind of sense out of them, I also am somewhat impressed that, at age six and a half, her understanding of them is--on a very basic level--right. Cells contain the material of life.  Hair is composed of dead cells. Gravity makes things feel heavy.  In a world that runs on computer technology and has put men on the moon, that is a start.

Taking in a Happy Meal on the last day of their visit, the kids were delighted to get toys promoting the movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman.  Of course, Mr. Peabody, the smartest dog in the world, dates back to my own childhood days, when he and Sherman took a trip in their time machine every week on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

I marvel at the advances made by science since the 1960s. There is so much more for the kids these days to wrap their heads around. To have experienced so much rapid change myself is almost like a form of time travel.  Even George and Jane Jetson don't seem that far-fetched anymore.

I am thankful that those little bags of life of mine have continued to meiose or mitose like they are supposed to early into my seventh decade on this earth. Because of that, I get to experience the singular wisdom of grandkids as they learn the underlying principles that make their world tick.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beenie's Ambiguous Birthday

There is something about ambiguity that I love.  I am fascinated by those drawings you can look at one way and see a simple picture of, say, a clown eating an apple on a bench behind a circus tent.  Then, look a little longer or change the angle a bit, and some different part of your brain kicks in to show not a clown at all but a duck chasing a beach ball down Fifth Avenue.

Give me a Rorschach ink blot or a good Hawthorne story, and I will revel in the contemplation of multiple interpretations and alternate possibilities.  Or, simply, do what Beenie's mama and daddy did today:  Send me a photo of my grandson on his second birthday.  I will delight in not only the perfect, precious subject matter but also in the vastly different texts that accompany this single photo.

I first received the shot, snapped by Beenie's day care provider, in a text message from his mama.  "Birthday boy with a mouthful of birthday cookie," she writes.  A great caption, I thought, and very practical.  Otherwise, I might have spent the afternoon trying to figure out what that white thing on his mouth was and wondering if he had the mumps.

An hour or two later, the picture cropped up again, this time as a status update by son Teebo on my Facebook news feed.  Never one to waste words, Teebo opts for the less concrete, more interpretive caption: "Visionary."

Now, don't those two views pretty well reflect the gamut of parenthood?  On one hand, you are immersed in its physical necessities: you change diapers, wipe noses, and hold sticky little hands.  On the other, you look beyond the physical confines of toddler time and wonder about things like potential and possibility. Do we have a doctor here?  A computer programmer?  An artist?  First violin for the New York Philharmonic? Second baseman for the Cardinals?

Thanks, Mama and Daddy, for sharing this great pic of Beenie on his second birthday.  As for you, little guy, I hope you are having a great day.  It looks like the birthday cookie is a definite step in the right direction.

I will see you for your party this weekend.  Meanwhile, sleep tight tonight, and remember that Googie loves you a whole, whole bunch.

There is nothing ambiguous about that.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cow and the Alley Rat

Back when my kids Cookie and Teebo were growing up, Little Golden Books were staples in our playroom pantry.  Among those, I especially loved reading "The Owl and the Pussycat," that classic of children's nonsense poetry that Edward Lear penned in 1871.

So a couple weeks ago, when I needed to come up with a love poem to read at a performance of the local poetry group I belong to (see more at, a parody of Lear's timeless masterpiece took shape.  The result was the following poem about another quite unlikely romantic pair (pictured below courtesy of my Beanie Baby collection).

I hope you will enjoy it, and, perhaps, share it with a little person you love.  Cookie, try it out on Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and Zoomba, and let me know what they think. Personally I think Pooh will identify well with the alley rat.  Here goes:

                                          The Cow and the Alley Rat

The cow and the alley rat took to the sky
In a polka-dot hot air balloon.
They took some Spam and blackberry jam
Just in case they got hungry at noon.
The rat looked out to the clouds about
And sang to a walking bass,
"You are udderly beautiful, Bessie, my love,
And those lovely black spots on your face,
     Your face,
     Your face,
You wear with such elegant grace!"

Cow said to the rat, "Though you're just a bit flat,
With some practice, you could sing better.
I think I am ready right now to go steady,
But how can I fit in your sweater?"
The winds whispered soft and kept them aloft
'Til they reached a castle aglow;
And there on a ray from the sun far away
Stood a stork with a bundle wrapped so,
     Wrapped so,
     Wrapped so,
And the rat told the cow THEY MUST GO!

"Dear Stork, we're quite harried 'cause we're not yet married!"
Said Rat as he mopped up his brow.
"Whether girl or a boy, this bundle of joy
Won't fit with our planning right now!"
So with handle of spoon, he popped their balloon,
Which sped up their trip back.  Oh dear!
They left the stork standing, then looked toward their landing
With great trepidation and fear,
     And fear,
     And fear,
And the rat said, "We're dead meat, my dear!"

The rat aahed and oohed, and Bessie just mooed;
They were certain they both were quite dead.
But before they met fate, the stork said, "Hey wait--
This bundle is just homemade bread!
In your hurry to fly your balloon to the sky,
This is what you neglected to pack."
With his expertise flying, he saved them from dying,
And they paid the favor right back,
     Right back,
     Right back:
They shared all the food in their sack.