Sunday, January 26, 2014

A New Way To Build a Snowman

The kids and I thought the name "Frosty" had been much overused for snowmen.  That's why our snow people, pictured below, are named Polka Dot, Checkerboard, Valentina, and Star Boy.  As you can see, their names are derived from the patterns featured on their scarves, buttons, or both.

Furthermore, it wasn't a huge snowfall that brought this handsome snow family into existence; it was the fact that Pa-pa had some old socks to throw away and the kids and I some time on our hands on a Saturday afternoon in January.

Before heading to the kids' house last weekend, I packed a bag with four old socks, a pair or scissors, a partial bag of leftover fiber-fill, my hot glue gun, some assorted scraps of ribbon, a handful of rubber bands, and some odds and ends of foam pieces and googly eyes from old arts and crafts kits.

In my mind's eye was a picture I had seen on Facebook showing how to make little sock snowmen in a simple five-step process.  With a little tweaking for the sake of practicality and a few changes to accommodate already-on-hand materials, it was possible for Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and me to create our snow creatures well within the nap span of their eighteen-month-old brother (which, I'm sure, streamlined our process considerably.)

In a nutshell, here are directions for making one of these snow people:
  1. Cutting:  Cut the sock in two pieces just above the place where the ribbing ends.  Save the "toe" end to roll up and fashion a hat, as you see above with Checker Board and Star Boy.  (Sooby  and Bootsie wanted smaller, more feminine hats, so for Polka Dot and Valentina, we simply turned down the excess sock top after stuffing to create a retro "pillbox" look.) 
  2. Stuffing:  Turn the ribbed "tube" inside out, and secure a rubber band tightly around one end.  Turn the tube right side out again, and stick in a handful of stuffing in the opening to create a ball shape for the snowman's body.  Add another, smaller ball of stuffing for the head, and secure another rubber band at the top. 
  3. Making Hats:  Leave enough sock at the top to turn down if you are going for the pillbox.  For the stocking-cap style, modeled by Checker Board and Star Boy, roll a couple "cuffs" at the cut end of the "toe" portion of the sock.  Use dots of hot glue as needed to secure the hat in position on the snowman's head.
  4. Decorating:  Glue on googly eyes, and have kids choose facial features and buttons from whatever assortment of foam pieces, buttons, etc. you have.  Hot glue those on.
  5. Adding the Scarf:  Finish with a scarf made of ribbon or fabric.  Wrap and hot glue as needed to hide the rubber band at the snowman's neck.
When we did this project, each of the three older kids made his or her own snowman (Googie did the hot glue, of course) while I made Star Boy for Zoomba as an example for them to follow.  Then, when Zoomie woke up, he had a snowman to play with just like his brother and sisters.

Because we used fiber-fill rather than the suggested rice, our snow people don't stand up on their own and are more like dolls than decorations.  However, with the kids aged 6, 4, 3, and 1, I think this is most likely a practical substitution.  Otherwise, I am sure we might have been sweeping up rice before the day was out.

I think the kids had fun making and naming their snow dolls. They seem to be the perfect size for little hands.  They are perfect for playing with puppet-show style or snuggling with at bedtime. 

The only bad thing, as far as I can tell, is that I didn't make one for myself.  As cute as the kids' snow people turned out, I am thinking Pa-pa had better keep a close eye on his sock drawer.     

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pokes and Hooks

Imagine you are on "Jeopardy," and Alex asks you for the question that fits this answer:  "Pokes and hooks."

Give up?  I dare to speculate that no appropriate question comes readily to your mind.  That's because such information lurks exclusively in the ever-unique mind of Sooby.

I came to an understanding of pokes and hooks in the early hours of Saturday morning, when Sooby, as usual, awoke early and came to join me as I was sleeping in the guest bedroom at her house.  Note that I said was.  That is because, once Sooby crawls into bed with me, any actual sleeping quickly becomes past tense.

The second I turned over toward her in the pitch darkness of the ever-so-early morning, I knew something was wrong.  I felt the small earring pulling out of my right ear lobe as it brushed hard against the pillow.

"As soon as it gets light," I said to her, "I am going to need you to help me do something."

Although I couldn't see for sure, I imagined her brightening up at this prospect.  She is ever anxious to help, and always enjoys a good mystery.

"What?" she asked.

"My earring came out somewhere in the bed," I said.  "I'm going to need you to help me find it."

"Where did it come out?"

"Somewhere up here around the pillows," I said.  "But we'll wait until daylight to look."

"What does it look like?"

"It's a very small white square," I said.  I could almost hear the gears in that little head of hers churning away toward a new day and the mission it would bring. That's when she asked her most provocative question.

"Is it a hook or a poke?"  It took some time for this question to burn off the brain fog that settles in after the three-hour solo drive and late bedtime of the night before.

Finally understanding, I answered, "It's a poke.  Now, let's try to sleep a little bit more."  Although there was no further sleep in my horoscope that day, Sooby did find both pieces of the lost earring once we had a little sunlight to work with.

So there you have it--the question you will need should you find yourself in a TV studio with Alex Trebek. Imagine yourself in Final Jeopardy, with a fortune on the line, as Alex reveals the final answer: Hooks and Pokes.

When that happens, grab your marker as the familiar theme song winds down, and dash off your question with a dramatic flair: "What are the two kinds of pierced earrings?"


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Book Lady Goes "Mad"

If you read my previous blog post, you know that a wonderful little story titled The Bugliest Bug had my grandkids all (brace yourself) abuzz with excitement the last time the Book Lady (Googie in disguise) surprised them at their front door with a bag full of library books.

You may also recall that I promised to elaborate on a second crowd pleaser in my next writing, so without any further ado let me introduce you to Addie Adams' Hilda and the Mad Scientist.  While the bug book wins the prize for bringing science to life for all three kids, it was Hilda who grabbed the imaginations of the two older ones with a most delightful result (which I will tell you about later).

Hilda is an eccentric middle-aged, middle-European woman who, if she weren't so darned lovable, might be mistaken for a busybody.  Repeatedly, she imposes herself on her fellow villagers in her own sincere but misguided attempts to be helpful.

Unfortunately, in the course of her undertakings, much like the beloved  Amelia Bedelia, she often evokes more damage than improvement in whatever situation she forces herself into. Truthfully, at the end of Hilda's extended "help" sessions, people are much more glad to see her go than they were to see her come.

This is definitely the case with Dr. Weinerstein, the mad scientist who lives in a spooky old house atop a hill just outside the village.  As his name suggests, Dr. Weinerstein is in the business of manufacturing monsters in a laboratory well-stocked with potions and poisons.

But when Hilda learns that Dr. Weinerstein suffers from rheumatism, off she goes to cook, clean, and care for him.  "I go where I'm needed," she repeats as her mantra, "and stay until I'm not."  Needless to say, Dr. Weinerstein wants to get rid of her as quickly as possible, so he sets out to create a monster that he thinks is sure to scare her away.

I won't spoil the O.Henry ending for you here, but suffice it to say that, because Hilda takes it upon herself to purge the good doctor's arsenal of bad stuff and replace it with something more wholesome and healthy, the monster turns out to be quite different from what Dr. Weinerstein--and the unsuspecting reader--envision. As a result, Hilda is delighted, and so are we.

In addition to the unexpected plot twist and the perfectly rendered illustrations by Lisa Thiesing, Hilda and the Mad Scientist gives young readers and listeners unforgettable characters and fresh, imaginative dialogue. For this reason, I spent much of the afternoon as a drama coach of sorts, prompting Sooby and Pooh as they acted out the story complete with makeshift costumes and props.

In the role of Hilda, Sooby remembered most of the lines, or facsimiles thereof, without much prompting. She was hilarious as she swept and clattered about the "kitchen," delighted at the prospect of bossing the cranky old doctor around.  Pooh gave the role of Dr. Weinerstein his all, insisting that Hilda "leave right now" and rubbing his hands together in his best diabolical fashion as he set about his monster-making.

All in all, it was a great day last time the Book Lady went to Kansas.  It was a day filled with bugs and monsters and laughter and the magic of the written word.  It was an opportunity to live for a while in a world where the good guys come out on top and the bad guys get their just deserts.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bugs for the Book Lady

I have said many times that perhaps the most gratifying thing about being Googie is the experience of watching the grandkids learn to talk.  I love that delightful process of trial and often-hilarious error it takes for them to master the complicated rules of grammar and syntax and to tame the wild randomness of English idiom.

Watching them acquire a love for books is a close second.  This is why, on a surprise trip out to visit the Kansas foursome a few weeks ago, I disguised myself as the Book Lady.  The Book Lady rings the doorbell of unsuspecting children and, with their mama's foreknowledge, approval, and supervision, tells them she has brought them a bag of books.  They are delighted, and their mama invites the Book Lady in.

The disguise--a cape, sunglasses, and a ball cap--doesn't work long.  Before the Book Lady steps even one foot over the threshold, the six-year-old has figured things out.  "Googie!" Sooby hollers, and I am outed. We all head to the couch and dump out the eight books I checked out from my county library the day before and brought westward with me like some incognito literary pioneer.

Of the eight books, I think we read  four, but with two of those I truly struck pay dirt. We read them again and again over the course of the day, and since then I have been contemplating reasons why those two particular stories struck the collective fancy of children 6, 4, and 3.  Following is a brief review of the first of those; the next blog post will discuss the other one.

First is The Bugliest Bug, a story in rhyme written by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash. In it, an unlikely heroine named Damselfly Dilly saves her fellow insects from a bogus "Bugliest Bug" contest advertised by a group of diabolical spiders interested in their six-legged counterparts only for their potential as a tasty lunch.

When Dilly notices that the contest judges, all spiders, appear to have fake wings AND FANGS, she sounds the alarm and rallies the troops.  She goes on to organize the insects into an effective cohort wherein each bug's individual strengths contribute to the group's victory over the evil arachnids.  As a reward for her diligence and leadership--and for saving their lives--Dilly's fellow-insects unanimously bestow upon her the coveted title of "Bugliest Bug."

In addition to the story's delightful appeal as an imaginative, wonderfully-illustrated piece of children's literature, it offers an elementary lesson in entomology.  From it, children take away an awareness of different types of insects (ladybug, praying mantis, stink bug, cicada, glowworm, etc.) as well as a rudimentary understanding of the basic physical differences between insects and arachnids, which, incidentally, becomes the vocabulary word of the day.

Publisher's Weekly has called The Bugliest Bug "a rollicky, tongue-in-cheek entree to the entomological world,"  and the Book Lady heartily concurs.  This perfect selection promises your little ones a boost to the imagination, a delightful earful of rhyme and meter, eye-candy illustrations, a fun science lesson--and a chance to root wholeheartedly for the underbug.