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.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Headed South

When people ask me what I have been doing lately, I just say, "Chopping."  I am neither lying nor exaggerating. That pretty well sums up the extent of my activity since Pa-pa and I went on the South Beach Diet ten days ago.

Although neither of us is what you would call obese, we have both collected, over the winter, a little more padding around the mid-section than we would like.  In my case, the pounds have crept erratically up and down over the past year, and on Feb. 17 I was wearing jeans two full sizes bigger than those I wore a year ago Christmas Day.

When I bend down to pick up something off the floor, I don't like the feeling of meeting myself halfway down. After all, I need to stay agile and energetic to keep up with six grandkids, and that fifteen or so pounds of extra weight bogs me down.

At 5'7", I always feel better when the numbers on the scale stop somewhere in the low 130's. Therefore, I occasionally get to the point where I say "Enough!" and motivate myself to take some kind of action.

In the past decade I have hit that point two other times and tried two other weight loss/healthy lifestyle programs, both of which worked well for several years.  For three years I worked out three times weekly at Curves, amassing a record of over 300 workouts.  When I no longer had my gym membership, the Nutrisystem program kept me at a decent weight for a couple years. Both these programs require a considerable (but affordable) monetary investment, and, in my experience, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

A gym for women only, Curves offers easy-to-use resistance-based machines that work every muscle group in addition to aerobic "recovery" boards between machines and a stretching apparatus at the end of the workout. I liked the idea that the Curves patron is in and out in half an hour. I found the music motivating, the staff courteous, and the other exercisers fun to visit with.

A drawback for me is the fact that Curves membership requires a year-long contract and the automatic withdrawal of a flat monthly user fee from my checking account.  I would much rather pay as I go and pay for only when I go. This is complicated by the fact that our local Curves is closed during the times I most prefer to go, namely early weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  So when going to Curves began to seem more like an obligation than an option, and when it began to feel like I wasn't getting the value I wanted from my buck, I let my membership go.

Based more on food choices and portions than on exercise, Nutrisystem ships a month's worth of desserts and of breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees to users at a time.  A quick look online, and you will see these are not exactly cheap--plus, the dieter must supplement the shipment with dairy items and with fresh fruits and vegetables to round the menu out.

Did I find Nutrisystem convenient?  Well, yes and no.  It was great for me to pull out an entree and nuke it in the microwave at mealtime, and most of the food is really pretty palatable.  No problem there.  But this didn't change the fact that there was Pa-pa, sitting at the other end of the table with a fork in his hand, waiting for his supper.  Although I lost the desired weight, I got tired of fixing two different suppers--not to mention how hard it was when I had to settle for a small entree and he got mashed potatoes and gravy.

Because we are doing South Beach together, our newest adventure solves that problem.  Again, as promised, the extra pounds are peeling off.  A week and a half into the diet, we are almost finished with the most restrictive phase, the initial two weeks, during which bread, rice, pasta, sugar, and fruit are all forbidden.  But there are lots of olive oil, eggs, fish, chicken, and fresh veggies--and this is where all the aforementioned chopping comes into play.

I have committed to this with the attitude that it is a "project" of sorts.  We picked our time carefully, beginning just after the huge pig-out that was Valentine's weekend.  We have no trips planned, so we can maintain a meal routine.  There have been relatively few temptations, thank goodness, but it did hurt some to turn down cake at a reception and ignore the concession stand at a ball game.

But so far, so good. I am cooking and serving some foods I don't normally buy. I am trying some new recipes, and the two of us are eating what is likely the healthiest diet of our married life.  This morning I zipped up a pair of jeans I hadn't been able to pull together at the top in a year.  At the one-week weigh-in, I was already down six pounds.

So there is hope. Hope that we can carry some healthier eating habits into the summer and save the splurges for special occasions.  Hope that it might be a little easier to hoist myself out of the water on one ski.  And most important, hope that I can keep up with six grandkids who are counting big on "Googie Camp" but growing up way too fast.

I anxiously await these summer pleasures. In the meantime, I chop.          

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Valentine Monkey

Little Zoomie, who will be two years old at the end of June, is clearly in the "Monkey-See-Monkey-Do" phase.  And with three older siblings, it seems like there is always something going on for Monkey to watch and imitate.

When I walked into the house a couple days ago for an early Valentine's Day visit, I was literally swarmed with valentines.  Sooby was first, with a nice coloring page she had mounted on blue construction paper in her first-grade classroom earlier this week.

I marveled at the color scheme, commented on the novelty of the blue, and thanked her profusely.  I was happy to think that she had singled me out to receive this particular work of art by printing "to googie" on the outside in blue crayon.

Next came Bootsie, who is three, with a heart cut from red card stock and decorated with crayon in what we will call a more abstract design.  "What a pretty little heart," I gushed, duly noting the artfully scalloped edges.  "This is just the right size to put on my refrigerator," I said, and Bootsie beamed.

Meanwhile, with eyes at their normal height of about a foot and a half from the floor, Zoomba watches this flurry of exchange with interest.  He notices the pattern, and he wants to be a part of it.  People are handing things to Googie, and everyone concerned is obviously happy about that.

Quickly he looks down at the toy he is holding in his hand.  It is the lid of a shape sorter containing holes for circle-, pentagon-, and flower-shaped pieces.  Without losing a beat, he clutches the toy and thrusts it upward to Googie.  Clearly, he has no intention of being outdone by his sisters.

He does this with such a look of earnesty that I can't help making a fuss similar to the one I made over the girls' valentines.  "Is this for me too?" I ask him, and with that cute little "uh-huh" of his he assures me that it is.  But he is only getting warmed up.

Having perceived success with the shape sorter lid, he scans the room for the next thing to bring me.  It is a Spiderman house slipper.  As you can imagine, I am completely overcome with joy.  It perfectly complements my set of valentines, although it disappeared from the scene before I was able to get this photo:

In the hours following the fanfare of this most noteworthy arrival, Zoomie's official "Monkey-See-Monkey-Do" status confirmed itself time and time again.  Having done a lot of watching in past months, he stands poised just outside the circle of his siblings ready to jump into the fray.

His legs are longer too, making his ambulatory style less duck-like.  He's had his second "little boy" haircut now, and without those baby curls, he is looking more like his brother.

By next Valentine's day, I suspect he, too, will have graduated to the crayon style of valentine.  I will look forward to that.  Meanwhile, I will keep my "oohs" and "aahs" at the ready.  No matter what his next valentine for me looks like, I'm sure it, too, will be perfect.    

Monday, February 3, 2014

Beneath the Mustache

Dear Pooh:

For the first time in my life, I am writing to and about a grandson who has turned five years old.  This happened yesterday while Pa-pa and I were with friends watching the Seattle Seahawks make horsemeat out of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. 

It was also Groundhog Day, and Pa-pa and I are not very happy with Punxsutawney (yes, I had to look up how to spell that) Phil's prediction that we will have six more weeks of this brutal winter weather.  I am glad, though, that we were able to sneak out between Fiascos on Ice to see you last Friday and Saturday and give the occasion of your fifth birthday its proper due even though we had to leave a day early.

Yes, Pa-pa and I bravely entered the Land of Pinkeye to eat lemon cupcakes and shower you with a brand new wardrobe of dress-up clothes.  Thanks to Wal-Mart's after-Halloween clearance, you can now streak through the skies of Metropolis in a suit without holes and tatters.  Or, if you are in the mood, you can be an Army guy in your camouflage vest instead.

Of all the things in your birthday bag this year, I think I liked the mustaches best.  Let's show our friends what I mean:

Earlier this week, the package of seven classic mustaches virtually screamed out my name as I walked nonchalantly by them in a toy store.  "Googie, look here!" they hollered.  "We belong in Pooh's birthday bag!"  With everything in the store going for half-price that day, well, how could I resist?
I know well that the mustaches won't last long.  Their adhesive backing will soon lose its stickiness.  They will get swept under rugs and lost in the bottom of the toy box.  The cat might maul a couple of them.  Their play value will not be long-lived, and maybe, in that respect, they were not a good choice on the Scale of  Relative Practicality.
But I have noticed that, the older I get, the more I tend to live in the moment and indulge the whim.  Just because things don't last doesn't mean they aren't precious.  Sometimes it is the very fact that they don't last that makes them precious.
Like the day I spent with you on Saturday.  Like your fifth birthday.  Like childhood.  Like life itself.
I didn't mean to wax philosophical here, Baby Boy, but maybe some day this will make sense to you.  In the meantime, just know that when you were five, I wanted for you the happiest of birthdays--and don't tell your sisters, but I think the mustache you picked was the best of the bunch. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Little Red Box

This weekend, Sooby showed me her little red box.  With a top and bottom made of sturdy cardboard, it measures five by seven inches or so and about four inches deep.  She keeps treasures there.

These are not the treasures you might expect of most first graders.  The box does not contain toys, jewelry, or other trinkets.  Barbie clothes?  Nope.  Hair ribbons?  Negatory.

Sooby's little red box contains poems--and I'm not talking about nursery rhymes copied from Mother Goose books to practice printing the upper- and lower-case alphabet.  You won't find "My Shadow" there or, for that matter, anything else growing in Robert Louis Stevenson's  . . . Garden of Verses

No, these poems are special treasures because they are the original work of Sooby herself, composed at the ripe old age of six and a half.  You can't (or maybe you can) imagine how this pleases me.  And so it is with full permission of the author that I share here my favorite of the treasures so far collected in the little red box. 

You should know that, as the self-proclaimed editor for this up-and-coming young poet, I have helped a bit with punctuation and line breaks.  However, I have made no changes in Sooby's choice or sequence of words.  Here then, for your reading pleasure, is the first edition printing of "The Little Bird."

      The Little Bird

The bird was in the meadow
by a tree
finding hay
for her nest;
one mother bird
with no children,
she flew
and flew
to the west.

Is that not awesome?  Blame my grad school Literary Criticism professor if you wish, but I can't resist the urge to analyze it a bit.  Please humor me.  I am a Googie who also writes poetry, and I can't help myself.

First, this sweet, deceptively simple poem describes the nesting behavior of a bird about to lay a batch of eggs.  This is not just any batch of eggs either, as the poet makes it clear that this bird is preparing to be a mother for the first time.  Thus, she is searching for the hay she needs for nest-building.

Note that the poet calls her "one mother bird/with no children."  Although at first glance that may seem like an oxymoron, or contradiction, it is not necessarily so.  The phrasing makes perfect sense in the context of a potential mother bird's first batch of eggs.

Secondly, why is this bird by a tree?  Has she roosted there overnight, and is she beginning this search at the beginning of a new day?  (This will certainly be "a new day" in the sense of the new experience of motherhood, right?)  Or, has she simply chosen this tree as the site for her nest?  Choose a or b or both a and b here.  Meaningful ambiguity always strengthens a poem.

A third thing that strikes me is the fact that the bird chooses to fly west when the more familiar flight patterns of birds involve north or south.  Maybe this mother bird wants to be different and strike out in a new direction (the "less travelled" flight path, in the manner of Frost, perhaps).  Maybe she finds her inexperience disorienting and is simply lost for a time.  Or, most likely, the poet could have just chosen the logical word to rhyme with nest.  Again, my fellow critic, take your pick.

Finally, let's consider theme.  What, exactly, does the poet suggest about the subject of motherhood?  That it reshapes one's experience in its pursuit of a new direction--we've already suggested that.  That it is sometimes lonely (There is only "one mother bird," not a flock here.).  That it is hard work that requires exhausting, repetitious effort (The poet says the bird here "flew and flew.").

Sooby's little poem, I think, is surprisingly strong in imagery, or word pictures, and subtle in its single, unobtrusive instance of rhyme ("nest . . . west.").  Further, I can see how, as the oldest of four children, Sooby has had ample opportunity to observe the sacrifices, anxieties, and nuances of motherhood time and again in her own family.  I think she is a sensitive, observant child who notices things and who loves words--and when these things come together, poems are born.

OK, let's get real here.  Do I think that Sooby consciously thought about all of this as she composed the poem.  Of course not. 

But I believe unequivocally that poetic imagery arises from the poet's subconscious, where experiences are stored, and finds its way onto paper in a magical, mystical process that even poets themselves marvel at.  Do I think this can happen even with a six-year-old?  I absolutely do.

Take a look at this picture:

That, my friends, is a poet.  She has thoughts and feelings, and she searches for the words to express them.  I know this is true, because I have had the privilege of exploring the treasures she keeps in her little red box.