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?