Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

If you are like me, you may need some help with the pronunciation of that title. One of several ways to say "Merry Christmas" in Dutch, it sounds something like "VROH-layk KEHRST-fayst." Today, I am operating in that wee portion of my brain that knows a handful of Dutch words and expressions. This is because today I am thinking about Julie.

In late February, Julie came into our home as a special gift and remained here through mid-June. On the surface she was an American Field Service (AFS) college student from Voorburg, The Netherlands, which is a suburb of The Hague. More importantly, she became the daughter of our later years, the little sister my kids always wanted, and a fun, loving aunt (tante) to all six grandkids.

So you can imagine my delight yesterday when we received Julie's Kerstfeest note along with a new container of speculaas spices for making, among other delectable specimens of her native cuisine, Dutch peppernuts (pepernoten). These are quarter-sized cookies, staples of  Dutch Kerstfeest celebrations, that combine 2/3 c. each butter and dark brown sugar, 2 c. self-rising flour, 4 tbsp. of milk with a tablespoon and a half of the magical speculaas spices. Baked on parchment paper at 320 F. for about twenty minutes, they offer Julie a taste of home and me an interesting cultural variation on the traditional Christmas cookie.

Of the many enlightening experiences of Julie's stay with us, I would have to say I enjoyed our joint cooking adventures the most. Among those, she learned the art of preparing American "comfort" foods like meat loaf and potato cakes. In addition to pepernoten, I learned the secret ingredients behind a real Dutch apple pie. Raisins--really? Orange juice--who would have thought?

Together, we took on the challenges of converting grams, kilograms, and milliliters to ounces, cups, and tablespoons. We invented an impromptu glaze for some donuts she wanted to take to school for Koningsdag, or King's Day, a national holiday The Netherlands celebrates on April 27 to honor William of Orange.

We strove to figure out acceptable substitutes for ingredients called for by Dutch recipes but not readily available locally, like caster sugar and custard powder (enter Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix). No creme fraiche at Walmart? No problem. We looked online and made our own from cream and buttermilk.

And now, a SPOILER ALERT  for you, Julie, if you are reading this before Christmas. (I know your present has arrived, but you are waiting until Christmas to open it.) So you'd better Ga Weg! until Dec. 26 unless you want a sneak peek at what it contains.

Come Christmas morning, Julie will find among her gifts a wooden cutting board in the shape of the state of Missouri. In my way of thinking, it is a perfect gift for her, symbolizing both the geographical specifics of her U.S. stay and the antics of the kitchen we shared for a time.

Vrolijk Kerstfeest, sweet girl, from your American family, including six adoring nieces and nephews. Hopefully, there will be pepernoten on our Christmas table this weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"When We Were a Couple o' Kids"

That title line comes from an old song titled, "School Days." (A quick Google check tells me that it was written by Gus Edwards and Will Cobb in 1907.) When I was little, I learned it from one of those little yellow 78-rpm records that I played until the scratches eventually made the needle arm skip and miss.

I think of that song every time a kid or grandkid of mine starts school. So it has come to mind often in recent months as I have watched Beenie join the rank and file of four-year-old preschoolers.

For him, preschool means new playmates, a gentle introduction to academic routine, a little nudge toward increased personal responsibility, and fun outings to places like the fire station, the library, and the pumpkin patch. For Pa-pa and me, it means we get to see him more, since we deliver him to school three mornings a week and then bring him home to spend the afternoon with us until his mama and daddy get off work.

Beenie's classroom is in the basement of the same church where, twenty-five years ago, I took my own kids to monthly 4-H meetings. It has changed very little since then; thus, every trip down that familiar hallway brings a comforting sense of deja vu. Here I go again, I think to myself, delivering a child I love to a doorway where something new and enriching waits on the other side.

It is a good feeling, and I love every part of the experience: holding that little hand, unzipping the coat, signing my name on the list, and delighting in whatever treasure has been left in the hallway folder to be brought home. Maybe it is a sheet of G's traced with a shaky orange crayon. Maybe it is a pair of butterfly wings artfully attached to a clothespin. Maybe it is a feathered card stock headband in honor of Thanksgiving. Maybe one day it will have Beenie's name printed on it with all the letters facing in the right direction.

Waiting to pick him up at the end of the morning is an opportunity to stand outside the classroom and study bulletin boards reflecting collaborative projects. For instance, during Thanksgiving season each child put a feather on a large poster board turkey proclaiming what he or she was most thankful for. There, among all the "moms," "dads," "families," and other more predictable answers, Beenie seized the opportunity to express gratitude for his "teddy elephant."

Now if Beenie indeed has such a thing, none of us knows about it. What is a teddy elephant, anyway? It is apparently not a subject Beenie wishes to elaborate on upon questioning.

On the last class day before Thanksgiving, a marker board outside the classroom door displayed the children's numbered list of steps for "How to Cook a Turkey." "Pull the feathers off," one child advised, while others reminded us to "Turn the oven to 168" and then "Cook for 5 minutes." Number 7 on the list (of which Beenie was very proud) showed his more practical side: "Put in in a pan." Well, yes. Even when you are four, you know the process is a lot less messy that way.

Our afternoons together are steeped in cookie dough and free play. Beenie's favorite all autumn long has been a role-playing game he calls "On the Way to School." This requires him, me, and any three action figures he decides to pull out of the crate.

Of the three, one is a bad guy, one is a hero, and one is a "kid" on the way to school. Beenie always assigns me the kid and the villain, leaving the hero for himself. As the kid's journey commences, he greets the hero, who points out that a villain has spotted him and is up to no good. Although the villain often threatens, the hero, aided by the very resourceful kid, always thwarts impending evil (with huge, finger-mashing clashes of plastic, I might add). Invariably, the villain ends up either "in jail" (the toddler bed) or on the floor ("hot laba").

Occasionally, for variety, they will all become friends and go trick-or-treating, at which time I also assume the part of the person giving out the candy. Thankfully, I am nothing if not versatile, and, apparently, learned quite a lot from the movie Sybil.

Here, Beenie puts his snack bag in his "cubby" on his first day of preschool back in September. It is hard to believe that was nearly four months ago.

At this writing, Christmas break is about to put our school-day routine on hiatus. I'm not sure exactly when or how things will have changed when we resume at some point in the new year. But here is what I do know: If Beenie has loved this autumn routine even a fraction as much as I have, then both of us are happy.

Meanwhile, rolls of cookie dough wait in the freezer, and a crate of villains, heroes, and kids may be pondering sequels. Or, they may return in 2017 to play the same familiar roles. Whatever the case, the last half of Beenie's preschool year is something to anticipate and cherish.

And who knows? Maybe the villains will all reform in time to get off Santa's "Naughty" list. We'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How To Hijack a Birthday Blog

A child's birthday party is a celebration on so many levels. For the child himself, of course, it involves a whirlwind of wrapping paper and a conflagration of lit candles. It features a cake that he gets to choose colors and flavors for, and earns him the privilege of wearing those on his face and clothes for the rest of the day. It is the one day of the year when the world breaks out of its normal orbit to revolve solely around him.

Our sweet baby grandson, Heero, had just such a party yesterday to observe the occurrence of his third birthday two days ago. His mama's parents, Nana and Gramps, offered their home as the party venue and helped out with the chili and trimmings. Somehow, Heero maintained patience until the end of our "Happy Birthday" song before he made his (very short) wish and blew out the candles on his mama's delicious Minion-themed cake ("chocolate with chocolate icing").

The fact that I had no real "jobs" to execute during Heero's party gave me the chance to contemplate birthday parties in general. Their focus changes, it seems, with the various life stages, beginning with this level of delicious anticipation you see here on Heero's face. As a kid, you get to claim your birthday as something belonging just to you. You can be totally self-indulgent without guilt and without even knowing what that word means.

As parents of the honoree, you get to recreate the excitement of your own childhood birthdays. You pick out presents you would have liked yourself, as well as those you think you might have liked if you had been a boy instead of a girl, or vice versa. You put a lot of energy into staging the perfect party that brings delight for your child and deja vu for you. You love seeing your child happy, and share his excitement vicariously.

I remember very well these first two levels in Googie's Hierarchy (Did Maslow ever think about birthdays, I wonder?) of birthday party celebration. They had their time and place, and they were wonderful. But after a couple hours of watching toy assembly amid a flurry of gift bags, tissue paper and bows, I am convinced that grandparents enjoy the best level of all--and I would call this the level of gratitude.

I feel so fortunate to have gotten to celebrate, over the last eight and a half years, the thirty-three birthdays of my six grandkids. Each one shines in my life like a wonderful, unique candle that never goes out. Each perfect little life is a cause for celebration, for laughter, for hope.

We may bring presents to our grandkids on their birthdays, but they are the ones who, without trying or even knowing, are givers of the best gifts--like the chance to snuggle into a blanket with The Night Before Christmas, to dust off classic folk-rock songs at bedtime ("Puff the Magic Dragon,"anyone?), to scoop the seeds out of a pumpkin with your bare hands.

To make snowmen out of old socks, to blow soap bubbles into the backyard trees, to watch ducks swimming on a pond--in other words, to experience one more round of this world's sights and sounds and textures at a life stage when you have the time and temperament to really appreciate them. Sometimes it takes a grandkid's birthday party to remind you that these simple things are the real stuff of life.

And so, little Heero, my big three-year-old, forgive me this diversion, these random thoughts that seem to be hijacking your birthday blog. In five or six years you may read this and wonder what your Googie was smoking on Nov. 6, 2016--or if, in retrospect, this seemed to be the first sign of the dementia.

But in the years that follow, you may come to understand these ramblings and even experience similar sentiments as you become a parent, and then a grandparent, yourself. Then, little guy with a new phone and new walkie-talkies and a new farm set and those new (and very loud) drums, then you will know what I tried to say here--and maybe you, too, will know a gratitude beyond what you ever imagined possible.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Scenes from a Halloween

I'll tell you this right up front--my favorite holiday is Halloween. Always has been. Always will be.

Unlike the other major holidays, Halloween asks nothing of  you. You don't have to mess with a turkey, send out a bunch of cards, or fight for your life in shopping center parking lots.

Instead, you get to play dress-up on a gorgeous autumn evening and go foraging in your neighborhood for delectable morsels that, properly rationed, will last you until Christmas. As an adult, you get to keep doing this vicariously through your children and then, if you are truly blessed, through your grandkids.

Around Googie's house we tend to make Halloween a festival. With four of the six kids living three hours away, it rarely works out for us to be together on Oct. 31. But don't think that means we haven't done our best to observe this most glorious time of year in fine fashion. Here are the pictorial highlights of that celebration.

Here, Pooh, Zoomie, and Bootsie model their costumes following a discussion of the importance of body stance and facial expression in portraying character. The kids have often been beneficiaries (or victims) of my college theatre training. However, they are hams by nature, so I don't think I have done any permanent damage.

Beenie and I spent a recent afternoon learning about all-things-Egypt, culminating in this impersonation of a mummy. Requiring the investment of one and one-half rolls of toilet paper, the costume required fifteen minutes to apply and fifteen seconds to demolish. But the process led us to speculate on some of the more thought-provoking nuances of mummification.

How did mummies go to the potty? Easy--the TP was already there. How did mummies breathe? Well . . . back then they didn't need quite as much air as we do.

Speaking of monsters, no Halloween festival is worth its weight in Laffy Taffy without making a few monsters of our own. Using a foam craft kit from a Hobby Lobby clearance sale after some other wonderful Halloween, Sooby, Bootsie, Zoomie, Pooh, and I construct our Frankensteins.

In the course of the monster-making, I told them about Mary Shelley, who wrote her short, brilliantly visionary Frankenstein novel while at a retreat with her husband and their other writer friends. Yes, kids, Frankenstein was written by a girl. Don't underestimate us.

Politely begging your indulgence here, let me preserve for posterity a selfie with Washington Irving's famous Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame. As a special  treat this past weekend, Pa-pa, Bootsie, and I went to see a community theatre musical of the same name.

This lesser known 2009 musical, with book and lyrics by Jim Christian and music by Tom Edward Clark, was highlighted for us due to the musical direction and piano/flute performances of Bootsie's mama, our daughter Cookie. It was thoroughly delightful, and will always be a unique aspect of Halloween 2016.

Finally, no Halloween festival is complete without the requisite cookie-making. Here you see Heero, who will turn three years old next week, capably spreading frosting on an orange-eyed ghost. With brother Beenie's help, we were able to produce this delectable platter of homemade sugar cookies (none of which have survived) to carry us through as we counted down the days to Halloween 2016.

As I type this, the big day itself has arrived. Beenie had his Halloween party at preschool this morning, and Heero is celebrating likewise at daycare. Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and Zoomie are getting ready for trick-or-treating Kansas-style. I am thankful to have been able, once more, to share this favorite holiday with all of them.

Next up: the Thanksgiving Wiener Roast. Stay tuned to see if this great Missouri weather holds for us.

But meanwhile, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"B" is for . . .

 . . . Bootsie!

And birthday. And, unfortunately, busy, which is why I am nine days late getting your birthday blog up, my sweet six-year-old. But let me be quick to make amends.

Although I didn't get to spend the actual day with you this year, we did get to have a great time together on Pa-pa's new boat on the Saturday before:

At least, I hope it was a great time--you do look a little bored here. It was also the weekend that I finally got to pay a very important debt from the summer--the bubble gum ball I owed you from our whirlwind weekend in Springfield.

Remember? I talked you out of topping off your Orange Leaf frozen yogurt with one of those, arguing that frozen desserts and gumballs just don't work together very well. Then, when Pooh proved me wrong, you were a little upset with me. But you were a good sport about the whole thing, and now, hopefully, we are even and I am back in your good graces.

The Springfield trip, when I had the privilege of hanging out (in a motel room, park, movie theatre, fast-food restaurant, swimming pool, dessert shop, etc.) with the four of you while your mama rehearsed and sang was definitely a highlight of our summer. So was Mother's Day, when I caught this cute pic of you blowing bubbles in the back yard.

However, Bootsie-girl, it has been six years since you were this baby on our first Halloween together, and I can't imagine I will ever like any picture of you much better than I like this one.

Anyway, my kindergarten cutie, I hope you know I was thinking about you last Tuesday on your sixth birthday and hoping you would like the baby-doll and Peppa Pig beach towel from Pa-pa and me. I can't even imagine that our family dynamic ever existed without you. Who would have won our all guessing games and put together all our puzzles? In six short years you have found yourself a permanent branch on our family tree, and we love you a bunch.

So today, nine days late, I hope these few words and pictures make for an acceptable acknowledgment of your birthday just past. "B" is for Be happy, my pretty girl, and Pa-pa and I will see you soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Chiseling Memories

The first time son Teebo asked me, I said no.

My day had already been pretty well planned before he called. And besides, what Teebo was suggesting had a long, hot, tiring--and, yes, potentially disastrous-- sound to it: take two little boys, ages 4 and 2, from the comfort of a fall Saturday afternoon at home into the noisy, crowded chaos of their first college football game.

A friend had offered Teebo four free tickets on relatively short notice, and neither the boys' mama nor their pa-pa could go. Teebo listened patiently as I rattled off all my reasons why I really should stay home. But the second we ended the phone call, my mind became a movie reel of worst-case scenarios.

I imagined Beenie letting go of his daddy's hand to check out a cardboard Tiger cutout and getting lost in the process. I shuddered at the thought of little Heero at the mercy of the tailgaters and moving vehicles in the parking lots near the stadium. I wondered how everybody could get to the potty when they needed to and how, in the process of that, any one of them could possibly enjoy the game.

So I shuffled my day's priorities, returned Teebo's call, and began to mentally reshape seeming impossibility into opportunity. Had an old-fashioned phone booth been handy, I would have ducked in and donned my tights and cape. I would emerge as Super-Googie and brave the game with my boys!

The day turned out to be a delight in every way. We had shady seats on a gorgeous fall day. Our team scored lots of touchdowns, which led to multiple cannon blasts and fireworks. By the end of the game, Beenie had the team cheer down pat. The man behind us bought the boys a box of popcorn.

But oddly, in spite of all those positives, it was a cup of ice that made the day. With a stack of the fruit-flavored, rainbow-colored stuff heaped in a styrofoam cup, accompanied by several of those plastic spoon-scoops, we turned that $3.50 into the best investment Teebo ever made. Even shared among the three of us, the miracle snow cone lasted through most of the third and fourth quarters.

Because it was so solidly frozen, it required a lot of poking and chipping to reduce it to juice that could be sipped and ice particles small enough to maneuver into their mouths and chew. This led to the introduction of a new vocabulary word, "chisel." I am here to testify that said chiseling, followed by the requisite chomping and slurping, is a great way to enjoy a college football game with two preschoolers.

I am so glad I rethought my original decision not to go on this adventure. Clearly, it was one of those experiences no Googie should ever consider herself  too busy for.

In years to come, I'm sure the boys will attend many more college football games. Perhaps one or both of them will themselves play on the team, cheer in the student section, or march in the band at halftime.

But whatever the case, only this game, the one last Saturday afternoon, can be their first one. And the best thing is, I can always say I was there to share it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Yellow Shirt Gang

Our state fair pulled up stakes and moved out a few days ago, but not before the grandkids were able to make their mark on it. This year, the group of us painted a wide yellow swath as we traversed the grounds in matching T-shirts purchased just for the occasion.

The seed of that idea germinated when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the rack of shirts on my way to the toothpaste aisle at Wal-Mart. Easily sidetracked, I gave a fleeting thought to how funny it would be for each of us--four adults and six children--to wear one of those on our annual visit to the fair.

Imagine my surprise when, on my way back past the clothing section, ten yellow shirts--of their own accord--jumped into my cart. When I finally regained my senses, I was in the check-out line forking over $75. Following is a little photo-saga of our day at Missouri State Fair 2016.

Our fair is, for the most part, an agricultural showcase that includes many educational features for children. Here, the kids listen to what Beenie, far right, calls "the talking corn."

Pooh, Zoomie, and Heero check out a hands-on book display in the Agriculture Building.

Sooby and Bootsie watch chicks hatch in an incubator in the FFA's newly remodeled Children's Barnyard.

Zoomie engages in a serious conversation with Otto, a talking antique Missouri State Highway Patrol cruiser.

Beenie and Heero play among barrel statues in the Highway Gardens.

Heero, Beenie, and Bootsie paint rocks in the Family Fun Center. The shirts weren't quite so yellow after that.

CORN DOGS! No trip to the fair is complete without them.

We closed out the day with the kids' favorite part--the carnival rides! With the discounted wristbands Googie buys before the fair opens, they get to ride as much as they want.

All of us agree that last Thursday was one of our best days ever at our fair. The older the kids get, the more they find to enjoy.

This year, we loved the added feature of our matching T-shirts, which may represent the best $75 I ever spent. Besides the fact that we looked adorable as a sea of yellow washing down the streets of the fairgrounds, our identical shirts made it incredibly easy to keep up with each other. They made a pretty effortless job of keeping up with six excited children exploring the nooks and nuances of a once-a-year event that, I have to say, is getting to be even more fun than Christmas.

As an unexpected added bonus, there is a pretty good chance the shirts will still fit everyone next year. If you are lucky enough to attend the Missouri State Fair sometime between August 10 and 20, 2017, be sure to watch for a yellow splash that is sure to brighten your day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Birthday Festival

Grandkid birthdays are sprinkled through my calendar year like confetti. Those falling in February, March, October, and November transform ordinary days into parties that I revel in right along with the honoree.

But when the other two birthdays fall only five days apart during the last week of June, those call for a festival. We have barely licked up the last crumb of Zoomie's cake when a whole new one pops out of the oven for Sooby.

Turning nine years old today, Sooby celebrates a milestone. She begins the last year she will write her age with a single digit. She stands poised between the relative ease of the primary grades and the more rigorous expectations that come with fourth grade.

As the first grandchild, Sooby is something of a milestone herself. She was the first one to call me "Googie," and she started the avalanche of delight that became six grandchildren born in six years. Together, they have equipped my early retirement years with diapers, booster seats, sippy cups, extra toothbrushes, Legos, coloring books, Barbies--and the list goes on.

I won't get to see Sooby today, but I got to spend this past weekend with her, Zoomie, and their other siblings as their mama rehearsed and sang in concert with a professional choral group. Zoomie's birthday fell during our trip, calling for presents, a visit to Cici's Pizza, and a Funfetti birthday cake served in our hotel room.

While Mama rehearsed, the five of us kids did McDonald's twice, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt once, a hands-on science center for kids, Finding Dory, and a nice park complete with ducks, geese, and fish. The weekend had all the characteristics of any self-respecting birthday festival. Because of it, I think we will always remember the year Zoomie turned four and Sooby turned nine.

Happy Birthday today, sweet girl. I hope you like the new Spirograph from Pa-pa and me. I know you won't always be as carefree as you look atop this carousel pony at the state fair last summer, but I wish you the happiest of days today, and I can't wait for the phone call that will tell me all about it.

It was great being with you the day you reached the four-year mark, little guy. I love this picture of you blowing bubbles so seriously and intently on Mother's Day. Guard that giant jar of gourmet jelly beans Mama got you for your birthday, and don't forget to share some with your brother and sisters. Maybe you will still have some left next time I come to visit.

Every birthday I get to spend with a grandkid is a treasure to cherish. I reflect on weekends like this one just past and realize once more that I am rich indeed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Sole Survivor

Part IV of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

"[My house] caught on fire and only I escaped," Bootsie writes (with considerable help from her older sister).

She has been asked by her director to think what her past life (all five years of it?) might have been like before arriving at the workhouse that constitutes a significant part of the setting of Oliver! Hopefully, this will give her a sense of character and a sense of belonging in the overall dynamic of the show.

"[O]nly I escaped" reminds me of the opening of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In that, the novel's first-person narrator, Ishmael, establishes himself as the sole survivor of the whaling vessel Pequod. But at that point, Bootsie parts ways with Ishmael. Here is the rest of her backstory:

"It was snowing outside. I happened to look through someone's house through their window, and so I knocked on the door, and I was quite scared when they opened the door. It was a little boy, and he said: 'Oh, not another one.' And then I walked in angrily, and I stayed there for the rest of my childhood."

In Bootsie's case, the time invested in thinking about her little ragamuffin character must have worked. Although all three kids (and their rose-selling mama) did a wonderful job in their musical theatre debut together, it was Bootsie alone who garnered actual press coverage.

"One particular child in Oliver! stood out from the group," writes hometown reporter Patrick Murtha in the St. Marys Star. "Perhaps it was the impishness of her looks and actions. Perhaps it was the hat that was many sizes too large, slipping suddenly and sporadically over her eyes."

Wow. What must it be like to be singled out, at the ripe old age of five, for notice in a newspaper review? But Murtha isn't finished yet.

"[H]er rollicking antics appeared to be no act; rather, they seemed to flow like reality, unprompted and unprepared, from her little limbs and seemed to erupt from an unrehearsed soul. She played a spirited and spontaneous child, whom anyone, if I can paraphrase an old-timer, would love to have as a grandchild."

Bingo! I can vouch for that last comment. From her animated delivery in the chorus of the show's opener ("Oliv-ah! Oliv-ah!") to her little center-stage dance feature with the character Nancy, Bootsie handled her role with outstanding stage presence. I was amazed--but then--I am supposed to be amazed. That is the role of a Googie, and I am hopelessly typecast in that delightful part.

And, yes, little Bootsie, anyone would love to have you as a grandchild, and I am one of the very few lucky ones who get to actually do that. I look forward to watching you dance and sing your way right through this summer and rollick right into kindergarten.

You are a joy--and I am so glad that you alone escaped that house fire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pick-pocket Pooh

Part III of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

"The curtain rose, and homeless children burst upon the stage . . . ," writes Patrick Murtha in a recent op-ed piece in the St. Marys Star, the weekly newspaper of the town where the kids live. The reporter then describes the show's opening as "a lark with mischievous and rambunctious rascals, in an apparently harmonized cacophony of motion, being at one place and everywhere about the stage."

Mischievous. Rambunctious. Cacophony. Had I not known that Murtha penned these in reference to the musical's opening scene, I would have thought he was writing solely about Pooh. Although those words are certainly appropriate for his onstage role as an orphan/thief in Oliver!, they also describe his everyday personality and behavior to a "T."

My oldest grandson has displayed a penchant for the theatrical as long as he has been able to walk and talk. I have written about this numerous times here on the blog, and, in case you should wish to revisit some of those great stories, you can do so by googling the blog titles/dates below. (I tried to imbed the actual links, but ran into a problem.)

To read about how Pooh, barely two years old, assumed the character of the dog thief Horace in our playtime enactment of 101 Dalmatians, google "Googies Attic: Just Horacing Around" from 15 June 2011. Perhaps it was this experience that prepared him for the pick-pocketing required by his character in Oliver!

To laugh boisterously about the time that, in his role as a "mean mouse," Pooh mistakenly tried to kill the title character of The Nutcracker, google "Googies Attic: Attack of the Rapacious Rodent from 15 Jan. 2012."  Finally, if you care to meet, in all his glory, the special superhero Pooh created (and costumed) for himself, check out "Googies Attic: Naked Man" from 8 July 2012.

Although he was easily the smallest boy in the play, Pooh, a first-grader, executed his part in the manner I would have expected. In the "Pick a Pocket or Two" scene, he stole quickly and furtively among the Londoners to--well--steal. Finding himself nose to nose with the menacing Fagin, he emitted a trailing, high-pitched scream that demonstrated the Doppler Effect better than an Amtrak barreling past your local train station. Two magnificent cartwheels showcased his wiriness and agility, and a time or two I even saw him" smoking" a pipe.

At the director's suggestion, Sooby and Bootsie were happy to come home after the earliest rehearsals to contemplate their characters and give themselves a "past" to help them empathize and to blend into the milieu of 1850s London. No such nonsense for Pooh. He was pretty sure he already had this down.

I am expecting this resourceful little pick-pocket for a Mother's Day visit this coming weekend. It will be my first time to see him since closing night, and I am anxious to hear how the third weekend of shows went. But just to be safe, I think I'd better remember to lock up my jewelry and find a safe place to stash my other valuables.

He was that convincing.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Michael Brogen

Part II of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

I know the challenges of working with amateur child actors in community theatre. I have been mauled backstage between scenes by orphans in Annie. I have repeatedly straightened the babushkas of a village full of little Russian peasant girls in Fiddler on the Roof.

I know the challenges of getting little ones to maintain focus and meld into the collective spirit of the show. That's why I greatly admire the young woman who directed Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie (and all those less important characters) in their recent production of Oliver!

"Go home and think about the part you will play," she told them when the cast first assembled. "What was your life like before you came to the orphanage? How did you end up here? How do you feel about what happens here? Write down your character's story. Give yourself a name."

"Give yourself a name"--BINGO! That's all it took for Sooby, a third-grader, to grab pen and paper and fabricate a history for the character she would play. She named him "Michael Brogen," and here, in Sooby's own words, is his story:

"I used to have a family, but my parents could not afford to feed me. They thought that the work-house was just a cozy orphanage, so they sent me there. Well, I didn't think I would mind it there, but, boy, I was wrong! This place is pure torture!

As an aside here, let me say that I had to chuckle at Sooby's use of the phrase "pure torture." It is one of her favorites. Over the years I have heard her use it  to describe many situations which, though they appear quite trivial to the untrained sensibility, take on life-and-death proportions for her.

It may be the way her brother behaves during a play session, or the fact that lightning is keeping us temporarily out of the pool. Whatever the case, I was amused to see the "pure torture" mentality follow Sooby into her new incarnation as Michael Brogen. Here, by the way, is Michael in all his glory:

Indeed, Michael sang, danced, and picked pockets with the best of them, and he even had a down-center-stage solo line in "Food, Glorious Food." All eyes focused on him as he projected his line clearly and enthusiastically for all to hear.  "What, then, is the question?" he sang out, and, oh my, his Googie was so proud!

Great job, sweet Michael. Keep up the good work. I wish you many, many opportunities to shine onstage and to experience the wonderful camaraderie that comes only from being a cast member in a musical classic like Oliver! 

Good luck at your next set of auditions. But--hey--just a bit of advice. Maybe you'd better wash your face first.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Somewhere on my list of Top 10 Most Fun and Rewarding Parenting Experiences would have to be the time Cookie, Teebo, and I became villagers of the little Russian village of Anatevka in a community theatre run of Fiddler on the Roof. Though the kids were just eight and five that year, it was a great chance for them to experience the way poignant family drama and masterful music come together to create a two-hour onstage miracle.

Twenty-six years later, what went around back then has made another circle. This time I got to be in the audience watching and listening as Cookie sold roses and Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie took on the roles of orphans and thieves in a community theatre production of Oliver! I attended on April 15 and 16.

No, once was not enough. I had to make a weekend of it and see every ounce of cuteness twice. Proudly, I wore my new sweatshirt that says "My Grandkids Shine Like Stars"--and sweatshirts do not lie. Although anyone could see that the kids--ages eight, seven, and five--were truly the stars of the show, the production was certainly not hurt by excellent casting, wonderful set and costuming, strong vocals, and a phenomenal five-piece orchestra.

I saw the show the second weekend of a three-weekend run, when most of the bugs had been ironed out and the cast had jelled into a comfortable ensemble of 1850s Londoners. Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens, the musical transported its audience to a bleak landscape wrought with poverty, disease, hunger, and an ominous criminal element. It was a place where kids went to bed hungry and were spirited away from workhouses to learn the art of  picking pockets.

This writing introduces a series of four blog posts devoted to the kids' experience as actors and singers in their first stage production. For each of the next three days, I will feature one of them, along with some observations about each one's unique experiences with the show.

Here is a preview of what you will get to read about in the next several posts:

Now, sit back, and enjoy the show!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bootsie's Spring Art Show

You may not know that I am a connoisseur of art, but I am. This is because I have a five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter who is an artist.

One of the hidden pleasures of tidying up after all the grandkids have been here for a big Easter weekend is exploring the more obscure nooks and crannies of the house. Inevitably, in so doing, I will find remnants of their visit that I was too busy to notice while they were here.

One such treasure is the many drawings left behind by Bootsie, who expresses her talent through the media of colored pencils and paper snitched from the laser printer. Here are just a few of her masterpieces of the weekend past, along with a little Googie-analysis of her technique and her motifs. I am calling this installment of her work "Images of Spring," and I share them with you here.

First is a pastel I have named Spring Promises. Here, we find the promise of fair weather, indicated by the blue sky and the sunshine in the upper right corner. The cross on the top of the building, along with the stained-glass windows tell us this is a church filled with the promise of resurrection and life that comes with Easter. A second religious theme is executed in the rainbow that reaches earthward from the sky and completely envelops the church. Even casual observers have to admit that, for a five-year-old child with one piece of paper, there is a lot of promise in this one.

This one I like to call Pink Ocean. Here, the artist gives the color blue, routinely reserved for bodies of water, to a dolphin, which constitutes the focal point of the piece. Instead of blue, this water is pink, and it is obvious that this makes the dolphin very happy. ( I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never seen a dolphin with a smile this big.) Looking on, two winged creatures--an owl and a goose (maybe)--hang suspended in the orange spring atmosphere wishing they, too, could immerse themselves in a vast pool of pinkness.

Finally, we have Leaning into Springtime. Here, the artist adds an international flair as she juxtaposes Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa with the majestic tulips of Holland. Of the three pieces, this one displays the most vibrant and varied colors, and I would not hesitate to award it the coveted title "Best of Show." Unless you have tried this yourself, you can't imagine how hard it is to draw a tower that leans to this precarious degree without falling into the tulips.

Left behind along with Bootsie's artwork was a story by Sooby, "The Serpent of the Island of Rapheliaton." But I will share that with you another time. It is close to bedtime, and it might bring on the nightmares. So for now, I will leave you with the soothing and optimistic images of Bootsie's spring art show and wish you sweet dreams.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Beenie's Bounce House Birthday

Four years ago today, on our thirty-first anniversary, Pa-pa and I got a pretty special present. That day, Beenie entered the lineup as our fourth grandchild.

A couple days ago, we looked up the anniversary list to see what special designation the thirty-fifth anniversary has. Since we couldn't figure out exactly how to work coral and jade into our day, we opted to spend a glorious day at Beenie's fourth birthday party. So instead of coral and jade, we celebrated with superheroes and an inflatable bounce house.

This great day, which we shared with all the grandkids ages two through eight, started off with pizza, cycled through presents and the raucous cacophony of six bouncing children, and ended with cake, ice cream, and gift bags.

With the possible exception of snorkeling off Black Rock on Ka'anapali Beach, I don't think there could have been a better way to spend a milestone anniversary. Indeed, we were blessed with the combination of unbridled merriment and no broken bones (at least that we know of now). Although our unpredictable Missouri weather was a little on the cool side, there was no rain, and there was too much jumping going on for anyone to feel the slightest cold.

Beenie liked coming down head first:

But some of us, though exhibiting impressive form, were not quite so brave:

Thanks to Beenie's daddy, son Teebo, for coming up with this wacky idea to celebrate the joy of family on this most special day. If you ask me, the photos above commemorate a thirty-fifth anniversary better than any amount of coral or jade ever could.

And as for you, Beenie-Boy, I hope you have had the most wonderful of days. You got yourself a new stash of superhero gear and action toys and even a new Spider Man backpack for preschool next year. Your mama baked you the best cake ever, and you blew those candles out like an expert:

As I write this, your fourth birthday has most likely wound down, and, at the end of a day that couldn't be interrupted for the likes of a nap, I suspect you have already fallen asleep, maybe in those new Incredible Hulk boxing gloves.

I hope your dreams are full of hugs and bounces and sweet whipped-cream icing. You came to us as a special gift four years ago, sweet boy, and you remain so every day that we are blessed to share with you.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bad Guys and Vampires

It doesn't seem unusual for little boys to be fascinated by superheroes. I would expect to be buying toys and T-shirts featuring Batman, Superman, and the rest of that familiar lineup. With four grandsons, I have certainly bought my share of those.

Then, a couple years ago, Pooh developed an affinity for bad guys, particularly Horace and Jasper, the dog thieves in 101 Dalmatians. On every visit for several months, I would have to role-play one of them while he played the other. This wore me out. It seems that, in the process of dog-napping, thieves must expend a considerable amount of physical energy.

More recently, Beenie, who will be four in just a few weeks, always wants me to show him, on my iPhone, images of every bad guy he or I can think of. To this end, we have engaged in numerous discussions of Joker, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Riddler, and  Jesse James. Once, I even threw Clyde Barrow into the mix. It seems I need to increase my repertoire of bad guys I can think of off the top of my head.

Last night, however, Beenie decided to pretend he was a vampire (I have no idea where he learned about vampires--I swear I am innocent this time.). As the potential victim of this particular bad guy, I had reasonable cause to worry. I had to pull my collar up around my neck and think fast.

"What does a vampire look like?" Beenie wanted to know.

"Well, he has sharp fangs, I said." And that's when, by the miracle of free association, I thought of apples. Sure enough, there was a single apple in the fridge that we were able to stretch into a play session of half hour or more.

"How?" you ask. Like so:

Yes, a secret yet untapped by apple promoters worldwide is that apple slices make perfect fangs. A typical apple, we learned, will afford you about ten sets of fangs. Each set will last several minutes from the victim's initial shriek of terror to the vampire's inevitable ingestion of his own teeth.

Luckily, no necks have to be harmed in the process of this particular vampire game. Last night, our biggest problem was the fact that we had only one apple and, thus, had to ration our fangs very carefully.

As it turns out, a little boy's preoccupation with bad guys isn't doomed to an undesirable outcome. As an added bonus to lots of fun and laughs, the kid, in the natural course of play, ends up with a healthy snack, and you can't beat that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. Gets Five Stars

I've been thinking about Pooh all day long, and I hope the force is with him. By that, I mean I hope he and his sisters are having fun playing the new game Pa-pa and I delivered to him over the weekend as we observed his seventh birthday just a few days early.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with our launch of Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. I have always enjoyed the dice-rolling excitement of a good Yahtzee match, and I have to say this particular version adapts quite well to the needs of kids age four and older.

Instead of the usual numbered dots, the six sides of most dice feature pictures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, R2D2, Chewbacca, and Yoda, who acts as a wild card as players try to collect as many pictures as possible of a single character in a three-roll turn.

Since there is evil in every universe, one side of one sinister die is reserved for the picture of Darth Vader. If Darth turns up on a player's roll, that player loses the advantage of that fifth die for the remainder of that particular turn.

Further, the game is designed so that kids don't have to keep individual scores on note pads as they make decisions about how to count the dice rolls. Instead, they use color-coded game markers to mark their choices on a game board visible to all players at all times. This enables discussions of options with kids who may need help figuring out rolling and scoring choices. The board, game pieces, and dice (and a set of four happy players) look like this:

The game can be easily adapted for two, three, or four players, with the difference being the number of turns all players get. Once begun, things move quickly, and the kids seem excited both to take their own turns and to watch what happens as their opponents roll the dice, consider options, and strategize.

In our experience, the downsides of the game are few. You have to caution the kids not to bump the scoreboard and displace markers that have already been played, because then the cumulative scores are lost for that game. Another issue is the number of relatively small pieces (twenty score markers, five dice) to keep track of when a number of boisterous kids are involved.

But I have to say the five of us (Zoomie and I were partners) had a great time with Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. In the event of a number of kids who are fairly young, though, I would recommend flying a reconnaissance mission into the box ahead of time to punch out score markers and place the stickers on the dice. I did this, and am pretty sure I saved us some time, potential chaos, and possible damage to the game components.

Happy Birthday to you, Pooh. You are the most special first-grader in my universe. May the candles on your cake tonight glow like light sabers, and may your life be filled with a lot of Yodas and very few Darths.

Friday, January 22, 2016

It's in the Stars

It was meant to happen, clear as day. You know what I mean--that split second when, in the course of shopping the after-Christmas clearances, your eyes land--BINGO!--just like that--on the prize.

And I don't mean just a good bargain--watchful eyes land on those all the time. No, this day brought one of those delightful instances of serendipity when the perfect piece of merchandise met Googie at the crossroads of "It's about time you saw me hanging on this rack" and "Please don't let me snatch you up with such force that I raise the suspicions of the store detective ."

Let's rewind a bit. I was not at our town's new Kohl's store looking for anything in particular. I was simply cruising the aisles with a 30%-off coupon burning a hole in my billfold, along with a Kohl's cash certificate worth $10 off any purchase. There were already a few miscellaneous--comparatively unimportant--items in my cart at the time I scored the find:

Now, I realize that, at first glance, this may not look like all that big a deal to you. In fact, it may look mysteriously like just another "Grandma" sweatshirt--the kind that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. But au contraire mon ami--look again as you slowly absorb the utter wonder of this particular shirt. There are several reasons why only something like fate could dictate that I would end up with it.

First, it says, "My Grandkids Sparkle & Shine like Stars." That sentence contains a simile, a figure of speech that compares two things using the word like. It is, therefore, a poetic statement, and I am a poet. In fact, I am currently in the early stages of a book of children's poems titled Harvest the Stars. Yes, stars. What are the chances that, given those things, I would find this shirt today?

But it gets better. The shirt has exactly six stars, one for each of my six grandkids. Coincidence? I think not.

Next, it is not my nature to brag about my grandkids (uncross fingers now--it is too hard to type with them crossed), but my grandkids actually are stars. Sooby played Skippyjohn Jones' mother in a skit last summer in a kids' theatre class at our local community college. Pooh once gave a stellar performance as a mean mouse in The Nutcracker (I blogged about that a couple years ago--he ended up on stage too early and tried to kill the nutcracker). Bootsie danced in that same production.

The evidence doesn't stop there: For four years now on Christmas afternoon our family has sung a song together to post on Facebook as a Christmas greeting to our friends. This year we did "Rudolph," with all the kids donning antlers (except Sooby, who was Santa) and acting out parts as we sang. Last year we did "We Three Kings," with the three little boys--Beenie, Zoomie, and Heero-- looking astral as the stars of wonder, night, and royal beauty bright. The remnants of their costumes are a testament to this:

So there you have another manifestation of our "star" theme and sufficient evidence to prove that my sweatshirt find was, indeed, nothing short of miraculous.

I might also mention, just in passing, that I gave a total of $9.02 for this perfect-in-all-ways sweatshirt, which originally sold for $40. The icing on the cake is that, although I am sure it was on clearance as Christmas merchandise, there is nothing on it that restricts its use to only the Christmas season.

Add all these things together and you can see why my new sweatshirt makes this a great day. Although I didn't win the big lottery last week, I consider myself quite a winner, and for that I thank my lucky--well--stars.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pretzel Art

It is really too bad that moms tell their kids not to play with their food.

As Zoomie and I discovered last weekend, that simply is not true, especially if pretzels are involved. We are living proof that, given a bag of pretzels, your snack can become an art medium and your kitchen a studio. Imagine that you are sauntering through an art museum, and you stop to contemplate the following works:

Pa-pa's Pickup on a Clear Day

Here you see Pa-pa's truck heading to the farm to feed the cows on a clear winter day dominated by blue sky. The salt on the pretzels doubles as bits of snow. So realistic is this representation that you can almost feel the warmth of the truck's cab and hear the crunch of the tires as they plow through a crust of white.

Stylish Snowman at Christmas
What shouts "Christmas" more clearly than this merry red background supporting a whimsical snowman? And what blares out "fashion" any more obviously than a snowman who would forego the traditional black top hat in favor of a stylish tam propped aside his head at a rakish angle? 

True, several pretzels were harmed in the execution of this piece. But you will be relieved to know that their remains were honorably interred and, in so doing, there were no "starving artists" residing at Googie's. 

Antenna-less Butterfly
Flying into snack time on dreams of hope, this unique butterfly acts as a harbinger of spring and the hope that January will be gone in the foreseeable future. Rivaling "Pa-pa's Pickup" in complexity (both require eleven pretzels), this beautiful insect virtually flies off a green background signifying an imminent return to all things spring.

So there you have it--proof that a kid's experience at Googie's can be enhanced when the line between snack time and play time is intentionally blurred. And--oh, yeah--if you wish to purchase any of these pieces for your personal art collection, just contact me. The artist is three-and-a-half and not yet taking calls.