• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

Touch the Whole Elephant

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.57.44 AMSix years ago, while five-year-old Elsie and I ate breakfast, I flipped the pages of my new poetry book, Great Poems for Grandchildren. I read a few nursery rhymes aloud and then happened upon The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Little did I know this poem would become one of all my Grands’ favorites and little do they know that it was written in the 1800s.

Last week, Elsie’s sister Lucy, age 7, asked, “Gran, will you read poems?” It’s become a tradition: breakfast and poetry. Lucy looked thru a stack of books close to the kitchen table. “Where’s the book with the blind men and elephant?”

“It was six men of Hindostan to learning much inclined,

Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind);

That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

“Gran, stop,” Lucy said. “What does that satis word mean?”

“Satisfy?” I asked. Lucy nodded. “Well, when you eat pancakes you satisfy your stomach and aren’t hungry. They wanted to learn about an elephant and satisfy their minds. They were learning.”

Lucy nodded and said, “Keep going.”  She leaned toward me and waited for the last word on the next stanza.

“The first approached the elephant and happening to fall

Against his broad and study side, at once began to bawl,

‘Bless me, it seems the elephant is very like a ….”

“WALL!” Lucy shouted and laughed. She knew the last word of the next five stanzas.

The second blind man felt the elephant’s tusk and declared the wonder of an elephant is very like a SPEAR.

The third happened to take the squirming trunk and said the elephant very like a SNAKE.

The fourth’s hand felt the knee and said the mighty beast is very like a TREE.

The fifth chanced to touch the ear and marveled that an elephant is very like a FAN.

The sixth groped the swinging tail that fell within his scope and said the elephant is very like a ROPE.

“And so these men of Hindostan disputed loud and long

Each of his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Lucy shook her head. “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Lucy has heard this poem many times, but until now she hasn’t ask questions. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, if they had or just talked to each other, they’d know what an elephant looks like,” my young Grand said, the same conclusion that her sister and two other older Grands have made.

Saxe’s last stanza isn’t included in my poetry book for children.

“So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, tread on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean, and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!”

My Grands and I have laughed about this poem. Those silly blind men. An elephant with a snake trunk. A rope tail. And each has asked the question: “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Yes, why?

Advertisements

What’s a Loose-Neck?

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 6.58.26 AM

“Look what I found. My little kids will love them,” my friend said. Five college girlfriends and I were eating lunch and sharing our shopping finds at The Sponge Docks near Tarpon Springs, Florida. Jo set six little wooden-like critters on our table. Each would fit in the palm of a toddler’s hand and no two were the same animal.

All had long twig like necks that wobbled side to side from hollow bodies and black dot eyes and brightly colored bodies with designs. We blew gently to make their necks and heads rock. These happy looking little creatures made us laugh.

“What are these? Where did you get them?” I asked. These were the perfect gifts to take my little kids, my Grands.

I was surprised to see more than a thousand Loose-Necks displayed in a small souvenir shop. Wobbly-necked little animals set on shelves everywhere. Turtles. Giraffes. Penquins. Snails. Fish. Dinosaurs. Aardvarks. Pigs. And more and more turtles, which were the original and are the most common design. None exactly the same. Folded notecards on shelves told how they were created.

Loose-necks are made from the pits of limoncillo fruits. Farmers in southern Mexico harvest the fruit in late summer, usually August. After removing or eating the sweet, jelly-like fruit, they lay the limocillo pits out to dry. Then the surface of each pit is sanded to make it smooth and the bottom flatten. A pick and tiny scoop are used to clean the core of the hard pits.

The Loose-Necks’ small heads and necks are carved from real wood and each head is painted with a black pinpoint eyes. Legs and a tail are attached to the pit. The entire body is then coated with a protective seal and when it dries, the real artwork begins.

Each little animal is hand painted bright colors and decorated with intricate designs. Flowers. Dots. Lines. Circles. Abstract drawings. None exactly the same.

I was taken back to think how much time and effort went into making one little animal. The gathering, drying, sanding. Cutting out the heads, legs, and tail from wood. Attaching the head with a tiny rubber band so that it wobbled. And then painting.

“Are these really only one dollar?” I asked the sales clerk. My friend had told me the price and I saw a price sign, but I was stunned that something that required so much hands-on labor would be this cheap.

The clerk nodded. “Or six for five dollars,” she said.

This was supposed to be a five-minute and on-the-way-out-of-town stop, but I sauntered around the store to choose twelve Loose-Necks. “Choose another. You get 13 for $10,” the clerk said.

Now I have Loose-Necks all around our house. When my Grands visit, they blow to make the Loose-Necks’ heads wobble and we laugh. I’m pretty sure I like these little critters more than they do. I love that something so simple brings smiles and giggles.

 

Decorating Easter Eggs

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 7.33.22 AMIt’s Easter and time to color eggs. Maybe this year we’ll decorate eggs some way other than a water dye solution. Before I could even explain different ways, my young Grand asked, “Why do we dye Easter eggs and can’t we just color them?”

The practice of giving Easter eggs began as a Christian tradition. A red dyed egg symbolized the blood of Christ and the hatching of an egg symbolized the resurrection.  The tradition carried through the years to different colors and processes.

Ukrainian etched eggs, especially those designs made using the scrimshaw method, intrigue me most. The inside of an egg is blown out (I’m not sure I can master that) and then the shells are lightly carved using a high-speed drill and a fine pointed knife. India ink is applied and the excess wiped away, showing intricate designs.

A design on a Ukrainian egg is created by applying wax to the egg before dying it. The wax protects the shell from the dye and layered designs are created. Usually detailed designs with many colors are used.

For a whimsical look, eggs can be decorated as heads of people or characters with painted faces, using permanent markers or brightly colored crayons. Yarn for hair and ribbon and felt fabric for collars can be attached with glue.

While researching methods, I came across the most valuable Easter eggs ever created. Around the late 1800s, jeweled Faberge eggs were crafted as Easter gifts for the families of Russian czars. Only 65 were known to be made. Today most are housed in museums and each egg is worth millions of dollars. A Faberge ‘style’ egg, for as little as $20 is available, but don’t expect real jewels.

I’ll fall back on the way I first colored eggs with my mom, then my children, and then my Grands. A PAAS dye kit. In the 1880s, the PAAS Dye Company began selling egg dying packets. William Townley worked in a drugstore in Newark, New Jersey and often concocted recipes for home use. He developed small colored tablets, in spring colors, to be mixed with water and white vinegar, and he sold the first packets of five colors for 5 cents. The word PAAS comes from Passen, the word for Easter that was used by Townley’s Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors.

Today’s basic PAAS kit is about $4 and for $20 deluxe kits are available. Neon colors. Emojis. Swirls. Marbled effect. Glitter. Spacemen. Crazy bird. Decals. Stickers. More choices than my Grands and I need. But we’ll improvise.

So we have a plan. I’ll boil a few dozen eggs, buy the basic PAAS kit, and collect a few other things. Markers and glue. Ribbon and yarn. Glitter and sequins. Wax crayons. My Grands and I won’t create valuable art like the Faberge eggs or priceless scrimshaw eggs. And we certainly won’t spend the hours required for a Ukrainian masterpiece. We’ll talk about the first red dyed eggs. We’ll have fun and make some memories.  That’s why we decorate Easter eggs.

Lessons from Children

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 7.50.13 AMLast Friday, I was reminded of a lesson while celebrating Read Across America. This day isn’t on my calendar as it was when I was an elementary classroom teacher, but thankfully friends at Capshaw School invited me to read aloud. Although I often read with my Grands, sharing a book with a classroom of students is a different experience.

The calming atmosphere of the school where I taught for twenty years settled over me. I felt as if I were returning home, as a teacher in charge. The smells, the colors – all the same. The greeting, the smiles – different people, but the same.

Mrs. Rand introduced me and gave her second grade students a chance to ask questions. “What’s your favorite color?” Yellow, just like this questioner wore from head to toe. “Do you know my step-mom? She went to Capshaw.” I know step-mom’s parents. “What’s your favorite book?” Had this child been prompted to give me a lead-in to the book I’d brought to read?

These seven and eight year old students sat at my feet on the floor; I sat in a chair exactly like my former teacher desk chair.  I had practiced holding and reading a big picture book so that I could read sideways and upside down. “The book is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae,” I said and showed the cover picture of a bright yellow, orange-spotted giraffe turning a flip.

In the book, Gerald’s knees buckle when he tries to twirl at the Jungle Dance. The other animals cha-cha, waltz, rumba and laugh at Gerald. “Look at clumsy Gerald! Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool,” they jeer. Sad and alone, Gerald creeps away. The song of a cricket and his encouraging words makes Gerald sway his body, shuffle his feet, and swish his tail. And then he throws his legs sideways and leaps into the air into a backward somersault. The other animals gather around and declared Gerald the best dancer ever.

As I read the last words of the book, the children leaned forward and a few clapped. “So what could be another title for this book?” I asked. The children’s answers told me they understood the story’s theme. Giraffes Can Dance! Giraffes Dance When They Hear Their Music. Gerald Had to Learn. Everybody was Wrong, Giraffes Dance.

And then one child said, “Everybody can do something. Giraffes don’t have to dance.” I wanted to hug him and I asked him to please say that again. “Everybody can do something,” he said.   I got my teacher fix: a reminder that children are teachers, too. We adults can listen to and watch children and learn from them.

Some people say, “I could never be a teacher.” If every minute of a teacher’s day was like the thirty minutes I spent with those young students, everybody could be a teacher and everybody would want to. But everybody doesn’t have to. Because everybody can do something. Different somethings.

Collecting: A good hobby?

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 7.45.11 AM‘Surely, collecting is a good hobby.’ With those words I ended a column two weeks ago that was inspired by the current Collecting Cookeville exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum. Friends have told me their adult children don’t appreciate their collections. One daughter refused her mother’s offer of a few of her Hummel figurines. “Mom,” the daughter said, “you like those more that I do. You keep them.” This mother knows a time will come when her only child will donate her treasured collection to a non-profit organization or sell them to add dollars to her son’s college education fund.

I know no one else in my family is particularly fond of clowns. I really like my twenty or so clowns arranged in small groups, which sit among the books on our living room bookshelves. Clowns with notes on the bottom telling who gave them to me and when. A clown depicting an adult reading a book to a child. One holding brightly colored birthday balloons. A clay clown, with a broken foot, that Daughter made.

According to psychologists, we humans are unique in the way we collect items just for the satisfaction of seeking and owning. We’ve done it for thousands of years, since earliest man gave up nomadic life and settled in one place.

Somehow I feel compelled to defend the importance of collecting and I found a blog that gives 8 reasons why collecting things you love is good for your brain. Now who can argue with anything that is good for our brains?

Collecting builds observation skills and organizational skills. We collectors search for details to make choices and look for common characteristics. Collections call for sorting into categories and that can transfer into other tasks, i.e. presenting school assignments and work projects.

Collecting builds knowledge and may lead to a career. A bird collection could inspire the study of habitats, the many species, and the distinct differences among birds. It’s possible a child could become an ornithologist because her mother collected wooden bird carvings. And think about children who collect rocks and are budding geologists. Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a child and developed a curiosity for all living things. We know him best for his theory of evolution through natural selection presented in 1859.

Collections inspire creativity. Artists often collect things that influence their work. And social connections are made through collections. At model train shows and swaps, people from all walks of life and all ages meet to exhibit and trade train cars. And there are worldwide clubs for philatelists, people who collect postage stamps.

I knew it. Collecting is a good hobby. But I know collections are often valued only by the owner. I don’t expect my children to ever want all my clowns on their bookshelves, but someday they may want one or two. Ones with their names and “Happy Birthday, Mom” on the bottom. Just as a keepsake of something that made me smile and was good for my brain.

####

Two Day Gift

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.03.09 AMNot all gifts are wrapped in shiny red paper. Not stuffed inside a gift bag. In September, I called Son and offered that he and Daughter 2 (some say daughter-in-law) take a mini-vacation while Husband and I stayed at his house. An offer of two nights away from home, from their three children, ages six, four, and two, and their dog, Baxter. A time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

So in November on a Saturday afternoon, Son and Daughter 2 kissed and hugged Dean, Neil, and Ann and said, “Bye and be good. Do what Pop and Gran tell you and we’ll see you Monday.”

As Son and Daughter 2 drove out of their driveway, two-year-old Ann wailed for thirty seconds and said repeatedly, “Bye, bye, Mommy.” Husband, Dean, and Neil were having a snowball fight, throwing baseball size white balls of yarn at each other. I hugged Ann. She wiped her arm across her wet nose, and then said, “Let’s play, Gran!”

These three Grands were all ours. Time to play and read and take walks and build wooden cars. To giggle and sing silly songs and tell Purple Cow bedtime stories. To wrap small clean, wet bodies in towels and help wiggle into pajamas. To rub backs at bedtime and cuddle in bed early mornings. To bend the house rules a bit and bribe with Skittles.

Dean, a first grader, repeated my plan to his younger siblings. “Gran said she’d put Skittles in a jar when we did what we’re ‘posed to and we can eat ‘em after supper. I’ll count ‘em and give ‘em out.”

Co-commander Dean asked, “So how many Skittles is that?” after all 60 of the yarn snowballs had been picked up. And he followed me to the kitchen to be sure I put five in the jar.

The Skittle jar sat beside the list of suggestions and advice Son and Daughter 2 had written. Schedules. Neighbors’ phone numbers. Bedtimes. Meal menus. Favorite play activities. TV cable channels. Baxter’s feeding directions. How to cook a hot dog so Dean would eat it. Snacks Ann likes, but Neil hates. What to pack in Dean’s school lunch bag.

Every moment with our Grands wasn’t perfect. When Ann and Neil had breakdowns, Husband and I fumbled for reassuring words, but we knew hugs smooth toddlers. And we struggled through Monday morning to get Neil to preschool and Dean to the school bus stop.

After her brothers had left for school, Ann held a play phone to her ear and said, “Hi Mommy. Uh, huh. Yes. Yes. No. Pop and Gran. Yes. Bye, Mommy.” She ran to me, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “Love you Gran.”

I cherish the time that Husband and I had with Dean, Neil, and Ann. That’s the gift. Our Grands’ parents gave us their children for two days and nights. They trusted us. And they left another gift: detailed lists so we didn’t have to call them, not even once.

####

 

Who Likes to be Scared?

downloadIt’s the season for haunted houses and horror movies and ghosts. Slaughterhouse. Dead Land Haunted House. Spooks Galore. The Haunting. Night of Demons. Halloween. Cemetery of Terror. A frightening list could fill this column and none would appeal to me. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone does. One ghost encounter was enough for me.

When I was a high school student, several girlfriends and I spent the night with our friend Nelda. An after school, Friday night slumber party on a late summer day.   We piled our books and overnight bags in Nelda’s room and went outside.

Nelda’s family’s farm was on a gravel road and not another house was in sight. We sometimes walked through the barnyard and across a field to a small cemetery. But that day, we walked the long way around on the country road because the field was planted with corn. Corn stalks, much taller than us, grew and the paths between the rows of corn were too narrow to walk through without being scraped by razor-sharp leaves.

In the cemetery, we laughed and talked. We made up stories about the people whose names were on the tombstones and those whose graves were marked with slabs of unmarked stones. We sat under the low branches of oak and hickory trees as the sun settled low in the sky. Then we got quiet. Quiet enough to hear silence –an eerie sound.

Someone whispered, “Ghosts.” Silence and twilight and tombstones were frightening. Ghosts? Where? Did you see one? My friends and I stood and huddled together. Nelda told us that someone had recently been buried in the back of the cemetery close to the woods. When we looked that direction, the sun probably cast a shadow or maybe a tree branch fell or perhaps a squirrel jumped from a limb to the ground or maybe nothing happened. Someone screamed, “Ghosts!”

We ran. Through the cemetery. Across a graveled road. Climbed a wire fence at a wooden fence post and ran into the cornfield. Corn leaves slapped our faces and scraped our arms and legs. Scared. Hearts beating fast. Away from the cemetery ghosts. A friend’s shoe fell off and still we ran through the biggest cornfield in Tennessee. Screaming for each other to keep up. Hurry.

When we finally made our way to a clearing, Nelda’s dad stepped out of the barn and more than one of us cried. Nelda told him we’d been in the old cemetery and heard scary noises. Maybe ghosts. Her dad was a man of very few words. He walked with us to the house and turned on the outside water spigot. Nelda’s mother handed us a bar of soap and towels. We scrubbed and rinsed and dried.

None of us were really sure what we saw or what we didn’t see. There were later times we same girls sat among the same tombstones, giggled and told stories, as teen-age girls do, but we never saw ghosts again.

Once was enough.