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“Do” Watch Silly Movies and Sing Sappy Songs

20 Jul

Blake Edwards’ movie, The Great Race has always been one of my favorites.  It’s an epic comedy starring Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate (and Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick), Tony Curtis as “The Great Leslie,” and Natalie Wood as Maggie Dubois.  

I remember seeing it at the drive-in theatre when I was 11 or 12, and anytime it comes on cable I’ll watch it again because it’s so fun and silly.  It has a great plot:  a turn-of-the-century automobile race from New York to Paris (westward across America, the Bering Straight and Russia), with a little romance and lots of slapstick.

Ian was over one weekend (he was just a little under 6 years old), and we were watching some TV before he went to bed.  I noticed that The Great Race was on, and he loved movies, so I thought he would enjoy this one.  He thought it was hilarious – he laughed and giggled, and really enjoyed the action and pratfalls, the big pie fight and more. 

There’s a song in the movie called “The Sweetheart Tree.”  Natalie Wood sings it during one scene (actually I think she was dubbed), and it’s played during  the closing credits.  Ian just loved this song.  After the movie was over and I put him to bed, he asked me to sing the song to him.  It has very sweet and charming lyrics, almost like a lullaby.  Fortunately, it is an easy song to remember as it only has eight lines and the last four are repeated:

“The Sweetheart Tree” (Click to listen!)
(Lyrics by Johnny Mercer/Music by Henry Mancini)

They say there’s a tree in the forest
A tree that will give you a sign
Come along with me to the sweetheart tree
Come and carve your name next to mine.

They say if you kiss the right sweetheart
The one you’ve been waiting for
Big blossoms of white will burst into sight
And your love will be true evermore.

I must have sung that song to him three or four times that night, and as I finally kissed Ian goodnight, he put his arms around my neck and hugged me and said, “Aunt Sheree, I’ll always be your sweetie.”

“Do” Have a “Super Summer Saturday!”

17 Jul

The Kazoo and Bubble blowing competition (Nick has the hat on, second from left; Katie is fourth from the left).

 

Nick loves thrill rides, roller coasters, theme parks, Worlds of Fun and Disney World.  As far back as I can remember, he has loved these, and his goal when he grew up was to own a theme park.  He wrote a business plan for it when he was about 8 years old!  He was going to employ everyone in his family in his operation to optimize revenue(!) and told me I would be his Director of Marketing and could handle the advertising.   He designed his featured roller coaster on paper incorporating vertical loops, corkscrews, roll backs and more that would have made any thrill seeker hesitate before getting on the ride.   

He also loved carnivals back then and when he and Katie would come over on Saturday, if there was a carnival in town someplace, he would know about it and want to go.  So one summer he brought together his big dreams of owning a theme park, with the essence of a carnival, but with the best engineering plan an 8-year old could develop and created an event he called “Super Summer Saturday.”  

Katie wins the apple bobbing contest while Nick intently judges!

 

His idea was to turn his backyard into a carnival.  But because he and Katie were usually with my Mom, sister or myself on Saturdays, he turned our backyard into one instead.  In June, he started planning each week that he came over, creating tickets, making signage and formulating his various “rides” or old-fashioned carnival contests.  We went to the toy store and bought primarily water toys like Super Soaker water guns (smaller versions), those dive and wet slide toys (which ended up representing the roller coaster), silly sprinklers and more.    

The big day came and he we got the yard set up with different areas that were the “rides.”  His imagination had no boundaries and the simplest little things took on the essence and charm of his vision.  We had invited some other kids to come over, including my Mom’s friend Pauline and some of her grandchildren.  Everyone had a blast!  It was so much fun for the kids and Nick was so excited and proud of his creation.  They played all Saturday afternoon and delighted in everything Nick had developed.    

Ian and Elyse as water monsters ready to go to the pool on a "Super Summer Saturday"

 

While we never did a backyard carnival/theme park again (Nick moved on to going to the real theme parks), “Super Summer Saturday” became part of our family vocabulary.  After Nick and Katie grew up, Ian and Elyse picked it up.  It reflected the days of summer when the kids would come over and we would do something simple or special.  Someone would say “Let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ and go to the park!” Or, “let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ at the pool!”  What made it super is that we would do something silly or fun as part of it.   

“Super Summer Saturday” still exists symbolically for me when I get together with Nick.  In fact last week we had  a super Saturday – we went out to eat at a relatively new restaurant/bistro (Trezo Vino), had wonderful summer food with a white sangria (with the fruit infused in vodka) and did a little window shopping.    

Regardless of age or activity, any Saturday I spend with Nick  in the summer will always be super!

“Do” Help Your Niece Find Her Moondoggie

9 Jul

Ready to take-off in San Diego

 

I went to San Diego a couple of years ago for a conference and it was around Spring Break for Elyse.  Her big brother was off doing something else, and being a Sagittarius just like my Mother, Elyse is afflicted with wanderlust, and was wanting to go someplace fun for her break.  So my Mom decided to take her, my sister and myself to Coronado Island and treat for an extended weekend at the Hotel Del Coronado right after my conference.    

Elyse had turned 12 a few months earlier, and this was one of her first trips without Ian.  So I was a little concerned that she might get bored without him, since we weren’t planning on doing anything but relax at The Del.  But she loved the water and easily made friends, so this wasn’t a stumbling block at all.  Besides, she and my sister were swimming BFFs, and there was so much to do at The Del.    

Elyse holds her surf board (standing south of The Del) on Coronado Island

 

Laying by the pool and swimming had its fun moments, unfortunately there were no kids around the first day and I could tell she was getting a little bored, but I knew she would never say anything.  I had noticed that The Del gave surfing lessons.  I casually suggested this to Elyse (who is an awesome swimmer) and she jumped at the opportunity.  We went and signed her up for two morning classes for Saturday and Sunday.   And she would be in a group of 10-15 year old kids, so maybe she could meet some kids for the weekend to hang out with at the beach or the pool.    

She took to surfing like Gidget on just the first day!  In fact better than Gidget!  (Baby Boomers reading this will know who Gidget is of course!)  Elyse listened intently to the instructor and was up on the board catching the waves in no time at all that first morning.  She absolutely loved it and had so much fun.  And she was excited to tell her friends at school that she learned to surf over Spring Break.  The class was just three hours long, and afterwards, she came over to where I was reading on the beach and sat down next to me.  We had some lunch and Elyse shared with me the thrill of surfing and how that was now going to be her new sport.  I reminded her that she lived in the heart of the Midwest, and that probably wasn’t practical.    

After just a handful of attempts, Elyse was up on the surfboard in no time at all!

 

 While eating our lunch, there were some kids on the beach building a really awesome sand castle and on later inspection it was actually a sand fort.  They had dug this huge hole and were building a fortress around it.  One of the boys working on the fort had been in Elyse’s surfing class and he was about a year or two older than her.  She said to me, “don’t you think that boy is cute?”  I agreed and suggested she go down and help them with their fort.  Surprisingly she got very shy, and said no it would be too awkward, and what if they didn’t need her help or what if they wouldn’t talk to her?    

So I suggested that she walk down a ways on the beach (opposite the direction where they were building the sand fortress), then turn around and casually stroll back by them.  I told her to stop and say “Hi, I really like your fort, do you need any help?”   

She giggled, got up to do it, then ran back and said “I can’t do it.”  I was somewhat perplexed by this new shyness, as she’s always been confident around other kids, including boys, and never had a problem meeting new people.  Then I realized she was being shy because this kid wasn’t just any boy, but because like Gidget, she had found her Moondoggie (except she was a junior Gidget and he was a junior Moondoggie!).     

Elyse with her "Moondoggie" working on the sand fortress at The Del

 

I gave her a few words of encouragement, and told her there were girls around him, probably his sisters, and to talk to all of them instead of speaking just to him.  She walked back down in the opposite direction, casually turned around, and started strolling back in the direction of the kids on the beach building the sand fort.   

In no time at all, Elyse had said hi, told them they really had a cool fort, asked if she could help, and then was inside the fort digging out sand and forming a wall while standing right next to her Moondoggie.  As I suspected, the other girls did turn out to be sisters and cousins.  And Moondoggie turned out to be a very nice boy named Brendon.  They were from Arizona, and their family was also on Spring break.   

Elyse hung out with them on the beach all day, and had the best time with not only Moondoggie, but also his sisters and his cousins.  They also had fun surfing again the next morning.  While there wasn’t a permanent connection with Moondoggie, Elyse ranks this trip to San Diego as one of her favorites and has been after us to go there again soon – not only to surf, but on the remote chance that her Moondoggie will be there, and that she can accidentally run into him walking on the beach.  Because like Gidget said, I’m sure Elyse would agree that “honest to goodness it was the absolute ultimate!”   

“Do” Believe in a Little Magic

4 Jul

A picture of part of the courtyard (before the arrival of the toad house)

The townhome I lived in before my current home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard surrounded by a high brick wall to the west and then a wooden fence on the opposite wall.  I had planted all kinds of perennials in it, plus lots of annuals every summer.  It was a pleasant place to sit, read, cook out or entertain, and for Ian and Elyse, to play or just hang out and talk.     

I was reading an issue of Martha Stewart Living one Saturday afternoon in the courtyard – it was an article about toads and toad houses.  Basically it said that if you put a toad house in your garden, pest-eating toads would show up and find it – and then hang out in your garden.  So I bought a really cute toad house online (total price $35.00) and put it in a nice shady place under a tree in the courtyard.  However, after several days, no toads showed up.  

The next weekend Ian and Elyse were over and Ian said, “I know let’s go to the park and find some toads!  We can catch them, then bring them back to the toad house and they will have a really cool new home.”   He felt bad that no toads had showed up for my toad house and saw it as a big adventure/quest to go out and find at least one toad!

Ian was about 11 at the time and Elyse about 7.  Not having anything available to catch toads with, we went to the store and purchased a small net and a small plastic bucket with a lid (total price $16.50).  We grabbed some snacks (total price $20.00) and drove over to Antioch park, a very pretty and fun area near my townhome.  While we had a great time in the park as usual, we searched the pond area for several hours but found no toads.   

Ian reading Harry Potter in the courtyard patio; Elyse looking at a book on flowers

Ian was really disappointed that he couldn’t find me a toad for my toad house, so I said we’d go to a pet store and see if they had any.  Elyse had given up on the toad hunt and stayed home with Grandma, but Ian and I drove to the nearest pet store. 

The only person in the store was the cashier, who was a grumpy middle-aged guy with a scrappy beard.  I asked him if he had any toads and he responded, “why, what are you going to do with one?”  I thought this was a very curious question, and really none of his business.  Did he think we were going to use it to cast a spell on someone or something?  But he looked at me and said, “we’re all out of toads, go to Antioch park.”      

Once again, we were disappointed about not finding a toad, but Ian was still convinced that we could find one someplace.  Then he said, “I know the best place to go, it’s the  pet store by our house, they will have one!”  This store was about a half hour away, but I thought it was a brilliant idea, surely they would have toads as it was an exotic pet store and they had all sorts of fish and reptiles. So we rushed over there because it was going to close in an hour at 6PM (we had been toad hunting all day).   

Ian at Antioch Park, looking a little tired and disappointed after hunting for toads

Sure enough, they actually had a toad/frog section.  I asked the young clerk if they had any simple pond toads, and he said no, but they had all kinds of exotic toads from all over the world.  (I guess there are people who keep amphibians as pets.)  They were called everything from the Granulated Toad to the Great Plains Toad, from the Fire Belly Toad to the Egyptian Green Toad, ranging in price from $12.00 to $300 each!

Being an 11-year old boy (and at the time, reading the Harry Potter books), Ian was fascinated by all the toads and was so excited that we had found one, especially one that would be so special!  Instinctively, I knew these were probably not the kind of toads you throw out in your courtyard to live in the toad house, but I didn’t want to disappoint him.  So I rationalized that a toad is a toad, and that whichever one we would buy would stay put.  (But the prices of these toads did give me cause to pause!)    

So we walked out of the store with a Chilean Christmas Toad – he was sort of skinny for a toad, was blackish green and had red markings all over him (total price $29.99!).  He was the second least expensive toad but Ian knew we had found the most perfect toad.  He named him Trevor – after Neville’s toad (in Harry Potter) who was escaping all the time and made frequent attempts at freedom.     

We brought Trevor home and went out to the courtyard, with Ian peeking in Trevor’s box all the way home to see how he was doing.  Ian opened up Trevor’s box and gently scooted him towards the toad house.  Dutifully, Trevor jumped over to the toad house and sat in front of the door of it for several minutes.  He seemed to be looking at us, almost inspecting us, but didn’t look afraid.  He turned around and went inside the toad house, just like that!  Martha Stewart was right!      

Ian sat outside for several hours until sundown (by this time it was 9PM on a Saturday night), watching what Trevor would do.  Sometimes Trevor would pop out of his little toad house and roam around a bit, but Ian always coaxed him back over to the house.  Finally, Ian came inside, and he was confident that Trevor would be there in the morning.  

Unfortunately, he was not.  Ian had stayed the night and the first thing the next morning went out to check on Trevor.  Trevor was gone.  Ian was sad.  I felt foolish for spending by this time $81.49 on the toad house, the search for a toad and for Trevor, and the little thing just hopped away.  And now I had a sad little nephew.    

Trevor's toad house in its new location with its new toads

Ian convinced himself that Trevor escaped while he could (unlike in the book, Neville’s Trevor never managed to escape) and was on his way back to Chile.  Ian reasoned that Trevor would find a stream to follow and would just keep swimming and hopping South until he got to Valparaíso or someplace near there.  I secretly hoped Trevor would come back now and then and do his job at pest control.  But we never saw him again.     

So while I bought an expensive toad that was with us for less than 24 hours, the whole toad hunting adventure that day with Ian was priceless.  And like Harry Potter, and the lore around toads, perhaps Trevor was a very magical toad, and he was able somehow to make it home to Chile.      

In 2003, the toad house made the move to my new house, and it sits nestled among the hostas in the shade under the deck in the back.  I often see tiny little toads coming and going in and around it, and when I do, I’m reminded of Trevor and that magical day toad hunting with Ian.

“Do” Have a Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

2 Jul

Elyse at 6 Cheering for the 4th of July!

 

With the weekend coming up, thought I would post two pictures of Elyse and Ian (from different years) celebrating the fourth of July.  Here’s Elyse in her bob haircut about age 6 or 7, (missing teeth), rooting for the holiday.  Unfortunately, after that age, we never got her in any further holiday shirts or apparel!!  :-)  

And I love this picture of my Mom and Ian in front of this HUGE flag at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, CO.  The whole family went there a couple years ago for the July 4th holiday, and it was a fabulous vacation.   

My Mom & Ian on the 4th of July at the Broadmoor in CO

 

 

“Do” Buy Your Niece a Hat

26 Jun

This was Katie's straw boater hat, except it had a pale blue ribbon instead.

 

 Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor performing arts venue) has been an important part of my life since I was 10.  I remember my Mother taking us at least once every summer, and although we sat way in the back, it was as fun and exciting as ever.  My favorites from those years were Bye Bye Birdie, Camelot, West Side Story and Brigadoon!      

Mom carried on the tradition with her grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, and we have taken all the kids to Starlight each summer since Nick was 9, Katie was 8, and later when Ian was 6, then when Elyse was 6.  And we now have great season tickets in the center orchestra section, row 4, aisle seats, which gave them a birds-eye view of the stage.     

All four of the kids have loved going with us year after year, and since we only have four seats, there’s friendly competition about who goes to what show.  But as they have gotten older, they’ve gotten more selective about what show they want to attend.  It was very bittersweet last night that I couldn’t get any of them to go to the season opener “Little House on the Prairie.”  They were either too busy or not interested, or saving their Starlight “attendance pass” for one of the other shows later in the season.     

Katie trying on a fur hat while we were Christmas shopping at Lord & Taylor in Chicago

Last night as Mom and I watched the show without any of the kids, the girl playing Laura Ingalls buys herself a new straw hat in the second half of the show.  It reminded me of the new straw boater hat we bought Katie (and matching dress) on the first occasion of her Starlight début (we saw Cats)!  She looked absolutely beautiful.  She had long straight blonde hair, and the hat’s straw pale color was almost the color of her hair.  It had a pale blue ribbon on it, the exact color of her eyes, and a small little daisy on it.  The sundress was also pale blue, with miniature daisies across the bodice.     

Everywhere she went she looked like a breath of fresh air, and people would do a double take because of how stunningly pretty she looked.  Most eight year olds would have kept the hat on for just a few minutes to humor their aunt or grandma, but Katie wore that hat with confidence!      

And while Katie doesn’t necessarily like to wear hats now, she does dress and wear clothes with confidence.  Proof in point:  she’s now very tall and loves wearing high heels!  And incidentally, when we go shopping, she loves to stop and try on hats (and shoes of course).     

I probably will be sharing more Starlight memories, as it has been a big part of the time I’ve spent with my nephews and nieces.  We’ve laughed  and cried together, have been hot and chilly together (sitting at the outside theatre), but mainly we’ve had so much fun and have made wonderful memories together.  And by the way, “Memories” from Cats was Katie’s and my favorite song that night she wore the straw hat.