Friday, October 29, 2010

Mother Goose Costume

Mary Engelbreit's Mother Goose

Ten reasons why Mother Goose is my Hero.
  1. She's old but still productive.
  2. She compiled historic events, political cartoons and accounts of daily life into easy-to-remember rhymes.
  3. She understands women who have "so many children" they don't know what to do.
  4. She says, "Leave them alone, and they will come home . . ."
  5. She "wanders" in style.
  6. She encourages "Merry Old Souls."
  7. She has a healthy fear of spiders.
  8. She has an antidote for stress: "Bake me a cake as fast as you can!"
  9. She gives wise marriage counseling. (Analyze Jack Sprat at your next book club.)
  10. She might be made up, and she might be real, but she's worthwhile either way.

This is my signature Halloween costume.

A few years ago
"I sat on a cushion and sewed a fine seam,"
literally, and without a sewing machine.

There are some special touches with symbolic meaning:

"Diddle Diddle Dumpling . . . went to bed with his stockings on,
one shoe off and one shoe on . . ."

"Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home . . ."

"Lucy Locket lost her pocket . . ."

These details might be lost on the general population, but among my favorite fans, they get noticed.

This lady knows about stuff: bare cupboards, contrary children, what little boys are made of, what to do with left-over pumpkins—OK, so, she's not Winston Churchill, Socrates or Eleanor Roosevelt. But I bet you quote Old Mother Goose occasionally. How else would you remember how many days April has?

Who will you be this weekend?

Thursday, October 28, 2010


No post today.
I'm playing catch-up.

P.S. What does a witch wear on her hair?

(Cackle, cackle, cackle . . .)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lost in Time

Ever had the rug pulled out from under you?

Frank called today and said, "You're not who you think you are." Actually, he didn't say those words, but that's the message I got. I felt dizzy.

Frank is a distant cousin I've talked to over the years about our family history. We have a common ancestor named Edward who was born "February 18, 1815 in Hartford, CT." There are original records back to Edward; then there's a tiny glitch on who Edward's mother was and why he lived in Nova Scotia. But all the sources breach the gap one way or another, and credible information leads back to our English ancestor, Orlando, in 1630.

So, anyway, Frank and his cousins joined a group for DNA testing. The results show that our lineage is from Ireland and Nova Scotia. There's no mystery why Edward went there from Hartford, Connecticut—he was probably born in a little place called Hartford, Nova Scotia, sometimes referred to as CT (Canadian Territory.)

I feel like I got lost in time. Our English legacy has been handed down for centuries; scores of family historians have studied each others conclusions, and quoted each others facts. So I'm not English? Does DNA trump old fashioned research?

Do I just abandon all the ancestors and stories I've come to know and love? No Battle of Hastings? No French connection? No Yorkshire villages? No Puritan rebels? No witch-hunters?

(I've got my Irish up!)

What would you do with new information like this?
It's scary stuff!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Never Too Late

Art by Carl Larsson

One of my heroes died last week at age 95.
She was the Grandmother Who Wrote Best-Sellers.

Belva Plain wrote her first novel at an age when most people are wrapping things up. Evergreen, the saga of a Polish immigant girl torn between two men, was published in 1978, when Plain, 63, had already raised three children. It stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 41 weeks in hardcover and another 20 in paperback, and was later made into an NBC miniseries.

As a young woman she was a prolific writer, and sold a few stories to magazines. After marrying an ophthalmologist, she settled in New Jersey and put her career on hold to raise her children. "I couldn't have done both," she said.

By the time Evergreen became a success, Plain was a grandmother. She never owned a computer, and wrote her novels in longhand. More than 28 million of her books are in print, including Random Winds and Eden Burning. She believed coming to novels late in life gave her a unique writer's perspective. She said: "You see your grandchildren, you remember your grandparents, and there's a sense of overall family continuance.

Plain maintained a disciplined work schedule, writing five hours a day, four days a week, and published a novel about every two years until her last, Crossroads, in 2008. Shortly before he death, she finished a sequel to Evergreen, to be published in February.

She's my hero!

Belva Plain 1915-2010

*It's never too late to start doing something you've always wanted to do! But it takes the get up and go you thought got up and went (scary stuff!) Go find it!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Oma's Halloween Parade

Which witch is which?

I've got clowns in five states

That might not recognize their clown-terparts!
So as president of the Cousin's Club,

I pray for ways to keep them in touch.

Kids from every generation come to the
Cousins Club Halloween Parade.

Here's what I do:
  1. Send an email invitation to all my grandkids, asking them to email me a photo of them in their costume, by Halloween.
  2. Drag each photo onto my desktop. (I have a Mac computer. I can't give specifics for a PC.)
  3. Use Shutterfly to create an album with all the photos. (They tell you how on their website.)
  4. Click on Share and it's automatically emailed to everybody I specify.

This year I'm using a little extra sorcery.
I'll create a slide show on iPhoto.
(There are step-by-steps on their website.)

Then I'll pirate a spooky song from iTunes
(just 99¢)
and add music to my iPhoto slideshow.

Then with the wave of a magic wand,
I'll have my Halloween parade
ready for YouTube!

(I dove right in and watched a YouTube
on How to Make a YouTube.)

Making my first YouTube I felt off balance,
but it wasn't as scary as it looked.

Whether it's a booklet of photocopies from Kinko's,
a YouTube, or an email attachment,
the Cousins Clubbers will think Santa came early.

At least they'd better.

Oma hatching an idea.

"She just goes a little mad sometimes.
We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"
—Norman Bates

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween Book

Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor

"I'll bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween."

Any cool, easy ideas for costumes?
Share or you'll be haunted for life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Being a Mummy

Being someone's mummy is scary stuff!
(I have forty years experience.)

I was recently asked for my best advice on Motherhood.
It's in an essay I wrote years ago called—

Colonial woman dipping candles.

Wax Strong

Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. I watched as the woman dipped her candles. She held a dowel with ten pieces of string looped over it, and repeatedly lowered it into a vat of melted wax.


The first time it looked like nothing stuck to the strings at all. Another dip, and they still looked clean. Patiently, the woman dunked them again, and again, and eventually I could see a film of wax building. Time after time the thin layers adhered to each other, and slowly the strings began to look like candles.

After countless dips.

I've watched other women engaged in an old-fashioned art that also involves patience and repetition. It is mothering. Time after time they dip their kids in character building experiences—"Say Please," "Thank you," "I'm sorry;" share your toys; pick up your coat; mind your dad; love your brother; don't whine; feed the dog; say your prayers—over and over again, the same admonitions. At first it seems nothing is sticking. The kids are still the same. But eventually they begin to wax strong.

A work of art!

Each experience a child has in character building is like one more dip of the candle.
It is repetitious, it can become wearisome.
But it's worth it.

Art by William Adolphe Bouguereau

"Be not weary in well doing,
for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.
For out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
---D&C 64:33

It's a good season for Mummies.
Treat yourself!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ghost Cake

Want to stir up something spooky?
Here's a recipe that haunts me.

Ghost Cake

Bake a cake in an oblong pan.
When cool, dump out of the pan carefully onto a tray.

Now cut off two pieces to create a rounded ghost shape.
The two extra pieces will become arms.

Use white meringue type frosting from a box to glue the arms on the sides of the cake.
Frost the cake.
Use black licorice for the mouth.

Now the spooky part:
Break an egg, dump out the insides, and place each 1/2 eggshell (open side up) for eyes.
Soak two sugar cubes in lemon extract.
Place sugar cubes in egg shells, and light them with a match.
The eyes will glow.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Scary Stuff: Memory Loss

I'm engrossed.

I'm in the middle of a book called The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. The heroine, Nell, was only four years old when she was found, all alone, on a ship that had just arrived in Australia from England. The dock-master and his wife took her in and raised her as their own. When she was twenty-one she was told of her mysterious beginnings, and was devastated to realize she had no history. The rest of the book is the search for who she really is. History makes great stories.

Today we attended an historical event. Dee knows the background story well (he wrote it) and was thrilled to be invited to the celebration. During the program there was a lot of congratulating and thanking, counsel to be appreciative of this special occasion and to remember the gathering forever. (Of course, that took forever.)

Kids wiggled, teens texted, adults nodded off—sadly, there were no stories to hold our attention, which was a shame. The stories from the past were full of adventure, courage and faith. Listening to the speakers, we were surprised that nobody mentioned the extraordinary (yet ordinary) people we were actually celebrating. They had been totally forgotten. With a captive audience aching for entertainment, not one of their stories was told, and an opportunity was lost.

History tells us who we are. But who is History? My grandpa was, my mother was, I am, you are. We have a responsibility to tell the old stories—to pass on the lessons. Don't wait for a formal meeting with somebody at the microphone or somebody in their grave. Start small:
  1. While you're carving pumpkins, tell about Halloween when you were little. Describe how your mom stitched beads on your costume the year you were an Indian princess. "Her name was June and she could sew anything."
  2. Don't make the turkey the only memorable thing about Thanksgiving. Tell how your grandma made you play Teakettle at the table after dinner and then play it. "Her name was Adelila and she made the best lemon meringue pies ever!"
  3. Sing an old song and say, "My dad used to sing this to me. His name was Jiggs and he fought in Australia in World War II."
If you know a story about your grandparents or great-grandparents, find an occasion to share it. (As I'm writing this, I realize I have a second wave of grandchildren who don't know that my grandpa ran away to the circus, or that my great-grandma and her daughter married brothers.) We have to share our stories. I. AM. SO. SERIOUS.

The Forgotten Garden tells a memorable tale of memories lost. It's like having amnesia to not know your history. Scary stuff. Even scarier to be the memory that got forgotten. Make yourself memorable. On November 22, tell your kids where you were in 1963. If you weren't born yet, ask your mom where she was. Ask your dad what his number was in the draft lottery, and how that changed his life, and maybe yours.

I told some grandkids that we didn't have remotes when I was little. "Was that in the olden days?" asked Chelsea. "Was that in the 90's?" asked Lucy.

If you were alive in the 90's you have some great history. Don't forget it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Scary Stuff: Girls

Sam and Luke, Oct 2010

The twins forgot their swimsuits.

"Hey, guys," I consoled them, "you can just wear your shorts. They look exactly like swimsuits." There was a whispered discussion about undies, and I said, "Take them off, put your shorts back on, and when we get back, you can wear them while I dry your shorts."

"What if a girl sees us without underwear?" six-year-old Sam asked. "She'll never know," I reassured him. Without a bit of embarrassment they both stripped to bare buns right there in my living room, pranced around like puppies, and eventually put their shorts back on. The self consciousness returned, and they wrapped duckie towels around their waists, "Just in case there's a girl in the elevator," Luke explained.

Splashes and feminine giggles could be heard from the hallway. The boys froze and refused to go through the door for several minutes. "I'm not getting in until those girls are gone," Sam promised. They sat on a bench and watched three little girls cavort in the pool for a few minutes, until Sam huffed, "Well, OK!" and jumped in. Luke sighed loudly and dropped his towel. "This is going to be so embarrassing," he muttered.

Within seconds the boys had stationed themselves close to the girls. The twins' wild cannonballs sprayed water in every direction and they laughed hysterically as they carefully ignored the other kids. When the girls joined their dad in the hot tub, Sam and Luke followed, ducking each other and doing tricks on the handrail. Back went the girls to the pool and so did the dolphin act. Soon, the mom told her daughters get out. While they dried off and gathered up flip-flops and goggles, my little duo belly-flopped loudly and squealed like trained seals.

The door closed on the family and the water stopped sloshing and stood still. It was quiet as the twins watched them leave.

"That was so embarrassing," said Luke.

"Yeah. I hate girls," said Sam.

This is an example of show, don't tell type writing. Instead of telling you "Luke and Sam showed off for some girls at the swimming pool" I showed you their antics through words and you discovered the story the same way I did. By watching it happen.

*Homework: Write a blog using the show, don't tell technique. Get the story in mind, then back up a little and describe it as it unfolds. Link so we can check out your masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scary Stuff: Being a Teenager

Katy, 2009

My first teenage granddaughter.
Ah, I remember being thirteen—
high heels, make-up, boys . . .

I was about her age when I got arrested.

I wasn't even old enough to be in the church road show! In fact, I was cast as a rabbit in the entree act, singing:
I'm late, I'm late,
For a very important date . . .

But I loved road show practice, anyway. Summer nights, cute boys, walks through the cemetery while we waited for our part—it was my first taste of freedom. And my last, as it turned out.

One night my parents went to dinner at the Fort Douglas Country Club; I had strict instructions to come home right after road show practice. My younger brother Tommy would be tending our little sisters until I returned (by 8 o'clock at the latest.) Joan, my best friend, went over to the church with me, and a couple of cool sixteen-year-old boys in the ward joked and flirted with us. Ken had an old gray '53 Ford, and the guys asked if we wanted to go get pizza with them after the practice. A giant NO appeared in my conscience. I knew I shouldn't go, but I also knew my parents were gone, so there was a good chance they'd never find out. Temptation won.

Pizza places weren't on every corner back in those days. In fact, we went clear up to The Pie, a cool, college hang-out by the U of U. It was packed. After an hour or so, we finally got our pizza. By then it was almost ten o'clock, and I had swarms of butterflies hatching in my stomach, but I was too embarrassed to tell these sophisticated older men that I had to get home. (I didn't know it at the time, but Ken was supposed to be home by nine, and was dying inside, too.)

Steve had heard about a place called The Guillotines up at Fort Douglas, and since we were driving right past, he suggested that we check it out. Maybe they were chopping somebody's head off or something exciting. The gates were wide open, so we didn't see the sign that said Military Property, Keep Out. It turned out that the guillotines were actually just old rifle ranges, but the shadows made them look sinister. We were on our way back to the main road when a military police car pulled us over. Uh-oh.

Apparently this was a popular make-out place, and the officer assumed that was our intention. The guy was fairly nice, but suspicious. He asked for ID and Ken and Steve showed their driver's licenses. Neither Joan nor I had one. When we confessed we were still only thirteen, he said he had to arrest us for being on private military property after curfew!

Back at the station, we were questioned, and told we would be released to our parents. Well, my parents were the last people I wanted to be released to—I was terrified they'd find out about my disgrace. Ironically, they were doing the cha-cha at a dance less than a block away at the country club.

The officer made me call home so he could talk to my mom. Good old Tom caught on right away when I said, "I know mom's still at work, but could you explain to this policeman why we can't call her?" Tom lowered his youthful 12-year-old voice and talked to the officer, man to man. "Can you give me your mother's work number?" he was asked. My brother answered, "Well, she works in a factory someplace and there isn't a phone there."

Steve had a brother old enough to be his dad who had come to his rescue a few times before. He drove up to Fort Douglas, posed as Steve's father, and promised the officer he'd take us all home. Then he followed the old gray Ford back to the real guillotine—my house. Mom and Dad wanted my head.

Valiant as a white knight, Ken came inside with me to explain why I'd been out 'til twelve, roaming where soldiers used to tread. I can still remember how his ice-cold hands shook, and how pale his pimply face looked under his bright red hair. He really was a gentleman. Of course, my dad didn't think so. Mom told him I was accountable for my own actions, and Ken was dismissed to face his own firing squad.

It was my first major offense, and I might have fared better with the military police. I was grounded for the rest of the summer. And my folks stuck with it. No road show, no sleep-outs, no phone calls, no friends. No fun. Ken was also grounded for several weeks. I think Joan and Steve got off Scot-free—anyway, they seemed to bond while their best friends were incarcerated.

As actual crimes go, it wasn't that serious. But it was memorable to me because I paid a consequence. I can't say I never disobeyed again; I was grounded on many occasions because I was too timid to admit I had a curfew. But that summer I learned that I would be held accountable for my choices. Mom and Dad were too smart to buy my immature excuses, and they cared more about being parents than being friends.

My brand-new teenager has that same blessing. But she's also a lot wiser than I was at her age.

Marty, 1963

What was I thinking?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scary Stuff: Spiderwoman

Drawing by Joel Schick
The Gobble-uns'll Git You

It was chilly in the basement bedroom. I turned on the heat, kicked off my shoes and closed the door before I saw him hiding in the corner. My shriek echoed throughout the house and Brad pounded down the stairs to my rescue. I looked away while he killed the intruder . . . a giant, hairy spider.

Gabi and Brad left on vacation the next day, leaving me to protect their kids. I was walking down the hall when I noticed another large, black spider on the floor. Shivers ran up and down my spine as I realized there was nobody to help. Keeping an eye on the hairy beast, I walked backwards to the kitchen, put on some boots and got the telephone book. I was terrified.

With all the force I could muster I threw the book on the spider with a squeal and then jumped on top just to make sure it was squooshed to bits. Jake heard me yell and ran in to see what was going on.

Illustration by Judy Love

I was shaking as I lifted the phone book off the offensive creature, but I could see it was still big and fat. Jake leaned over to look closer, and picked up a black leg. "Why are you jumping on my plastic spider?" he asked, as he tucked it in his pocket. Duh, Oma.

Jake and Oma, 2009

Thanks for the memories, Jake!

Do you have any scary memories?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Scary Stuff: Work

Let me tell you a story . . .

Eve was the first working mother. She looked around at her perfect garden and her perfect life and realized she'd never learn anything if she didn't take some responsibility. What's more, her kids would be spoiled brats. Adam agreed, so they chose to leave paradise to go out and work for a living. That's why we arrive on earth when we're born instead of some Shangri-La.


Oh, sure. At first playing in the dirt seems like a giant party. It's soft and warm (before you find out about worms and weeds and wheelbarrows.)

Jake and Eliza

But there's no free lunch—somebody's feeding us. For the first little while we just lay back and take it all in. After a couple of years, though, we feel a little squirmy about being so pampered. In fact, one of your first sentences was, "I do it myself!"


Eve got it right. She knew about stuff like self-esteem, and that moms and dads can't give it to their kids. It has to be earned. The Lord put the corn in the ground, the peaches on the trees, and the trout in the streams, but He left the work for us to do ourselves. Maybe He wanted to teach gratitude, humility, diligence and help us build our self-worth. It's a great teaching pattern for parents.

Benji's feet

We all need a chance to dig around and find the stuff we want. If the tools for life were lined up nicely on the counter we'd never learn to be creative—the search is part of our education.

Coal, oil, silver and gas are all hidden in convenient locations for our use. Wind and lightning are there for the taking, but God lets His children discover His treasures. Of course, He already knows the best ways to use these tools, but we learn better when we work it out for ourselves. It might take longer and make a mess, but we'll remember what we learn.


When I had little kids I was always hovering about, trying to keep the mess to a minimum. It seemed easier and faster to do the cooking and cleaning myself. Luckily, there's a two-year-old inside everybody who insists on independence, and eventually parents figure out that it's for the best. Research prepares kids for work and work prepares kids for adulthood.


Twelve-year-olds that can follow a recipe become eighteen-year-olds that can fill out a job application. There's an old saying: "The work will teach you how to do it." But work teaches more than just the skill that's required—its benefits are innumerable.

You'll be a better friend if you know how to lend a hand. You'll be a better student if you know how to stick to a task. You'll be a better driver if you've learned self control. You'll be a better spouse if you know how to pitch in willingly. Common sense is developed better by working than any other way, and common sense is worth way more than dollars and cents.


Don't ever avoid work because it seems beneath you,


Or over your head.
Doing any type of work well builds character.


Work improves your people skills. Usually kids duke it out with their brothers and sisters for a few years before they have to partner with someone outside the family. By then they've learned a bit about cooperation. Discussions with Mom about actually cleaning the tub instead of just closing the shower curtain, and debates with Dad about how long an hour of weeding should really take are good training seminars for uncomfortable conversations with a critical new boss.

Back in the day, work was worthwhile because it needed to be done. Nowadays, work is sometimes judged by how much you can make. Don't avoid work just because there's no money involved. Experience, resolve, skills and self-worth are the real payoffs for a job well-done. Work is noble. People who see your good works trust you with chosen tasks and you learn even more.


"If you want to keep your kids' feet on the ground,
Put some responsibility on their shoulders."
—Ann Landers

And to all you working moms,
(all moms are working moms!)
who are trying to follow Mother Eve
and get the job chart noticed,
here's an encouraging truth:

"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work,
and out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
Doctrine and Covenants 64:33

*Discussion Question:
How do you teach kids to work?
How do you motivate yourselves?
What jobs are appropriate for each age?
When is too much expected?