Saturday, November 30, 2013

Elves and Gingerbread Men

I'll state right here: I can't see myself ever doing Elf on a Shelf. Not because I think it's wrong to motivate children by having Santa spy on them, not because I think everyone should just chill out--basically, I'm too unorganized, and I know I'll be lucky if I can even get an advent calendar going and actually stick to it.

But as I was looking at someone's Elf on a Shelf post the other day, I was reminded of a Christmas tradition that we had in my family growing up. Like Elf on a Shelf, we had a little friend who would mysteriously appear at the scene of random occurrences; he was seemingly inanimate, and yet managed to do so much.

We had Gracious George, the Gingerbread Man.

Our George was made of dark brown felt, with rickrack and buttons for decoration. He had a pocket on his back that was just big enough to fit a tootsie roll or a quarter. And Gracious George always heralded good things.

It started with a Family Home Evening lesson on a Monday night. We would tell the story of Gracious George, using flannel board pictures, I believe. It was similar to the regular story of the Gingerbread man, but before he would run from anyone, he would do an act of service for them--for example, he cleaned the old woman's dishes, and weeded the old man's garden. Things like that. He ran and ran, shouting the classic epithet,

Run, run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me, 
I'm Gracious George the Gingerbread Man! 

Okay, so maybe it differed a little from the classic.

Either way, he ran until he came to . . . our house! There he continued his acts of service, but always trying not to be caught. 

Mom and dad would then take George and put everything away, but sometime that night or the next day, he would appear on a newly-folded bed, or bearing a treat, or on a straightened bookshelf. And then it would be the recipient's turn to give an act of service, leaving Gracious George as the only sign of who had done it.

We loved being ultra-sneaky and seeing what kinds of acts of service we could pull off under each others' noses. And the best part? My mom didn't have to clean up any messes George made, or figure out something new to do with him every day. She left that to us--unless it was her turn, of course.

Remembering Gracious George brought back a lot of nostalgia, and I realized that it's about time for me to start some of these types of Christmas  traditions with my girls. I'm thinking that next year will be the year that Gracious George puts in his first appearance at our house.

What's your favorite Christmas tradition? What age do you remember these  traditions being most important to you?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Answers to the Movie Game

Alright, folks. Here they are, in all their glory: the titles to the movies those wonderful quotations came from. Each of these movies made an impact on my life in some way. Most I've seen too many times to count, but #8 I've only seen once; the line just stuck with me and I've been using it for several years.
  1. "Don't make me beat you with this leg of mine that no longer works!"
    • This comes from the fantastically amazing movie Surf Ninjas. Don't believe the star-rating; it's awesome... if you're watching with the right people, and just want the hilarious dialogue.
  2. "You gentlemen mind if I take this little 'ol jug of mountain water with me?"
    • Hot Lead and Cold Feet. Jim Dale (frequently known in the U.S. as the narrator for the Harry Potter audiobooks) triple-stars in this movie as old Jasper Bloodshy and his twin sons.
  3. "You know, Joe Jr.'s still single."--"Shocker."
    • While You Were Sleeping. I've used this movie to convince guys that chick flicks are awesome. Also, I feel like I married into this family. Family dinners are awesome. (And the paper boy who accidentally eats it is one of the best moments in film history.)
  4. "Wise man say, 'Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.'"
  5. "The mouse? He's left our house! To ease the pain... he's down the drain!"
    • Ladyhawke. This one is a little more obscure, but well worth the time to find. It's the first movie I remember my mom ever buying on DVD.
  6. "I've been using fruity soaps, Maggie."
    • Waking Ned Devine. Watch this one when you're in the mood for British humor, and when you have people with you who will laugh at British humor.
  7. "Girl or not, I can still whip you!"
    • Ever After. In my opinion, one of the best Cinderella movies out there.
  8. "But the talking mice told me it was the wrong girl!"
    • Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time. This one I've only seen once, and don't really feel any need to watch again. Watching it with my college roommates was really entertaining, though, and this part of the movie had us falling off our seats with laughter. I've been quoting the line ever since.
  9. "Llama face!"
  10. "Don't just stand there, do something!"--"What for? There's only three little ones."
  11. "The hospital is fine except for this wicked nurse. She's got the face of a dragon's butt."
    • Alright, so there are three ninja movies on this list--my family was really into karate; what can I say? This one is from 3 Ninjas Kick Back.
  12. Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars. (We rarely bothered quoting the new ones.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Inconceivable!" And Other Well-Loved Favorites

This morning I woke up with movie quotations running through my head. It happens a lot considering I don't watch very many movies.

My brothers were always the better quoters. They could watch a funny movie once and have most of the dialogue memorized; twice and they were pretty much golden. It usually took me 3 times and a movie I really loved before I'd have it memorized, but I could usually jump in on their quoting games. It got to the point that I once had a friend tell me that my family had "a quote and a song for any situation."

I've also realized, however, that some of the movies I know and love are rather obscure. Not all are as easily named as the one I quoted in the title of this post. So here are a few lines, some easy to guess, some not, which I've found myself quoting more than once over the years. How many can you correctly identify? (Without googling--that's just cheating.) Check back in Monday for the answers.

  1. "Don't make me beat you with this leg of mine that no longer works!"
  2. "You gentlemen mind if I take this little 'ol jug of mountain water with me?"
  3. "You know, Joe Jr.'s still single."--"Shocker."
  4. "Wise man say, 'Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.'"
  5. "The mouse? He's left our house! To ease the pain... he's down the drain!"
  6. "I've been using fruity soaps, Maggie."
  7. "Girl or not, I can still whip you!"
  8. "But the talking mice told me it was the wrong girl!"
  9. "Llama face!"
  10. "Don't just stand there, do something!"--"What for? There's only three little ones."
  11. "The hospital is fine except for this wicked nurse. She's got the face of a dragon's butt."
  12. [Insert any Star Wars quote here.]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Learning to See

Cim's "pet" spider wrapping up lunch.

I sat and watched an Orb Weaver spider make its web the other night. One long strand stretched up to the power line above us. Another connected to a bush at my head-height, and a third stabilizing thread connected to the grass at my feet. The web shone in the light from the streetlamp above as the spider made her way around and around. Her orange-and-brown-striped legs moved tirelessly, reach, pull, attach, cross, reach, pull...

I might not have stopped to watch, except that my daughters' fascination with spiders has rubbed off since we've come to Georgia. It's not just spiders that hold our attention, though.

One day Cim and I sat and watched the dirt in the flowerbed shift and ripple, little crumbs rolling down the sides of new mountains as a worm crawled just beneath the surface. We caught some of the worms and watched them wiggle, then let them work their way back into the dirt, seeing how they exploited tiny cracks and air pockets in the soil.

Another day we caught tan and green grasshoppers and little black-and-red beetles. We watched their antennae move, and watched the grasshoppers spring on their powerful hind legs. We counted their legs. We watched the little beetles fly away right before we could catch them.

The semester or two after I graduated college, I watched through Facebook as most of my English Major friends and classmates applied for graduate school, accepted student teaching or undergraduate teaching positions, or otherwise pursued their writing/literature studies in obvious and laudable ways. And sometimes, I got a little sad. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (I graduated in December of 2010 with one baby in my arms, and got pregnant with baby #2 in April), but sometimes I wondered if all the time I'd spent in college was a waste, and if all the things I'd learned about writing and literature would just fade away until I someday sat down to try to re-learn them after my kids were grown.

I've come to peace with this several times in different ways, but only recently have I noticed that I'm in my ideal writing program right now.

Several times in college I read the essay "Learning to See" by Samuel H. Scudder, in which his mentor makes him look at the same fish over and over again for days, trying to see new things about it. Amazingly enough, he finds that no matter how much he's already seen, there's more yet to describe. As writers, we then did exercises like taking one small leaf and writing descriptions of it for fifteen minutes. Once we used a sour gummy worm; I've never forgotten the little lavender line on mine where the pink and blue merged, or the way the sugar crystals sparkled. These exercises helped us remember to look beyond (and hopefully write beyond) the obvious appearance of things, to get at the details that would bring our writing alive.

And now, with my toddlers for tutors, I'm being taught to see once again.

They're also busy teaching me how to imagine. Somewhere over the years, I mostly quit daydreaming. My imagination expressed itself when I wrote, but it sometimes felt squeaky, rusty. It was also reluctant to fire up unless I was actually sitting in front of the computer or a piece of paper, ready to write.

These days, at my three-year-old's direction, I'm a ninja running around the yard fighting monsters with my stick-sword. (Those weeds never knew what hit them.) I'm the mommy dinosaur/tiger/kitty/platypus. I'm a school teacher. I'm a dancer.

And emotion--another key part of writing? Got it covered. Have you ever watched a one-and-a-half-year-old try to analyze why she's crying? Have you ever seen a three-year-old's level of excitement when handed a bucket and told to say 'trick-or-treat'? What about sibling rivalries, feelings of betrayal when mom has to help the "other" child, and anger, which always has some other underlying cause? Oh yes, with two toddler girls, we run the gamut of emotion every ten minutes or so.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I'm too busy with the dishes, or whatever it may be, and I don't come when I hear, "Mom, come here, you have GOT to see this!"

But sometimes I do. And my little tutors get to work.

Someday I'll get to the point where I turn my focus to publishing (after a lot of consideration and prayer, I've decided that time's not now), and where I'm finishing as many projects as I have beginnings for in my head. Maybe by then I'll have learned how to live, to see, to imagine, and to feel. And with that, maybe I'll be able to write books worth reading.