Saturday, July 25, 2009

Birdie and I have a crash


I had a magnificently maddening day yesterday. Herein lies the story of my morning. There is a lot more to tell about the day, but I'd simply go into a coma if I had to tell it all at once.

I got out of bed with a neck ache more powerful than usual, and the day went downhill fast. I was late out the door for work, but I only work 2.2 miles from home, so I didn't worry much. I backed out of the drive and tooled the car in first gear out to Nicholasville Road, where I stepped on the brakes.

There were no brakes. Nothing but a hard pedal that would go nowhere. I stood on it.

Funny how your brain slows everything down when you think you're going to run into five lanes of morning traffic without control of your vehicle. I had time to think of shifting gears, and time to reject that notion on the grounds that there is nowhere down to go from first. I had time to realize that all I had to do was pull the emergency brake hard.

Which I did.

I drive a 17-year-old car, so I expect it to malfunction. Actually, the car holds up her end of the bargain better than I do because I forget to check her fluids and provide new supplies until she coughs or spits, but she cheerfully functions as transportation, book storage, canine wagon, and an extra closet for shoes and jackets. She rarely refuses to give me what I ask. And she has a super charger and a low center of gravity that makes her hug curves like a pro.

I don't own this car. I don't even think that the Woodsman knows she's a girl car. I call her Birdie.

So I'm dead at the stop sign with my blinkers on, trying to decide what to do. I carry my bags back home and call the service center just a few blocks away, where I've done business for twelve years or so, to ask if they have a wrecker. They don't, but they recommend one. I grab my little purse out of my bag and leave the rest of my work things in the chair. This is where I really went wrong, but I don't know it them. I walk back down to where the car is still blinking blinking blinking and waiting.

The wrecker comes and hooks her up and drives me and the Thunderbird a few blocks to the service station. But I'm a diabetic and I realize I don't have anything in my tiny purse to eat. I thought I was going to go straight to work and eat something there. I left my big bag of comfort sitting in the chair.

The walking and the stress have lowered my blood sugar, and I need a couple of starlight mints or a Coke. I start to feel like the wrecker seat is swallowing me, but I keep making small talk with the very nice wrecker driver because I want him to take a check from me, when a lot of times they won't. I have experience with wrecker drivers, and this is the way it's done. They have to connect with you to take a check; he'd already said how cozy and nice my neighborhood was, so we were well on the way to striking an understanding.

Oh, Mr. Wreckerman, do you have to write so slowly? He's so conscientious and neat on his invoice, but I start to wonder whether I should tell him I'm about to keel over or just let him find out on his own. Finally we're finished; he took a check.

Thank goodness I know the co-owner of the service station, and she fed me Fritos and let me sit around until I felt better. Boy, a big infusion of carbs when you haven't been having them sure tastes luxurious. I never thought I'd be waxing poetic over a lunch-size bag of Fritos. Lesson learned. A cowgirl never goes on an adventure without some high-protein snacks.

I got a ride home and sat around trembling and thinking of what might have been, which is never productive or calming. I got to where I couldn't tell whether it was blood sugar or shock that had me so disoriented. I finally emailed my boss to say I couldn't come in. I don't know if anyone ever used the excuse of being trembly and unsettled as a reason to take a vacation day.

Maybe I'm a wimp.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frankie is dead and there's nothing to be done about it


Cover the mirrors and stop the clocks. My dear Frank McCourt is dead.

The author who changed my life by making me want to write again, who taught my son that a good book is a good friend, who showed us all that no matter how mean or dirty or short your life is, there is always some meaning to the story.

"Imagine if you'd had Mr. McCourt for a teacher," my son said. "I'll bet you'd be a writer then."

That hurt. I was a little bitter back then, believing that I'd settled for editing and a paycheck when I should have suffered for my art and produced a masterpiece. And single parents don't do that. Then there I was, skating toward middle age.

Hey, wait a minute. Frank McCourt's first book was published when he was 66 years old. There were no rules about when you could be brilliant.

"But I did have Mr. McCourt for a teacher," I told the Jaybird. I realized that I'd better get busy. I started writing again the next day.

My mother, who grew up poor and ashamed of it, could not read half of Angela's Ashes. It pained her so. "Those worthless parents!" she raged, and I had to agree in a sad way. After all, I had read all of Angela's Ashes and McCourt's second book, 'Tis, so I knew a lot more than she did about just how worthless the parents were. But those worthless parents made Francis McCourt, just as my parents - who weren't shiftless but did have a rather unconventional approach to childrearing - had made me. Just as my sweet grandmother and her bigamist husband had made my mama.

"You just don't like to think about growing up poor without a father," I told her.

"No, I don't. Who would? But we weren't hungry, or dirty, or dressed in rags. My mother worked hard."

"Then you were lucky," I said.

She looked away so long I thought she wouldn't answer. She was known for that.

"Yes I was," she finally said.

Some people called Frank McCourt a liar, including his own mother. Well, that has happened to me too. And who cares if you lie a little if you write of the absurdity of your position in life with humor and goodwill? I don't. Even the saddest passages in a Frank McCourt book are underpinned with the music of language and the charm of a little laugh choked down behind the sorrow. So he hasn't written a history book. I don't care.

"I did not like the jackdaws that perched on trees and gravestones and I did not want to leave Oliver with them. I threw a rock at a jackdaw that waddled toward Oliver's grave. Dad said I shouldn't throw rocks at jackdaws, they might be somebody's soul. I didn't know what a soul was but I didn't ask him because I didn't care. Oliver was dead and I hated jackdaws. I'd be a man someday and I'd come back with a bag of rocks and I'd leave the graveyard littered with dead jackdaws" (Angela's Ashes).

See what I mean? The beauty is in the telling, and the Irish are famous for that.

Frank McCourt made the world better with his words. He made me better with his words.

Open one of his books anywhere, any page, and you will find something to cry about while you're laughing about it too. Life is hard. We agree on that. Life beats some people down; some people it enriches in the most amazing ways. You're lucky if, like Frank, like my mama, you get most of your beatings and starving and death out of the way during your early life so you have the rest to decide what it all means, if you can. And he did.

I cannot do him justice. I do not have the skills for eulogizing Mr. McCourt. I only tell you how his words ran through our family and caused us to pass our feelings from hand to hand, sharing them and giving them their freedom.


All of Limerick might have once been mad at you, but I love you for that, Frank McCourt.

P.S. Lydia at UnderstandBlue wrote a grand tribute, and her brother, Bob Blakley, traveled on a bus with the author for an entire week and took a wonderful photo of him. Lucky duck.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Poetry for Sunday


It's that time again: this week's poetry post. I don't know if I can pull this off every week. I think I hear some of you saying, "Yay!"

I was inspired by one of my best blogger friends to write this poem. She's given me a lot of support, and she knows who she is, so we'll leave it at that. If you've given me a lot of support and don't see yourself in this poem, wait your turn. I'm a slow writer.

I also must admit that I've taken a bit of poetic license with the geography, since she's not really all the way around the world from me.


The Wolf of the World

A woman on the other side

of the world sleeps when I wake

wakes alone without map or net

and watches each way while I sleep.

A candle burns on both ends.



A harsh note on the other side

of the dark vibrates up my last nerve

and sets me humming in my spine.

Speak now. You will not be allowed

to forever hold your peace.



I must stand with the woman

who stands with me, because

women can do these things: pull

each other up by the boot buckles

carve each other out sin by sin.



I send notes to the other side

of the void to say: yes

I have not only heard of the wolf

I have seen him from the corner

of my eye, that sly worn devil



nearly toothless in the light of cold day

but often so large and so patient.



I hope your weekend has been poetic.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Waitress Dude


We went out to dinner on Friday, at the same restaurant we usually visit on date night. But our experience was distinctly different than usual.

Our waitress was clearly experiencing a reality of which we were not part.

I felt as though I was a character in A Clockwork Orange. If you recall that dystopian novel (or the Kubrick movie), Alex the antihero and his droogs speak in a slang that is not explained in the book, at least not in the first version to be published, the version I read. But after slogging through a few chapters, I found myself understanding the lingo and reading faster and faster as if the text was written in ordinary English.

But I really didn't have enough time at dinner to learn to understand our waitress.

I don't believe that we have been served by this girl before, but I have seen her there. She was dressed in a t-shirt, as all of the wait staff are, but hers was as long as a dress. Long seemed the theme of her ensemble: her dark pants were at least four inches too long, and her shoes were somewhere in the stringy mess of cuffs, although I never saw them.

She moved quickly with some ghostly power, across the room as though she were gliding a couple of inches above the floor. Her face was propped open on the verge of confusion. Her eyes had a shine you see on animals hiding in ditches beside the road.

Everything she said we had to ask her to repeat. Everything.

Because she was talking ninety miles per minute.

Doyouknowwhatyouwanttodrink? We looked at each other, and I could see the Woodsman tamping down a smile, as I was myself. I felt as though I was a stranger in a strange land, not understanding the common customs of the planet.

Areyoureadytoorderordoyouneedmoretime? I truly listened very hard, but I could not decode the sounds she made.

Howdoeseverythingtaste?

Wouldyoulikedessertorareyoureadyforyourcheck?

Finally came the one that made me laugh out loud. Poof. She appeared next to my elbow and said, Wouldyoulikeformeto getyoua--

She couldn't think of the word. The name of the thing she was supposed to provide that would allow me to take my soup home with me.

In broad gestures she mimed the container. About this tall, about this big around, with a lid... and then she said--I kid you not--

youknowoneofthoseleftoverdudes...

Yes, I told her, swallowing my smile, I would like one of those leftover dudes.

We giggled and snorted until we saw her coming back toward the table with the leftover dude, and then we tried to pull it together and act like grownups. Which we look like. But we're not.

You know that saying: I'd like to have some of what she's on?

Neither of us said that.

I hope she got home okay. The way she was moving, she could have started walking and ended up in Chicago by morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Poetry for Sunday


I haven't written much poetry in the past ten years, although contemporary poetry was the subject of my master's thesis long long ago. But it's a wonderful habit to have, writing poetry. It focuses and disciplines the mind, and it allows the poet to crystallize a philosophy or thought into images that can be transferred to the reader. A poem says so much more than it says.

I was inspired to get back to this healthy habit by reading Dave King's blog Pics and Poems. If you would like more poetry after you finish here, today Dave has posted these beautiful lines:

Unreal, I thought, him being dead,
with all that life, those plans still unfulfilled.

And more.

I would like to know what you think of the following poem. I drafted it only this morning, and I usually write in layers, going back and over the words to find exactly the ones that most convey my meaning. So this may not be the final incarnation.

(I can't make the poem look the way I want it to. I'm going to have to ask my computer geek mentor Lydia to help me with that.)

Old Love


I may need a stout rod

for the journey but

I can walk it on my own

because of the scent of your skin

because your eyes are the same

sea glass shade as your laugh

because you are here.


I expect certain considerations

a touch on the back

a brief clasping of hands

a kiss that has nothing to do

with a peck. An opening:

your mind into mine, an emptying:

your baggage, the polished suitcase

in which you carry your heart.


And then we fill each other gently

with secrets torn apart and shared

like bread. Spread like a net to keep us

each from falling into wilderness.

Know that I choose

exactly this.


You may expect me

to be more of a trellis

than a blade. More of

a rich dark vein and less—

not at all—of a potion mined

in the crevice where conceit

intersects with air. Forget the old

except for the parts that contain us.

I will keep in my heart for you

a small portrait, a mirror that shows

you standing in your finest pose.

We are too old for games of chance.


Some seeds don’t open

until fire and heat have brazed

the useless outer layers.


May the remainder of your weekend be poetic.

Don't forget that my friend Lydia is taking reservations for her next webinar. In the webinar I took, I learned so much about how to refine the design of my blog and how to use various analytics. And it was a lot of fun too. I blogged about it here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pixie and Taz: I Didn't Know You Cared So Much

I think the first time Taz became really aware of Pixie's existence was when he was gaily galloping through the house, joyous and oblivious, and she shot out of the kneehole of the desk and took him to school.

She kept schooling him for six months or more. Every day. He could do nothing right. She bullied him into giving up his food, stole his treats, and tried to scare him into packing his bags and leaving. He was long-suffering. He was humble. He did not put up a fight about anything at first.

Taz loves attention. He wants to camp out on humans as often as possible. This was completely disconcerting to Pixie. The poor little neurotic thing, she would trot in circles with her tongue hanging out, worrying about change and its implications.

Finally, she decided that she could not let the boy get all the human affection. Perhaps she could enjoy a little of that too. She started to jump up in a chair with us and after a year or two even learned to give kisses, although if she stops to think about it, she cannot possibly kiss anyone. Kissing can be frightening.

Pixie's shell grew thinner. Sometimes I would see her looking at something Taz was doing with a look on her face that on a human would mean, Oh, that's how we do it. She did not know how to be a dog, but with Taz's joyous example, she was learning.

You would be amazed at the number of people who torture my dog until I get mad and take the dog and refuse to let people touch her. Strangers, relatives, friends, acquaintances. I say, "She is afraid of people." If you ask me, anyone with a little bit of empathy would not try to scare her further, thereby proving to her that her suspicions are well founded.

Taz is very clever, makes up his own tricks, hates to wear clothes, loves to play hide and seek, and hates dry dog food. The way he plays is a treat to watch. I can't imagine feeling that much abandon. He is a fierce hunter in the small backyard, terror to birds, squirrels, and snakes. One day I saw him on his back legs trying to jump up into the sky and get the traffic helicopter.

So Pixie's shell melted little by little. She began to let Taz into her bed, and they'd lie side by side with their heads resting on rumps. Pixie would groom and groom Taz, cleaning his whole face and inside his ears, until he would make a noise that meant, Alright already.

Taz began to settle down and care about what we think. He's very sensitive and can't stand to be spoken to harshly. He minds well unless he's in the presence of other dogs. We don't know what's up with that. I think he needs good citizen classes. At home he's quite hen-pecked.

Pixie still jumps on him sometimes when he's playing with abandon. He will be chasing a ball or just dashing through the house, and little bitty Pixie launches herself at him. Even though she's starting all the trouble, I still get mad at Taz for squeaking her.

Once a little girl at the dog park looked down at Taz and said, "Oh, hi, little wolf guy." I think that's really cute.


Taz claiming the Woodsman as his own.

He still prefers men, and if he gets loose on the street, he runs up to women and barks. I don't know what's up with that either. God forbid he ever gets loose. He leaps about the streets barking with joy and accosting people with dogs on leashes. I have to keep running after him saying, "He's not vicious, just stupid." He chases bicyclists and children on Big Wheels, barking and trying to herd them. He went into the house of a neighbor who left his front door open and the Woodsman had to track him down.

The funniest thing he does: He runs up to the front door of every house, smells the doormat, and pees on the bushes. He continues down one side of the block and up the other, barking, sniffing, peeing, leaping, ever joyous. He knows where he lives and comes home when he feels like it. I try never to let him run out the front door.

So Pixie is becoming a real dog now. She is still easily scared but she has learned the basic commands - sit, down, stay, come, wait. Taz refuses to lie down on command, although he is often eager to lie down. When he is ready for bed, he unmakes my bed and crawls between the sheets. We took to calling him B(eauregard) Tazwell because he isn't really a tasmanian devil anymore. He's older and smoother now.

When we went to the family reunion a few weeks ago, I asked Exley to babysit for Taz. Two little dogs are a lot to handle with thirty people, a lot of them kids, and Taz has a habit of whining nonstop in the car. Exley's backyard is fenced and overgrown with the sort of things that interest a joyous dog. He thinks it's a canine wonderland and Exley likes him, so I didn't feel bad about leaving him.



Exley took this self-portrait for me so you'd know who I'm talking about.

I never expected this to happen, considering the way she acts, but Pixie was bereft without her partner. She hardly wanted to eat, and she just lay at my feet except when she needed a walk. She seemed so sad, and she wouldn't let me get two inches away from her. I imagined she was thinking, Well, she got rid of that other dog, so she could be planning to leave me here.

She was so happy to see that crazy joyful boy again. She twirled and twirled with joy. Somewhere in the past two years she's learned to love him. Some of his habits still annoy her, and you know how it is when a guy gets on your last nerve... you have to school him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pixie and Taz: A Love/Hate Story


I got my little Chihuahua Pixie from a dog rescue in Nicholasville, Kentucky. That's her on the left in the pink linen frock. Nobody knew where she came from; a guy in Nicholasville said he tried for a week to catch her, but she was so fast and scared that he couldn't get close to her. That's all we know, except that she has a tattoo (A-1) in her ear. I swear sometimes I think about contacting that pet psychic from Animal Planet because I can't even guess what the poor little thing went through before I took her home with me.

The rescue lady suggested that a breeder probably put the tattoo in her ear. I know that she was isolated and not properly socialized. Maybe she was a lab specimen. She was clearly underweight and hungry, but she would not eat anything. After two days, I took her to the vet, who injected water under her skin because she hadn't had a drop to drink since I adopted her. I finally learned that if I put her in the bathroom with her food dish and closed the door, she would gobble the whole thing in minutes.

When I brought her home, she was so frightened of me that she jumped into the cubbyhole in the entertainment center and would not come out. I finally put her bed in there to comfort her, even though the rescue lady had warned me not to let her hide.

It broke my heart to look at her. She didn't even walk upright: she almost crawled on her belly. If anyone reached down to her, she shrank to half her size and put up her little front paw as if to say, Please don't hit me. She was afraid of feet and brooms and purses and kids. Her ears were tightened to her head like two little fur and flesh roses. Her tail was so tightly clamped into her butt crack that our neighbor argued with me that she was a male. I had to say, "That's just the end of her tail clamped under her belly." (Now, stop grabbing; you're frightening the life out of her, old woman, I wanted to say.)

I felt like I had a stuffed animal instead of a pet. She just sat in that little bed I got at the shelter with her eyes so wide I could see the whites all the way around her irises. If I tried to take her out on a leash, she hit the deck and would not move at all. I would reach in and pull her out of the entertainment center and cuddle her and coo to her, but she was not impressed. The minute I let go of her, right back into the cubbyhole she went.

This went on for months. I began to give up hoping she would come out of whatever trauma had reduced her to a fear-ridden shadow of a dog. I wondered whether I was going to be able to increase the quality of her life at all. I read dog behavior books and online articles, but none mentioned a dog as pitiful and frightened as my little girl. My own dog wouldn't even take a treat from my hand, and she cringed as though I was going to beat her every time I wanted to touch her.

I put a small set of steps beside the bed, but she only used them to affect an escape. Until one night while I was lying in bed in the dark thinking before sleep. I felt a rough little tongue in the middle of my back. Pixie was showing me as much love as she could by sneaking up behind my back when she thought I was asleep, giving me little puppy kisses in the night.

I felt like Annie Sullivan the first time Helen Keller spelled a word and knew what it meant. I felt as though I'd just triumphed over one of the biggest problems I'd been given to solve thusfar.

The Woodsman and I came up with the idea that another dog was what Pixie needed. Even if it didn't help her come out of her shell, we thought, at least she would have company. We wanted to find a dog about the same size as Pix but much more outgoing. (Any dog was going to be more outgoing, but we wanted to find her the right partner.)

Eventually we found a little grey Chihuahua mix online. He was living with a foster family just one county over from where I lived. I filled out the application and waited for an appointment to meet the little guy. The shelter sent someone to check out my place and make sure I could accommodate him.

The day we took Pixie to meet the little guy, he did not pay any attention to my little girl, even though she had learned to walk on a leash by that time and wasn't nearly as pitiful as she had been. We took her into the play yard where the little guy was running full blast from one end of the yard to the other, through tunnels and over hurdles as if they weren't even there. Pixie did not have eyes for him; she just stood under my skirt, her favorite place to hide when anyone looked her way.

Lenny didn't pay a bit of attention to Pixie either. But the moment he locked eyes with the Woodsman, his life changed. He wanted to be chased, and the Woodsman obliged him. Quite a bit of chasing was necessary before he stopped for a break. Then he just flopped on the ground at the Woodsman's feet and stayed there.

After the appropriate business transactions, we took him home. I began to doubt our choice the moment we walked into the house. He hiked his leg and tried to pee on one of only two chairs I owned back then. He only had two speeds: full out or dead asleep. He was clearly a man's dog. He didn't want anything to do with me. It was probably the fault of the weird foster mother, who said his name like "Lennnnn-ay!"

When we met him, he was wearing a tight little muscle shirt. When we took it off, we could see his ribs. Oddly, he had no interest in eating, even though he was very thin. We soon found out that the poor little thing was full of worms. I let out a little scream when I saw a white worm log instead of the dog turd I expected. He smelled funny, and he began to shed most of his fur, which was dull and as scratchy as a floor brush.

When we called him Lenny, he winced as though it hurt him. We discussed a new name. Duke? Shadow? Ghostboy? Speedy? "He's kind of like the Tasmanian Devil," I said, while the dog whipped from the front of the house to the back, disturbing anything in his way.

The Woodsman turned to the dog and said, "Would you like to be called Taz?" The little dog leaped into the Woodsman's lap and leaned against him, resting his head against the Woodsman's chest. We decided he liked the sound of that name. He came when we called him that, although every once in a while we'd say "Lennnnn-ay!" just to see him cringe.

Did Pixie like her new partner? No, she did not. Not one little bit.

Tomorrow I will tell you the rest of the story, how Pixie was cured and how Taz became Beauregard Tazwell. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blue squirrels and other creative endeavors


I've always had a problem with unimaginative teachers, when I was a student, and later as the mother of a smart little boy with a creative meteor trailing behind him.

One day my son came home from school with a large picture he'd drawn and colored. It featured a curly branch with a few green leaves and a big blue squirrel eating an acorn. It was magnificent.

When I took it from him to put it on the refridgerator, as was our usual practice, I noticed a note stapled to the corner.

It read: "Dear Mrs. Whatever My Name Was Back Then, Please tell the Jaybird to color things the correct colors."

WTF?

We were an artsy family. My father painted in watercolor and made us a fake cardboard fireplace to hang our Christmas stockings on. My mother embroidered and crocheted elaborate patterns in thread and yarn. I sculpted, first with Play Dough and later with air-dry clay. One of my sisters drew little girls with big eyes and decorated them with sayings about love and determination, and my other sister made dolls. My brother constructed vehicles of meticulously layered brown paper sacks (I think that was only one summer) and by high school was painting complex paintings in oils. These are just a few of our talents. We never saw a craft that we thought was worth buying; "I can do that" was our motto.


We played cut-throat Masterpiece, our favorite game. My siblings and I still play it when we get together. My brother, who attends the Art Institute in Chicago, now can show off by telling us which of the masterpieces he's seen in real life and what size they actually are. As I said, we're just an artsy fartsy family. Neither of my parents finished high school, but they knew what they liked.

The best thing my parents provided was a shelf full of art books with every painting of every old master known to man, starting with the cave paintings and moving up to Pollack and Hopper. I used to like to look at them because they contained so many naked people, but I was also absorbing centuries of color and style.

So I ripped that snotty little note off the Jaybird's squirrel and told him to go to school the next day and ask his teacher if she'd ever heard of Picasso. The Jaybird knew what I meant. He could identify all the paintings in the Masterpiece game too.

I was always doing things like that. I always thought I knew more than the teachers, and I was not willing to let them mold my child in ways I found short-sighted and designed to make him docile and unthinking and dull.


When the Jaybird got off of the bus the next day, he said, "Yes, Mom, the teacher has heard of Picasso, and Picasso is not in second grade." He handed me a summons to appear before the teacher.

My mom refused to go to the school unless we killed someone. She told us to fight our own battles. She said that if she heard that the teacher had paddled us, she'd paddle us again when we got home. If we wanted her to come to an open house or Halloween parade, she'd look toward the ceiling and sigh out a lungful of cigarette smoke. That was the end of it.

I wasn't that thrilled about going to school, but I got a ride into town the next day. I met with the Jaybird's teacher in her miniature room. I'm not going to go into what I said after I sat on a very small chair and listened to the teacher suggesting that I was doing my child a disservice by being less than conventional. She explained how she had been taught to interpret a child's mental state by whether or not he could color items the colors they were in real life.

Oh, boy.

Suffice it to say that her eyes were wide and her hands were clenched when I left.

I did not tell my child to color the correct colors. I said, "You can look outside if you want to see a brown squirrel. Color things whatever color you want."

He looked at me and said, "I love you."

Isn't that what we mothers do everything for? To hear that.

Children are naturally creative. A good teacher can bring that out and make more of it, and a bad teacher can squash it into a little puddle of mush on which the janitor will sprinkle that smelly green sawdusty stuff.

Some kids are lucky enough to have a shelf of oversize art books, along with tape and glue and macaroni and paint and modeling clay and oil cloths to spread like picnic blankets. My parents, no matter how odd - and they were odd - and no matter how lacking in academic credentials, provided us with materials and adhesives and ideas.

Please do that for a kid.