Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Addle-pated Paddlepuss

There's something about knowing the story behind a poem which makes it even more fun to read.

I tend to choose poems which make me laugh, smile or are fun to read aloud. The Addle-pated Paddlepuss is no exception - and I think the back-story is quite interesting too.

Jack Prelutsky wrote an essay included in a book called The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, edited by William Zinsser. In his essay, he explained his inspiration behind this poem.
"Usually we're unaware that we are storing up images. Then one day, suddenly, a lot of things just come together. When I was a kid there was a television program called "You Asked for It." One of the things I saw on that show was a cat that played ping-pong. There was a man at one end of the table hitting the ball, and at the other end was a cat. The cat never missed. A few years ago I went to the University of Oregon, in Eugene, to give a talk, and they put me up with a local couple. The man's two interests seemed to be astronomy and ping-pong. He had a ping-pong table in the basement. We played, and he beat me 21-0. Then he said, "Now I'll play just half of your side of the table and I'll hit all my shots to either you forehand or your backhand - you choose which." And he beat me 21-3. Then he did the same using half the table and playing with his wallet and spotting me 16 points, and he still beat me easily.

Well, "You Asked for It" and the ping-pong-playing cat and this fellow in the basement in Eugene all came together, and I wrote the following poem..."

The Addle-pated Paddlepus
Jack Prelutsky

The Addle-pated Paddlepuss
is agile as a cat,
its neck is long and limber,
and its face is broad and flat,
it moves with skill and vigor,
with velocity and grace,
as it spends its every second
playing Ping-Pong with its face.

The Addle-pated Paddlepuss
prevails in every game,
its opponent doesn't matter,
the result is all the same,
with its supersonic smashes
and its convoluted spins,
it demolishes all comers
and invariably wins.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

President's Day

I was at my mom's over the weekend for a Valentine's Day dinner, when one of my children brought me this book to examine.

I gasped, and asked Mom if I could borrow it for Poetry Wednesday.

My grandmother earned this book for perfect attendance as a young girl in Nebraska. If I have my dates correct, she was ten when she received it. She just celebrated her 93rd birthday, and still had it to give to my mother.

The title is Memory Gems, poems compiled by Sam Stephenson, a Nebraska Superintendent of Schools. And if you wanted to order one, all you have to do is send 50 cents to Lincoln School Supply Co in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The poetry is 'graded,' so that easier poems are in the earlier grades and more difficult ones for older grades. It starts with First Grade, which has a lot of Robert Lewis Stevenson, and ends with Eighth-Grade, which has a poem spanning 11 pages. It's called The Building of a Ship, and no author attribution. (Trust me, if I had the ability to write a poem that long, I for sure would put my name on it!)

As I was paging through it, I noticed each grade has at least one patriotic poem. A poem about American History or the lyrics to our national anthem. Since my younger two and I are studying American History in school this year and next, they caught my attention. I'll not copy all of them here, but in honor of President's Day on Monday, here are a couple of selections about, or from, our two most famous presidents.

James Russell Lowell

Soldier and statesmen, rarest unison;
High-poised example of great duties done
Simple as breathing, a world's honors worn
As life's indifferent gifts to all men born;
Dumb for himself, unless it were to God,
But for his barefoot soldiers eloquent,
Tramping the snow to coral where they trod,
Held by his awe in hollow-eyed content;
Modest, yet firm as Nature's self; unblamed
Save by men his nobler temper shamed;
Never seduced through show of present good
By other than unsettling lights to steer
New-trimmed in Heaven, nor than his steadfast mood
More steadfast, far from rashness as from fear;
Rigid, but with himself first, grasping still
In swerveless poise the wave-beat helm of will;
Not honored then or now because he wooed
The popular voice, but that he still withstood;
Broad-minded, high-souled, there is but one
Who was all this and ours, and all men's -

The Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(while not technically poetry, Lincoln's speech is so beautiful and so moving I consider it poetry.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Madoff with the Money

Multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff is still in the news, several years after his arrest. Just the other day, I heard an expert interviewed on the radio about the Madoff scandal. The good news I heard is that the prosecutor has recovered .50 on the dollar for investors who lost money with Madoff. (Most people expected them to only cover .10 of every dollar, so that's very good news indeed.)

It caught my attention because I was in the middle of reading Madoff with the Money by Jerry Oppenheimer, an investigative look at the financial mongol who bilked investors of billions of dollars.

In this cleverly-titled book, Oppenheimer reveals what he learned about the childhood and business of Madoff from dozens of interviews he conducted.

He explores Bernie Madoff's parents and siblings, especially Peter, who worked with Madoff in his firm. He follows Madoff's less-than-stellar high school and college career, and explores the questionable start of Madoff on Wall Street.

In this book, we learn of Madoff (and his wife's) foul mouths, disregard for family, and strange quirks.

It sometimes tends to read like a super-long newspaper investigation piece, but it is an interesting and disturbing one. Several of the names were familiar to me from reading Harry Markopolos's book No One Would Listen. (You can read my review here.) Markopolos' role in bringing Madoff down is mentioned in Oppenheimer's book, but he focuses on Bernie, his firm and his family.

After reading Madoff with the Money, I can't help but think that Bernie is the fall guy - and that in no way could he have pulled this off by himself. He wasn't smart enough.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

This & That

Ah, the sun. Finally, we have had a week with more sun than snow, although we did get another 3-4 inches over Sunday and Monday.

I remember a conversation between some scrapbooking friends. One grew up in Alaska, the other had recently spent a year in Mongolia. We were talking about how much we enjoyed the Florida winters, and how sometimes it's nice to have a few days without sun. (Imagine that?!)

Michelle, the gal who grew up in Alaska, said something like "During the Alaska winters, we dreaded seeing the sun. It meant it wasn't only going to be cold, it would be really, really, really cold."

Sarah, my friend who spent a winter in Mongolia, agreed. "If it was sunny, I would not leave my apartment at all. It would get sooo cold on sunny days."

"The clouds," said Michelle, "they act like insulation. They keep the warmer air close to the ground. But when it's sunny, the warmer air just leaves."*

That's true here too. It is bitterly cold here today - at least for the Chicago area. Not as cold as it's ever been, but cold enough for the newscasts to fill with information about warming centers and warnings about space heaters.

I read this poem in school today and it made me chuckle. I hope you are having a 'foine day' no matter the weather where you are.**

This and That
Florence Boyce Davis

Mary McGuire's our cook, you know;
And Bridget McCann, our neighbor,
Does whatever she finds to do,
And lives by honest labor;
And every morning when she comes
To help about the dairy,
"A foine day, this!" says Bridget McCann.
"It is that!" answers Mary.

It may be June, or it may be March
With sleet and wild winds blowing,
Whether it's warm and bright and fair,
Or whether it's cold and snowing,
Bridget McCann comes bouncing in,
Her cheeks as red as a cherry,
And, "A foine day, this!" she always says.
"It is that!" answers Mary.

Read more poetry here for Poetry Wednesday.

*I've rendered the conversation as I best remember it. Since I was either nursing or pregnant and not getting a full night's sleep at the time, I do not claim to remember it word for word.

**I wish I had a cook and a helper with such good attitudes. My kids, who do help, rarely have such chipper, cheerful attitudes. Especially when it comes to helping.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


I told my friend yesterday I only allow myself to read non-fiction books. She said, "I can't read non-fiction. They're too boring."

Yes, and no. I told her about the book I just finished: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman.

Wittman tells his story of how he founded the FBI Art Crime Team... and how the bureaucracy of the Bureau destroyed it.

More interesting is his background - how he always wanted to be an FBI agent, and how his background uniquely prepared him for undercover work and helped him develop his passion for solving art crimes.

He tells wonderful stories about how he recovered some amazing pieces. But the story that overrides all the others were his efforts to recover the paintings stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston.

If you're not familiar with the Gardner Heist, read a fascinating book by the same name. I wrote a review of it here.

Wittman came pretty close to recovering those paintings, but several events (and people) conspired against him.

It's a disappointing, but real-life, ending to an great read.

By the way, my friend did admit this non-fiction book sounded interesting. That's because it is!

Friday, February 04, 2011


Remnants of our biscuit & gravy breakfast - a rare treat.

homemade chocolate chip cookies. not my forte, but the brownies went to the neighbor who rescued us by snowblowing out half of our driveway. It was totally worth it.

Chex Mix in the oven - almost done!

Instead of our usual Friday night pizza, pizza soup for tonight.
I have too much running to do this afternoon.

The piece de resistance - ingredients for Special K bars.
Another rare, but oh-so-yummy treat.

As I was putting the breakfast leftovers away this morning, it occurred to me I should have been documenting all the food I've made and eaten over the past several days - ever since the blizzard struck.

Since I didn't, I decided to document what I made today - with the exception of the chocolate chip cookies, which I made yesterday afternoon.

Why is it that as soon as the weather forecast predicts a blizzard, I immediately think of food? Anthropologists would say it is a remnant of our need to pack on the pounds for a cold winter with few clothes and flimsy shelters.

I say it's ingrained from childhood. I grew up in the Midwest, and so did my parents. When winter started coming in, their parents (and mine) stockpiled food just in case they couldn't make it to the store for weeks on end. That tendency is still with me.

So is the tendency to want to make our snowbound time fun and I can't resist making it fun with food. I think it's worse than Christmas, because at least I'm mentally prepared for Christmas. Blizzards come almost unawares, the instincts kick in, and next thing you know, my jeans are feeling a tad tight in the waist.

But I also have another excuse for all the baking. My oldest has passed his first piano book and will be having a recital tomorrow at my parents' house. For about 11 people, at last count. But the way I could persuade (bribe?) him to play at a recital was to promise him he could pick the treats. So I just finished making the Special K bars, the Hawaiian Punch (a HUGE treat in this house) is upstairs and ready for the trip across town. The gluten- and nut-free Chex Mix has cooled and is put away - all in preparation for tomorrow.

And I'm done cooking, baking, and otherwise spending my time in the kitchen. At least until the next blizzard. Then we'll have to buy some more cinnamon rolls. 'Cause they were GOOD.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


In the midst of the blizzardThe early-morning aftermath

Can you believe? The sun!

I was all set with a delightful little poem for today by Jack Prelutsky. Then the blizzard hit. And what a blizzard it was!

We had a ton of snow... and a ton of wind. Because it was so windy, Glen didn't bother to try to keep up with the snow as it was falling. I think the snow in the driveway is at least 3 ft deep - probably deeper. We have drifts on the south side of our house up to 5 feet deep.

It's been a long time since we've had snow like this. I remember the exact day. We were home from Florida for Christmas. Nathaniel was nine months old. He learned to walk on the day of the big snowstorm - New Year's Day 1999. And that time we didn't have the huge wind gusts.

Meanwhile the kids are excited. Nathaniel could not sleep last night because he was so excited about the snow. He sneaked out of bed and watched WGN news from the hallway. How do I know? Because he's been talking to his siblings about it all morning.

It's fun to have Dad home today. The kids were disappointed to have school this morning, but very thrilled with their after-school snack: cinnamon rolls. Hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event!

The First Snow-Fall
from "The First Snow-Fall"
James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.