An Uncertain Theme
Who can relate to Paris? Why would I even want to do a theme like this?
French Wines & Cuisine?
Besides the Eiffel Tower, what would we talk about? Wine and art? Fashion and language? Most of my themes are broad subjects that everyone can relate to, like summer and pets.
But Paris is a little intimidating and sophisticated and I am certainly no connoisseur on the city. But a few of my seniors brought up the idea in the past and I had to remind myself that our group is not all about sharing nostalgia. We like to learn things from each other as well.
At the Community Center, I scattered some books and photos and figurines on the quilt... as well as a delicious smelling loaf of French bread. There wasn't one person in my group who had been to Paris, but that made no difference.
I Love Eloise
For a little creative inspiration and humor, I shared one of my favorite childhood books, Eloise Goes to Paris. This nutty book about Eloise and her unusual way of exploring Paris, was what made me wish for a Paris trip on every birthday candle throughout my childhood.
Pass the Bread
While Ella Fitzgerald's voice sang April in Paris, we passed the French bread and gave everyone a chance to come up with a creative use for the loaf, besides using bread as shoes like Eloise in Paris!
"Use it like a bat... practice sword fighting... feed the birds... let it get stale and become a weapon against robbers... balance it on your head while walking, for good posture... make a bridge for small animals to cross... paint it and let it become art!" We celebrated all the creative answers with some slices of French bread...that had not been handled.
Music, Movies and Books
I thought the movie An American in Paris would be memorable to some in the group. The famous Gershwin music from the film turned out to be less interesting than music from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame and Offenbach's Can-Can!
First we listened to "The Bells of Notre Dame" from Disney's The Hunchback. The music was dark and haunting.
We pictured the bells and passages and gargoyles of the Cathedral. Then the music suddenly became playful and we pictured a scene of peasants dancing in the streets. In the next moment Maria and Joan smiled at each other as they got up from their chairs. Two more followed and linked arms, dancing a festive and somewhat humorous jig. I joined in with a young granddaughter who was visiting and the others clapped and laughed from the table. What a surprise!
It took a moment before Offenbach's Can-Can was recognized and then once again, chairs were pushed back and suddenly there were legs kicking and pretend skirts swishing! I really hadn't predicted this at all! But I should have. Despite many ailments, this group knows how to have fun!
A Quieter Group
There were such different surprises in my next group. Our peaceful group of 8 enjoyed the books and photos for a while before warming up.
Tourists in Paris
We had some big travelers in the group so we talked about the things tourists buy, from postcards to Eiffel Tower trinkets.
Lara remembered seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, shortly after electric lights had been installed. Mary who lived for a while in Paris, said she no longer spoke French. But moments later, she surprised herself when phrases and questions started coming back. She was delighted!
We had to have some fun with the bread and berets! And of course we had to sing, Frere Jacques!
My third group at the Assisted Living Community keeps up with current affairs, movies, books and fashion , so they loved talking about French designers. Louis Vuiton and Coco Channel... and lots of talk about perfume. We all agreed we liked Paris fashion from the 1950's best of all!
All the talk of French grapes and French fries and French onion soup made us crave a gourmet French feast... or even some Mc Donald's fries. Interesting fact that that Belgium and France still seem to disagree on where French fries originated!
Questions, questions, questions!
My last group at the skilled nursing facility seemed to have the most fun with the question cards. We each took a turn sharing a question with the group. These sometimes silly and sometimes thoughtful questions were about everything from poodles to Napoleon.
A Bit of History
I may not have any Can-Can dancers in this group, but I can always count on learning new things. I love having my friends around the table teach me things, like why there are gargoyles on gothic cathedrals and the name of the cooking school that Julia Child attended and how to pronounce certain French words.
I even learned some raunchier tibits about Moulin Rouge and Ladies of the Night. But Ken shared the most intriguing history about a small plane that flew through the Arc de Triomph in 1919 after WWI. I had to look that one up on the internet later and was delighted to find an actual glimpse on YouTube!
Flight thru Arc: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIZzkq5Y8q0
What did I learn?
I learned 3 things.
1 - Everyone really can enjoy a trip to Paris, even if it's just through photos and stories.
2- My role seems to change with each group. A few at the Community Center actually call me Teacher, but I played that role down and asked only open ended, fun questions. In my last group, I felt like I was the student... or even daughter. Many knew more about Paris than me and I was like an eager kid at bedtime wanting endless stories. "Tell me more!"
3- I NEED to go to Paris, again. It's been 16 years since my birthday wish came true.
A Theme for Everyone
I like themes that everyone can relate to. Everyone had something to say about summer.
Young and Old
It made it extra special that some of the seniors brought grandchildren and some of the staff brought kids as well. I was curious if the kids would relate to the nostalgia of simple summers, since that's what I assumed we would discuss.
Rainy Day Games
We talked about rainy summer days and the games we remembered playing. The young girls knew nothing about jacks, but had heard of Monopoly. None of us were good at Tiddledy Winks and all agreed it was a dull game. There were stories of board games that went on forever and memories of card games and playing with marbles.
We talked about the typical "girl" activities from way back when. We tried to remember some of the silly jump rope jingles and the rules of hopscotch.
Of course it was a man in our group who guessed "skate key" when feeling the mystery bag. Many remembered carrying a skate key to tighten skates when they came loose. We chuckled about skinned knees from skating accidents on sidewalks, buckled from tree roots.
Summer baseball may have been typically a boy thing, but we had quite a few women with baseball memories. Many of us recalled neighborhood games where kids organized, played and even fussed and fought without coaches and parents intervening.
I told the story of my sister getting hit with a bat during one of those all kid games. I shared a photo of her bandaged head.
Many remembered playing in hoses and swimming in rivers. We talked about bathing suits and how they've changed over time. There was a big discussion in one group about bare feet. The city kids were never allowed, but some of us who grew up with a little more grass remembered playing most of the day without shoes.
Sounds and Smells of Summer
Besides the delicious food smells at barbeques and picnics, we came up with earthier smells of fresh cut grass and honeysuckle. We imagined the daytime sounds of kids playing outside and noisy lawn mowers...or the swish of a push mower. Lara remembered liking her chore cutting the lawn with a push mower as as a young girl. "It was always kind of peaceful and I liked concentrating on getting the rows just right." Nighttime sounds were fun. We imagined lying in bed with open windows and hearing crickets and trains and dogs barking at night.
Refreshing Summer Drinks
We got thirsty thinking about lemonade and iced tea and even watermelon juice. Some from the south said iced tea was year round, but Ken from New York claimed it was just for summer.
Best Spot to Relax
Margie and Dorothy both had fond memories of porch swings and sitting outside when the air was cool in the evening. We laughed about comfy Adirondack chairs that are impossible to climb out of. We thought of gliders and swings at the park... which lead to a discussion of favorite playground equipment and hot metal slides in the summer.
Lara shared a book with some of our younger ones. She used to help kids with summer reading lists when she worked as a librarian. I was intrigued with her story of growing up in a small town with no library. "When I eventually visited a library for the first time, I just fell in love with it. I knew right then that I wanted become a librarian."
We talked about our favorite kind of reading in the summer. We tried to think of books with summer themes like Huck Finn. We talked about favorite places to read. Lara said under a shady tree. Mary said on the beach. Marla said she remembered reading books in a tree!
The Word Summer
We brainstormed the word summer. We came up with words that rhymed with summer and we listed books, movies and songs and plays, with summer in the title. When I asked my last group for a summer song, there was a long pause and then Ken began to sing softly. "Summertime and the feeling is easy." We played a recording with Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and many ended up singing along.
Whether we came from the country or city, it still seems like most of us remembered playing outdoors, a lot. Most remembered "playing hard" and getting a little dirty. Many also remembered a time or two of being bored.
7 year old Apple had an interesting image in her head when we talked about "Lazy Days of Summer." We offered ideas of what that meant and Apple said she imagined lying in the grass and looking up at the clouds.
"And then after a while, somebody would probably come tell me to get up and go do something!" She added with a grin.
What did I learn?
I learned that kids really can relate to an old fashioned summer. It was a sweet surprise when Apple shared her idea of cloud watching. I expected the adults would have fun remembering what summers once were.
But it never occurred to me that young kids could even know what it's like to spend time doing simple things or even nothing. Apple and the other 3 young girls enlightened me. Of course I do need to remind myself that the 4 girls were spending a very different kind of summer day than most of their peers. Those young kids gave me a lot to smile about!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.