Circus on the Quilt
Always an Easy Theme
It's been 2 years, since I did this obviously fun theme. It's worth repeating, since it guarantees a good time. But also, I need to use this stuff! I have accumulated a lot of crazy circus goodies and I'm a firm believer in "use it or lose it." I put it all to use.
It was fun having so many in my senior groups who remembered real tent circuses. Yes they still exist, but most performances are in arenas and stadiums now.
Some of us remembered seeing tents go up. I saw the Carson & Barnes Circus elephants raise the tent in Tulsa about 20 years ago. It was a magical thing to watch, but elephant treatment is luckily changing and they no longer have that job.
Movies and Books
I had some kids visiting in all of my senior groups and none of them could name a circus movie besides Dumbo.
The rest of us had fond memories of Burt Lancaster using his circus skills in "Trapeze" and Charlton Heston running "The Greatest Show on Earth".
Photographs and Paintings
I had quite a few books with wonderful photographs of the Flying Wallendas and even a book of famous paintings depicting circus life. A few got into the books, but as usual it was the music that took over.
Music and "Juggling"
When brainstorming circus music, the only song that came up was the song Judy Garland made famous,"Be a Clown". I didn't have that recording, but I did have Henry Mancini's "Elephant Walk" and the iconic one we used to sing as kids... "...fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze..." Quite a few sang along with that one. But it was the recording of real circus music that was the most fun.
The energetic sounds of horns, cymbals and drum rolls got everyone so revved up I decided to use their energy with a juggling exercise. We avoided the frustrating balls and tried juggling with scarves.
It wasn't planned, but somehow that music (in 2 of my groups) got the "jugglers" so wound up that suddenly all 12 scarves were shooting across the table like fireworks. Hands were reaching, grabbing, tossing... in any direction.
I felt like a teacher who had lost total control of the classroom, but I loved all the laughter and squealing.
I had a few old clown photos and some fun (yet odd) clown figures from childhood. The guy on the unicycle was hit. Margaret beamed as she rolled the little plastic fellow with the painted face, back and forth over the quilt.
Dot took one look at the clown and announced with giddy enthusiasm, "Clowns were always my favorite! When ever the circus traveled within 100 miles of our home in Louisiana, my Papa would drive us to see it!
Kids and the Circus
It was so fun having kids visiting in many of my groups. They were of course delighted to see all the colorful stuff and get their hands in there and play! I guess it shouldn't have been a real surprise when I heard the answer "No." from most of the kids when asked if they'd ever been to a circus.
Today the circus competes with TVs and video games and amusement parks . I was more surprised to find out how many kids are afraid of clowns. Two of the kids admitted it was scary movies with evil clown characters that made them learn to fear those painted faces.
Then the Stories Came
After stacking acrobats and trying to spin plates... the stories came. We heard about circus parades from many. Quite a few thought that watching the elephants and performers march down Main Street was more exciting than the circus itself.
Betty remembered finding a prize in her circus popcorn as a child. "It was a belt buckle and it just happened to have my Dad's initials, so I gave it to him..." She said he never got rid of that buckle.
Margaret remembered riding the city bus with her mother and siblings and neighborhood kids to the circus in Chicago. After waiting in line, they discovered there were only expensive seats left. Her mother tried to explain why they were heading back home on the bus, but her baby sister continued to sob. They stopped at a pay phone to call "Daddy" since maybe he could calm the 2-year old. He failed, but a sympathetic woman with a hot pretzel came to the rescue. I was glad to learn that Mother returned the next day with the whole bunch and they arrived VERY early to assure getting cheap tickets.
Clown Shirt and Top Hat
In my last group, we took a photo of our happy gang before clearing off the table. They made me wear the ringmaster's hat since I was wearing a clown shirt.
I had hesitated wearing the garish shirt that I bought on a whim when dining at the Circus City Cafe in Hugo, Oklahoma last month. I was glad I did since one visitor to our group saw "Hugo" on my shirt. She knew the small "circus town" well and told us some stories.I
What did I learn?
It's possible to have fun with a Circus Theme, without totally avoiding some of the controversial issues. I didn't push the discussion of animal mistreatment, but the subject came up in each group. I had quite a mix of folks, from worldly, sharp 90 year olds to seniors who have lived poor and sheltered lives, to folks with various degrees of Alzheimer's... as well some kids from 6 to 13.
Surprisingly enough, there wasn't a person in any of my groups who could not handle a cautious discussion about fair treatment of animals.
It saddened us all to realize the elephants and other animals may some day not be a part of any circuses. Many came up with ideas of how to train without cruelty. But the main thought for most of us... we were glad we had experienced the fun of seeing a circus with lions and elephants, back in the day!
Off to Italy
First Trip for the Quilt Groups
For about 5 years, I've been meaning to try an Italian theme with my senior Quilt groups. I knew Italy could be fun, but many of my seniors haven't ever been out of Texas.
Having a theme that everyone can relate to always seems safer. Of course, my last theme was CHAIRS, which was clearly a relatable subject... but it took some convincing about the fun part!
Art & History
I scattered the table with books, filled with wonderful images of Italian sculptures and paintings and architecture. I thought many would at least now the names of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli. All 4 of my groups ignored those books. Luckily that wasn't all I had to share.
It didn't take long to realize that food talk would dominate. There aren't very many people who don't like spaghetti. Italian cuisine, especially if you throw in some vino, is all about comfort. Pasta and bread! Most can relate!
So,I tossed some plastic grapes and some raw pasta on the table and that got us started. A few knew a thing or 2 about wine making. More of us knew about the kind of winemaking that happened in the famous I Love Lucy episode, when Lucy does a little grape stomping in the barrel.
Next we did some creative brainstorming by listing uses for uncooked pasta. There were lots of ideas for pasta art work, mostly the kind of art crafts that kids bring home from school. I did share an unusual use for spaghetti that I remember from childhood. I can still picture a friend of my dad's, standing in our kitchen, with an uncooked spaghetti noodle sticking out of his mouth. It was a crutch he used when trying to break his smoking habit.
A few practiced their spaghetti twirling techniques. The pink, "angel-hair" yarn, seemed to be the easiest. A few got a full plateful wrapped on one fork. We decided the rope-style pasta hadn't been cooked enough!
My somewhat hideous looking yarn meatballs got us off on a good meatball tangent. Some of us remembered (and sang) the old about the meatball rolling off the table when somebody sneezed! Eloise's son-in-law, remembered the old Alka Seltzer commercial, "Thats-a spicy meat-aball!" And Claire was excited to suddenly be reminded of a restaurant she heard about in New York, that specialized in meatballs!
Food and Friends
We didn't have any pepperoni or gelato or ravioli to sample, but we had fun working up an appetite with our food discussions. Since two of my groups meet before lunch, the smells coming from the nearby kitchen made us a little food crazy. Our giddy behavior made things a little loud and at least one person passing by, accused us of enjoying a little too much Chianti!
Movies and Music
Only 2, in all my groups had spent any time in Italy. But many seemed to be able to visualize what Italy might look like. A few could recall images from movies, like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, zipping around the busy streets of Rome on a vespa.
Others talked about piazzas like the one in Venice, filled with pigeons and sidewalk cafes. We listened to some music with violins and accordions, which helped many recall Italian restaurants where they had eaten.
I used some old photos and a few props to talk about Venice and the history of gondoliers and how skills were passed down from father to son.... until about 10 years ago, when the first woman became a gondolier in Venice!
Cow on a Gondola
Mr. Davis always has much to share. He may have lost his ability to see, but he loves it when I have something fun for him to handle. The silly gondolier cow was quite a surprise to him. He could make out the shape of the hat-wearing cow, standing on the flat bottomed boat. We talked about the specifics of gondola design and how proper weight and shape helps the gondolier maneuver the tricky canals of Venice.
Mr. D. had many things to share with the group about Italy, since he continued to lived there with his family for 5 years, after serving in WWII. He chuckled about the drivers in Italy and the sounds of cuckoos and nightingales and difficulties with the language... and how he never acquired a taste for Chianti!
Treasures from Childhood
I only lived in Italy for 6 months when I was 11, but I shared some memories and items that were special to me. My tiny leather purse from the leather factory reminded Carol of a beautiful pair of leather pumps she bought on a trip to Florence as a young woman. We were all reminded of the smell good leather!
What Do Tourists Buy?
We talked about the obvious souvenirs that tourists buy, like a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Juanita especially liked the small Sicilian Knight puppet, which was an example of a souvenir that my brother and I both begged for 45 years ago.
What is it that makes people want to shop when they travel? Do we buy things to really help us remember? Why do we buy gifts for others when we go on trips? There was lots to think about.
Not everyone knew that amore meant love, but most of us (minus my special young guests!) recognized the song made famous by Dean Martin...
"When the moon hits your eye, like a nice pizza pie, that's amore!" There was a lot of swaying and laughing and attempted singing with that recording.
Sharing an Italian meal around the quilt would have been the most ideal way to enjoy Italy. I couldn't pull that off, but we at least shared a lot of music around the table. My groups were more interested in Frank Sinatra and songs like Volare, than more recent Italian stars like Andrea Bocelli or even Luciano Pavaratti. I didn't have a lot of Italian Opera fans either, but an old recording of Enrico Caruso singing Puccini's, "Che gelinda menina", was a huge hit. The crackly static along with Caruso's flawless tenor, made a few sigh.
We tried to imagine the young and unknown Caruso knocking on Puccini's door for an audition in 1897. I knew that Caruso became famous as he performed around the world and made more than 250 recordings. But it was Mr. Davis who enlightened us all, that Caruso had performed in San Francisco, the night before the devastating earthquake of 1906. He escaped the hotel before it collapsed!
Kids at the Shelter
I kept it pretty simple and only took a few props when I gathered with kids on the Quilt at the Shelter. They loved twirling the yarn spaghetti and they didn't notice my ukulele mistakes when we sang, "On Top of Spaghetti".
Then I tried something I didn't do with the senior groups. We stood around the quilt and took turns tossing the "pasta ball" as we called it. Each child caught the yarn ball and told us which they liked best... spaghetti or meatballs. They held part of the yarn in one hand while they tossed the ball across to another child. Eventually we had a sort of a star-shaped web of yard held up by the kids, over the Quilt. How perfect is that? Not at all. I'm leaving out all the confusing parts and problems. This is something I will never attempt with wheelchairs and Alzheimer's.
What Did I Learn?
Italy is magical, even if you've never been. It was to me as a child. At age 11, I didn't know what "kid friendly" meant, but I sensed that Italy was.
With my different groups and different ages and abilities, there was a sense of playfulness to the food, music and even the language. "Mama mia!" Checkered cloths and sloppy pasta, striped poles and rocking gondolas. Italy is people friendly... or maybe it just brings out the kid in all of us!
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.