Gypsy's Travels

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Travels with Ch - Day 10

When the ElderHostel info came, I glanced at it then put it aside to go over later. When I finally did get around to reading it more thoroughly, one portion struck fear in my heart and created anxiety for Ch. We were expected to share our "talents" in a talent show for our group. I had thought this tour would be learning about the theater, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and seeing shows. I did not know we were expected to have talent, much less exhibit it. Maybe we are supposed to form groups there and work something up, I thought. On repeated readings, it became quite clear that this was something we would have to do. Not only would Ch have to perform, I was expected to participate as well.

We went with the first thing that popped into my mind, an old song by some long forgotten singer, "We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money." Ch's mom immediately got on the 'net and ordered a CD with the song on it. CH and his brother practiced for days before we left, so he knew it well. What's more, Ch can sing...and carry a tune. I tossed some fabric and Elmer's glue into my suitcase, along with a prized hat bought on a trip to Mexico and destroyed by happy children. I would glue the patches on to our jeans and shirts, iron them on, and later be able to pop them off and wash away the glue in cold water. I wrote a short dialog to follow the song, put freckles on us both with an eyebrow pencil, and we were prepared.

We sang with the CD going in the background, just in case we got in trouble ...with words....or music...or stage fright. All in all, we did o.k. Charlie was great, belting out the song and looking cute.

On top of everything, this was to be critiqued by a real judge, one who auditions real acts. Naturally, everyone in the group was antsy in the beginning. Finally, we all settled down as we got to know one another and we just had fun with it.

The judge was Bill Lennon, one of the 11 Lennon children, ably assisted by his wife, Gail Lennon. His sisters are familiar to my generation since we grew up with them on the Lawrence Welk Show. Bill & Gail are both successful entertainers in their own right.

The critiquing of our acts was genuine but tactful and gentle.
"I'm sorry, I can't say anything about you because I was really watching Ch," Bill told me. That was fine with me. It meant I had done my job.
Three plaques were given to different participants, but we did not receive one. Instead, we received somthing better. Bill stopped by my seat on his way out and told me that Ch should pursue musical theater and he gave me his card. "Keep in touch," he said.
Ch had already elected to go to acting camp all summer at the Palace Theater. He is one happy camper!

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Travels with Ch - Day 9 cont'd

The afternoon yielded yet another surprise....... Jim Barber, of the Hamner & Barber Variety
Show that we had attended on the previous night, was our presenter.

Jim has a great personality that had the kids eating out of the palm of his hand in short order. He introduced some of his early puppets and allowed the kids to manipulate them. He gave advice on "throwing your voice," which of course is not really possible, but sound can be produced to make the audience think they are hearing it happen. just another form of illusion.

Most importantly, he demonstrated ventriloquism that did not need all the big-stage trappings. It is really a matter of using your body and your talents. As with all our speakers, Jim exhibited high principles and encouraged the kids to be the very best at whatever they choose to do.

He handed out "google-eyes" and everyone ran around with the eyes propped between their fingers, talking and flapping fingers, while trying not to move their mouths.

We spent the evening at the "Acrobats of China - Shanghai Circus." This was an incredible display of acrobatics by some very young-looking Chinese performers. I found myself holding my breath as they performed contortions my body has never been able to do.

No photos allowed at most of the shows, but I have linked to them for anyone interested.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Travels with Ch - Day 9

Our first speakers of the morning were ...SURPRISE!.... Denise and David Hamner, stars of the previous night's show. They did a few magic tricks, but the group opted to ask questions. Most of the questions centered on the birds they use in their act since they refused, in true magician fashion, to reveal any of their secrets. David Hamner did explain the work invoved in designing his own illusions and producing the equipment for them.

The umbrella cockatoo and the macaw are both types of parrots. At one time, the Hamners had 28 birds living in their home. The current birds have individual custom cages and specific diets. Each bird even has a preference about which bird lives next to him. The birds have been hand-raised, mostly by Denise and she spends at least an hour each day caring for them. There is a lot more to caring for one of these birds than most people suspect. They actually form lifelong bonds with their handlers.

The Hamners are lovely, down-to-earth, real people. After talking to the group, they presented each of the kids with a magic trick and autographed pictures for them.

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Travels with Ch - Day 8

I have never had a desire to "Ride the Ducks." The thought of appearing on one of those ridiculous looking, noisy vehicles lumbering through the most populated areas, was absolutely abhorrent to me. That was before I rode one. It was on the agenda, so we did it.

Our, overly enthusiastic, driver / guide handed out Quackers as we boarded and the kids loved them! Charlie scored a front row, window seat and was set, Quacker in place, ready to go.

The driver turned out to be very knowledgeable about the area and gave a running commentary, spiced up up with some Oldies music, lame jokes, and challenges to be as noisy on the Quackers as possible.
The name "Duck" should actually be spelled "DUKW." The vehichles are vintage WWII, "put together by women, that's why they have held up so well." "D" = the year 1942, "U = amphibious, "K" & "W" = front and back wheel drive.

We lumbered down the main strip making enough noise to turn the heads of everyone in hearing range. Just off the strip, we had a brief sojourn into the Ozarks. Our Duck passed a number of WWII & Vietnam vehicles lined up for our perusal.
"We try to keep these in running condition," the driver said. His solemn commentary on the vehicles produced an almost reverent quiet amongst our group.
The quiet was short-lived, however, as we approached the lake. Normally, the Duck would head into the lake at full speed, but high water from recent rains required more care. We eased into the lake and the Duck carried us in a large circle around a small island. Each of the kids was given a turn at the wheel for photos. We drove out of the water just as easily as we entered.
"The Duck's land wheels never stop turning, even when we are in the water," the driver explained.

Okay, okay, it was touristy, but it was a great outing!

We did have a learning session , etc., but there was time for swimming in the afternoon.
The evening show was the Hamner - Barber Variety Show, a mix of great illusions and ventriliquism. Jim Barber and Seville appeared on the David Letterman show. Dave Hamner is a minister as well as a magician. His most amazing trick was levitating and then.....well, I won't spoil it for you. On Sunday mornings, they have a church service, on the same stage, open to everyone.

Travels with Ch - Day 7

We left STL about 9:45 a.m., heading for Branson, Missouri (pronounced Missoura by the natives). Our objective this week is attending an ElderHostel Intergenerational program in Bransom. The goal is to learn a little bit about performing in the real world.

Orientation and a get-acquainted time was held on the first afternoon of the program. We met the 12 kids and 21 grandparents with whom we will be spending the rest of the week.

Our first session on the first full day, was given by Sarah Kleinfelter, one of the tour hostesses and a former professor at College of the Ozarks. Her history of Branson was a real eye-opener. She stressed that the entertainers in Branson were very family-oriented and geared to training the next generation of entertainers. Over the next few days, I heard the theme repeated by others and found everyone we met exhibited that ideal.

Mark Young, a professor at College of the Ozarks,presented 2 classes over 2 days, focusing on giving a good performance.

His wife, Lisa, taught the importance of body movement. These were very interactive sessions and had everyone up, moving around, laughing, and learning.

An afternoon presentation by Danny Eakin, "The Life of an Ozark Troubadour," reinforced the principals of the morning lecture. He sang, played guitar, banjo, harmonica, and admonished the kids to honor their mothers and fathers. I checked his statement that musicians always took their hats off when they sang Gospel songs, and found it to be true. They also "give God the glory for their performances" and "show great respect for veterans." Yes, this is typical of everyone we met in Branson. He certainly did remind me of my brother, T.

We attended shows every evening and applied the learned information to our observations. Dolly Parton's "Dixie Stampede" was the first show we attended. Heavy on patriotism with a Civil War theme, it was quite an extravaganza. It was a dinner show that was all finger foods.
"Hold up your hands! This is your silverware!!"
Every person was served soup (to drunk from the small bowl it was served in), a small roasted chicken, half a grilled potato, a cob of corn, and a roll. Dessert was a "cow patty", actually a fruit pastry. Drinks were served in small jars. It was amazing how quickly all that food could be served and the remnants cleared away during a 2 hour show. All the while, we were watching some fancy horse work and amazing costumes.

We fell into bed, tired and full - of food, information, and Bling. In fact, we did not have the opportunity to get hungry all week.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Travels with Ch - Days 5 & 6

Baby K was not well, so Thursday, I struck off for the St. Louis Science Center with Ch & Li. Li is a born builder and always heads straight for the blocks and toys that connect. Ch preferred the computer games but had to fight his way through the adults to have an opportunity to work on the computers.

They were joined by some other children and all worked cooperatively to build a soft block model of the arch. This one stood longer than any of the others I have seen.

The whole Center, which is free BTW, is geared to children in various stages of development. The older ones can read the instructions and reasoning to get the real story. Best of all, were the volunteers which are occasionally positioned at various areas to assist the children. They encourage and challenge the children who would ordinarily race through the different areas.

Well, maybe best of all are the Science Shows. Energetic young adults share experiments and ideas with the children. We saw presentations on Peeps, Hot & Cold, and, as an added bonus, a demonstration by the summer camp cup speed stacking kids. These were located right by the dinosaurs which, fortunately for us, no longer roar.

We spent 7 hours at the Museum and had two tired little boys that night.

The next day Gordo took the boys to the City Museum (which was not free, but "worth every penny") and gave us two tired boys again.

Maybe next time we will go to Purina Farms.

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Travels with Ch - Day 4

After I did some work in the garden of the House Next Door (Those roses are not going anywhere for anyone!), I took Ch to the Arch. We drove all over town looking for a parking space, but there were non e to be found. Then, luckily, we stumbled on a metered space that was free, but the sign warned there was no parking from 4-6. Not enough time, we thought. I had almost given up when we spied parking specifically for the Arch. I guess the people attending the Cardinals game had not found it.

We had a nice walk through a lovely park to access the Arch. Stopped for a photo which shows the bridge we crossed into Illinois while we were searching for parking. The Mississippi is flooded upstream but not presenting problems here.

We traveled to the top of the Arch in small cars which hold 5 small people comfortably. Not too many people in Missouri are small.

The cars travel to the top of the Arch rather like a Ferris wheel gets around a circle. Our car had no ventilation on the trip up, we fared better on the trip down.

The view from the top is awesome. The day was fairly clear but the windows were hazy from the viewing habits of our predecessors. Don't suppose they get frequent outside washing either.
We had a nice view of the stadium where the Cardinals were playing. Missourians take their baseball seriously and most of the town wears red on game days.

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Travels with Ch - Day 3 continued

We spent the afternoon, with the three children, in the Botanical Gardens. St. Louis residents and their guests are allowed to visit the gardens regular exhibits at no cost.

There were interesting sculptures, mosaics this time, throughout the grounds. Some were designated for children to climb and explore. What a difference from the regular idea of look, but don't touch.

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Travels with Ch - Day 3

It is nice to have a place to stay in St. Louis. Will be looking forward to the new B&B next door.

L opened his BD presents today since I will not be here on his BD. He was so excited over a few dinosaurs and some cardboard that folds into building blocks.

I doubt we will always get off that easily, but it is wonderful how easily they are delighted when young.

Even Baby K got in on the fun.