Facing the Music with Bill and Ted

I don’t know when I first saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I know it was likely on HBO. Dumb, mindless comedies were in, harmless “Teen” fluff that didn’t pay much attention to reality. It had George Carlin, and Carlin was cool.

I don’t know if it was the painful but common ignorance of misprounouncing “So-crates” or the stoner-intoned dialogue, but I did find it cute, amusing, it had an actual story line, and it introduced me to that actor with the weird name. This was an era when Saturday Night Live was high on the charts, and comedy was in.

A generation later, my kids loved the film and its sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, as well.

Fast forward 30 years later – Keanu Reeves is a household name that we can all pronounce. Alex Winter also appeared in The Lost Boys, one of the better vampire movies ever made, but has had a steady career as a director of movies, television, and music videos. Together, along with many of the original cast, they come back to the big (well, Covid-big) screen in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Bill and Ted are middle-aged, still stuck trying to make the Wyld Stallyns band work, when the future calls them into service to save the world with their music.

Can 1989 comedy work in 2020, or is this just a nostalgic film for middle-aged fans? It’s hard to say. After knocking back movies like The Matrix and John Wick, seeing Reeves break the dead-pan assassin mold and fall back into comedy was strange – and fun. Both actors pick up as if they’d never stopped. Conceived and written by the original creator, the script was predictable (did you expect otherwise?) but true to the characters. It has the same feel, the same style, the same details as the originals, which isn’t the easiest thing to do – too many movies bomb on the third try (Beverly Hills Cop 3, Lethal Weapon 3, Die Hard 3, X-Men 3, Superman 3, The Godfather 3, Divergent 3, etc). George Carlin has unfortunately passed on, with his character Rufus seen in tribute as a hologram, so they brought in a new character, Rufus’s daughter Kelly – played by Kristen Schaal. Viewers are introduced to Thea and Billie, Bill and Ted’s 20-something daughters, characters who do a marvelous job of both imitating their fathers and yet modernizing them for a new generation to identify with. While it makes Bill and Ted seem old and outdated, it’s actually a touching way of passing the torch.

If you loved the originals, if you like mindless fairly clean comedy (PG-13 for language), if you like movies you don’t have to think about that have happy endings, then the movie is well-worth seeing. Is it Oscar material? Of course not. But it is faithful fun.

If you like Bill and Ted, try these other similar movies you might have missed!

Preschool Pirating

Have we all gone stir crazy yet?

Imagine if you were on a 17th century ship, with nothing around you but ocean for three months – or six months. Sure, you didn’t have bored kids fighting over whose turn it is with the TV, or a toddler screaming that Tickle Me Elmo is out of batteries again, but eventually that parrot is going to look pretty tasty when all you’ve had to eat is wormy hardtack and stale beer. If you’ve ever been to the Charles P. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, or the Mayflower up in Plymouth, Mass, or Old Ironsides in Boston proper, you know that those ships are pretty tiny on a ten minute walk-through. Now cram them with fifty people for three months, and suddenly your 1500 square foot house doesn’t seem so bad. At least you’re not seasick.

Pirates, whether illegal or privateers working for King and Country, were often violent men – and a few women – who were not very nice. But legends and lore get romanticized, and pirates – whether Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver, or Blackbeard himself, and kids are attracted to each other the way ants love sugar. Fancy hats, eye patches, wooden legs, cannons, swords, boats, and treasure – how cool is that?

When a new dog-proof garbage can arrived in a box larger than my three year old, it became her favorite toy of the month, and for one of the weeks we turned it into a pirate ship. Anything that keeps a bored three year old busy for a week deserves to be bronzed. We hung a garden flag from a broom handle for a sail, used a brass fastener to make a spinning wheel, dug out costumes from the older kids, watched a lot of preschool pirate videos and read a lot of pirate books. I drew a simple outline map of our living room and taught her to read maps by placing candy in various places as treasure, and marking X on the map. By the third candy, she was proficient on her own. Then we built our finale.

Using balloons, some Cheshire Herald strips, and a little watered down Elmer’s Glue, we made some cannon balls, and then painted them the next day. Then we built our cannon. The cannon balls were about 5 ½ inches, too big for a standard paper tube. But they worked just perfectly for a paint can! So we scavanged a paint can from the garage, which, thankfully, had only an inch of dried paint in the bottom. And these new-fangled plastic paint cans? The paint doesn’t stick! A few taps and peels, and all that dead paint came falling right out. A quick rinse, and we were good. I cut the bottom off with my Ginsu knife (a product that has lived up to every claim ever made on it – thirty years later it still cuts fences AND tomatoes, and plastic paint cans). I strung a piece of waistband elastic across the hole, held tight by Gorilla Tape, and we had our cannon. It was tricky getting the right angle, but pull the elastic back far enough with the cannon ball sitting on it, and we could get the ball to shoot four or five feet, which is plenty inside a house.

We won Preschool Zoom that week.

So scrounge your house, and see what you can come up with! With warmer weather, try staking out a ship outside with lawn chairs or wooden pallets.  Anything that keeps a kid busy and sparks some interest is a good thing – and they just might learn something.  And by the way, Saturday September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day – check out these awesome stories to get you in the pirate mindset:

Pirate’s Perfect Pet        Pirates Go to School               Peter Pan   

Pirates Past Noon           Pinkalicious and the Pirates

Pirates Don’t Take Baths        No Pirates Allowed, Said Library Lou

Pirates Don’t Change Diapers        Sea Queens:  Women Pirates Around the World

  Treasure Island      Pirates of the Caribbean     Jake and the Never Land Pirates 

Groovin’ with Pete the Cat

Children’s books are notoriously hard to get published. Everyone has an idea for a children’s book, and almost all of them will never see a contract. More than 21,000 children’s titles are published every year in the US, by a number of publishers, which is only a dent in the number of actual submissions. Scholastic, the one who haunts school kids with that monthly flier, publishes just 600 books a year, from board books through High School. So when a children’s book is self-published, sells 7,000 copies in its first ten months and is then signed on by major publisher Harper Collins, you know there’s something really good there. And in this case, the really good is Pete the Cat .

If you haven’t read him, Pete the Cat is a groovy large-eyed, laid-back blue/black cat who lives with his mom and dad and his tuxedo-patterned brother Bob. He has a host of friends (Grumpy Toad, Gus the Platypus, Callie, Squirrel, etc) and he loves bananas and surfing. His stories are mostly easy-readers that play to the 2-7 year old crowd, but he is infinitely more interesting than that. Pete is the kind of story you want your child to like, because you want to read more of his stories.

Pete is the creation of James Dean, whose early illustrations wound up as musically or rhythmically-oriented stories by storyteller/musician Eric Litwin. Litwin wrote four of Pete’s adventures (Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Rockin in my School Shoes, I Love My White Shoes, and Pete the Cat Saves Christmas). I have to admit, these early volumes are my favorites, and I cannot help but read Pete stories as if he’s a surfer dude. Groovy, man. While Litwin and Dean split in 2011, Dean and his wife Kimberly have written more than 60 Pete adventures, with more on the way. Pete’s adventures range from curing hiccups (Mom knows best!) to sleepover friends who won’t sleep, to shopping in the grocery store and scuba diving.

The actual Pete the Cat

Being an artist was not Dean’s plan. His father was an artist, and he didn’t relish  reliving the struggle. While being an electrical engineer paid bills, art crept into his life more and more, until he began to pursue art full-time. When he adopted a tiny black kitten he named Pete, Pete’s antics crept into his artwork , and a legend was born.

Dean’s success is an author’s dream – self-published, picked up by a real publisher just two years later, a runaway success (more than 7 million copies sold), merchandise deals, and now a TV series on Amazon Prime, with voices by no one less than jazz singers Jason Mraz and Diana Krall (which totally fits, because Pete gives off that groovy chill of a cool jazz cat). They say self-publishing doesn’t pay, but Dean is one of those handful of lucky authors who won that lottery.

While I find some of the titles to be uneven and lacking the lyrical qualities of the bigger titles such as Groovy Buttons, Pete remains one of my current favorite preschool titles, stories you don’t mind reading over and over again, with subtle morals (family, keeping your cool, how to be a friend, sharing, learning, etc) that won’t make you roll your eyes with saccharine. Rock on, Pete!

Cheshire Library has more than thirty Pete titles!  Here are some of them:

Pete the Cat: Rockin in My School Shoes
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons 
Pete at the Beach
Pete’s Big Lunch
Pete the Cat: Scuba Cat
Pete the Cat: Snow Daze
A Pet for Pete
Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses
Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes
Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues
Pete the Cat Goes Camping
Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party
Pete the Cat and the New Guy

Photo Tutorial: Sewing a Simple Face Mask

Face Masks are about to be all the rage, and there are all kinds of patterns out there. I’m an experienced seamstress with multiple awards for costuming and quilting, and *I* was having trouble decoding some of those patterns, even the simple ones. They were NOT written by pattern makers, that’s certain.  So when a number of lesser-experienced people were struggling with them, I knew it was time to help out.

Remember the first rule of masks: They will not keep you from getting sick. You need an electron microscope to see a virus; it’s going to go through just about anything, the way a fruit fly goes right through a screen. The purpose of the mask is to keep anything you might leak or spray from getting onto a surface where someone else can touch it, whether it’s flu, sinus infection, or COVID. But the less things we come in contact with, the healthier we’ll all stay right now, especially since many people might have the virus and not know it.

So here’s my photo tutorial on how to make a simple mask, which will increase your chances of not spreading germs to others and possibly keep you from touching your face and bringing other people’s germs to yourself. This is the pattern from The New York Times.

1) You need some cloth – tightly woven COTTON cloth. Not stretch leggings, not Tshirts.  Think a good pillowcase with a 300-thread count (anything above 220 is great).  Batiks are recommended because they have that tight thread count, and are still breathable.

Cotton holds up to high dryer heat, and is bleachable if needed. Polyester won’t. Your fabric must be 9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches. For a large man, you might need it a little bigger. I tried it an inch smaller in both directions, but it was still too big for my 3 year old.

2) You need a second piece of fabric for the inside. You can use a piece of the same fabric, but this side is going to be against your face, so you might want something soft. You can use flannel – another pillowcase, or an old shirt – or even a piece of kitchen towel.  Same size as the previous piece.

Now, some people are lining these with an extra piece of flannel, or even a piece of vacuum cleaner bag (they are made to filter dust and pollen). If you choose to use them (they come through the wash just fine, just stiffer), cut the piece to the same size.

3) You are going to need 4 ties made of cotton. Why not nylon? Because they shred and rip out. You can use shoelaces, or cotton twill tape, or I used bits of bias tape and seam binding I had lying around. If you don’t have those, you can cut an 18″ strip of fabric, 1″ wide, fold it in half, and sew it closed to make a strap. You will need 4 ties, 18″ long (but 16″ will work if you’re running short).

4) Put your inside/softer fabric on top of it. Put the side you want against your face toward the table, so it’s touching the first fabric. The ugly side should be looking at you. Get your edges even together.

5) Sew the pieces together on one long side, near the edge. If you don’t have a machine, it will take longer, but the steps are the same.

6) It should look like this. I call this seam the top for reference.

7) Open it up. This should be the front you want to see, and the side you want against your face. You shouldn’t see the seam stitching.

8) Take one of your ties and line it up ALMOST touching the top where the fabric is stitched. If you’re using seam binding, or care about it, you want the “nice” or “pretty” side to be face-up. Line it up with the edge of the fabric. I think it’s easier if it goes just a smidge over so you can see it when it’s closed again

9) At the bottom, leave a pinky’s width of space between the tie and the bottom edge of the fabric.

10)  Close the fabric, make a sandwich, smooth it even. If you like, you can pin the ends of the straps in place.

11)  Stitch that side closed, trapping the ends of the ties.

12)  Peel your fabric back on the unsewn side. Place the remaining straps the same way. Pile all the loose ends in a ball in the middle of the fabric so they don’t get in the way of stitching. You don’t want to have to rip it all out to free them, do you?

13)  Stitch side two closed.

14) You should have one open long end. Stitch it partway down.  Stop stitching about a hands-width from the end. You need this part open.

15) Turn your mask inside out now through the hole, so all the ties are free. Poke the corners into shape and flatten it out.

16) Your mask should look like a deflated turtle, flat, rectangular, and with long legs coming out of the corners.

17) But you still have this hole.

18) Fold the raw edges to the inside of the hole until the side is even. Flatten with your fingers, and pin it to hold it. Or just pull it tight and mash it with your fingers until it stays.

19)  Top stitch the hole closed, making sure the folded edges are even with the rest of the side.  Keep stitching  right around the entire thing about 1/8 of an inch from the edge – ie, very close to the edge. This holds the mask’s shape.

20) You should now have a mini-apron with four strings, sewn all around the outside so it stays flat.

21) Pinch the side of your apron, a little less than halfway down.

22) Fold this into a pleat. Squish it so it goes all the way across.

23) Pinch it again from the bottom, so you have two folds, and it makes about three equal rows. Squash it with your hands to make it stay that way, or pin it.

24) Stitch the pleats in place, about a pinky’s width from the edge.

25) Stitch it a second time between the first stitch and the edge.

26) Do the same for the other side.

27) Trim all the loose threads hanging off the corners.

28) Iron those pleats to really set them in and make them crisp.

29) Flap it open. You should have a nice little chin pocket now.

30) You can tie the straps individually or together. I find this one stays best if you hook at least one over your ears. It should fit snugly – if it’s gapping too much, it doesn’t fit well.

These masks are machine washable and dryable, even if you sew an extra liner in them.  Just remember – when you take them off, consider them contaminated. Place them in a plastic bag if you’re getting in your car, and put them straight into the wash when you get home, or leave them in the bag until you get to a laundromat.  You can always spray them with Lysol while they’re in the bag.
Stay Safe! Stay apart!

Spring Babies

Spring is here, and that means baby animals cavorting through backyards. Baby animals are about as heart-warming as mammals can get, and that’s a deliberate act on nature’s part. Round faces, big eyes, short noses, and large foreheads are the hallmark of babyness, and those features are deliberately meant to instill attraction and protection in adults so that we will attach and nurture those babies, ensuring survival of the species. We are genetically engineered to think babies are cute, whether they’re human or bunny. This is the entire rationale behind Persian cats and teacup dogs.

 Dogs and cats we know and love, but what do we do when we find a wild baby animal all alone? They’re no less adorable than that puppy or kitty, and no one on your street has a baby squirrel or fox or raccoon, so why not keep it and raise it as your own?

  1. It may not be abandoned
  2. It may be sick or carrying something harmful (squirrels and prairie dogs carry bubonic plague; groundhogs can carry hepatitis). 
  3. You have no idea how to feed it to keep it healthy.
  4. It’s a wild animal. No matter how much you love it and how tame it might get, the call of the wild is too strong. It will try to return to nature but won’t know how, because it hasn’t been raised with others of its kind. They will not respond to it. Your animal won’t know how to fend for itself, find food, hide from predators, and has a high chance of dying miserably. Or it may attack you, your pets, or your children.

So what should you do if you find a baby animal all alone?

Different animals require different approaches. The best thing to do is just wait, and watch. Some babies are left alone during the day, and mom comes back every few hours to check and feed. Baby bunnies nest in tall grass, so finding them alone in brush is normal. While you shouldn’t randomly handle wild babies, few mothers will abandon them just because you touched them. The mother may not like your smell, but their need to nurture is too strong. 

If you find a bird with no feathers, or the beginnings of them, put the bird gently back in the nest if possible. If it’s fluffy with feathers, leave it alone. Birds mature in 2-3 weeks, and it’s probably ready to leave.

Deer: If it is wandering around and crying, leave it alone. Mom will return. If it’s moving about and distressed, call rescue.

Squirrels: if it’s got a bushy tail and is playing and climbing, leave it alone. If it’s tiny, give mom a chance to find it. If mom hasn’t returned by nightfall, put it in a warm box and call for help.

Fox: If they’re happy and playing, they’re fine. Call for help if they look weak or sickly.

Raccoons and skunks: DO NOT handle raccoons or skunks, as they have a very high rate of rabies. If in doubt, place a laundry basket over the baby and place a weight on top. Mom will flip the basket to get her baby back.

Rabbits: Baby rabbits may be left alone for hours at a time. Mark the spot with an X of yarn. If mom comes back, she’ll disturb the string. 

Possums: if a possum is more than 7” long, it’s old enough to be on its own. If smaller, call for help. Possums are marsupials, not mammals. They need pouches and don’t feed like a “regular” baby. 

Do not attempt to rehabilitate wildlife by yourself. In many cases, it’s illegal to do so. Call the police department, or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Dispatch  at 860-424-3333, and they’ll send someone out.

For a safer approach to wildlife and animal rescues, check out these books!