Five Ways to Entertain Visiting Children

If you don’t have children in the home, then you are unlikely to have a stash of toys ready when a child visits. Here are some ways to keep a visiting child happy without investing in expensive toys and games.

  • Let Them Build Things

    Get out anything you have that lends itself to stacking. This could be the corks that you’re saving for a craft project or scraps of wood from the workbench. Children love arranging these into patterns and trying to build a tower.

    Gail Lee Martin with 2 granddaughters

    Gail Lee Martin with 2 granddaughters.

  • Make a Tent With Chairs and a Blanket

    Children love playing in hidey-holes. Let them arrange a sheet or blanket over some chairs and play inside the tent. Watch out with very young children that they don’t pull a chair over.

  • Bubble Blowing

    Get a bottle of this with the wand at the dollar store. It’s easy to store and will provide hours of fun for a child. Actually, adults enjoy these as well.
    You can also find recipes to make your own bubble blowing solution.

  • Start Them Drawing

    All you need is paper, even scrap paper, and a pencil. Colored pencils add to the fun, but aren’t absolutely necessary. Sit with the child and suggest things to draw and admire their creations.

  • Take a Nature Walk

    Make a list of things they might see on a walk in your area (mushroom, squirrel, a bug, a “y” shaped stick). As you walk along, they can search for the things on the list like a scavenger hunt. Give them a little reward for finding a certain number of things. It could be a gold star or a cookie, something simple.

    Gail Martin and granddaughters

    Gail Lee Martin with two granddaughters in their firemen hats.

 

Final Thoughts

Remember that children crave your time and attention. Don’t just park them in front of the television so the adults can talk. Spending time with you and their parents is important to the child’s development.

(post by Virginia Allain – previously published on List My Five)

A Christmas Song for Shannon

I found myself asking our Amazon Dot to play John McCutcheon songs yesterday. It made me realize that even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it, my mind was turning to memories of Shannon. Gail and Clyde were devastated by the death of their youngest daughter, Shannon, on the 8th of December 2006, at the too-young age of 48. Eleven years ago, and the even after that much time, we all feel the loss when early December comes around.

Shannon_Hyle 2000

Shannon (Martin) Hyle

John McCutcheon was a favorite artist of Shannon’s and she looked forward to his performance each year at the Winfield Music Festival. Since she volunteered at the festival, she had the chance to talk to the performers and felt a personal connection to them.

I selected one of McCutcheon’s Christmas songs to share with you here. It’s on YouTube. Take a soothing moment to listen to the hammered dulcimer music of Down in Yon Forest/New Year’s Eve. It’s from his Winter Solstice album.

Favorite Books from My Childhood

Classics That Your Child Will Love Too

A post by Gail Martin’s daughter
Virginia Allain profile image
Virginia Allain

Some of the vintage children’s books that were on our bookshelves at home (photo by Virginia Allain)

Recommended Children’s Books from a Real Bookworm

Mom would call me to help with some chore, but I’d pretend not to hear. As usual, I had my nose buried in a book. Reading was a favorite activity of mine and a visit to the local library was like having unlimited access to a candy store. The library only allowed children to check out three books, but that was a totally inadequate amount to last two weeks until the next visit. Fortunately, I had a brother and four sisters, so combined we could take eighteen books.

We would swap our books around so everyone got to read them. If several were eager to read the same book, it was necessary to hide it between reading sessions to keep possession of it.

We owned some books from birthday and Christmas gifts and being voracious readers, we would reread those when our supply of fresh reading material became depleted.

Books for the Very Young

A Is for Annabelle – I have a page about Tasha Tudor’s book, A Is For Annabelle. It is such a marvelous ABC book about a vintage doll and her wardrobe. When Mom made Gone with the Wind style dresses for my sister’s doll, it reminded me of Annabelle with her delightful wardrobe and the trunk to put them in.

Of course, I this list would have to include Curious George. Mom took us to storytime at the public library, an old Carnegie library. I would go down the stairs to the children’s room in the basement. We sat on wooden chairs in stiff rows while the librarian read stories to us. One was Curious George. Years later, as a children’s librarian, I read Curious George to a new generation of children.

Cat Tales Family Album

Cat Tales Family Album

I loved these books with the pictures of cats dressed in complete outfits and posed in little scenes. The stories weren’t memorable, but the photos were adorable. My sister recently found a vintage copy of this on eBay.

Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book Series  – There was the Red Fairy Book, the Olive Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, and so on. Each was packed with the best classic fairy tales. There are more, many more stories to stretch your child’s imagination than just Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. With these books, they will learn about Snow White and Red Rose, Jack the Giant Killer, Thumbelina, The Tinderbox and folklore from all around the world that was collected by Andrew Lang into the twelve book in the series.
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard

Encourage Your Children to Read – Reading is so important for children’s development

There’s a teensy bit of advertising in this video, but the overall message is really good. Never mind about subscribing to their program, just go to the public library and get a free library card for yourself and for each child.

Favorites for Older Children

Black Beauty was a favorite of mine – A lovely classic story.  Children learn a lot about being kind to animals from a story like this. I shed many tears for the mistreatment of this horse.

Please, parents, give your children unabridged editions of classics. Look for the original author’s name and then check the title page to make sure it is unabridged. If the child is too young to read the long version, read it aloud to them. Abridged versions often truncate the book too much and remove the wonderful flow of words that made the book a classic.

Don’t miss the classic Robin Hood – No, watching the movie is not the same. My book had the Wyeth illustrations. I loved them. This one is even available now on a mousepad.

Ah, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and the Duke of Nottingham. These great stories have broad appeal and are a great way to introduce children to English history.

I loved books about orphans – classic stories about orphans. It seems that a lot of books that were special to me are pretty old-fashioned. They were even old-fashioned back in the fifties when I was reading them. Actually old-fashioned could just be another term for classics. Books that have stood the test of time.

Elsie Dinsmore really touched me. Actually, Elsie had a father, but he was away on business so she was left in the care of hard-hearted relatives. There’s a whole series of these.

Heidi

Heidi

Heidi was left in the care of her gruff grandfather. She reveled in the freedom of following the goats with goat herder Peter.

Pollyanna

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter

Pollyanna had a profound effect on me. Fifty years later and I’m still trying to play the “glad game.” Yes, I know Pollyanna was a bit smarmy, but she had pluck and kept trying to do the right thing. She helped many people live a better life in her small village.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, Fiction, Action & Adventure

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs was the mysterious benefactor that sent a young orphan to college. Later on, it was made into a movie with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Large families intrigued me, since I was one of six.

Bobbsey Twins 03: The Secret at the Seashore

Bobbsey Twins 

These were old-fashioned stories even when I read them back in the 1950s. There were Burt and Nan and Flossie and Freddy, two sets of twins in one family. Freddy was always getting into trouble.

Little Women, with eBook

Little Women,

What a wonderful book. With four sisters, I could really identify with this family. We all wanted to be Jo, the independent one who wrote stories.

The Five Little Peppers –  There was a whole series of these. They lived an impoverished life but Polly Pepper was my favorite for the way she solved problems and looked after her brothers and sisters.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

This vintage family story shows Polly’s heroic efforts to help her mother.

Books in Series for Children – Get them hooked, then read the whole series

I couldn’t wait to get the next book once I’d started reading a series.
The Borrowers are a race of tiny people who live under the floorboards and behind the walls of old houses deep in the English countryside. They borrow bits of food and other things from the “human beans” who live in the house and try to make their homes as comfortable as possible without being discovered.
A story guaranteed to explode a child’s imagination! They will never look at the nooks and crannies around the house in the same way again!

 

The Rescuers (New York Review Books Children's Collection)

The Rescuers

I loved all the adventures the intrepid Miss Bianca had with trusty Bernard by her side.

The Little House Collection (Little House Books)

The Little House Collection

These almost need no introduction. Through the television series, they live on, but it is still a treat to read the originals. Having grown up in Kansas, these resonated with me.

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

I read the whole series. They did a wonderful job later making this into a movie. I was crazy about horses as a kid.

More Classics for Your Child to Read

The Wind in the Willows (Sterling Unabridged Classics)

The Wind in the Willows 

Enjoy the very British lives of Mole and Rat. I’ve always been an Anglophile.

Lassie Come-Home

Lassie Come-Home

This was the original Lassie, not the television one. What a brave dog!

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague In the 1970s, I visited Chincoteague Islands and saw the wild horses there. Before that, I read every one of Margarite Henry’s horse books.

This could have been me. I had reddish highlights in my blonde hair and I read anywhere, anytime.

The Secret Garden (HarperClassics)

The Secret Garden

Actually, this one qualifies as an orphan book too. I thought it was fabulous that whiney Mary was rehabilitated by learning to garden and learned to care about other people like the crippled Colin.

Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland

If your children have seen the movie, then it’s time to read the book too. A complex read, but part of our cultural literacy.

Little Lord Fauntleroy, with eBook (Tantor Unabridged Classics)

Little Lord Fauntleroy went from living in genteel poverty to being discovered as the heir to a fabulous estate in England. He has a hard time winning the heart of his crusty grandfather though.

Louisa May Alcott Books – When I first started going to the public library, I wanted to read every book starting with “A” and follow around until I got to “Z.” This was a rather ambitious plan, and I did make it through all the books by Alcott and then by Aldrich. After that, I decided to read more randomly as there were authors I wanted to sample and they were way down the alphabet.

I read all of Thomas C. Hinkle’s dog and horse stories – More wonderful animal stories for your child.

Black Storm was one of my favorites. Some of these might be found in public libraries. Also, check on eBay for Hinkle’s vintage dog and horse stories.

So — were some of my favorites your favorites too? Tell me which ones I missed.

Off to Town

A childhood memory by Gail’s daughter, Virginia.

What an ordeal the short trip to town must have been for my mother. Packing five contentious children into a medium-sized car wasn’t easy. This was before the days of mini-vans. After the sixth child came along, we finally got a station wagon. In the three mile trip into El Dorado, we’d bicker whenever a brother or sister infringed on our space. Within the confines of the car, sibling rivalry had the opportunity to even the score with subtle elbow digs and shoves. It was hard to tell what was normal energetic kid behavior and what was malice.

Butler County, Kansas courthouse

Photo by Virginia Allain – The Butler County Courthouse in El Dorado, KS.

El Dorado was an oil and cattle center east of Wichita, Kansas. It was also the county seat for Butler County, and our trips to town often included the century-old, brick courthouse. We’d climb the wide wooden steps to the third floor where the 4-H office was. Mom needed advice or pamphlets to use with the many project groups she led. Entomology, geology, cooking, gardening, and leadership were some of the topics she taught to groups of 4-H members.

Another frequent stop was the public library. In our younger years, it was the vintage Carnegie building on Central, but later it was the more modern building on Carr Street. The five of us, and later six, would fan out through the children’s section browsing for favorite series like The Borrowers or searching for a new dog book by Terhune or a horse story by Thomas C. Hinkle. My ambition was to read my way alphabetically through the fiction section. Hampered by the library’s limit of three books per child, I abandoned the goal after making it halfway through the A section. I did read all of Louisa May Alcott and Aldrich. Then I reverted to free range reading. While at the library, we lived in dread of fierce Miss Borger, the head dragon there, who shushed unruly children and accused them of having sticky hands.

Probably we did, as mom had a hard time corralling and getting all of us tidy and clean for a trip to town in the searing Kansas heat. No air conditioning in cars back in the 1950s. If we stopped at the Dairy Queen for a curly topped cone, then we were a sticky mess afterward. The ice cream melted faster in the 100-degree temperatures than we could eat it. The drips ran down our arms, spotted our shirts, and coated our cheeks and chins. No amount of scrubbing,  even with motherly spit applied on the flimsy paper napkins, could totally clean up the batch of us. Four_Martin_Girls

Another summer feature of trips to town was swimming lessons at the city pool. I don’t remember much of the teaching techniques, but they didn’t seem to work well for me. I did learn to dog paddle and actually can float quite well. Otherwise, I flounder my way, thrashing and flailing, from one side of the pool to the other. We had nowhere to practice our swimming since our creek was just ankle-deep.

I remember trips to Woolworths, which we simply called the dime store. There we selected our plastic cowboy and Indian figures. These became part of elaborate wild west games played out in our large sandbox at home. With our imaginations fueled by watching Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry movies, we constructed landscapes and re-enacted the chases and clashes with our small plastic figures.memories of visiting the shoe store - photo by pixabay

Also in town, we visited the shoe store that gave away pink and blue dyed chicks when we bought new shoes at Easter time. Probably town children took theirs home for a brief life span where an over-affectionate child squeezed the little fluff ball to death. Ours joined our flock of chickens on the farm, where they reverted to normal chicken colors as their feathers grew in.

For the kids, each trip to town was an adventure. For Mom, I’m sure, it couldn’t be over soon enough.

This story was previously published on the Our Echo website. 

How Far Back Do Your Early Memories Go?

Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, wrote this for another site. Reblogging it here.

My real memories only go back so far, so I don’t actually remember being me in the picture below. Since I was too young to store the memory of that moment, my knowledge of it comes from family stories and pictures. Those earliest times are framed in my mind by black and white photos, faded and with edges curling slightly.

It’s a time created by family stories making space in my memories.

I look at the picture of me sitting on an overturned red wagon. It had to be red, weren’t they all red in those days? On my lap, there’s a black and white puppy and my baby arms clasp him close to me. My memory bank contains no reference for the puppy. No one told me its name or where it came from.

I don’t know what happened to the puppy later. When we moved to the Big House, we had a dog named Tippy that I remember well. I was 4 or 5 years old then. Could this puppy be Tippy?

Memories of a 1950s childhood - Ginger Martin

Here I am, little Ginger, with a puppy and a red wagon.

I’m wearing a little girl’s dress just like all little 1950s toddlers wore. I never thought to ask as we looked through the family pictures, “who made the dress, Mama or Grandma?”

I never asked where were my shoes. The grass and weeds must have felt rough to my bare feet. Since it is Kansas, I’m sure there were chiggers and sandburs.

Given my approximate age in the picture, I know it was the yard at the Little House. My parents rented that from my grandparents who lived a quarter mile down the road in the Big House.  Another photo shows the Little House which couldn’t have had more than a few rooms in it. It’s a tiny box of a house. Where did four children sleep in such a small house?

Rental house - owned by Clarence McGhee in 1951

The little house that the Martins rented from the McGhees.

These old photos give me clues to a long-ago time. The people who could tell me more about that time are gone. It will always be an incomplete fragment of time in my mind.

In the photo of the Little House, the yard looks pretty bare. Perhaps that was right after the flood of 1951 had subsided.

The Cowboy with a Broken Arm

Did you have any childhood injuries or broken bones? I was pretty lucky and never broke anything as a kid, but my siblings sure had their share.

cowboy broken arm 1950s

Owen Martin doesn’t let a broken arm deter him from his cowboy games.

The photo shows my brother, Owen, with his arm in a sling. He broke that arm playing cowboy at my grandparent’s farm. There was a saddle hanging on a wooden rail and he climbed up on it. When it tipped off the fence, he ended up with the broken arm.

As you can see, it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for being a cowboy. Here he has on his cowboy hat and his pistol in his hand. The photo below shows him before the brangle with the saddle.

One of my sisters broke her collarbone when we lived in El Dorado. Later, when we lived in the country, my littlest sister suffered a broken leg when I tripped over her while playing softball in our driveway. I felt horrible about that. I was angry with her for getting in the way, then we realized something was wrong.

shirtless 1950s boy with saddle

Here’s Owen with that saddle, a gun, a cowboy hat and no shirt.

How about you? Did you fall and break any bones as a child?

(memory piece by Virginia Allain, Gail’s daughter)

Quick Definition, in case I stumped anyone with “brangle.” It means a brief squabble. 

The Carr Street Years

Gail Lee Martin created this story on the My History Is America’s History website. When the site closed, the stories were lost. Recently, we found this on the Wayback Machine so it could be saved on Gail’s blog. Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain added the photos to go with it. 

Oil drilling around Arkansas City became slow so Clyde went to work for Red Wilson, who drilled around the El Dorado area. We moved to 715 W. Carr Street in El Dorado in August 1957. The move was just in time for the kids to start to school with Karen in kindergarten. She was the only one to have that opportunity.

Cindy Susan Owen Ginger Karen_715 W Carr_El Dorado KS_Aug 1958

The Martin kids – Owen, Susan, Ginger, Cindy, and Karen. This photo is probably taken the year before the family moved from Ark City to El Dorado.

Going to school here in El Dorado was no hardship as our house was on the same block as Washington School. We all joined scout troops. Karen and Cindy in Brownies; Susan and Ginger in Girl Scouts and Owen in Boy Scouts. Since I couldn’t be with each of our children to help with their scout activities, I was getting discouraged.

In the spring of 1958, Clyde was injured in a car accident near Ark City and he was still in the El Dorado hospital when Shannon was born, June 1. When she was 10 days old, a killer tornado tore up the town, just a few blocks west of our home.

Shannon was with Dorothy Jones and they went to the Gas Service basement. I was visiting Clyde in the hospital, where we watched it go through town. The rest of the kids were with relatives and friends, while I was in the hospital having Shannon. Karen, Cindy, and Susan were with Clyde’s sister, Zella, going to Vacation Bible School in Madison. Howard Martin brought them home the evening after the storm. Owen and Ginger were with Dorothy and Wayne Baysinger in Oklahoma.

ginger childhood

The Carr Street house in the background. Ginger, Cindy, Susan, and Karen Martin. Summertime.

We discovered 4-H and joined the Prospect Wranglers group in 1959 where all the kids could be in the same group. That solved the scouting issue.

We lived on Carr Street for two school years before we found a house in the country. It was three miles north on Highway 77 and we moved there in the summer of 1959.

Martin kids 1959 Easter

The Martin kids – Cindy, Ginger, Owen, Karen, with Susan holding baby Shannon.

Memories of Barefooted Summers

Written by Gail Martin’s daughter, Virginia.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. Summers were carefree times of playing in the creek and rambling in the woods and fields. Our feet were bare.

When I look at the old black and white photos, they bring back so many memories. Seeing my age 5 smiling face flirting with the camera takes me back to those happy times.

Madison KS teacher

Ginger and Cindy Martin with the second-grade teacher, Miss Shimp. Madison, KS.

Ginger and Cindy Martin with teacher Miss Shimp

In the photo above, the lady is our older sister’s second-grade teacher from Madison. I’m the curly-headed child on the left. My little sister, Cindy, got to cuddle with the teacher, Miss Shimp, and I was dreadfully jealous. I’m not sure why Susan isn’t there for the photo with her teacher.

Sometimes being barefooted wasn’t fun. For instance, the honey bees loved the clover in our yard. When I stepped on one of those, my poor foot would swell up and throb fiercely. Mom would put baking soda on it and wrap it in a cool damp cloth but little else was done for it. I’d stretch out the situation, whimpering and hobbling around, to get the maximum attention from Mom that I could.

Memories of a 1950s childhood - Ginger Martin

Here I am, little Ginger, with a puppy and a red wagon.

Photo from our family album

The photo above is me at a younger age. Barefooted again and with an armful of puppy. I’m betting that’s a red wagon that I’m sitting on but I don’t remember that far back.

Were you allowed to play outside barefooted in the summer way back when?

M is for Memories of the Flood of 1951

Gail’s children heard the story many times about the great flood that almost swept little Cindy away. The family rented a small house owned by Gail’s parents, Clarence and Ruth McGhee. It was just a quarter mile down the road from the McGhee home. The “little house” was home to Gail and Clyde Martin with their four young children.
Rental house - owned by Clarence McGhee in 1951

The little house that the Martins rented from the McGhees.

As you can see, the house was fairly basic and had a few cinder blocks for the front step. Take a look at the video below and then I’ll tell you the rest of the story.

Apparently, the creek turned into a river rushing across the yard towards the little house. Water surrounded them and they were cut off. Gail’s brother-in-law, Norman Harlan, arrived in a boat to rescue the family. When they opened the door, toddler Cindy stepped out. Fortunately, Norman grabbed her as she came through the door.

Cindy1952

Cindy Martin rescued in the Great Flood of 1951.

She would have been swept away in the floodwaters. The whole family was rescued.

Cj Garriott, Gail’s younger sister, tells about the flood in the Madison area,Some memories I have of the ’51 flood–Perched as our house was on the little hill, we were high and dry as our home and barns were spared. We lost some cows–we tried to get them to the homeplace, and some did get there, but we watched as others were swept downstream.

Even though the railroad tracks were covered with water, a couple of neighbor men were able to walk it to town for supplies.

I remember squatting at the edge of the water, as it inched up our hill, watching grasshoppers getting pushed off grass stalks by the rising water. I wished I could save them.”

McGhee house in Greenwood County KS

The Clarence and Ruth McGhee home on the hill near Madison, KS.

I asked Carol about the history of the houses, and she said, “Daddy bought the 40 acres with a house that needed to be torn down. Then Daddy and Norman built the new one, I believe. I think Melba and Norman lived in it first, while they built a new house on their farm. The little house across the creek that was flooded was rented by Gail and Clyde.”

Second-Hand Christmas Tree

(A Christmas memory by Gail and Clyde’s daughter, Virginia Allain)

Some families face a spartan Christmas, particularly if they are out of work. Thinking of that brought to mind a Christmas where the generosity of others saved our family from a bleak holiday.

cylde-and-cindy

An earlier Christmas in the Martin home – Cindy and Clyde. I’m sure Dad made the rocking horse in the picture.

My dad had been in a car accident and was hospitalized for almost six months. My mother was expecting and with five children to care for, she couldn’t go out and work. It looked like there would be few gifts and certainly, money couldn’t be wasted on a Christmas tree when there was barely food for the table.

When our school closed for the Christmas break, my fifth-grade teacher brought the tree from the classroom to our house. Also that week, some kind soul left a box filled with holiday foods on our front porch.

It must have been a frightening and sad time for my mother trying to cope with it all. I’m thankful that the second-hand tree and the food brought some Christmas spirit to our home that year.

When I shared this memory with my younger sister, Karen, she said,

“I would have been 5 that Christmas. Don’t remember any of those things! That was in the days when kids weren’t allowed to visit in the hospital, so I remember not seeing Dad for a long time. The father of another kid in the neighborhood was an over-the-road truck driver–I remember thinking maybe that’s what my Dad was doing since he was gone for so long.”