Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater

It came to me like a dream…a waking dream. For weeks I had, during daytime hours, pondered what to do for my grandson for Christmas morning 2019. For some reason, I thought that this decision would lay down the tracks for every other decision I would make on his behalf for his entire lifetime. (Crazy, I know.) I don’t take my place as Gramma lightly, exemplified in my willingness to put myself out there as a bumble bee.  Isn’t my grandson handsome?

My mother had such a talent for sewing that for every Christmas and birthday, there were sure to be homemade gifts arrive in the mail or delivered, personally. They were tagged and finished beautifully, “To my Grand Daughter, with Love!” I follow in impressive footsteps. 

So, it was on a morning in October, that a waking dream came to me. I sleep in the deepest darkest lowest level of the house and it’s pretty cold at times. I was curled in snug under the covers, when ‘it’ came to me in half-sleep. “I could build my grandson a puppet theater!” I imagined him as he is now, watching his Mommy and Daddy being funny and laughing behind the stage…and then, with little friends, growing up…and then making hilarious fun as an upper elementary student…and then, possibly, with his life marked by all sorts of little stories that Mommy made up…and stories that he performed for evening entertainment, he might even take the puppet theater with him, after a long and probably painful storage dilemma between his Mom and Dad and him. Yes, I conjured all of this up in the rumblings of a dark morning in October.

When I woke and got up that morning, shuffling to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, I said aloud, “Gramma is going to make a puppet theater!”

It began with a plan.  I scoured Amazon, Ebay, Kijiji and puppet companies the world over.  Finally, I came up with a plan that I wanted to work with, a little homemade theater that I spotted on Kijiji.  If I had an interest in driving to the city of Lacombe to pick this one up for 100.00, it would have been easily revised.

But, nah…I would create something amazing, at least I would be the one with the vision!  In terms of tools, I just don’t have what it takes.  I needed to track down Santa’s helper, and quick!

After my communications with a high school shop teacher came up empty, I went to my go-to guy, Len, a neighbour who helps me with all sorts of odd jobs when I don’t have the tools necessary.  He works independently and I like to support him in his various efforts.

I took in account Steven’s height and the fact that I wanted at least one little friend to be able to participate with him during his childhood productions and so I drew up this plan.  Now, this wee sheet that was sketched out in my day timer was not so simple as it might appear!  Lots of thought went into this, so please, readers, don’t think that this came fleetingly!

Within a week or so…Len came up with some ideas of his own.  I talked to him about a concept of design that would align itself with Steven’s birthing songs and art…something to do with ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘An Octopus’s Garden’.  Insert music here.

I was pretty darned happy when Len and James brought the puppet theater off the truck and into the studio, even though the weight of this beast certainly didn’t mean that I would be moving it around a lot.  It would have to find itself a space and it was at this stage that I first became concerned that it might never really find its way into a forever-home.

Safe in my studio, I was able to begin measuring and planning for curtains, backdrops and decoration.  I began by applying two coats of primer.

In the evenings, I was bopping in and out of shops, planning and scheming a system that would work for the draperies.  I wanted them to mimic the velvet curtains I imagined in the grand theaters.  In the end, the installation of curtains ended up being so darned challenging.  This lady became one of my friends on this mission…taking several different exchanges as I would return rods…experiment…ask for help.

In the end I settled on these velour panels…and now, to seek out someone who might hem them up for me.

I won’t go into details (is this a detail?)…but, at one point, these small bits of hardware were purchased as a bit of an experiment.  I feature them here simply because the man who helped me in this department of the big box store, Home Depot, was such an angel and was seriously the greatest guy to talk to.  He was so excited about my ‘Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater’ project, that my problem-solving ended up being a huge conversation.  I just really treasure people like him and only regret that I didn’t ask his name.

I solicited a lovely high school student, Emmanuella, to sew the draperies, under the supervision of her Fashions teacher, Fierina.  Emmanuella has excelled in this area and advanced beyond all of the projects assigned.  It was a great idea for the both of us and I really enjoyed getting to know such a conscientious and beautiful person.

Rooting through my basement storage cupboard, I located some old tins of house paint and selected a colour that would help me achieve my underwater theme.

While pursuing the painting and project, I began to search out puppets.  Late into my evenings, I would explore on-line sites and finally decided to write a story about an Eagle Walk.  Ikea is the only store to have an eagle puppet, and ironically enough, I never did get myself to the store to purchase the puppet.  One day, perhaps. The eagle, therefore, was represented by a sound effect…very very cool!

Basically, I ended up purchasing puppets that I fell in love with, after exploring so many toy shops in town.  For the sake of this post, I have spared you archives for several locations.  It was actually Scholastic, on Macleod, where I tracked down chicken and monkey in a barrel, both two of my favourites.

I found a perfect stuffie border collie at the Goodwill store and at home, washed and dried it, gutted it, inserted a glove and created our Maxman character.  Thanks, James, for exploring so many stores with me, looking for the perfect puppet collection.

I began to decorate the puppet theater, first locating a dry erase board for puppet show announcements, at the Dollarama…hmmm…or did it end up being Staples? While at the dollar store, I picked up some rolls of ribbon, thinking I could create a celebratory effect by placing some of that here and there.  I am really NO DECORATOR!  Let’s face it, the greatest problem of them all was the curtain.  It was getting close to the wire, by this point, and while really wanting to pain scene backdrops for the theater, I let go of that project, thinking that this would be an idea for later gifts.

I painted a few bits onto the outside panels and opted to leave the front of the theater plane.  Embellishments definitely made a difference!

I think it was only a short time before the actual performance when I solicited the help of friends, Angela and Nigel, to create puppet figures for Doug, Erin, Gramma and Steven.  They came to our Christmas feast, with felt puppet figures in tow…and while Christmas went remarkably long due to an unforeseen crash by young Steven and a trip to the hospital so that his forehead might be taped back together…THE SHOW DID GO ON!  But…I get ‘A HEAD’ of myself here.

The puppet theater, at completion…

It was at the pre-function on Christmas day that the screenplay came to be created in a very collaborative way and with many laughs…all directed by our writer/editor in residence, my sister-friend, Karen.  The traditional big feast happened and then, interspersed with the drive to hospital and back, the $10 gift steal that happened incorrectly this year (and did I listen to the five people who tried to tell me?….next time, don’t be so polite), under my direction, the puppet show was set, complete with eagle sound effects provided by Tyler (mind you…the timing might have been a little off) and narration delivered, confidently, by Shawn (you are such a good sport!).

A small capture of that…

Sending love to all who helped this dream happen…

Somewhere out there, there is a video from this debut, but I don’t know where it is or if I have permission to share.  I just am grateful for Christmas magic.

I Did It My Way!

All in a Day's Work! June 25, 2011

It’s been days since writing and I wanted to let my readers know what I’ve been up to.  As per usual, I forgot to take a BEFORE photo of the backyard…let me look in my archives and see what I can find! 

Boardwalk to the Studio

Ah yes…here is a wee photo before building my boardwalk!  And yes, I did it myself!  It’s fun to look back and see the transformation!  And, apart from building the deck, I did all of the physical labour, myself!  From the beginning, I dreamed of having a place where I could grow both veggies and flowers.

My parents had always been the most remarkable gardeners!  Growing up with that experience certainly caused me to love being outdoors in the evenings, picking weeds before they became baobabs. And it is certainly one of the most relaxing times of the day, sipping a coffee in a backyard garden, while checking on the changes there.  I learned so much while building my first raised bed and purchased a good level, sledge hammer and got into buying neat drill bits of all sorts, so that I could pre-drill holes and set my reebar.

First Raised Bed

From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to plant ground cover and I am an avid rock collector, always have been and I wanted to display a variety of flat rock that came from many special places.

Initially, we set them out in dirt and through time I became really frustrated with the constant issue of weeds that grew up and interspersed with the ground cover and this is why, this spring, I decided to revise the layout of the back yard.  One of the problems was also, that I had placed our veggie garden down the center.  This was just NOT aesthetically sensible, although, highly functional!

Cayley and Mud Pies

My daughter, Cayley, was a ‘treasure’ as she created a patchwork of leveled rock in our first attempt.  It was so beautiful how the yard was changing!

Sometimes I consider moving into a smaller home, but as I look at the history of this place, it would be a very difficult thing to do.  We have created so many stories here, as a family!

Hmmm….I have to race off to church…more later! ;0)  (Funny how writing always carries me away!)  Ok….so, I’m back.  This is how the rocks looked before the ground cover and the weeds took over!  I can’t find a photograph of this overgrowth, likely because I really didn’t like it!  It didn’t matter how often I weeded, I couldn’t keep up.  Now that I hope to do a bit more traveling, I need something with less maintenance and so now I’ve floated the rocks on a bed of cedar shavings.  I love the smell of cedar and this is a big reminder of my Dad’s vegetable garden near Frankford, Ontario.

Cremona Rock: Step Down

It’s so much fun going through the old archives of this project!  The rocks were gathered up from Jack Pot, Nevada, the Teton River’s edge and a whole myriad of places from here to Mexico.  There are many memories, experiences and stories tied up with this garden!

The boardwalk was finished up.  When we visited my grandparents in the Magrath area, Grampa would take us out to the Hutterite Colonies in order to finish off his wool orders.  I loved the sound of shoes on  boardwalks. The buildings on the Colonies were edged with boardwalks and I remember that this is where mothers brushed out their daughters’ long hair, all bathed in evening-light. 

 As well, didn’t you love the sound of cowboy boots on boardwalks in those old cowboy- movies we used to see at the theaters?  Everything in my garden resonates with me!  I hold on to these stories because they cause me such happiness!   

Studio Boardwalk

When I moved here, the backyard was an empty canvas…clay overrun with weeds.  It has gradually become my oasis.  Since I tackled this project  on my own, it became a source of enjoyment.

Now, I love to spend time watching the birds at the bird-feeder and putting the finishing touches on things.  The catoni asters are no longer tiny sticks in the far left corner, instead they are becoming a frame for my ‘reading space’, a work still in progress.  I looked at early photographs of May, my Mayday tree, and now she stretches her arms up and becomes a place for the birds to rest.

As I move back into my day, curling up to a good book on a sunny afternoon, I am going to include  poetry by my favourite poet, e. e. cummings.  It is a poetic-sort of moment for me.

Laurie-dog Hangs Out