Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roll Out the Barrel, Beryl!

Happy birthday, Mommy. By popular request, here is a cute picture of you. Were you playing a polka?

Happy New Yera, Everybody!

Friday, December 4, 2009

"We have very busy lives--or we make them very busy. There is noise and activity everywhere. Few people know how to be still and find a quiet place within themselves. From that place of silence and stillness the creative forces emerge. There we find faith, hope, strength, and wisdom. Since childhood, however, we are taught to do things. Our heads are full of noise. Silence and solitude scare most of us."

~Isabel Allende

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

From the Middle of Me to the Middle of You - We Will Miss You, Brother Blue

Lately I've been thinking how everything in my whole life has led me to the place where I am now. (Duh.) Everything is suddenly connected. Summer campfires of my childhood; stories, poems & songs that have stayed with me; learning how to sing in the church choir; painting pictures in my parents' basement while listening to recordings of people telling fairy tales on the record player over and over; crashing Memorial Day parades in whiteface; learning from my father that I am part of a long tradition of liars; vivid experiences that I've never forgotten; people who have inspired & touched me...

Brother Blue died this past Tuesday. Jeff got an email from a friend (thanks, Doug) and immediately forwarded it to me: Hugh M. Hill; weaved stories as Brother Blue - The Boston Globe

Twenty-five years ago I was going to a state college out in the middle of nowhere and I was pretty lost career wise. My parents wouldn't let me be a clown (I can't think why not!) so I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had transferred from a small, liberal arts college in my junior year because I thought a bigger school would have more interesting majors. It didn't. It only had less interesting professors.

[Footnote: In my senior year the school forced me to declare a major in order to graduate. I looked at my transcripts to see if I had enough credits in any one subject that would add up to a major and the winner was...English (!) with a minor in...French (!)]

It was the early 1980's. To me, it seemed like the only people who had a well-defined future were the business majors. I didn't really understand what "business" was, but I had this vague perception, whether it was true or not, that all of those people were going to grow up and be stuck in offices for the rest of their lives. In this vast wasteland of pseudo-academic boredom (the guy who taught Shakespeare was a monochromatic, monotone nightmare) there were few glimmers of salvation.

The only class that I remember (I have, thankfully, blotted out most eveything else) was Francelia Butler's Kiddie Lit class, famous as a "boat" (I guess because you could float through it - or did we maybe call it a "gut"?) and it was "taught" (or performed) by an army of TA's (Teaching Assistants) and special guest stars. Francelia herself (I just love saying Francelia!) and around 300 students sat in the stadium-style classroom and watched and laughed. I was very excited to learn from our class textbook, authored by Francelia, that one of my favorite childhood rhymes probably originated right where I grew up. Now that's relevant!

One event was a visit from Margaret Hamilton - c'mon, you know - the Wicked Witch of the West in the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz? She was around 80 years old at the time and she sat on stage and regaled us with stories about green makeup and the hidden trap door that helped her melt into the floor (common knowledge now, but then not so much.) I always remembered Hamilton's visit as a highlight of my college experience, but I had forgotten that this was a Kiddie Lit event until just a while ago when I read Francelia's obit. So all these years later, I'm just now realizing that Kiddie Lit helped save my life!!!!

The next semester I became a TA myself. That was the semester that Brother Blue came to class. Here was this man, dressed like some sort of crazy jester (he has been called a "bedecked, scat-speaking story spinner") who rattled stuff and used his voice like a musical instrument and he told the story of Miss Wonderlick and I was gone, man, solid gone!

Afterwards, we "insiders" were invited for lunch at Francelia's house with Brother Blue and his wife, but I was not really an insider and I didn't think of approaching him. I was too much in awe, and besides, in those days I hadn't yet realized that you are allowed to talk to people that you admire (I still have a hard time with that.) I watched him, fascinated, from the far end of the long table, as he ate his lunch and talked to the folks around him. He was super charged. He was still in costume and seemed unable or unwilling to come down from his performance and talk like a normal person. He talked like jazz music. He was insane. I didn't know what he was. I didn't know that he had a PhD. I only knew that he was Brother Blue with a blue butterfly painted on the palm of his hand.

I rediscovered Brother Blue about 15 years later. Connie Rockman had turned me on to storytelling (thanks, Connie!) and I was running a youth storytelling club. I was at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee and I saw this guy standing on the main street Connecting With People. It was him. That guy from my past. Brother Blue. I was so excited. Look! It's Brother Blue! Finally I knew what he was - it all became clear. Oh my gosh! He's a storyteller!

Fifteen years older and wiser, I seized the day. I photographed him.

I seem to remember that I introduced myself and told him how much his story had touched me all those years ago. I think that Jeff took our picture together, but maybe that's just a wishful remembrance. If I can find any photos, I'll post them.

So thank you, Brother Blue, for helping to make all my life a circle, sunrise and sundown, moon rolls thru the nighttime till the daybreak comes around. (sing it, Harry) All my life's a circle; But I can't tell you why; Season's spinning round again; The years keep rollin' by.

[Footnote: By this time, I had identified that unknown something inside of me that I had been wondering about. Kind of. Anyway. I think it was Storytelling. Or maybe Collage.] (hee hee)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In the House, Mouse? Part II

Remember this?

Well things have progressed quite a bit in the mouse department since then. I sent an email to Jeff about it and he insisted I share with y'all. So here.

No one came to wake me up this morning (Sailor jumped up to my bedroom
window to sniff once or twice, but no socializing other than a quick
knead) and no one came to investigate when I got up to go to the
bathroom. I went on a cat hunt and found Sailor hiding behind the sheer
curtain near the litter box behind the recliner. He looked very excited
(shh! I'm hiding!)

Got my breakfast ready and I had just grabbed two cans of cat food and a
spoon, when Sailor came running in from the porch with a mouse in his
mouth. He ran here and there in random fashion (where do I go what do I
do?!?) with Sissy close behind while I ran around closing doors (porch,
kitchen, bedroom) so that he could not escape to a dark, inaccessible

I grabbed a garbage can lid I GOT him by the arm chair. He dropped the
mouse and I put the lid over it. I picked Sailor up and scrunched him -
he was SO proud of himself - and told him what a good boy he is. And I
gave him and Sissy breakfast at their dishes. He took two bites and
then had to go back and investigate the garbage can lid, but finally I
was able to lock them in with their breakfast while I ate my breakfast
standing up in the kitchen and thought about how to get this mouse out
of the house.

Unlike our other recent rodential visitors, this one was very lively. I
could hear it squeaking from under the lid and every once in a while he
stuck his tail out. I didn't trust my good old glass jar method here.
Usually I'm able to lift the lid, clamp down over the weakened/dying
mouse with a glass jar and then slide a little piece of cardboard under
the jar to spirit the poor little guy up and away. This method won't
work with a very lively mouse. The other problem was that the garbage
can lid was so big that I had nothing big or flat enough to slide under
it (I don't have a cookie sheet and my art supplies were locked up with
the cats and I wasn't going there.) Finally, after I was well fed, I
took an old pizza box lid (thank heaven I hadn't been to the dump yet)
and slid it under the mouse's galvanized prison (after propping the back
door open to the outside and moving the whole caboodle right up to the
door jam.)

I managed to shimmy the cardboard under the lid and then I FLUNG it
toward the outside. Poor mouse landed on some leaves on my wooden deck
and sat there, stunned. I stepped outside, closed the screen door
behind me and used the pizza box to (gently) sweep mouse onto the
garbage can lid so that I could transport him to his new home in the
leaf pile that has been accumulating under the fallen ceiling inside the
barn. Hope he's ok.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's the Object, Science Project?

OK - I just spent way too much time over on my other blog and now I have no time left for any Morning Glory updates. Did you know that storytellers are extraordinarily busy in the autumn? Fall festivals, Halloween, etc. It's dizzying. In a good way.

Just for fun, here are some Perrigo scientists hard at work (chuckle chuckle) and I think that the red-haired guy looks like a younger and taller version of Phil:

I haven't done a lick of anything useful today.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Look in the Book, Schnook!

I keep forgetting that I co-authored a book. Jeff keeps reminding me. So I'm not really blowing my own horn here, I'm just using this space to keep track of myself. Back in the dark ages, Martha asked me to write Storycraft with her. The thing that I'm most proud of is the artwork. It's also still available from the publisher, so hey-why keep it a secret?

By the way, because of a youth storytelling club that I ran for five years, I'm quoted extensively in Children Tell Stories, by Beauty & the Beast Storytellers (Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton). I have never met Mitch and Martha, but I think that their coaching talents are evident from the photos of the children on the cover of their book. I'm honored that they invited me inside. Two whole pages (more or less) of fame!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Take a Chance, Hamster Dance!

For me, it all started back around the turn of the century when my cutting-edge sister was visiting with her laptop. We plugged into a telephone line and, amid much giggling, Julia turned me on to the original Hamster Dance. We listened to it a LOT (remember Sarah?)

Years later, it took me a very long time to track it down again because the original website (which I won't even dignify with a link) had, in the words of another fan, "'evolved' from pure simple joy to, to this this weird Livin-the-Vida-Alvin-and-the-Chipmonks-and-buy-the-CD thing." For those of you who need context, you can get the big picture here. Heaven's blessings fall upon Lee for being a visionary. He was the first person I'm aware of who thought to rescue one of my favorite memories by archiving it in his domain.

There is actually a really funny tribute on YouTube in which people of all ages dance for the camera in public places (airports, shopping malls, street corners, driveways, scenic overlooks, restrooms - obviously a lot of it was filmed on family vacations) and it is all set to the music of Hamster Dance. This is YouTube at its best; creativity, community, humor and family fun all come together here.

Thanks to Alice for suggesting that we all need some Hamster Dance!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How and Why, Butterfly? Part Two

Many, MANY educators are doing great things with Pourquoi stories in the classroom. This story form is easy to emulate and lots of fun. In fact, one of my childhood teachers (I wonder who?) used the theme for a creative writing unit. Somewhere in my vast collection of paper ephemera I probably have the story that I wrote. I remember that it is kind of Egyptian and involves both adultery (I read a lot of Greek myths when I was a kid - the philandering of Zeus and Aphrodite must have infiltrated my subconscious) and the origin of cats (big surprise!)

Anyway, I'm not trying to be comprehensive here. These are just a few of the creative people who have helped and inspired me with this workshop. I have provided links to the authors & artists when I think they are particularly interesting:

Nine-In-One Grr! Grr!: A Folktale from the Hmong People of Laos,
told by Blia Xiong and adapted by Cathy Spagnoli (Children’s Book Press, 1989)
I love the slightly befuddled tiger in this story and I love the sing-song refrain that she sings—you can really make it lilt and have the children sing along with you. I made a flannelboard for Nine-In-One and purposely made it primitive and cartoonish. The tiger resembles the cats I used to draw as a child—a big circle for the body, a little circle for the head and two triangles for ears. When I show this to kids, they instantly gain a lot of self confidence and lose any inhibitions they have about their drawing abilities!

How & Why Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read & Tell,
by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, (August House, 1999)
This book is one of several by Hamilton and Weiss, aka Beauty and the Beast Storytellers, which are written to help young people become storytellers. In fact, the audio version of this book showcases eight guest kid tellers ranging in age from nine to fourteen years. The book also happens to be a great resource for adult tellers. The stories are from cultures all over the world. Each story is no more than one or two pages in length and includes a short note "About the Story" and some "Tips for Telling".

Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum, 1989)
Native American cultures are a rich source of how & why stories. The authors provide thought-provoking activities as well as scientific information related to each story. Other books in this series include: Keepers of the Animals, Keepers of the Night, Keepers of Life.

Folktale Themes and Activities for Children, Volume 1: Pourquoi Tales,
by Anne Marie Kraus (Libraries Unlimited, 1998)
This book is part of the Teacher Idea Press “Learning Through Folklore Series” and the author has packed this book with fun and useful activities. Her annotated bibliography is cross-indexed by culture and by topic and gives enough myriad details to help you find just the right story for any program. She also addresses the fact that many how & why stories are still part of a living culture and she provides inspiration that should help workshop leaders convey a sense of respect for the original tellers of these tales. On page 49 she shares various ways that pourquoi stories can be used to involve children in group storytelling. See also pp. 32-34.

Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (Doubleday, 1962)
This is a favorite childhood book for myself and for many other people (yes-it’s the tall orange and yellow book with the horses on the cover.) You may be tempted to discount Greek myths for a how & why program because they are too “overdone” or “not primitive enough.” I however, find Greek mythology to be a very satisfying source of pourquoi stories. If I have extra time left over at the end of a program, I like to tell the story of hundred-eyed Argus, Hera’s faithful servant who died while serving her. To memorialize him, Hera, queen of the gods, caused the eyes of Argus to appear on the tail of the peacock.

Landscape, sound recording by Coyote Oldman (Xenotrope Music-BMI, 1988)
Coyote Oldman is Michael Graham Allen and Barry Stramp. These musicians create atmospheric melodies with primitive flutes, bells and pan pipes. Use this recording, or one like it, as background music for the Time Travel exercise. The first track, “People of the Glacier” is almost fourteen minutes long and provides ample time for a group leader to narrate a journey back through the ages.

Changes: Native American Flute Music, sound recording by R. Carlos Nakai (Canyon Records, 1983)
R. Carlos Nakai is of Navajo-Ute heritage and has become well known for his personal musical interpretations using traditional musical forms of the Native peoples of North America. Nakai’s recordings are relatively easy to find. The selections here are quiet and haunting and many of them were composed outside in the open air. For me, these pieces truly evoke an earlier time; the flute is the only instrument used and it echoes as if it is being played in a desert canyon.

“Teaching With Pourquoi Tales,” by Kama Einhorn & Dana Truby, Scholastic Instructor, April 2001, pp. 51-54

Multicultural Folktales: Stories to Tell Young Children,
by Judy Sierra (Oryx, 1991)
I'm not sure, but I think this contains a useful concise section on telling stories with flannelboards. Anyway, it's a good book.

The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, by Judy Sierra (H. W. Wilson; 2nd Revised edition, 1997)
Judy Sierra expands on her earlier work describing construction and use of flannelboards for storytelling.

Soapbox moment: Don't forget to check at your local library for some of these books. Even if your library doesn't own them, they should still be able to borrow them for you through the magic of interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan (in which your library finds a book at another library, the other library sends it to your library, you borrow the book and read it, you return the book to your library and your library sends it back where it came from) is a library service that has been around for at least 100 years and is still going strong. So USE it! Your tax dollars at work, folks! (I know that I'm preaching to the choir with a lot of you. Why else would you even be here?)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Show Us the Way, Jay

Storyteller Jay O'Callahan specializes in telling original stories based on history and on his personal experiences. He is not at all folksy. He is often more like an actor performing a scripted one-man show. One of his characters that I love is the flamboyant Mrs. Lawrence in "Electra" from his Pill Hill Quartet recording. The link is from Jay's website and I don't know how long it will last, so grab on while you can. (Just click on the word "Electra", Uncle Fred!) If you like to listen to stories, check out the new category in the column to the right of your screen: Stories for Listening.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I wanted to get this out before the day is over. When Jeff and I were at the 9/11 Memorial in Jersey City a couple weeks ago and he took this beautiful and terrible photograph.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tell Us the Truth, Ruth, Part 1

From Ruth Sawyer's The Way of the Storyteller (Viking Press, 1942):

"Storytelling is a folk art. To approach it with the feelings and the ideas of an intellectual or sophisticate is at once to drive it under the domination of mind and critical sense. All folk-arts have grown out of the primal urge to give tongue to what has been seen, heard, experienced. They have been motivated by simple, direct folk-emotions, by imagination; they have been shaped by folk wisdom. To bring a sophisticated attitude to a folk art is to jeopardize it. Or rather, it is to make it into something that it is not. To the unpracticed, unthinking public there is no difference between dramatic reading, recitation, and storytelling. But to one who knows, dramatic reading and recitation belong to a comparatively modern and sophisticated age, and storytelling is one of the oldest traditional arts, having its roots in the art of articulate expression. I think is is a common experience among storytellers of long standing to have the millstones of dramatic reading and recitation hung about their necks. Sometimes worse. The wife of a university president once said to me: "I haven't any parlor tricks. I wish you'd stay a week and give me some lessons in storytelling."

Of course, isn't the very act of reading a book about storytelling kind of like copping the attitude of "an intellectual or sophisticate"? OMG, I've corrupted myself!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Go to Jersey City, Smitty!

I'm feeling very Matriotic. So there.

She walks.

Storm clouds flee Miss Liberty.

9/11 Memorial in Jersey City - We visited on a quiet Sunday morning.

View of Manhattan from Liberty State Park - Love the truck.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bake a Beet, Pete!

I just spent an utterly blissful morning cooking vegetables from my father's garden. If, like me, you have too much shade to grow a vegetable garden (and you don't want to get into all the craziness of using artificial light) get thee to a farmer's market or make friends with a gardener NOW. The summer harvest is upon us!

I couldn't have done so well without Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (published by Macmillan, 1998.)

Here's a sampling of the riches:

- Slow-cooked pole beans boiled (yes BOILED, you snobs!) in olive oil and water with fresh scallions and chopped yellow tomato (based on the recipe on pages 577-578.)

- Steamed (there, is that better?) green beans, tiny and fresh off the bush (no recipe needed!)

- Yellow squash medallions sauteed in butter (NOT olive oil) with salt & pepper, finished off with a dollop of honey and a handful of fresh chopped parsley (based on the recipe on page 607.)

- Steamed beet greens (verified my steaming instincts on page 540-basic information about beets; page 557-did you know that Swiss Chard is a beet green?; and page 604-the basic directions for steaming spinach.)

- Baked (BAKED!) beets, wrapped individually in foil and baked at 400F degrees for over one hour (page 541-these were so good that I had three of them for breakfast, and if Julia is reading this, I know that the gag reflex is making her head pop off!)

There you have it, folks! Food, real food, fresh from the garden of a Master Gardener (I hope he's having fun kayaking right now...)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How and Why, Butterfly? Part One

Here's the story...I've been mentoring youth storytellers for ten years now. I ran a youth storytelling club for five years and it was exhausting! I loved it, but I had to stop because it was too all consuming. When I said goodbye to the club, I resolved to come up with a different way to help kids tell stories.

My friend Karen did a puppetry workshop that inspired me to try something new. Karen is an artist, a professionally-trained puppeteer and a very efficient person. In less than one hour, she guided a group of ten or 15 children through manufacturing and manipulating their very own shadow puppets. Pretty normal so far, right? Here's the fun part - at the end of the workshop, family, friends and innocent bystanders were invited in and each and every young puppeteer had the chance to perform in front of a live audience. I was wowed. I stole Karen's idea.

Why Oak Trees Drop Acorns,
by Victoria

So now I run isolated workshops twice a year or so, and I do a lot of activities with local Scout groups to help them earn storytelling badges and such. It is SO much fun, and not at all like school (no offense to all the wonderful language arts teachers in the world.) These are notes from my first workshop five years ago (March 2004). It was at a local education event for gifted children and their families. The children in my workshops were in grades two and three. I have scattered some of their beautiful artwork throughout this post.

Pizza Box Pourquoi Stories

Summary/Publicity Blurb

How did zebras get their stripes? Why do roses smell so sweet? Journey back in time and learn the ancient art of telling "How & Why" stories. Create your very own Pizza Box Story to share. Family and friends are invited to a performance at the end of this one-hour workshop.

An Australian Miracle:
How Platypuses Were Made,
by Ryder

Introduction :00- :05

Sit on a blanket on the floor in a circle (using a blanket helps define the space.) Have each child share their name with the group and name a favorite animal.

The Talking Box Game :05 - :10

Before the program prepare a box full of objects. Each object will represent some aspect of human communication. Try to have at least one object for each child plus some extras. Some of the objects can represent more than one thing.

Red wax candy lips can represent the human mouth & voice, or you can make a “cootie catcher” out of red paper (see Resources in my next post.) Use a pair of gloves (preferably stuffed to make them 3-D!) for human hands or sign language. Below is just a partial list of ideas. New technology is changing communication forms very quickly, so you should update this game periodically if you plan on using it often.

- Literature = book
- Hand writing = pen, pencil
- Art = crayon, paintbrush, painting (or maybe a picture of a pictograph)
- Mail = a stamped, addressed envelope
- Television & Motion Pictures = a videodisc (DVD)
- Radio = a small radio or personal stereo
- Symbolism = a flag
- Signals = a flashlight or emergency beam
- Music = a small drum, other musical instruments, audiocassettes, CD’s
- Computers, Internet & email = compact disk (or other storage device) , computer mouse, hand-held computer, etc.
- Telephone = telephone!
- Flag = symbolism
- Coin = Money ('cause money talks!)

Playing the Game:

Sit together in a circle. Introduce the Talking Box and explain that everything in the box has to do with how people talk to each other in different ways. Don’t show anyone what is inside. Ask the group to think of different ways that people communicate. You may need to ask specific questions to get things going (How do people talk? Can you think of different ways that people communicate?) and give an example if necessary (people speak, people send letters.) Make it like a guessing game. Each time someone guesses something find a matching object in the Talking Box and give it to that person. If necessary, keep the momentum going by posing a greater challenge (Can you think of something that I didn’t think to put in the box?) Keep everyone guessing until everyone in the group holds an object or until the box is empty. Now reverse. Ask the group to give back to you any object that uses electricity (or needs electricity to be used.) Put those objects back in the box. Next have everyone return any object that people made or invented. Give everyone a moment to examine the objects what is left. What are we left with? The only things that you really need for storytelling or-the most elemental things that people use for storytelling--HANDS & VOICE!

How the Raccoon Got Rings Around His Eyes,
by Emily

Time Travel Activity with Story #1 :10 - :20
Instruct everyone to lie down (or put their heads on their desks) and close their eyes. Play some soft music in the background--I like “People of the Glacier” by Coyote Oldman (see Resources)--and use your voice to bring everyone on a journey back through time. Include any or all of the following elements, moving progressively farther back in time (prehistory is your goal):

Imagine you have gone back one year in time. You are one year younger than you are now. How is your life different? Were you living in a different place? Was your family smaller? Maybe you’ve gotten a pet since then, or a new baby brother or sister. Was your teacher different? Now imagine that you are much younger. Maybe you can remember your first day of school or your first big birthday party and now go back to your earliest memory. Now travel back to a time that is too early for you to remember because you were just a little baby. And now we’ve gone back even further, to a time before you were born. Maybe your parents haven’t even met each other yet. And now your parents are children and now we are going to start traveling much faster to a time before your parents were born and your grandparents are children. Let’s travel back to a time before there were computers and television. And now we don’t have telephones or even electricity. We are using oil lamps and candles for light at night. And now it is a time before we even had lamps, before people discovered fire….before the first drum was made. It is nighttime and we are huddled together in a cave. It is so dark that we can’t even see each other. And now I’m going to tell you a story. (Here you should gradually lower the volume of the music and then turn it off entirely.) This is a story about that long ago time when the sky was much closer to the earth than it is today…

End with a pourquoi story. If the group is restless at this point allow them to sit up. Otherwise, just let them relax with their eyes closed and enjoy the story. I like to tell Nine-In-One Grr! Grr, a Hmong folktale about the adventures of the world’s first tiger (see Resources in an upcoming post, "How & Why, Butterfly? Part Two".)

How the Cheese Got Its Holes,
by John

What is a POURQUOI story? :20 - :25
Discuss how & why stories. Does anyone in the group know French? “Pourquoi” is the French word for “why.” Pourquoi stories—or “how & why stories”--are among the oldest stories on earth. The very earliest people asked the same questions that we still ask today: Why is the sky blue? Why do crickets chirp? They thought very hard about the HOW and the WHY behind everything in the world around them. This infancy of scientific thought resulted in many wonderful stories containing much wisdom and insight, so pourquoi stories are still very relevant to people today. Best of all, it’s very easy to invent new stories just for fun.

How Rabbit Got His Short Tail,
by Miss Lynne

Flannelboard Demo with Story #2 :25 - :30
Tell another story, this time using a pizza box flannelboard with characters that you have made in advance (see directions below) and stored inside the box. Prop open the pizza box with a stick so that the top faces the audience. The top of the pizza box is covered with black flannel attached with Velcro so you can detach the flannel and store it inside the box when you are not using it. This is a demonstration for the children to emulate, so the story you choose should highlight the essential simplicity of how & why stories. I like to use “Rabbit Counts the Crocodiles” from How & Why Stories, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (see “Resources”). Create no more than three flannelboard characters and make sure to point out afterwards that a good story doesn’t need a cast of thousands. For this flannelboard I made one piece with a picture of Crocodile and two pieces representing Rabbit—one with a long, bushy tail and one with a short, puffy tail.

Idea Hat :30 - :40
Explain to the children that they are going to create their very own pourquoi stories and that they can make a pizza box flannelboard. Give the children some time to think of a story. They can follow these steps:

Start with something that is true today. (Rabbits have short, puffy tails.)
How might it have been different long ago? (Rabbits used to have long, bushy tails.)
What might have caused the change? (What caused rabbit’s tail to become short?)

An idea hat can help this process. Before the program, write individual story ideas on separate pieces of paper, fold them up and stuff them in to a hat, bag, or box (a really tall wizard hat is fun.) A child who is stuck for an idea can simply reach in to the hat and pull one out. They can keep picking until they find an idea they like. Make sure you have plenty!

Why the Man's on the Moon,
by Gabby

Here are some ideas (find more in books listed in the Resources section):

How did rabbits get long ears?
Why are strawberries red?
How did raccoons get rings around their eyes?
Why is the sky blue?
Why do skunks smell?
Why do dogs chase cats?
How did deer get antlers?
Why is the sky faraway?
Why do we have night and day?
Why are crows black?
How did raccoons get rings around their eyes?
How did people learn to sing?
Why is the sea salty?
Why do owls only come out at night?

Making Pizza Box Flannelboards :40 - 1:00
It’s helpful to have another adult available who can handle a hot iron.
Play music while the children work--native American flute music works very well because it’s evocative, yet non-intrusive (see “Resources”).

Materials for one flannelboard:
- One large pizza box
- One piece of black flannel approximately 18” square.
This should cover the top of the pizza box and is handy to buy by the yard at a fabric store. Cutting the flannel to size is easy if you have it cut from a 36”-wide bolt.
- Three pieces of oval-shaped pellon fabric, also known as inner facing. (did I get this from a book by Judy Sierra?) Buy yardage of the heaviest weight available and cut it into 6-8” squares before cutting off the corners to make rounded pieces. Three pieces should be able to fit comfortably on the top of the pizza box without overlapping.
- Four sets of self adhesive velcro (both sides), approximately 1” across
- Set of fabric crayons/pastels
Use the kind that can be made permanent by laying a sheet of paper over the fabric drawing and pressing with a hot iron until the drawing bleeds through. Older kids can use permanent markers instead.
- Wooden stick or dowel approximately 18” long (long enough to prop open a pizza box lid almost upright, but short enough to be stored inside a closed pizza box)

Other supplies:
- A household iron
- An ironing board or a thick piece of folded fabric which can be ironed on safely
- blank sheets of paper for ironing images on to pellon (each to be used only once)

Why Strawberries Are Red,
by Megan

Putting it all together:
Give each child three pieces of pre-cut pellon fabric on which to draw the characters in their stories. If your time is limited and if the pizza boxes are still flattened, construct them while the children draw. Set up a station for the hot iron in a secluded corner of the room for safety. When the children are nearly finished drawing, warm up the iron. Have the children come to the ironing station with their finished drawings to have them pressed under a sheet of paper. Each child then receives the rest of the materials to complete their pizza story box. Have them affix the adhesive backing of four pieces of Velcro to the four corners of the pizza box. Take the matching four pieces of Velcro and lay them on top of their opposites with the sticky back facing up. Help each child (it’s easier with two people) lay the square of black flannel across the top of the pizza box. Press down on the four corners so that the flannel sticks to the sticky back of the Velcro and it’s done!

Share Stories 1:00 - 1:30
Anyone who finishes early can pair up to practice their stories on each other. When everyone is finished, allow time for each child to stand up in front of the group and tell their story using their flannelboard.

Photograph flannelboards to put on school or library website. Make sure to slip a copy of the web address into each of the pizza boxes so the children have a chance to view their artwork from home on the Internet.

I have also done this workshop using much less expensive materials. Give each child three 3x5 cards for creating their stories. When they have finished drawing, give them some masking tape and provide a surface--a whiteboard, a kitchen cabinet, etc.--where they can face an audience and tell their stories.

More ideas:
Group Storytelling-
Most children are unfamiliar with the old-time game of Round Robin storytelling. They don’t seem to have any trouble starting a story, but as they jump from person to person they sometimes have trouble sustaining the narrative (“Use verbs!” I shout. “Use action words!” I dream of someday experiencing a rousing session that is just as creative and silly as the scene in Little Women where Jo and her family and friends play Round Robin.) The most successful Round Robin sessions I have had with children occur when I provide some sort of framework. Have a blackboard, whiteboard or flipchart handy. Have the children brainstorm to make a list of elements that they would like to include in a group story, but don’t let them fill in the details about the action yet. Help them out by asking questions: What should our story be about? Should it be an animal? Should it be a thing? What is that thing like today? Is there something about it that may have been different a long time ago? How was it different?

Sit in a circle and have someone start the story. Each person should try to leave off at a suspenseful moment and let the next person pick up the story at that point. You never know what kind of fabulous story you might end up with, so you might want to record the session (audio or video) and listen the the playback together.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Watcha Thinkin', Lincoln?

We went to Washington, D.C. to visit Julia and to see the sights.
(Hooray for my sister the Cruise Director!)

We ate hotdogs on the way.

Daddy took a picture of me crying as I read the Gettysburg Address.
(The effect is ruined because he made me laugh.)

The Korean War Memorial is haunting. Those boys look so scared.
(Click on this guy's face for a closeup.)

This is Phil at the Korean Memorial, just a few minutes after the first of his many "Thank-you-for-your-service" experiences.
(Starting with that first nice young woman who approached him, he received many handshakes and thank you's throughout the day, which he handled quite gracefully after the surprise of the initial encounter.)

Don't even get me started on the Vietnam Memorial.

Our "official" trip portrait at the World War II memorial.
(Phillip, Sandra, Lynne, Beryl, Julia)

Mommy was inspired to borrow my camera to record this view.

Here she is framing her image.

I am just wild about Harry. Give 'em hell and all that. It's probably all David McCullough's fault. Anyway, Mommy appreciated the sentiment. (Hooray for the Canadians!)

Phil took this picture of Julia's feet.
(She walked miles in flimsy flip flops while we all sported more sensible footwear.)

Love the Metro.

Go you Cubs.

Poor Milton Bradley.

Visited family in Arlington on Sunday morning.

I took this picture of Phil & Julia's feet at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
(We have a genetic obsession with feet, maybe.)

I was photographing the Masonic Temple in Arlington when this guy walked into the shot. I looked at his website and it seems that he started out on his little walk from New York. (How often does that happen?)

(Hey, Julia, thanks for being a wonderful hostess. I decided not to use our original title for this post because when I tried to write it down it came out sounding a bit off color. Think about it...maybe use your spam blocker for inspiration.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Join the Gang, YinYang

Unbelievable. She sneaks up on him and compromises him in his sleepy vulnerability.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eat a Frito, Mosquito

I had a lovely hike today in Brett Woods, almost 200 acres of mostly wooded open space in Fairfield, Connecticut. Sat on a rock for a while, and also saw a mommy (or daddy) Great-Crested Flycatcher feeding her (or his) baby. Here's a beautiful photograph.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Keep in Touch, Dutch!

I got lots of great emails about the photos of Phil, Beryl and Sailor. I took the liberty of posting some of your notes as comments after those entries. Hope that's ok with y'all.

I also received some wonderful photographs.
Alice sent a lot of fun images from the last six months or so.
Here's one with her caption:

"Mommy got me a peticure, pretty color huh?"

My friend Ben collects cat photos (his mom tells me) so I created a new category here called "cats4ben". If you like pictures of cats, just click on cats4Bben (over in the right column, Mom!) to see posts with cat photos. If you'd like to share pictures of cats that you are actually acquainted with (there are already lots of cute cats out there on the Internet, so please don't send those - no need for us to reinvent the wheel) just email them to me and I'll post them here.

Jenni(fer) is going to kick off our new cats4ben series with CatFink the Supreme Ruler:

(and yes, he looks JUST like Sailor - probably inevitable that my earliest longtime friend and I would eventually end up with twin cats!)

Jenni says, "He was rescued out of a plastic bag in a dumpster (along w/his brothers and sisters) eight years ago (shudder). He's been reigning supreme ever since (nickname: The Dog). GRIN"

Will You Marry Me, Harry Carey (gee) ?

OK - It's supposed to rain more this weekend (jeez!) so I thought I'd give you all one of my favorite movies to watch. John Wayne is very appealing in this movie, but let's not forget what a cool dude is Harry Carey. He's also wonderful in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which you may remember him as the sympathetic but stern presiding officer of the Senate who sits up front with a gavel. He was a leading man himself in several cowboy movies during the early silent years of film and John Wayne really admired him. He's right up there on my short list of skinny old men that I love and would gladly marry. [The other people on this list include: Fred Astaire (dead), Pete Seeger (beautifully alive) and Leonard Everett Fisher (alive & well and living happily in my town with his lovely wife, so shhhhh!]

John Wayne produced this film himself and I think he did a pretty good job. He chose a nice simple story (innocent but clever Quaker girl falls in love with wild but good-hearted outlaw and reforms him), a beautiful and sweet leading lady and a good supporting cast (the doctor bugs me a bit, but I love Penny's family...and did I mention Harry Carey?) The opening scenes are filmed in Monument Valley (probably the Duke's little tribute to his friend, director John Ford) but then we switch to Sedona, Arizona. Now THAT'S a little town that has changed...nobody could go to Sedona to film a wide-open-spaces movie like this now.

The quality of the recording is fuzzy in the beginning and you have to wait a bit patiently for the movie to begin - hope it improves.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Need a Mitten, Kitten?

It's hard to believe that little baby Sailor (now known alternately as Demon Cat, Sailor Longpaws or Big-Ol'-Handsome-Man Cat) arrived two years ago today. It was a cold rainy midnight and he was under my truck in the driveway where my car headlights found him screaming for his mama. I had a split second to decide whether to brave the monsoon and rescue him or to let him fade off into the night. Thus do our lives change in a heartbeat.