Sunday, December 23, 2012

Connections and Re-connections

            “Connective tissue forms a mechanical continuum, extending throughout the animal body even into the innermost parts of each cell.” ~Paul Gilley Yin Yoga, a Quiet Practice

            I bought this little book late last spring because my yoga teacher was pursuing other options, like a degree in art.  As I leafed through it, the quote above caught my eye.  “Isn’t that what my life is doing this year?” I thought.   And it is what my life has been up to this whole year!  Not just new connections, but reconnections with my past as well. 

            When, late last spring, I first began thinking of writing a blog about connections and reconnections, I wondered what else could happen this year since I had already made many new connections in the Storytelling World through conferences at LANES and Northlands; a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico with Jim May; and Facebook; reconnected with my storytelling mentor, Norma Livo; and with a tour through the state reconnected with some of the people from my life at Illinois College and in Rochelle, Illinois.

            What else indeed?  With more conferences and storytelling events (NSN, RMS, STNM), I made more connections and reconnections in the Storytelling World.  Connections that reaffirmed for me the importance of Story in my life.  I wrote about that in July.

Fischer Family Reunion
            Family is always and forever important, but when we disperse to the far corners of this large country of ours, it isn’t always easy to remain as connected as we were when young.  By year’s end I visited both my sisters and four of my special cousins, all from the same family. 
Friends from the past keep reappearing as if by magic.  My high school class has discovered the power of reconnecting through social media and with the diligence of one woman, with help from a few others, 115 out of 247 people have been “found.”   We’ve changed and grown over the many years that have stretched between high school graduation and social security.  It seems for the better. 
Writing and publishing a book (Old China through the Eyes of a Storyteller) has made connections too.  Connections to others who have a desire to know about China, to pass on a legacy to their adoptive children or have made a journey similar to mine. 

Reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has reconnected me to my intuitive self.  I found my way back to my real self, the person I was when I was 19 and realized I had walked down some paths where I should not have gone.

What I find fascinating is how doors that I never knew or even suspected were there, are opening, showing the way to growth.  I feel a part of a community as I never have before.  A community connected by life.  So that “mechanical continuum formed by connective tissue that extends into the innermost parts of each cell,” isn’t that what connections/reconnections do for each individual?  I think so…

© Julie Herrera 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tale of a Mouse's Foot Continued

In June I posted the follwoing:
"Last month, after I heard a mouse escaping from a trap we had set, I posted a Facebook comment about it.  Beginning below is the resulting story.  It is a rough draft, not finished yet. But for those who helped me write the story by commenting on my post, I present this as is.  Please let me know what you think.  How can I make it better?  If you who commented before do not see your piece of the story, it is coming next time."
This is next time!
A Tale of a Mouse’s Foot (Part 2)

          Above their heads, the Cats, Comet and Shadow were planning a party to which they texted a message to their friend Quandary who lived far away: “Dinner Party – Informal Dress – Menu: Mouse Pate” Quandary texted back: “Mouse Pate? Drool… I’ll be there even if I have to drag L along!”
Part 2
Shadow and Comet
           But before the Cats, Comet and Shadow, could even finish looking for Mouse Pate recipes in the cookbooks scattered across the floor there was a snap in the drawer!             “Another one!” purred Shadow.
          “Murow,” replied Comet flicking his tongue across his lips.  “Start texting again.”
          The collection of mice had grown fairly large.  The Cats were keeping them on ice so as not to stink up the house.  They did not want to live outside and knew when they had it made.  Finally they located a recipe in an obscure little cookbook that was shaped like a mouse.
          “After boiling for 10 minutes, skin, debone and mash 12 mice,” the recipe stated.  The Cats started banging pots and pans about in order to find just the right one.  “Do we have enough mice?” Comet asked.
          “Let me check,” Shadow said as she climbed into the freezer and started counting. “One, two, three, four, five, six… NO.”
          “Maybe we could supplement with fish.  There are fish in there too, aren’t there?”
          “Or we could serve two dishes.  First Course: Mouse Pate; Second Course: Fried Fish; with ice cream for dessert!  Yummmmmm!”
          “Let’s set a date and see if Quandary can make it,” suggested Comet.  “Maybe by that time we’ll have gotten some more mice.”
          Looking at the calendar hanging on the side of the fridge, the Cats chose two possible dates in mid fall and texted Q.  To which he replied, “The earlier the better, drool : b”
          But as the late summer leaves began to change color and the evenings had a decided chill in the air, no more mice ventured into the drawer.  “Where’d they all go?” the Cats asked one another.
          One evening while perched on the chair reading over the Two-legged’s shoulder, Shadow discovered where all the mice had gotten themselves off to.  That night she explained to Comet, “Those fool mice hitched-hiked all the way to New York state!”
          “How do you know?”
          “They found their way to Bear’s house.  And were caught sleeping in her bed!  I saw it on Facebook.”
          “Then of course it’s true,” stated Comet matter-of-factly.  “We’ll have to make do with the six we already have.  Too bad because both Q and I love to eat.”
          Quandary and L finally made the pilgrimage south and the three Cats had a fine dinner of Mouse Pate, Fried Fish and Ice Cream for dessert while the Two-leggeds went off to enjoy stories at the TaosStorytelling Festival.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

            Thinking about my friend Mary Motz and the annual walk in memory of her daughter, Stephanie L. Miner, who lost her life to breast cancer made me think: most of us have a story about how breast cancer has affected our lives in one way or another.  Because this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s mine. 

Elsie Mae Andress
            Many years ago Rebecca Haifleigh Moss became afflicted with breast cancer.  As the disease progressed she needed special care.  Elise Mae Andress was hired to be her private duty nurse.  Elsie had wanted to be a nurse from the time she had to care for her whole family and the threshers when she was young.  But her family frowned upon nursing as a profession for “proper young women.”  Elsie became a teacher, saved her money, moved to Chicago and put herself through nursing school.
            While she was caring for Mrs. Moss, Elsie met her son, Will.  Will was smitten and started spending a lot of time with his mother just so he could see Elsie.  Finally he asked Elsie to marry him.  Elsie, who had chosen career over marriage years ago, told him, “I will marry you on two conditions.  One, I will not be a nursemaid to your mother.  Two, I will have a career.”  He gave her this beautiful coral necklace. 

            Will agreed to her conditions and so at age 30 Elsie Mae Andress became Elsie Mae Andress Moss.  She had three children in the next five years each born in a different place, while Will tried to decide where they should live and what he wanted to do with his life.  Norman, the youngest, was born in Gates Mills, Ohio, not far from the community of Chester.  Soon after his birth, Will bought an old barn and started a creamery.  The new business was named Moss Farm Dairy and the family moved into the old farmhouse.
Dora and Norman Moss
            Nancy, the middle child, followed her mother’s footsteps and went to nursing school.  There she met Dora Fischer.  She introduced Dora and her best friend to her younger brother, Norman, when Ciglinda needed a date.  But Norman (or Fritz) was more interested in Dora than his date.  He called the next week and they started seeing each other.  A few years later they were married on July 11.  (That’s 7-11; Norman chose the date.)

            Rebecca Haifliegh Moss was my great-grandmother.  Elsie Mae Andress and William Oscar Moss were my grandparents.  And Dora Fischer and Norman Moss were my parents.  So I am here because of breast cancer.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dreams Do Come True

          In the spring of 1969 as I filled out applications for teaching jobs, a difficult question for an eager young teacher-to-be to answer, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” needed a special answer.  I loved my student teaching position.  I hoped I would love my first teaching position.  But where did I see myself in ten years?  Hmmm?
Tilton School 2nd grade

              Thinking long and hard I wrote, “I plan to write a children’s book.  In ten years I see myself as a children’s author.”  That dream did not come true.  For ten years later, I was the mother of a toddler with another baby on the way.  What I had done was tell stories to my second grade classes and obtain my master’s degree with a dual emphasis on library and media.  But still I wanted to write.
Preschool Story Hour

My son's birthday party.
           My children grew.  The volunteer task of holding the preschool storytime at our public library was offerd.  It was fun, I told stories, learned finger plays and silly songs.  All the children loved what we did and I became a minor local celeb.  But still I wanted to write.

Telling stories at Ortega Middle School
            My children grew.   They started school, I obtained a position as secondary librarian in a nearby school district.  I taught students how to find information.  We used Billy Joel’sWeDidn't Start the Fireas a fun way to start the freshmen on the road to scholarship.  The middle-schoolers learned research through History Fair and Science Fair.  And I introduced storytelling to these students, who loved it.   But still I wanted to write.

            My children grew.   They entered secondary school.  I became the elementary school librarian.  I was back with children’s literature!  I told stories and read the latest new books to children ages four through ten.  And I taught them how to find information.  The internet entered our lives – email, lots of information at our fingertips.  But still I wanted to write.

            My children grew.   They attended the colleges of their choice, graduated and started their own lives.  Now I was working only with the upper grades.  I still told stories and read new books to the students.  We learned research skills by making science booklets for the kindergartners and first graders.  The internet grew more sophisticated.  So the students and I together learned how to sift through the myriads of stuff to find just what we needed.  The principal directed me to help with the gifted and talented program.  My partner and I worked on reading, poetry, math, science, computer skills and storytelling.  The storytellers told their stories to the kindergartners and first graders and learned the joy that comes with sharing a story well-told.  But still I wanted to write.
Telling stories for my grandson's class.

            My children grew.   One started a family of his own; the other traveled around the world.  I retired and was privileged to spend nine months with my grandsons - singing songs, reading books and telling stories.  The oldest had his public debut while singing a story song with me to a group of other children and their parents!  And I was writing!
            Following an NSN sponsored trip to China with other storytellers and my daughter where we collected and shared stories, I began to research the story-gifts we had been given.  I told them and worked those stories into versions of my own.  I wrote the stories down and changed them as they changed with the tellings.  There were workshops about writing and books to read about publishing.  Then, oh then, I was ready to find a publisher.  Query letters went out, and my friend and fellow-traveler, Judith Heineman, introduced me to Ted Parkhurst of Parkhurst Brothers, Inc.  He was interested!  And now, very shortly the finished product will be ready and available.  I did write a book, a book not only for children, but also for storytellers and story-lovers.  My Dream Came True!



Friday, August 17, 2012

High School Civics via Story

               Anecdotal Proof of Story in our lives abounds.  Here’s yet one more.  I am reading Kendall Haven’s ground breaking book Story Proof: the Science behind the Startling Power of Story.  He has been invited to be and accepted being the featured headliner for the Spring Storytelling Conference put on by Rocky Mountain Storytellers in April, 2013.  And because I am producing the conference, I have had the pleasure of email and a phone conversations with him.  Kendall is a very generous person when it comes to Story and his research.

Now to the anecdote.  The Conejos Writers’ Circle to which I belong met last night to share something we had written for guidance and critique.  Because I had recently gone through my files purging unneeded paper for recycling, and because of my recent conversations with Kendall, I thought of an old paper I had written as a senior for my high school civics class.  Which, yes, I still have although it is yellowed and frayed.  And which I did not purge.  Why?  Because of the written conversation recorded at the bottom.  My typed comment: “Mr. Staib, I hope you don’t think I’m trying to make this seem silly or something, because, well, I just thought perhaps a bit of humor might ease the reading of this report since you have to read two dozen on the same case.  To which he replied in red ink: “I much prefer a report in this manner than some of the rather unimaginative types!

“Oh my, what did she write about?” you may be thinking.  I have included the uncorrected highlights from the first page and a half of my story/report which is three 1.5 space full typed pages.

picture of Cuyahoga County Courthouse
 courtesy of the Alexander Hamilton Institute
Report Written for Third Period Civics Class, January 14, 1965

“Upon entering the Courthouse we congregated around the jury wheel.  Finally, after much expectant waiting, a little elderly man came to our rescue.  He explained about the jury wheel, which was beautifully carved out of lovely cherry-colored wood. …
“After he was done talking we were rescued (from him) and ushered into the elevators by another little elderly man.  …he led us into the main hall.  Here he left us and went to get some legal newspapers while we stood looking at the surroundings and talking.  He returned with the papers (all old copies) and passed them around.  (I wonder how many ever reached home.) … We were … instructed to keep very still upon entering the court room.
“The case I saw had just gotten started for the morning–in fact we saw the jury while we were waiting in the hall.  When we entered the doctor was on the witness stand.  He was being questioned by Mrs. Culver’s (her real name) lawyer.  It seems she had been injured in a car accident and he had examined her.  He established the fact that her injury most probably resulted from the accident. …
“Mrs. Culver’s lawyer was young.  He seemed to be just starting, for he had an older man with him whom he consulted many times.
“When he was done asking the doctor questions Mr. Page’s (his real name) lawyer, who was elderly and very sly, started asking tricky questions.  He got everything so twisted up that the young lawyer had a hard time straightening it out during the second questioning.  Many times during the questioning by Mr. Page’s lawyer the doctor seemed to be very annoyed.  He kept making faces at the jury which registered his annoyance at the lawyer’s intricate questions.
“After Mrs. Culver’s lawyer was done questioning him for a second time, the doctor was excused by the judge.  He left, very disturbed.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Family, A Community


The end of last month (June, 2012) a magical place was discovered along the Ohio River, just south of Cincinnati in Covington, KY.  A hollow tree?  A magic carpet?  A cottage in the woods?  No, a riverfront hotel where the keepers of story and stories came together for almost a week of fun, frolic, telling, listening, sharing, hugging, meeting, greeting, reminiscing.  It was the NSN (National Storytelling Network) Conference to Remember.

Two years ago, for the first time, I attended the NSN Conference in another magical place not too far from the Pacific Ocean – northern LA area.  I went knowing very few people.  I met storytellers from all over, I made new friends, I told some stories, I listened a lot, I stretched and grew and grew, and continued stretching and growing once I left that magical place by the sea.

What a journey it has been.  With breath-taking stops in other magical places - several places in Florida, Abilene, San Antonio, Albany and Lake Geneva - along with hours of writing; so I signed up for another magical ride.  And now I know who my Community is. I know where to find them. I know how to achieve my goals. I am full to the brim with the Joy of Story and Storytelling friends.  And to top it all off, I felt as if I had gone home when I arrived across the River from Cincinnati.  My Family was waiting, welcoming me with open arms.
  Here, in no particular order, are a few of the people who have touched my life so positively in the last two years.  Thank you to them and to the others who are not pictured here.  All these beautiful pictures were taken by Paul Porter at that Magical Place on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.  Thank you, Paul, for allowing me to share them with others.

Clockwise from the top David Claunch, Jim May, Noa Baum with Loren Neimi in the background, Lyn Ford, Charlotte Blake-Alston, Cathryn Fairlee, Mary Grace Ketner, Elizabeth Ellis and Megan Hicks just below.



Thursday, June 7, 2012

"A Tale of a Mouse's Foot" in the Making

Last month, after I heard a mouse escaping from a trap we had set, I posted a Facebook comment about it.  Beginning below is the resulting story.  It is a rough draft, not finished yet. But for those who helped me write the story by commenting on my post, I present this as is.  Please let me know what you think.  How can I make it better?  If you who commented before do not see your piece of the story, it is coming next time.

A Tale of a Mouse’s Foot
How Big, How Strong does a mouse have to be to pull a mousetrap up and out of a drawer and drop into the space below before escaping on three feet? Well, let me tell you all about it.
          To get away from the wind a cold, Father and Mother Mouse decided to squeeze into a cozy area just under the Big House.  “This will be the perfect place to set up housekeeping,” exclaimed Mother as she waddled about.

          “I’ll begin making a cozy nest right away so you can rest,” replied Father as he scurried around looking for bits of this and that.

          “I hope there are no cats around,” worried Mother.  “It would be nice to not have to worry about being caught as we forage for food.”

          “When we run out of the seeds I brought with us, I’ll go scout around at night.  It will be safer under cover of darkness,” Father offered.

          A few days later Father ventured forth, climbing up into a drawer lined with soft cloths.  “Ahhh,” he said, marking his territory.  “These may come in handy.  I wish I would’ve known they were here when I was building the nest.  Oh well, future reference and all that.”

          Father climbed over the side of the drawer and into a cupboard full of cleaning supplies.  “Not much here,” he commented sourly.

          On he went into the adjoining cupboard where there were a few crumbs to be had.  “Enough for tonight,” he commented as he retraced his steps with a mouthful of crumbs.

          The next two nights foraging wasn’t much better.  “These Two-leggeds are way too clean,” he complained to Mother when he returned with a pittance of crumbs.  “You need more food after all you are eating for many.”

          That night Mother Mouse welcomed their new young into the cozy nest.  Father was very proud of the brood; but worried about food, he left on another foraging trip without any more success than earlier in the night.  He didn’t tell Mother he had smelled Cat.

          The next few days proved difficult indeed.  Father, left the cozy area under the Big House and went foraging elsewhere, but the wind always drove him back before he had found much food.  “Poor, Mother,” he worried.  “What, oh, what can I do to ease her hunger pangs.  She has all those mouths to feed.  Oh, dear, oh dear…”

          Finally Father decided to go through the drawer again, which proved to be a decidedly wrong decision.  As Father stepped into the drawer, he noted the soft cloths were gone but saw there in front of him the biggest piece of cheese he had ever seen.  “This is more like it!” he muttered going for the cheese which proved to be fake.  “OUCH!” he screamed and something hit his foot.

          It was a metal bar that had caught his foot and held it tight.  Excruciating pain shot up through his leg.  Using his front feet and his one good back foot, Father crawled to the edge of the drawer.  He was being too noisy, he knew.  The strong smell of Cat just on the other side of the drawer drove him onward.  Up over the edge banging the trap as he climbed.  Something banged on the drawer and Father smelled a Two-legged.  He panicked and in that moment went hurtling over the side of the drawer into the space below.  As he landed the metal bar released the tiniest bit and Father escaped leaving behind his toes and a pool of blood.

          As Mother nursed his poor damaged foot, he wondered aloud, “Do you think I could write a story and become famous like the one we saw in that book we used a while back to make a nest in the other building?”

          “What book?” Mother looked up from washing his mangled foot.

          “Ouch.  Umm, please could you be a little gentler?”

          “We have to get it clean!” scolded Mother.  “Think about that book to take your mind off the pain.”

          “Oh right.  I think it was called something like Between a Rock and Hard Place or something like that.”

          “Oh that one,” stated Mother.  “It did make a good nest.  It was big enough to just snuggle right down inside once you chewed out a good place.  Did you actually read some of it?”

          “Yes,” admitted Father.  “That Two-legged who wrote it, Aron Ralston, he cut off his arm to save himself.  It was a cliff hanger.  I wonder if I could tell the story of my narrow escape and have a movie made about me?  Other mice have starred in films!”

          “Don’t be silly.  We have more important things to do like feeding our children!  With you in no condition to go look for food, I’ll go see if my brother can help us out.  You mind the children!”  And with that Mother slide through the opening into the blustery night.

          When she returned she had good news!  “My brother says he found a wonderful source of food in the other building, he’ll bring us some tomorrow night.  Brrr, it’s cold out there!” she snuggled up against Father as warmth seeped back into her delicate bones.

          Brother Mouse brought some food the next night and suggested, “Go looking for some little sticks you can use to fix up his foot.  Most Two-leggeds have some lying around.”

          “Good idea!” pronounced Father.  “Why don’t you two go see if you can find some while I watch the youngsters?  Just don’t try to get any of the monster cheese!”

          So off went Mother and Brother in search of sticks the Two-leggeds call toothpicks.

          A few days later, Brother didn’t show up with food.  “Oh no,” sighed Mother.  “I wonder what happened to him.  We must listen to see if we can learn anything from the Two-leggeds.”

          All day the mice listened carefully every time they heard the Two-leggeds conversing.  Laughing, one of the Two-leggeds said, “Another piece of the Mystery of the Mice.  But this one had all its toes.  I think it might have been stealing the birds’ food to help the injured mouse.”

          “Do mice have Mousey Hospitals?” asked another voice.  “Maybe the injured one is there learning to use his artificial limb made from toothpicks!  Ha, ha, ha!  Let’s check and see if any toothpicks missing?”

          “How do they figure these things out,” asked Father.

          “I don’t know,” sighed Mother.  “But it sounds as if Brother won’t be bringing us anymore of those seeds.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to make our home here.”

          Above their heads, the Cats, Comet and Shadow were planning a party to which they texted a message to their friend Quandary who lived far away: “Dinner Party – Informal Dress – Menu: Mouse Pate” Quandary texted back: “Mouse Pate? Drool… I’ll be there even if I have to drag L along!”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Giant Steps and Building Community

            Sometimes something happens that shakes the foundation of your life.  When that happens being open to a seismic shift works.

               The newest journey on my River of Life began last July when I picked up a flyer about a Storytelling Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico, led by storyteller Jim May.  Excitedly I contacted Jim and we kept in touch through the fall and winter.  When it was time to make actual travel plans, I found flights with a six hour wait time in Mexico City or Houston, TX, which threatened to stretch my air travel tolerance to the limit.  Ahhh, a former roommate lived in Houston.  Although we had not seen each other for 43 years, a quick email netted me a reprieve from airport boredom.  Elise and Joel picked us up at the airport.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch accompanied by wonderful conversation.  Hugs, farewells and promises to keep in touch followed.

               Now on with the journey.  Landing in Oaxaca, Mexico, I met Leslie who is a childhood friend of Cathryn Fairlee.  Anticipation at spending a week with one of my heroes seeped into my being.  As promised, this was going to be an epic Hero’s Journey.  Jim and Cathryn warmly greeted us at the door of Casa Colonial, our home for the week.

                Next morning the group assembled and under Jim’s guidance, we began building Our Supportive Community.  A varied group we were - teachers, best friends, storytellers, artists, all in search of a better, more productive self.  With ground rules set in place, each morning we told our stories, wrote in our journals, laughed, cried and made lasting friendships.  We opened up our lives to ourselves and Our Community.  We ended our week with a half hour coaching session involving all the members of our community.  I told the story I planned to tell in Denver the beginning of May. 
               Nan Seidler directed our artistic ventures in creating a representation of the week.  Using natural objects, seed pods, dried leaves, fallen flowers, mine was a representation of my life journey entitled, River of Life, with purple (my color) representing the highlights and its opposite color, orange, representing the parts where I faltered.  And those magenta colored flowers represent me as I travel forward.  The ladder is a Spirit Ladder which Nan makes.  She gifted a Spirit Ladder, which she says, “…are reminders that life is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one…,” to each of us.  Mine sits on my dresser to remind me each morning to look where I am going spiritually.
               Growth comes with a cost, but it is also necessary for survival.  My cost came in the form of revelations of experiences I usually don’t share.  Within the Community we had formed, revealing the truth of who I am was a nurturing rather than painful experience.   My gains far outweighed the cost which now seems minimal.  I gained a true confidence in myself as Storyteller, affirmation from people I admired.   This confidence translated into a beautiful World Tales Conference produced by Rocky Mountain Storytelling and recently held in Denver, CO. 
My part in producing the World Tales Conference was in gathering storytellers and workshop presenters.  We were able to broker a deal with Antonio Sacre who told a story about his family’s cultural past and presented his workshop “Finding and Telling Our Own Cultural Stories” in which he refers to Jim’s workshop.  We started the morning with Sacred Stories taking us around the world with tales from almost every continent.  Nervous energy propelled me forward onto the stage as emcee and last teller, telling a story gift given to me in Peru by Edit Nuan͂es.  I was thrilled at how well everything fell into place, except for my dead car battery.  
               The Storytelling Community is one of the most nurturing, loving, friendly communities I have ever had the pleasure of joining.  Thank you to all the storytellers who have touched my life with theirs and made us better.

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