Monday, March 31, 2014

Producing a Storytelling Conference

Two years ago in January, I stepped forward and said, “I’ll do it, if I have help.”  This was during a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Board.  I was new.

Ann Harding and John Stansfield enjoy a captivating moment.

What I said “Yes” to was producing the annual conference which is held the end of April or the beginning of May.  I’d never done anything like this before.  I lived 4.5 hours away from where the conference was held.  So I needed help.  Help with deciding who, what, when, where.  The rest of the board stepped in to help.  We pulled it off.

January is a bit late to plan a May conference, but we did it.  And I along with everyone else learned lots.

Things we learned that helped with the 2013 Conference:
Kendall Haven talks about the Power of Story.

  • Start early
    • We started planning at our June Retreat.
    • We chose a Featured Teller early.
  • Find a venue that is easily located.
    • Close to where people from out of town could stay.
  • Network
    • Use social Media
    • Promote at other conferences and events
  • Put out the Call for Proposals and have a committee help select the presenters.
    • Because of networking we received proposals from around Colorado as well as out of state.
    • A great group of people stepped forward to help select presenters.
  • Learn from the Masters of Production
    • I spoke with others who had produced conferences.
    • A good laugh is always fun!
      Loren Neimi gave me some mentoring time, and I read the on-line PRO-SIG guide.
  • Coordinate
  • Stretch and Grow
    • Don’t be afraid to try something new.
    • Be willing to chuck what doesn’t work and keep what does.

We tried a new venue – many years ago the conference was always held at a hotel.  So we looked for a hotel and found one.  We came up with a workable format.  More people stepped in to help with registration, on-site legwork, providing needed equipment…. 

Workshop on Telling Poetry
The 2013 Conference was better attended than the 2012 Conference.  We more than doubled the number of workshops.  We offered Continuing Education Credit as well as Graduate Credit through Adams State University.  We added a Friday night concert and a Saturday evening Salon where we discussed Story, storytelling and swapped a few stories.  Not everything was perfect by any means, but we were on the right track.

Most of the pictures throughout this blog are from the 2013 Conference. 

The 2014 Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference is coming up May 2 and 3.  We have interesting workshops planned, and Elizabeth Ellis is our feature Teller.  We’ve worked hard to make this a fun learning experience for Conference goers.  We’ve kept the things that worked – the format, the Concert, the Salon, Credit – both continuing education and graduate.  We’ve tried to correct those things which were not right last year.  We’ve added a Resource Area where members of Rocky Mountain Storytelling will have the ability to sell their CD’s and books.  Kevin Cordi has agreed to stay an extra day and help 15 people Play with Story.  We’d love to see you there!

Elizabeth Ellis and her Frog Prince (or maybe just a frog).
This year’s Conference is being held at the Clayton Learning Center in Denver, CO.  Information about the Clayton Center and the Best Western nearby (which offered us a good deal on lodging) is on Rocky Mountain Storytelling’s web page.

Join us if you can!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Learning from the Littlest Ones

Teaching Storytelling to Early Childhood Educators

3 Year Olds Enjoy a Story

As a storyteller I have worked periodically with preschoolers.  As a mom and grandma I have dealt with infancy through the preschool years.  However, this is not my area of expertise.

In May, 2013, the Lt. Governor of Colorado, Joe Garcia, whose interests lie with Early Childhood Education and Higher Education, visited the San Luis Valley where I lived.  He came to speak publicly about his interests.  Jackie Merrill, National Chair of Spellbinders®, urged me to go to the public meeting to discuss storytelling as a means of engaging the Littlest Ones.  She even put me in touch with the people in his office who could make this happen.

Through a series of emails, I was granted three minutes to talk in an open forum about Storytelling and Early Childhood Education.  I knew I did not have the background necessary to make the pitch; so I asked the Storytelling Community for help.  My help came mainly from Nicolette Heavey, who sent information and listened to my “speech.”  

Together we decided I would tell a teaser line of a story, give him printed data about everyone’s “story mind” and finish with the suggestion that all Early Childhood Educators have access to a class/workshop to enhance their storytelling skills.

Thus armed I went to the meeting with a friend.  Lt. Governor Garcia listened and so did the audience.  In the audience was the director of the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley.  She called me in June to arrange a speaking engagement for their Annual Meeting in August.  I needed to be more prepared; so at the National Storytelling Network Conference I attended Mij Byram’s workshop “Telling Little Ones and I Don’t Mean Lies.”  Mij also said she would help me prepare for the keynote speech.  But I fell and broke my foot and was in the hospital at the time of the meeting.

 That did not stop the director.  She then asked if I would teach a Continuing Education Class through Adams State University for Early Childhood Workers in the San Luis Valley.  I agreed; then got busy.  Busy reading what others said.  Busy talking again with both Nicolette and Mij.  By October 24, the date of the first class I was ready, and I was able to walk without the awkward boot on my foot.  The class was a success.  I believe I learned as much from my students and their students as they did from me.

Some of the things I learned: All children love listening to stories, participating in stories and telling their own stories.  Babies will listen to stories.  (That’s something I wish I’d discovered 36 years ago so my babies could have heard me tell them stories.)  Little Ones are enthusiastic story lovers!  It’s always good to stretch and grow.

The Call for Proposals came from the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference to be held in March, 2014, during this time.  My friend and fellow storyteller, Kate Lutz, urged me to send in a proposal.  I reduced the 15 hour class I was teaching to its core and sent in a proposal which was accepted.

The Conference was this past weekend.  The Workshop was an overwhelming success.  Most of the 90 seats in the room were full.  The comments afterward were positive.  I fervently hope those who attended have a new resolve to use storytelling more often in their work.  And I thank all those who helped me learn my lessons from the Littlest Ones among us.  It’s been a gratifying journey, one I am glad I agreed to undertake.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning to Slam

A Story Slam?  I’d heard of but never attended a Poetry Slam.  What’s a Story Slam?

This definition is from Norah Dooley of massmouth: “Based on a poetry Slam format and similar to American Idol, a story slam is a contest of words by known and undiscovered talent. massmouth posts a theme on its website and story slammers sign up on the night [of the Story Slam] to tell a 5-minute short story on the evening's theme, and a lucky eight to ten names will be drawn at random from a box. Other audience members may feel moved to join in on a judging team. There will be a team of 5 judges - interested amateurs, storytellers, theater people and anyone who loves stories. Each set of 5 stories will begin with a story by a sacrificial teller, usually one of the past winners. Listeners will be engaged in story improv games and other interactive entertainments between each 5 minute feature.

Each of the featured 5 minute stories is judged on how well it is told, how well it is constructed and how well the story explores, connects and/or reveals some truth about the theme and, how well it honors the time limit.  The 2 highest-scoring tellers and 1 Audience Choice are awarded prizes. … Prizes will be awarded at each slam.”

 Stories Slams were beginning to work their way into the venue of Storytelling Conferences, when I attended both Sharing the Fire produced by L.A.N.E.S. and the Northlands  Conference produced by the Northlands Storytelling Network.  I watched and listened as my friend, Judith Heineman, prepared her slam story for Sharing the Fire and wondered if I could tell a personal story in five minutes.  At the Northlands Conference, I was invited to be a “Judge-in-Training” which meant sitting with the judges next to Judy Sima so I could ask questions about what she was doing and what the numbers meant.  I learned that you don’t want to be the first contestant.

Set the mic on FIRE
 Also at the Northlands Conference, the audience was invited to participate by telling “Filler Stories,” a one minute anecdotal story on the theme.  Well, I had some of those in my back pocket, but would they fit the theme.  I pondered…  One of the contestants told a story about playing games with her father.  Ah Ha!  That was one I could do!  So I volunteered to tell while the real judges deliberated out in the hall.

Venturing to the stage I began my story of playing Monopoly with my dad almost every weekend in the winter.  It was a dual to the finish with Dad usually winning.  Finally I figured out what his strategy was, tried it; and found it worked.  Then the real battles began.  Many years later, while attending the International Science and Technology Fair with my daughter, I heard a young scientist explain his project: “Winning Monopoly” to the group of assembled students and their adult companions.  It was the same strategy Dad used and I copied – exactly!  Scientific Proof which validated one ten-year-old's creative thinking skills. 
I’ve expanded that one minute anecdotal story and am now waiting for another theme to be Right.  Searching through the anecdotes of one’s life can be likened to a Treasure Hunt.  Once the treasure is discovered, it takes building and paring to discover the essential truth of the story.  Both a challenge and a discipline in building a good story.  That, I think, is the pull of Story Slam.

Copyright 2014 Julie Moss Herrera. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Julie Moss Herrera.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Anatomy of a Poem

The Harvest Moon on September 13, 2013, was to be full and bright, only a storm threatened viewing.  When the moon rose full and orange in the eastern sky, I did not see it.  I was telling stories to eager faced elementary students, and besides a thunder storm was raging outside. 
But by the time the storytelling was over, so was the storm.  The clouds were drifting apart exposing the moon to the earth below.  After driving home with moonlight in my face, I wrote:

“Last night the goddess moon finally slid gracefully from beneath the tattered remnants of clouds from the earlier storm, hanging, a luminous bright alabaster globe in the sky, bathing the earth below with radiant light, as in the west a few hardy stars ventured forth to wink and blink among the wispy clouds still floating there, and to the south lightning backlit the turbulent clouds still threatening the mountains.”

“Poetic prose,” one of my friends wrote on my Facebook page.  “Could you turn it into a poem?”

Normally I do not write poetry, preferring prose; but I took the challenge and changed it a bit.

“Goddess Moon slides
Gracefully from beneath
Tattered remnants
Of passing storms. 

Hanging, luminous, bright
An alabaster globe
Bathing the earth in radiant light. 

Across the sky hardy stars wink, blink
Among wispy clouds
Still floating there. 

And near the mountains
Lightning flashes
Backlit clouds
Threaten rain.”

Yes, I said a bit, not nearly enough.  The friend who issued the challenge read it and made a few suggestions, leaving everything up to me, as it should be.  So after a few more Facebook chats the final product lies below:

Moon Goddess             

©Julie Herrera 2013

Goddess Moon
Glides beneath
Tattered remnants
Of passing storms,

Hanging – luminous
Alabaster globe
Bathing earth in
Radiant light.

Hardy stars across
The sky wink, blink
Amongst wispy clouds
Still floating there,

Above mountains
Lightning flickers,
Backlit clouds
Threaten rain.

All of that and a call for submissions for "The Conejos Writers’ Circle Book" prompted me to take another look at a longer poem I attempted to write a few years back which was rejected for different  anthology.  The two versions follow directly:


By Julie Herrera

When the darkness reaches forward gobbling up the light,
When the dull browns of the fields turn to gold and shadows lengthen,
When the clouds of dust on the dirt roads add to the beauty,

When wheeling flocks of raucous cranes and geese call to each other as they look for a place to settle for the night,
When some fly so close to the mountains, they look like the shadow of a giant helicopter, 
Only to be seen for what they are as they fly south far enough to leave the mountain aside,

When clouds go from white to bright yellow and gold to orange,
When the clouds fade to pink and grey sometimes with a violet cast,
When the Sangres turn pink,

When the sun gives one last glorious burst of color over the western mountains,
When the moon starts to brighten.

Then is a sense of peace,
Then is a time to reflect as the cares of the day slide from the shoulders,

Then is the most beautiful time of the day,
Then is a time to behold,
Then is a time to reflect on the beauty of nature,
Then is a time to see the wondrousness of God,

Then is the time called dusk.

©Julie Herrera 2013

When darkness reaches forward gobbling up the light,  
Sandhill cranes against the San Juan Mountains
Dull browns turn gold, shadows lengthen,  
Clouds of dust, beauty add;

When wheeling flocks of raucous cranes, geese
Call to one another looking for places,
Settle for the night;

When clouds turn bright yellow, gold and orange,
Colors fade to pink and grey, a violet cast,
The Sangres turn pink;
When last glorious color bursts over mountains,
The moon imperceptibly brightens.

Then comes a sense of peace,
Cares slide away,
Gaze at beauty.

Then, a time to contemplate,
A time named dusk.

So in writing a poem, I learned to tighten up the language, to cut out the unnecessary words.  It was a challenge and an exercise in discipline.  For instance in the Transition/Dusk piece what prompted me to write it all down in the first place was the cranes that “look like the shadow of a giant helicopter…”  As you can see when reading “Dusk” the helicopter of cranes is gone.  Writers must learn to “kill their darlings”; but one might also think of it as the darlings giving birth to an idea which needs to be molded, then they don’t have to be killed just given the
opportunity to grow and stretch, to become what they were intended to be.  After all that’s what we do with our children, isn’t it?

©Julie Moss Herrera 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Have you Ever Wondered Why There Is No Year of the Cat?

Fan showing the Chinese Zodiac
In Chinese Folklore, the story of how the Chinese Zodiac came into being tells about rivalry, competition and cooperation amongst the animals vying for an honored place in the zodiac.  If you are an aficionado of cats, you may ask yourself’ “Why no cats?  Isn’t the cat a lucky animal in Asian cultures?”


It is true that cats are considered lucky, especially in Japan where the maneki-neko or beckoning cat originated.   You may have seen a maneki-neko in Asian business establishments because it represents a wealth and prosperity feng shui cure.  If you know nothing about feng shui, it literally means wind and water, which we think of as harmony.  Practitioners of feng shui take the bagua, “a grid that reveals how the different areas of any building [or space] you occupy are connected to specific aspects of your life,” and place that grid over homes and businesses to let the owners know how to arrange their belongings to the best advantage.  So the maneki-neko in a business is placed near the entrance to welcome good customers; in a home it should be placed in the southeast (to the right of the entrance) part of the bagua, the wealth and money area. 


Jade Emperor
But to get back to the Chinese Zodiac story which begins with the Jade Emperor who ruled the Heavens.  On his birthday he arranged for a swimming race to be held across a fast running river.  The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would have a year of the zodiac named for them.

 Rat and Cat, good friends back then, were afraid they might not stand a chance as they were not good swimmers.  “Let’s ask Ox (water buffalo) for a ride!  He’s a wonderful swimmer.”  So they asked; and Ox, who was easy going and kind as well as a good swimmer, complied. 

 The river was swift and rather deep, but Ox was strong.  Rat and Cat cheered as he took the lead.  Close the far side of the river, Rat crept up behind Cat and suddenly pushed him into the water where Cat began to flounder.  Then climbing onto Ox’s head Rat jumped to the shore before Ox could step upon the land, and proudly presented himself to the Jade Emperor.

 “Ahhh...,” said the Jade Emperor. “The first year of the zodiac will be named after you, Rat.”

Calendar from May Wa Restaurant
Ox was tricked into second place, but he was content with the second year of the zodiac being named after him.  The rest of the animals followed in this order: Tiger, also a strong swimmer; Rabbit, who hopped across the river on stones and then floated on a log; Dragon, who was not first because he helped the others by providing rain and pushing Rabbit with a little extra breeze; Snake who rode across on Horse’s hoofs; Horse, who is now fearful of snakes; Goat, Monkey and Rooster, who shared a raft and arrived together; Dog, who had taken the time to bathe in the river; and Boar, who ate and rested before coming.  Twelve animals in all.

As for Cat, pushed into the water by Rat, he finally crawled out of the water wet and bedraggled, but was too late to have a year named after him.  Cat has taken his frustration out on Rat and his cousins the mice ever since.

(In some versions Rat promises to wake Cat; but fails to so, which is just as devastating to Cat.)   
So now you know why there is no Year of the Cat.  
 Some other interesting notes about Chinese New Year.  The Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar, thus changing from year to year as to when it begins.  The celebration lasts fifteen days, ending with the Lantern Festival.  The whole fifteen days are known as the Spring Festival.
This year begins on January 31.  It is year number 4712, the Year of the Horse.  Each animal has special characteristics attributed to it.  If you want to know what your zodiac animal is click here .  There are also other interesting articles about the Chinese Zodiac on this website.  Here's another website with fun activities.

Karen Chace, a storytelling friend, has a wonderful blog.  Click here for her offering of stories about horses.

Another interesting blog about the Year of the Horse can be found here.  To quote from it, "...grab a fistful of mane, hang on to the reins, cast your old cares to the wind and let out a whoop of delight–Yeeehaaw!"

Saturday, January 4, 2014


photo by paul davis
Redbirds a.k.a. Cardinals (cardinalis cardinalis) were frequent visitors to my home in northeastern Ohio where I grew up.  That bright flash of red announcing the male and his paler counterpart and mate.   They came in the winter to feast on seeds we left in the large feeder my father constructed.   The Redbirds were not alone, but they were the brightest spot in the feeder alongside the flashing blue of jays, the grays of juncos, the soft browns of sparrows and the stark black and white contrast of chickadees.  Even the brown fur of an occasional squirrel could be seen among the feathers. 


photo by paul davis
We watched, along with the cats, from the window as the flashing colors came and went all winter long.  Those winters were long in the Snowbelt that stretches between Cleveland, OH, and Buffalo, NY.  They were also gray on most days for the lake effect snows dumped plenty of white stuff on the ground which can’t be done on a bright, blue sky day.  But for all the stark trees against their background of white, always there was that flash of red.  A reminder that the world is not always seen in black and white and shades of gray.


photo by paul davis

Of course, we did not spend all our time sitting at the window watching the Redbirds and their friends.  Most weekends found us out-of-doors, bundled against the cold, riding down the big hill behind our house on our toboggan.  That was especially fun when Dad came along.  He was heavy enough to take the toboggan all the way to the creek that ran through the valley at the bottom of the hill.  Before the saplings were big enough to stop us with a BUMP, we came perilously close to a soaking on more than one occasion.  Winter birthday parties always ended up with rosy cheeks and cold noses, hands and feet, as well as a lot of whooping and hollering.  And hot chocolate when we finally went inside.  Still, sometimes, sometimes, there was a flash of red through the trees.

photo by paul davis

Once walking the back roads home after school through the muffled silence of big, fat, falling flakes of snow, a Redbird crossed over the road directly in front of me.  My friend saw it too.  We stood still in the gathering dark and watched as the red flash disappeared into the woods calling, “Whoit cheer, whoit cheer, cheer-cheer-cheer!”


I have lived in two of the seven (yes, seven!) states where the cardinal is the state bird – Ohio and Illinois.  Now I live in Colorado and have for over half my life.  I miss those flashes of red.  Yes, there is still a bird feeder outside the window.  It is visited by redwing blackbirds and sparrows mostly as the magpies prefer dog food over seeds.  But the bright flash of red is missing as cardinals do not live here. 

So I thank my friends who send their pictures my way brightening my winter days with a flash of red.

© Julie Herrera 2014
View my website at: