Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zip-piddy-do-da!

Zip-piddy-do-da!  Finished Done I did it!  I finished the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  I've been blogging sporadically for some time using random thoughts that sorta, kinda had something to do with storytelling. This month of daily blogging has taught me a number of things about blogging.

·       Blogs don’t have to be long.
·       There’s a lot to write about storytelling.
·       Pictures count.
·       Write from the heart.
·       Tell a story of some sort within the blog.
·       I’m pretty sure I can do this at least twice a month now.

I have to credit my friend and “alter-ego,” Pam Faro with getting me to do this challenge.  She did it last year in order to see if she could.  And she did.  And so I took on the challenge even though April is typically a very busy month for me.

I wrote a week’s worth of blogs in March just to get myself started.  I limited my word count to fewer than 300 (most of the time) which is hard for a wordy person to do.  I chose my daily subjects.  After looking at the daily subjects I chose the theme “It’s All about Story.”   As I wrote pictures came.  I became more familiar with Blogspot and found it easier to use as I became accustomed to the format.

So for the ending a very short story, one from my book, Old China through the Eyes of a Storyteller - The Snipe and the Mussel,”  a 2300 year old fable about cooperation.

A Snipe found a Clam on the beach and decided to eat it for lunch.  But the Clam would have none of it and clamped down hard on the Snipe’s long beak.  They pulled and tugged but neither could get away from the other. 
The Snipe, through his nose, told the Clam, “If you don’t let go there will be a dead clam on the beach tomorrow.”
To which the Clam retorted, through clenched shell, “If I don’t let go there will be a dead Snipe on the beach tomorrow too.”

They pulled and tugged but neither could get away from the other.  Then along came an unlucky fisherman who saw the tugging and pulling.  He laughed, calling them both bulls (stubborn).  Then had snipe and clam stew for dinner.

Y is for Young

Young children – meaning babyhood through toddlerhood – love to be told stories.  Of course the stories have to be short, involve things they know about and perhaps even involve lap sitting.  All these things I learned from the youngest among us.
Two years ago while attending a meeting with educators where Colorado's Lt Governor, Joe Garcia  was speaking (his two pet projects are Early Childhood Education and Higher Education), I was given three precious minutes to explain why storytelling is important in Early Childhood Education.  I spoke with storytellers who work with the youngest children and mapped out a plan for my three minute speech which went well. 

But not everything goes according to plan.  While the Lt Governor did not jump on the “Band Wagon,” the director of the San Luis Valley Early Childhood Education Council did.  The upshot being that I was to teach a college class in Storytelling for Early Childhood Educators.  The class was full.  The class was fun.  The instructor learned a lot.  And so did the students.

One thing we addressed was the Vocabulary Gap where we centered our discussion on the merits of storytelling in teaching vocabulary.  (More Vocabulary Gap websites here.)  It’s the second best way, you know, following closely on the heels of conversation to teach vocabulary.  It’s the eye contact, the closeness, the feeling of “I’m the one being paid attention to!”

So tell stores to the little ones in your life.  As they grow older they may ask you, as my grandsons ask me, “Read us a story from your head, Grandma.” or "Let's make up stories together!"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for X-traordinary

I know, I know some would call this cheating, but I really want to write about the extraordinary, okay?

Webster defines the prefix “extra” as “beyond” what the root word means.  So beyond ordinary.  Better than ordinary.  Most of the time ordinary is just fine, but sometimes, sometimes happenings come along that are so much more.  These happenings for me are like jewels, sparkling where you least expect them.

Love is one of those extraordinary happenings.  That’s Love with a capital ‘L’ not lust, not like, not “you’re fun to be with.”  I wrote earlier about unconditional love.  That’s the kind of love I’m talking about here.

I've experienced unconditional love in several ways.  From my parents, of course, they, as most parents do, loved their children no matter what we did.  For my children because I, as a parent and grandparent, love my children and grandchildren no matter what they do.

I believe in the Divine and the unconditional love that comes to all of us from our Great Creator who, like a parent loves us no matter what we do.  My daughter-in-law lent me a book to read titled When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life by Squire Rushnell.  This small volume speaks to how we can use the “untapped power of coincidence to vastly improve our lives.”

Then there’s the unconditional love or a partner.  I believe I've experienced this kind of love twice.  Once was many years ago when I was in high school.  The feelings I had lingered long past the time the relationship ended.  I thought perhaps the relationship might be rekindled when God winked almost three years ago.  But I’m not so good with long distance relationships.  But we are in touch and the friendship is there.

The other time began about a year ago when God winked again.  After shaky starts and stops, this time has blossomed into a real partnership of unconditional love.  I am so glad it’s finally my turn to experience the X-traordinary!  This story is still unfolding just as the path on the heart to the left keeps going.

Monday, April 27, 2015

V is for Variety

“Variety is the spice of life.”  William Cowper’s poem “The Task” (1785) contains that line.  And many times variety is the spice of life, until it becomes overwhelming because you may have tried too many different kinds of experiences or your life is too diverse.
What is too much for one may be extremely satisfying to another.  When I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at what is happening in my life, I step back and look at how I arrived at this impasse.  Usually it is my own doing since I have a tendency to say “Yes” more often than “No.”  Case in point: this month of April, 2015.

The first half of the month was doable – I was wearing the normal hats that I do quite often which I’m used to.  Some of my “normal” hats include Dance Partner, Radio Show Host, Rocky Mountain Storytelling Board Member, Program Director for the RMS Conference (May 1 & 2), Chef, Seamstress, Walker, and I added Blogger to that list by joining the A-Z Blogging Challenge.   

It looked like the latter half would be doable as well until I got a phone call and a text.  The first was an invitation to travel to Branson, CO.  (Yes, you read that right – Branson, CO.)  The school (50 students K-12) was having a Literacy Night and needed a speaker.  Since I am a rural area dweller and know first-hand how hard it is to get good people to come a distance, I said, “Yes.”  Storyteller Hat

Then my daughter-in-law texted me with an emergency “Grandma Request” – could I come up and take care of the boys for the end of the week?  Of course I said, “Yes!”  Grandma Hat

So for the past two weeks I have put a number of miles on my car, seen beautiful scenery and animals, traveled some paved back roads and added to my to-do list.  At least I’ve kept myself out of trouble and the weather cooperated.  I have two more weeks of wearing either my Storyteller Hat or my Grandma Hat almost non-stop and then …  Well, we’ll see what I say May 11.

W is for Witches

Witches?  Who are they really?  Why do they have such a bad reputation?  Do they really eat little children? 

Today we will look at one stereotypical witch – Baba Yaga.  Baba Yaga lives in the forests of Russia.  Her home is a hut standing on chicken feet which kneel down when she is home making it easy for her to exit and enter her home, and stand up when she is gone so that no one else can enter.  The hut has the ability to turn 3600 in order to welcome her home.  She has a cat and a dog.  Her legs are bony, her teeth are iron.  Supposedly she eats little children.  She flies about in a magic mortar which she steers with the pestle.  She sweeps her tracks away with her broom.  So do NOT venture out into the forest alone!

Where did my knowledge of Baba Yaga come from?  Jack and Jill magazine.  Back in the 1950’s, the children’s magazine ran a series on Baba Yaga which my mother read to my sisters and me.  I was so fascinated by all the magical things that Baba Yaga had in her life, they have stuck with me all these years.

I used this knowledge when I was a librarian.  We were not allowed to tell witch stories for Halloween; so I got around that by using two books – one with the fourth graders and one with the fifth graders to prove the need for research even when writing and illustrating picture books.

The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg was my choice for the fourth graders.  We briefly discussed the witch trials in Salem as background for the story.  I love Van Allsburg’s wordsmithing.  If you've never read any of his books, do; they’re worth the effort.

Eric Kimmel’s Baba Yaga was my choice for the fifth graders.  Megan Lloyd is the illustrator of this book.  Ms Lloyd, I’m afraid, did not do her research before making her illustrations.  As you can see from the cover of the book, Baba Yaga is flying on her broom and is perched precariously on a small mortar while waving the pestle in her hand.  And, yes, she‘s pretty high off the ground.  Yet when faced with a stream and a grove of trees she cannot fly over them.  Inconsistencies.  The house on chicken legs has steps leading into it and therefore cannot kneel nor turn in any direction without tearing them off.

I have a Russian friend who is going to give me more insight into the story of Baba Yaga.  And I love Patricia Polacco’s version of Babuska Baba Yaga. 

Witches are not all bad.  Sometimes they just know more, and are more in touch with nature than others; and long ago that was considered, by some men, to be a bad thing.  In some places that is true today.

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Unconditional Love

“If you wilt but stay as beautiful as you are today. I will love you forever,” the king told his queen. 
“And who shall judge my beauty?” she inquired of the king.
“Why I shall, of course,” was the reply.
“Will your standards for beauty change as you age?” she asked coquettishly.
“No!” he thundered.
And she wondered if the rewards of queenship were worth what lay ahead.

That passage is not from any story I am familiar with, but it is said in a variety of situations and with a variety of words day after day after day.

Unconditional love does not use the word “If”.  Near on 60 years ago there was a man who showed me what unconditional love for a woman looked like.  My grandparents were making one of their rare visits to our home.  Both Grandma and Grandpa were in the living room with me when Grandma got up and left to go help my mom in the kitchen.  As she left the room, Grandpa turned to me and said, “There goes the most beautiful woman in the world!”

I’d always thought of my grandparents as old, although in the little story above they were probably around the age I am now (and of course I’m not old!).  To my young eyes Grandma did not have any of the attributes the magazine ads and TV touted as beautiful, but in Grandpa’s eyes she was and always had been from the moment he met her, the most beautiful woman in the world.

Their love story was just as beautiful.  They’d never told it to their children, but one winter afternoon in the late 1960’s when two of my cousins and I were exploring the attic with them, the Romantic (Grandpa) told us the story.  We sat still, drinking in the tale we’d never heard before and loving every detail.  It was so much better than the story we’d been hearing all our lives – “I couldn’t teach her math so I had to marry her.”  He told about the “pursuit,” the proposal, the acceptance and the unconditional love.  Ahhhh, yes, that special love that does not fade.  It’s not found by everyone, but when it comes, grab hold with both hands and toss the word “if” from your vocabulary!

T is for Temptation

Janet ventured out one day knowing full well that she was not supposed to go anywhere near Carterhaugh.  She found herself there anyway perhaps because it is tempting to go where one has been forbidden to go.  It was tempting to pluck a sweet smelling rose; so she did.  The young man who appeared tempted her to walk with him.

So many temptations all in one afternoon.  And if you know the story of Janet and Tam Lin (or the ballad), you know not only how tempted she was, but also that he was tempted as well.  Janet was different from the other lassies who made their way either through knowledge or fate to Carterhaugh.  She was a young woman who knew her mind.  She was more curious than afraid.  Janet went of her own free will into the forest with Tam Lin.

Janet proved to be brave when she freed Tam Lin from the faerie spell.  And because she yielded to temptation, she found something so precious she was willing to give her own life to save his.

Temptation finds us all at various points in our lives.  We must judge the merits of the temptation before giving in to it.  Will it give satisfaction for a moment or a life-time?  Is it fleeting like the taste of chocolate cake or life changing as in the case of True Love?  Only we can decide for ourselves, and thus our free will.

Now back to the story.  Janet saved Tam Lin’s life and did not lose her own although she risked it.  Their child had two loving parents because of Janet’s bravery.  Carterhaugh was returned to its rightful heirs, and all turned out for the best.  So one might say with all that temptation going ‘round, a life was saved and two lives were changed and a third life begun and the Fairy Queen lost because of True Love. 

Not all temptations turn out so well, but in Fairy Tales, true love finds its own and proves to have a pull far harder to resist than chocolate cake at midnight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Sisters

Sisters, ah yes, I know all there is to know about sisters since I have two of my own and a cousin who is more like an older sister than a cousin.  Or do I?  Know all there is to know about sisters – that is?

I chaffed through my childhood while Mom read or told us stories about sisters and how the youngest one was always the prettiest, wittiest, smartest, best all around at everything.  How come it was never the oldest?

Well at least when our cousinly theatre was presented, I played the part of Cinderella.  Well, it was because I was the theatrical type and my sisters and cousin weren’t.  But secretly, deep down, I was so relieved that the oldest could do something beautiful, special, right.

One of my favorite stories as an eldest sister growing up in the 50’s was Snow White and Rose Red.  Why?  Because both sisters were all those wonderful things that seemed in most tales to belong only to the youngest.  Both sisters marry a prince.  

This month it is my turn to choose the book and lead the book discussion for my book club (Broads, Books and Banter).  At Jane Yolen’s suggestion I decided to have members read one of the books in the Fairy Tale series edited by Terri Windling. These novels are remakes of the old fairy tales.  Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, was one of them.  It is set in medieval England.  The Land of Fairy borders the land where the home of the widow and her two daughters is located.  The novel follows to some degree the Grimm’s tale, but with delightful diversions.

Other novels in the Fairy Tale series include Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen; Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean; Jack the Giant Killer, by Charles de Lint; The Nightingale, by Kara Dalkey; White as Snow, by Tanith Lee; Fitcher’s Brides, by Gregory Frost; The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, by Steven Burst; and Persinette, by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont La Force.  If you haven’t discovered this series of old tales set in more modern times, you’re in for a treat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Road Trips, Radio and Research

All storytellers go on road trips, but I would be willing to bet that those of us who live in rural areas travel more and more often than our counterparts who live in metro areas.

Sometimes our road trips turn into a story such as the one I used to tie stories together at the National Storytelling Network last July where I was an emcee for one of the Regional Showcases.  Sometimes our road trips can be used for research – places we’d like to come back to, stories we find along the way when we talk with people, stories of places, pictures of small post offices.

And, of course, there’s the radio.  It’s interesting to see what you can find as local radio stations.  For example, I tell stories on two small community radio stations in rural Colorado.  As a storyteller it would delight me to no end to be driving through an area and tune into Stories!  In fact this summer people take to the road for the purpose of vacation, I will be doing a radio show dedicated to Road Trips.

Speaking of Radio – there are other radio stations playing stories out there.  The Rocky Mountain Storytelling Newsletter, of which I am the editor, lists several of them.

Julie Moss is host of "Storytime Radio" which airs on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month on KHEN "Community Radio for the Upper Arkansas Valley" from 5:00-6:00 pm, and on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month on KRZA "Community Radio for the Upper Rio Grande Valley" from 5:00-600 pm.

 Internet Story Radio opportunities include:
Buck Creacy says, "Give a listen to the world's only 24/7/365 Radio Station dedicated to Storytellers & Storytelling." You can also listen to the station on iTunes radio.  Go to iTunes, click radio, click talk radio, look for "World of Storytelling."
Click & make it a Fave. 
The Story Mine hosted by David Bullock airs Sunday Mornings at 8:30 am. Streaming live at David says: We are accepting CD's of good stories at The Story Mine, 285 Starview Drive, Park City, UTah 84098

Originates from the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Listeners tune in via Sirius XM satellite radio, channel 143, online at, and on iTunes. The Apple Seed, hosted by Sam Payne, features Tellers and Stories.  It airs three times daily, five days a week.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Queen

Queens like many women in the old tales play an important but secondary role.  They die off, they are step-mothers (with all the old connotations), they are not listened to, and in general are a bit superfluous.

Two of my favorite queens are the Queen from “The Lute Player,” of whom I spoke Saturday, and the Queen who outwits her husband the king by taking him with her.  There are various tales in which this happens; “The Basil Plant” from Chile is one.  I found it in Suzanne Barchers book, WiseWomen.  There is also “The Peasant's Clever Daughter,” which I have seen various places.  Here’s an internet link to “The Peasant's Clever Daughter.”

So both stories go that a clever peasant girl marries the king.  In “The Basil Plant” the girl’s one-up-man-ship is too much for the king to bear; so he feels he must marry her.  “The Clever Peasant Girl” answers the riddle: "Come to me not clothed, not naked, not riding, not walking, not in the road, and not out of the road, and if thou canst do that I will marry thee."  Once married the king tells his new wife to keep her nose out of his business.  But when she sees how he dispenses justice, she just can’t sit around doing nothing. 
Knowing she is behind the “tricks” being played upon him, the king plans to either send her home or burn her up.  But she is allowed to take with her “from the palace that which was dearest and most precious in (her) eyes” or to ask a favor.  In both cases the king is her choice.  He sees the wisdom of her actions and from then on she is either the one who dispenses justice or she helps with it. 

Not a bad way to get noticed.  The king couldn't very well ignore his queen and go on ruling himself if he died in the fire with her or stayed at her cottage for the rest of their lives.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for Play

Last spring about this time of the year, I was readying a story I have wanted to tell for years.  Kevin Cordi came to Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference and offered a Master Class as well based on his Permission 2 Play philosophy.  The story – “The Lute Player.”

Kevin gave us permission to play with our stories.  First we told a piece of them to one or two others, taking turns.  Kevin asked leading questions to help us discover what we needed to play with in our stories.  We went on to tell other bits and pieces to other partners.

Finally Kevin asked for volunteers to let him show everyone who was attending how to dig deep into the story we had chosen to play with.  I was first and had no idea what to expect.  What I discovered in the early exercises was the fact that the queen’s journey as the minstrel boy was a very important part of the story which is usually glossed over to some extent.  So when the whole group helped me play, I was shown just how arduous and treacherous her journey was.

Back home, I thought about the story, the queen’s journey, the journey I've been on.  And then this winter I had the opportunity to tell the story to an audience.  The debut of my version of “The Lute Player.”  My debut as a storyteller for adults in my new community.

Here is a sampling of what I found storytellers have said about the queen’s journey in various versions of “The Lute Player.”

1.    The Queen traveled far and wide, disguised as a boy, playing her lute and singing as she went.

2.    The queen played her lute and sang her songs for anyone who would offer her a ride -- whether by caravan or ship, and after many months she reached the land of the evil lord.

Here’s my version after being given permission to play with the story:
She traveled about, as a minstrel boy, here and there, singing for her dinner and a place to lay her head.  At times she joined with other minstrels, but often she was alone.  She never revealed her identity.  Her travels were long and her travels were difficult.  Many people were mistrustful as she would not explain where she was going or why. 

Her clothes became worn and her skin brown, but still she traveled on.  And wherever she sang, people listened.  She sang of love and of longing.  She sang of flowers in the spring and cool waters to rest beside.  Those who listened never grew tired of her voice and commented that it was sweeter than a lark’s.   

Kevin’s workshop is now in book form, published by Ted Parkhurst.  Check it out!  Thanks Kevin!

O is for Ordinary

Back in the 1980’s when my children were young, I read The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, and then told the librarian how much I enjoyed her writing.  Glenda promptly put The Ordinary Princess into my hands.  The Ordinary Princess was also written by M.M. Kaye, but is a far cry from The Far Pavilions in some respects.  

Both are fiction, both involve royalty, both involve conflict (what good story doesn’t?).  But The Far Pavilions is a fictionalized account of real happenings prompting me to say, “The Russians won’t be able to take over Afghanistan.” as well as “What are we thinking going into Afghanistan?” And The Ordinary Princess is pure fairy tale fantasy.

How many fairy tales have you read, listened to, told about a princess who is totally ordinary?  Well, the princess in question here was born a royal pink and gold beauty, but then came the christening with all the hoopla and fairy blessings.

Old Crustacea “raised her twist coral stick and waved it over the cradle of the seventh princess.  “My child … I am going to give you something that will probably bring you more happiness than all these fal-lals and fripperies put together.  You shall be Ordinary!” 

And Princess Amy was ordinary.  She cried and fussed, she had limp mousey brown hair, she climbed trees, she got banged and bruised and tore her royal dresses.  And then she ran away to live in the forest where she met Mr. Pemberthy who ate acorns and Peter Aurelious who knew how to fly. 

Amy got a job as the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid in a neighboring kingdom in order to purchase a new and ordinary dress as her fancy frock was nearly torn to shreds.  While working she met someone else who was ordinary.  And their ordinariness made them suited for one another.  It is a “Happily Ever After” ending, but not in the way you may think.  After all Ordinariness is not magical - or is it? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Mattresses

There are nights, recently, when I feel like the Princess in the story, “The Princess and the Pea.” 

In the story the women the Prince brings home to marry must pass his mother’s test.  They must sleep on a pile of mattresses. In one of the picture books we had as kids, the mattresses were piled so high the poor women had to use a ladder to reach the top.  I always thought I would be afraid to sleep that high up in the air without something to keep me from rolling off the edge of the bed and crashing to the floor. 

Why did these women have to spend a night atop a great pile of mattresses?  Because Mama Queen said they weren't worthy of her son unless they could feel the one little pea placed under all those mattresses.  Many women were brought to the castle; none of them felt anything.  They all said they had a great night’s sleep.  Until…

One princess came along, she dutifully climbed the ladder to the top of the pile, she tossed and turned all night long (it’s a wonder she didn't fall crashing to the floor), and in the morning pronounced the bed horrible.  She got to marry the Prince.  I hope they were able to sleep in a normal bed after they were married.

I’m not a Princess, not planning on marrying a Prince or satisfying a mother-in-law (I don't know how as I've never had a mother-in-law), but as I age it has become more and more difficult to find a mattress that suits my needs.  I've had a fine bedstead made, but am looking for just the right mattress.  I've researched various types of mattresses and am close to making a final decision.  Until that day comes, I am sleeping on a pile consisting of a very firm single mattress, a doubled wool topper, a single cotton futon and a doubled piece of cotton batting.  I hope I don’t fall off and crash to the floor below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

N is for Naughty

Who is one of the naughtiest rabbits you've heard of, aside from Little Bunny Foo Foo?  My nominee is Peter.  In Beatrix Potter’s book Peter is called naughty: “But Peter who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate.”

Back in the late 1990’s my mother suffered from a stroke so severe that she could not talk, walk or do anything to help herself.  I spent much of that summer with her being her manager, re-teaching her language through the use of children’s books (much to the dismay of her speech therapist who said I should be using adult books).  Mom’s work from the time I was in jr. high was in libraries with children.  That’s also what I was doing at the time.  I told the therapist this and he begrudgingly allowed me to continue – not that I wouldn't have continued without his “blessing.”

Enter Peter Rabbit.  A small enough book that we had to sit close together in order to see and talk about the pictures.  And the magic moment when I read, “But Peter who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate.” and Mom said, “Naughty Rabbit!”  I was as joyful as a mother listening to her child’s first real words.  Naughty as Peter was, he had given my mother back her ability to talk.  After that breakthrough, we talked about the books and the pictures. 

Never underestimate the power of a Naughty Rabbit.

L is for Libraries

I am a former librarian.  All the librarians I know would fit the mold of once a librarian, always a librarian.  Librarians worth their salt are standing on the threshold of freedom of information, barring the way when the censors show up and allowing the “common man” entrance.

And librarians are always sharing stories as there are so many, many stories in a library.  All the fiction books are stories of one kind and another.  Biographies are stories, as well; they’re just about real people.  When Mr. Dewey set up his system of classification, he placed the stories in the 800’s.  But the very best place to look for stories is 398.2, this is where the folktales, fairy tales, tall tales and all the other stories that represent our cultures reside.  Now, “Why?” you may ask, “are these stories, which are obviously not factual, placed in Customs?”  Because folktales and their ilk are our heritage.

In many of the libraries where I worked, the 398.2 section was large, containing both anthologies and picture books.  Some of the older anthologies were simply given the number 398, and many of the newer picture books had numbers added after the .2 to tell the origin of the story.

Next time you need a new story to tell, want to brush up on one you already know, find variants of various kinds take a trip to the library and check out the 398.2 section in either the juvenile or adult sections.  You just might find what you are looking for and a lot more besides!

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