Saturday, September 24, 2005

Family nights

Quite often I'm booked to tell stories at Family Night at schools. I love these!

My favorites are when the theme is "let's have fun with reading and stories," however it's billed. The kids bring their parents, siblings, grandparents. Sometimes the teachers and principal are dressed up for a theme, like last week's pirate theme at Spring Branch Elementary, or in pajamas and slippers. Everybody expects to have a good time. The students are wildly excited to be at a special event, with their friends, at school but with fewer restraints. I remember running full speed down the corridor during intermission at a play at John Howland Elementary School when I was in 4th grade. Exhilarating!

Even with all that excitement, the kids love the stories at Family Night and will listen for as long as I'll tell. I tell stories from books, especially by Robert Munsch and Philippa Pearce, two of my favorite authors (both of whom have given me permission to do so). I wind them up a bit with "The ghost with the one black eye," then calm them down for bedtime with "The gunniwolf," or another suitably peaceful story at the end of the program. Many of the kids come up to say goodbye to my puppet Trixie, who graciously shakes hands and occasionally kisses. There might be refreshments after the stories--Spring Branch had sundaes. Yum.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Post-trip cleanup

I've been away for most of the past two weeks, so now I have to deal with the mess. That's why I'm at my computer, not dealing with it yet.

Before I left on the first trip, I cleaned up. Now, from where I sit, I see a puppet crawling out of my soft briefcase on the floor (Mavis the monkey), a pile of catalogs and magazines from the first round of mail sorting, big bins of puppets and dress-up that I had to haul out of the closet in order to get to the box of brochures for last week, a bag of practice puppets for some workshops next month, my back up sound system, a stack of miscellaneous paper from the Arts Midwest conference, a bottle of ibuprofen, a box of thank you notes ready to be written, a full wastebasket ready to go out to the bin...

This is only in the office, and doesn't include quite a bit of flotsam on the desk. There's more, much more, in the other rooms of the house. Time to go do laundry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hi, my name is Joe, and I work in a button fac-tor-y

Remember that chant?

"Hi, my name is Joe, and I work in a button fac-tor-y
I've got a dog and three kids, that's my fam-i-ly
One day my boss came up to me
She said, 'Joe, are you busy?' I said 'no.'
'Push this button with your right hand.'

It goes on, with poor Joe pushing buttons with his left hand, right foot, left foot, elbow, knee, whatever, until after the tongue, when the answer to 'Joe, are you busy?' is YES!

Anyway, yesterday I made buttons (a.k.a. badges), the kind with slogans on them. Last year I bought a button machine so I could make these for the Midwest Arts conference in Kansas City, where I had an exhibit booth. I'm going again, this time to Indianapolis.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • All my stories start with a seed of truth (this is my logo tagline)
  • And they lived happily ever after...or did they?
  • Truth is immutable, facts are flexible.
  • Stories rock!
  • Puppets rule! (slightly political, if you read it that way)
  • What if?
  • That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
  • "My tail is told," said the little boy on the block of ice.
  • And then what happened?
  • What's your story, morning glory?
It was fun watching people at the conference sift through the buttons, looking for the perfect one. It was much more interesting than just offering them my brochure, a sample CD and chocolate. Of course, I'll offer those as well.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The wedding last week

Last week seems so long ago. I had a good time in New England, first in Vermont for the wedding, then in Maine visiting my parents, then in Connecticut visiting good friends.

In Vermont, I saw the kids I used to babysit, now all grown up. Pete has a son of his own, a fabulous wild boy who looks a ton like his father did. Angela was married in August and seems happy with her life. The youngest, Kristen, was getting married to Hans on this weekend in a relaxed backyard celebration. Kristen had asked if I would tell a story at the reception, and of course I agreed.

After the wedding, we had appetizers, and then lined up table by table to pile delicious food on our plates from the buffet. Hans is Swedish, and I got to sit next to his grandmother, the only one of the family who spoke no English. She was lovely. After the meal, we had speeches from the fathers (accompanied by catcalls from the mothers and adult children) and the friends, and of course the toasts (schnapps first, with the songs, then champagne). Grandmother sang to the couple in Swedish, and then the hall was cleared so we could get ready for the cake. During the cake, we had a slide show of the wedding couple's parallel upbringings, presented with much laughter by the mothers.

I thought maybe there wouldn't be time for the stories I had prepared, or maybe people would not be interested in listening, but Kristen wanted me to tell after the slide show. Pete and Angela had left early. Too bad--they would have liked hearing "The peanut butter story" again after so many years. They, with Kristen, were the main characters.

I told that story and then "Wali Dad, the simple-hearted," a quiet story from India about a man with a generous heart who brought a princess and a prince together. Next time I'm asked to tell a story at a wedding, I know just the story!

I was surprised. Everybody listened. Nobody chatted in the back of the room, nobody banged the door, nobody even scraped a fork on a plate. And when I was done, it was time to dance.