Friday, December 19, 2008

Revamped Going Deep Website

I've been working at the Going Deep Long Traditional Story Retreat website lately. It's not quite finished, but looks much better than it did and is easier to navigate. Soon I hope we'll have some good blog posts on the site.

I'm fond of the banner photo--it's a Medusa head at the bottom of a pillar in the cisterns underneath Istanbul. We won't have stories of Medusa this year, but we will have Gilgamesh told by David Novak, The Story of the Grail told by Liz Warren, and The Paths of Osun: The West African Yoruba Epic told by Marilyn Omifunke Torres.

It's going to be a phenomenal retreat.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Earlier this year, Wonderscope Children's Museum merged with the Kansas City Children's Museum. As far as I can see, they're working hard at melding the best of both organizations in the Shawnee location. The Recycled Materials Center, now called Repurpose, iMagine, Create! is a great place to pick up interesting and unusual craft supplies--I noticed some small swags labeled "puppet wigs," so I know they're on the right track. There's a brand new water exhibit opening this month, fitting in with the many other kid-friendly exhibits. 

I perform at Wonderscope on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 9:30 a.m., with a few exceptions (say, when I'm in Brazil or Belgium). This year will be my third time performing at WonderEve, a huge celebration on December 31. I'll be on at noon, in the Healthy Kids room, so if you're around, come on over! 

Here's the whole schedule, directly from their flyer:
Gymboree for Everyone! 10 a.m.
Jim Cosgrove, Mr. Stinky Feet 11 a.m.
Pizza from Old Shawnee Pizza Noon
Priscilla Howe, Storyteller Noon
Maria Anthony, Irish singer Noon
Brian Wendling, Juggler 1 p.m.
Martin City Melodrama, JR 2 p.m.
Devin Henderson, Magician 3 p.m.
StarLab 4 p.m.

Enjoy the grand opening of our NEW exhibit H2Oh!,
and zany hat-making in Artworks!
Adults and kids over 3 (for the whole day)
$15 per person/non-member $12 per person/member
Children 2 and 3 Half price
Your admission includes all activities AND pizza for lunch –
a GREAT DEAL for a GREAT DAY of family fun!
Funding for this event is provided in part by Coldwell Banker Regan Realtors,
Kansas Arts Commission Traveling Artists Fund and Pat Lyles – State Farm Insurance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Much of my work is about validation. I tell stories in part to validate the listeners' experiences, or my own. I work at making connections with the audience before, during and after performances, which is a way of validation. I came across this video recently. It's a tad sappy, but so am I sometimes. 

Monday, December 08, 2008

Summer plans II

I'm definitely getting ready for summer. I just ordered myself a new Lee Oskar harmonica. 

I know, I know, I posted about my harmonicas last January (and the picture was missing a few), but I don't have a Lee Oskar in the key of D. Can a person have too many harmonicas?

On a more serious note, I decided what I'm offering to libraries this summer. Of course, librarians can request any program on my larger list, or they can propose something else (if I can do it I will, and if it isn't my cup of tea, I'll say so). Here are the blurbs I sent to the Northeast Kansas Library System performer directory this morning:

Hopping on one foot!
All ages
Storyteller Priscilla Howe pulls out her favorite silly songs and story stretches, for a rollicking good time in the library. Of course, Priscilla will have some help (or hindrance?) from her handpuppet buddies.

Silly stuff
All ages
From tee-hee to guffaw, with giggles in between, this program of stories and songs with storyteller Priscilla Howe is not for the serious-minded. Check your scowls at the door! Of course, Priscilla will have some help (or hindrance?) from her handpuppet buddies.

Story goulash
All ages
Storyteller Priscilla Howe serves up a tasty mix of stories and songs, old favorites and made-up-on-the spot tales with plenty of help from the audience. Of course, Priscilla’s ridiculous handpuppets join in the hilarity.
In this last one, I plan to do at least one  improv story with the audience. I'll have a basic structure in my head, and we'll play with it together from there. Should be fun!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Summer plans

Today is not the day to be barefoot. Cold, cold, cold outside. 

I have a fire in the woodstove, so of course it's time to think about summer reading programs. This is the season when libraries start to book my programs. The theme is "Be Creative @Your Library." I'm considering what to offer. Normally I only offer one show that specifically fits the summer theme, but I'd like to do two this year. One will be Hopping on one foot, singing games and story stretches for all ages.  Once when I was giving the related workshop for adults, somebody referred to it as "storytelling aerobics." We move around a lot, no matter how much space there is. 

I'm not sure what the second program will be. Storytelling is inherently creative. Should I just pick one of my favorites, like Silly Stuff, or What book is that story from? or should I think up a new program? 

Any suggestions? 

Monday, December 01, 2008

Nanowrimo success!

I did it! I crossed the finish line yesterday, churning out 50,086 words of a pretty bad novel, but one written entirely in November. Here's the proof: 

This is the second Nanowrimo novel I've written. I can't say "finished" because they are certainly not that, but I did write them. I may have cheated a little on this one--it started out as a reworking of the one I did in 2003, from a different point of view. Then other stuff happened, completely out of the blue (for example, two people died this time, not just 90-year-old Joseph). 

Maybe I'll even edit and rewrite this one someday. Today, however, I'm getting back to the office work that piled up as I was tappity-tappity-tapping out the words on my laptop. 

P.S. My sister Mary also crossed the finish line, two days before I did. Yippeee!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


There's so much to be thankful for in this life. I wrote a list last year. Ditto this year. Add my thanks for new friends, for the trip to Brazil, for the replaced sewer line (necessary!), for the newer car, for satellite radio as I log the miles on said car, for a new political administration on its way, and for so much more. I'm glad to be alive.

I'm sitting at home after a fantastic Thanksgiving meal with friends and family at my sister's, working (or stalling, as the case may be) on my nanowrimo novel, music in the background (Norah Jones is the current CD), next to the woodstove. In an hour or so, I might be hungry enough to make a turkey sandwich. Or maybe I'll only manage some carrot sticks.

Here are my friends examining the turkey before carving:

And the aftermath:

Back to storytelling blog posts soon, I promise. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two new Grimm programs

On Monday, I stopped for fast food in Webb City, Missouri, on my way home from Joplin. One of the cashiers said to the other, "Hey, guess what I did before I came to work? I went to hear a lady telling fairy tales to kids!" 

I couldn't help myself. "Did you like it?" 

She barely looked at me, but answered. "Yeah, she was really good." 

I smiled, picked up my food and headed for the door. Suddenly she turned back to me. "Hey, she's the one! You told those stories!" She went on to tell the other cashier about the performance, "She had all these facial expressions and her hand gestures..." 

I laughed about that in the car for the next five minutes. 

Last spring, I had a call from Missouri Southern State University Institute of International Studies. Would I be interested in telling Grimm tales for two programs for MSSU's Germany Semester? I considered the request. There were a few stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm that I had been telling for years, but I didn't have a full program, let alone two. I don't take every job I'm asked to do, but if it will expand me creatively, I often say yes.

As you can see from the program, I named one show "Grimm for Grownups," and the other "Cheerfully Grimm." The first included some of the more sophisticated (and gory) stories. The second was suitable for kids. There are many nontraditional students at MSSU who have children, and they were welcome at the evening show. 

I began right away, reading through the collections on my shelf, and reading a biography of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

In the end, I used two books as my main sources.  This one was translated anonymously in 1869 and contains a lot of the lesser-known stories, such as The Feather Bird (a Bluebeard variant) and The Six Swans

I took this paperback with me to Brazil and worked on the stories there. Normally I travel with fluff to read, but because I knew these programs were coming up, I only took this book. I read the tales in my hotel room and at breakfast, and I subjected Cris and Pati to my first attempts at telling them.

I also used this edition at home. It's absolutely beautiful, annotated tales with illustrations from many of the classic collections (Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielson, Warwick Goble, etc.).
Another great source for insight on these folktales is the Sur La Lune Fairy Tale site, especially the forum. 

What did I tell? In the first show, I told The Feather Bird, Maid Maleen (also called Jungfrau Maleen), Rapunzel, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Nix in the Mill. I didn't have time to tell The Six Swans, The Goose Girl or The Juniper Tree. In the evening show, I told The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Fisherman and His Wife, The Frog Prince, The Shoemaker and the Elves, and The Cat and the Mouse and the Butter. I had also considered telling Little Red Riding Hood (there are two stories about her, believe it or not). 

I had a great time telling these stories. I was right--they did stretch me creatively. I'll add them to the list of programs I offer to schools and festivals.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sundays for the past couple of months

Often Sunday afternoon has a touch of melancholy to it. Is that cultural or is it just me?

Today I was thinking about the past Sundays since September. Not much time for sweet sadness.

Nov. 9 (today)
I went with my sister Mary to hear the Soweto Gospel Choir. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it was. Here, listen:

Nov. 2
I worked on my Nanowrimo novel and on other projects. Just a bit melancholy.

October 26
Came home from Brazil. Real sadness at leaving so soon, combined with exhaustion from the 26-hour trip.

October 19
Walked in the park with Pati, found kittens! In case you missed that post, here's the picture of Charlie and his sister:

October 12
I went to a concert in Sao Paulo, heard Thomas Rohrer (Swiss but he lives in Brazil), Chris Stout (Scottish) and two Brazilian musicians--dang, can't remember their names. Afterwards, we went to eat lunch and then went to a park that overlooks the city. Here's a picture of Pati, Carlos (Chris' brother-in-law), Chris and Sarah (Chris' sister):

October 5
I rode the bus from Rio to Sao Paulo.

September 28
Went to the Botanical Gardens in Rio with Pati. Here's a waterfall in the Gardens:

September 21
Worked on the dragonfly program and anticipated an amazing trip to Brazil.

The next time I have a melancholy Sunday, maybe I'll look back at this post.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More on dragonflies

Remember the residency I began in September, the one about lifecycles, butterflies, dragonflies, wetlands and puppets (whew!)? To refresh your memories, here's a picture of the fingerpuppets I designed for the 2nd graders (7 year olds) to make:

While I was in Brazil last month, these children went on field trips to the Baker Wetlands.

Yesterday and today, I met with them again. We talked about what we'd done on the first visit and what they remembered from the field trip. They were full of information and even a little bit of misinformation, as 7-year-olds so often are.

We practiced our zipping, zooming and hovering with the fingerpuppets and then we made up a couple of stories about dragonflies. From there, we shifted over to more about puppets, and how they often have exaggerated actions of the creatures they imitate. Trixie denied this, then sneezed her hat off her head dramatically. The baby puppet popped her binky out of her mouth ten times. We sang Poor little bug on the wall again, to reinforce the idea. At the end, we had questions about butterflies, dragonflies, wetlands and puppets. I reminded them of the question words, to forestall the kind of "my grandmother has a dog" statement.

Also this week, I began the shortened version of the residency with the 2nd graders who didn't get to go to the wetlands. They get one session with me. I have eight more schools to visit. Then all the students will go to a big puppet performance at the Lied Center at the end of the month. I'm planning to go, too. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nanowrimo begins on Saturday!

Nanowrimo. Sounds like the name of a tribe, doesn't it? In a way it is. The word stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's a challenge (not a competition) to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. It may not be started before November 1 and it must be finished by November 30. The key is quantity, not quality. Just whomp those words out and see what happens. This is the tenth year that people all over the country will decide to stop thinking about writing a novel and just write one.

The way it works is that when you finish, you upload your novel to the site, not for the content but for the all-important word count. The only way it can be read on the site is if you put bits of it up where it can be read.

My sister Mary and I have decided to do Nanowrimo again this year. We did it in 2003. Yup, I finished, and the proof is a very bad manuscript that has not moved off my desk since then. I also have the tee shirt. I liked the story I wrote, even as I realized that it was a piece of hack writing. At one point, one of my characters died unexpectedly. I sat at the computer sobbing for Joseph, who was such a gentle soul.

I have no idea yet what I'll write. I'm also keenly aware that November is a hugely busy month, with 40 performances. There's no changing Nanowrimo--it's in November, no matter what.

Wish me luck--oh, and let me know if you're also putting 50,000 words on paper (or on computer, as the case for me will be).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Change of season

Last week was spring. I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt in Sao Paulo on Saturday, where the temperatures were in the high 80s (fahrenheit). Now I'm home, with a fire in the woodstove. I'm having a hard time making these adjustments quickly. My daydreams are all in Brazil.

Doing some physical work can be grounding. Yesterday I mowed the lawn, put the front storm door up, moved the picnic table and benches to the garage, took the porch swing down for storage. Today I stacked this pile of wood, which should keep me warm for about a month if it doesn't get too cold outside:

This is what my friends Granny Sue and Batsy refer to as a "hedge fund." In this case, that's accurate: much of the wood in this pile is Osage Orange, also called hedge. Those tins are for the ashes from the stove.

I also cleaned the gutters this morning, pulled up the morning glories and the tomato plants, fixed a faucet, did dishes and swept the front walk.

That's enough grounding for now. Back to my daydreams. Oh, and maybe some office work.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fruit at home

No papaya for breakfast. I went to the grocery store yesterday and looked at the sorry (and expensive) papayas in the produce section. No, not local. I did have a couple of wonderfully crisp apples, giant thanks to one of the elves who delivered food to my house before I got home. There were also a couple of perfect pears on the table, and my tomato plant had some fruit that the squirrels didn't eat. Also fresh jalapenos off the plants in back. 

And look what I found at the Community Mercantile, our food coop: 

The one on top is acai pulp for making smoothies. Also expensive, but I seem to be indulging myself today. The bottom one is just the fizzy stuff for getting a good dose of vitamin C.

Acai is pronounced "ah-sah-ee" with the stress on the ee. I'm not quite sure how to put the cedilla under that c.


Monday, October 27, 2008

One more Sao Paulo picture

Where were these going? This was on a quiet street, near St. Francis school. 

Miscellany from Brazil

I'm home. That is, my body is here, but my heart is still in Brazil. 

On Saturday, before I left, we went to a free concert in the park in Sao Paulo. Funny to get to hear the amazing Sonny Rollins in Brazil! It was a beautiful day, with lots of great people-watching and great music. From there to lunch at a little organic foods cafe, then on to the airport for the 26-hour trip back to Kansas (slightly longer than expected, due to a mechanical problem on the plane in Miami). 

Anyway, I had a few more photos from Friday I wanted to put up. First is Daniel, our taxi driver for several days: 

He didn't speak English, but Cris said he was full of opinions. On the last day, he insisted that we eat at a particular restaurant near Cultura Inglesa. It was very chiqui, very expensive, and not quite as good as some of the other places we ate, but I think we ate there because of the force of Daniel's conviction. He wasn't even with us for the meal!

On that day, we walked around the neighborhood near Cultura Inglesa. Here's a Bird of Paradise we saw on our walk:
Did I mention that the Cultura Inglesa branches all kindly provided a huge amount of food for the two of us? Here's part of the spread at the first one last Friday. You can't see the giant bowl of grapes (possibly the most delicious I've ever had), or the plates of sliced turkey and cheese.

Yes, I think there were ten rolls there. 

I loved the names of the table napkins:
Then again, we've got Chinet and Coronet napkins, so who am I to comment?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thanks, thanks, thanks!

"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." Meister Eckhart

Every now and then a storyteller becomes speechless. I don't have all the words to say thank you to Cris and Pati, not just for taking extremely good care of me as part of their tour manager job description, but for becoming such good friends.  These are some of my favorite pictures of them. 

Don't we all look so chiqui here? 

Cultura Inglesa, last day

The last three sets of this Brazilian tour were at branches of Cultura Inglesa, where kids come to study English language and culture. In all, I told at ten branches. Some were great, some were challenging, depending on the level of English the students had attained and also how much preparation they'd had. Here are a few pictures of this last day:

And here's Trixie, giving an autograph. She's left handed. It's a good thing her name is short and easy to write!

St Francis

What a week! This was the second-heaviest week of the tour, with 17 sets (I count 2-hour workshops as two sets). The last one was the 53rd show of the month. Is this my record? I can't remember. As you might guess, I'm a bit tired.

On Wednesday and Thursday I told stories at St. Francis College (for those of you in the US, that means private school, not university), a lovely school in a quiet residential area of Sao Paulo. I eyed their swimming pool jealously--my bathing suit and goggles were at the hotel, where there is no pool.

Though the school only takes up a small area, the space is lovely and well-thought out.

I did a workshop for the teachers on Wednesday. They were great! When they came in, they sat mostly at the back of the room or behind desks, clearly tired from a long day. I let them stay behind their defenses for a little bit, then coaxed them out of their seats. Off they went! The rest of the workshop was relaxed, full of laughter and connection--and even some insight.

As I left the school on Thursday, after four good shows, I could hear the children telling each other The ghost with the one black eye. Aah.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spring weather

Faith asked about the weather here in Brazil. It has been warm here this week, around 85 today (29.4 celsius) and sunny for most of the day. However, I took these two pictures out my window about half an hour ago and now I hear thunder.

It has rained many of the days I've been here, but usually not much. In the first week I was in Sao Paulo it was chilly, around 65 degrees (18 celsius).  In Rio it was warmer. In both cities I've worn shorts and tee shirts, in both cities I've worn sweaters and long pants. A fellow at one of my workshops said that in Sao Paulo, you have to dress for five different seasons all in the same day.  

On a side note, many of the trees I noticed when I first arrived have stopped flowering. I'm so glad I got to see them!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pictures from the sarau

I just received pictures of the sarau at Regina Machado's last Saturday night. Here I am telling The great sharp scissors while Pati translates:

And here is the dancing. The dancers are wearing chita, a traditional Brazilian fabric with a vibrant floral pattern.

And this is the picture I was most hoping to get, from the very end of the evening. On my right is Regina Machado, the elegant hostess of this evening, on my left is my friend and tour manager, Cris (her sister Pati is the other tour manager), and on her left is one of their friends.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"I could skip lunch"

After one of the performances today at St. Nicholas School, a student stopped me in the lunchroom. "Tell another story, please!" I said it was time for lunch, for both of us. "I could skip lunch," she said.

This was another really nice school, following on yesterday's good performance day at Red Brick Preschool. At both, it was clear that the children understood English (and puppets) and were having a good time. Just as important, the teachers were having fun. Cris and I noticed that at both schools, there was an atmosphere of kindness and respect for the children. I love that. 

Here's a picture from Red Brick. We're doing a finger story.

And these are some of the attentive listeners at St. Nicholas. My sister Mary is right--the children enjoying the stories in Brazil look very much like children enjoying the stories in the US. 

When there's time and there aren't too many kids, Trixie likes to shake hands with the children as they leave the performance space, if they want to. If they don't, she sometimes just blows them kisses. 

Here we are at Red Brick, saying goodbye:

And at St. Nicholas, with a bouncy child: 

Yes, that's my Halloween vest. I'm also wearing socks with skeletons on them. I don't mind starting a little early for my favorite holiday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Surprise in the park

Yesterday Pati and I went to a large city park for a walk. Gray day, but not rainy, so it was pleasant. I find that sometimes the colors on a gray day are even more vibrant than on a sunny one. We wandered around the nursery of this park, which was fascinating. Once again I was struck by the plants growing in the ground that I've only seen in pots at home (many on my own windowsills). Rows of spider plants, for example.

This tree and the plants covering it seem to have a symbiotic relationship.

Pati stood next to this one for perspective on these enormous leaves.

I love the shape of this palm surrounded by other trees.

As we were moseying along, at the same time we both saw something unidentifiable in the road. A bit of trash? Leaves? Something dead? Fur? Fur! 

At first we thought one of them might not still be alive, but it moved. Both had gunky eyes, though the more alert one cleaned his off. 

Pati went to ask the gatekeeper nearby if these cats lived here, or if there was a mother around. No. Somebody had abandoned them. We sat down to consider what to do. The weaker one got up and came over to me. She let us pat her. The other one wouldn't let us get near. He hissed at us and jumped away. Both were scared and meowing piteously.

Pati called her friend Paulo who lives nearby and who loves cats. He and his partner Estela came right over. In the meantime, Pati got a cardboard box from the gatekeeper and we managed to put the weaker kitten in it. The other kitten escaped into the brush, but he couldn't stand to hear his sister crying, so he came back. Paulo was able to catch him and put both of them in a cloth cat hutch they'd brought. Whew! We walked back to Paulo and Estela's apartment, where the kittens had a little milk and got their eyes cleaned off. 

We left them there, in very good care. Today they went to the vet for antibiotics. This is how I know that one is a girl and one is a boy. The kittens will stay together for the week, and then Pati will take Charlie (the feisty one) home. 

Isn't this an interesting life? A simple walk in the park can so easily turn into an adventure.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Music, dance, poetry, clowning, puppets--and even a little storytelling!

What a nice day yesterday was. I sat in a coffee shop and wrote while I waited for my laundry to be finished, wandered around a bit, had a big lunch (wishing I'd remembered to take a picture of the buffet), and eventually met Pati at SESC where we watched a show for children called As Aventuras de Bambolina, based on the book by Michele Iaccoca. It's put on by the group Pia Fraus, which from their website I see means "a lie told with good intentions." 

It's a combination of live actors with puppets and dolls, with no words. Bambolina herself is a big floppy doll (manipulated by the actors as a puppet) who gets thrown away by a child but who continues to live on, taken in by various people. She finds her own true life in the end. It's a lovely show. The audience was packed, mostly families with small children. Some of the tinies got alarmed at a scary police siren and a couple of other tense scenes, but they calmed down and thoroughly enjoyed the show. As did Pati and I.

From there we wandered back to the neighborhood where my hotel is and had a snack at a temaki place. Yum.

Then we stopped off at my hotel so I could change clothes. We met Pati's sister Cris and her partner Fernando, and off we went to an evening of music, dance, poetry, clowning, puppets and even a little storytelling at the house of Regina Machado, probably Brazil's most-honored and respected storyteller. It was wonderful to meet her--I wish I had more time so we could sit down and talk story. Next visit, I guess.

Regina has a lovely studio on a hill behind her house, with a covered outdoor performance space underneath it. I was deeply jealous! It was all well-organized, with candles, flowers, plenty of seats, and food and drinks for sale. Old friends greeted each other in an atmosphere of pleasant anticipation.

I really wish I'd brought my camera to the sarau. There must have been over 100 people there, happy to be enjoying the arts together. I knew there was a chance I would be asked to tell a story, but I wasn't sure until Regina sat me and Cris down to discuss it a little beforehand.

I was in the second half of the show. In the first, there was poetry, dance, and puppets. Chita the clown was emcee for the second half, so when it was my turn, we played a little first. Then I told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce, and Pati translated. I don't think I've ever had a translator before, other than sign language. I did step on Pati's lines a few times, but she did a stellar job. Just as I began, it started to rain, so the people in the back weren't able to hear as well, but those close in were listening attentively, laughing at all the right parts, even joining in the small bit of participation I build into the story.

When I was done, there was more music, poetry, clowning, and of course dance. The evening ended with a big dance, and everybody was invited to join in. That was a tremendous end to the evening.

This was also the night to turn the clocks forward, so when I turned out my light in the hotel, the new time was 2:45. I fell right asleep, content.