Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Making faces

Making faces is part of my job description. It's also something I've done since I was very small. My mother and her sisters passed on a particularly nice frog face (somewhere I have a picture of the four of them as adults making this face). The face above is one I use for the baby in The ghost with the one black eye. I tried out a couple of versions, checking with audiences on which looked better. This one was most popular. I often check the facial expressions in my stories in the mirror. I also still just make faces for the heck of it.

On Monday, we had a family gathering in Maine to bury my father's ashes (he died fifteen months ago). After the ceremony, and after the bishop and minister had left, there were twelve of us hanging around Mom's apartment: six siblings, three in-laws, a niece, a nephew and Mom. We meandered onto the subject of making faces, most likely because my 21-year-old nephew was showing some of his best. He has a good repertoire of facial contortion. When he was younger, he wasn't allowed to sit at dinner where he could see his reflection, because he would make faces throughout the meal. Once I saw him making faces in the bathroom mirror. "Job skill, Willie, job skill," I said.

On Sunday, I gave a concert at the retirement community where Mom lives. The last story I told was The twist-mouth family, which requires facial elasticity. It's fun for me to watch the audience twisting their mouths as they listen to the story. This was one of my father's favorite stories, in part for that reason.

I thought everybody grew up practicing faces in the mirror. Turns out not to be true. Did you?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One more iris picture

My friend Loren was visiting and took this picture of me in the irises.

Writing down stories

It has been a while since I've written any original stories to tell. I call these "personal fiction," because they might or might not be absolutely true. Or, as my tagline says, "All my stories start with the seed of truth."

On Sunday I'll be giving a house concert at the retirement community where my mother lives. I was thinking I'd tell a story I wrote about ten years ago called The Rumor. It's about a fellow who lives up to a good rumor about him, even though he never knows about it. I started digging around in my files, looking for a written version. Hmm, no luck. That must have been one that I told first and never got around to writing down. Sometimes I write them first and then tell.

I've just spent the last hour recreating the story as I remember it. As I write this, I recall that somewhere I have a copy of the story on videotape, from a performance I did at the Springfield (VT) Town Library. Now might be the time to find out if the VCR still works.

It might also be a good time to set the intention to write down all those stories that are just floating around in my head.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


My neighbor Midnight stopped by today for some pats. Here are a couple of pictures of her (though you can't see her half tail):

I'm not sure who put the ribbon around her neck. She doesn't seem to mind. She was happy to have a snack of cat food, Joe Fish's leftovers.

And while we're at it, a picture of me with Joe Fish again. He drapes well.

Hi, Train!

Tonight I was eating supper on the porch swing. A little boy was playing outside the church across the street. "Hi, Train! Hi, Train!" He waved and yelled, so very hopeful.

In the last hour, at least six trains have gone by a short block from my house. I've heard estimates of 50-75 trains a day on these tracks. I've tried to count, but they are such background noise I don't even hear them anymore unless I'm outside trying to carry on a conversation or tell stories. A friend who grew up near train tracks said that it was always disturbing when the regular trains didn't go by--his whole family would be awake in the middle of the night, vaguely aware that something was wrong when a scheduled train didn't pass.

Did you notice what was in the wagon in the middle picture? Hope for no derailments!

Monday, May 19, 2008

I know better...

I made a tactical error this morning, one I rarely make. I began warming the audience up too early. What was I thinking?! The show was distinctly a babytown. There were 108 audience members, most of whom were under age 5, and of those, most were 3 or younger.

I think it was in part because the show was in the open part of the library, not in a separate room. Kids were sitting down for the performance 25 minutes early. Or maybe the busy, busy rug addled my brain. Here's a picture before the show, when maybe half of the audience was there, in between warm-ups (name that tune, standing-up songs, etc.). Notice the interactions. This photo is intentionally blurry to protect the innocent.

Did I mention the young fellow, maybe five, who seemed not to have an adult present? He travelled around the room, chatting, sitting, standing, poking. One kind librarian eventually corralled him.

I build in repetitive hand motions to the stories for kids to join in on. This is for the kinesthetic learners (most preschoolers, I'd guess), as well as a way to gauge who is still with me. I could tell by this that at the end, I did still have a small but solid group of listeners. They must have been able to hear above the din of babies and toddlers.

After a half hour, we were done. Normally, I can keep a crowd like this for about 40 minutes, sometimes longer. If I hadn't warmed them up so early, I might have managed it. Ah, well, they mostly had a good time and many came up to shake Trixie's hand at the end.

Thanks to Loren for taking these pictures.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


What a week for not getting much done! Ah, well. Soon enough I'll be up to my eyeballs in summer reading programs in libraries. Now is time to enjoy the flowers, specifically the irises. A few years ago when they were blooming, one of my contact lenses popped out of my eye into the flowers. I called the doctor's office to tell them I'd lost my lens in the iris--and then I had to clarify.

Here they are, from no blooms about a week and a half ago to peak yesterday:

Where's my car?

And here they are viewed from the porch, in a faux-artistic shot.

That little bed to the left is my new rose bed. There are buds on all three bushes, so I'm eagerly waiting to see what they look like. I got two of the bushes from a freecycler and the third from a friend.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mind mapping

I've been thinking about doing a new business plan. I can't remember the last time I did one. Every time I try to get myself to sit down and write one, I find I have a million other things to do. All I have to do to get the house cleaned or the lawn mowed is think about making a business plan!

It occurred to me last week that I could use a right-brain method to do an essentially left-brain activity. I'd read about Tony Buzan, who invented the term "mind mapping" years ago, so I went looking for more information. I found Buzan's website and several videos.

There's lots of stuff on the topic on Wikipedia, but as I dug in, I understood that much of what people call mind mapping is really making flow charts with a few pictures. I liked Buzan's method better. I considered shelling out the bucks for the computer program iMindMap until I realized I could do this the old fashioned way: I went to the library and borrowed the book Mind Mapping, then got out markers and a sketchpad. Analog. Cool.

Have I done the business plan yet? No, but I'm closer than I was. Now I'm going to vacuum the living room.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Making bread

I baked a loaf of bread tonight. (Note: this is a giant spatula--the loaf is about twice as big as a grapefruit.)

When I was about nine years old, I baked bread for the first time. I used the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (volume BEA-CAS) basic white bread recipe for years until I figured out that I could just wing it. From then on, my bread had everything but the kitchen sink in it. You'd be as likely to be offered oatmeal maple syrup white bread as whole wheat molasses. A few years ago I was at Free Day at the library book sale and found the volume BEA-CAS on its own on a shelf. I snapped it right up, for nostalgia's sake. I still wonder where the other 11 volumes were.

Recently I read a review of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. Intriguing. Off I went to the library website to reserve my copy. It's a very pretty book with lots of variations on the master recipe. I also checked out the authors' blog, which has some important tips. The above loaf is the result, my third batch.

Here's the deal: you mix up a very wet dough, let it sit for a couple of hours, then refrigerate it. For up to two weeks, you can grab hunks of it, let it rise for an hour or so, and then bake it in a hot oven. No kneading, no punching down, very little rising. It makes three boules like this. Easy and it tastes pretty good, too, especially as toast.

It's almost summer, when I don't heat up the house by making bread. I'll decide next winter if this new method will completely replace the old way. It just might.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Red ant puppet

Or is this just the prototype? I'm not sure yet. Materials: one old sock, polyester stuffing, four pipe cleaners, black marker.

Still mulling over the bull issue. Hmm.

Puppet show prep

It's that time of year, when I suddenly realize that I've promised a new puppet show for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, and I'm not ready. As I've mentioned before, I rarely do puppet shows with a stage. Every year TSCPL calls and asks for a show in the summer. Every year I say yes.

I've agreed to do The goat in the chili patch. It's a simple story from Mexico about a goat who won't get out of the garden. Many animals try to get him out, but only the little red ant is able to do it, as she sneakily climbs up on the goat's ear and bites him.

A few years ago I made a goat puppet for a tiny show of Bill Grogan's goat. Digging around in the puppet closet, I turned up a red pepper plant, a man, a pig, a chick, a dog and a lion. No, the original has no lion, but it might be amusing. I'm wondering if the lion can take the place of the bull. We could get into a big discussion of how much artistic license I can take, but I don't have time right now. I've got to get cracking on the show.

I'm missing the essential character, the red ant. On this rainy day, I'll dig out the felt and googly eyes and see what I can create. Maybe I can also work on a bull.

The show is June 25 at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., in case you're in the area.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

More photos

Four more. Mary and Kate were cracking me up as you can see. Any opinions?

Keep in mind that these will not be used together, most likely, but will be single photos on a poster, flyer, one-sheet or in the newspaper. We'll probably make some adjustments on these.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New pictures

My sister-in-law Kate took some great pictures for my website last month. My sister Mary (also my web genius) and I spent some time deciding which will be publicity photos. Here are a few. What do you think?