Saturday, June 28, 2008

Geranium garden

I know, I know, these are more properly called pelargoniums, but I can't help myself. It's like calling the refrigerator the ice box. It's what I do.

At any rate, last year I took all my geraniums and put them in a little garden. I stopped by the garden center and got a few more varieties. In the winter, I potted them up and brought them inside. They're back in the planters on the back terrace this year.

Yesterday I happened across peppermint-scented geraniums in the "quick sale" area of the grocery store, so I added one to the citrus scented varieties I already have. Everything is jumbled together, but if you look carefully, you'll see different shapes of leaves and colors of flowers.

I've got geraniums with giant leaves, ivy-leaf geraniums, regular garden-variety geraniums, and various colors of flower from deep purply-black to magenta to red to pink to white.

Oh, and this red and yellow leafed beauty (oops, forgot to weed that one!).

Because I'm so busy in the summer, I don't have time to take care of an extensive garden. This set of planters, the houseplants, the beds in front of the house, and the two pots of tomatoes are all I can manage. Most of the time, they get a slosh of water when I remember. I'm lucky they seem not to mind being ignored. What used to be the vegetable garden still has asparagus, lavender, chives, lamb's ear and Egyptian onions (walking onions), but the black-eyed Susans (rudbeckia) and weeds are taking over.

When skies are gray...

This morning was cloudy and I found myself humming You are my sunshine. As a warm-up for the audience, before the show begins, I've been playing "Name that tune" with the kids. I play a tune on the harmonica and they guess what it is. Often, I play You are my sunshine. Kids will say, "My mom sings me that song!"

I play mostly old favorites like Twinkle, twinkle, little star and Jingle bells, with a few lesser known songs thrown in. Lately I've been playing Red River Valley. Every now and then a child will know it. More often, an older adult will remember that one.

Sometimes I'll invite the kids to suggest songs for me to play. If I know it and it's playable on my harmonica, I'll play it. I got applause for Ode to Joy the other day. In case you wondered, We will rock you is in the wrong key for my main harmonica, though I can do it with a different harmonica. I also don't play Freebird.

Last year I had a request for Ashokan farewell, the fiddle tune written by Jay Ungar that was played on the PBS documentary on the Civil War. I couldn't quite get it in my head, but after the show, I found the girl who'd requested it and played it through for her. It's oddly poignant on the harmonica.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ants, and other comments on creepy crawlies

Last night I performed the puppet show of The goat in the chili patch for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. I changed my mind about the ant puppet I'd made, using instead a truly icky plastic ant I painted red:

The choice of the paintbrush to show scale isn't random. I used the paintbrush as a rod for the ant, so my fingers wouldn't be visible. It worked. The daughter of one of the librarians last night noticed that I used a paintbrush, so I told her how I look around my house in search of useful stuff when I'm working on a show. This was as she was helping me pack up. She said, "I like helping famous people." I love that.

I've had some funny additions to the show. On Tuesday in Hiawatha, as I was explaining that removing the animals from the old lady who swallowed the fly (via an opening at the top of her back) was a delicate operation requiring a surgeon's hand, a young boy asked, "Did you scrub?" Yes, indeedy. Then last night in Topeka, at about the same point, two girls (ages around 6 and 7) started making beeping noises. "Ah, the hospital monitors are working well."

When I tell The goat in the chili patch, I ask the kids which animals came to tell the goat to get out of the garden. The usual suspects turn up--pigs, chickens, sheep. Sometimes they suggest tigers and lions. It works just as well. In the puppet show with stage, I even put a lion puppet in.

This is a good summer reading theme. I'm a bit tired, having done 33 shows since May 30 (yes, some days have more than one show), but I'm still having fun. That's key.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Traces of the Trade on POV

I've written about my cousin Katrina Browne's documentary, Traces of the Trade, in the past. It's going to be shown tomorrow night (June 24) on the PBS program POV.

After Katrina discovered that our ancestors were slave traders, she set out to trace the journey made by the traders and slaves, with a group of family members. It promises to be a fascinating show. I've only seen the trailer so far. I had the same experience as my sisters, who commented that it was hard to watch all the way through because they kept saying, "Hey! There's Dad! Look, it's Aunt Lidy!"

Here's the trailer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What happens at home when I'm out at work

You'd think he could at least do a little dusting or vacuuming. Instead he unmakes the bed (quilt thanks to Gail Thompson-Allen).

The ringing phone

It happened perfectly the other day. Just as I was beginning my library show, as my puppet Trixie was asking when the ice hockey game was going to start (she never can remember what we're doing), a cell phone rang in the audience.

Trixie immediately picked up her foot to answer.

"Hello? Hello? I'm at the library. Yup, we're supposed to turn them off. Okay, bye."

When I have Mavis the monkey on my hand, she's likely to answer her tail-a-phone. If the phone rings in the middle of a story, I either ignore it or find a way to work it into the story.

I don't mean to embarrass the person whose phone goes off, and I'll admit to having my own ring during a performance or two (and even in yoga class, blush), but I'd like the audience to realize that this is a live show and not TV. Also, just because it's a show for kids, it doesn't deserve less respect than an event for adults. It would be nice if parents realized that their behavior is a model for their children. At another show last week, a woman in the back of the very small room had a conversation on her phone. Fortunately, it was a short conversation.

It's interesting how tyrannized some people are by their phones. They don't realize that they do not have to answer it just because it's ringing. There's a mechanism called "voice mail" which will take a message. They might, gasp, be out of contact for 45 minutes!

Usually when I have company at my house, the live person gets precedence over a ringing phone, unless I'm expecting a call. Guests will say, "Don't you want to pick that up?" Quite often I don't. I do hope that whoever called will leave a clear message including phone number, because I don't have caller ID (a.k.a. spy phone).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wordle--Storytelling with preschoolers

My sister Mary just introduced me to the highly addictive Wordle. I dug around to find the right blog entry to use. March 26, 2008 was the jackpot. I'm still learning how to do this--that vertical line on the right side has nothing to do with anything.

Funny, this reminds me of mind maps, but easier.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Tonight was supposed to be the first story night in my backyard, but it rained. That was okay with me--I was in the middle of pitting sour cherries. This afternoon I went over to a friend's house, where I picked fruit from an overloaded tree. Then I had to deal with them.

It took hours, but the result is worth it: five and a half pies worth of cherries (six cups per pie).

I couldn't bear to throw away the juice. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, beyond admiring its beauty. Maybe make a cherry syrup, after straining out the few pits that snuck in.

Story night next week. I do regret not being able to do the puppet show of "The Goat in the Chili Patch" tonight--I'm performing it in Topeka next Wednesday and had hoped for a rehearsal tonight.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kids grow up

Today was the last day of the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, KS. I had a great time this year, though it was HOT today. I kept reminding myself that two years ago it was even hotter. Also, we missed the horrendous rain and hail that hit Salina and the tornado that smashed the nearby town of Chapman last week. I had shows on the Children's Stage and the Bravo Salina Stage (I seem to be an honorary Salinan), and I roved around the festival with puppets.

I was reminded of the passage of time by a few events at this festival:

I saw my friend Sandy's son Karl, whom I met when he was in third grade. He's going into his sophomore year of college now. He's all grown up.
I also saw Dianna Waite's daughter Bailey for about a second. In third grade, she and Karl were good friends. I didn't get a chance to find out what she's doing, as it was in the peculiar craziness that happens just after a show as parents are trying to buy CDs, kids are trying to shake Trixie's hand, and I'm trying to keep track of everything.

A mother bought one of my CDs for her daughter, who used to have the cassette. The daughter is now 18.

Yesterday a young fellow came up to me and said, "Hey! You came to my school when I was in kindergarten...I'm going into seventh grade."

Can I really have been doing this for so long? I know some of the kids who heard me tell stories in my first audiences in 1988 are parents now!


A few years ago, I performed at the Alford Branch of the Wichita Public Library. I noticed these trees next to the library. Don't they look like they're dancing? Last Monday, I was back at Alford and took this picture.

It was a good show at Alford, as well as at Linwood, Westlink and Angelou branches last week. I also was in Mulvane, Derby and Mt. Hope, KS, doing my "Creepy Crawlies" show. This show still cracks me up. Hope it does all the way through July.

In Wichita, I got to stay with my friend Jean. I rarely get to see her, since she moved away from KC a couple of years ago. Very fun!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Progress on Punch and Judy

After doing nothing with Punch and Judy for over a year, I finally can report a bit of progress.

My sister-in-law came over to get me moving along on building the stage (known as a Punch booth in the trade). We began last year with a new metal and cloth wardrobe and some pieces of an old one. Kate kindly cut the fabric for the front bottom curtain, took it home and sewed it up.

We're able to use the cannibalized wardrobe fabric as well to give the shape and so I'll have a roof. We'll add the same striped fabric to the top and sides, as well as a black scrim, a transparent curtain I can be behind while I do the show, so I can see the audience but I'll be almost invisible.

Let's see, what's left to do? Finish building the booth, finish building the puppets, figure out the actual script, make sure I have the props, write up a short historical explanation so people will not get all PC about the violence... Will it be done this summer? Stay tuned.


On my days when I'm not performing, sometimes I take care of stuff at home. Like plumbing. The faucet had been dripping for far too long, so I yesterday I decided to fix it. I took everything apart and replaced the washers, including the bottom one that fits over a spring. In order to fit it all in the right tiny spot, I looked around for a spindle. Ah, there's a cuticle stick, perfect. I fit the spring in its place, then put the washer-ish thing (technical term) over it, and it worked like a charm.

Until I dropped the stick.

Zooop! Down it went into the drain. Not the drain out, mind you, but where the water comes in. It was gone.

I had no idea how to get it out. I envisioned it rotting in there, or swelling up so I'd no longer have cold water. I considered putting gum on the end of a long stick to try to coax it out, and then losing the gum. I thought about borrowing a wet vac. I dreaded having to explain this to a real plumber.

Thank goodness, I went to dinner at my friends Mary and Andy's house. Andy suggested I turn the water on slightly with the whole thing taken apart and see if the stick would pop out. As you can see from the upper right side of the picture, it did. Whew!

I meant to move the floss off the sink before I took the picture, but I'll just throw in a word about it. As a self-employed person who pays for her own health and dental insurance, I'll say that floss is a great invention. Anything that keeps my teeth in my head and the medical bills away is fine in my book.

My PSA for the day: Floss--cheaper than a root canal.

Friday, June 06, 2008

No unauthorized recording, please

I noticed it last year. At one of my last library performances of the summer, a mother sat in the front row with her kids and recorded much of my performance on her cell phone. I really don't mind people taking a few pictures, but I'm not wild about bootlegged versions of my shows, either sound or video. I've just begun asking the librarians who introduce me to ask that nobody record without my permission.

That's a standard part of the introduction of storytellers at big festivals. Weird to have it reach down to local libraries.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Creepy Crawlies at the libraries

Summer reading season has begun! Since last Friday, I've done my new program "Creepy Crawlies' for libraries four times, with many more scheduled for the next two months. I find that when I do the same show for most of the summer, I learn more about the stories and make interesting shifts to my pacing, delivery and the patter in between stories or songs. I always have extra stories or songs in my pocket, so I can change it up if I get bored or if the crowd is younger or older than the norm.

One of the songs I've been doing in this show is "The old lady who swallowed a fly," with my swallowing puppet, Kay. I made her in 1993. Isn't she lovely? I'm partial to the blue eyeglasses. She has a clear plastic bottle stomach, so you can see what she swallows. Part of the hilarity of the song comes at the end. Kay's not really dead, despite the last words of the song. She just has horrible indigestion. Fortunately, she has an opening at the back of her neck, so I can reach in and pull out what she has eaten. Unfortunately, she's incredibly ticklish. Great drama.

Notice the fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow and horse (I skipped the goat in this version), as well as her cow lunchbox. I think the song went over fairly well at Beef Empire Days last week in Garden City, KS. There was a nice article in the Garden City Telegram about the show.