Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More from Rio

On Sunday, Patricia (my tour manager and now my friend) and I went out early. First coffee and fresh rolls at a cafe, then the bus to the Botanical Gardens. This was the one place I knew I wanted to visit in Rio and it was wonderful. We're hoping to go back this week. 

Here are a few of my favorite pictures (more on Flickr):
Turtles on a raft.

Fountain with the statue of Christ the Redeemer, symbol of Rio, in the background.

There were lots of monkeys in the trees, crashing around, occasionally dropping debris. This one is a little blurry--they didn't sit still for long. Doesn't it look like a flying monkey from The Wizard of Oz? Yesterday there was a monkey on the wall of the British school, right in the city.

This was in a long alley of palms, many with this reddish trunk. I'm reminded of Christine Lavin's song about palm trees looking like Tina Turner from behind.

Check out the night-blooming cereus growing on this tree! Puts mine to shame! I keep seeing giant versions of the plants I have in pots at home. I loved the orchidarium and the bromelarium.

Here's a staghorn fern in the orchidarium.

We had a tasty lunch in the cafe, cruised through the sensory garden, and took the bus back to the hotel.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rio de Janiero hotel

I made it! I was able to sleep on the flight some of the time, so I wasn't completely spacy when I arrived. Patricia picked me up at the airport and we came directly to the hotel in Copacabana. It's actually an efficiency apartment, with two rooms, a bathroom and kitchenette. Patricia's is similar, on the next floor up. So far we've eaten out, but we just talked about going to the grocery store so we can make a few of our own meals. 

The hotel is on a quiet street. Here's the view onto a little park out my window:

I took this early this morning, so nobody was out playing yet. 

And here's the first room:

To have electricity in the room, I have to put the key in a special port. Very smart--nobody leaves lights on in this place! The kitchen is to the left.

And the second room:

The bathroom is to the right. Yesterday I watched a little TV in Portuguese and then found the movie The Eighth Day in French. Soon I'll get back to work on some projects I brought with me, but it was nice to have a little break. 

It has been a little rainy today, pleasantly cool. Yesterday after I had a nap and a shower, we went out. Brazil has many small buffet restaurants where one pays by the kilo--that's what we did for lunch. We also had fresh-squeezed orange juice. Then we went to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches (not swimming, just walking). At Ipanema we had fresh coconut juice, then scooped out the insides. Yum! The water was incredibly blue green and despite it being a bit chilly, there were plenty of surfers to watch. Then back to the hotel for another nap (we walked--and talked--a lot) before heading out for a supper of pizza. We walked a little more, to an ice cream shop, where Patricia wisely chose the pineapple-mint frozen yogurt. Why do I think I might be writing a lot about food on this trip?! 

Next up, the botanical gardens. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

On my way!

Just a quick note  here to say that I'm really, truly on my way to Brazil. I'm sitting in the Kansas City airport, having scored a seat near an electrical outlet. Soon I'll board a plane for Dallas, then get on another for Miami, then go on to Rio. I arrive tomorrow morning. 

I rarely leave home for a full month. I'm sometimes on the road for big chunks of time, but I usually go home in between trips. Leaving for a longer period of time requires more forethought: have I paid all the bills ahead, is the house ready for the housesitter, did I turn off the mail and paper, have I packed appropriately, etc. 

On top of all that, I had to have a new sewer pipe put in this week. With an old house, nothing is straightforward--it took the plumber and his many helpers a longer time than expected to figure out all the anomalies. Who knew that there was once a toilet in the garage?! I now have three big filled-in holes in my yard, but I also have some peace of mind. My housesitter, a friend from Scotland, will not have to get the line snaked out. 

I think they're about to call my flight. I'd better post this. More later, from Brazil! This is going to be a great trip! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dragonfly residency

Today was the second day of the residency with 2nd graders (7-8 year olds), with sessions at four schools. 

To begin with, Trixie thought we were going to do something with flying dragons--she reached into the puppet bag for a dragon marionette (one of the goals was to introduce the students to various kinds of puppets). It took a while to convince Trixie that we were going to talk about dragonflies, not flying dragons and not dragon's flies.

Even the school therapy dog got in on the residency today. She got some good pats while I was talking. 
I asked the kids what they knew about Monarch butterflies, because another goal was to underline what they already knew and to compare butterflies with dragonflies, in preparation for their trip to the Baker Wetlands.

The students knew quite a bit about butterflies. Some of them mentioned metamorphosis, some talked about how the males have black spots on their wings, others brought up the fact that they're poisonous to birds. They knew the stages of the lifecycle and what happens in the chrysalis. 

From there, I brought out two of my dragonfly fingerpuppets and showed the lifecycle (another key concept) from egg to nymph to adult. The kids had made their own puppets and so we all practiced zipping, zooming and hovering. Oh, and eating mosquitoes from our other hands.

We played with having our puppets nod and shake their heads. We played with different voices and the importance of keeping in character. 

I showed the spider glove puppet and we sang "Poor little bug on the wall" together with different emotions so they'd get the idea of conveying various moods with their puppets. 

The sessions were extremely participatory, with lots of questions and answers. I'll meet with the 2nd graders again in November, after they visit the Wetlands and before they go to the Mermaid Puppet Theatre show of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." More on that when it happens!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I know, you're wondering when this blog will get back to storytelling. Have patience and read on. I just had to post a couple of pictures of the spider on my neighbor's wall. It may be the largest arachnid I've ever seen.

I tell quite a few spider stories, some about the West African and Caribbean trickster Anansi, one about Robert the Bruce, and one my grandmother told me.

Gran always said that spiders were good luck. One day as she was walking out her back door, she noticed a spider's web across the doorway. She ducked down and to the side so she wouldn't break it. Just as she did that, a slate fell off the roof, narrowly missing her head. If she had not saved the spider's web, she would have been hit. Good luck, indeed.

My grandmother was proud that we are descendants of Robert the Bruce (as are thousands upon thousands of others). The great man had just escaped with his life after a fierce battle. He ran up into the hills. Hiding in a cave, he cursed the English, who had captured his dog and who would surely use it to track him down. He slept, waking only when the mornig sun hit his face. He saw a spider climb up the side of the entrance, jump across to the other side...and miss, falling to the ground. It crawled back up the side, jumped again...and missed again. He watched it climb six times. On the seventh, he said, "You'd better give up, spider. I tried and tried, like you, and look at me now, hiding in a cave. If you succeed in catching hold this next time, I'll take it as a sign that I should try again." He watched as the spider climbed up a seventh time, jumped across the gap, and caught. It began to spin its web. He ducked under it, went down from the cave and gathered his men. They then fought in the Battle of Bannockburn against the English, and won.

Whether this is in fact true is immaterial. It's a good story, and Granny understood the value of a good story. As do I.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Mea culpa. Today I stepped on a cricket. I was trying to herd it out of the bedroom, at the same time as I was searching around for the glass jar I'd had in there in the night to try to catch the same creature, turned, lost my balance and the cricket lost its life. I really didn't mean to.

And yet I'm relieved. I was kept awake two nights in a row by the incessant chirping. Last night I was up for at least an hour, trying to figure out exactly where it was. I found a lot of dust and a couple of marbles (that's where I lost them!) under my dresser, but no cricket. I shined my flashlight behind a bookcase. No cricket. I checked the closet. No cricket. It had stopped chirping, so I went back to bed.


Again I searched. Again it stopped chirping. Back to bed.


After I got up for the fifth or sixth time I found some earplugs. I could still hear it, but it was muffled.

I took that blurry picture above not in the house but in the garage. I knew the crafty insect wouldn't come out for a photo op and I knew that crickets often scatter when I go in the garage. Ten minutes after I came back in the house I heard another chirp, this time the smoke alarm telling me it needed a new battery. Eerie.

A couple of hours later, I went into the bedroom and there it was, in its shiny glory. That's when I tried to herd it. Squish.

Dragonflies are so much quieter.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who's going to Brazil with me?

That is, which of my puppets, not which of my friends, will stow away in my luggage next week?

Trixie, definitely. Certainly the baby (no, she still doesn't have a name). Mavis has been begging to be allowed. Those three are shoe-ins. Trixie will take her giant toothbrush and will brush her hair with it. The baby will pop her binky out of her mouth. Mavis will talk on her tail-aphone. The poor little bug on the wall travels well, so he'll join us.

Who else? Kay, a.k.a. the old lady who swallowed a fly? She would be good, but she's big and has lots of snacks in her lunchbag. It depends on how much space I have in my luggage.

The Gunniwolf has been feeling a bit left out (and also slightly out of frame). He'd like to go on the trip, I'm sure. He--and his story--is quite good with young children.

Maybe Stephanie, who is the puppet I use when I tell Robert Munsch's Stephanie's Ponytail. She doesn't look like Stephanie in the book, but she has great hair (ignore my finger in the photo).

Any opinions?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Dragonfly finger puppets

I spent a long time looking for dragonfly finger puppets to use in my upcoming residency for 2nd graders (age 7-8, for those of you outside the US). Folkmanis has one. I ordered this for myself, but I'm disappointed--the wings on each side are on top of each other and the eyes are too far apart. I tried a kirigami dragonfly pop-up card. It was pretty, but not what I needed.

Nothing for it. I was going to have to make one up myself. I started playing with a pipecleaner (now called chenille stems in the craft stores), wire-edged ribbon and beads. Here's what I came up with.

Here are a few of them in their, umm, wetland habitat (ignore that sofa in the background!)
One benefit of these finger puppets is that the kids can make them before I arrive for the first residency session. I was thrilled when the teachers offered to do that. Another benefit is that they're quite inexpensive to make--I bought supplies for about 175 of them for under $15.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Night-blooming cereus, part 3

Just a few more, I promise. There will be one more flower tomorrow, but this is it for the blog. This is the progression through the day.


7:30 p.m:
About 9 p.m.:

10:00 p.m.:

This variety has no scent, unlike the other one I have. It will open some more, but I'm off to bed. Back to your regularly-scheduled show soon.

Night-blooming cereus, part 2

I almost missed the first bud! Thank goodness for intuition. I woke up at 4:30 this morning thinking it might hail. I got up and put my car in the garage. As my feet were wet from going out, I went into the laundry room to dry them off. Hmm, maybe I should check the cereus...

Yikes! One of the three buds had bloomed!

Here's what it looked like yesterday in the late afternoon:

And here's what it looked like at 4:30, in the rain (and me without my glasses):

There will definitely be another post about this plant.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Home from Choctaw

I keep telling Joe Fish that he wouldn't really want to go with me on these trips, even if I could take him. What would he have done at the Oktoberfest in Choctaw, Oklahoma?

They moved the Kinder Zelt (Children's Tent) from its quiet space of last year to the main thoroughfare as folks came into the festival, just past the booths for food and beer tickets.

Behind the Kinder Zelt was a big field. At one end were bouncy houses and a giant bungee contraption. Closer to the Kinder Zelt was where on Friday they put up a hot air balloon (have you ever heard those burners? LOUD!) and on Saturday they had a classic car show.

The oompah music was only a little louder than last year, nothing like the sound bleed of the Irish Festival last week. Once again, the Kinder Zelt offered crafts, facepainting (I'm not convinced that acrylic paint is appropriate), sack races, egg and spoon races, hula hoop demonstrations. There was a helium tank for the high school students to fill balloons and make funny voices.

Oh, yes, and storytelling. Fortunately, I had some focused listeners, and the sound system provided was good. On Friday, there were two three-year-olds in particular who listened intently for a long time. On Saturday some of the youngest German dancers came to listen between their sets on the main stage. I officiated at most of the competitions, when I was on break from telling stories. I told German stories, along with other European folktales and stories from books.

It was far from an ideal setup for storytelling. I was crabby about it earlier, but after writing this, I remember that some of it was quite fun.

At the end of Saturday, I was wiped out. I dined on smoked bratwurst with spicy mustard, red cabbage and a dark beer while I watched the dancing.

I heard one fellow ask another if he was going to join in the chicken dance. "I can't." Long pause. "I'm not wearing a belt and my pants might fall down." When that dance was over, the band struck up "On the bayou," that classic German ballad. I wish I had pictures of one couple I was watching--they were quite good, well synchronized with lots of fancy moves, but the man looked like he was roping a steer! It wasn't just because he was wearing cowboy boots, either.

If I'd taken Joe Fish, he would have cowered somewhere, maybe in the booth where they sold giant beer steins and tee shirts, or maybe under the strudel booth. And he would have hated the six-hour drive there and back.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Night-blooming cereus

My night-blooming cereus is on the verge of flowering again. Last year I was out of town when it happened. I'm hoping it blooms while I'm here. This is how big the buds were on Saturday:

On Monday:


Here's the whole plant:

The flowers bloom only for one night. They put out an incredibly strong yet delicate scent that can fill my whole house. Last time I was home for one, at 7:00 p.m., it didn't look like it was going to happen that night. By 9:00 p.m., the blossom had opened completely. It's like watching time-lapse photography in real time!

The key to having these bloom, I've read, is to treat them badly. I've had this plant up on the railing all summer. It has southwestern exposure. I water it occasionally, but mostly just leave it alone. The other NBC I have is a different variety--that's the one from a cutting off my grandmother's plant. I haven't had a blossom on that one in about 12 years.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Festivals again

I performed at the Kansas City Irish Festival last weekend.

Festivals are a mixed bag. My favorites are storytelling festivals, because the sponsors usually understand what the deal is. They realize that storytelling isn't background music. They know that it's counterproductive to have the storytellers next to the petting zoo, or the fountains where children are allowed to play.

At the KCIF, I was facing the main music stage, next to these fountains, with my back to a wall shared by the children's facepainting and crafts. My sound system was good, so the audience could hear me, but the sound bleed from the music stage was so overpowering I could barely hear myself. I'm usually fine with distractions, but in this case I felt like I did a mediocre job. Sigh.

Next weekend I'll be at the Choctaw (Oklahoma) Oktoberfest. No, it's not a Native American festival--the town of Choctaw has a big German festival every year. Last year 35,000 people attended. At this festival, the storytelling stage is also in the children's activity tent, but it's far enough away from the music that all I hear is oompah in the background. I had a great time there last year, except for some car trouble.

I do lots of people watching at festivals. In KC, there were lots of men in utilikilts, children with temporary Celtic tattoos, women wearing "Kiss me, I'm Irish" tee shirts. At the Oktoberfest, I'll see plenty of lederhosen and dirndls, maybe some Tyrolean hats. Both festivals feature beer prominently (not for me, not while I'm working). I had a corned beef sandwich at the Irish festival. I'm sure I'll have bratwurst at the German festival.

At the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, I always have an Indian taco. That one is a huge arts fest, not tied to a certain ethnicity, and I always have fun there. Here I am in Salina this past June with my friend Mavis. She's the one on the left.