Sunday, July 29, 2012

The blog is moving!

The new website is up! In order to make it easier for you to see everything I do, I'm moving the blog over to there. If you have a blog reader, be sure to change the address for my blog to The RSS address is

I'll leave this blog site up, because it holds the archives of the last eight years, but all new blog posts will be over on my real site. If I do it right, traffic will be redirected automatically.

Catch you on the flipside!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Buenos Aires knockers and doors

I'll get back to storytelling soon, really, but I have a few more posts of Buenos Aires to put up.

I don't know why I'm so fascinated with doors and door knockers. Is it being the granddaughter of an architect that focuses my attention on architectural details? Whatever it is, here are a few of the pictures I took of knockers and doors.

Noble beast, complete with scrollwork.

Somewhat more restrained.

This is the door knocker I bought at San Telmo market. I propped them on the chair in the apartment, just to take the picture. I'd drooled over one of these in Lima, but didn't buy one until Buenos Aires. Soon I'll have it put on my front door in Kansas City.

A modern door, still with that European look.

Side by side in San Telmo.

They may be old, but they're sturdy.

The grafitti doesn't touch the doors.

I love the letter flaps in these doors.

Nice and neat, across the street from my modern apartment building.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Crooked fingers in Argentina

Yes, I have crooked fingers. I've written about them before. 

I tried a new tactic in Argentina, after my experiences in Peru, where the kids noticed my crooked little fingers in about 95% of the performances. Here's the most common scenario: one kid would see that there was something different about my fingers. He or she would nudge the kids on either side to point out this oddity. They would look at their own fingers, then at mine, then whisper about it. They might start to show off their "double jointedness" as we called any kind of strange bending in our fingers when I was a kid. In the process, they were so engrossed in the idea of something different that they didn't listen to the story.

Partway through the Argentina tour, I decided to be proactive. In each performance after I showed the US map and talked a little about my family, I said "I want to tell you something else about my family. We happen to have crooked fingers." Gasp! The audience was fascinated, I think in part because I gave them permission to look at something strange about my body. Afterwards, I let them touch my fingers if they want to. It's just a finger, a bit more bony than most, and crooked, but still, just a finger.

In Argentina, five times, I had a treat--four kids and one teacher, at different schools, showed me their own crooked fingers. I've never seen so many outside my family. Occasionally I'll see crooked fingers at a school in the US, but not often. I only got a picture of one set, on the last day at St. Luke's School. There was another set at this school, but the two kids weren't related.

Not as crooked as mine, but it's still noticeable. In my family, there is a range of crookedness. Mine are the second-most.
It's genetic. My father and grandmother had this trait, as do two of my sisters and all three of my brothers. The medical term, I believe, is clinodactyly. I found a blog post other than mine about crooked little fingers and wasted quite a bit of time reading all the "me, too!" comments before I came to my senses. I guess that's my version of nudging the person next to me and whispering.
My nursery school art project, plaster painted with gold paint. Crooked as can be.

Another post on schools in Argentina

Students at St. Gregory School in BA. This was a school where I was in a music room, not a cavernous hall. It's so nice to have that intimate feel and not to need a microphone.
I had good intentions to blog regularly during the tour in Buenos Aires. However, with 63 performances in four weeks and a cursed headcold for half the time, I didn't have the energy. I'll try to catch up now.

There really was no such thing as a typical day. I might perform only in the morning or only in the afternoon. I might have three shows at one school and nothing more for the day. I might do one show at a school far to the south and then travel for an hour to another school for three performances. Some days I didn't have to meet the taxi until late, say 8 a.m. or even noon, though usually it was 7 a.m.

The schools were different one from another. The level of English varied from almost native to very poor. Some schools had auditoriums, some used echoey common areas, some put me in classrooms or music rooms. If it was normally the time when they were studying in Spanish, the teachers might not understand English.
These children had a good level of English. Even at schools where the level was lower, the kids understood this stretch.
The students wear their uniforms, sometimes with their warm school jackets.
I'm wearing my fleece vest and scarf in this school, as I did quite often. Schools in many countries are not kept as warm as in the US. It was winter in Argentina.
This high school boy really was paying attention. He turned so that Yoli could take a picture that included the girls in the row ahead of him listening while leaning on each other's shoulders.

I performed at private schools, not at state schools. Most were wonderful. I only had one school where the teachers were talking among themselves, and fortunately, the children ignored them. I only had one school where the kids were poorly behaved and I had no help from the teachers. That may have been partly because of the low level of English, partly because it was a difficult space, partly because I was feeling bad because of my cold.

Generally, the students in Argentina were well behaved and we all had fun. I left a few minutes for questions at the end of the show usually and the students were brave about asking. Some of them have since become my Facebook friends or have liked Trixie's Facebook page or have sent me e-mails. Some have subscribed to my Youtube channel.

On my last day, I was at St. Luke's. It was a fabulous end to the tour. Everybody at the school was welcoming. I was in the brand-new library, a pleasant intimate space. The librarian, Sol, reads to the students every week. They were anticipating my visit. The level of English was excellent, even among the youngest listeners.

This was the day DreamOn was filming the performance. We had only one problem: between the first and second of three sets, the power went out on the whole block. Fortunately, the kids were such good listeners I didn't need the microphone and the videographer was able to reposition me to take advantage of the natural light from the windows.

I left that school feeling good about the performances there and about the whole tour. Whew!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I'm always looking for the best throat soother, especially when I have a heavy storytelling schedule and a headcold. I know the rules: warm up the voice before performing, drink lots and lots of water to hydrate the vocal chords, avoid mint and decongestants (they dry the throat), don't whisper, rest when possible, keep the throat warm. Still, there are times when I need to take decongestants because I straight out can't breathe through my nose and there are times when I need to use cough drops. When I'm having a coughing fit in the middle of a performance, as I did today, I have to do something quickly.

My very favorite are propolis candies. Here's a selection of caramelos de propoleo (caramelo is the general word for hard candy) I've found here in Argentina:

Not all of these are created equal. The very best are those in the brown wrappers, available from health food stores and some pharmacies. I put one in my mouth and had an immediate sense memory: Bulgarian Orthodox churches. Huh? They taste like beeswax candles, which are lit in profusion in Bulgarian Orthodox churches. The other two kinds have a small amount of propolis, but are mostly sugar candies.

I've also been using regular cough drops:

These are not considered to be cough drops in most of Latin America, as far as I can tell. They're eaten as candy or breath mints and they're available at kiosks, newsstands and grocery stores. I've also been drinking a concoction of lemon, chopped ginger and honey, heated with water. Yum! Though my cold is mostly gone, I'm going to be drinking this for the rest of the tour. I've done 54 performances in the last four weeks, with nine more before I leave for home on Friday.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thank you, Emilio!

Two posts in a day, yet again! 

It's nice when kids draw me pictures, especially to show that they've really been listening. Emilio at Southern International School drew this for me today. It's his version of the ghost in The ghost with the one black eye, along with the baby (note the smell lines rising from the diaper). On the other side of the paper, he drew the puppets Peeps, Stephanie, Trixie and the table behind me that held water and cups. Emilio and I had a little issue at one point in the program (it's so hard to sit on the floor with your friends and NOT poke them), so I think this was an apology. It was very kind of him.


Thanks, Emilio!

More on schools in Argentina


Sorry not to have written. I've been a little busy. Today I had my 47th school performance of the tour (three weeks so far), with 17 more next week. I've also been sick. I got a head cold, which I thought I was over last week, but I had a relapse. The pharmacist suggested this cough medicine. It sounds funny in English, but it was effective!
The schools have been mostly wonderful. The kids have been great listeners and many have asked good questions. Sometimes they get shy and don't want to ask the question in front of everybody, so they come up to me afterwards.

At schools like Las Nieves and Glasgow College, the students have showed up at the performances well prepared, having listened to stories on my website or on my youtube channel. This preparation makes a big difference.

Here are a few pictures of the listeners. You'll notice that the children wear uniforms at all of these schools. They have had excellent questions at the end of many of the sessions.

Boys helping me tell "Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle."
Just a stretch between stories, to make it easier to listen.
The teachers listen as well.

In the pictures, these are primary (elementary in the US) school kids. I've also had fun telling to high school students. Yesterday I was at Highest College, performing for the older kids. The coordinator told me that they were all (both students and teachers) nervous about what I might do, worried that it might be only for young children. As I do in the US when I have middle school and high school, I started with a gory story, one I don't tell to the younger students. I could see the audience relax bit by bit and then they all had a good time. So did I.

Time to stop writing so I can get ready to go to a tango show.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Street music

Two posts in one day? It must be a weekend on tour! I promise, I'll get back to writing about storytelling in the schools soon.

But first, did somebody say "tango"? This is Buenos Aires, after all!

I had a lovely day wandering first around San Telmo, then on down to Calle Florida, a pedestrian shopping street. I wasn't terribly interested in shopping, but then I heard music. On the street. A mix of tango, jazz, swing and who knows what else. I stopped to put some money in the hat, then stayed to listen longer. I ended up buying a CD of El Metodo. Here are a few clips:

There were no tiny children in the crowd today, but I could well imagine this scene!

Maybe it's time to get my concertina out when I get home. The bandoneon player was great! (My apologies to Spanish-speakers--I can't figure out how to put the accent over the o in bandoneon.)

Food, glorious food at Don Carlitos

Oh, my. It was a good week in the schools (more on that later) and so we celebrated with a meal. Last night we went out to dinner at Restaurante "Carlitos," otherwise known as Don Carlitos or Don Carlos. This was an experience as much as it was a meal.

It's a very simple restaurant in the neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, right across from the stadium where the Boca Juniors football (soccer) team plays. It looks like an ordinary diner, nothing at all fancy. As soon as we sat down, the owner came to talk to us. When he heard that I was from the US, he spoke a bit of English with me and pointed at a framed movie poster signed by Sophia Coppola. Apparently, this is one of Francis Ford Coppola's favorite restaurants in BA. 

The fellow in the blue shirt is Juan Carlos Zinola, the owner (photo credit: Iva Grbesic)
Looks are deceiving. This was no ordinary diner. The meal was incredible. We didn't order. The food just arrived with a flourish, plate after plate. We shared from most of the plates, though we each got our own steaks. We had empanadas, and in the vast array of food, I've forgotten what they were stuffed with. Here are a few excellent pictures taken by Iva Grbesic on her blog One Chic Mom--we had these dishes and so much more.
Empanada (photo credit: Iva Grbesic)
Spinach fritters (photo credit: Iva Grbesic)
Smoked sausage (photo credit: Iva Grbesic)
One of two cuts of perfectly-cooked steak (photo credit: Iva Grbesic)
Here's the full list of what we had (though I may well have forgotten one or two dishes):
  • Eggplant with white beans, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with herbs
  • Fresh mozzarella rolled around arugula, with dried tomatoes
  • Tuna salad
  • Rolls
  • Mashed potato stuffed with cheese and deep fried--they looked like little potatoes
  • Spinach crepe
  • Spinach fritters
  • Spinach or chard ravioli
  • Fried cheese (provolone?)
  • Smoked sausage
  • Steak, two different cuts
  • Tiramisu (the best I have ever had)
  • Dulce de leche mousse (dulce de leche is an exquisite sort of caramel, though that doesn't do it justice)
  • Bread pudding squares
  • Passionfruit cheesecake
  • Espresso
  • Saint Felicien wine
  • Sparkling water
It was pricy for Argentina, almost $45 USD each including tip, but well worth every centavo. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Buenos Aires views

I've got a heavy school schedule here, so lots of my views of Buenos Aires are from the cab on the way to or from schools. On the weekends, I've had time to see a little bit. Here are a few pictures.

On Sunday, walking through San Telmo, the neighborhood where I'm living, Alberto and I saw people dancing in the street. The woman with her back to the camera is leading the dancing. Notice the drum on the far left.

Wait, is this Buenos Aires or Moscow? On the way from San Telmo to La Boca, the neighborhood to the south, we stopped at the Russian Orthodox Church.It's fully functioning--there was a service going on when we went in.
Caminito is a street museum, a touristy area of La Boca, with artisan shops, tango demonstrations and plenty of kitsch. The story is that the buildings are painted with the leftover paint from the shipyard nearby. Some of them have sheet metal siding, also from the ships.
Here are some life-sized statues of Diego Maradona, Eva Peron and Carlos Gardel.
This is the fileteado style of sign painting seen all over Buenos Aires:

And here we are, back in Moscow, with the restaurant El Samovar de Rasputin. Not sure I'd like to eat there!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Schools in Argentina so far

Today is the fifth school day of the tour. Because schools in Argentina teach at least half the day in Spanish, I tend to be at schools either in the morning or the afternoon, not both. Today I have three performances beginning at 1:30, so I have the morning here in the apartment. The school day runs until 4:30.

I've been having a grand time! So far, I've done fourteen shows at six schools, for students ranging from age 6 to 12. The level of English varies from school to school. Very few of the students so far have been native speakers of English. A few come up to tell me that they used to live in Florida or Connecticut. Of course, the younger kids generally understand less, but the puppets help me on that score.
The baby is always a hit.
The children wear uniforms and often the boys and girls are seated separately. I was at an all-girls school on Tuesday and Wednesday--perfect opportunities to tell Stephanie's Ponytail by Robert Munsch. 

Here's a 2nd grader joining in on Poor Little Bug on the Wall

That's it for today. Off I go to work!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

More from Argentina

I am going to write about the schools, I am. Not today, though. I've done ten shows in the past three days and am tired. A few people asked to see the inside of my studio apartment, so here it is: 

No, just kidding. That's a picture of a fireplace at the Michael Ham School, where I was today and tomorrow. Here's the studio apartment:  
The view as you walk in the door.
The view right by the front door, before you get to the main living area.
The kitchen and dining area.
The view from the other direction. Notice the Moderne chairs. Not comfortable, but the bed is.
There's a balcony, though it has been too cold to spend much time out there (I think it was in the 30s fahrenheit here today, colder than usual). Oh, and there is a very polite elevator--a voice says, "Welcome!" when I get on downstairs. She announces the arrival to the right floor. When I take the elevator down, she says, "Thank you for your visit."