Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Playing sometimes get Tangled.

Being a stay-at-home Dad as well as a storyteller, I get to watch my kids more than, I think, the average working parents for the obvious reasons!  We play a lot and we always seem to make up stories to accompany the games.  Even games like "Guess Who!" a game with two boards covered in different faces.  Each player then picks a card with one of those faces on it and each player has to guess, by process of elimination, which 'face' their opponent has.  Who are these people and what do they do?  It is great to see kids playing and inventing stuff as they go.  When kids get together to play I love watching them explore the world around them.  Now the snow is on the ground and runny noses have begun, people are staying more indoors.  Dress-up brings new characters to life, interacting with other characters.  Situations arise and conflicts have to be resolved.  Why are the good guy's good and why are the bad guy's bad?
This came up over Thanksgiving when I went with some family members to see Tangled.  [Plot spoiler coming up.] The good guy is a bad guy.  The bad witch, on the surface, seems good to Rapunzel and most likely also to younger viewers.  The good guy is a thief who falls in love with the heroine.  The heroine is kept locked in a tower but is 'doted' on by her mother figure who 'loves' her so much she wants only to protect her.  All the while the witch keeps Rapunzel locked in the tower to use the girls magical hair to keep herself young.  The 'mothers' badness comes out later in the movie but progressively so it might not be caught by younger eyes and minds.  Likewise the good guy (who is bad, remember) also changes slowly. [Plot spoiler over.]
Watching the movie and talking about it on the way home and later made me think of the subtle nuances of human beings and how complicated we are. Then watching, over the last week or so, how children play to work these things out made me think how smart children can be when given the right environment to develop.
Another thought came to mind whilst all this was going on and that was that of plonking your kids down in front of a movie as a sitter.  We are all busy and we always have been.  As a stay-at-home dad, as with any parent, there are always things to do: grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry and buying and making things for the holidays (at this time of year). It has always been like this, but tv has not always been around.  I remember listening to the National Anthem at the end of the evening and the screen turning to snow for the night.  Kids shows came and went during the day.  Movies we usually saw in theatres.  So what did we do when mum was ironing or doing the dishes and dad was fixing something or cleaning the car?  We played or listened to the radio broadcasting stories (back in my day and not THAT long ago - 1970s). It seemed that we were together with parents doing stuff or playing outside or indoors with toys and games.  If the tv was on we all watched it as a family and talked about it afterward.  We laughed at the shows together and acted some out later.  This still happens I know, but I also wonder what we can do to make play time and tv time more of a family thing where it is done together.  The young man who invented tv saw it as a device to educate and bring people together, but it seems to be used as a tool to look after kids or keep them occupied when we are too tired to be with the kids.  Maybe if we all played more together we would find new energy.  If we opened ourselves up more to the children and allowed ourselves to play with them and BE PRESENT with them, we would awaken ourselves and be less uptight.  I know that when I 'surrender' myself to the kids and play I am a lot more happy and have more energy than when I am busy and keep saying 'in a minute, let me just...'.
And yes, that is a Disney Princess dress!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Half Way Dead!

Okay, so I am not half way dead, but half way through the Halloween "season" of storytelling!  I have been to some great places, and seen some wonderful costumes, and met fantastic people.  Sometimes I have had packed rooms in larger libraries, some have been small crowds in more humble libraries, but all have had a great community.  Sometimes you see similar costumes - three batman's (or batmen - I am not sure) from differing stores and eras!  But there have been a lot of homemade, or pieced together costumes that have been a joy to see.

At Moultonborough the other night EVERYONE was dressed up and with very few duplications.  Tonight I had a great time further south and the only one dressed up was the librarian, Kelly of Green Gables, but it did not matter.  The kids and their care providers had a great time. I was asked for more Scooby Doo and less Harry Potter as the audience was going to be young, and it was.  I told a bunch of silly slightly scary stories that had the trustees laughing with surprise and the kids giggling with delight.  This goes to show what I have thought all along:  It is really not about scaring people, it is about having fun.

And talking of fun, Steve Blunt showed up at one of my performances and we jammed a little before I started on the stories, with me banging my drum and Steve blazing away on the harmonica. I am hoping that there is a picture of that somewhere that I can share.  And Steve gave me a link to his new video at: So why not check THAT OUT for FREE!  Steve Blunt is a consummate professional - singer songwriter, historical entertainer, and performer for all ages.  He confided in me that he also tells the odd tale or two, but don't say I told you!

Now remember: whilst you are out "trick or treating" remember to be silly, be safe, and have fun.  And, whatever you do, do NOT eat The Black Bubble Gum!

Thanks to Judi K for the the photo!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Summer: here and gone - part two

In mid-September, already the leaves were turning fast.  There were cool mornings and the super hot days.  As I walked with the kids to school there were bright red leaves at our feet; a few here and a few there.  Someone said to me it was the dry weather.  I believe it is also because of the cold, cold mornings. Or is that the maple sap?  I can never remember. So summer was here and now it is gone. Soccer is all about us, even though the World Cup is over.  And the weather is still nice and warm for this time of year.  Even though we had some rain, rain, rain.

I have a new office which I am settling into, and I am gearing up for CD number 3. I am trying to put a studio together with duct tape and old board, pillows and billowy sheets!  It might not sound great but will look incredible!  I even stapled my collection of way-too-many Ben & Jerry carton lids to the walls for looks and to help with the sound!  Function and funky (they are clean, though)!  My plan is to record it myself - the stories part - and have Stevens Blanchard tweak it, and make it pretty, then record the music with him.  He and I will put it all in the pot, mix and then cook at a low temperature for about an hour.  It should work!

The days are beautiful.  The leaf peepers are in town from Mass and CT and everyone with a daily routine has to add an extra 10 -15 minutes to their commute as they follow folks with no schedule to keep.  The rain took down a lot of leaves, but there is still splendor all around if you look.

Today we went to a farm and were treated to all sorts of things - farm stands with fresh, homemade apple pies; local authors selling their books; painters;  fife and drum performers; a trio of fiddlers; hay rides; cider pressed right before us (which we drank, of course) and all sorts of other goodies.  We even had a go at stilt-walking and found that we need to make some of our own as it was so much fun.

Whilst we walked around the farm I wondered at the history of the place and how busy it would have been in its hay day.  Who was the Colonel who had the mill and what was he like?  What did he make at his wood mill, or did he only use it to make planks and boards? We talked about sling shots (which my son made there) and what folks would have used before rubber bands were invented.  We talked about how an acorn would really hurt if someone was hit by one fired by a slingshot, even by accident!  I wondered what the old stone walls knew that we didn't and what secrets the trees were privy to.

It was such a beautiful day and if you let the colours blur as you drove by (if you were a passenger!) the scenery looked like a water fall of shades of red, gold, yellow and green.

When we got home we made pizza and ate apples (so fresh they almost fell into our bag from the branches) cut up and lightly sprinkled with cinnamon, and then read stories before bed.

Tomorrow I will look for wood in our garage that could be used to make stilts.  And then we will walk to school on the stilts, just for the joy of it.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Summer: here and gone - part one

Summer has flown by.  It has been a wonderful season that has not quite finished yet.  One more gig at Mount Washington where I have spent many Friday evenings entertaining the guests.  It is advertised as a family event and families come in all shapes, sizes and ages, which is always fun.  Trying to figure out what to tell for each very different group is sometimes a challenge and always a joy.  I found out, a few years ago when I began working at Mount Washington that it is hard trying to have a plan and sticking to it.  The kids are too young, too old, too fidgety, too serious, too silly (I know, how can kids be too silly?) or too something!  Sometimes I would have very young children who wanted bedtime stories, sometimes older children who wanted horror stories, sometimes both.  It is one of the things that I am pretty strict about - not to send kids away frightened.  I do not want to traumatize a kid, or have the guardian call me up at 4 am yelling at me!  That would be no fun for anyone!

One week when I was there the kids just wanted to play rolling down the hill, so the parents sat with me and I got to tell deeper, richer, longer stories than I usually am able to.  A few of the older kids gravitated to the stories and joined us.  It was like we were in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, swapping stories, or food in a long ago time.  But it wasn't a long ago time, it was a few weeks ago, around a square "fire pit" powered by propane, outside a large and beautiful lodge.  But none of That was real.  The reality was the in stories.  The moment was in the stories.  I have to say it was brilliant.

We had a fox visit most weeks I was there.  He (I think) would trot out and sit and listen, about 10 - 15 feet away but when the folks sitting around the fire got nervous, stood and began talking in loud voices he (or maybe she) would leave.  S/he was either listening to the stories, or waiting for the s'mores! Maybe both!  Two weeks ago, we got to see mother bear, and she wasn't so little, nor was she that far away either.  She came along the tree line trotting having most likely fed from fishes in the stream at the back of the hotel.  But she came trotting along, and stopped for a while, but she was asked to leave by security and she obliged, grateful for the flashing lights to show her the way into the woods.  And then there was a coyote waiting for me on the way home, just watching to see I was driving safely which I was.

There have been a couple of camps I have worked at during the summer too.  One was CAMP!  It is only one night, but it is one of the best nights I have storytelling all year. CAMP! is a place I have been going to for about 6 years now.  It is set up for Vermont kids of migratory families.  These kids are challenged in many ways, and to share stories with them each year is an absolute joy.  And I get to work with some wonderful councilors. Two performances, the later one around a camp fire until almost 10 pm. This year I went on until my voice was almost gone!

Anyway, Halloween is fast approaching and I want to get some new stories and I want to work on another story - it is pretty much there, but needs some care and polish!


Monday, August 09, 2010

Playing Acustic, sort of

This weekend I had three gigs, one in Lebanon, New Hampshire, one in Bretton Woods, also NH and the other in Fairlee, Vermont.  The one in Fairlee is at Ohana Family Camp, a wonderful organization.  I have been going there weekly and this weekend was my penultimate performance for the summer.  I have had a great time there and my telling has been deep, telling stories I do not always get to normally tell for one reason or another.  Another weekly appearance I have been making is at Mount Washington Resort.  Here we have had some young kids, some older kids and one week, a couple of weeks ago, just adults, as their children rolled down the embankment for an hour!  That night I saw a bear on the drive there, a fox who has visited three weeks in a row and that week got VERY close, and a coyote on the way back home.  The tales I told there were also deeper (for older ears) than I normally tell and it was so satisfying to do so.  There is something so magical about going deep into a story, and pulling the history attached to the story to the front and center so that the message is so much stronger.  I really felt that I was deep in another world, time and place, like the characters in Verne's "Land That Time Forgot".

But it is the 'gig' I did on Saturday I really want to talk about. It happened at the Coop at Centura Place, Lebanon and was part of the Producers' Faire there.  I had thought to show up early and set up, to be relaxed for the 10 am start, but when I got there I realized that I was due to start at noon!  Better late than never, better early than late, but by three hours?

As I wandered around watching folks set up their stuff, I got to chat with the band who were also playing there.  They were a band who play acoustic style, music that was both covers and original.  I talked about bringing my bodhran over and sitting in for a while.  When they said yes, they explained that they had no drummer, although the guitarist sometimes does that role.  I volunteered for that too, but they were a little more hesitant about me playing the drum and cymbal they had!  Any musician knows what I am talking about!  I let them set up to explore the rest of the vendors. I got to check out the "Producers" showing their wares, which is something I do not normally have had time to do in the past as I have been performing, and I sampled some things I would never have thought to buy in the past, bought some and brought them home later that day. As I was walking back the band asked me to sit in with them, which I did.  I had a great time!  The band members whose names I sadly and shamefully forget, were great folks.  The music they played included Dylan, Beatles, Young, some of which I had heard, some I knew, a great deal I had no idea what I was doing, but I made it through.  It is a rare occasion that I get to play with other musicians, and certainly to such a wide range of music - their original stuff was very different, but played really well with their cover versions.  It turned out the four gents all lived locally - Piermont, Lebanon, Lyme or Hanover, NH, and Bradford, VT.  And they took my number!  So I suppose I wasn't that bad!  I take a humble bow and say "thank you" to the guys who were a sandwich short of a "Picnic"!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Staring Down a Hole

There is something very humbling about sitting at the top of a very big hole and looking into it, especially when the hole is the Grand Canyon. This was not my first trip to the Canyon, but this was the first time we went as a family. As I sat there, half way down and half way up, just like the Grand Ole Duke of York, I felt so small in the vastness of the Grand Canyon. I used my camera to zoom in on the river and some plants so far below and looked up to where we had hiked from, then looked back into the 'hole.' "What can I do in this life?" I thought. What have done with my life, so far?

It is one of the most spectacular places I have been to. Ever. It is one of the most inspiring places. As I spoke with my son we talked about how it would have been for the first person to come through the trees and shrubs and see 'the hole' and be left thinking, 'how the heck am I going to get over that?' It seems to me that life is like that. But there are ways across if we persevere and look for them. But the main thought in my mind was who the heck am I? There I was on the edge of a huge drop down into this monumental canyon and I felt so small. But this is just one tiny part of America; a minuscule speck on the plant. What can I offer? What good can I do to make it worth me being here - not for me, but for others.

My stories. My storytelling. This might sound flippant, or tripe, but really it is not. We later went to Canyon De Chelly. We took a 'shake and bake' tour into Canyon De Chelly and were guided by a guy who had grown up in the Canyon, a native Dine. He now lives up on the top. He showed us 'rock art' depicting the tales of the lives of the people who lived there hundreds and thousands of years ago. As we were driven deeper into the Canyon, we were shown ancient dwellings. These buildings were constructed up on the cliff walls. People lived there and some still do, although not in the rock dwellings, but in small houses at the base of the walls. Although the land is fertile at the canyon base, there is little to no water for most of the year. Today people have to truck in their water. There is no electricity. Our guide told us about massacres that occurred there, yet the people, the Dine returned. One home had a loom outside. He told us that the woman who used the loom to make blankets had passed away, but the loom will be left there to show her story: a sign of respect; it would never be taken down. To me, all of this was inspiring.

And why would people live down on the Canyon floor when they could live up top with running water (maybe) and electricity? To preserve their culture and way of life. It was the same for the First, Second and Third Mesa's when we entered Hopi land. I met Marlon Huma, a kachina carver who told the story of one of his kachinas. It told of his family, the sun, the corn, the water, the children, the clans, the future. His words held me as he shared his life with me through his sacred art.

We got back to New Hampshire and rain on Tuesday, followed by snow on Wednesday! At one of the libraries I work at there was an evening of Celtic music - my culture - on Saturday. One of the two young musicians played a tune that was a song his mother used to sing to him to get him to sleep at night. He is of 'distant' Scottish descent, but this song and tune have been passed down mother to child for countless generations.

Stories are the same. They are our culture. If we do not share the stories and the songs with those who come after us, there will be nothing left. What sort of culture would we leave behind if all we did was play on-line/video games and chatted on various social networks and texted each other? How could Marlon possibly have told me the story of his kachina by texting? What are we going to leave future generations if we do not share our songs and stories? I am not saying that these devises are all bad, I am saying we need to leave more than technology and use technology to do this.

Already we are going to see our current 'history' written with no original notes. We look, today at letters hand-written by passed leaders, writers, scientists, researchers and artists, but now everything is disposable. Who keeps an email sent from a friend? Where are the hand-written notes on a mss? Where will the letters of the past come from in 100 years from today? Will we be able to trust the documents with the technology of today when it is so easy to fake identities? How will the future generations know the truth when everything is sensationalized and cut down to sound bites?

I looked over a great hole and wondered about the other side. To keep minds open, to encourage creative thinking, to encourage honest discourse, to help people realize there is much to be learned from our elders, from our old books, we need to tell our old stories and sing our old songs and maybe throw in a few new ones of our own. I am a storyteller.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Story Slam in Boston

SLAM OF ALL SLAMMERS! THE BIG MOUTH OFF is the final contest in Boston’s first story slam season, produced by massmouth and will be held. 6PM on APRIL 20th 2010 at in the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Auditorium, Copley Square, Boston MA. massmouth has hosted an exciting series of story slams.
Come hear the winners of the monthly slams plus one People’s Choice entrant compete for the grand prize – a week at a medieval Tuscan townhouse. There are more prizes for the winners chosen by the distinguished judges; including Jay O’Callahan (master storyteller), Charlie Pierce ( Boston Globe, panelist on npr's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" npr) Brian O’Donovan ( host of a Celtic Sojourn- wgbh-fm), Josna Rege ( English professor, blogging at Tell Me Another ) and Jay Allison ("Independent journalist and producer for radio, including NPR's This I Believe") In between sets of judged stories, the audience and People’s Choice entrants will participate in a mini-slam of stories on the theme - “ the first time”.

If this does not sound fun to you, please let me know what does!!!!

For more information, and to check out some AMAZING on-line videos of storytellers, plesae go to the MassMouth website:


Friday, April 09, 2010

Stories from far away

There is a ‘small town’ in the Upper Valley called White River Junction and in White River Junction, Vermont is a store called Revolution. If anyone says that there is nothing to do in the Upper Valley I say, “Oh yes there is, there is plenty to do around here, you have to know where to look – start in WRJ at Revolution.”

Kim Souza, founder and the co-owner of Revolution along with some other like minded people in Rio Blanco, as it is sometimes called, have turned what was becoming a run down town into a thriving community of arts and funky places to visit. Museum, antique stores, yoga, artist, and dance studios, a cable tv station, great places to eat amongst so much more can all be found in White River Junction. Last night (8th April, 2010) Kim hosted in her clothing store, the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars a band made up of people who really know and understand suffering, healing and sometimes forgiveness.

The evening began at around 7pm with a short viewing of part of the documentary by Zack Niles of the story of the All-Stars – their journey of losing their homes, and family members in a bloody revolution to freedom with music. After the 20 minutes showing the All-Stars played a great set until late into the evening. To see such devastation to a place such as Sierra Leone, to see the destruction to the land, buildings, but more importantly the people and then hear the music the survivors make is inspiring. We were told that the band we saw only represents a small part of the All-Stars, that the whole would populate a city! Some have lost their limbs, seen their family beaten to death or shot. The people that make up the band now play music to heal, transport people who have suffered like them. Their story is amazing, heroic (although I doubt they would call themselves that) and inspirational. As is their music, which I listen to with up lifted heart as I type.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Open Fields Auction Eggs

I am very lucky in many ways, and although this is not related to storytelling, it is related to story. One of my all time favourite childrens' book illustrators, Trina Schart-Hyman, used to be a huge supporter of Open Fields School in Thetford, VT. She is sadly departed from this world, and we lost an unbelievable talent. When, in 1996, the school was donated some goose eggs for the kids to paint, Trina suggested that she distribute them to professional artists and sell them as a fund raiser. They have been doing this every other year since. Last year I photographed some of the eggs and this year I get to photograph all of them. I consider this very lucky as I am able to personally handle, very carefully, original works of art I might otherwise not get to examine so closely.

Why is this story? Well, as you can imagine, many of these eggs are decorated by children book illustrators and many others by professional artists. Some are decorated by story fans and families for fun. Each egg tells a story in its decoration. Some are painted, some are elaborate works of art using multi-media, and all tell a story.

I cannot say any ONE of the goose eggs I have photographed is my absolute favourite, but I LOVE this one, by Barbara D Newton.

So, because I love eggs, because I photographed these highly decorated goose eggs, because I am a photographer and storyteller, I share these works of art with you:

and encourage you to take a look and see the stories they tell.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Never ending stories

This morning my son, aged nine, and I were walking through the snow to the school bus stop. Aidan began talking about never ending stories. I sometimes use this 'trick' on him at bedtime when he really should be asleep and wants a story. I tell him a really short never ending tale and then he is happy. Somewhat, anyway. He wanted me to tell him the one I told the other day about his sister, who had been whining a lot. Instead I told one about us walking to the bus stop. He then told one to me. We talked about how you can make anything into a never ending story if you have the right elements and the story can over lap. Aidan asked if they were always short, and I said they need not be.

We talked about 'looping' Goldilocks and then we talked about Jaguar and Hare, a story posted here on this blog a few years back. It is about an old man and woman who have two pets, those of the title, and how the couple go to eat hare who tricks jaguar into almost being eaten. Jaguar's revenge is in sending hare to the moon - the end. But if hare looked back down, as he does in the 10 minute story, for a way to return to earth, but instead saw an old man and an old woman about to eat their pets, it would become a never ending story. 'But then there would be two hares on the moon,' said Aidan. Hmm. 'Ah!' I said. 'The second hare looked at the first hare and said, "What are you doing here?" The first hare replied: "I saw an old woman and old man..." and then' I said thinking quickly, 'when there were 30 or 40 hares, the new hare would ask the question: "What are you doing here?" The other hares replied: "Making a wig. The end." Well, Aidan thought it was funny and the bus took him off to school with a new thought in his head!