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Here's the latest news from Angela the Yarnspinner!

Mardi Gras Fun

During the summer while refurbishing an old house, I met master carpenter Alfred Wombles. Pictured left of New Orleans city mayor in the above photo. As you can plainly see, Alfred is a Big Chief Mardi Gras Indian and can be seen sporting a new costume every Mardi Gras! Alfred makes his own costumes by hand and starts work on it the week after carnival is over. He hand sews all the bead work and puts the costumes together step by step. Well known in the community, he a pillar of strength and commands respect wherever he goes.

Alfred and I put our heads together and came up with an enriched storytelling program that shares five steps of how costumes are made, parts of which are embedded in a West African story from which the Mardi Gras Indians draw their roots. After hearing another tale, participants participate in an authentic Mardi Gras second line parade around the venue. It's fun for all ages!

Morocco Medina

We’d been warned for being easily lost in the largest medieval medina in the world with over 9500 alley ways filled with shops selling everything you can imagine such as jewelry, food, appliances, gadgets, colorful fabrics, shoes, candles, spices, belts, beguiling oils, bedding, wedding gear, ceramics, leather, a mosque, a university, and so much more. Our hotel was here in the midst of a complex winding path just off one of two main roads in the old city of Fez. The first night we stayed on the main road walking the narrow pathways lined with stalls on either side. My eyes widened as we passed by the goat heads lying on the counter of one stall and goat hooves and stomachs hanging by string from the rafters. A huge covered pot steamed sheep’s brains, while breads of varying textures were displayed next to each other. Spices and other smells aroused my senses. More than once, I stepped over poop falling from passing mules loaded with supplies or was nudged out of the way by owners pushing over full carts.

Little children ran playing, while nearly everyone was bustling in one direction or another. How well I remember telling the story of Moroccan born, Ibn Batuta, who traveled some 150,000 miles during the 1300’s —quite a feat for his time. He wrote that traveling changes you and you are never the same. Seeing the world through the eyes of another expands the mind. The next day, our guide, Khalid helped us to meander through the medina without getting lost and told stories along the way. We saw the weighted water clock built in 1357, an instrument for telling time, yet no longer in use and heard how a spider saved the life of Mohammed in one of several mosques in the medina. In this place with cardamom in its coffee and cumin in its eggs there is much considered sacred, even the ceramic tiles are laced with meaning. Many of Khalid’s stories were infused with his faith.

Surrounding this ancient city of Fez, was a giant wall filled with nesting holes for the sparrows, considered holy birds after saving the city from a siege. Khalid told us story after story and I was in heaven. Stories take us right to the heart of God. Eating a typical Moroccan meal of couscous, chicken and vegetables served in clay dishes, he told us how much he prefers being a guide instead of a teacher. But he didn’t need to tell us, it was obvious, he would do this work even if he wasn’t paid for it. It is wonderful when we love the work we do. In the medina, weavers wove, metal workers hammered, tiles and metals were chipped and chiseled, leathers sewed, ceramics and pottery were finely crafted. Here the business of life is work infused with labor that is good. Sweat of the brow and joy in living are one. We are wealthy beyond measure when the work we do is loved deep in our souls.

Story Quilt

I wasn’t interested in quilts until I read a book that talked about the importance of quilts. I happened to be pregnant at the time expecting my first child. In the quilting book, the author mentioned when mothers first learned they were expecting, a quilt was started for the child’s protection. Intrigued, the author remembered being under the quilt commenting how much of a mother’s love went into the quilt that served as a protection for infants. Back in those days, quilts were a first line defense filled with powerful motherly love that served as a security shield for a helpless infant. The notion filled me as my maternal instincts kicked into full gear and I had to make a quilt full of motherly love for my wee one.

My friend Adona loved quilting and always had a bag full of patches waiting for her next project. So I called her up and subsequently showed up at her house to begin my first quilting project. After sharing with her my purpose, she decided to join me and make a quilt for her recently born grandson, Philip. Since I was enamored with birds at the time, I chose prints and a pattern that reflected my love of the winged creatures. We met often over the next seven months, to complete my creative drive. During those months stories ensued, as she mainly told me stories about her daughter and grandson’s births. This was pre-storytelling days for me, and would later form the foundation for my becoming a storyteller.

During one of my first storytelling festival gigs, there were quilts all over the stage area and little pieces of sheared fabric pinned to the clothes was the entrance ticket to the various events. So strong were the quilt memories, I shared some stories from my quilting days from that time period with the audience. One story in particular, told itself as it practically sprang from mouth fully formed and full of mystery. Somehow, a memory from the quilt book about a rooster took shape and form and the quilt covering my baby protected it from the rooster. It turned out quite comical as I recall. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact telling of the tale and no taping of the tale exists. However those story quilts are wrapped and waiting to hand over to my daughter when that momentous occasion comes. Perhaps when I have a grandchild, the story will come to memory once more.

Little Belgian Peeing Boy!

Stories unfold around us daily. Traveling through the Brussels airport in route to Holland, I came upon the artwork of Jerome Duquesnoy of a little boy peeing. A short time later I saw a Coke ad depicting the same little peeing child. I saw earrings and plenty little peeing mannequins in gift shops. I later found out the statue was representative of a famous Belgian landmark. There are several legends behind this statue. The first is of the young boy who was awakened by a fire. Finding no water he used his urine to put out the fire. In the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.

The most famous story is of Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times. In 1619 it was replaced by the current bronze statue, created by Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father of the more famous François of the same last name.

Another story (told often to tourists) tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.

Another legend was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was peeing on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as tribute to the well known fable.

I wondered how many times Belgian teachers have given the assignment to write about the little peeing boy. I also found out the statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. The costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken-Pis. The costumes are on permanent exhibition and can be seen at the Grand Palace inside the City Museum. At any rate, when I am in Belgium again this summer I will look for the famous landmark.

Alexandra Writes & My Brother Plays Music!!

There is something about the spirit of Budapest that fascinates me as if I am immediately brought back in time. Slipping between the folds of time I get the sense of being in an ancient world. Stories are lurking there. Perhaps that is why 14 year old Alexandra, who has written some 700 books lives nearby. Autistic, gifted and inspired she was hard at work during the festival on her next book written and illustrated solely by her. Alexandra’s autism doesn’t prevent her from being very clear about what she likes and doesn’t like and in an odd way I was very glad that she decidedly liked me.

One out of every 100 children are born with autism, a neural disorder that shows up in the first three months of life. When my brother was first diagnosed as a child I never imagined that someday he would be able to live a healthy life in which he would be socially responsible and contributoring. A gifted singer and musician, at age 42 , he does just that. Like Alexandra he creates using music instead of words. He could play the piano by ear, long before he took music lessons! Today, we must view autism from a different standard than the one used when I was a child. Many autistic children, my brother included have amazing skills and gifts to share. What a delightful addition they are to our world. I look forward to the possibility when their collaboration with the “greats” of our time is expected, fostered and nurtured. I expect to see their work visible, appreciated and used.

A Gypsy Story!!

While driving back to the airport, my husband shared an amazing encounter with a captivating gypsy woman while in Budapest. Along the river bank with both hands stuck in his front pockets he walked upon a sprite of a woman with long flowing locks asking for a cigarette in English. He reached into his pocket using only one hand and in one long fluid motion produced the cigarette without ever removing his other hand from his front pocket where his wallet was stashed. Suddenly visible, a man also intoned the desire for a cigarette. Then he noticed just at his elbow a boy waiting behind. They obviously knew each other and were planning to pick his wallet. My husband never gave them the chance. I was as intrigued by his tale as I was by the five other tellers who were featured at the Holnemvolt Festival.

Budapest-Holnemvolt International Storytelling Festival!!

The labor was long and intense as Budapest’s first international storytelling festival was born. All manner of tales poured forth late into the night and we all heard the strong, feisty voice of the newbie fortified with a healthy, keen will to survive pulsed through the veins of every person present. Through the sheer audacity and will power of twelve women and one man, Holnemvolt International Storytelling Festival came to life.

What made the weekend remarkable was the individual style of each international performer and the teamwork exhibited by the planners who put the festival together. César “Wayqui” Villegas came from Peru and had an endearing, intimate way of including the audience into the story. It was as if we were sitting in his living room on one of those gorgeous Peruvian mats as he charmed us with love stories from his native country. I still remember the joy exuding from his eyes as he ended one of his love stories with “when man and woman come together in just such a way, their love makes everything smell of fruit,” ooooh, such deliciously told wonderful tales.

Csernik Szende, the Hungarian/Romanian/Transylvanian storyteller who told stories with her feet. A woman after my own heart, I watched delightedly as she climbed on top the cloth covered table in her long flowing skirt and enchanted us with the wolf perched on her foot hid under her skirt which had been transformed into a forest through which a nearby peasant balanced on her other foot, had to beguile the wolf in exchange for his safety. Each tale was woven with the dexterity of the Hungarian spirit she is known for in her country and we nearly fell out of seats laughing. Csenge explained to me she had words in her dialect unfamiliar even to Hungarians which she was able to elucidate in her story.

Norwegian teller, Tone Fløde, told hauntingly beautiful tales that took us so deep into ancient history, it was difficult to climb back out again. Her story of the beautiful Susanna who was attacked even as she bathed was portrayed with a tenderness and clarity that made us feel the event happened in the recent past. Her story of the pixy elf and King Olaf hailed from her Norse background and one had to wonder if she wasn’t an elf in disguise. Her forest green leggings, complimented her stories and she appeared to be camouflaged for the forest.

Birgit Lehner, from Austria, told complex folktales that took the listener from one extreme to another. Steeped in tales from the old school she never missed a beat to keep the audience mesmerized and entranced. Her voice sounded other worldly, so beautiful it was that she brought musical instruments to life between tales. Whether she was telling a ghost story or a folktale, her heart and spirit shone through.

When she wasn’t translating, Csenge also wove intoxicating stories that held us spellbound. The weekend rushed by much too fast. She the story of Solomon’s birth and the astonishing story Solomon told as a babe before Lila touched his lips banishing his memories, and the story of the Blue Rose during the closing ceremony. There were four official translators for the Hungarian audience and lots of unofficial translators for us storytellers to understand each other’s tales.

It was wonderful seeing Csenge’s mother and father again, who two summers before drove us all over the region. (Scroll down to earlier blog post: A Week of Hungarian Storytelling) Meeting Csenge’s cohort in producing the festival, kindred spirit, Petra for the first time, her face framed by golden Bohemian dreadlocks, proved to be the start of a budding friendship. Later we discussed ways I might return to Hungary offering workshops. My favorite part of the weekend followed a mixture of ghost stories as we coupled to receive a paper lantern. We trooped into the chilled night air, unwrapped, lit, and bid fond farewells to the traveling beacons that floated upwards and away lighting up the night sky. It was as if we were sending our stories out into the world for all to see and hear. Perhaps it was because we were still swooning from Wayqui’s love stories that the night seemed rampant with warmth, romance and magic. Or maybe it was because we’d all come together and offered our soul’s telling in a city that is full of climactic story. Whatever the reason, I was so glad my husband was there to share the moment. As tellers do, we bonded forming connections that will most certainly last a lifetime.

LIVE!!

First my apologies, not writing anything for a very long time. Quite frankly, the bottom fell out of my world. I needed to write in a different way. So just about the time I stopped writing on my storytelling blog, over a year ago, I began writing a column called Weekly Uplift. It helped me deal with my life in a positive way. This past week, I attended the Hungarian storytelling festival and the mother of a storytelling friend lovingly chided me for not writing my blog regularly and this is my first attempt at restarting my blog. What to write about? A wonderful wish unfolded this past week. I finally visited the Egri Korona Borhaz in Eger, Hungary

Egri Korona Borhaz is a winery located an hour away from Budapest. I first heard of this winery when my husband’s friend gifted us with two bottles of wine five years ago. The first bottle we opened several months later when storyteller, Judith Wynhausen, and her family vacationed with us Holland. (see blog entry for August 5, 2007) Sadly, my friend, Judith is no longer with us. So I am very happy to have this wonderful memory of her family’s visit and this delicious wine we shared. Judith‘s husband, John, loves wine, and beer. So during their visit, we drove to Westmalle in Belgium where the monks play classical music for the cows who produce divine cheese. http://www.trappistwestmalle.be/en/page/brouwerij.aspx

Now I have never been a beer drinker. Instead I had a waffle covered with ice cream. Belgium waffles are quite simply amazing. John insisted I taste the three different kinds of Westmalle beer. I still am not fond of beer! Later that night, we sat around listening to more of my husband’s incredible tales and popped the cork on the red wine. The taste was out of this world! I have tasted many wines in my life, but this was the absolute best wine I have ever had in my life, bar none. The body, bouquet and aroma of this wine Egri Korona Kek Medoc came together to create the smoothest, finest wine I have ever had.

Having tasted a bit of heaven, I had to know more about the wine. I found out where the winery was located, and because the bottom fell out of my life, I couldn’t just pack up and go to Hungary. Everything in my life was topsy-turvy. There was no money for the luxuries of life and the necessities were stretched beyond their usual proportions. To the outsider, my world seemed frivolous I’m sure. After all, I was gallivanting all over the world seemingly without a care in the world. Truth be told, I literally traveled on a shoestring, kindnesses from others, credit, lots of prayers and too many miracles to list in one page.

It was an amazing ride of grace, trust and faith. I always managed to come right side up, and everything worked out, but I didn’t know it would at the time. So anyway, I get this invitation to attend the Holnemvolt (the word for storytelling in Hungarian) Festival in Budapest. What an opportunity presenting itself. It happened that my husband’s birthday is also in March, so with a bit of advance planning we wound up in this incredible place I’ve longed to go for these past five years, on an overnight leisurely wine tasting, that included breakfast and dinner! I was there! I lived it! In the mountains the air was cool, fresh and uplifting. http://www.koronaborhaz.hu/index-2.php

I am inspired. We’re bringing back six bottles. They’ve changed the name of the wine from Keke Medoc to Egri Borhaz Menoire, but it no longer has the same taste, though it is still positively wonderful. Traveling around Eger, we happened upon this wonderful place for exquisite Thai massages at a little place called Hunguest Flora Hotel. Every part of my body is working again!

I learned a lot of important lessons along the way. When you find wine you like, purchase more of it quickly. (I did try, the company didn’t ship outside of Hungary and the two cases my husband’s friend brought back for us from his next visit, curiously disappeared before we got back to Holland.) Be kind to yourself, no matter what. You need you. You are important and life is good even if it doesn’t always seem that way. I am in love with life and living. You see this week, my uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same thing my mom had three years ago. My sister-in-law’s husband lost his battle with diabetes. And last night an email from a friend, her fiancé died.

I am alive, and loving life and loving you. I promise to write faithfully on my blog too—at least once a month, (thanks Detti!) and when it’s really good, I’ll write more! Now this is an order--go love your life! Live. What makes your heart happy? Do more of that! And if you can’t do THAT thing, then spend time believing and imagining you’re doing that thing at least you’ll be happy imagining. I am dong what I love–traveling with someone I love, enjoying life because I dreamed it and believed it before it ever happened, though for the longest time things were not quite right, yet life keeps on getting better and better. This is your time. This is your life. LIVE! Angela –the Yarnspinner

Feeding the Lambs!!

My in-laws live on a farm so I was delighted to see the many baby lambs that had been born in my absence. Four of them lost their mom leaving the task of feeding them a daily chore. I volunteered for the job on Monday evening. Mom gave me the warm bottle and pointed out each lamb should only get a third of the bottle. (One of the lambs had passed.) I walked to the fenced in area and though I was some distance away, those lambs knew it was feeding time and came running and baaa-ing up the fence. Because of the sheer exhilaration over feeding them, I felt a bit overwhelmed too and decided to remain outside the fence to feed them. They are fed three times a day.

Arjo, my husband, began snapping pictures. One third of the milk disappeared in no time! How to describe their enthusiasm, their eagerness as they sucked at the bottle, as all three of them chomping at the bit, jostling and bumping each other to get at the milk. It was pandemonium, incredible life! Not at all panoramic, but enormous in my mind as the lambs vied for feeding. I was in the middle of a feeding frenzy and was thankful they weren’t piranhas. I couldn’t help being amazed and awed by the delightful lambs. And just like that, the milk was gone. I wished I had more milk to give them.

Feeding the Heart!!

I am spending time in Holland and arrived just in time to celebrate my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. Four offsprings and their families came together to a wonderful restaurant on the beach called Gravelingen not far from where we live. Celebrations are always nice because it’s a happy time as we flow through life’s amazing passages. Lots of love and joy abounds. Most of the talk was in Dutch, but it was clear to me, love was being celebrated. My husband had given me sketchy details of how the two had come together. Her mother noted if her daughter married a farmer she’d never be hungry or want for much (and in those days, farmers were indeed considered wealthy).

None of us can be certain what the future holds when we start out on the road of life. But one thing is sure. We will go. Fifty years later we look back and wonder did we make the right choices? It was evident to me looking around the table at the happy faces present, there was much to be grateful for. Sophie, the youngest grandchild at seven sat quietly across from us coloring, while the eldest grandchild Zonder, 21 with girlfriend at his side sat further down table discussing plans for the future. This amazing cycle of life continues in play out around the world. Families coming together to be together. In America, my own family was getting together in Dallas, Texas to celebrate my youngest brother’s house warming.

My own heart was warmed. Families celebrating each other. I looked at my husband sitting next to me. For this, I had traveled over 5500 miles to be with family. Careers and life demanding its toll, we had passed a time apart, major in many ways. Coming together again felt right. Will we live through 50 years together? Who knows? But each day I choose to live from a place of gratitude and joy. From this awareness comes the understanding that I can create a thing of joy and imbue it with more love. Marriage is a choice. My in-laws are bound by a faith that demands they do the done thing and their choices have not been unkind. Each moment we are faced with choices that lead to more choices as the fabric of time unravels. What joy!

Freedom!!

The stories we tell can help us to uncover emotional freedom if we choose. Telling stories is what we do all day long! A toad in my mind’s eye saw a fly of a thought and faster than lightning snatched it into itself and the thought disappeared. It was hard to suppress the laughter that followed after imagining the mind eating itself! Every time a thought came that seemed less than wholeness, the frog devoured it. The mind is ingenious in creating exactly what you need to take you where you most want to go.

Our minds cannot be grabbed with the hands and handled. Yet our minds are responsible for all that we see. Every thing we see began as a thought in someone’s mind. All that we think are thoughts we choose to have and we never stop thinking until we decide. Mind hides our true self. But the mind can no longer hide from itself. Every where we turn, there we are. If we see the kindness of a loved one, it is our own kindness being displayed returning to wink at us. Conversely, when we see the sides of us in others we do not like, there again, is another wink. The mind longs for summer when it is winter; for whatever it thinks it does not have, there is longing. The mind is constantly telling us stories.

Our lives are filled with the stories we tell ourselves. Are we choosing to tell stories that make us feel good? I know a good toad story to share…I am laughing again. What a mind, what a world!

Moving!!

The one thing we can be sure of is change. It's time to downsize, with kids grown and on their own and living on two continents calls for rearrangement. A mixture of feelings swirl through me as this move has been happening in sporadic spurts for the past six months finally comes to a completion. I've been living in my new space for nearly six months now and though it took some getting used to, I've learned to call it home. It's quite and ordeal moving out of 3700 square foot space with room enough for everything you love, into a 1500 square foot unit that comfortable for two people who travel a lot. Deciding what to take and what needs a new home can be problematic.

It so happens my daughter and her husband are also moving, but to a larger space, so she's inheriting some of my most cherished pieces like the dining room set, the good china, a king size suite and much more. My son is also moving after completing his masters, to a space of his own and will be getting mom's library, a bedroom set and stuff he staked out as his. Problem is neither one can get their stuff until next month. So it's all going in storage until they come to retrieve it. We'll be freer to move back and forth between continents as life dictates.

Jazz Fest in New Orleans is fast approaching and after five years, I've been invited to tell again at the festival for the first time since Hurricane Katrina! I'll be praying for sunny skies and a cool breeze! Right after Jazz Fest I head back to Holland before Summer Reading kicks into high gear! It's going to be a busy summer with lots of exciting developments on the way!

The Martian is Here, The Martian is Here!!

Not aliens from out of space, but my dear friend Sylvia Barker is in New Orleans to check on her parents' post Katrina home and to share stories! Sylvia calls herself Martian, the Storyteller. though born in New Orleans, she lives in Rochester, NY. The first night she arrived she whisked me away to the infamous Palm Court Cafe in the French Quarter to hear fabulous jazz. Sylvia Barker is the only offspring of jazz greats Blue Lu and Danny Barker. We sat next to the stage and heard jazz music while stuffing our faces with great food. It was an evening to remember because everybody seems to know Sylvia! I met so many people. Even the terrific up and coming snazzy drummer, Kori Walters, asked to take pictures with Sylvia. Sylvia was introduced on stage and second lined like a teenager around the restaurant to her father's music and got many of the tourists to join in!

The next day Sylvia participated in a Seder Communion at our church on the Northshore and gave some inspiring information. At a local school, Sylvia wowed the kids with her original tale, "The Three Pig Brothers", an urban rendition of "The Three Little Pigs". I could not believe my eyes as Sylvia danced and performed like a twenty five year old something, though she is not far from being an octegenarian! Her joie de vivre is contagious!

Sylvia brings life, zest and youthful energy wherever she goes! That certainly makes her different and a whole lot of fun to be around. Her stories are always interesting and you are sure to learn something new if you hang around for even a short time. I think she's a national treasure in her own right. Her court case around her family's home was settled amicably and it will be hard to settle back down once she heads back to Rachester, where she's been transplanted for the past three decades.

Storytelling in the Classroom!!

Stories make me feel all kinds of emotions depending on the tale being told. Kids on the other hand, always bring out the sheer joy of sharing stories. This past week was no different as I told to a group of first graders at two separate schools. Their eyes are wide as imaginations follow along with the stories. This group can get antsy, so I usually have a few parts in my stories where they get to participate! In the story I shared, there were several questions which made their little hands shoot up in the air. Teachers giggled at the responses and I had to maintain composure whenever they responded in their joyfully, predictable silly ways. One kid was definitely in the ornery mode and decided he would answer differently from the others. Now ordinarily answering differently is a good thing. In this case, he maintained that he did not want to learn how to use his brain to help him. It was a perfect moment to send some love his way! Breaking protocol I asked the kids to send him a great big heart of love his way. Shucks, he enjoyed that little bit of attention so much, he continued his little game of disagreeing as the story progressed. Kids who love themselves don't hurt themselves or others. In driving the main point of the story home, he got the message. I really hated to say good bye when it was time to go, I'd had so much fun. It was lots of fun to read their hand written thank yous and and drawings. I've been invited back again next year, so I'll get to see them again!

Breathing in Joy!!

There are things in life over which we have no control. My neighbors make too much noise, I thought amidst crumbly feelings pervading my space like bad odors. A perpetual scowl on my face and wishing I was some where other than right here did nothing to improve my mental scape. I read a message from Maya Angelou and everything shifted exponentially into clearer focus. The noise continued, but it no longer bothered me. She spoke of a really low time in her life and visited a minister for help. She walked away from that meeting changed, inspired and uplifted. She learned to say, “Thank you God” for whatever showed up in her life.

I began thanking God for the noise and somehow the noise just didn’t bother me any more. Since that day, I’ve learned to thank God for so much I don’t like around me, but I also am grateful for the thousand and one things that are wonderful for my life. A kind of peaceful serenity has moved in. Shucks, I’m even grateful for the cold! Try it yourself. Start thanking God for everything that shows up in your life, and you too will witness a miracle unfolding within.

Weekly Uplift all Year Long!

Winter is here. Gone on the holidays and I wonder where the time has gone. The holidays were like a quick breath and the next thing you know, we are in a new year. A new year has begun! It is the year that I focus precisely on what is meaningful and beautiful. Stories abound at the cutting edge of life. Embedded in our very lives, are the stories we tell ourselves that will shape our tomorrows. I found an old notebook in which I’d written out my dreams.

Busy with life, I forgot about what I’d written. Imagine my surprise when I realized, everything I’d written had come to pass. We have the power to create a life like no other. Conscious thought leads to fulfilling actions. Simple, methodical, daily actions lead to the puzzle pieces of your life falling into place. Each Friday, I write a weekly inspirational blog cast sent out to a select group sharing uplifting information to consciously plot one’s direction in life. For me, writing inspirationally is a piece of my puzzle clicking into place. Though the picture is not fully clear, I feel guided to share from this enormous arsenal of information within. If you’re interested in receiving my “Weekly Uplift” column, email me with a request. Angela.yarnspinner@gmail.com

Here's one of my favorite quotes to place into action any day this year: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Holidays-What's Important?!

My daughter called to say she and her husband would actually visit for Christmas! It was great news for me. The holidays were coming together. My son in school in Washington DC had already informed me he’d be spending two weeks at home and bringing his girlfriend. With husband sequestered in Holland and me bound to the US, there was no chance he’d be here for the holidays, economics dictated. No longer badgered with thoughts of how to spend Christmas, it became very clear I would prepare Christmas dinner.

Son arrived with a friend, he neglected to mention. Girlfriend opted to arrive a couple of days after Christmas. My daughter and her husband arrived at 11:30, one half hour before midnight on Christmas day. No matter that it was almost midnight! We ate dinner, exchanged gifts and played Scrabble on the Diamond edition my kids gifted me with. Husband on Skype, laughter in the air, Christmas turned out to be quite memorable after all. When the holidays appear, I know what’s important is being surrounded by loved ones, tummies full…all safe and happy. Wish I could give that gift to the world. Merry Christmas all!

Thanksgiving Blessings in Holland!

"Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

This Thanksgiving proved to be one of the most memorable yet, even though I was in another country. I bemoaned the fact that my children who are celebrating the holiday with family in New Orleans, would be long gone when I returned from working in Holland telling stories. I would learn that blessings unfold wherever you are.

Thanksgiving in Holland is celebrated the same week in November usually the Wednesday before. Nearly everyone in neighboring communities celebrate by going to church. There are several different services to choose from as most people aren’t off from work on holiday. My husband and I went to the 6:30 pm service and it was all in Dutch. We usually sit in the organist area in the back looking over the church. The organist is a very good friend of ours as he was the best man in our wedding. I took the time to reflect gratefully on the many gifts God has bestowed on my life. Afterwards we went to the organist home to see his wife who recently had another baby girl. We stayed for a lovely visit snacking on skewered chicken and spare ribs while bringing each other up to date on our lives. I couldn’t believe it had been nearly a year since we‘d last visited since I visited during the summer too. It took me some time to remember, I was busy traveling most of the summer outside of Holland.

The next day, Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, I'd prudently invited my favorite auntie and uncle to share our Thanksgiving dinner. No large groups and no turkey carcass to contend with, I’d learned my lesson the hard way. I proudly served a goose complete with stuffing at another celebration only to discover no one would eat the food. Having been raised on a farm, no one could eat meat without remembering the suffering of the sacrificed animal. Subsequently, bones are forever banished from our family’s table. We had filets of chicken breasts steeped in gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing made with a little goose his mom had given me, green peas with mushrooms, okra gumbo soup and apricot pie with mango and apricot ice-cream, wine, coffee and chocolates. Superb in my opinion, since I had brought most of my ingredients like stuffing, okra gumbo and cranberry sauce from America, and auntie and uncle had several portions remarking how good the food was. Over the meal we recounted our gratitude and talked of Hungary! Tannte Aartje and Om Piet bought a second house in Hungary and travel there frequently. I couldn’t believe it when she spoke to me in Hungarian! Apparently, she has been taking classes and learning the language! We exchanged stories of Hungary and plan to visit them later this year in Hungary.

Afterwards, Tante Aartje and Om Piet gave us gifts--me a Rosemary bubble bath set and Arjo a photograph book filled with keepsake photos of grandparents, his mom and dad, family memories stocked with wonderful mementos from when they were children! A deeply touching moment, my husband brushed a tear aside. Luckily I had a stash of leftover gifts and gave them warm winter sweaters and a colorful wool pin I’d purchased in Spain precisely for my favorite auntie who liks to wear woolen clothing.

We were reminded how fast life goes by as Tante Aartje and Om Piet had to leave earlier than usual to drive the next morning to watch over their grandchildren so their daughter-in-law could attend her mother’s funeral. We have so much to be grateful for: earlier Thanksgiving Day, my husband got a job that started Thanksgiving night! After bidding the auntie and uncle adieu, I had to say goodnight to my husband too! He arrived home sleepy and tired this morning, happy yet content for our many blessings!

Giving Thanks for Fast Food!

Wonderful me had the opportunity to share stories at the Rotterdam Storytelling Festival recently. The theme of the festival was: “What you get from far, is good!” Centered around the theme of food at the story fountain were workshops and stories. Sharing the stage on Sunday to tell stories from North America with Mary Sue Siegel and Nico de Verhalenman and Rik Bakker who played flute we had fast food. Not literally. Our session was called Fast Food. Mary Sue and I did a spontaneous storytelling piece about our family histories, while Nico told stories about coyote from the Native American tradition and I told stories about Louisiana. Michel Damhuis, also a storyteller, was our master of ceremonies. The Dutch word for storyteller is Verhalenvertaler. Here is the Dutch version of what was offered:

Here is a photo of the flutist: A photo of Mary Sue and Angela telling:

Grateful Life, Grateful Friends, Grateful World!

As the turkey season rolls around, our thoughts turn to being grateful. Grandmother held huge feasts every Thanksgiving. All the kids and grandkids and loved ones would find their way to grandma's house. She'd be cooking late at night and up before dawn on Thanksgivng Day to make sure everything was perfect. Seldom did the day go perfect. Looking back, I can see, like grandma, my Thanksgiving Day celebrations were anything but perfect: Family members would say they were coming and not show up, food burned, tempers flared, and few wanted to express their gratitude around the table, preferring to get a choice seat in front of the TV. Thanksgiving was a time for gathering to see just how well our family didn't work.

Looking back at grandmother, I know now she was happiest because she was giving of herself and it really didn't matter how it all turned out. She had done her part, providing the place, the food and the love. We could choose to partake of her goodness or not. For the past few seasons, I remember grandmother's wisdom and give of myself without worrying about who's not participating, or being concerned that everything is not perfect. Living on two continents make getting together for a grateful family feast difficult. Last year Thanksgiving started early, I gave the love inside of me away, as it showed up, wherever I happened to be. Delivering turkey boxes to needy families included lots of love as I checked on families throughout the year. When my family couldn't make it, the neighbors and I joined together to feast and be grateful. Year before last, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Holland with my husband's family. When visions of the gobbler being slaughtered prevented them from tasting the turkey, I made turkey salad--served them a generous portion and distributed what was left to neighbors and friends. I am grateful this year however Thanksgiving decides to show up!

Focusing!

A friend invited me to her Changes group that meets every Thursday night at a little cafe in New Orleans. Thinking it was the navel gazing variety popular these days, I begged off for weeks, until one night I decided to go with her and discovered a process called Focusing. The process uncovered by Eugene Gendlin has been around for a little over a decade and leads to greater clarity and understanding of one's self. It's a simple process of becoming aware of what wants to be heard /felt from within. While it is listening to yourself and others, my best take is, it is a form of meditation with eyes wide open.

There are very good reasons for focusing. My listening skills have improved, while my patience levels have increased dramatically. In the midst of all the chaos going on around me, I discovered an added advantage--calmness. Employing a modified practice with students, friends and loved ones, I find listening has become a priority that has improved my way of being mindful. Recently, I applied the art of focusing to storytelling and discovered a whole new layer of why I told stories. Not only was I sharing my talents, the larger picture showed I was healing myself and others. As more thoughts bubbled to the surface, it became clear that I had tapped into pay dirt. Storytelling sustains me in so many ways. Focusing, like storytelling, unfolds step by step revealing a more complete story.

If I have piqued your interest on focusing, you can find out more about Focusing from teacher, Rob Foxworth at http://www.robfoxcroft.com.

Mercury Retrograde!

Friends have been telling me for years that when Mercury Retrograde happens, watch out! They swear that everything gets fouled up, lost and mistakes are rampant. Well, this past month has been a real doozy. My house flooded when a faulty washing machine went beserko. My car was vandalized, my laptop has been out of commission for nearly a month, my cell phone went to celluar heaven, and a Reiki session brought on a mammoth headache. It has been enough to make a person scream and it is not even Halloween yet! Things are slowly getting back to normal. The new carpet's been ordered. I am trying to figure out my new phone and while the laptop has been returned from the shop, it is still out of commission. In spite of all the hoopla' I did get to Thibodeaux, Louisiana in time for a Francofete L'ecologie celebration meant to heighten awareness to Louisiana coastal erosion. There was fine music, a nutria rat fashion show, storytelling and good food, but the weather was iffy on and off most of the day with lots of scattered showers interspersed. Thankfully my set was in the auditorium and I stayed good and dry along with the folks who came in out of the weather to hear the tales.

Friday marked another year of lessons learned as I celebrated a birthday and marked off my annual list of things to do such as update my will. On top of everything, we're downsizing-yep, moving. Aargh! It is not my favorite thing to do, but with kids all grown up and Arjo temporarily back in Holland, (He got a fab job offer, he could not refuse) it's time to move on to simpler digs that make for traveling around the world simpler and easier. Once my laptop's oakie-doakie again, I'll write more. Look for stories about our upcoming trip to Sardinia. For now, how about sending some good energy my way? And keep on telling those tales! Now there's something Mercury can't touch!

Storytelling in Sunny Holland!

We rode our bikes along the Sea all the way from our house in Wissenkerke, to Colijnsplaat in the Netherlands. The 5k trek was a breeze in the sunshine. People were outside enjoying the lovely weather. The wind blew my hair all over my head. The next day we went to Rotterdam to tell stories at the Galerie Kralingen. My friend, Mary Sue Seigel is also a storyteller and has lived in the Netherlands for 35 years. She recently went to Iran to tell at their storytelling festival! It was she who invited me to tell in Rotterdam.

I met her husband Rene, and after a lovely dinner she prepared we motored over to the site. I was surpised to see the area is used for so many events including storytelling. There was an enclosed courtyard garden, where I disappeared briefly to enjoy the calm serenity and beauty of the garden. Everything stopped for a minute. When I went back inside, a crowd had gathered and the stories began! What a fabulous opportunity storytellers have in this region. I met many tellers during the intermission and some I remembered from the storytelling workshop held in July. Too soon it was over and Arjo and I headed back to Wissenkerke.

Down Home Hospitality in England!

Here are the 2009 Cambridge Folk Festival Storytellers! To the far left standing next to me is Anne French and Marion Leeper who has a hat on her head, both live in Cambridge. John Row is seated. Standing next to Marion is Veronica. Veronica and John are both from Ipswich. Donald Nelson comes from Scotland! Storytellers were scheduled to tell from 2pm until 5pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Cambridge Folk Festival. John Row, an icon of the festival, strolls around the festival grounds turning people onto the love of storytelling. He took the time to introduce me and Donald, the storyteller from Scotland, to festival attendees. By the time we were ready to perform at 2pm a crowd would be waiting.

Marion Leeper was my wonderful English host for the festival. She and John came running down the street to direct me to her lovely home. She led me up three flights of their grand manor to her daughter’s old room. She shares the home with her husband Finnian and son Jerry, while her daughter lives near London now. Golden stars wallpaper covered the walls making it absolutely magical. The room was filled with floral patterned Polish furniture. Marion told me it was hers from when she was a child and lived in Poland. With a fantastic view of their delightful English Garden below, it was perfect for me. Perfect because I didn’t have to stay in a lonely hotel room and Marion and I proclaimed ourselves long, lost sisters, and became downright chummy.

Every night, after leaving the festival we’d head to the hot-tub, with wine in tow and exchange stories. One night we swapped devil tales. Another night love tales found their mark and then there was a night of mischievous stories. We were always gabbing about something: whether it was the upcoming activities of Cambridge storytelling guild or life in Louisiana, we never tired of sharing stories, ideas, life!

John Row, Marion and me sat around the table exchanging tales. I grabbed my jacket, jumped into John’s oversized van and headed for the festival. After we were all checked in and received our wristbands we headed for a campsite in Colham Commons where all the storytellers would camp for the weekend. John marked out the spot, surrounded it with a makeshift bright orange plastic caution fence and went to find some grub.

The weather decided not to cooperate by raining and soaking the festival grounds the first day I was there. Uh-oh, there was a tickle in my throat and I didn’t bring the necessary remedies to take care of the pain that was quickly becoming a problem. Daphne’s Fish and Chips supreme would become a haven for me when I lost my voice. The warmest place on the festival grounds in rainy weather was Daphne’s! I took two Tylenols, and warmed my knees and bum against the steel cooking apparatus in the compartment. Daphne’s natural down home hospitality warmed my spirits in more ways than one. Frequently she insisted I have a little of her special concoction to warm the innards. She gave us food and hot coffee whenever we needed it. In exchange, we plied her crew with stories to warm the heart and soul. That same night, with voice gone and spirits flagging, she brought me to her lorrie (18 wheel truck) and hoisted me into her luxurious queen sized bed parked behind the café. By the time Marion came calling for me later that night, my voice had returned and the shivers had stopped. Were it not for the rainy cold, I think living in England would be simply grand! The last day of my visit, Marion took me on a walking tour of Cambridge. We had lunch and promised to keep in touch.

Journey to England!

Arjo "found" 100 pounds of English money he’d had on hand from his many previous visits to England. He told me just before he left for work, I’d be driving myself to the airport! Now we have been to the Eindhoven airport numerous times, but I never really paid attention to the getting there. I’d spent the night washing clothes and getting ready to leave. Laundry with a Dutch washing machine is wonderful, but each load takes double the time to wash and dry than it does in America. So I managed to get everything done on about two hours of sleep and braved the drive to the airport which was surprisingly easy thanks to Arjo’s gentle, patient guidance, he’d taken the time to write out for me with a quickly penned love note hurriedly pushed inside an old wallet with the 100 pounds spending money.

I parked the car in the long term lot, and walked the six blocks to the airport, alone and wanting to turn around and head back home. England’s trip was arraqnged back in February. We’d booked a bed and breakfast near the airport in England for two nights at a steal of a price and one of my tenants had gotten us a hotel near my performance venue for virtually “peanuts” for the next three nights! Unfortunately, Arjo wouldn't be joining me. I received an email from John Row asking if I wanted to stay with another storyteller since Arjo wouldn’t be with me, I jumped at the opportunity.

Arriving at England’s Stanstead airport,I went through customs, collected my baggage and made my way to the Hertz rental car desk. The kind lady took my passport, driver’s license and told me she was going to honor my rental agreement since my husband was not there. Hurray! She also, quite helpfully, suggested I not take advantage of the full tank gas offer as I’d only be traveling a half-hour away and wouldn’t need it. I marveled at her helpfulness and proceeded to the car. Everything seemed so easy—until I got in the car!

The steering wheel was on the wrong side! There it was in reality and nothing could turn this around. I’d convinced myself I’d be able to drive, but visions of me crashing on the wrong side of the road kept replaying through my head like a broken record. And true to form, those visions ruled the roost until I somehow miraculously reached the hotel. I was shaky from hitting the side of the road a couple of times, I’d even pulled over in a residential section to collect my wits and offer some “I CAN DO IT” chatter to my mind. I furtively asked God for assistance and was surprised to discover I was only a few blocks away. A few turns later I was standing in the hotel. It was nearly noon, cold and raining.

I’d packed only summery clothes and was not prepared for this unseasonably wintry weather. I was cold, famished and close to tears from my driving “ordeal”. I asked if there was an eating establishment nearby I could walk to. The kind lady at the desk, told me check in was 3pm, but she’d try to get me checked in early and I would have to drive to get something to eat. I very nearly fainted. I was definitely into can’t do and fear at the moment and reason was not making it clear anytime soon. She showed me to the library and I went in found some books and calmed down! A half hour later, she told me my room was ready.

Inside the lovely room, where I was ALONE, and into such thoughts as: why couldn’t Arjo have come? He would be driving. I wouldn’t be afraid…and on and on the monkey mind chattered! Hunger pains rattled, I saw cookies, hot chocolate and I pounced. Once I had some food inside me and operating on less than my standard supply of sleep I was able to finally accept my situation. Never mind that it was junk food—it was still food! I knew I had to get back in the car to drive to Cambridge on the wrong side of the road, but I didn’t have to do that until tomorrow. With that thought in mind, I firmly shut out monkey mind intent on wreaking havoc with my head.

I looked in the hotel book and discovered lunch would be served there for thirteen pounds! Okay, I reasoned, I could rest and relax today, have lunch in the hotel and awaken fresh and relax to face the challenge ahead. I’d veg out—take a “me” day, nurture myself and start again in the morning. I stayed in bed reading and relaxing all day and night. Lunch for thirteen pounds in exchange for a miniscule amount of curried chicken and rice did not seem like a good deal but the best one at the moment, especially since I didn’t have to drive. The dining area was lovely to look at.

I contacted Marion Leeper my English storytelling host, got directions and made plans to meet her and John Row the next morning. I convinced myself I would be able to do it. The next morning I enjoyed the lovely English breakfast, packed and headed for Cambridge. In my worried and fearful state, I took the wrong entry onto the freeway headed towards London in quickly thickening traffic in the wrong direction! Let me clarify. I was not traveling into oncoming traffic, merely traveling with the rush of morning traffic on the side of the road with less than one half hour driving experience to my credit. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

In the half hour it took me to get off at the very next exit 30 miles away, I’d convinced myself, I COULD do it! I began to see with gentle talk and patience, even if I made a mistake, I could just continue around the round about, turn around and correct the seeming mistake. Okay, I had to do go around twice, but I did get back on the interstate the third time around! I drove in relative serenity the rest of the way to Cambridge until I had to join regular traffic again. Because I‘d spent the time lovingly calming my fears I joined the road traffic more confident than when I first encountered it. Following Marion’s directions I made it to within four blocks of her home before I called for help.

This is a picture of Marion. Here is a picture of John Row! John and Marion ran towards me, waving and guided me into the lovely English garden that was to be my home for the next four days. We sat around the table drinking tea and coffee in Marion’s quaint English kitchen. I loved her dainty garden themed teacups. John told stories, we shared our passion and soon it was time to get checked into I climbed into John’s oversized van and he drove to the festival grounds. My car would remain parked the rest of the week.

A Week of Hungarian Storytelling!

This is Csenge and her mom and dad.

She has an adorable younger sister called Hunga. In Bratislava, I thought the plane had landed back in Louisiana, because the heat was stifling and sweat rolled down my back in the afternoon sunshine. I was back in Hungary at Csenge's invitation. Her native town is an hour away from Budapest and rests on the banks of the famed Danube River. Csenge's family lives high in the mountains. Csenge (pronounced Chang-gah) and her dad met me at the airport and off we went to Gyor, (pronounced jur as in jury)) Hungary. Fellow storyteller, Csenge lives in Gyor with her family. We drove up a winding mountain road, stopping briefly to store the luggage. An hour's drive away took us to a park where we listened to a band play authentic Hungarian gypsy music while waiting our turn on stage to tell stories. No, I don't speak Hungarian. Thankfully, Csenge translated while I told. She told a story in Hungarian while I watched the kids' faces light up from the sideline. We finished up with another story with Csenge translating. Amazingly enough, the children understood the story even as Csenge explained.

Like Louisiana, the mosquitos are thick and bite hard. The food and the culture is warm, varied and inviting. The children look happy and content and the people are absolutely lovely! The night air brought sudden storms reminiscent of the wild thunderstorms that frequent Louisiana. Lightning lit up the night sky while driving from the camping site and violent winds and rain blew and churned through the night. By morning the storm had killed 8 people in Poland, but only loosened a couple of tiles from the family’s roof and downed a few power lines and tree branches. Csenge took me on a personal tour of the very beautiful city of Gyor the following morning. One story was about a diary hidden in a ship for over a hundred years!

We walked around while she told me stories and took pictures of the sights. Soon a friend joined us, we had ice-cream, sat on the banks of the Danube River and told stories. Homeward bound, we stopped to tell stories at a local school. This time I managed to snap a few pictures of Csenge in action!

  

Her mom prepared a feast fit for a king: potatoes, roasted pork and veggies! At night we sat around swapping stories, talking and sipping the best Hungarian wine until I climbed the stairs to my Rapunzel-ish room. My room looked out over a private balcony, with a splendid view as I fell asleep watching another thunderstorm light up the horizon colorful reds, pinks, purples and blues. Next morning, we packed a picnic lunch and drove back to Slovakia, this time for touring castles! In Beckov, Csenge told story after story. One about a man thrown from the top of the castle brought shivers.

The ruins built sometime in the 1200's boast rich Gothic and Renaissance decorations. There is a staircase, a castle chapel, stone ribs, columns and lots of missing pieces as Csenge pointed out the roof line and a place that could have belonged to one of the castle's princesses. We walked up several steep hills and even passed a cemetery. As we were leaving, a light rain began to fall. I thought of the many people who lived in these climes and how lucky we were to be heading to the car for lunch and shelter.

A short half hour later, we arrived in Trencin, to begin an even steeper climb to reach the castle entrance. I was out of breath, but glad for the exercise having opted to bypass my daily morning walk. A lady holding a raven stood by the well. For a moment, I thought she would share a story. Csenge came to the rescue telling an intriguing love story about how the well came to be built.

We were not inside the castle yet, and had to proceed up another steep path that led inside the castle's walls. Inside, we climbed steadily upwards in a cramped, circular stone stairway leading to a tower overlooking the countryside from every angle.

The well preserved castle was filled with ancient swords, helmets and castle lore. Csenge continued her stories and regaled us with tale after tale.

Next we drove to an area of Hungary that looked exactly like Louisiana! There was a levee we drove across to get to this amazing restaurant overlooking a swampy bayou. I could have sworn I saw an alligator in the water. I had some of the best tasting fried fish covered with a delicious creamy shrimp sauce over rice. There were tons of mosquitos too. I simply marvel at the wonderful world we live in.

Csenge and her family reminded me so much of our family. Her grandparents invited me to their home for Sunday dinner and it was just like going back to my own grandparent's home for Sunday dinner with the table piled high with all kinds of dishes. Everything on the table was set with foods from their own garden!

Fried chicken, soup with a type of liver pate in it, rice, pickles, a special chicken stew, tomatoes, cookies, salad, a cherry dessert she took the time to tell me about the extensive preparations for the dessert.

Later Csenge took me to exploring in the garden and my mouth was agog at how extensive it was: Grape vines, orchards of apples, apricots and other trees, cucumbers, bellpeppers, potatoes, onions, beans, berries, lettuce, radishes, and so much more! He even had a big crawfish boiling pot! (Of course he didn't use it for crawfish) Her grandparents will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this September!

A tree in the park like setting beckoned us to climb and silly us—we did! We also wandered over to a neighboring old mansion and she told me more of her childhood stories. There was a lovely park in back of the grandparents house and a kindergarten on the opposite side. The garden out side the kindergarten showed tree trunks decorated with pictures of snow white and the seven dwarfs.

Csenge brought me down in the cellar and proudly showed me her grandparents' stash of preserves, pickles and wine. They sent me home with yummy handmade peach preserves and raspberry concentrate drink. Well, we didn’t go home right away. Her father took us to the 1000 year old Abbey, went on a guided tour and afterwards sat and enjoyed the view while tasting wine made at the abbey.

The next day we went to Austria to ride up a rax (cable car) high in the mountains! We climbed and hiked and told stories up and down the mountains then sped to a castle a stone’s throw away.

 The final morning, we went to a great Hungarian restaurant where I ate 

cabbage and pork covered with sour cream and peeked at the ancient wine cellars that lined the little road.

  Afterwards we zipped to the airport and my wonderful visit had come 

to an end. It was difficult saying goodbye, but Csenge and her family promise to come visit and the stories will continue!

Tribute to Mom!

Mom been's gone a whole year. I cannot imagine never seeing her again. It seems fitting I'm going to visit my Hungarian friend, Csenge soon. Csenge had come to visit me in New Orleans just before my mom made her departure. Life does go on. I think of mom often and wish I could call her again. Everyone I talk to who has said goodbye to their mom, feels the same way. To all the moms in the world, especially my mom, you are loved.

My mom liked to write poetry. So here's a poem to my mom!

                                        In an Instant 
                                                      by Angela Davis 

Mom you were so young and life passed -in an instant.

Playing, skipping rope, telling stories, nighttime -in an instant.

More babies came, off to grandmothers-twelve years-in an instant.

Date nights, rebellion, graduation, leaving home-in an instant.

These were terrible times and the best of times-in an instant.

Married, had a family, left and came back-in an instant.

Called you for advice, because you knew-in an instant.

Loved all the hurt places, listen Anthony, Richmond all-in an instant.

We danced, we sang, we fought, we rang each other-in an instant.

Birthday parties, kids leaving, kids coming - in an instant.

A blur, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Mardi Gras-in an instant.

Bingo Willie, home and away, talks, tears and happiness-in an instant.

L got married, more grandbabies came, blitz-in an instant.

Wendell, Darin, Kita all went military- in an instant.

We were all grown, the best white Christmas ever -in an instant.

A shot in the night and Wendell gone-in an instant.

Eleanor driving, hurricane winds and Katrina floods-in an instant.

Toya, the baby’s all grown and having a baby-in an instant.

Doctors visits, hospital doors, more tests and waiting -in an instant.

Ambulance ride back to your house, the moment was upon us- in an instant.

Shannon and me saw the moment come and you looked up-in an instant.

We moved on, hearts heavy, but felt the glance of your kiss, -in an instant.

A year has passed, twelve months of life-all lived -in an instant.

Treasured thoughts of you wandering in and out of our hearts- in an instant.

The good and the bad or so it seems turned to love - in an instant.

Time lives on, each instant filled with endless memories of pure you.

Story Magicians!

We left for Holland on Monday evening and arrived Tuesday morning, bleary eyed from too little sleep. Purchased train tickets to travel homeward, only to discover, the train tracks along our intended route, were being serviced. We had to travel the long way around, each lugging a carry on and suitcase. Tiresome work. We’d been up 24 hours already, met the parents who understandably wanted to talk. I fell asleep on the comfort of their sofa, mid conversation.

Wonderfully rested, a day later, I spent the day in Rotterdam with storytellers. Oh joy! I shared my principles for increasing one’s bookings and was grateful to have an opportunity to give back in these challenging times. I subscribe to the old adage: Give it away, and it will return to you multiplied. It always does, sometimes in ways you can not predict. I enjoy plentiful storytelling and it is an honor to share my secrets. It is an art, that when practiced yields incredible blessings.

Mary Sue Siegel hosted the workshop in her lovely home in the center of Rotterdam and prepared a lovely lunch for the attendees. Learning to look with the wisdom of artist’s eyes, we can see beyond the ordinary. Mary Sue had a wonderful shaded garden area with a massive tree overlooking the sunroom where we sat. On first glance, we never see the massive support system in place beneath the ground that sustains and nurtures the tree even as it continues to grow. There is a massive support system rarely seen in place for every storyteller if s/he chooses to utilize such a talent and make use of the skills already available to us.

Michael, one of the participants referred to his gift as human. Those present understood the massive delivery of what it takes to be human telling a story. When we tell a story, we cannot see the many facets that went into crafting the tale before its polished brilliance is handed to us like a precious jewel to be cherished. It is a gift to be a storyteller. It is a gift to be alive, able to share and filled with the ability to see life from the artist’s perspective. Story artist’s are great magicians, capable of deep magic and play.

Whooping Cranes Flocking to Louisiana!

Scientists seem to think that the fast becoming extinct Whooping Crane will have a chance to improve their survival rate by migrating to Louisiana coasts. According to the Whoopng Crane Conservation Association there are some 523 whooping cranes accounted for. Of that number 377 live in the wild. It seems that Whooping Cranes aren't faring well in southern Texas because of the low numbers of blue crabs which Whooping Cranes apparently adore. Cranes also like crawfish, so scientists are going to try to help them migrate to Louisiana. I've heard they are beautiful animals. With our fast disappearing coastline, perhaps bringing the birds to nest in our state will help.

Whooping Cranes are the tallest North American bird standing at 5 feet tall with a 7 to 8 foot wingspan. Males average 16 pounds and females 14 pounds. The Whooping Crane's name was inspired by its loud, distinctive call, audible up to two miles away! With such loud calling voices perhaps the Whooping Crane call could be used to gather folks for a good story!

Environmental Work ! ! !

This past week I was at Nicholls State University sharing stories about our environment with educational leaders from communities and environmental organizations from five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico to help strengthen and diversify environmental education. The Alliance of the Gulf of Mexico and The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program are working to save over over 4.1 million acres in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins.

Their job is challenging when you consider over 1900 square miles of land have eroded over the last century—an area the size of the state of Delaware! 200 of those land lost miles were attributed to the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The system is flanked by the Mississippi River on the east and the Atchafalaya basin on the west. It extends from the towns of Morganza in the north to Grand Isle in the south.

Approximately 40 percent of the coastal wetlands of the lower 48 states is located in Louisiana and we have an abundance of natural resources. Our fragile environment is disappearing at an alarming rate. Louisiana has lost up to 40 square miles of marsh a year for several decades - that's 80 percent of the nation's annual coastal wetland loss. If the current rate of loss is not slowed, by the year 2040 an additional 800,000 acres of wetlands will disappear, and the Louisiana shoreline will advance inland as much as 33 miles in some areas.

We cannot do enough to help people understand this is our world we live in, and we have to take care of it. I am stepping up my involvement with our planet in a personal way. I can't do everything, but with my storytelling, I can do something.

Change ! ! !

It’s that time of year, graduations, weddings and social gatherings are the norm to celebrate life’s ongoing changes. My son completed two degrees in Physics and Mathematics and is busy completing his Masters at Howard University. A cousin sent her wedding invite for their July fourth nuptials. Last but not least, we finally completed renovations on our four-plex in New Orleans. Change has a way of sneaking up on you. Just when you get accustomed to the status quo, here comes change setting up shop and making unfamiliar plans. We find ourselves at a crossroads.

Last time I found myself at a crossroads, change was no less daunting, offering a plethora of worthy choices and this time proves no different. There is a difference however, not in the choices to be made, but inside of me. I have changed, my stories have changed, my life tapestry has changed and change is the constant companion even in the midst of my daily doings. With all the change underfoot, one thread has remained ever constant. It is the thread of love. This thread of love connects me to all that I hold dear. And no matter where I go, whom I am with or where I am in this great big world, love holds me tight. When my son called to tell me he’d had an accident that totaled his car, leaving him and his friends uninjured, love held me as I felt a deep gratitude for life. A dear friend emptied herself of a deep and painful secret recently, love embraced me and stilled my tongue, so I could be there for her. As change sprang up unbidden all around me, love continues to hold me and all is well in my world.

A N O T H E R C R A S H ! ! !

No this crash did not happen to me. I didn't find out about it until we attended a celebration for Queens Day. My husband is of Dutch nationality and along with every Hollander celebrate April 30, in honor of Queen's Day. In New Orleans, we were invited to the celebration at the top of the World Trade Center. Around the world festivities had been cancelled after a crash occured in the Netherlands killing five people. The crash was an attempt to harm the queen riding in a motorcade. She was spared, thanks to a statue that blocked the royal family from view. The man was seriously hurt and had to be cut away from his vehicle. The country was shocked and saddened by the ordeal. In New Orleans no alcohol was served, flags hung at half mast and we joined together in prayer. Our hearts reached out to everyone involved uniting us as one people.

My husband and others wrote condolences in a book to be sent to the bereaved in Holland. No doubt, the stigma of the day will be felt for some time to come. The man had lost his job and was due to be evicted from his home. I am certain he must have been in deep despair to viciously strike without thinking. So many folks are in fear and daily we read of unconscionable acts. In times like this, people need stories to heal, to deal with their anger and pain.

Last week, I was in Jeff City, Missouri for the Mid Mo Festival. Friend and fellow storyteller Diane Banks shared a story she felt driven to find to thank her father. The story told of King Solomon's search to find a a special thing to remember the joy of life so one can go on in the face of great difficulty. King Solomon does indeed find the object which brings him pause for reflection and the ability to move on in refined grace. The words "this too shall pass" was inscribed in the inner portion to the object. Diane solved her dilemma with this tale that honored her father's memory. I suspect we will have to search diligently for more tales dealing with grief, pain, hardship and heartache in the times we find ourselves. Now more than ever we need storytellers to reconcile our living with the life that is unfolding.

C R A S H ! ! !

It was gigantic for me. I accidentally dropped my laptop and cracked my screen. It seems my world crashed, along with major plumbing problems at our New Orleans' house! Everything seemed to go wrong at the worse possible time. With a broken screen, I could only get online for thirty minutes at a time at the local library! Drats! Communication was helter-skelter. Being without my laptop, which kept me abreast of all that was going on in the world and in my life made it very difficult. Somehow I survived and am back to tell the tale.

Imagine new ceramic tile, sealed and beautifully laid, cracked from one end of the house to the other to get to ancient broken pipes. A mound of mud lay in the middle of my new living room floor and the ceramic tile couldn't be replaced! After months of living in the middle of renovations and finally getting back to some sense of normalcy order and chaos ruled. In the middle of all this chaos, my storytelling career jumped to a new level of expertise as in live animals!

Yes, skunk, pythons and alligators show up in the middle of the show! My new partner in the story life is an animal expert and brings live pets to our show. Following my story, the animal makes a guest appearance while students, with animal lover, Dave Milliken, get to discern between fact and fiction. It's fun, scary, highly informative and a whole new way of sharing tales. I love seeing the animals and my fright is actually real and observable to the audience. I love telling stories with the live animals and apparently audiences do too! Dave Milliken, is a Louisiana native and has been around animals all his life. When he's not hunting alligators, he can be seen during one of my shows.

I did get a new laptop, albeit it's a snazzy netbook that is so tiny it fits in my purse! I also upgraded to internet anytime with my USB attachment. Life is back to normal, actually, it's better than normal. That's the reason accidents happen--they force us to change, even when we are not ready for it!

It Couldn’t Be Done -by Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn't be done

But he with a chuckle replied,

That maybe it couldn't, but he would be one

Who wouldn't say no 'til he tried.

So he buckled right in with a trace of a grin,

On his face if he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing,

That couldn't be done and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: "Oh you'll never do that:

At least no one has ever done it,"

But he took off his coat and he took off his hat

And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

Without any doubting or quiddit,

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure,

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it:

Just start into sing as you tackle the thing

That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.

 *********************************************************

We only have one life and that is the one we are living! It's still January, still plenty of time to make decisions and do what you always said you'd do. Ever had a dream so big, you thought you'd never accomplish it? Me too. So I reached down in my heart of hearts and found that dream again. I picked it up, dusted it off, breathed into it, and gave it life. I am going to breathe a little life into it each day and I'll let you know when I've accomplished that goal. Until then, don't ever believe you can't accomplish your dreams.

The United States of Expansion Takes Care of Kids

Our nation’s excitement could not be contained during the 44th Presidential Inauguration! Spirits were exuberant and high as people around the world jubilantly watched Barack Obama be sworn into office. It was an elation I could not remember witnessing before in our country’s history. His trek to the White House is nothing short of a miracle overloaded with lots of hard work and determination. My sister and I watched the inauguration together and commented on how much President Obama had aged the past two years. Though aging, he did not seem in the least bit weary, but driven to accomplish his agenda of correcting our nation’s bungled steps. Hurrah, Obama!

The commercials also bore witness to the dawn of a new political era. Pepsi’s optimistic words: every generation refreshes America, Pepsi cleverly added, “it’s your turn now.” The commercial that stuck in my head was making a new choice to use electrical energy instead of coal and oil. These companies seem to think that Americans are going to fall into the same habit of now making electrical companies wealthy. I sure hope a new day has come and Americans can make wise choices to use environment friendly resources that don’t hem us in the way oil and gas products continue to.

I read Obama rescinded the order Bush began in 2001 making Presidential information free from public scrutiny. I hope this means we will finally understand what happened during the infamous sixties when presidential records were declared closed for 30 years. That time has come and gone and it is high time the America people know what truly happened. Seems Obama is busy making things happen, including signing documents to give money to charitable organizations that support abortion. According to news reports and articles some people became morally indignant about that. I suggest another solution for everyone against abortion: How about volunteering to take one of those unwanted babies home with you to raise? Take a look at the half million children EACH STATE has begging to be adopted using our tax dollars to be taken care of. Let's focus on fixing the problems we already have. We don’t take good care of the kids ALREADY born in our world. Here in New Orleans the focus is on stopping teens from murdering. Why give birth to more unwanted children who grow up in homes that can't sustain them and they eventually turn to a life of crime? Until better solutions are in place, we should really think twice about which rights we want to support. By the way, I've had foster kids and it is not a cake walk at all. Maybe we should propose a new law--Anyone opposing abortion should be required to take a foster child!

I don’t know all that’s in store for us, but I know it is going to be different from everything I’ve ever known. God bless America and the all the world too.

Spain--Beautiful Segovia, Padrena, Pedraza and Madrid

The Highlights Staying in a fifteenth century Segovian monastery, visiting a forty million year old underground cave in Pradena, walking around Alcazar, where Queen Isabel promised Columbus the financial backing to discover America, snapping photos of a two thousand year old aqueduct that was still in use up to one hundred years ago, feasting on roasted piglet, walking through the world famous Prado museum, and cabling across the city of Madrid were some of the highlights of our visit to Spain. The sweater weather was perfect and the views incredible as we crisscrossed the Spanish highland in search of stories.

Leaving the airport, we headed straight for Segovia, an hour away from Madrid. The Roman aqueduct is one of the greatest surviving monuments of Roman engineering and is breathtaking. The aqueduct stretches about 2950 feet starting one block from where we stayed at the San Antonio El Real Monastery. Like the Peruvian monuments, these massive granite blocks are joined without mortar or clamps and have survived for over 2000 years! We drove through some of the town’s narrow streets and made a brief visit to the Segovia’s tourist center to pick up maps and were told a visit to Pradraza was a must-see in route to Pradena to see the caves.

The drive down a one lane winding and twisting dirt road off the beaten path to visit Pradrena was truly a splendid journey. We could see the city high a top a hill surrounded by a moat, as we approached by car. We jumped out to take pictures a couple of kilometers away. I marveled at the city’s high placement affording them some protection against onslaught during feudal times. We parked close to the Castile de Padraza and walked the city by foot. We encountered a wedding party, snapped a few shots and finally came to quaint restaurant where we ordered the delicacy of the region roasted piglet. We were not disappointed and had trouble leaving the ancient city behind.

We piled back in our rental car and drove the short distance to Pradena to visit the caves. Oral folklore tells how the cave was closed during the Spanish Inquisition because it was suspected of being a hiding place for Jews. I jumped when a mouse went scurrying by, but not when the bat flew from its resting place. We had to duck and contort our bodies to get through some of the narrow passage ways and a few places I felt my coat hood brush the ceiling. There’s a small river in the cave and an archaeological education center at the entrance providing adequate information about the site. Our guide was quite helpful answering our questions, even with my daughter translating as we went along. If stalactites and stalagmites could talk, what incredible stories we would have heard for sure.

We drove back to Madrid at dusk and checked into our hotel. Madrid is a lively metropolis and very much a modern city. Our first stop was the Prado Museum, so named for the market gardens known as the "prado" or meadow on which it is located. The Spanish queen at the time had been impressed with the Louvre in Paris and wanted to showcase an enormous collection in her own country. Hence the Prado opened as a museum in 1819 and displays the works of European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch and many others. Afterwards, the weather was so lovely, we went to the Parque de Rosales and saw the Templo Debod, a gift to Madrid in 1968 from the Egypt as a sign of gratitude for Spain’s help in saving their Egyptian temples. A short walk to the other other side of the park led us to the Tekeferico, an exhilarating 11 minute cable car ride 150 feet up, spanning a panoramic city view affording us ample picture opportunities.

Then it was time to meet with the storytellers of the region and time flew by much too fast. I can’t wait to return this summer for our follow up visit.

Crazy Rome and Wonderful Nights

History comes alive in Rome! Unfortunately, there's too many terrible drivers who don't obey the traffic rules and you wish you were dead rather than meet in an head on collision! My husband insisted on driving in Rome, so we picked up the car at Hertz, got directions and headed for our hotel. It was dusk, and getting adjusted to the driving never did happen. I never got behind the wheel, but it was just as hairy riding in the passenger seat. By the end of our four day visit, my husband was driving as crazy as the Romans, honking his horn, riding the car in front of us, not graciously allowing drivers to cut in, and worst, speeding past them and bullying his way in. I am pleased he didn't continue his terrible driving skills when we left the country.

Now the hotel we stayed in was on top of a mountain, blessedly not in the city center, giving us an exquisite panoramic view. The hotel itself was the epitome of a luxurious mansion with marble throughout, balconies and jacuzzi tubs. I couldn't believe the price either, a fraction of the cost for such splendid living. Breakfast was included in our room rate and my daughter and son-in-law were a couple of suites away. By day we were tourists visiting the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine Hills, the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. At night we met at exquisite dining places in out-of-the-way picturesque settings overlooking a lake in a romantic place called Castile de Gandolpho with storytellers local to the area. We spent the night wowed in storytelling ambience, eating the most delicious salmon I've ever had in my life listening to Italian stories...

Imagineering: A Day at NHTV in Breda!

The holidays always fly by fast. You blink and you've missed them! This year two days bedridden with flu and fever helped to slow everything to a restful buzz. The only problem with that is we were in Europe and it was cold! Last entry was about my friend and fellow storyteller, Moniek. Moniek invited me to spend a day at the NHTV University of Applied Sciences working with her Leisure Tourism students on storytelling strategies. My day started with an hour train ride to Breda. Moniek met me at the train station and five minutes later we entered the building.

NHTV is a practical university offering Bachelor and Master degrees in Leisure & Tourism and Urban Development, Games & Media, Real Estate and Facility, Hotel, Leisure & Tourism and Urban Development, and Logistics & Mobility. In a nutshell, students work on practical assignments individually and in groups with real businesses! Students actually experience a hands-on approach where they essentially apply theory to live situations! Their grades depend on producing results that companies can use. The morning I was there, Moniek took me on a whirlwind tour explaining as she went along. I saw students collaborating, researching, closing deals, handling details, meeting with their advisers, planning, and engrossed in projects as we traveled up and down the renovated building overlooking Breda.

In one class, students were unwrapping their final project: a high impact glossy book, filled with their semester long research, designed specifically for the Rotterdam Festival, a yearly charitable event that brings the entire community together. Their presentation was scheduled a short while later and they briefly showed me what they’d uncovered. They turned the pages, it was all written in Dutch, but they translated their results for me to understand. They'd honed traits that made the festival an outstanding success over the years and set them in a fascinating and clever format that proved to be a winning combination, because Moniek shared they’d all passed with flying colors and some of the presenters would be working in full time jobs with the festival planners!

There are over 6,500 students enrolled from over 50 countries and several workshops were scheduled as we headed up to the third floor to begin my presentation. The students, all between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two years were in various years of their program. First year students normally serve as interns on projects. Some of these students in my workshop were already slated to work in Disney's theme parks the following semester! Moniek emphasized she wanted students to learn how to make stories memorable so audiences would return year after year to recapture or deepen their pleasuranle experience of the theme park. My job was to teach students to leave their audiences wanting more.

The plan was to model a performance in the morning, follow up with discussion and synthesizing what worked and why. In the afternoon, we placed them in groups and left them to devise original stories to share. Here's where the application part comes in. This is what storytellers do, adapt the story, customizing it to fit each audience. The results were memorable for us all. As each group came forward to present, it was wonderful to see them tapping into their creativity, stepping outside their comfort zones, taking risks, and sharing their passion for story. Each one brought something unique to the table. Singing, laughter, encouraging the audience to participate, fresh story lines and stories with a twist, were all apart of the relative ease with which they wove their tales. I have no doubt that they will make quite a mark on their employers and the audiences they will soon encounter.

The next day I was in Rome when I heard from Moniek, “news about the workshop has traveled fast: the students were so enthusiastic and they have told everybody!!!” I don’t think my feet touched the ground after that. I encouraged them to write me with their success stories. That’s why I love my job. I touch the future. These students at the forefront of the rest of their lives will go on to be the success stories we read about in the future!

Imagineering: The Fine Art of Bringing Stories to Life

We arrived in Holland Friday night after nearly 25 hours of traveling...exhausted from our multiple lay-overs and weather related delays. Rested, the next day we headed to a little town called Eindhoven and placed my daughter and her husband on a plane to Dublin, Ireland to celebrate their first wedding anniversary! Then we retraced our path to meet up with friends we'd met in lovely Belgium last summer. Only when we were leaving our Forest Ropes experience in Belgium, did we discover Moniek and I are both storytellers! No time to share, we promised we'd get together when we returned to Holland in the winter. Ah serendipitous fortune! So it was, my husband and I sat sharing a lovely feast with Moniek Hover and her husband, Ad, a veternairian, and their two sons in their home near Rotterdam! Hear the contented sigh as tales unfolded late into the night!

Moniek teaches storytelling at the NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Her job is to train students pursuing a bachelors degree in the art of Leisure Management! Moniek utilizes the fine art of telling stories to help her students not only become artful storytellers, but use stories in the broadest sense to manage theme parks and other leisure related establishments present their clientele with memorable and unforgettable stays. Enter storytelling! What better way to nurture clientele following in the famous footsteps of Walt Disney who used stories to help engineers and imaginination experts (Imagineers) come together making the eyes of the young and old shine whenever a visit to a Disney theme park is mentioned!

As the night magically unfolded, Ad shared downright heaving belly laughter tales from his veterinary practice in concert with Moniek. We met their pets and heard their stories. Arjo, my husband entertained Ad with his adventurous travels around the world, while Moniek and I dug ourselves deeper into the magical world of storytelling. Moniek shared a wonderful presentation she gives regularly to widen people's understanding of how important stories are individually and collectively. After her computer presentation, she brought out books by legendary masters such as Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 classic "The Uses of Enchantment" which explores using fairy tales with children and Italian storyteller, Gianni Rodari, The Grammar of Fantasy" a powerful book filled with exercises for inspiring stories). There were countless gems: Jack Zipes, Stephen Denning, Lori Silverman and far too many to list here, to browse, and linger lovingly through. Most fascinating, was Moniek's personal tales of De Efterling. a Dutch Disneyesque fairytale land an hour away by train ride from Amsterdam. I'd learned earlier about De Efterling and thought it may be a storyteller's paradise and planned to get there someday. Moniek has visited often over the years and confirms it is truly magical becoming a part of her family's tradition.

Fluent in Italian, Moniek travels the world sharing the power of storytelling whereever she goes. This week I will share with students at NHTV how I bring stories to life through application, observation and fine tuning. Seems her students have already been doing a lot of research and hands on activties in preparation for making the leisure experience unforgettable. So in the afternoon, I get to hear them share their stories. Leuk! (What fun!) I'll be sure to take pictures and tell you all about it! I can't wait for more magic to unfold...

Snow in New Orleans and Cold Hard Facts are Downright Chilling

I awakened to snow flurries and a full blown snow fall early Thursday morning. New Orleans has had eight recorded snow falls during a 60 year time span. The seventh snowfall happened Christmas Day 2004. Our entire family shared our last Christmas together. My brother was shot and killed a mere one month and eleven days later in February. My thoughts of snowfall spelled miraculous back then. Now I wondered what the snow portended for the upcoming year. I decided to be proactive and call the snowfall miraculous again. This time I am singing outloud and broadcasting healthy doses of joy for our planet and wonderful working together globally amongst all people. Optimistic? Yes, necessarily so. After all, it was the ancient storytellers of old who told stories people held onto that led them into the new year and insured their survival.

Okay, so we no longer live in an age where storytellers provide stories for the future. We as a people are so much more advanced than that! Think so?

Consider in some cultures women are still considered personal property and that there are 600 million adolescent girls living in poverty right now. This is actually a optimistic story because girls are becoming empowered and taking charge of their lives with microloans from folks like you and me. A girl will reinvest 90% of her income into her family, while men invest 40%. A girl's income rises in proportion to her education and not only does she change her life, but she affects everything around her in positive ways! www.girleffect.org

How about taking a sobering look at the new global slave trade which is alive and well with estimates of between 600,000 and 800,000 thousand people tricked into human trafficking yearly! How do we tell a new story in slavery? By making it absolutely unacceptable for governments to allow humn trafficking within their borders. I actually saw the young women standing in the windows of the Red Light districts in the cities of Amsterdam and Antwerp. Though prostitution is legal in both the Netherlands and Belgium, much of what is known about this business is nefarious and demoralizing. Kudos to Oprah Winfrey for highlighting the effects of the slave trade on her show. http://www.cgdev.org/doc/KapsteinfaslaveryFA.pdf

Okay some people think that's okay, people are expendable. Hey are you a pet lover? Maybe you'd be outraged to take alook at this video of cruelty to animals. I did and it was horrifying. I couldn't watch the entire video so disturbing it was and I know plenty of pet lovers who would be equally offended by this barbaric treatment to any living being. http://www.peta.org/feat/ChineseFurFarms/index.asp

I've been saying we need to tell new compelling stories that cause people to focus their attention in different ways. Telling a new a new story takes some time to develop. It means thinking about the end result and working backwards to arrive at possible solutions in our world, yet it can be done. By engaging fertile minds of our young people combined with the mature wisdom of our elderly together with people from all walks of life we can achieve anything! If Obama can write a new story and engage so many Americans in the process, surely we can and must do more to sustain a future that works for all livng beings. Together we can!

Here's my new story:

With a new presidential inauguration slated for January 09' I am forecasting more compassion in our world. More insightful leaders committed to lasting change and developig policies that not only help people in America, but around the world. We, ordinary people, join together to tell new, powerful stories that enrich the lives of people everywhere. It's snowing in Louisiana and change is here. How about a good story?

Birthing A Story

I just love the way life seems to give you exactly what you need, when you need it. Last month a 10 year student died when she ran for the school bus and tripped and fell becoming entangled under the wheels. This morning I was invited to a classroom that is writing a story as a gift to the mother of the child killed in the accident. The teacher’s goal was to help struggling students improve their writing while helping them dealing with their grief. When I arrived, the students had the trappings of a “Snow White” story in progress from a previous class session. In their version, one of three fairies had cast an evil spell when the child was born causing her to fall into a deep sleep. I explained that good stories ideally have strong conflict to keep the reader or listener involved in the story. I pointed out that with the Snow White story we already know what’s going to happen. How can we make this story different? How can we engage the reader/listener so s/he will want to hear what’s going to happen as the story progresses? I asked the seventh graders what made the fairy casting the spell evil? What reason did she have for wanting to harm the girl?

One young man said, it was all her parent’s fault and we laughed. As they explained their reasoning, I watched as they grappled with changing details going back and forth amongst themselves until they had fleshed out a good explanation for the evil fairy’s behavior. According to the students, the evil fairy was born first but she wasn’t evil at birth. After her twin sisters were born, they were given beautiful flowery names, while the evil one was named after the sauerkraut vegetable. Inside the evil fairy sulked becoming more withdrawn as her parents lavished affection and attention on their new babies. Sauerkraut felt neglected and determined she would cast a spell on the first girl child born and named after a flower.

Once they grasped the use of conflict in their tale, they were off and running. The story’s details shifted and changed multiple times before they finally settled on an entirely different version of the story. The students decided that Sauerkraut cast the spell upon the girl whose name really means flower. Her mother said she named her daughter for Princess Jasmine in the story Aladdin. In the students’ story, Jasmine ran for the bus when she was 10 years old, tripped and fell, yet instead of dying the girl was immediately whisked away to a Magic Kingdom where the fairies also lived. It was their story from start to finish.

I felt like a fancy chef overseeing and adding information like ingredients that changed the way the dish tasted. It was a rewarding session for the kids and me, in part because I have had a number of close family deaths to contend with in the last three months. Working on this story helped me to resolve some loose ends to my own ongoing story, the one I carry in my head. My story won't end for a while, so here’s the ending to the students’ story: Princess Jasmine stays in the Magic Kingdom for many years having a great deal of fun until one day she overhears the fairies talking and remembers her former life and wants to return. In their story, it is Princess Jasmine’s younger brother who plays a role in helping to bring her back to her former world. As for the evil fairy, she was never seen again. Only now, Jasmine’s mother and brother are much older, while Jasmine is still just 10 years old. Somehow I think Jasmine's mother will treasure this story memento and appreciate the students who wrote it. And you know what? I appreciate it too!

Family Literacy Night in South Thibodaux

Last night we had a blast as we stepped into an auditorium decorated to look like a swamp. Susan Binnings, Literacy Chairperson, contacted me about telling stories for their family Literacy Night and arranged to have food for all the families in attendance along with two decorated swamp cakes. Judging from the attendance, it looks like parents were serious about helping their children become life long readers. The auditorium was packed and the kids and parents enjoyed a night of swamp party storytelling!

Susan had put together packets of storytelling materials that included a variety of fun stories for parents to take home to share with their little ones. Included was a storytelling fact sheet that pointed families in the right direction for sharing their personal stories. Included in the storytelling suggested to do list were some of my favorites such as, make your stories interactive by letting the youngsters join in, carry the creativity forward by letting children join in, encourage them to repeat repetitive phrases or chants, and finally involve them in a story about when you were young.

Looks like those parents will be able to share a few more stories together after our storytime swamp party last night because we had quite a few participants involved in the stories. Parents, kids and teachers had lots of fun playing around in our story swamp!

Stories Are Magical Filling us With the Greater Possibilities

The most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves day in and day out. Stories have the extraordinary power to become real especially the ones we continue to believe in. There is power in telling yourself the same story year after year and believing it. Many of us believe stories we have no idea we’ve been believing until the story takes on life and meaning in our world. We all hear stories every day. The ones that matter most are the ones we pick for ourselves and make meaningful. My grandmother told me many stories when I was a little girl.

One of the stories she told me was I would go to college. College seemed like something far away, that would take years to happen. The truth is, college happened for me the moment she told me that story. I deliberately chose it for myself because it sounded like something good I wanted to happen. It sounded like something that would be wonderful. Because it sounded wonderful, I secretly nursed that story inside me. I had no way of knowing how college could be real for me, given the knowledge that wealth seemed out of our reach at the time.

Somehow I knew it would happen because I just knew. When the time came the story became real. I think of shamans in the ancient world, who somehow knew about the magic of stories. The entire life source of a tribe depended upon the stories they told themselves each day. Before the all important hunt, stories were put into action, dramatized in the sacred realm of the imagination and brought forth into the enactment as dance, music and high drama pointing them to the reality they wanted to see unfolded. We are still those shamans of old, bringing our lives into sharp focus. I wonder how often Obama imagined himself winner in last night’s precipitous moment? What stories did he hear as a youngster that shaped his vision for this reality? When did he first know he was destined for something great? When does anyone learn their greatness? The moment they hear the right story and that story heard correctly sends their spirit soaring! We are challenged to hold the story within until it becomes the magic it has always been meant to be! Have you heard a really great story lately?

Historical 08

Today is election day and the people are buzzing. For the first time ever in history, the democratic nomination went to an African American, Barack Obama. Older generations had tears in their eyes and their excitement palpable when it was announced. Mr. Obama, a graduate of Harvard, makes everyone stand a little taller and poke out their chests with pride. It truly is a new day in America, when blacks and whites are united in solidarity for a candidate promising change. Over the past year, we watched him make enormous strides, the most recent, when Colin Powell gave Barack his official nod.

Yesterday, on election eve, Barack's grandmother passed away. The older generations are moving on. Change is all about us. Change is the only constant we can be certain of. By tonight's end, we will have elected a new president. No matter who wins, I declare that God be with the victor to guide our country through these new days ahead.

Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandma's House We Go

Grandma with mom and me at her 90th birthday celebration!

There's no heading to Grandma's house this year. In fact, we've not been to Grandma Eleanor's house since she developed Alzheimer 15 years ago. My aunt's been caring for her for a long time after being relocated to Stafford, Texas right after Hurricane Katrina. She passed away October 21, 2008 and next week is her memorial service in Houston, Texas. Grandma was mama to me for the first 15 years of my life and I have lots of memories of her. My favorite times were the family gatherings each holiday at her home. Everyone in the family came and they were the most fun. Not only was there lots of food, but we had plenty memories to stockpile once the gatherings ended. Grandma stressed the importance of getting an education and made sure we rarely missed a day of school or going to church on Sundays. The strong values she instilled in me have carried me through raising my own children. Three pillars in my life have gone on-- my Mom, Adona, and now my Grandmother. I am so glad they all helped me to be who I am today. I know they will always be with me in spirit continung to guide and assist me whenever I need it most. I share one of my favorite poems by Bishop Brent in their honor:

A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says She is gone.

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large now as when I last saw her. Her diminished size and total loss from my sight is in me, not in her.

And just at that moment, when someone at my side says she is gone, there are others who are watching her coming over their horizon and other voices take up a glad shout - There she comes!

And that is what dying is. The horizon and just the limit of our sight...

 '600 Students at One Time!'—

Storytelling for children no matter their age, is the absolute best gift in the world! The gymnasium was filled with six hundred plus students and teachers. Can students in grades two through five remain engaged in an hour long epic story using minimal interactive cues? Most experts would declare the sheer proposal an invitation for disaster. I know from experience of working with a 1000+ students at one time telling interactive tales it is absolutely possible. Given practice and the right story filled with adventure, imagination and reality and the answer is a resounding and enthusiastic yes. Telling an epic Russian tale using the infamous Baba Yaga and her desire for power interacting in a very modern world played out between Russia and America, interwoven with realistic memorable characters filled with nonstop action and adventure and a very satisfied audience was the result.

These are photos of me and my friend Irina in Archangelsk, Russia when it was -28 degrees outside at 1) local church, 2) standing on the very frozen Northern Dvina River in front of a recently built church and 3) standing in front of Malye Karely, the Archangelsk Wooden Architecture and FolkArt Museum.

It helped that I had actually visited Russia and was able to share some personal tidbits about my visit before the story began. Adding information about how the Yaga is perceived in Russia whet their appetite to hear more about this mythical character. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_Yaga

A professional storyteller knows when he or she's hit the mark with the audience. When they have gone past the point of telling a good story to being in that zone when the story unfolds magically and the audience is hanging onto every word. My goal is to hit that zone every time whether I have 2 students or an audience of 600 before me. After all, the point of telling a good story is being able to enjoy the experience and make use of those teachable moments even when students have no idea they've just participated in a geography and world history lesson while having fun!

 Beautiful Spirits

Immaculee Ilibagiza spoke at the Louisiana Book Festival today in Baton Rouge. Her message on the power of love and forgiveness really lifted me. I am inspired by the power of her simple message shared from her heart. She had several gems within her presentation that were filled wiht clarity and I marveled at her inner and outer beauty. It was wonderful hearing her today.I also had an opportunity to listen to my friends and fellow storytellers, Oneal Issac and Phil Melancon at the Book Festival in the storytelling tent. What joy having time to listen to others and to come away feeling uplifted and inspired.

Hurricane Ike Pushes Water Inland!

We could feel the strong winds blowing today in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans where my mom used to live. The wind felt good, but ominous. In all my years I have never seen the Industrial Canal looking like a river overflowing its banks today! There is no levee! Where the levee once stood is a little greenery dotting the surface:

Seeing this uncommon sight prompted me to transport my brother, dog and stepdad out of harm’s way. As I drove from the Lower Ninth Ward towards home, with my brother and stepdad in tow, I thought of my daughter and her husband who live Houston, Texas—Hurricane Ike’s destination. Memories of Hurricane Katrina came rushing back. I did not evacuate because my daughter chose not to leave to avoid leaving her friends, who had a broken car, behind. Plus, being twenty-something, she could not resist the fascination and adventure of seeing Mother Nature raw and alive! At the last minute, I decided not to leave the area either. I was nowhere near their age and did not need the fright of waiting out a storm and was scared out of my wits, rushing around filling bathtubs with water, moving outside things into garage and downstairs things upstairs. I was a bundle of energy sweping through the house in preaparation for a possible flood. Still I took time to pray. I even asked my storytell listserve members to pray too. I surrounded our home with light and love and finally settled down to watch the storm roll in.

I can feel my adrenaline racing as I think about what happened next. Massive trees crashing into both neighbors homes, my chimney flying through the air, power zapped, and the panoramic stronghold of Katrina was in full view through my unprotected windows. What I feared the most, deadly water, never came, but the wind blasted through my subdivision felling trees like toothpicks making it impossible to get out once the wind had moved on. Everyone now knows what happened the day after Katrina left town. She left an indelible imprint upon our souls. Here's a memorable Katrina photo of my apartment house and former home:

Hurricane Gustav less than a week gone, rousing memories of Katrina has contributed damage too. My rental apartments set to be rented this month will have to wait a bit longer for family life. With damaged roof, busted windows, new mold and mildew growth, it will take more work to get her ready. Worse, my contractor lost everything when the wind peeled his warehouse roof off and settled in the neighboring yard. Who knows when he will finish? But I can’t think of that now. Hurricane Ike is pushing water into our already overfilled waterways and my daughter is “hunkered” down in Houston waiting. I am waiting too and I don’t like it one bit even if she feels safe in a second floor apartment. I don’t like not knowing what will happen and the uncertainty of her wellbeing while waiting to contact her once the power is restored. I think it is time to PRAY! It worked before, I'll trust God to keep them safe from mean old IKE!

LIFE No matter what, life is a continuation. Two people I love dearly both died and all around me friends shared births of babies. Though it is fall new foliage is springing up all around due to Hurricane Gustav's abundant waters falling all over our state. As I lay still in the wee hours of the morning, my mom visited me. Either it was a very lucid dream or it actually happened. Mom was stooped next to my bed and called me by my nickname warning me she was there. Next she climbed into my bed and lay beside me hugging me. I asked how she was doing and she replied how much she missed us. I asked how did she like being in heaven and she responded there was not much to do. Then I thought to ask her for a gift, a heavenly gift, to which she said, she didn't know how to do that yet! Before I could ask her another question, she was gone. I marveled at her presence. She was alive. I was not sad nor afraid, only glad for her visit, however short. It was confirmation enough for me. Life is a continuance on a plane we are not privy to know now. Mom, I love you. Thank you for loving me.

Death

Adona, my friend of thirty years passed away yesterday. No one knows what happened or how she died. We know she had kidney failure last month. the hospital she was in was four hours away. I visited her once and talked to her a couple of times, but mostly the medicines she was taking made talking to her nearly impossible. I will miss her.

My mom died in July. I feel my losses acutely. Like the autumn leaves falling from the trees they left quietly in their own way. We cannot go back and say the words left unsaid or speak to each other anymore. I miss my mom. I miss my friend.

Beautiful Grand Canyons

We've been in Sedona, Arizona for two blissful days. We started in the Grand Canyons had a tour with Mike our National Geographic tour guide. Remarkably, the wildlife were out in droves as we watched enormous elk rubbing the velvet from their massive antlers in preparation for the fierce survival of the fitness clash as they vie for male dominance.

Mike said it was highly unusual for the animals to be so visible and attributed it to the unusual rainy weather.

There were little fat squirrels begging for food that we couldn't feed or face a $500 fine. Mike used his cap to brush one of the cute squirrels away. Typical squirrel behavior is to store scavenged food for the winter months. The squirrels however, kept returning the entire time we stood there and Mike, our tour guide, said those squirrels had learned to beg humans for food and would likely die from starvation when the winter months approached.

We heard the chilling account of the youngest person to be killed at the Canyons this summer when a three year old wiggled from her grandfather's grasp and dashed over the cliffs. The grandfather injured himself badly breaking many bones in his body un an attempot to save her. There were four such stories this summer of people's careless errors costing their lives. We watched a coyote, injured from an auto accident, uncharacteristically begging on a busy road.

There were also ancient stories from the past of the Indians who used to inhabit the canyons, their drawings unbelievably still intact and sacred tales mixed with speculations interwoven into just the kind of stories that hold me at rapt attention. With all of our intelligence, Mike explained the forests were about 60% overgrown due to our intense efforts to put out fires and keep the forests safe.

The best part of our canyon adventure was meeting Polish tourists at the canyon and the possibility of returning to the region to tell stories! Oh boy! I'll have to keep you posted on future developments!

Making Lemonade

Yeesh! It’s time to evacuate again! It’s been three years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita socked the New Orleans region with a one-two punch. Now forecasters are saying get out again as Tropical Storm Gustav has turned into a Category 4 storm and expected to hit our state by Tuesday. The uncertainty of it all can raise the ol’ stress levels high. How do you make lemonade out of sour lemons? My husband is from Holland and had never seen the Grand Canyons. Why not call it vacation and take one? Courtesy of Hurricane Gustav, we’ve time in our schedules to take a mini-vacation. We do travel more often than most, but it is highly unusual for me to take a real vacation and I have been gradually doing something about it by taking mini vacations whenever the opportunity arises. It makes no sense to let life just pass you by with work, work, work. Too much work and little play makes Jack (er…and Jill) very dull people.

Yes I am very concerned about my property in Louisiana, and though I seem to be very carefree in all this, look closely. You’ll see I’ve made peace with the need to hang on to what I think ought to happen and have just resigned myself to what my friend, Judith Wynhausen, affectionately calls “Divine Order”. Even in the midst of all of this seeming chaos is ORDER. I just needed to back far enough away to see the big picture and rely on a POWER greater me that already knows what needs to happen. So while the big stuff is already handled, I’ll just take care of the things I can like making contacts with family members and neighbors, some of which are staying (God help them—I resolved I would never go through another ‘scared out of my wits’ night worrying if a tree would fall on our house, as with Katrina. Those fears pushed me to act fast. Long before the orders to evacuate were issued, I snared a vacation package to Phoenix that included a car through American Express travel just before prices spiked with folks angling for a way out of the city. After securing what I could, bags packed, a mad dash through rush hour traffic we arrived at the airport to find a delayed flight. I could handle that, just as long as the flight wasn’t canceled! We were packed like sardines for both flights, but we made it out safe and with little hassle other than leaving my jacket behind.

We landed in Phoenix about 9 pm barely missing another storm. Seems Phoenix encountered winds up to 100 miles per hour knocking out power to the area. Driving to our hotel we saw fireworks when the rains took brief respite. Our hotel room was sticky and hot because of the outages. We spent a leisure day checking in with friends and relatives and driving to the Grand Canyon. How gorgeous the drive. The mountains take my breath away. I saw one mountain barely visible drenched in fog and stormy clouds and a rainbow in the distance. There are more alerts out for stormy weather today and tomorrow. I am not daunted though. It was a peaceful night. Up early as usual, I am checking out the IMAX schedule and will continue to make lemonade wherever I find myself in this great big beautiful world! Where ever you find yourself this glorious day (here it is cold, wet, rainy and gloomy), enjoy the fact that we are alive and well. Have a glass of lemonade this Labor Day weekend and if you happen to think of me say a prayer for us all. I hear there are at least two more storms lined up after Gustqav. Yes, I think we all need lots of prayers, who knows what's ahead.

Critters Live! When Hungarian storyteller, Csenga visited in July, we went to the Insta-Gator Farm in Covington, Louisiana where we met wildlife expert and great storyteller, Dave Milliken! Dave and I have joined paths and are offering storytelling programs that include handling live creatures following the stories! That's right, now there will be real alligators, pythons, and skunks for kids to have hands on experiences and write a few tales themselves! Our promotional pictures are funny as I am trying to smile and hold these creatures while being concerned about personal safety. The skunk was crawling all over me and would not keep still! I am not exctly fond of skunks but I sure love telling stories about them! I didn't realize their hair was so coarse. No bigger than the family pet cat, it has a significant smell and does not stay still. The skunk we are holding in the photo below has been defumed! It can and does nip when it is hungry. SInce I didn't want to be nipped, I let Dave do most of the holding. Csenga and I saw so many alligators in various stages of growth. The one Dave is holding below is a baby gator and has well developed teeth to bite with! Dave explains as long as they are well fed, humans don't have to worry! Whew! Still you want to be careful and not get too close! The people at the Morgan City Shrimp and Petroleum Festival will learn all about gators up close and personal!

Our storytelling programs are called: “Louisiana Gators” You will learn what is myth and fact when it comes to alligators and listen to a thrilling tale of a mama gator trying to save her baby gator eggs! Here's a picture of Dave and me holding the alligator!

“Skunked” Catch a whiff of these true skunk tales and learn plenty information about skunks to prevent your being skunked in the future!

“Python: Feared or Revered?” It’s face-to-fang with these two live pythons, you’ll experience fact and fiction in these stories and learn what to do should you ever encounter one!

We actually have python photos and I will have to upload those later. I want to be very clear about the pythons: At no time will I volunteer to hold them, but I will share stories about the pythons. I am glad Dave and I will be working together! As long as he handles the critters, we'll be just fine!

Forest Roping in Belgie! I'm in the Netherlands again. We just returned from Belgium for a lovely mini vacation. We went kayaking on the River Orthe and Forest Roping in beautiful La Roche, then down to the Quartier Latin hotel in Marche-En-Famenne for massages and pampering in their Sauna-Spa. On the way back we stopped at the Abbey in Westmalle to purchase more of that delicious cheese the monks make by playing music for the cows! All that traveling does tire one. How can I describe the serenity and tranquility of floating on the river or the excitement of jumping from the pamper pole to catch the trapeze bar? We had a difficult time trying to explain it all to my husband's parents. I got the brochure all about our adventure out of the car and showed it to them. Then they understood a little bit.

What they didn't understand was this: Life is about taking chances. Standing on the pamper pole you don't have time to reflect on what it means. (It's called a pamper pole because you may very well wet your pants when you realize how high you are) Once you've jumped (or not) it is easy to understand where you are with regard to taking chances. My husband opted not to jump. I chose to jump, but I missed the bar. I am proud of myself for jumping. I might have missed, but I still leapt towards it. I am glad my husband made a decision to jump down. The ropes caught him even as he leaped. He still jumped. Even if he doesn't realize it. Making a decision to jump down is just as important as making a decision to leap forward. I am proud of him and I am proud of me for our leaps of faith! The jump in my opinion is also about trust. IF we learned to trust early on, then making the leap was easy. If you've struggled with trust over the years,(as both my husband and I have) then you've got to make yourself leap. Just take the chance and jump. The funny thing about it all, is you're completely safe no matter what. The ropes keep you secure. But you forget about the ropes. You only realize you're standing on a tiny 10X10 inch area 20 ft high and you are scared out of your mind.

There was more to the forest ropes than I want to write about here. It was a lovely journey, every part of it. ANd I'd jump again! Well there's no need to jump again. We're back home in Holland!

Alligators! Csenga, a Hungarian storyteller, has been visiting me in New Orleans! Today we went to the alligator farm and heard some great alligator stories and we also held a few too and snapped a photo! Csenga and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Yesterday we drove to St. Francisville, LA and told stories at the library there. Csenga told a great wizard story and I followed with a wizard story of my own.

The best part of being with Csenga is all the stories we share back and forth. I have learned so much about her country and the people through the stories she shares. Today I know all about the Mongolian Invasion and the how much land Hungary lost as a result of the wars. I also learned a bit about their education system over dinner. Classes are usually in lecture format and pop quizzes consist of a teacher asking you a question in front of the entore class and that constitutes a pop quiz! My husband, Arjo was listening to Csenga's educational observations when he remarked that's exactly what school was like for him in the Netherlands! Csenga's mom has a degree in English and teaches at a local school in Hungary. She shares with me her mom's passion for teaching! I can't wait to meet her! The best part about Csenga's stories are the personal tales she tells. Last night she told a fabulous Roman myth about a god who falls in love with Pomona and her garden. Lovely!

The day before we were at a local high school sharing stories with students at Newman school! What fun! Then I picked up my mom and we drove to Vacherie, LA about 4 minutes away to take the best plantation tour in Louisiana! It was so much fun hearing how Laura's mom became vice-president of the plantation at 13 years of age! It was fun and highly informative. We left with a few souvenirs as well. You shoukd see Csenga's new MArdi Gras colored Fleur de Lis bracelet. It looks lovely on her arm!

We're off to see hear the walking Ghost stories tour in the French Quarters! Csenga is the same age as my daughter and I find being with Csenga the same as being with my daughter!

Librarians Are Angels!

Today was a rather tough day for me, but a librarian made my day. I rushed to get to my engagement. I was flustered after missing my turnoff and experienced a two hour travel delay. When I arrived at the venue, she met me at the entrance with a smile on her face and told me the kids were waiting. She even apologized for giving me wrong directions. Her directions weren't wrong, the mix-up was entirely my own. I made it to the library in perfect time, according to the smiling librarian. She could not have known that her smile meant so much to me. She even gave me a hug and told me to catch my breath. I paused, took a breath and stepped in front of the children and the story began... To all librarians everywhere: Thank you for being librarians and doing what you do so well even when you think no one notices the many little things you do. I am so glad you are a librarian, thank you!

A Lovely Weekend and a Spider

My husband and I wanted to celebrate our second wedding anniversary a tad bit earlier than the 4th of July so we found a darling bed and breakfast nearby and spent part of the weekend enjoying a mini vacation. While there we met another couple from New Orleans, Chenita and Charmour, celebrating the end of the school year! In the spa was a spider. I don't know if it was a recluse or not. I'm scared of recluse spiders. It's true. Ever since a few friends of mine have had costly medical expenses as a result of recluse spider bites, I don't want to meet any close up. Recluse spiders are brown and cause a lot of damage if bitten.

So we departed the pool early and headed back to our room, named after Marie Antionette. After soaking in the jacuzzi, it was time for dinner. The romance package included a four course dinner. Dinner was exquisite. I had the grey snapper and hubby the steak. The Crawfish Bisque Tarragon soup was the best I ever tasted. My chocolate cake dessert was disappointing, but my husband's grand marnier cheesecake was superb. We headed for a movie afterwards, but decided to spend time talking instead. I checked our room for spiders, and was glad I didn't find any. It was a wonderful relaxing occasion.

Returning home, I wielded my vacuum cleaner to the garage and cleaned out all the spiders there! I still shiver thinking about spiders. Several years back I encountered a tarantuala at a resort in South America crawling right for me! The shaman picked him up by hand and carried him outside. My friend and fellow storyteller Shelby owns a tarantula spider for a pet. When asked if I wanted to hold her, I passed. To those brave souls who have spiders for pets I don't envy you.

Now I love hearing stories about spiders, including Anansi tales, but I don't tell them. There is one story I tell from Russia about spiders and Baba Yaga. Spiders are the hero in the story. And legend has it, that if you say your prayers and hide the spider under your pillow if a child, all your bad dreams will disappear. Interestingly enough, somehow the spider is related with American Indian dreamcatchers. I like the part of the story where if you're an adult and you hide the spider under your pillow you'll open the way for prosperity to flow through. When I started telling the tale last summer I handed out spider rings and shared the legends with the parents and kids.

Here's a horrifying camel spider story for you: http://www.camelspiders.net/ Aren't you glad you don't live in Iraq?

And here are some more spider tales: http://www.arachnology.be/pages/Stories.html

Do be careful of brown recluses though, you can be ill for weeks at a time if bitten.

Csenga from Hungary Is Coming! My storytelling friend, Csenga from Hungary is coming to visit. I met Csenga while visiting Budapest and we became fast friends. We exchanged tales of wizards and ate chocolate pancakes (that looked and tasted like Doberge cake) for breakfast. Csenga told a story at the American school of a child having trouble sleeping at her grandparent's home. The students and I loved it! Every time she repeated the part where grandmother closes the child's door, the kids would begin squealing with anxious delight. By the time the story climaxed with the bed breaking down, we were all in stitches!

Csenga was one of 12 students to win an award to come to America and study for a year! When she told us on the storytelling listserve, we were so excited. During this last school year, she has met other storytellers and participated in so many storytelling festivals! She will be in Jonesborough, TN helping out with storytelling before coming here! I can hardly believe the year is over. She leaves at the end of the summer to return to Hungary! You can visit Csenga's website/blog to find out more about her adventures in America: http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com/2007/08/meet-multicolored-lady.html

I discovered the most wonderful Hungarian wines while traveling abroad. Csenga promises to send me more when she returns home. I found a local place that stocks Hungarian wine and we will celebrate her visit with more stories and merrymaking! We will celebrate her many successes! Of course, I will visit Csenga when I return to Europe! For now we are going to have the best of times!

You can also read other Hungarian stories here: http://www.experienceproject.com/group_stories.php?g=43011 http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/sfs/index.htm http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=orczy&book=hungarian&story=_contents

 AS always--enjoy!

Connectedness — 27 February 2008, 00:30

How interconnected we all are. Chance occurrences cause us to pause and reflect. Seemingly unrelated chance experiences connect us reminding us all that we are interconnected. I don’t know Eva personally, but she knows me. She’s heard me telling stories because she used to attend school here in Mandeville, Louisiana. A year and a half ago her family moved to Holland where she is now living in the Hague. She wrote to tell me so after visiting my blog and uncovering my evolving relationship with Holland. In the Hague she’s attending a school I also told stories at. I get to return there in the fall to share more stories and hopefully I will really get to meet Eva.

My friend Adona, commented it took Christopher Columbus three months to reach America and now it only takes a few seconds to communicate with someone across the Atlantic. Mind boggling, it is. Traveling from Washington D.C. it takes approximately seven hours to reach the Netherlands, the far lands. Traveling at the speed of human thought it takes less than a second to communicate with another person. Just by thinking about the other person, no matter where they are on the planet, we joggle our interconnectedness. Miles away, the other person being thought about responds to the human thought being sent their way with subtle responses and nuances. How many times have you thought about someone and later you found out they had been thinking about you too? Interconnectedness. We are all connected like cells in a giant body.

What a cool thought and thanks Eva for writing!

The One Million Dollar Giveaway — 25 February 2008, 02:14

Oprah's Big Give Away starts Sunday! What would it be like to be a contestant on her show? I don't know, so I made my own contest. What if I had a cool million to giveaway what would I do with it and who would I choose to give to? I know people who could use this money in a heartbeat, but what is the biggest impact I can make in the lives of others by giving them one million dollars?

Would I give the money to friends, family or complete strangers? Friends and family could certainly use the money! I can use the money, but when I look at my lifestyle, I can see where I have plenty to be thankful for. I live in a gorgeous home, have a wonderful husband, and I can use one of my credit cards if I really, really need something. But I don’t really want for anything. I have two great over the top adult children, and a belief system that sustains me. I have a wonderful career that is a joy to perform and a life that is immeasurably rich because I can continue to create whatever my heart desires.

So who do I give the money to? My mom has cancer and cancer research could certainly use the money to find a cure for cancer. This does not seem like an adequate solution. With so many truly needy people in the world who would I give the money to? Perhaps it should be given to a homeless person who needs it?

Does the homeless person get the money? I know lots of Hurricane Katrina families who lost everything and didn’t get one dime because they answered the questions wrong on the intake applications FEMA sent out. I know people struggling to still make ends meet due to the hardships of losing everything. I know people who lost everything and today have doubled all they lost. These are all material things. Even if replaced it can be lost again.

I would choose to give the money to an ongoing educational outreach that makes a difference in people’s lives by educating them. I subscribe to that adage “Teach a man to fish and he will eat the rest of his life.”

So who gets the money?

$100,000 goes towards the ongoing education of Sexual abuse

$100,000 goes towards the Boy and Girls club in San Jose, California for their ongoing work with destitute and terminally ill children

$100,000 to s certain radio station that yearly fulfills the dreams of handicapped and terminally ill children.

$100,000 to Erase Eracism for educating others

$100,000 to the school in Africa educating young girls

$100,000 to continue worthy storytelling in communities

$100,000 to 2 artists to continue their work year long without having to worry about a salary

$100,000 to cover the cost of two $50,000 homes for two families in the New Orleans area

$200,000 to people to get ahead on their debts! $5000.00 each given to forty people already attending Debt and Credit counseling sessions to getthem started with staying out of debt.

Setting Sail! — 22 February 2008, 00:21

"All of us struggle to be the best we can be. All of us wonder at times whether what lies ahead is too difficult or too challenging. In truth, sometimes our most fearsome competitor is ourself, as we face our own doubts and fears on the way to reaching our potential."- Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton gave words to what I deeply believe in a story she writes about daring to compete when she was contemplating running for Senate. A young woman athlete inspired her "To Dare to Compete"! I am inspired. I have always loved being a part of the game, thrilling whenever our team won. More often than not I wasn't on the winning team. Today I am the winning team because I inspire others to reach for their dreams, live their best lives yet to be. I dare others to believe in themselves. Today, I am daring myself to reach for my biggest dream yet.

I can't talk about it in this format. But I can tell you I spend everyday, seeing it coming together in my mind's eye. Everything I have ever wanted to accomplish, I first visualized it--made it so real for me until it unfolded in my experience as my experience. Somehow along the way, I lost my ability to visualize. In my own mind I was floundering and not making good choices. Then a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit our city, I found myself in that perfect space of reconnecting to the heart of what I believe. I had found my ability to exist at that level of pure knowing without knowing how it would happen, I just knew it would in spite of the chaos I saw unfolding in and around me. Though my life had come unraveled, I felt I was lost at sea aboard a ship of unknowns and uncertainty, yet unbelievably calm within. It seemed I was on auto pilot and knew exactly what to do even though it seemed life sized waves would sink me. Through this tremulous devastating time an unbelievable dream come true!

At that time my dream was to travel the world telling stories. With a precision that takes my breath away, obstacles disappeared and baby did I travel--as I told stories at schools around the world! An unanticipated dividend yielded marriage to the most wonderful man in the process of watching my dream unfold.

Even as my dream fleshed out as my reality, I became aware of the enormous suffering in our world. I saw whole countries seemingly living in a reality that boasted scarcity. How could I make a difference for my state, for my country, for the world? Every person I meet on my journey is an opportunity to share what I know. Today, this moment, I cease struggling because there is a Power available to me and all people that desires our happiness. I truly believe this. I am choosing to cast off in my self made boat of believing the best of who I am has set course for more uncharted waters. I am facing my doubts and fears. I've learned facing the unknown yields unexpected and surprising results. Stay tuned, I'll let you know what happens!

Celebrating MOM's Return! — 20 February 2008, 01:55

Mom's Coming Home! Not from the hospital, from being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, from Houston. Texas! She was there over two years and now she's returning to her home. My brother refurbished her house and it looks fabulous! There's new everything! Remodeled, it's larger, more spacious and better equipped to handle the new living that will be taking place in that house. She arrives by plane Sunday. I pick her up and bring her to my house until her belongings arrive the following day. My sister is coordinating the effort moving her two years of accumulated things back to New Orleans. (glad it's not me)

Her returning home is bittersweet as she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Gone is my mom's closest and dearest friend who moved to St. Louis last month. It is time for rejoicing, a time for new beginnings and endings. It is a time to celebrate my mom! The person she is, includes everything I like and don't like. She is her own person. My mom can still be feisty, ill or not. She is not beyond losing her temper with her good intentioned daughter (me) when she perceives I've gone beyond her desires.

Mom is very much alive and coming home! Time to celebrate I think!

Predictng our Brains towards Success! — 19 February 2008, 01:10

First Graders Continued --Predicting our Brains towards Success! This year I met with a different batch of first graders. These first graders were making different demands on their teachers (or maybe the teachers are making better demands on their 1st graders) because there was evidence all around the school learning was in session with a capital L. Blazened through each hallway was information about varying world cultures, colorful classrooms emphasized learning at work. Most telling was how teachers answered the question: "Are your students smart?" Without missing a beat, teachers affirmed how smart ALL their students are!

Indeed, the students confidently answered many questions themselves, proudly showing me what they already knew! I told them some stories to emphasize drug and alcohol awareness to meet the needs of the hiring body. More importantly, I shared scientists now say we learn best through predictions! Predicting they will do well leads the brain to formulate evidence to do well. We can jump-start our brains to work more intelligently on our behalf by simply telling ourselves that we are already doing so! Awesome stuff and these first graders already know it! I didn't have to tell them what they already knew, I merely presented compelling stories and information to remind them of what they already know.

Seems they know (unlike the children of previous years generations) they are already encoded to make different choices than their parents. It's not so long ago, researchers wrote, "if one of your parents smoked (or fill in your own behavior) then you'd be more than likely to grow up and be a smoker too". What a prediction that many kids were predisposed to subtly believe. These 1st graders already know they will surpass their parents, the same way they already know how to use a cell phone, or a computer! They are already making decisions to make better choices. Some of their parents have died doing it the hard way. Who needs to go that route?

Imagine if everyone worked together to encode our kids with the knowledge they already know how to make good choices (and you do too). Wouldn't it be neat if newspapers all over the country predicted how well our kids did on their tests before they actually take those required school tests? What if newspapers stop posting how terrible kids perform on those standardized tests and start focusing on the gains they are making? I suppose that wouldn't be news. Maybe they can do a report on who's getting the money for all those required tests and which political arm and their relatives mandated the ruling--now that would be news!!! But that's another story. We're all pretty smart if you ask me and we're getting smarter all the time. Someday soon more educators will be redirected to use this predictive learning mode of the brain in their classrooms for spectacular results. Looking at the larger picture perhaps educators will use their predictive skills to do away with the need for those standardized tests whioh IMHO don't prove diddly squat!

Those first graders still deal with all kinds of problems, just like last year's group. However this year, they have the moxie to overcome them. I told them all just how incredible they all were! Like a good scientist, I backed it up with good solid proof. I told them how smart they are and I can prove it. If I placed an apple and a glass of gasoline before them, they would instinctively know which was right for them! I told them they had a brain (who can refute that?) that already knows how to make good choices. After storytelling, I presented them with good choices, bad choices scenarios and ALL of those 1st graders responded accordingly with the correct answers! Why? Because THEY ARE SMART AND THEY KNOW HOW TO MAKE GOOD CHOICES ALREADY!

I even reminded them that our brains are taking in information all the time and we are constantly making new choices to support the updated information. For example, if we're going swimming outside and notice it's raining, we will automatically make another choice. Sound like good ol common sense doesn't it? Seems to me, we all have the ability to make good choices. And for those times we make mistakes, well we can choose to learn from our mistakes. I hear Edison made 10,000 mistakes to make a light bulb! Okay, I wonder just how many Einsteins and Edisons (and for the sake of Black History Month) and Garretts were amongst those 1st graders? Me thinks at least 250, the exact number of 1st graders I spoke to!

First Graders Believe in Themselves — 18 February 2008, 16:35

This time last year, I was invited to share stories with first graders. I returned this week to participate in the same program. Here is what I wrote about my visit last year. Tomorrow I will share what happened during my visit this year.

I was invited by the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Council to participate in an ongoing storytelling program for first graders throughout the parish specifically aimed at preventing the use of alcohol and drugs. I spoke with the principal and the sheriff and highly recommended a slight shift in programming to focus on self esteem. I pointed out that kids already know what drugs are and telling them "not to" was like a giant promotion sign in favor of drugs. They actually liked my ideas so we scheduled the program this past week. There were nine programs, one for each first grade class. One of the questions I asked each class was did they know anyone who used drugs. Nearly every hand went up in each session! I worked unceasingly to instill precious instinct into these children about the power of making good choices giving them clues to "read" and understand their bodies so they can make better choices. Not only do smart people make good choices, but they feel good about the choices they make and it is the right thing to do just because doing the right thing makes you feel good inside.

I was bone tired both evenings, but it was well worth it. I also emphasized that good behavior is self directed. I placed the responsibility of behavior management squarely on the shoulders of the students reinforced with examples in the stories I told.

Later, teachers told me horror stories about what some of these first graders encounter on a regular basis. I told two stories to each class and interspersed impacting, useful self esteem messages to the children. In one story I told of a young boy who accidentally found the value of using his inner strength and good character traits to rise through the ranks of his village to become the leader. The chief felt responsible for helping the people in his village so he pondered how best to reach them and came across the idea of telling stories. He taught the children how to find their inner strength by listening inside through storytelling. He was wise enough to know the children would in turn unconsciously teach the adults when relating the stories to their parents. The climax of the story was the first graders got to "assist" the chief in saving the village.

The second story was indirectly aimed at teachers, and told the story of a young girl who learned skills to use her brain in fun ways so she became a better student and changed her self perspective thanks to a creative teacher. Teachers learned new ways of presenting information so students can store it creatively to retrieve the info when needed. The students learned vicariously through the girl in the story as she transitioned from being an incorrigible pain in the you know what, to one who learned the satisfying power of using her brain to become a straight A student thanks to her creative teacher.

The principles shared in the story were not difficult for teachers to add to their daily regimen and came from my arsenal of working with at risk kids. The principal sat in on one session each day. She was so enthusiastic about what I shared that she required teachers of the other classes to come in during their planning time to hear the stories the second day!

I hope my drop in the bucket helps long term. I wish I could return each month to continue nurturing what was planted. They will continue the program next year for incoming first graders, while the second graders will be treated to a storytelling assembly recapping what was taught this year. Mostly I hope first graders can begin to determine that they can make better choices for their lives than what others around them have exhibited and they can do it by first believing in themselves.

Black History Month — 13 February 2008, 15:33

I am knee deep in Black History Programs at six different schools. As a multi-colored person inside who happens to be black outside I subscribe to the belief that all people are beautiful no matter their color plus I found myself at an early age too fair to be accepted by my own and too black to be accepted by the whites...so I befriended those who were kind.

Fortunately for me that included many skin colors) it is not unusual for Black History programs to be lumped under the heading of multicultural day at many predominantly white schools or ignored altogether. Sometimes for good reason. Often it makes people feel uncomfortable, but more likely the celebration is simply misunderstood. The better Black History programs teach all kids they are valuable regardless of color, and needed to play their part in the world. Everyone has a purpose. Working together the world is a better place. Black History programs too often focus on the same famous token characters year after year: Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Louis Armstrong, Mary Bethune and the like. Their contributions are surely noteworthy. It's just that there are so many who paved the way for our quality of living today, that the focus should not be a few, but many.

When I was a little girl my grandparents had a thick, six volume set of African American contributions across the ages. When Black History month came we used them to write the mandatory reports due at the time. Through those books, African American stories came alive and they were numerous.

One of the schools boast a 60/40 population mix and students aren't privy to the contributions of even the mainstream historical people. When we began working together many students didn't know who some of the historical characters were. Another teacher, made it clear the subject just wasn't covered. Since he's the school's communication teacher, he's videotaping our program and airing it in a school broadcast during the last week of this month.

Black History sites you may find helpful are: http://www.connectionsacademy.com/community/ncteReadIn.asp http://www.teacherplanet.com/resource/blackhistory.php http://birminghamblackhistory.com/heroes/ http://www.nea.org/webresources/blackhist05.html http://www.nea.org/lessons/2003/tt030213.html http://blackparenting.blogspot.com/2007/10/african-american-christmas-movies-and.html http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/feature/afam/INDEX.HTM

Two of the schools feature students in storytelling mode as they share the importance of black history month. All programs I am working on emphasize the importance of valuing and believing in one's self along with getting along with others. The most prolific storyteller I know on historical black figures is Sylvia Barker who lives in Rochester, New York. I could listen to Sylvia for hours. She is a walking textbook of the African American experience. Here is a picture of Sylvia during our visit to New York this time last year. She tells an awesome George Washington Carver story!

Dropout--NOT! — 12 February 2008, 20:07

Aaron is my son. Not biological, but he lives in my home along with his grandmother, displaced from Hurricane Katrina. Aaron's mom died when he was 9 months old and he's been raised by a host of family members. He is in 8th grade and wants to drop out of school to become a famous, well-paid, skateboarding champion. Heck, we'd pay for him to go train with the best of the skateboard champions, if he pulls up his grades. That's the agreement we made with him. In the meantime, his laptop. ipod, cell phone, and TV are locked in our room until we see an improvement in grades! What argument could we give to a "know-it-all" teen who is quite sure he won't need a diploma or degree? For starters, we pulled up SHIFT HAPPENS, a video by a Colorado high school teacher, Karl Fisch. http://www.lps.k12.co.us/schools/arapahoe/fisch/fischbowlpresentations.htm

Aaron watched the video and we didn't have to say a word. He's smart. He began to put the pieces together himself. He's always been smart. He is a master at wrapping adults around his finger by telling them what he thinks they want to hear. By the time he watched the second video 2020 Vision, and listened to me about the benefits of education placing him in the driver seat, I could see the gears turning in his mind. Several stories later... One of those stories about my college son Bryan at Howard U with a five year scholarship in Physics when he was at a top notch High School here in New Orleans goes like this... Bryan and his intellectual football teammates were taking a nasty beating on the field by a tough inner city high school. The cheerleaders cheered how badly they were being beaten and how superior their team was. Bryan's high school team never missed a beat and chanted right back: 2-4-6-8 -that's alright, that's okay, we're going to sign your paychecks one day! In that simple chant was the power to trample their opponents psychologically. Yeah, the smart guys lost the physical game where strength and brawn were important. But on the field of academic dominance everyone knew who the real champions were.

It didn't take Aaron long to understand, getting an education is important. I continued. It was his job to get an education so that he would have the power one day to change the way learning is taught. How would he like classes to be arranged? Make a difference in the lives of the children of the future by being prepared to change the face of education to really meet the needs of tomorrow's students. What good is an education if you're famous and all that jazz, but you have no say so in the rules that make up the sport because you don't feel intellectually capable? Standardized tests are unimportant. Kids know this most of all. But they can't do a thing about what they have to learn. It's all decided by people who have a degree or two, (or three) and the power to effect change. Learning is all important. You learn how to make changes by getting a sound education. No, this is not a good day to dropout. This is an excellent day for deciding that you can and will change how it's been done!

Aaron says, "it was a well rounded, educational experience." That's what happens when you have a mom who just happens to have a degree in education!

               
	
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Speaking the Same Language --My Babel — 07 February 2008, 16:39

My in-laws left on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day. Here they are visiting a local plantation. Pa was ready to get back home to the Netherlands and Ma wanted to go too. In nine short days I bonded with my husband's parents so much that by the time I said goodbye at the airport (Arjo, my husband had to work) the tears caught me unprepared. Big heartfelt mushy tears erupted when the moment came to say goodbye. I always thought you only had one set of parents. Now I've learned when you get married, you actually get another set if you're lucky. I am fortunate.

We don't speak the same language, have the same customs, or celebrate the same holidays, yet after learning to communicate through fractured Dutch and broken English phrases we were able to share what's important and understand one another. People matter, relationships are forged through shared experiences. In this great big world when we make the effort to understand others something wonderful has an opportunity to unfold.

Stories help us become citizens of the world instead of just our neighborhoods. We get to reformulate our assumptions and broaden our horizons understanding that we really do live in this world together. This takes courage to let others know who we really are. It takes courage to learn that there are other ways of doing things. There are many ways of learning to live together. I will probably never understand all the nuances of what it means to be Dutch. And they will probably never understand what it truly means to be American. In the final analysis, it doesn't really matter. No matter what language we spoke, we experienced one another superficially at first. Gradually we lowered our defenses and our resistance melted as we allowed each other in. So when it was time to say goodbye, we shed tears of something deeper than mere understanding. We understood the uniqueness of who we are and subsequently we found we had merged a family, merged hearts and spoke a language that needed no words.

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Cowardly Lion No More — 02 February 2008, 05:45

I have long affirmed I am a writer. This statement is in the first blog below along with lots of other (I think) cool offerings confirming this fact. Secretly, I've doubted being a writer having a love/hate relationship with myself regarding the fact. But it is not my Truth!

This past year I announced it to the Universe, as I have countless other years, but this year I declared it with such gusto and confidence last July that I promptly sent my never sent out manuscript to one publisher. Yep, deep down I've been quite a sizable cowardly lion. But I do not shirk from being yellow, I just had to work at it even harder to overcome this very human trait. I could not stand the thought of rejection. Rejection for any reason sucks. In retrospect, I look back and wonder what in the world was I afraid of? I remember the time I was going to be published on my own terms. No rejection letters for me, I had one of my stories illustrated. Made the decisions and paid for it myself. Loved it so much, I did it again. Secured a self publisher, paid her some money to start publication and then another storyteller whose opinion I admired said, "you can never qualify for any book awards if you self publish!" Now I had double the fear and still no published book.

Our fears are never rational. They just exist and reek havoc in our lives keeping us from our greater yet to be! I heard from the publisher in October, emailing they wanted to publish me! I was so excited I called a few close friends and prematurely celebrated with my husband. Of course underneath all my bravado was the belief that I was not good enough to be published and I secretly harbored fears that as each week dragged by hearing nothing, meant my worst fear was realized. By December, those fears were confirmed: There was a problem with the plot and did I have anything else? I was a woman desperate not be rejected submitting other ideas to them that were promptly torpedoed.

HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME?$#!!!&^T! I wondered, fumed, and probably would have popped a gasket if my mother's illness had not helped me to place everything into proper perspective! Like a belwether tolling in the distance I began to see clearly though my fears had created this scenario that deep down inside I knew how I could choose for this to end. I let it all go. I relaxed into the knowledge that there is something greater than me that already knows how to handle everything including my success, (or not). I bet you know how this story ends too. Once I settled into my greater yet to be knowing, the publisher wrote back, if it's okay with you, we want to publish your original story.

Soooo, here's my next assignment: what other irrational fears are lurking just beneath my production level? It is time to let them go! I share this with you because others have laid the groundwork for helping me to let go of my own fears. Perhaps I can inspire you to take leaps this year you've been afraid to in the past! Are you ready? We are already into February! Ready, set, go!

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Memories of Joy! — 31 January 2008, 19:52

My daughter was married last month. Here is a link to her wedding pictures: http://homepage.mac.com/arterphotography/RamsonMcGeeProofs/

if anyone is so inclined to take a look. Seeing the pictures made me relive it all. The concern on my daughter's face when the weather proved uncooperative as it BLEW their carefully placed candles and all twelve three tiered candelabras out. Her face when she resolved in her heart it was all perfect just the way it unfolded down to moving the ceremony from the pavilion to a nearby covered area to shield us from the tropical storm force winds. You can see the tears of joy when they spoke their self written very untraditional vows. You cannot see the absolute delight she felt when she saw the lights (the only ones working) on the arch. You CAN see the damage done to my 2 hour coifed hairdo undone in two seconds leaving the hairdresser. You cannot see the sand blowing in the wind as they poured it symbolizing the joining of their lives. You can see the flowers they gave to the parents during the ceremony. You cannot feel the cold we felt and the way their love warmed us all. You can witness his obvious love for my daughter. You cannot see the two of us in the bathroom fixing our hair just before the reception. You can see the absolute hysterical joy we felt during the games we played at their wedding reception. It's traditional to play games at weddings in Holland. Her husband is a huge fan of games and had plans of opening a Gamestore until Hurricane Katrina derailed them. In one game the groom was blindfolded and told to feel the feet of several women to determine which was his bride's! Note the sheer frivolity in my face that bordered on pure mirth as my daughter chose from her dad, brother and friends to offer their feet for prodding. He couldn't decide between two and had to repeat the manuever ultimately deciding on her brother's feet as the winner! The second game was rigged in their favor as we played a game that was a cross between musical chairs and find the objects. Both had chosen teams and chairs placed on either side. Each team was responsible for procuring certain items. a chair would be removed from both sides as the items were found ultimately leaving them as the winners. You can't see the damage done to her wedding cake just on the other side of the picture hidden from view or to the cake that is so badly damaged from the wind and is deliberately NOT shown as it was served straight from the kitchen. You cannot know that the weather derailed plans of many planning to attend. But for those who came it was a memorable and treasured occasion. It is a joy to see my mom's face. (she's dressed in green) She looks frail yet happy and that we were all happily together is what matters most.

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Travel Across The Atlantic and Back — 27 January 2008, 03:45

We spent the last nine days in Holland visiting my husband’s family and friends. The differences between Holland and America are vast. My husband comes from a small cloistered, close-knit village two hours south of Amsterdam. I often tell others when I visit, it is like stepping back to a simpler time during the 60’s in America. That can be favorable, but also limited. It is quite frustrating that the only bank closes by noon in their tiny village and the few establishments also close by six o’clock most days when I am accustomed to everything being available 24/7 whenever I need it. ATM’s are readily available, yet it seems we always need to speak with a PERSON in the bank. Imagine my horror and deprivation after my debit card –my only means of getting services: cash, fuel, groceries, etc. – was eaten by the ATM machine in downtown Amsterdam, two hours away from home one weekend last summer. The matter could only be resolved by my husband during banking hours in the small town where the account was originally opened! No explanation could be given for why machines behave the way they do, only that it happens with great regularity to unsuspecting tourists.

When I first arrived mid January three years ago, it was all very new. I stayed in the farm house where my husband grew up. I remember being so cold the first night I changed beneath the covers to stay warm. We were not married then and we slept in separate rooms following his parent’s strict standards. It was quaint to see a gas burner over the kitchen sink for hot water. The family prays together before each meal and it is standard to read the Bible (in Dutch) after dinner before closing prayers. Television is not tolerated and none grace the premises.

Today, a new attitude of modernity is claiming Colijnsplaat. The gas burner is now gone and in its place a new modern faucet gleamed with an attached hot water pipe releasing hot water. There is a laptop in the house, that seldom works and a fax machine. There are snazzy new window upgrades courtesy of the Gemeente (community/court) House. Last year the village installed sleek new high powered windmills on the dike meters from their home producing enough noise to keep the parents awake at night, hence the new windows. His parents traveling to America was not up for discussion. They simply would not come.

This week, his parents, both knocking on seventy’s door, made the trip to America. They’ve never flown in a plane before and only traveled to countries within four hours of Holland their entire lives! Their eyes are as bright as mine were when first acquainting myself with their way of life. They sat center aisle adamantly declaring they would not look out the window! A few hours later, their excitement showed as they peered at small objects below from the plane window managing to use English words I would understand. At least thirty passengers seated near us got a complete description of what lay outside the window through Mom’s ever widening eyes and Dutch language! Mum even wanted to open the window for a better view! Arjo patiently explained why opening the window was impossible. For their first plane trip they receive the highest honors getting scared only once when mild turbulence unsteadied the plane. Their fears were well hidden, I think in part because they felt comforted we were with them and we didn’t seem alarmed.

Arjo chose to accompany his parents through Customs, but when I got to the front of the American line and explained my husband was with us parents in the non US line, the officer kindly told me to get all three and return to his line. I found them way in the back of the line and called and motioned for them to follow me. The customs officer gave them the best American welcome ever, even speaking a few Dutch words he’d gleaned over the years in the process! Our parents beamed and radiated.

New Orleans weather would not cooperate for it was as cold, rainy and wet as it was in Holland. The city is in the throes of an early carnival with Mardi Gras happening February 5th this year. Revelers are not so happy with the rain either. A quick call to Houston to check on my mom left me feeling gloomy like the weather. She is in the hospital following fever after a chemo treatment. Mom is also planning to come to New Orleans. Next month her Hurricane Katrina damaged home will be ready. There is one major problem. We are concerned that the treatment she will need is not available here in the New Orleans area. The nurses have advised the family to stop calling so much so my mom can rest. I’ve only called once and it seems grossly unfair.

Saturday was another wet day. Arjo’s father was up at 5am, though no one knew it. I made a round of coffee and hot tea and we all went to La Madeliene’s for breakfast, K’ Mart’s for postcards and to view what was left of the Farmer’s Market. A few vendors were out and another few were packing their wares to leave. In broken Dutch/English his parents shared they also have a Farmer’s market in Holland. We gave them a mini tour by car of the area. I remembered fondly picnics and swimming in the lake as a kid in Fountainbleau park. But as we drove through the devastated park, closed roads and fenced off areas led me to understand recovery is ongoing.

What to do on a rainy wet day when your parents don’t like music, movies, and can’t speak the language? You dress warmly, don a para-plue (umbrella) and go walking in the rain at the Nature Center! We saw some swamp, little wildlife, and lots of mud as we picked out way through one of the paths. Twenty minutes later I was sufficiently chilled to suggest heading back to the warm car. Not those European icebergs! They were just getting warm. But the thought of hot chocolate put a bounce in their step as we made our way back. They had a lot to say about their bird’s eye view of “Amer-ri-ca” and overall they like being here! They can understand after their inexpensive eggs crepe champignon morning meal with free refills what is so appealing.

Papa wants to bring home a tractor! It’s less than a $1000, considerably less than the 3000 Euros for the same in Holland. As we drove back home, they were picking out homes to buy for every body in the family! Homes here are seemingly expensive to them costing a fraction of what is comparable in Holland. Ever cautious mum quipped, “there are just too many beautiful homes to choose from—we can’t make a decision today!” Truth be told, there are things I like about both sides of the Atlantic. There are qualities from both camps that value family life, community and the human spirit. It’s not easy for me to put my finger on what exactly is so endearing. but this I know: people are important. None of us know when the time will come for goodbyes. Until then, I plan to find more of what I like about my in-laws and make sure they know it too. I told them what fine parents they are to have raised a man like Arjo. His parents beamed and said what a sweet child their son was. They implied he made there jobs easy. Ah, parents! Raising kids is not an easy job (neither is caring for aging parents) Yet there is definitely something about this job that makes people do it over and over again! For now my heart is straddled over both places. I cannot choose between one or the other. Both are home for very similar reasons. Now with his parents adventure, I just may be able to join the two in a way I had not quite imagined possible!

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Mango Tea & Cookie Crumbs — 24 January 2008, 09:08

Inner peace eluded me all day today. Something so simple as someone not following through on a promise caused me to feel ornery and upset and not at all my usual happy go lucky self. I wanted to be rid of this feeling, this annoyance on the edge of my consciousness that toyed with my emotions and my over all sense of well being much of the day. I sat in meditation for an hour soliciting peace. I felt like the monk who wrote he had a terrible toothache he could not rid himself of no matter what he did. Not a physical pain, but an emotionally charged trigger dislodged an inconsolable irritableness that was difficult to shake most of the day. Like most people, I have my share of emotions, but usually I can make a choice to continue to feel bad or not. Once I am aware that I am at choice, then it is usually very simple to release the emotion as simple as putting down a pencil I’ve been carrying. Not this time. This feeling would not be discharged, would not free me. And then my husband returned home from a neighborly visit. He saw me sitting obviously distressed about something. Once he discovered he was not the source of my distress, he sat next to me, put his arm around me, and watched me searching the internet for peace. I explained my frustration and loudly wailed, I simply wanted my peace back. I had entered only the word PEACE in the search menu and he suggested I enter the words inner peace. Voila. There were ten choices and more on inner peace. The first was an interview with the peace pilgrim. She certainly had words of wisdom to impart and gave me just the space in mind to distance myself from my annoying irritation. She gave steps for achieving inner peace. You can find her words of wisdom here: http://www.peacepilgrim.com/steps1.htm All good stuff for sure. The next site was pleasant enough, promising the gift of peace in five minutes. Beautiful pictures, lovely words and yes a sense of tranquility ensued. tofpeace.org/ My husband had slipped out of the room somewhere between Peace Pilgrim’s advice and the Gift of Peace promises, only to return with hot tea, and cookies. I took one look at those cookies, the love shining from his face and that bad feeling had left the building. A few sips of mango tea and cookie crumbs on my shirt later I realized how very blessed I am. Who would have known it would be that easy?

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Feelings — 21 January 2008, 22:36

Last night was particularly challenging because it is so painful knowing my mom doesn't have the time I thought she would have. Siblings/children are all grappling with letting go in their own way. I was talking to my daughter and she seemed to think I needed to dig deeper to find out what was really going on beneath my feelings. Somehow we weren’t connecting as her words just weren’t ringing true for me. So I did what was best for me and got off the phone. Tearfully, I called my friend Adona. Adona who has had open heart surgery responded with words good to my soul. She said, Angela you are letting go of someone you love. Just feel the pain of letting go. Don't fight it, really feel it because it is a hard thing to do. She was so right on target. Hearing her words gave me permission to just be with my feelings.

I did just that, crawling into my husband's arms (I am very fortunate to have him in my life) and let it all go. I cried and railed until I felt better. Oddly enough he was crying too, about his parents, as they are quite frail and up in age too. Well we had a lovely conversation about our parents. Isn't it amazing how much we come to trust and love our parents when we become more aware of just how limited our time can be? The thoughts that linger are: why am I more appreciative of her now and how come I haven't been more loving towards her? How come it has taken me this long to really appreciate her? Definitely thoughts I can do without because they don’t feel very loving. Yet the thoughts opened a dialog with myself and I felt peaceful. Painful moments never last, but they seem as if they will take you over if you feel too deeply.

I watched the movie "Two Weeks" during the holidays. Actress Sally Fields, plays the role of a dying mother and how her children deal with her ensuing death. It was hilarious and frankly good for my soul. The movie was tastefully done in my opinion. My friend Adona, did not laugh much at the movie and felt it more poignantly. She is fourteen years older than I and has lived through the deaths of her only daughter, a father and several dear friends. Everyone deals with death differently. My mom hasn’t died yet. She is very much living. How grateful I am to have time with her even if that time is filled with her pain.

I find this a time to practice peace within. I wish anyone reading this an unending peace. If you’d like to read some inspirational stories on life altering events as experienced by others visit here: http://www.gmrdesign.com/lifechallenges.org/people/people.html Another site has strange stories of passing over: http://www.psychics.co.uk/paranormal/passing_over.html

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What Purpose does Illness Serve? — 19 January 2008, 15:52

As I see it, illness helps us to know we have bodies. Some times they hurt. Sometimes they hurt alot. My mom has been having a lot of pain because of her cancer. Some folks subscribe to the belief that illness can be stopped with the power of the mind. Eckhart Tolle among that number. I believe if you start early enough you can reverse the damage and eradicate illness all together. I have a tough time believing you can eradicate cancer in its final stages. It doesn't matter what I believe though, because I am not the one with cancer. I know there are poeple out there who have gotten rid of cancer in its final stages. I bet there are people in this world who have survived pancreatic cancer, I just don't know them.

Once my mom told me that illness serves a purpose. She said there are some sufferings that are meant to be. It is what God wants you to experience so you can get closer to God. I think you can be close to God without illness, without having to suffer.

I subscribe to the belief that illness/sickness/ pain is a need to punish one's self. Maybe I am like one of the five blind men when asked to describe the elephant decribed only the portion of the elephant's body they could touch. Maybe I only have a part of the whole picture.

Illness doesn't serve anyone. It has no purpose. We on the other hand do have a purpose. That purpose is to be the best we can be; to love as much as we can: ourselves and others.

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What's Really Important — 17 January 2008, 14:21

It is amazing how everything takes a backseat to what is really important. Life is really important. Life as I know it skidded to slow motion warp speed in three seconds when my mom told me she has fourth stage cancer. This week she shared she has pancreatic cancer. My mom and I were not always close and we (read I) have had to work very hard at creating a meaningful relationship. For one thing my grandmother raised me and I always thought of my mom as my sister. My mom always said this, so I bought into this belief. It served me at the time. Since I didn't have an older sister, it was cool thinking of my mom as my sister for a time. Funny thing is I seemed to be the older sister. My mom was always asking me questions and usually I knew the answers. I don't mean to sound arrogant here, that's how it was.

Now my mom won't be here much longer and I really see her as my mom now. Probably because we've fallen into having mother daughter conversations. Just when it seems I've finally gotten accustomed to having a mother, she's going to be leaving soon. I tell myself how fortunate I am to be able to have quality time with my mom. There are lots of people who never get a chance to say goodbye to their mom or appreciate them for who they really are.

The other day, I had a major insight: My mom is a wonderful person. How come I never saw my mom as a wonderful person until now? Guess I was too busy doing other things to notice. My mom doesn't have internet, so she'll probably never read this. Not a big deal because I plan to make sure she knows what a wonderful person she is.

Monday, the parent of one of my students was telling me how wonderful her daughter is. Yes, her daughter is wonderful, not because her mother says so. She's wonderful because that's what people are most of the time--wonderful. Most of the time, we are just too busy to see how wonderful the other person really is. When I saw my student later that day, she knew she was wonderful. Her mom probably told her what I said. And that day, she was truly wonderful. She didn't need to operate in her typical hyperactive mode. She knew she was wonderful and she behaved wonderfully.

Warp speed gives you an opportunity to really see what's important. I bet there are more wonderful people in my life I've failed to notice in the past. Thanks to my mom, I am more aware, more appreciative and happy to know what is really important are the people in our lives! This day make sure you let the important people in your life know just what they mean to you. You never know just how much time you have together so make the most of what you do have today.

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Angela Davis — 05 August 2007, 17:14

Judith Winehouse is here in Holland visiting before heading to a Russian wedding on Tuesday. Arjo and I scooped her and daughter Veronica from the Harwich ferry on Friday. We arrived early Friday morning ourselves in Amsterdam and were sleep deprived after an 6 ½ hour flight to Holland. We were also starving so we went to a charming little outdoor restaurant in Renesse. The weather here is warm and gorgeous. Ten year old adventurous Veronica went Bungee cord jumping across the street from the restaurant after ordering her dinner. No, not hanging by her ankles and coming to a halt just a few inches shy of the ground. Her feet were firmly planted on the ground as she bounced into the air swinging up and down for about 15 minutes before returning in time to eat her Tomaten soep and bread. Arjo and I needed protein and downed ribs and steak and Judith had the soup also. When we got home we told stories until we knew we better go to bed.

The next day we were up early with geese, went to the beach at Neeltje Jans, (an expo on sea life and water conditions in the area and how they built the dam) made sand castles and played in the water for about an hour before heading to Zerikzee. We walked around, bought a present for mom, downed Applegebakt (like apple pie) topped with slagroom (whipped cream), made graoceries and then headed to Goes to have their wedding present engraved, but the store was closed.

The best part of the day was spending the evening with friends eating barbecue. Judith discovered her Dutch name means house made of vines, or so we thought. We subsequently uncovered it actually means Wine House! Judith finally succeeded in getting the kids gathered together to tell them a Mother Goose story. You should have seen the smiles on the children’s faces as Arjo translated along. They were squealing, rocking and rolling singing a song…and everyone clapped enthusiastically when she was done. Hurrah for Judith! Well come to find out, she had only gotten them primed. They wanted another story, not just the kids, but all the adults too including me. But she insisted I go next much to my chagrin.

I told too and the grateful audience was thrilled that they heard two storytellers in one setting. We need to get the entire storytell list over here and then we can all wow them! After the barbecue it was still light at 10pm, so Arjo and I took them the harbor at Geersdijk and we walked and watched sailboats passing by. Then we went to Ismall’s place and had ice cream cones. We got in about midnight, said nightie-night to Veronica, opened the Bohemian champagne and celebrated our storytelling success and a wonderful day.

Today we ate Lost Bread for breakfast, called Rotten Bread in Dutch and French Toast in America before heading to Arjo’s parent’s church. The service was in Dutch. All the women wore hats and sat the entire time while the men stood to pray, stood to sing, picked up the collections and did the sermon. It was like going to church in the fifties in the south. The people sat for 45 minutes straight listening to someone read. THe kids were unbelievably well behaved the entire 2 hour service!!! We brought Veronica and Judith to meet Arjo’s parents and family members.

Next we went to tourist town Veere to eat at the Ostrich restaurant in an old storage cellar built in the 14th century. We were disapointed to find the restaurant was closed so we had ham and kass (cheese) baguettes (French bread) while sitting in front of the harbor. James Wisse came out of his home we were sitting in front and began telling us stories from World War 2 when he found out we were Americans. He said the stoop we were sitting on was built to prevent water from coming into their home. He spoke in good English he learned at 14 years old during the liberation of 1944! He said he learned from the Scottish and Canadians. He told us how they bombed the levees to make the Germans flee the area. It worked, but it destroyed a lot of people’s homes. He went with the soldiers on the buffalo tanks to farms to get the hay and beets to bring to the livestock holed up in the local church. The church was the highest point in the village and many times the soldiers were sleeping in the hay while the little boy of 14 years old drove the buffalo tanks!

Veere used to be the wool capital of the world in the 14th century. He told us stories about the Duke of Veere marrying Mary from Scotland. The Duke made certain of three conditions:

1) Veere would receive all the rights of trade between the known world and Scotland,

2) Mary would have a cistern to provide her rain water (clear water) all her life and

3) A church would be built in Veere for his daughter.

Find out more here and see a picture of the harbor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veere Judith and Veronica took a picture in front of this windmill! http://www.planetware.com/picture/veere-nl-nlvr1.htm We also took a picture of James Wisse. We live in Wissekerke, so it is probable that Mr. Wisse is a descendant of the person our village is named for! Kerke means church.

James went riding off on his bicycle and we walked to the harbor and watched the ferry coming in. Afterwards we drove to Kamperland, walked in the woods, saw the wild horses from Poland, picked wild blackberries, dodged the nursing mother cows and bull and then returned home for a hastily put together meal of fresh salad and homemade Louisiana Jambalaya. Judith and I listened incredulously as Arjo unfolded this tale.

He went to Yugoslavia during the war in 1983. He says on one side of the Danube River it was peaceful and calm. A girl was standing outside the house singing. There were soldiers standing every 400 yards waiting for people to come across the river. On the other side of the river he saw flashes of light and heard rat-a-tat-tat-tat and tried to cross over to Sarajevo to see the war so he could come home with a story!!!

He wanted to shout peace to them! Luckily the soldiers questioned him asking if he was a journalist. Arjo said, no, he’s a tourist in the name of peace. They said, it’s a war! To the soldiers, he didn’t appear to understand, so they emphasized “boom-boom”! Arjo said, he could hear the rat-a-tat-tat-tat of the machine guns. They searched the trunk of his car and saw a blanket, half a loaf bread, a cup of butter and a jar of marmalade. They told him to turn around, we don’t let you in.

Then Arjo went to Romania when he crossed the border, there was a fuel shortage in Yugoslavia due to the embargo and all the poor Romanians came with cars loaded with gasoline containers to pay .25 a liter to sell for $1.50 to the Serbians waiting on the border with their cars. The air stunk of gasoline and soil polluted with gas from the quick exchanges. Arjo said they used newspaper and cardboard to serve as funnels for the gas!

The next day in Romania he met two boys, whose grandparents lived on a farm. They had a washing machine powered by a water wheel in the river. They had no bathroom and took care of their needs along with the cows in the barns by sitting on the hay and cleaning themselves with the hay. They had a wooden cistern propelled by a wheel that powered two logs making the water swirl in the cistern. He communicated with the family through hand signals and poor English as they could only speak German and Romanian. The grandfather had two big cisterns in which he made vodka from plums! He drank lots of vodka from the chicken egg cups. When he looked at the cisterns, he saw plenty of chickens sitting on the cisterns with no lids. He decided the vodka was not only made of plums!!! Arjo thought every season before making the vodka he probably had to dig the chicken dung out of the cisterns before starting.

In Romania, the policemen stop you and beg you for chocolates. Two days later he went through a city where there was a cement factory and there was no roof on the factory causing the city to be covered with a gray pallor. Arjo said it looked like a city made of concrete. He could see it was dust. The cities air were so polluted he had to drive through the day with his headlights on. During our recent trip to Hungary in the Communist Museum, we learned that the average life expectancy of people in Communist countries was extended from 55 years to 65 years. As we passed the river in route to our hotel one evening Arjo pointed out a tanker truck illegally dumping its contents in a remote area on the bank of the Danube River! I didn’t realize exactly what he was saying until much later. Judith said, she remembers having some plum vodka in England from storyteller, John Row’s Romanian brother in law! Judith says the vodka was great and she had a great time! They sat up telling stories late into the night drinking plum vodka! Judith insists she only had one glass and John two glasses! Right!!! I am listening to the stories and typing away!

He met a lady on the ferry between Romania and Bulgaria eating chocolates and she asked him if he had any chocolates with him. She warned him he would need chocolates for the Romanian police. Later he realized the police stopped him much in search of chocolate. It happened a few hours before and asked for chocolate. He gave him a caned tin of pineapples. The policeman didn’t really want pineapples, but he took it and let him go on. Before he got on the ferry he was stopped by Douana (customs) and it was expected that passengers would slip money into the passport for quick passage. Arjo says he did not add money to his passport. When stopped he was questioned for drugs and his passport three times and each time, Arjo did not add money. The last time Arjo told him he would not give him his passport, for he had already seen it twice! The guard told him, if you don’t give me the passport I make you sit here for two days before you go to Bulgaria. Arjo says he gave it to him still with no money. Within 10 minutes they finally dismissed him. The ferry boat was covered with four to six inches of snow but had no protective barriers, so he moved very slow up the sloped ramp. When he entered Bulgaria, he paid $4 or a man selling tickets to go through a puddle to “disinfect” your vehicle. The puddle was only snow and ice and nothing more.

In Bulgaria he was warned by at a gas station by an old man to never give his passport to the police because then he would have to buy it back!!! Later, he passed a truck filled with sheep. The sheep were packed so tight they could not move. The interstate also had no guard rails. Arjo took a picture of the old truck. The men in the truck saw the picture being taken, turned around in the middle of the road in pursuit of Arjo. A policeman saw the truck make the illegal turn, stopped the truck found out about the picture taking, released the truck and went after Arjo. The policeman stopped Arjo and demanded his passport. Arjo complied. They asked for the camera in hopes Arjo would pay them off in exchange for keeping the camera. The policemen went to their car and began writing up a ticket. Arjo waited and went to the front of the police car and began writing down their license plate number and the time of day. The policemen looked up saw Arjo taking down their information and one nudged the other pointing to Arjo. They threw Arjo’s passport back to him and motioned saying go, go, go!

In the middle of the night, there was no traffic and a foot passage in the middle of the road. The light went red indicating stop for a crossing person. A policeman was standing there and had pushed the button to make their car stop. Arjo stopped saw the policeman, saw there was another police further up the road waiting for them to run the red light. He waited until the light turned green he drove off. A little while later, he stopped at the gas station and the man filled up his car and told him that will be seventy German Marks. Arjo questioned in disbelief, you mean --Seventeen? The man again enunciated SEVENTY! Arjo thought about it and then said, I don’t want it, take it out! The man looked at Arjo incredulously. The man said, huh? Arjo said, I don’t want it take it out! After a round of negotiations he paid twenty German marks and went on his way! He then told us the story of two young Dutch boys who stopped at the station to fill up their tanks and met with the same demand. Instead of negotiating with the man, they simply drove off, were later captured and spent two weeks in a Romanian prison for their faux pas.

We opened a bottle of delicious Hungarian wine made for kings and drank a toast in honor of people everywhere, the ignorant, the wise and the storytellers that tell their stories! Wish you were all here!

In the spirit of sharing, Angela Davis

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Angela Davis — 01 August 2007, 08:50

Yesterday I told to Louisiana students in the heart of New Orleans following their closing summer camp culminating activities. Before I shared stories, I watched as the students danced, drummed and poured their hearts into their presentations. Unlike most audiences that are quiet when someone else is performing, the audience was loud and talked openly throughout each set. Yep, this was a post Katrina audience all right. These kids and their parents have been through a lot. I had encountered many such audiences even now almost two years later. Who knows how many times as a result of displacements and FEMA changes or even still living in a substandard housing trailer? Having to adjust to a lack of facilities, proper resources and who knows what else? But our people have heart!

I felt proud watching these kids and their parents watching them. Each class had prepared to share and they were awesome. As I sat in the audience seeing raw talent shine through, I wondered how many of those children would continue to let their lights shine so bright becoming future successes. How could I help these kids hold onto their dreams and to continue to shine? I could do it by giving them skills in my stories to use in their lives. The drumming started and I was transported via the sounds to parades around New Orleans, watching the music move the crowds as marchers shook, shimmied and rocked to the syncopated beats. Those kids were reminding me of life and Louisiana. We are survivors. We clapped and stomped our feet for our kids, their talent, their “heart” coming through and they beamed!

One young man was an awesome dancer as he led a troop of girls in a dance sequence. I could almost imagine him in a Broadway production belting out his moves with precision and finesse. I heard him in between sets, telling “his” girls where they messed up. The students ranged in age from 4 to 14 years of age. I was getting a glimpse of those children that would take their place as leaders, their leadership skills shining brightly. They were the ones standing out in front, confidently following their well rehearsed plans. The others were followers, keeping an eye on the leaders out front. I wanted to take those future “leaders” and give them further skills to be super successful before they were lost to improper focus, training and lack of opportunities. A mixture of school districts have been up and running in the New Orleans area since December 2005, but will begin offering limited services for talented and gifted kids starting with the 2007-8 school term. Forget services for the kids excelling in dance. No services have ever been provided for them that I am aware of, with the exception of what parents are able to provide.

The performances were over much too soon. I heard myself being introduced by the principal. I wanted to say let’s watch the kids perform again. Instead I walked to the front of the room. The mike was of no use to me, having not been able to hear much being said by the host introducing the classes. I did away with the mike, knowing my voice was not quite yet healed from the summer cold I contracted early on and two months of daily storytelling performances had strained my voice considerably. I forced (willed) my voice to be heard. The crowd snapped to attention and or a few blessed moments It was literally quiet. I urged everyone to applaud the students and their talents again for a job well done and everyone wholeheartedly did.

I told stories, and the crowd participated, but there were many I lost. Most disheartening for me was hearing the parents talking louder than the kids. It was not my day, it was a day for the children to shine. What mattered most was witnessing these kids shine. I was seeing the spirit of this city in the students’ performances. Seeing the pride in their parents’ eyes, I knew they had come for their kids and their part was finished. So I asked God for help. It was too much for me even as I finished my first story. The audience applauded. I could tell they genuinely enjoyed the story. If I could have stopped there I would have. But it would not have been fair to have been paid for a full hour and telling only one tale. I felt overwhelmed knowing I still had another story to do and wondered if my voice could handle the strain. But then I drew the audience in. I brought the parents, the teachers, the principal and the kids into the story. It was one big celebration of our children all over again. The spotlight was back on the kids and this time their parents and teachers too.

It was a good day. It was a hard day that was well worth the effort for everyone involved.

Angela Davis — 29 July 2007, 18:34

Best Compliment Ever!

I just had to share this gem: I think I received the best ever compliment a storyteller could receive yesterday when a young girl of about seven approached me after my show and said, I remember you from last year and I remembered your stories. I told them to everybody at school, to my family and to anyone who would listen. I was delighted. I think it's exactly what kids should do...retell the stories they hear!

The story I told this summer takes an hour to tell. It's an ancient Baba Yaga tale from Russia not in the main stream. I had reservations about sharing it, mainly because of its length, but it has been a real crowd pleaser. As the patrons are coming in about 1/2 hour beforehand I show them my pictures from Russia and other places around the world along with tidbits about other storytellers I've met and stories from my world adventures. When everyone is nearly gathered about 5 minutes beforehand, I start with a Russian dance and then lead into the story.

Amazingly the kids sit through the whole thing and at the end no one can believe we've been listening to one story for a solid hour! At the end of the story, the kids help to destroy the Yaga with plastic spiders I pass out. They get to keep the spiders and I tell them if they have bad dreams they can keep the spiders in their rooms, but be sure to say their prayers too, and like the Native American dream catcher, the spider will keep away bad dreams. It's like watching a movie in your mind. In response to one of the evaluation comments someone wrote the worse thing about this program was that it ended! I asked the little girl if she thought she would remember this long story too. Now I bet you already know her reply! I took her picture and plan to post it on my website along with her accomplishments.

Her grandmom was from France and told me at a different time how her grand daughter recited not only the stories from last year, but the stories from the year before last too! I wish I could clone her!

Thanks for letting me chime in to share this incredible child and an incredible summer.

In the spirit of sharing, Angela Davis

PS. Louisiana Division of the Arts notified two tellers that we had been hand picked to participate in an upcoming special competition that includes other artists! I turned in my materials today! Keep me in your prayers!

Angela Davis — 16 July 2007, 10:26

Success is Easy?!

During a whirlwind tour of Europe this past spring, one of the teachers shared with me as we walked back to the library after a performance for the entire school, “Your message is great. It’s good that the students hear you saying they can do anything, but it is not as simple as that. It takes hard work to be successful. I think you may be misleading the kids into thinking that anything can be that easy. It takes lots of hard work to be successful.” His comments gave me pause. What was I teaching to kids, to teachers, to everyone I met along the way? Had I communicated such a glib lesson that you can do anything if you put your mind to it?

What I know is long before the movie “The Secret” made its appearance, I have been proving anyone, including an inner city kid like me, could be successful. It can be summed up in this simple statement: Persistence gives confidence and continued right mental attitude followed by constant action will bring success. I set out to help others along the way by offering FREE workshops teaching the necessary principles for achieving success over the years. I taught freely for the simple enjoyment of helping others, plus it helped me to “set” these principles in my own mind. As a result my storytelling business has been wildly successful for the past twenty years. I have enjoyed nearly nonstop engagements, given workshops for others including the National Storytelling community, provided training for teachers, received awards, recognition and ovations from a million plus people around the world, all while sharing my gift and love for story.

The movie “The Secret” does indeed teach if you can believe it, you can easily achieve it. What the movie does not teach, nor can I in public school settings, is there is a relationship inside of every person, that must be nurtured at all costs. I was taught this principle in Sunday school along with countless other gems: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything will be added unto you.” In doing so, anyone can be led down the perfect path, attracted to wonderful opportunities and provided with all that’s needed because you know in whom your trust is placed. I wish I had the time to explain to that teacher in a coherent manner, that anyone can achieve success if they nurture and build a relationship with the Divine first in their lives. No matter how insurmountable the odds are or how daunting and difficult the task before you, you will walk through it with grace and ease so that it all seems effortless looking back. I cannot explain my success, nor how easy it has been for me. What I know as I have been teaching all along, the secret to success is loving yourself enough to put first things first and what you need will surely follow. We can choose to make it easy or hard for ourselves. No doubt, the teacher speaking to me had chosen to make it harder than it needed to be for him and for others.

So there you have it in a nutshell, the secret of my success is a belief system. A belief system that guides me into making treasure maps showing pictures of me achieving my goals on paper. Underneath my desires is someone greater than me who really does all the work. I receive the best stories, meet the best people, and live the best life. Last night my husband, while driving his brand new SUV from the dealer said to me, Honey, I’ve realized another goal from my treasure map. This car was pasted on my map we did last year during the workshop you gave in Joplin, Missouri. The only difference was his new car was blue and not black like the one on his treasure map. It really is that easy, isn’t it? Well, I suppose you have to decide for yourself. In the meantime, I‘ll keep on teaching you can do, be or have anything you want. It really is that easy.

Angela Davis — 10 July 2007, 10:25

I am a Writer!

Hello there, I’ve been writing for years now. It’s the first time I decided to place it on my blog instead writing to the storytell list. The storytell list has been a wonderful place full of other storytellers to write my ideas. Like a kid learning to walk, I placed my ideas before them. You can find some of my posts here: StorytellPosts. They helped me by giving me feedback.

Most times people loved what I wrote. Other times, they shared their observations in ways that made me feel I could write. You see, I never thought of myself as a writer. I have been trying to prove to myself I can write. I was scared to write even though I have been writing most of my life! I have written two children’s books that include illustrations. You can find my two children’s books here:

I have written a newsletter for storytellers called Story Success that provided tips for being successful. I started offering the newsletter to Louisiana storytellers first, then later offered it to storytellers online through the National Storytelling Network. You can find it here: StorySuccess.

I have written a manual for artists on how to create successful performances and tie the national standards to your performance art. You can find my online workshop for artists here: Artist Workshop.

I even wrote a manual for the National Storytelling Network on how to raise funds for our organization filled with ideas for creating funds! You can find that information here: Fundraising?

From all this work, looks like I am a writer! Okay, I’ve convinced myself now! Let’s see what happens next!

Storyteller: Spinning Tales of Light, Joy, and Love