Grimm for Grownups for Humanities Kansas

Last year I joined the Humanities Kansas Speakers Bureau, offering my program Grimm for grownups. It’s a different kind of program for me, involving more lecture and discussion, and as the title implies, it’s not for young kids. The organization subsidizes the performances so that far-flung communities will have access to interesting programs. Here’s what they say about what they do:

We believe that stories carry our culture and ideas change the world

Since our founding as an independent nonprofit in 1972, Humanities Kansas has pioneered programming, grants and partnerships that share stories to spark conversations — drawing people together and generating new ideas. These stories and ideas inspire each of us in Kansas to play a part in strengthening our communities and our democracy.

My program feels like a good fit. So far, I’ve enjoyed working with Humanities Kansas. Earlier this year I did the show in Goodland and Oakley, Kansas, for two very different audiences.

The backdrop to my storytelling at the Goodland Public LIbrary. In Lawrence I live a half block from the train tracks, so I felt right at home.

The backdrop to my storytelling at the Goodland Public LIbrary. In Lawrence I live a half block from the train tracks, so I felt right at home.

In Goodland, I had an evening performance for about twelve women. I told a mixture of Grimm tales, from the truly gruesome Juniper tree to the story Cat and mouse, which I also tell to children (though it has a bad end for the mouse), along with other tales. I talked about the Grimms themselves and why they collected stories, how they edited them, what was happening in the world at the time, and more. Discussion was lively, veering off into the art of storytelling in general. It was great fun!

In Oakley, the performance was in the afternoon. Along with the crowd of older folks, there was a group of high school students, mostly boys. These kids came a little early, so I told an extra story. It’s vitally important to engage kids immediately, or they’ll check out. Hmm, that goes for everybody, but adults are better at hiding boredom. At any rate, I told them a gruesome English folktale, Mr. Fox, a version of Bluebeard. During the program itself, I told a Grimm version of the same story, The fitcher’s bird, as well as the stories I told in Goodland.

As in Goodland, the Oakley audience listened intently. They had lots of comments and questions about the lecture material. Our discussion ranged widely, and included two of the students telling short scary stories. When we talked about storytelling, I mentioned The ghost with the one black eye, the story for children I’m best known for. One of the adults called out, “Tell it!” After checking with the teachers that I could keep the kids past the hour, I did. A student raised his hand and said, “My mom used to play us a cassette with that story.” He recognized my voice., too. I put that cassette out in 1996!

After the performance, the librarian served gingerbread and apple slices, shades of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and The Juniper Tree! The whole experience was excellent.

I’m looking forward to presenting Grimm for growunups later this year in Coffeyville, Wichita and Dodge City, and I hope elsewhere. For more info on booking this program, check out the Humanities Kansas Speakers Bureau.

Staying healthy on the road


I love performance tours. I am deeply thankful to do this work and for the privilege of traveling to do it (thanks, DreamOn Productions!). I'm writing from Costa Rica, where I'm telling stories for a week. Last week I was performing in Ecuador. (I promise to post pictures soon.)

Alas, I have a headcold. I work hard to stay healthy, especially on international tours, but sometimes I succumb to germs. 

A couple of weeks before I leave for an overseas trip, I start taking echinacea and goldenseal, to boost my immune system. I also take Vitamin D. I pack these, along with multivitamins, ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, anti-diarrheal pills, night-time and day-time cold medicine, sinus rinse packs and my neti pot, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, Tiger balm and zinc lozenges. 

On top of this pharmacopeia, I drink lots of water. Lots of water. This is the best way to keep my voice in shape, along with vocal warm-up exercises before performances. If I feel throat irritation, I buy lozenges at local pharmacies and health food stores. I'm partial to those made with propolis and honey. I also buy ginger, lemon and honey, which I simmer to make a soothing drink. It's good hot or cold. I find out if the country I'm going to has safe water. If not, I drink bottled or boiled water only. Yes, I have Pepto-bismol, but if I'm careful, I may not need it. 

I try to wash my hands frequently. I tend to forget hand sanitizer, maybe because I don't like the way it feels. Maybe if I'd used it, I wouldn't have gotten this particular cold. Then again, it wouldn't have stopped the person sneezing and coughing on me on the airplane on the way to Costa Rica.

At the first sign of a cold, I take zinc lozenges. Sometimes they can keep a cold at bay. Or at least that's what I tell myself. Warning: don't take them on an empty stomach. They can make you feel nauseous. I do that revolting sinus rinse a couple of times a day so a simple cold doesn't turn into a sinus infection. I've been lucky not to lose my voice on these tours--the only thing you can do in that case is not talk. Yikes!

After a day of work, usually four performances, I take a nap. I like to get a walk in at some point. I also go to bed early--it's important to save my energy for the school sessions. 

Oh, yes, and that's sunscreen in the picture. In Ecuador especially the sun is strong. Sunscreen is essential. Wear it.

On the way to school

The school work began successfully on Tuesday. We took a taxi and despite traffic and pollution, we arrived on time. On Wednesday, we were going to another school, one closer to the hotel. Because there's a small window for getting through rush hour, we had trouble getting a cab. Yikes! What to do? Take a tuktuk! I didn't get a picture of the one we were riding in, but I did get views during the ride. Yes, we were facing backwards.

You can see lots of commuting styles in this picture.

You can see lots of commuting styles in this picture.

This motorbike is getting very close to our tuktuk!

This motorbike is getting very close to our tuktuk!

Tuktuks carry goods as well as people.

Tuktuks carry goods as well as people.

Some of these vehicles are incredibly cute!

Some of these vehicles are incredibly cute!

The gray haze isn't fog but pollution. 

The gray haze isn't fog but pollution. 

A mask is a good idea. I like the ears on the hood. I think there's somebody else on the back of the scooter--or maybe the driver has four arms?

A mask is a good idea. I like the ears on the hood. I think there's somebody else on the back of the scooter--or maybe the driver has four arms?

We arrived at the school on time. Being in the tuktuk meant that we could zip in and out of traffic, rather than getting stuck in it in a taxicab.

A short note from Belgium

Hello! I'm in Belgium. No, not Bulgaria, not yet. It's confusing, as I'm a fan of both countries and have lived in both. I'll head to Bulgaria next Saturday to start my Fulbright adventure. In the meantime, I'm in Belgium staying with my good friend Marie, who lives here but who I got to know in Bulgaria more than 30 years ago. Oh, dear, that wasn't clarifying at all, was it? 

As the eastern part of the US prepares for a storm, the first snow of the season hit us here on Saturday:

You would think from this picture that Marie lives in the country, but in fact there are houses all around. It rained all day, so here's the view now:

It's a good day to stay inside and catch up on paperwork and naps. I've been busy, telling stories in schools and at a house concert. Most of my listeners have been English as a second languag speakers, ranging from age 3 to adult. I'm always learning how to do this better, even after more than 400 performances for non-native English speakers in my career. The listeners help me by asking questions, by telling me what isn't clear to them. They also help by telling me what they do like. 

Though it has been a fun trip so far, there have been a few hiccups. As I left my house in Kansas, ready for my new tenant, we smelled gas. Uh-oh, had to call the gas company. My excellent neighbors were on hand when they arrived, so now there's no gas leak. I made the mistake of booking a school on the day after I arrived, so I was jetlagged. I took the wrong train on Tuesday, not the express, so was late for school. I hate being late! Fortunately, the teacher in charge had added a 15 minute buffer to the schedule, so I did a full show. Everybody was very kind. My sandwich at a different school didn't arrive, so a student was sent out quickly for another.

I'm reminded that usually things like this work out.

More soon, probably from Bulgaria.

Schools in Colombia

I'm home from Colombia, having had a great time telling stories for four weeks. I did 63 school performances in English, from preschool to high school, and took part in a public performance at a lovely park. Here are some miscellaneous pictures of the schools. 

This was over the door of the libary at St. Bartolomé La Merced. It's from the book The Little Prince, and the quote is "What is essential is invisible to the eye." You can see the flying dragon through the door. 

This is the same school that has this cozy reading nook.

Here is the mascot of the school, a magpie (I think) that looks remarkably like the early Kansas Jayhawk. This school backs up to a huge wooded park.

I spent five days at Gimnasio Vermont, where I told the kids that I moved to the state of Vermont in the US when I was 11. They practically gasped in disbelief. The school has an immersion program for their students with St. Michael's College in Colchester, VT, near Burlington, where I went to the University of Vermont. 

At this school, I began with the 4th through 7th grades, then went to preschool and kindergarten (up to age 7), then 1st to 3rd grades. The other two storytellers touring Colombia will visit  the high school. One of the things I loved about this tour is that I was at fewer schools, for more days. 

At Vermont, the young children have a garden, in which they plant lettuce and chard. These plants are labeled with each child's name and the students take them home at harvest. 

I was fed a snack and lunch at most of the schools I visited. At these private schools, the food was fantastic, and the kids had plenty of time to eat, unlike the standard 20-30 minutes kids in the US usually get. Here is what I had for elevenses (morning snack) at CIEDI, a great school not far from where I was living: 

This delicious arepa (corncake) filled with cheese went nicely with the capuccino.

And here are some girls working peacefully together in a spookily-decorated spot in the library at St. George's School, where I spent three days. 

I was pleased to tell stories in several libraries, including at St. George's School. 

But in the preschool and kindergarten of Gimnasio Vermont, I was in the dance studio. I've rarely been able to see myself in a mirror as I perform!

I moved to the primary school library for the rest of the performances at Gimnasio Vermont, which was decorated with illustrations from children's books.

I hope this gives you a taste of the experiences I had at the schools. Questions?

Halfway point, Colombia tour

I can hardly believe I'm at the halfway point in the tour. I've done 32 shows in the past two weeks, compressed into eight school days. It has been great fun! The teachers and other administrators at the schools have been unfailingly welcoming. I especially love it when the teachers and students are prepared in advance for my visit, as they were at Colegio San Bartolomé La Merced in Bogota. 

The posters at this school advertised my visits as well as the visits of Ursula Holden-Gill and Keith Donnelly, the other two storytellers here. It has been great to get to know them in our off time. 

I was in the library at this school, one of my favorite places to be. This particular library is amazing, with a flying dragon and anthropomorphized trees.

The children were excited when they came into the library.

For each of the eight shows I did at this school, the fabulous English coordinator, Margarita, had asked a different teacher to research me and from that research, do a full introduction. They even knew the name of my cat!

I had two days of work in Medellín, where one of the schools had a small taxidermy museum outside the hall where I performed. 

The most terrifying was some kind of a wild cat. 

In truth, that was a lovely school, where the (mostly) girls were excellent listeners. They sent up a collective "Awwww," when my puppet Peeps and the baby came out of the puppet bag. 

Here are some children from a different school in Medellín, waiting for their schoolmates and ready for the show to begin.

They are lucky enough to go to a school that has its own stream and also that backs up to a forest. 

That's the news for now. More soon!

Five steps for successful school assemblies


A few years ago, I wrote about how to hire a storyteller. This one is for performers as well as for principals, librarians, teachers, PTA/PTO members—anybody who books performers. (In the arts world, these are called "presenters," but that confuses people, so I'm using "bookers.") These suggestions come from my 25+ years as a working storyteller.

Notice that the steps on the list apply to life as well!

1. Connect and communicate. Essential!

Performers: Answer e-mails and phone messages promptly, be clear about what you do (and what you don't do—don't promise what you don't enjoy), ask about audience size, venue and special circumstances, explain rates and other fees, sign and send contracts in a timely manner and be available for follow-up questions.
Bookers: Answer e-mails and phone messages promptly, be clear about what you want, give information about the audience size, venue and special circumstances, sign and send contracts in a timely manner and be available for follow-up questions.

2. Be prepared. Not just for Scouts.

Performers: Tell the booker about any pre- or post-performance materials you have available, know how long it takes to get to the venue and allow extra time, arrive early, know your material inside and out.
Bookers: Make sure the teachers and other staff know about the performance and schedule, provide pre-performance materials or links, make sure the venue is set up appropriately, contact the performer in the week before the assembly.

3. Be flexible and be kind. Things happen: road construction, bad weather, electrical outages. If need be, go back to step one. 

Performers: Remember that school staff work very long days. Bring what you need, including sound system, if possible.  If the room isn't set up as you wish, work together to try to make it right. If there's something you need, ask politely. Respect time limits, school resources and audience needs.
Bookers: Realize that the performer has visited many, many schools, and has good reasons for the set-up requests. Know that the performer may never have traveled to your site before. Show the performer where the restroom is and offer water. If there's a long gap between performances, let the performer rest in the staff room.

4. Expect the best. Good will and good expectations go a long way toward an excellent show.

Performers: As storyteller Carol Birch says, "The best people want you to succeed, and your audience is made up of the best people." Before I begin a show, I silently bless the audience. It should go without saying that you should be excellent at your craft (go back to step 2 if you're unsure). 
Bookers: You've chosen a wonderful event for your venue. As you introduce the performer, let the audience know this. 

5. Enjoy the show! Assemblies should be fun as well as educational.

Performers: Love your work and let it show! 
Bookers: Stay for the assembly if you can and be a good model for the listeners (including other grownups).

Have more suggestions? I'd love to hear your ideas! Use the comments section below.  Want this in a .pdf? Send me an e-mail. 

©Priscilla Howe 2013

More on the Chile performances

I have a few more blog posts about the tour to put up. Here are a few random thoughts about the performances in Chile, some of which apply elsewhere. 

Teachers and students at Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes enjoying the stories

Teachers and students at Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes enjoying the stories

When the teachers are enjoying the performance, the students are likely to as well.

They listen better when given good models. I love it when the teachers join in, showing the students that storytelling is worth everybody's attention. There were other schools where the teachers talked among themselves, graded papers in front of the students and/or abdicated responsibility for the kids' behavior. While I'm usually fairly good at audience management, I found these performances challenging.

I've written in the past about the energy of space. How the room is set up, what direction the listeners are facing, the temperature and the light all matter. 

I was at one school where the little boys sat on auditorium seats, the cushy kind. Not only were the house lights set on dim with no possibility of turning them up, the stage lights put my face in shadow. I was on the stage, which felt miles from the audience. The boys thought they were invisible, as they bounced up and down on the seats or got up and moved to different rows or poked the kids around them during the stories. In fact, I could see them quite well. If these kids had been in a different space, I suspect they would have been able to listen much better. At the school where the teachers were having fun in the picture above, I was able to stand in front of the stage, closer to the kids:

Bird's eye view of the performance at Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes

Bird's eye view of the performance at Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes


At another school, the kindergarten and first grade sat on tall chairs. We tried to convince the administrators to seat them on the floor, to no avail. The kids couldn't see over the chair backs. Here's a picture of kindergartners and first graders in a better seating arrangement:

Kindergarteners and first graders sitting on the floor, joining in with Priscilla

Kindergarteners and first graders sitting on the floor, joining in with Priscilla


Some of the best performances were those where the kids were prepared in advance, by listening or watching some of my stories online, either on my website or on my youtube channel. At one school, the fifth grade girls came in with signs that they held up saying, "I want my apple juice!" They had listened to The ghost with the one black eye and had the signs to prove it. These were the girls who leapt to their feet at the end of that story.

It's also true that it's impossible to know the effect of the stories. Students who don't look like they're listening may draw detailed pictures of the characters later.

Boys drawing pictures of the stories they'd heard

Boys drawing pictures of the stories they'd heard

Picture of the puppets and stories, drawn by the students

Picture of the puppets and stories, drawn by the students

Picture of the puppets at Trewhela's School

Picture of the puppets at Trewhela's School


Even with some of the more difficult shows, on balance, it was an enormously fun tour, one I will dream on for years. Thanks, DreamOn Productions, for bringing me to Chile!

Crooked fingers, one more time

I know, I've written about crooked fingers a few times now. I can't seem to help myself. In the US, maybe once a year, kids in the audience will notice my crooked little fingers, and once in a while, there will be an audience member with clinodactyly. In Argentina last year, I was startled to see about five pairs. This year, in Chile, I think I saw twelve pairs! First, here's mine in the foreground as the audience and I did Shaking Hands.

Here are a few of the others I saw:

That's my finger on the left and a young boy's on the right.

Here are two more pairs. The girl in the last picture was quite excited to have her fingers photographed, so it's a bit blurry.

In Chile, I told the audience about my fingers at the beginning of the sessions. I explained that if I didn't, somebody would notice, and then that kid would tell the next kid who would tell another until nobody was listening to the stories. I also explained that my father had them and six out of seven kids in my family have them.

I have never minded having unusual fingers. I guess I've never minded being a nonconformist in many ways. I tell the students about this genetic mutation partly to tell them that it's okay to be different. These differences make the world a more interesting place. 

The Chile tour continues

It has been a while since I've written about how the performances are going. So far, fairly well. I've done forty-eight sessions, with only twenty left. The third week of a four-week tour can be one of the hardest in terms of energy. I continue to take naps every afternoon after the work is done, as we get up early every morning to go to school. I keep hydrated. I hum and sing and make funny noises to warm up my voice. I try to remember to have a good time and to be grateful that I am here in Chile, as well as in this life and on this planet. 

Here are a few more pictures to give you a flavor of the performances. The first few were from a set taken by a photographer at Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes (two schools, one for boys and one for girls). My tour manager Sofi took the other excellent photos. I'll show scenic pictures in the next post.  

Notice that the children and teachers wear uniforms. The little girls wear smocks and the boys wear tan lab coats. The teachers wear dark blue coats or blue checked smocks, quite often. 

I always think it's a sign of a good school when both the teachers and the children enjoy the performances.

This was at the only workshop of the tour. The teachers are playing a game called "Magic Box."

I've enjoyed most of the groups of kids. Here are some of the teenagers, who usually don't expect to enjoy the stories as much as they do. They were so fun to work with!

Week 1, Chile tour

Before I launch into next week, I want to write about what a great tour this has been! 

I began the week at Andrée English School, in their nice new library. I like to be surrounded by books, and this was appropriate, as it was Book Week in Chile (or worldwide?). I told stories to students who were ten to twelve years old, easily getting them to join in on the silly parts. I'm always anxious on the first day of a tour. I usually have slept badly and I don't yet know the school culture or English level of the students. I needn't have worried this week. 

At all the schools, I show the US map to explain where I'm from and also to give the kids a chance to get used to my accent and pacing. I've begun showing them mycrooked fingers at the outset, explaining that if I don't, they might get distracted during the stories. 

On Tuesday we (my excellent tour manager, Sofi and I) went to the high school of Colegio Alemana, the German school here. [Note to US readers: "colegio" means high school and younger, not university level.] This was the first time the older kids at this school had heard a storyteller and they were an amazing audience. They asked questions like, "What motivates you to be a storyteller?" I wrote about that in a newsletter last week and will probably reprint the article on this blog later. 

Wednesday I visited the primary section of the German School. These students study in Spanish and German, so English is their third language. Some of them had only been studying English for a few months, but they understood a lot. Oh, how I wish schools in the US would teach second languages earlier than high school!

On Thursday we took a cab up to a combined school, Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes, where the little boys were on one side of the audience and the little girls were on the other. I'm really hoping to get pictures from the school to show what great listeners these eight and nine year olds were. 

We took a cab from this school to another, Colegio Apoquindo. Though the librarian frequently tells stories at this school, they hadn't had a storyteller from outside. Since these were boys aged 12-14, I began with a scary, gory story, "Mary Culhane and the Dead Man." They relaxed, assured I wouldn't treat them like babies. 

 Some of these schools, like the one I went to on Friday, Colegio Everest Masculino, are up in the hills above Santiago, not down in the bowl of smog in which the city unfortunately sits. 

Everest Masculino was, of course, the school for boys. I had the younger ones, six to eight years old, who were thrilled to be in the auditorium, with those seats that flip up...and down...and up...and down. They loved the puppets, especially baby bird Peeps. They threw him pretend worms and helped him to get rid of the ensuing hiccups (and in the meantime, learned the word "hiccup").

The schedule this week worked out so that we arrived back at the apartment around 1 p.m., ready for a nap. That meant we had energy to go out and explore a bit of Santiago in the afternoons. 

It was a fabulous first week of the tour. The teachers, administrators and students were incredibly welcoming at every school. If the other weeks are like this, I'll be a happy storyteller. Oh, right, I'm usually a happy storyteller. I'll be even happier in that case!

The Chile tour begins

I arrived! On Friday, I had a full day working with third graders (8-9 yr olds) at the Lied Center of Kansas on puppet skills, then rushed to the airport. My flight from Dallas to Santiago was delayed by ten hours, so the airline put me (and a planeful of frustrated travelers) up in hotels in the area. On Saturday we took the ten-hour flight. I was met by my tour manager, Sofi, with whom I am also sharing an apartment. Here are a few pictures of the apartment:

This is my bedroom with attached bathroom. That second bed? I think it will serve nicely as an office. Sofi also has a bedroom and her own bath

The kitchen is small but nice, as is the living room.

And a view from our windows:

More on what we saw in Santiago in my next post.

Pictures from Belgium 2013

Before I leave Belgium, I want to put up some of the random pictures I took on this trip. Back to storytelling later.


Facade of a house in Brussels. Lovely, isn't it?

This was in tile above a door in Brussels. It's fairly new, I think, as opposed to the next picture.


And what a lucky door the next one is:

And here is some good advice from a wall on the same street: 

And to finish up, the Happiness Cafe. 

More on the 2013 Belgian tour

It has been a good couple of weeks here in Belgium. Yesterday I had my last two performances of the tour, at the school the farthest away. It was in the village of Limbourg, which required that I take three trains and then be picked up in the town of Verviers by the kind director of the school. Fortunately, the trains were on time on the way (delayed on the way home, but I didn't care).

This is the clock in the Verviers train station.

This is the clock in the Verviers train station.

Some of the schools I've visited have been run by native English speakers or are international in scope. Others are English-immersion schools, with primarily Belgian teachers. I have to say, all the schools were wonderful on this trip. The level of English has been mostly very good. I left each school saying, "I hope I can come back here next time!" Believe me, this doesn't always happen. I remember one school in Belgium many years ago where the level of English was very low, the staff wasn't helpful, and the administration seemed hostile. I had none of that on this tour. All of the schools were welcoming, all of the kids responded well to the stories. The hardest part is always the logistical aspect, figuring out how to get to the schools either by public transport or by the kindness of my friend Marie and her trusty Prius.

Here are a few interesting things I saw at the schools. At World International School, the main part of the building was once a house owned by a marble merchant. There was marble everywhere! Mix and match. There was even a slab of marble in front of the radiator. This is the fireplace in the staff room: 

I didn't take pictures at Collège St.-Louis in Liège, though I did last time I was there. I had a fun time with the middle-school kids there. I would have liked to get a picture of the cat in the staff break room. Apparently there are several who live outside at the school. The director prefers them not to go inside, but this one was surveying its domain by the window.

At St. Paul's British Primary School, I had time to look through the school's albums of creative projects the kids do. I didn't go up into the back garden where the children go for recess, but I could see that they have a grand time there. One teacher laughed as she told of a student who had had to change his clothes completely the day before because he was plastered in mud. The play yard is up the stairs in the second picture.


Here are a few pictures from the school in Limbourg. I'm not sure what the animal figures playing instruments are, but I did love the seahorse playing harmonica on the balcony. 


I was in the gym at this school. The door to the bathroom had an unexpected sign on it: 

Travel projects

I write this from Belgium, where I'm performing and visiting friends for a couple of weeks.  I have several days free and had good intentions of working on two specific projects: 1) cleaning up the translation of the story of Berthe Aux Grands Pieds, which I call Queen Berta and King Pippin and 2) finishing the first draft and beginning the rewrite of my National Novel Writing Month novel from last November. 

Today I sat down with my laptop, ready to begin the first project. Alas (or as I might say here, 'Hélas!'), just as in this picture Queen Berta is sitting forgotten in the forest, far from Paris, where she should be, the translation is sitting cozily in my external hard drive at home, far from Belgium, where it should be.

Source : sur centerblog.

I'll have to work on it when I get home. In looking for a good picture to use for this post, I came across an excellent summary in French, so I'm doubly wishing I had brought my work with me. That story deserves to be known.

So I'll be plowing ahead on my novel. I find it good to have a limited number of projects when I travel for extended periods. In 2008, on a month-long trip to Brazil, I took only one book, a collection of Grimm Tales. I had been hired to perform my programs Grimm for Grownups and Cheerfully Grimm for the first time a few weeks after I returned, so I spent my free time working on the stories. In 2009 when I came to Belgium, I sat in my friend's kitchen by the hour working on the translation of Queen Berta and King Pippin. Now, I'll turn my attention to this short novel for older kids. Having a smaller pool of projects makes it easier for me to focus.

I wrote most of the first draft of this novel as part of National Novel Writing Month in November. I succeeded in the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, but I didn't finish the story. I think I only have a couple more pages to wrap it up, and then it will be time to rewrite. I admit it: I like beginning projects and often get bogged down with the hard work of editing and rewriting.

Before I begin, it might be good to take advantage of the rare sunny weather here. Quite often when I'm here in February it's raining or spitting snow. For the past four days it has been cold and clear.

Belgium2013_and_misc 006.jpg

Western Kansas views--and pie

Last week, I drove almost seven hours to Western Kansas to tell stories. First I was at the Scott County Public Library for a Young Author Celebration on Sunday. What a fun group made up primarily of Mennonite families! I'd thought that the kids would see me in the next couple of days at the Scott City Elementary School, but it turned out that they were mostly from the Mennonite school. (Don't worry, I'll get to the pie soon. I will say, though,  that I've had excellent pie made by Mennonites at Iris' Cafe near Ulysses, KS many years ago.)

On Monday and Tuesday I told stories to kindergartners through fourth graders (ages 5-10), in small groups in the library. It's a treat for me to tell in the school library instead of in a cavernous gym or cafeteria. It makes so much sense to have the storytelling in the library. Even though it was only the first full week of school, the kids were wonderful listeners. At this time of year, the kindergartners are still really preschoolers, the first graders are still really kindergartners, and so on. The librarian and music teacher were my gracious hosts at the school. 

On Monday afternoon, I decided to go sightseeing. I'd never been to Monument Rocks, strange white rock structures about 18 miles northeast of Scott City. They're also called chalk pyramids. Here's the view from the distance, with the flat, flat land all around. (Flat like the top of a pie, not the lattice kind though.)

Getting closer...

This is called the keyhole. (Nothing to do with Key Lime Pie. Hold your horses about the pie.)

And there's another clump of rock formations across the road.

Across Kansas, there are abandoned houses and barns. I put a picture of one up a couple of years ago, in fact the last time I was in Scott City (working with junior high school kids that time). Here's one I saw on the way back to the motel in Scott City on this trip. (I didn't actually have pie in Scott City, but I had a nice chile relleno. The pie story is coming.)

The land out here is fenced in, sometimes with wood posts often made of hedge, a.k.a. Osage orange, wood that is resistant to insects and rot. It also burns hotter than any other wood, but has to be in a wood stove because it sparks like crazy. I used to burn it in my stove in Lawrence. (Not the oven, which I had to clean well when I moved as cherry juice had spilled over when I made a pie.)

When the white settlers came, there weren't lots of trees, but there was plenty of limestone. (I think they also made good pies after they'd planted fruit trees.) Post rocks can still be found around Western Kansas. Here's an example, with more in the background (from the rest area somewhere outside Great Bend).


Some of the most impressive buildings in Kansas were built of this limestone. This is the Kansas Mercantile, in the Old Ness County Bank Building, also called the Skyscraper of the Plains in Ness City. (Almost there.)

Okay, about pie. Many years ago (maybe 11?) I was telling stories in southwestern Kansas libraries for a week. I do love a good piece of pie and am usually on the lookout when I'm on the road. After the performance in Ness City, I stopped by at the Kansas Mercantile. On the door was a handwritten sign, "Thursday special, pie and coffee." I paused. What day was it? Yes! Thursday! 

About six or seven people sat around a table, relaxing as I wandered around the gift shop. One volunteer asked if she could help me. I didn't get to the point (of the pie) yet, but asked about the building. I had recently bought my old house in Lawrence, which was built in 1882. She took me on a tour, even up to the unfurnished top floor. On the way down, I asked about the pie. 

She was happy to cut me a piece of cherry pie. It was magnificent, one of the best in my quest for restaurant pie. Homemade, with a pit or two that snuck in to tell me it was made with fresh cherries. The woman who made it stopped by while I was eating. As I ate, I sat with the crowd at the table. They asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Ness City. One older gent had a harmonica in front of him. "Are you going to play that?" I asked. He had only been waiting to be asked. He had mild dementia, but retained his love of music. The others around the table sang along with the old tunes he played. 

I got back on the road that day headed down to Dodge City, with the sound of How much is that doggie in the window and Daisy, Daisy in my ears and the taste of excellent cherry pie in my mouth.