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.

Random pictures from Sofia

What I should be doing right now is preparing for a workshop and performance I'll be doing with my friend Tzveta tomorrow, in Bulgarian. What I'm doing instead is looking at some of the pictures I've taken over the past few weeks. Here are some:


This homeless beauty lives around the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences complex, so I see her when I go to the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum. She's gentle, except when it comes to cars. She barks fiercely at them. [The archivist later explained that she is well cared for by the people who work in the building. She barks at cars because one hit her. She was taken to the vet and was in a cast for a month.]

Many street people in Sofia have baby buggies to carry their belongings or to carry what they find in the dumpsters. This was one of the prettiest I've seen. 

Sofia is a mix of old and new, gritty and sparkling. Here's a lovely chandelier in the Dvorets, or Palace. This grand building, once home of the czar, now houses the Ethnographic Museum and a part of the National Gallery. 

This feline stands guard outside the Sofia University library. 

I know, I've posted tons of pictures of Alexander Nevski Cathedral, but this is the first with tulips in the foreground.

On Easter, my friends from 31 years ago were visiting and we went out to eat. Here are the Easter eggs the restaurant gave us at the end of our meal, tucked into a nest. In the foreground is freshly baked bread, which we dipped into sharena sol, a mix of herbs and salt, served on typical Bulgarian pottery. 

How do all these fit together? They don't, really, except that I liked the images. And here, as the last picture, is the missing piece of the puzzle.:


Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

Happy Granny March

In English, we say, "In like a lion, out like a lamb" when we describe March. In Bulgaria, the traditions around the first of March are more dramatic. Baba Marta, or Granny March, ushers in spring--if she feels like it. She's a cantankerous character, so we need to find ways to please her, so she really will bring in warmer weather and flowers. I was at a school on Friday where Baba Marta came to visit. The elementary school kids had made videos with songs, dances, pictures and chants to please her. If she is, she'll smile and the sun will come out. I read that the last snow of winter is Baba Marta shaking out her feather bed in her spring cleaning. 

Bulgarians give each other martenitsi, red and white tasseled bracelets, pins and decorations, to celebrate March 1 and Baba Marta.

Many of these have two figures, a boy and a girl, Pizho and Penda. Starting in the second or third week of February, martenitsi are available from stalls on the streets and in stalls. These days, many are made in China. My favorites are handmade. I bought some from a charity the other day, with lovely felted figures, including a bumblebee, a flower, a lemon wedge. My friend Tzveta and her children make them, just as I used to make Valentines for friends in elementary school. She told her children that only unfortunate people have to buy them. They're given to friends, family and coworkers in the first few days of March but especially March 1, with the phrase "Chestita Baba Marta!"

Here are some on my wrist:

After martenitsi are exchanged, people wear them until they see the first flowers of spring or a stork. Then they hang the martenitsi in a tree or hide them under a rock. Here are some that are still hanging in a tree near my house from last year (I'm guessing):

The red and white are symbolic of health, growth, fertility, good luck and happiness. Children compete to see how many they can collect. 

Честита Баба Марта! Chestita Baba Marta, with wishes for health, happiness and luck!

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

Under the yoke

In this first week, not only am I settling in to my apartment and life in Bulgaria as a Fulbrighter, I'm also settling in to the language. One way to do this is of course, to speak it as much as possible, from little conversations with the building manager (from whom I cadged some plant clippings for my windows) to chat with old and new friends, to banter in the shops. I also came across a film festival celebrating one hundred years of Bulgarian film about four blocks from my apartment. On Wednesday, I went with Eireene, another Fulbrighter, to see the film of the epic Bulgarian novel, Under the Yoke. I read the novel 30 years ago in the original Bulgarian. I slogged through it for months, wrestling with author Ivan Vazov's now-archaic words. I'd stumble upon a word I couldn't find in the dictionary and would ask my roommate for a definition. "What on earth are you reading? Oh, Pod Igoto. That word is obsolete," she'd say. 

It was fun to see it on the big screen, from 1952. Full of high drama, significant looks and not a little bloodshed. Here are a couple of clips. The first is a lovely musical scene, the second is the entire film. 

Today I went back to the theater to watch a film about the first Bulgarian communist uprising in 1923, Septemvritsi, or Heroes of September, also from the 1950s, also full of high drama, significant looks and bloodshed. I may go back for some more movies this weekend.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

The end of the Belgian trip, the beginning of the Bulgarian adventure

Transitions are always a bit tricky, aren't they? In general, this one has been smooth. Two weeks ago, I was in Belgium, seeing scenes like these: 

I had a great time, telling stories, hanging around with my good friends, even learning how to take the intercity bus to a couple of schools, something I had rarely done in Belgium. Soon, though, it was time to leave. I got to the Brussels airport early, which I much prefer to late. Here's the front and back view of a laptop and phone charging station that had a different spin to it (pun intended): 

I flew from Brussels to Frankfort to Sofia. In Brussels, I noticed a man reading a Bulgarian book and then I heard him speaking Bulgarian to another traveler. It turned out we were seated next to each other on both flights! I'd changed my seats on the flights, so this was a strange serendipity. I joked that I really wasn't following them. 

In Sofia, my good friend Vesko was waiting for me. He drove me directly to his apartment, where his wonderful wife Lidia was ready with supper, a real Bulgarian welcome. We had lukanka (dry sausage), feta cheese sprinkled with paprika, homemade sauerkraut and pickled mushrooms (picked by Vesko and Lidia!) and rakia (liquor made of fruit) and raspberry juice to start, then giuvech (stew made with chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and spices) with bread. I know I'm forgetting a few other things. We ate and talked and talked. I've known Vesko and Lidia since 1988 and am always struck at how we pick up our conversation just where we left off last time.

The culinary welcome continued with a fantastic breakfast the next morning: banitsa (pastry with feta and egg in phyllo dough) and yoghurt with preserved wild blueberries. Oh, and Turkish coffee. Delicious!

Vesko had a surprise for me: he had recently come across an article I wrote in 1988, which he reworked so it could be published, as well as some letters I'd written to them in 1989, when I had left my job as a Slavic librarian for a post as a children's librarian. That's when I first started telling stories.

After breakfast, Vesko drove me to my new apartment in the center of Sofia, where we met George, the son of my landlady. At last, I'm home! That is, for the next five months.

I'll describe more in my next blog post.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

First post from Bogotá

On Friday, I arrived in Bogotá, Colombia, for a four-week tour, during which I'll be telling stories in schools for kids who are learning English. I've got three days to adjust to the elevation before the school visits begin. I also need to adjust to the idea of being here. Usually, when I've done DreamOn Production Tours, I've focused solely on the trip. This time, because the tour is sandwiched between two trips to Bulgaria, my attention has been split. I'm here, now, though, and am ready to dive in.

The picture above is of my tour manager, Sofi, and me in the square near our temporary homes. We're staying in lovely apartments in La Candelaria, a beautiful old neighborhood.

The building style is Colonial, with tiled roofs, bright colors and heavy doors.

Just inside this door is an atrium, which leads into a long hallway. The atrium and some of the hallway are open to the sky.

Sofi's apartment is upstairs, I thought my blacksmith sister-in-law Kate might be interested in the railing.

To get to my rooms, I pass through a second plant-filled atrium. This picture is taken from above, up the stairs near a little rooftop balcony. 

Even the plain hallway is pretty! Just outside my door is this wall niche with a lovely plant. 

It's a studio apartment, so the bedroom is connected to the sitting room, which is connected to the small kitchen. These are turmeric colored, while the bathroom is the color of Dijon mustard (not as bright as yellow mustard). 

There's a grill on the window, so the picture I tried to take didn't quite come out. Here it is anyway:

Tiled roofs with some modern buildings in the background, and best of all, a view of Cerro Monserrate. I'm hoping to go to the top of this hill (cerro=hill) tomorrow, if the line for the cable car isn't as long as it was today and if the weather is clear. I took that picture yesterday, when it was cloudy. Today was lovely, sunny all afternoon and warm. 

More to come!

Fulbright International Summer Institute Miscellany

To whet your appetite for more pictures, here's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in downtown Sofia. When I flew in, I saw the gold of the domes glinting in the sun from the plane. 

First, a little more about the Fulbright International Summer Institute (and please note the disclaimer at the bottom of this blog). This summer institute is a unique project run by the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, in partnership with Sofia University. This was the 13th year for FISI. The Bulgarian Fulbright Commision received a Fulbright Innovator Award for FISI in 2010. It's kind of a big deal.

So the question I've been hearing lately is "Were all the participants Fulbright scholars?" 

No. In order to answer the question, I have to explain about Fulbright scholars in Bulgaria. There are Fulbright Senior Scholars (I'm one) who do research and/or teach for five months.There are graduate student Fulbrighters, who do research and/or teach for ten months. There are English Teaching Assistants, who spend ten months teaching in Bulgarian high schools.

Nine of us at FISI fit these categories. The other 100+ FISI participants were American, Bulgarian, Dutch, German, Russian, Pakistani, Indian, Azerbaijani, Greek, Italian, Kosovan and Slovakian. Included were PhD. students at Sofia University, undergraduates from the US, people just interested in the course offerings. The classes were taught in English, by instructors from several countries. It was a wonderful mix of cultures, rich and satisfying.

Now let's move on to pictures. 

We stayed at this incredible hotel out in the country, RIU Pravets, about 50 minutes from Sofia. On the other side of the hotel was this small lake. 

The hills reminded me of Vermont. The hotel was a short walk from the town of Pravets, best known as the hometown of Todor Zhivkov, who had the distinction of being the longest-ruling dictator in the Eastern Bloc. There's a statue of him in town still.

On one of our walks to town we came across this candy stand on the street, with an orange awning that tinted all the wares. This is mostly Turkish Delight.

And lest you think that it was all candy, here's a picture of breakfast on the last day. Yoghurt with muesli, cucumbers, feta, roasted tomato with cheese, dates and a chunk of honeycomb. This was the only day when honeycomb was available, hung on a frame right at the breakfast bar. Delicious! Just out of the picture is my cup of double espresso.

And did we do nothing but eat and lounge by the lake? In fact, I had five hours of class each day. I took Bulgaria in Literature and Film, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Project Writing and Project Management. I took part of a class on negotiation and part of a class on globalization, education and cultural diplomacy. The classes were interesting, of course, but I learned quite a lot from sitting at the dining room table or walking into town or hanging out during break time, chatting with the other participants and instructors.

And was this worthwhile for my larger Fulbright? YES! I got to know the wonderful people at the Fulbright Commission and the other Fulbrighters, got answers to some of my pressing visa questions, talked about strategies for finding apartments, buying phones and other practical matters. I made friends with participants who live in Sofia, so I won't feel completely alone when I arrive in February. As I mentioned in the last post, I've already said yes to several performances. I'm also thinking about starting a writing group when I'm there. 

Here is Dr. Julia Stefanova, the Director of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, kicking us out of the FISI Garden of Eden with a wink and a smile at the final ceremony. We went on to the farewell party, which included plenty of dancing.

It was a gray morning as we rode the bus back to Sofia, having had a sparklingly wonderful time at FISI.

More Bulgaria pictures in the next blog post. 


Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

Storytelling at FISI

I didn't intend to tell stories at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Pravets, Bulgaria. True, I'm always ready to tell stories, but I didn't go with that idea. I took a couple of puppets, on the chance I might need them, but that's something I do whenever I travel. Hmm, now this sounds like a case of "I just happened to have brought my sheet music..." 

On the first evening, a couple of the American students who had heard me introduce myself waved me over to their dinner table. "Would you tell some stories?"  I promised a performance outside the next evening. We began to spread the word. 

I found a little tower as a backdrop, with a wall for seats. By the end of the performance, there were around 20 listeners. I told a mix of stories, from the old favorite Ghost with the One Black Eye to The Twist-Mouth Family to Blood (a piece of personal fiction with an embedded Bulgarian folktale). It seems this last was the siren song for the mosquitoes, as they chased us inside. 

The response to the stories was good, but because many people hadn't heard about the performance, I got more requests. For the second show, I chose Sunday morning at 11.

There were around fifteen listeners. I mixed it up, with the South African folktale Unanana and the Elephant, The Crooked Little Finger by Philippa Pearce, The Portraits (another piece of personal fiction) and Marina, a story I wrote in the voice of a Bulgarian woman in 1986 in NYC. I was nervous about it, anxious that the Bulgarian listeners understand that I tell it with great respect for Bulgaria and Bulgarians.

On Sunday evening, there were new arrivals to FISI. Some of these asked if I would do another performance. I set up a Thursday evening show, after supper, which had another twenty or so listeners. We were indoors, in a lounge a floor above the lobby. It was loud and a little challenging to perform in the space, but fun.

Because there were three listeners who specifically wanted to hear stories for young children, I began with The Gunniwolf, but then shifted gears to the gruesome Bluebeard variant, Mr. Fox. I also told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce and a few others. Some of the University of Michigan undergrads were there, at first doubtful and then completely engaged. Two of them afterwards asked for tips on doing presentations. 

I thought that was it. On Friday, people kept apologizing that they hadn't been able to come, as they were finishing projects for the last day of classes. I offered to tell one story at the final party, but there wasn't a good time or place for that. The music was playing and it was time to dance. Afterwards, back at the hotel, I was asked again. I told a short one, The Porcelain Man, a love story by Richard Kennedy. 

There were a couple of other times I performed: I went into the Bulgarian class for beginners twice, once with my puppets and once to tell a Bulgarian folktale. I practiced it in advance with Stefka, the teacher, to get the tenses right. (This picture is of that class. The baby showed up for the photo, asking for her "biba," also known as her binky.)

So I didn't intend to perform at FISI and did only in response to requests. All the same, I had a good time sharing the stories in my head. 

Thanks to Megan Lueneberg, Kalina Georgieva and Rada Kaneva for pictures.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

On my way to Bulgaria

 I'm taking a break from obsessively packing, unpacking and repacking for my short trip to Bulgaria. This is for the Fulbright International Summer Institute, not the larger Fulbright which will take place next February-June. For the current trip, I'll be gone for a little over two weeks. I'll be outside of Sofia for most of this first trip, but will live in the city on the Fulbright. Thank you to everybody who has supported me emotionally, financially and physically.

Along with the baggage preparations, I'm making sure the house is okay for my house sitter, paying all my bills, doing laundry and pacing. I might need to go for a swim to get rid of some of this excess energy. 

I'm tremendously happy that I'm going on this trip. I just found this music video with views of Sofia, reflecting my mood. 


I went to a workshop led by storyteller Fran Stallings years ago, in which she told about teachers who attended her in-service trainings over and over in order to "get their buckets filled." Under the lower arches is a trough, flowing with mountain spring water at Rila Monastery in Bulgaria, one place where I always feel refreshed and renewed. 

I'm heading back to Bulgaria in 2015, to get my buckets filled. In case you hadn't yet heard me doing a happy dance, I've just been accepted as a Fulbright Scholar for five months in Sofia, where I'll do research in the archives of the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum (under the aegis of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). I'm also planning to go to the House of Humor and Satire in Gabrovo. My goal is to find animal folktales and trickster tales and to perform these in Bulgaria and in the US. For those of you who don't know, I lived in Bulgaria in 1983-84, where I studied the language. I've been back three times since.

Five months! I get to have a sabbatical, time for research and reflection. I've been making my living as a storyteller since 1993 and never dreamed that I'd ever have a sabbatical. Two years ago I went to a lecture for artists about the Fulbright Scholar Program, at which I learned that even those not affiliated with a university can apply. The first year, I got as close as being an alternate, so I resubmitted.

There are still some hoops to jump through before I go, like paperwork and medical exams, but I'll keep doing my happy dance all the way through them. Then I'll stop, take a breath and start to fill my buckets (apologies to any Bulgarians reading this--I took the next picture in Turkey). 

Miscellaneous pictures from Chile

Before the trip to Chile becomes a dim memory, here are a few more pictures on no particular theme.

Almost every weekday morning of the tour, we left the apartment in the dark. As it was autumn in South America, the sun rose later than at home. Here's a view of sunrise over the Andes, taken from the cab on the way to a school.

And here are the Andes taken from the top of Cerro San Cristobal near the end of the tour, after it had snowed in the mountains. Because of this very snow, I wasn't able to take the bus trip over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina. I'd been looking forward to soaking in the hot springs there. Next trip...

It wasn't until the end of the tour that it occurred to me that I should have taken pictures of the street dogs. They're everywhere in Santiago, gentle creatures mostly, often lying in the middle of the sidewalk or waiting patiently with the pedestrians to cross the street. This little one adopted us one morning. I thought his name should be Carlitos. Doesn't he look like he belongs to Sofi?

One day, Sofi and I climbed Cerro Santa Lucia. We could see all around the city from there, as we were able to from Cerro San Cristobal. We stopped for a rest and heard a man singing loudly (and tunelessly) along to his iphone. That's when we realized he was with the woman who had hiked to the top of this hill in a smart skirt and pumps. I wanted a picture of them, but didn't want to be rude. I settled for a picture of their legs.

I didn't take many pictures of people on the streets of Santiago. I only caught this woman at her street stall when I was capturing the verses by Pablo Neruda.

I confess that we didn't go to Pablo Neruda's house, other than seeing the outside of La Chascona, the house where his mistress lived in Santiago. I know you'll forgive me when you remember that I did 68 shows in the almost five weeks, so I didn't have a lot of energy for sightseeing. We considered going to his house in Valparaiso, but our time was limited there as well.

I never tired of the street art. Here are a few more of my favorites from Valparaiso, starting with a joke for Spanish speakers.

Does a wicker bicycle count as street art? I think so.

These steps in Valparaiso mimic the colorful houses stacked on the hill. The cat at the top had no opinion on the matter.

And as long as I'm showing that, here's another self-referential bit of art on the street in Valpo:

This mural reminded me of my early childhood, when our large family had a microbus, though not a purple one.

The tour of Chile was full of wonderful images, amazing listeners, delicious food, satisfying laughter and great fun. I am deeply thankful for having done it. Here is the last view I had of Santiago, taken outside the airport with my cellphone:


Adios, Chile!

Viña del Mar and Valparaiso

Before more time passes, I want to write about the trip we took last week to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, about an hour and a half away from Santiago by bus. We left on Thursday after one performance at a school in Santiago.

I dozed for much of the trip to Viña. The third week of a four and a half week tour may be the toughest. Sofi (my tour manager and friend) and I arrived in late afternoon at the high-rise building where we were staying. At first, we were doubtful about the place. It wasn't just that it felt far from everything, but that there was a constant sound of dogs barking down in the vacant lots near the building. Yes, constant, and somewhat eerie in the middle of the night. In the morning, everything looked different, and better. 

We left early for St. Margaret's School, a lovely girls' school north of the city, where I had three performances for enthusiastic listeners. Very fun! Afterwards, the school van driver took us back in to Viña, showing us the seaside on the way.

We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, where it wasn't warm enough to swim but was fine for reading and beachcombing.

We also watched the sunset from the beach.

The next day, we made our way a few miles away to the lovely city of Valparaiso, where the brightly painted houses stack one over the other on the hills. We had the great good fortune to meet up with Diletta Panero, a storyteller from Italy who lives in Ireland but who is doing her PhD dissertation research in Chile. We were connected up with her by storyteller Liz Weir, from Ireland, who is a dear friend of my friend Liz Warren. This is the way the storytelling community in the world works! Here's a picture of the two of us.

Sofi, my excellent tour manager and friend, was also with us.

Here are some pictures of Valparaiso. I'll get back to posts about storytelling soon.

Yes, that's how electric wires are in Chile, like a spiderweb.

We wandered the streets, stopping in to shops and galleries, and having a stunning meal at a little restaurant, for most of the day. Then we went back to Viña to collect our stuff before taking the bus back to Santiago. Here's a last look at Viña.

Street art in Santiago

Before I write about storytelling here in Chile, I want to show some of the murals and other street art we saw yesterday in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago. Sofi (my tour manager) and I walked there from our apartment in Providencia yesterday. We saw these scenes before and after lunch (I had the most delicious piece of salmon I have ever tasted--I'm drooling a little thinking of it). At any rate, here are some of the pictures. 

The buildings are painted in vibrant colors, whether or not they have street art on them, and there's a mix of old and new construction. On this Sunday afternoon, we were happy to stroll around Bellavista, enjoying the beautiful weather. It was a great way to relax before diving headfirst into the tour. 

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.

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.