Friday, May 25, 2012

End of Season - Part I

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” – Ecclesiastes 3:1 (all the below scriptures are from Ecclesiastes)

Quick Update: Sun., May 27, Tues., May 29, Wed., May 30, Thurs., May 31 & Fri., June 1 – evening programming for Worldstrides, Inc., school groups visiting Williamsburg, VA. If you are in the area and would like to attend one of these programs, please email me,
Other June Locations: VA (Williamsburg, Norfolk, Hampton)

I often feel like I have “seasons” in my life. Upon ending my 2011-12 year-long residency at Anderson Christian School, Anderson, IN, I sigh with delight at ending one of my “seasons”, and prepare for what next school year will bring.

“A time to be born and a time to die,” – 3:2
Born this year were two special babies to me, special friends from my Oklahoma travels. Brian & Mandy’s Tuker, and, Sid and Christa’s grandbaby, Demma. There were many deaths along the way this year, most of them friends of my parents – reminder of their mortality.

“A time to plant and a time to uproot,” – 3:2
I planted lots and lots of seeds this year: seeds of knowledge, seeds of joy, seeds of listening, seeds for new programming area, seeds of great spiritual growth in myself. I uprooted the scars that I had allow to grow on my heart from years of fear in long-term relationships, and I am going to my 30th High School Reunion (my first class reunion! – how exciting)

“a time to kill and a time to heal,” – 3:3
This year I joyfully celebrated as the neurosurgeon, Dr. McAdams, took the cancerous tumor out of my Mother’s brain, and two other amazing doctors – Dr. Thornton and Dr. Hunter – provide laser proton radiation therapy and the chemotherapy pill – and they KILLED that tumor! And, I am grateful to all the schools, who willing rescheduled and reshuffled their programming with me, so I could take time with my Mother (and my Father) and help in the healing process. To God be the Glory!

“a time to tear down and a time to build” – 3:3
I tore down the image of storytelling in at least one teacher’s mind, who thought their students wouldn’t really enjoy storytelling, and certainly wouldn’t sit for an hour. HA! With great joy, they proclaimed they were wrong and delighted with their students in stories. In Indiana, I built so many connections including Salamonie Reservoir (Teresa Rody & Laura Whiteleather), Ellen Munds (Indiana Storytelling Arts), Canterbury School, Indiana Christian Academy and Southwood Elementary.

“a time to weep and a time to laugh” – 3:4
I cried my last day at Anderson Christian School and I will miss those kids. I laughed every time I came to Anderson Christian School when I would walk in and disturb every line walking to the gym quietly. Ms. Sheila messed up a lot of orderliness – and enjoyed it. Oh, and the laughter with Mr. & Mrs. Reeves (lifelong friends of my family whom I visited with in Indiana) as we drove until lost and laughed at how well....and not so well....a GPS gets you home! :) Love you both so much.

“a time to mourn and a time to dance” – 3:4
I did not have any mourning this school year, but I sho’ did dance. And I will never dance so well as doing the Hava Nagila (Jewish Dance) on the boat while cruising the Sea of Galilee with my BibleTelling Group friends in Israel. And then to teach the Hava Nagila to the students at Indiana Christian Academy and Anderson Christian School was so much fun – and in the church sanctuary, it was the greatest praise to God and to life. HAVA NAGILA! (Let us Be Glad!) -

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"If you're white, you're alright. If you're brown, you can hang around. If you're black, you gotta get back." - from Lost Boundaries

Quick Update: Thurs., Feb. 1 - Anderson Christian School, Anderson, IN; Fri., Feb. 2 - Woodland Middle School, Gurnee, IL; Sat., Feb. 3 - Salamonie and Mississinewa Reservoirs, Andrews, IN; Tues., Feb. 6 - McReynolds Middle School, Houston, TX
Other Feb. Locations: WV, TN, CA, VA (Fairfax Co., Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Hampton Roads area, Chesterfield, Ashburn)

I watched a movie while in Iowa called "Lost Boundaries." It was originally released in 1949 in France. Later it was released in America - early 1950's and I am sure it must have stunned audiences. The movie is about a black couple that pass as white in a New Hampshire town for over 20 years. Through events [of which I never was able to see because I Had to do a program], the couple revealed their true colors (literally) to the town and even their two children. [Watch a scene -]

The quote at the top was used in the movie. I had heard quite a bit while growing up, but was shocked to see it in the movie. I was fascinated by the movie and googled later to find out it was representing a true story of Dr. Albert Johnston.

I have been late writing my blog, but I couldn't get this movie, nor all the things it made me think out of my head. How many times have I read and heard about passin'. I have extended family members who could have, and still could, have chosen that route for themselves, and in some cases it would have made their lives physically more easy, but I wonder what would happen psychologically.

There have been other movies about passin' - "Imitation of Life" (beautifully done) and even "Soul Man" (if want to see the other direction). Passin' has been a part of politics and writers. It helped Ellen Craft pose as a while slave owner with her husband posing as the manservant and they went from Georgia to Philadelphia escaping slavery in the 1800's.

My friend, Darci, who is white, and I, wrote a portion of our performance, "Cotton, Slavery and Freedom" about an escaped slave (daughter of the master) who lives in the North and the woman (another slave who has escaped) recognizes her. The fear that Darci portrays while we do that scene seems reminiscent of what I saw in the movie - it's a powerful part of what we do. Another friend, Abigail Schumann, who is white, portrays a slave in her one woman show, "Our Common Passages" (you can purchase at and she is so believable, I had to sit back in awe.

But does passin' still happen today? I'm certain it does. I have seen people on television that my family and I have had heated discussions about "what are they?", i.e., Herman Cain's "affair" woman....hmmmmm....

Is this a topic to talk about and relevant? I say yes. People still try to "pass" today, even if it's not just color. A suburban white teenager wearing his pants down, his shirts big and gold blinging to pass as gangsta. A Middle Eastern man giving himself the last name of a Hispanic, so he can work. A person living paycheck to paycheck, buying on credit the biggest house, car and lifestyle and appearing on reality television knowing that everything is falling apart.

I'd like us to think about what Passin' means today. Does it happen? What stories show passin', like the new movie, is it "Alfred Nobbs" with Glenn close. Are their fairy tales that show this? Are we capable to let people "pass" as themselves and still afford them the opportunities they would receive if they were passin'.

Just some....dare I say it....passin' thoughts. (Okay, you can groan!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Preparing Storytelling Programs – 18th-Century Stories

18th-century: Ol’ Bess speaks at a Gathering. Ol’ Bess, a tavern slave from 18th-century Williamsburg, Virginia, stops by in costume and invites folks to a slave-gathering and shares the tales of humor, lessons and dreams from her time period. She also shares about her life – joys, sorrows and hopes. Songs are included in this very interactive program. If time is available, and students are grade 6 and above, there is a Q&A session at end of presentation. Some titles: “Simon & Susannah”, “Devil Coined a Phrase” (compiled by Zora Neale Hurston), “Combustible Woman” (from Virginia Gazette)

Well, friends, I didn't make it two weeks in a row writing my blog post on Tuesdays, however, I finally made it. This is one of those "odds and ends" about me in this wonderful profession as Teaching Artist. Enjoy. Peace,

Quick Performance Update: 1/16 - Nodland Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & Sunnyside Elementary School, Sioux City, IA; 1/17 - Sunnyside Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & Roosevelt Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & East High School, Sioux City, IA
Other Jan. performances in: OK, IN & VA (Virginia Beach and Yorktown)

As a Teaching Artist one of the things I have to do is prepare for my programs as much as possible. I love this part of my job, because I really enjoy prep and organizational time, as well as research. Right now I'm planning for 7 Storytelling Programs, 1 Professional Development, 1 Evening Program for Parents and 1 Historic Character Presentation in the upcoming week. I want to share with you about how I prepare for one of those progams - 18th-Century Stories (as described above).

I try to start preparing about a week in advance. The first thing I do is choose and then write the stories that I will be presenting. For this program, I have a pattern to follow, but need to choose which stories fall in that pattern. Here is my 18th-Century Stories pattern:
18th-Century Song (I choose from a list of 9 songs)
18th-Century Story (I choose from a list of 21 stories)
An Active/Participant Song (I choose from a list of 3)
An Interactive 18th-Century Story (I choose from a list of 4 stories)
One of Ol' Bess' family stories (I choose from 5 family stories)
Simon and Susannah (hear me do this story at

Each of the stories and songs are documented from the 18th-Century, and the list is always growing. For my upcoming program at Whittier Elementary, I am going to present:
Song: Bound to Go (see lyrics at
Story: Arsenic encouraged
Song: Sit Down, Servant
Story: Anansi and Sons
Family Story: Julius Goes to War (this is story about how Julius, Ol' Bess' son, leaves Williamsburg, VA to join the British militia upon the issuance of Lord Dunmore's Proclamation. Learn more about this Proclamation event at
Story: Simon and Susannah

I have just finished printing off copies of my stories and the songs and placing them in a tote bag for my programming date. Along with copies of stories, I will put my CD's, my purchasing materials (including my credit card swiper, receipts) and brochures in the tote. Finally, I print out my Storytelling Program in order, with the information about where I am presenting (with directions) and the times for presentations. Making sure I have everything on hand for the programming makes my life a lot less stressful. I always put the estimated time with the directions, so I know when I need to leave.

Next on my prep list is to choose and put aside my outfit for the day. This program is a costumed one, because I portray Ol' Bess from the 18th-Century. (see the picture). It just so happens that I will need to wash this costume, making "doing the laundry" now a part of my prep list. :)

I try to send a Teacher Guide one week in advance that includes pre- and post-programming activities for each of the stories that will be presented. I also send the words of the songs, along with a place where the song can be heard again. This Teacher Guide is customized for the stories I will be telling. It also includes hints for preparing students, and an evaluation form for teachers.

Then comes the part I really like: REVIEW. This is the part that I think separates storytellers. Review, Practice and Research; then, Review, Practice and Research some more - that is the name of the game. I start my review by reading all stories to be presented one at time - first silently and then out loud. Then I either listen to an audiotaped version of my story OR I record the story and save on my computer or CD to listen to inthe future. This part is important for me to see what I do well, and what I need to do better.

It seems like that should be it, but for me it is not. I like to take some time over the next week leading up to the performance and do some RESEARCH. I am presently reading portions of an old Storytelling Folktale Dictionary that a good friend, Patty Z., a librarian, gave me some years ago. I read the different entries and sometimes do some internet research on things that interest me and take notes. Last week's blog post about "bees" came from that research. I usually read one page, and then read at least a chapter from one of several books that I have listed. The book this week is "Kidnapped" by Robert Stevenson. How does this book help me? Well, it's 18th-century written, and actually I have found many words in there that I didn't know, but then come across while looking at 18th-Century newspapers. Since I do an 18th-Century Storytelling program AND Ol' Bess as a Historic Character Presentation, anything that helps increase my 18th-century knowledge is helpful.

And that's it! Every day for a week, I try to do one hour of prep for upcoming programs. It's tough, but the bottom line - it's worth it. I am organized, prepared, and at peace. Being at peace is probably the best, because my mind being stress free, allows me to focus on my audience and change things as needed.

Other little notes: Here is the basis of the "arsenic" story.
in VA Gazette dated 10/8/1767; From: London reported on July 8, 1767

On Monday last a man and his wife, in the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields, having some words together, the husband gave her sixpence, and advised her to purchase some arsenic and poison herself; the woman, from a false spirit of resentment, put her husband’s injunction into execution, and expired soon after in great agony.

Share more with you next week. Sheila

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Secret Knowledge of Bees

“The old wisdom of the bees” – “the secret knowledge of the bees”, “ask the wild bee for what the druids knew” are frequent phrases of Scottish Highland and island story" - Standard Dictionary of Folklore.

First things first. It's 2012, and time for a new start in the Blogosphere. I am now on Twitter (mssheila757) and this has introduced me to the world of great Blogs and bloggers - I have a new goal to attain. The plan is to be consistent on Tuesdays and share about where I will performing, what research has caught my eye as of late, and other odds and ends about my profession as Storyteller and Character Presenter. So hang with me and, if you like it (or disagree or want to add), share a comment and share with friends. Peace.

Quick Performance Update: 1/6 - Christopher Farms Elementary School, Virginia Beach, VA; 1/7 - Newsome House, Newport News, VA
Other Jan. performances in: IA, OK, IN & VA (Virginia Beach and Yorktown)

So this started with some research on "bees" in folklore. Bees are considered messengers of the gods. In Ireland, it is important to tell the bees about a new project you are starting. I have not made a trip to a hive, but I hope the picture and the thoughts count. Also, learned some superstitions: a bee coming in your house (someone will die), a bee coming in and then leaving (stranger is coming to visit), and a bee comes in your house and then dies (well, your time is up!) And don't ever kill a bee - your death and your abundance will dry up. All good things to know.

I shared all this with my mother, including asking her if "bee venom" was ever used as a home remedy. "No," she said, "but Daddy [her Daddy] used to have to drink coal oil if sick." (Too much information.) I did learn about apitherapy which is bee venom theray and that bee venom is a product in some of our medicines - good as anti-inflammatory. Now I understand "bee pollen" be sold in the vitamin section. After sharing this with my mother, her thought was, "why do we say 'the birds and the bees' (referring to "the talk")?" I have no idea, however, did come across a book, "Birds, Bees and Babies", that might answer the question. See the story told at I'll let you do your own research or share thoughts about "the birds and the bees."

It also was interesting to note various media that talk about bees. The "Bee Movie" (Jerry Seinfield's cartoon movie), with the lesson that our ecosystem is interdependent and particularly needs the bees. My friend, storyteller extraordinaire and great blogger, Karen Langford Chance informed me about the book, "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, which became a movie starring Queen Latifah. (On a separate note, you should definitely be following Karen's blog if you love stories - Want to hear awesome stories by great storytellers go to Story Bee, Some of my favorites are there: Donna Washington, Buck Creacy, Pam Holcomb and Ed Stivender. Two other stories about bees: "Buzzy Bee" by Carol Moore, & "Bird & Bee Story" told on youtube, with really sappy background music,

Other Little Notes, just cause: Read "Malindy and the Little Devil" in Virginia Hamilton's HerStories. This is a great story for practicing different voices, along with "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman. Ran across the Baptist Sunday School Hymnal from 1863 - very old songs, but great words. My Mom sang me a song she remembered from younger days, "My Grandfather's Clock." Anyone else know this one?

Share more with you next week. Sheila