Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Food Lore

Most likely, if you've been reading my blog posts and checking out the Folkheart Press website, you know that folklore revolves around important aspects of life. This includes life cycles like birth, marriage, retirement and death AND significant acts of daily living.

Well, can you think of anything more significant than food? Okay, there's shelter, clothing, etc. But that's usually not what most people are interested in. Of course, some people are riveted to architecture and contemporary or folk art fashion trends, but, really, who doesn't have at least some interest in the food they eat?

Food is a pretty basic fact of life that has taken on many different tones around the world. What is traditional in one culture may be taboo in another. For example: pork is a pretty common ingredient in Asian meat dishes... in kosher households its forbidden.

Every culture has rules, legends, myths and tales about what it consumes and how those food items are prepared. Some dishes are medicinal, others are designed to attract wealth and/or fertility, while others are imbued with all of the above and then some.

In researching food lore associated with the New Year, I came upon these golden kernels (no pun intended) of food lore. Enjoy then and if you have some to add to the list, let me know.

• Italian fried pastry ensures a sweet year.

• Pennsylvania “Dutch” (German) tradition suggest that together pork and sauerkraut bring good luck.

• Polish fans of pickled herring say that the first bite of herring in the new year bring prosperity.

• China: Be sure to leave some sticky sweet foods for the Kitchen God who makes household reports to the deities.

Happy Eating!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Smith Family Folktale About Santa Claus

Santa Claus Smith Hills – A Family Folktale
This is a wonderful example of a group folktale that allows for each contributor to share his or her personal experience of the same event.

My dear friend Michael (Mike) Hills, a top notch balladeer, recently died. In the wake of his death there are many wonderful memories of him. There is one in particular that stands out as special to me and to his five siblings. It is of Michael as Santa Claus, that festive Christmas folk hero who brings joy (and presents) to children.

To preserve this benevolent holiday spirit motif as it appeared in my friend's life, I asked his brothers and sisters, Greg Smith, Patricia Stelt, Tim Smith, Christine Pedeaux and Tom Smith to share what they remembered about the years that Michael, their oldest brother, played Santa Claus.

The making of this group folktale wove together their individual experiences of the family Christmas ritual that Michael began when he was 14 (1962).

The tradition which began in Fullerton, California started when Michael’s parents asked Michael to dress up as Santa for the younger children. “They also asked me to help,” recalled brother Greg who was only two years younger than Michael.

“Every Christmas Eve I would help Mike into his red velvet Santa suit and I would guard our bedroom door so that none of the younger ones would come into our bedroom." He added that Michael made a great Santa. Large and husky for his age, his build was perfect for the job. “He wasn’t fat,” said Greg who described himself as ‘too skinny’ for such a task.

Greg continues: “I felt privileged to help him because: 1) I always enjoyed a fun adventure 2) Mike made a GREAT Santa ... mom & dad got him a GREAT-looking outfit 3) I enjoyed seeing the reactions of my little brothers and sisters.”

Michael, who later in life became an actor at places like Knotts Berry Farm, was so good in the role that a couple neighbors sometimes asked him to be Santa at their nearby homes, too, since he was already dressed up. Michael's alibi to his brothers and sisters was that he went to visit the neighbors and "just missed" Santa's early visit which was touted as a pre-visit just to say hi to the siblings while they were still awake. Before and after "Santa's" visit, he would throw some large rocks up onto the roof to sound like reindeer.

His sister Patricia (Patti) was also in on the secret. At 8 she knew what was going on and relished the joy Michael brought to them all. “Tim, Tom and Christine had no clue that Santa could possibly be anyone other than Santa. Especially because he was the same size, had a wonderful deep "Ho Ho Ho" and had a sack thrown over his back of gifts!"

The children gave him Christmas cookies for a snack, and he took turns sitting each of them on his knee, asking them what they wanted for Christmas, and always gave them a gift from his sack of toys.

Christine noted that she “loved the work gloves” he wore as Santa. “I do remember him telling us that he had to go over to the Scotts’ home for a while and Santa always came when Mike was gone.” Christine’s memory includes the jingling of bells outside the house just before he came in.

In time his brother Tim noticed that Santa Claus’s legs were hairy, much like Michael’s. The youngest child, Tom became suspicious of Santa Claus’ visits when he jumped onto Santa's knee and Santa said "Ouch, could you sit on the other knee?" At the time Tom made a connection between Santa's sore knee and the knee Michael had injured in an accident.

Patricia said that one year Michael “really blew his cover” with Tom. “Mike had an affectionate name for Tom: ‘Monkey’ and he said to Tom, “OK, Monkey, climb on up here....its your turn!"

Patricia remembered that Michael, a consummate musician even at that age ALWAYS gave the gift of music. "He pulled his gifts out of his "Turntable" labeled bag." Turntable was the downtown record shop.

She wondered why it took the younger ones so long to discover who Santa was.

Maybe they didn’t care. As Patricia herself explained, “It was an amazing, sweet thing for Mike to do each year, and he was a GREAT Santa Claus. His deep voice would resound through the neighborhood, and he was very convincing! Just one example of how he loved, even at a young age, to bring joy to others.”

By the way, until his death, the gift of music was one of Michael's legacies. My daughter Kiana, his god daughter, received countless CDs and inherited his 12 string Martin guitar and his faithful auto harp. But this is the material of another folktale!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Modern Day Sports Hero: St. John of the Midfield

Folk heroes and heroines are people who, in every day life, do the extraordinary to overcome adversity. We preserve their memories because they represent character traits and skills that we hold dear.

Folk heroes come in many shapes and sizes. In St. John of Midfield we are introduced to a sports folk hero. In today's world, sports figures loom large on the horizon but not all of them fall into the category of folk hero. Only those who exhibit talent, skills, leadership and sportsmanship even in the most difficult of times make the grade.

I recently asked author Garasamo Maccagnone to talk about the hero of St. John of the Midfield. But before the Q&A, let me give you a brief synopsis of the story:

World-class soccer star Bobo Stoikov makes an escape from communist Bulgaria and finds his way to America. Landing a job as a youth soccer coach, Bobo builds a reputation for himself as a successful, yet unorthodox, coach who propels his team to the championship title. But things go far beyond the soccer field when arch rival Sonny Christopher seeks to destroy Bobo's reputation, along with that of his best player, Luca, and the player's father, Mario. Before he realizes how serious the situation is, Bobo finds himself in sudden death and soon realizes there is more at stake than just a soccer game.

Folkheart Press
: Bobo is a contemporary folk hero who faces contemporary adversities. Why did you choose the ‘sports hero’ motif?

Garasamo: The world outside of America is in love with the game of soccer. Though Americans are not quite so enthusiastic about the sport, many Americans are sport junkies. With networks dedicated to sports 24 hours a day, the sports hero holds an exalted place in the culture.

Folkheart Press
: Folk heroes (and folk villains) often represent the beliefs and values of their cultures/societies. How did you determine which beliefs and values your characters would address?

: Even if you strip out religion, our culture admires individuals who give of themselves without asking a lot in return. Be it a teacher, fireman, coach, or a counselor, we applaud those who selflessly take care of others. Honing in on that discovery, it wasn't difficult for me to create an appealing character who represented the best of our ways.

Folkheart Press
: Would you describe the novel’s story line as mythical (involving archetypal and/or supra natural characters and elements) or folkloric (everyday, common place characters and themes)?

: Bobo uses St. John as an apostolic metaphor when explaining what he saw in his young student. Of course, it's really himself that he sees in Luca. As Bobo is good, he sees the good in Luca, which he believes is the main attribute to becoming a great interior mid-fielder. Since Bobo believes St. John to be the Saint most like Jesus, he impresses on Luca to aspire to be like St. John, St. John of the Midfield.

Folkheart Press
: What have you learned from your characters?

Garasamo: That evil lurks near those with the purest of intentions. With Mario, though he loathes his father's criminal empire, and does everything in his power to keep his family away from it, in the end, he has no choice but to become just like his father. With his son in danger, Mario reacts as his father would by giving a fateful nod that leads to a tragic ending.

Folkheart Press: Writers are folk heroes, too. What challenges have you overcome and which have made you stronger?

: I'm an in-your-face type of Catholic writer who catches flak from Evangelists to Atheists. And of course, most uncomfortable with my stories, are the Catholics themselves, who often don't like to be reminded of their hypocrisy.

The author is currently working on his next book, The Fish and the Fox. Other written works by Garasamo include, The Affliction of Dreams, a collection of short stories and poetry, The Suburban Dragon, a children's book, and For the Love of St. Nick, an illustrated short story about two boys who seek the help of St. Nick after the tragic loss of their mother.

Be sure to check out tomorrow's post in this Writers In The Sky virtual blog tour by visitng Dallas Woodburn of Dallas hosts an article about using YouTube for marketing promotions and the book trailer for St. John of the Midfield. Follow this blogger on Twitter: @DallasWoodburn.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quilts: Perfect Winter Folk Art

American folk art is all about making beautiful the functional, everyday, necessary items of life. What could be more useful than a quilt?

Quilts, like blankets, are for bedding. However, unlike blankets, they are often made of colorful, decorative designs that make incredible bed coverings and can also be made to be displayed on a wall as a work of art.

They are also artful historical records of family and community. So true to the country they are made it, they cross over class, age, and ethnicity. They are tangible, tactile records of life in America that tell a story that reflects the personality and passion of its maker, the quilter.

Throughout history there have been many types of quilts around the world.

For example:
== In the Italian Renaissance, quilting was very common
== A green silk quilt decorated with metal threads,roses and pomegranates was made for King Henry VIII's wedding to Catherine of Aragon.
== Bangladesh quilts were made of worn out saris (clothes).

In America, some of the more popular quilting traditions include the Amish which is basically solid in color so as not to be "too worldly" and the Log Cabin, a composition of blocks of fabric.

Celebration of this centuries' old folk art form is currently underway at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Now through October 2011, the museum will exhibit, Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. This well-thought out display highlights a range of textile masterpieces, some of which have rarely been seen before.

And with Winter in full swing, but better time than now to enjoy this hearty folk art form?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If I Could Keep You Little

Family relationships are among the topics most explored in folktales. Grandparents, god parents, special aunts, prized cousins, parents, sons and daughters and the like comprise basic family units all over the world. Regardless of the society there are folktales about families coming together and families falling apart. That’s because families are an important part of everyone’s life cycles.

Best-selling Author and Artist Marianne Richmond explores the poignancy of parenthood in her newest book "If I Could Keep You Little…” ($15.99, Sourcebooks, Nov. 2010). Here she captures in very few words and with great artistic talent the joyful moments of early child-parent/caretaker relations and how those relations change.

As a chronicle for commonplace events, such as cutting up your child’s bread into fun shapes and tossing your child in the air, her work highlights the everyday moments that are soon missed by parents and caretakers when the child becomes too old for such interactions. And yet, those experiences are replaced with a new set of moments that are as precious.

Richmond reveals the upcoming moments with a sense of beauty and grace for she, as folk teller, reminds adults that they cannot keep a child young forever. To do so, the picture book advises, is to hinder the child’s ability to experience what the rest of life has to offer.

For example: “If I could keep you little, I’d keep you close to me. But then I’d miss you growing into who you’re meant to be!”

The book is gentle in its approach and yet very powerful. As a folktale it teaches a very important lesson: treasure the memories but remember to let go when the time comes (because that opens the door for new memories). And it does!

It also speaks to children, consoling them in a way that is tender. The author shows them how helpful it is for parents to pull back and get out of the way in order to make room for them to grow.

As the mother of a 16 year old vivacious daughter I relished the memories this book evoked and I appreciated the reminder that children do grow into wonderful people, much like caterpillars becomes butterflies.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Food Lore: What's In A Walnut?

Walnuts, according to Roman food lore, were the food of the gods. Lowly plebians (humans) ate acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts and other types of lesser nuts.

The Roman word for walnut nux Gallica is linguistically traced to the Proto-Indo European word dyew-gʷlandi- "Jove's acorn". Metaphorically, it was a nut fit for a god.

Roman wedding guests were hailed by walnuts, compliments of the groom, to bring good health, to ward off disease, and increase fertility. Young men who thought the walnut enhanced fertility eagerly scrambled for the tossed jewels.

Ironically in Romania, a bride would place one roasted walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to remain childless.

In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed walnuts would ward off fevers, witchcraft, epileptic fits, the evil eye, and even lightning. The Chinese believe crickets to be a creature of good omen, and would often carry musically-trained crickets in walnut shells covered with intricately-carved patterns.

Although it is difficult to trace the native home of the walnut tree, today there are 21 species of walnut. The Romans thought it originated in Persia. Early cultivation spanned from southeastern Europe to Asia Minor to the Himalayas. Greek usage of walnut oil dates back to the fourth century B.C., nearly a century before the Romans.

Franciscan priests brought the walnut to California in the latter part of the 18th century. The oil of the nut has been used for centuries in the preparation of fine paints for artists. And the wood of the tree is a valued source of lumber for floors and furniture.

Here are some fun recipes and uses of walnut:

Maple Walnut Pie

Walnut Liquer
Quick Walnut Bread

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Folk Music

As a member of the folklore family, folk music is music that has been transmitted orally and, unlike classical music, was often created by unknown composers. However, there are some folk songs as you will see in the case of Thanksgiving folk songs whose lyrics and music were carefully recorded.

Notice though, that some of the songs were originally hymns and in some cases they were adaptations with no credit given to the 'originator.

Around the 1950's folk music came to define popular music that is based upon traditional folk music. Only now it's heard in concerts, recordings and live broadcasts.

Think Woody Guthrie or Peter, Paul and Mary and you've got the idea.

Anyway, we never sang these songs in our home at Thanksgiving, even though it was my mother's favorite holiday. The first-born American from Rhodes immigrants, she loved all things America!

But in school, we'd gather together on Thursday afternoon in the multi-purpose room to belt out some of the more common Thanksgiving folk songs. I loved them, even though I couldn't (and still can't) carry a tune.

If you are interested in singing Thanksgiving songs with friends and family this Thanksgiving, here's a partial list of songs to consider:

==Turkey in the Straw. Lyrics and music composer(s) unknown.

== Come, Ye Thankful People Come. Sir George J. Elvey (1816-1893), organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle wrote the music to the well-loved Thanksgiving hymn about 1844. The lyrics are by Henry Alford (1810-1871).
== To Gramma's House (to the melody of Farmer in the Dell), lyrics unknown.
== Grandma Stuffed the Turkey by Ronald J. Euliano in 1997.
== We Gather Together. 17th century Dutch settlers brought the Prayer of Thanksgiving to the United States where it acquired music based upon a Netherlands folk hymn.

Here are few resources for lyrics and more:
Top Turkey Tunes for Tots
Songs for Teaching

Happy Singing!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DON'T ASK : for mature women only!

I recently spent time with two of my girl friends, Chel and Chris who had never met each other. The plan was for us to have fun and ‘test drive’ the brand new card game DON’T ASK , ($5 + shipping) created by Beverly Mahone, baby boomer expert, radio show host and author. The game was designed for girlfriends who enjoy discussion-lots of discussion-and conversations about circumstances they may or may not find themselves in. The situations are all based upon real life experiences that any mature woman can relate to.

The basic idea is to guess how your friend would respond to a variety of situations, such as problems with neighbors, a friend who wears inappropriate clothes and the bill collector who appears at your door.

According to Mahone, author of Don't Ask and I Won’t Have to Lie the idea for the game came when one evening she and some of her girlfriends “were sitting around talking about what we would do in certain situations.” She realized “that would be a fun game to play."

And she’s right. It is!

Chel, Chris and I sat down to play and kept at it for almost two hours. We got through only seven of the questions. Seven! We must’ve spent anywhere from five to twelve minutes on each question, sometimes revealing our own personal experiences, other times hypothesizing why someone else might answer the question differently.

I came to know more about my friends and their fine characters, and in the non-judgmental environment we discovered that our thoughts and feelings were well-received. Here is where our mundane worlds came together and formed community.

For example, in response to the multiple choice question of what we would do with incessant mistreatment of a neighbor's dog.

We all had the same answer but for different reasons. And we each had an opportunity to share our own experiences with mistreated dogs. That led to a conversation about neighbors who weren't neighborly, animal cruelty and the current condition of animal shelters. That, of course, led to more dialogue about our own history with a variety of pets.

The real genius of the game was that it brought our daily lives into focus where they mattered. What informed our responses to the game questions generated a format for us to get to know one another better.

DON’T ASK is a very well-thought out game.

The only glitch – and it was easily overcome – was that there were two sets of instructions. The rules on the deck itself called for two to four players whereas the promotional one-sheet indicated that need to be one or two teams of two. In the case of an odd-number of players, such as what we had, the book is to be consulted as the surrogate fourth player.

We didn't have the book so we did what any group of thoughtful, creative women do. We easily adapted the rules so that all three of played at all times. Alternately, two would guess how each other would answer and the third would ask the question and provide her own response to the question.

By the end of the evening (remember, we got through only seven questions) we uncovered one more DON’T ASK gem.

In explaining how and why we thought another would reply, we found ourselves celebrating each other's innate wisdom and integrity. And the two who met only that night came away with an appreciation of each other. Said Chris who accurately selected Chel’s answers: “I can see Chel really envisions the big picture and considers how an action will impact others. She has a sensitivity that leads me to believe she would do no harm.”
DON'T ASK is an ideal gift for any mature woman. The three of us are very grateful to Beverly for creating a game that is much more than just party fun!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cowboy Folklore in Prescott

I'm going to Prescott, Arizona this weekend to say my final goodbyes to a very dear friend who died on October 14. He lived for years in this North-Eastern region surrounded by some of the most majestic red rock desert landscapes I have ever seen.

My friend Michael chose an interesting place to live because Prescott in some ways epitomizes the 'wild west.'

As a folk musician whose work crossed over into country western every now and then, he fit right into the rough and rugged terrain.

This sparsely populated state is home to the world's oldest rodeo and is Arizona's first territorial capital. It was founded in 1864, and then incorporated into Arizona in 1881. The city was named for William Hickling Prescott, a noted Arizona historian, according to the city's Office of Tourism.

The city also boasts containing nearly 800 buildings in the National Register of Historic Places. Wow, that's a lot of buildings!

I doubt I will have time to take in the scenery on this trip. But if I did, I'd want to see the local museum's current exhibit. In honor of it's cowboy-ladened past, Prescott's Phippen Museum's displayingWorking the West: Selections from the Phippen Collection is on display through February 20, 2011.

It promises to be a celebration of the working cowboy as seen through the eyes of renowned Western artists who captured this vanishing way of life on the ranches of the American West.

I will definitely keep my eyes open,though for far-flung lassos just in some stray cowboy mistakes my rental car for a steer and tries to rope and brand it!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Today is Halloween. Certainly a day of memories that become folktales for many of us. Remember emptying out your trick-or-treat bag to count up and maybe even sort into category your 'booty'? I do.

And after we went to bed our mother would go through the candy (I never really knew how many pieces she may have discarded). Then she would put our sugar treasures into coffee cans, one for each of us clearly labeled so there would be no confusion about what belonged to whom!

I recently asked Lady Catherine of Pear Blossoms Blog to write a folktale/memory about Halloween. This vignette sweetly and simply captures her trick-or-treat days:

It's that time of year again, Halloween, pumpkins, black cats and lots of candy and goodies. A big harvest moon hangs in the sky and good memories fill the air.

We weren't afraid to trick or treat back in the "Good ole days". Getting a bad piece of candy or fruit never crossed anyone’s mind. When the children were small, we would walk up and down the blocks, and we knew that all the houses with a porch light on meant we were welcomed for a treat.

One year we carved a Jack-o-lantern out of a huge pumpkin, put it up behind the seat of the car with a candle inside, and drove very slowly up and down the streets with the children standing in the back seat looking out the window. They had so much fun. There weren't such things as seat belts in those days. Our children stood up in the seats of the car so they could see out. We didn't think anything about it, somehow or other they survived.

Happy pumpkin carving! Remember, “This is the day the Lord hath made, rejoice and be glad in it.”

To read more of Lady Catherine's writings, bee sure to check out her blog!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Folktale about a Conscientious Objector

Folktales are one of the ways we have to share what we know and what we have experienced with others. In many cases, folktales are vignettes that describe-and preserve-particular folkloric attributes or qualities about a specific person, place or thing.

Today I want to write a folktale about my dear friend Michael Hills. A long-time friend of mine, Michael recently ended his life. At 62, he stopped the suffering he experienced primarily as a result of having Agent Orange and PTSD; both non-transfer- able diseases contracted while he served in the Vietnam War.

That was when the country was still drafting soldiers. By lottery (birthdates randomly selected) young men were "chosen" to go to war. Their task was to fight an unwinnable war.

Michael decided he did not want to go fight a war he did not believe in. Like many of his generation he wanted peace and, as a musician, often sang about peace and other antiwar sentiments. In this way he was definitely a part of the anti-war summer of love generation.

He objected to the war but when it came time to register for the draft, he did. Unlike others who fled to the open arms of other countries, he went to the enlistment office and said he was a conscientious objector. He did not know at the time that he would have to serve just the same; conscientious objector or not. He went into that confrontation believing in his rights which included free speech and the right to" resist" the war. His beliefs were of no avail. He was drafted just the same. The only exception the military made was that he would serve as a medic rather than "in battle”.
It was during his tour as a medic who helped to save the lives of others that he would lose his safe - slowly and painfully.

Not only did medics perform a range of life- saving duties, they also were responsible for picking up the strewn body parts of soldiers who died during battle. And there were many vicious battles in Vietnam. Michael and the other medics of his unit were charged with working in the forest areas that had been heavily doused with the deadly chemical 'About Orange". There was nothing he could do to keep the nerve-killing 'pesticide' off of his arms, neck and face. Nothing.

This brave man who refused to kill others in the name of war was exposed to Agent Orange and over the years that followed that 1960-70's nightmare, the silent but destructive chemical wrecked havoc on his body and was, in the end, victorious in its efforts to destroy his nervous system.

Michael did have other health complications in his life and, as a musician, had a hard, smoky bar room type of lifestyle that had included drugs and alcohol. But it was the germ warfare of a fight he objected to that took its final toll on him.

He died October 14 this year clean and sober - and in a tremendous amount of personal and physical pain. I sure miss him.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Fading Light of Summer

Here in California we are still having summer weather. The hot dog days of Indian Summer that pretty much define September are still making their way into October. It's the shortening of the daylight hours that tell me summer is over. Night walks after dinner with the dog are now dark.
Still I know it's time to put summer away. So I think I'll share a few summer memories to close out the season.

== Tomales Beach: It's a beautiful place. Clean sands and friendly people from all over populate the expansive shoreline.
== BBQ dinners: Had lots of them this year.
== Late nights: Something about long days that keep us from going to bed early even though we still had to get up at the regular time in the morning.
== Relaxed mornings: Didn't need to get up with our daughter on school mornings. We lingered more over our morning coffee. Our daughter, of course, slept until 11 every day.
== Community garden tomatoes and sunflowers. It's not summer without the sunflowers!

My own memories were inspired by what the folks at Growing Bolder did. Growing Bolder staff and friends chimed in about their summer memories; some of which go back many years.

Take a few minutes to read what they wrote. They could inspire you, too!

After all, when the light is out all we've got to remind us are the memories. I hope you have some great ones!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Laura Ingersoll Secord- A Canadian Folk Heroine

We know in theory that every struggle has two sides and that it takes more than one person to win a war. However, one person can be quite instrumental in turning the tides of defeat and victory.

Here is an account by writer Cathryn Wellner who writes here about Laura Ingersoll Secord, a Canadian folk heroine whose valor and dedication is central to the Canadian version of who won the War of 1812.

Her thoughtful and well-written Cross-border perspectives about both sides of North America's 49th Parallel can often bridge two world views. Such is the case in this guest post; this introduction to another version of the War of 1812 reminds me that the folk stories I have heard about the event are not the only ones and that not all folk stories share the same message.

Cathryn's appreciation for the geographics of her own life is unique. Accessible and personal, they take us into the 'living room' of her life (not to mention the 34th home she has lived in) where her folk tales - life stories - preserve small and large moments alike that we all can relate to.

Here is what she has written about Laura Ingersoll Secord:

Growing up on the American side of the 49th parallel, I had Martha Washington, Betsy Ross, and Sacajawea in my small Pantheon of folk heroines. I can’t recall any woman who figured prominently in the history I learned about the War of 1812.

That was the year we Americans shocked the world by declaring war on Britain.

The Brits were busy fighting Napoleon. The Americans were busy making plans to take over the parts of the American continent still in crown hands. That included Upper Canada.

That’s where histories on each side of the 49th parallel differ. In my schoolbooks, the War of 1812 was a glorious victory. We kicked the powerful British out of the United States.

When I moved to Canada in 1990, I was shocked to learn Canadians see the War of 1812 as a coup. A fledgling nation whipped the Americans and sent them packing, permanently, outside the boundaries of Canada.

And Laura Ingersoll Secord is the symbol of that victory. Granted, she was only one factor in a larger story, but a folk account condenses a larger history into a manageable package, one that conveys something of a nation’s character.

From south of the 49th parallel, Laura could be viewed as a traitor. The only reason she isn’t is that we don’t grow up hearing about her. She was born American, but her father sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. From his perspective, the wrong side won so he moved the family to Upper Canada.

Growing up in Upper Canada, Laura had no particular reason to be sympathetic to Americans. She married a United Empire Loyalist, James Secord, who was wounded in the first major battle of the War of 1812, the Battle of Queenston Heights. He was still recovering on the day that marks Laura’s entry into the folk history of Canada.

American soldiers had taken over the Secord home. They had no reason to pay attention to the woman who cooked and cleaned for them. Laura plied them with alcohol and quietly, unobtrusively listened to their plans.

Colonel Boerstler was bragging about the upcoming victory. His troops would surprise Lt. Fitzgibbons, whose garrison was at Beaver Dams. Once they won that battle, they would easily take control of the Niagara peninsula.

Early on the morning of June 22, 1813, the 40-year-old mother of five slipped out of the house and walked 20 miles to warn Lt. Fitzgibbon. Challenged by Mohawk warriors along the way, she managed to convey her message and gain their escort.

When Colonel Boerstler attacked, the small British force and their larger contingent of Mohawk allies were ready. The Americans were soundly defeated, with all but six of them taken prisoner.

At least, that’s one of the stories. No one questions Laura’s having warned Lt. Fitzgibbon, but even her account varied during her life. Some argue he already knew of the attack before she arrived. Later accounts have added all kinds of embellishments.

The actual details are less important than the symbolic meaning. Laura Ingersoll Secord entered the folk canon of Canada because she represents something fundamental in the nation’s psyche: its unique identity vis-à-vis its more powerful southern neighbour.

In his 1981 book, Flames Across the Border, Pierre Berton described the incident this way: "Laura's story will be used to underline the growing myth that the War of 1812 was won by true-blue Canadians—in this case a brave Loyalist housewife who single-handedly saved the British Army from defeat"

For more about Laura Ingersoll Secord:

One of the best overviews, which examines both print and online resources, is Marsha Ann Tate’s “Looking for Laura Secord on the Web: Using a Famous Figure from the War of 1812 as a Model for Evaluating Historical Web Sites”

To catch the flavour of Canadians’ view of the incident, read the lyrics to “Secord’s Warning”, by the lively musical group, Tanglefoot. You can also download a clip from the song at

The last verse always rouses a cheer with Canadian folk music audiences:

“So all you Yankee soldier lads who dare to cross our border
Thinking to save us from ourselves
Usurping British order
There’s women and men Canadians all
Of every rank and station
To stand on guard and keep us free
From Yankee domination”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Timmy Time: Animated Animal Folktale

The world of animal folklore has really opened up in recent years. Thanks to animation we can watch lions, chickens, chimps, pigs and cats navigate their worlds; overcoming obstacles while learning valuable lessons about how to treat one another and the planet.

I recently watched a very creative animated episode of Timmy Timecalled "Go Kart Timmy". The upcoming North American premier will include “Tidy Timmy” and “Timmy’s Plane,”” takes place September 13 on Playhouse Disney after the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally special.

Created by Aardman Animations of the UK, Timmy Time is designed for preschool audiences. The main character Timmy the lamb has, like all preschoolers, a lot to learn about social skills, such as being responsible and learning to play fairly with others.

Fast moving, the colorful show is based on the hit childrens' series Shaun the Sheep. It does a good job of capturing common elements of preschool life that are common to all children. Timmy and his barnyard friends must help clean up after doing an art project and they must share the play yard toys. But to do so requires teaching and training from adults about putting supplies away once you are done with them and taking turns so that everyone has a chance to play.

Timmy’s personality and his impulsive desires to just do only what he wants to do when he wants to do it get him into trouble. He isn’t interested in being responsible and he doesn’t want to be last in line when it comes time to learn how to drive the go kart. Fair enough, right? Almost everyone can relate to the impatience and the desire that over time must be developed into patience and self-control that do allow a lamb – or child – like Timmy to have it all.

This is the lesson we all must learn in order to get along with others and what better way to learn it than by watching a cute little lamb find out the hard way that he must pay attention and do as he is told so that he can have his cake and eat it , too?

The simple storytelling style is clever, very clever. There is no human dialogue which alleviates challenges of cultural differences. I believe this underscores the universal nature of "what is important" when it comes to interacting with the world we all live in. In the freedom from verbal interpretation, we are allowed to experience the "other" senses. We observe the character’s expressive animation, gestures and reactions to the situations he finds himself. Through this we experience, as he does, the ease that occurs when he finally learns to do the right thing.

This show – a work of contemporary folklore - is perfect for any language, any culture because it is based upon core human (and animal) values of respect for self, others and property.

To find your local television listing, visit

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pomegranate Blessings At Rosh Hashanah

Pomegranates are one of the symbolic foods found on Jewish tables during Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). As with other foods it conveys a special message. Namely that the new year be fruitful.

May your joys be as plentiful as the seeds in a pomegranate!

Interestingly, the pomegranate is also popular because it was believed that it contained exactly 613 seeds and 613 is the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah (teachings.span>

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree. Native to the Iranian Plateau, it is also found in other regions, like the southern Mediterranean, Sahara and Arabic peninsula.

The flowers of the pomegranate tree are bright red and the edible fruit is a berry a bit larger than a lemon in size. There are approximately 600 seeds in each berry. Drought-tolerant, the tree can be grown in dry areas with either a Mediterranean winter rainfall climate or in summer rainfall climates.

As well as being a sign of abundance, the fruit is also prominent in India's Ayurvedic medicine chest. For thousands of years it has been a source of traditional remedies.

For example, the rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree is used as a traditional remedy against diarrhea, and dysentery. The seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart and throat. The astringent qualities of the flower juice, rind and tree bark are considered valuable for a variety of purposes including use as eyedrops as it is believed to slow the development of cataracts.

It's imagery goes back to the ancient coins of Judea. As a holy symbol, the pomegranate is believed by some Jewish scholars to be the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden.It is mentioned in the Bible many times, including in the Songs of Solomon:

"Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks." - Song of Solomon 4:3.

This fruit has found its way around the world, from the Middle East to the Mediterranean to Asia and America. Prized for its sweet seeds and delicious juice, it will continue to be a treasured fruit and no doubt will continue to be a source of blessings for years to come.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vote for North American Folktales Picture Books

This August Goodreads' Picture-Book Club selected nominees for their August North American Folktale Theme competition.

The nominees are:
== Snowbear Whittington: An Appalachian Beauty and the Beast
== The Flying Canoe
== Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp
== The First Strawberries
== The Girl Who Spun Gold
Alternate/Optional Reads:
== Swamp Angel
== Borreguita and the Coyote

The club provides a discussion platform for those interested in childrens' literature; from picture-books to juvenile fiction, award-winners, and overlooked gems.

So if you want to cast your vote or if you're just looking around for some reading materials for children, be sure to join the Goodreads' conversation

Goodreads also offers readers and writers alike the following:
* Great book recommendations from people you know.
* Keeping track of what you've read and what you'd like to read.
* Forming book clubs, answering book trivia, collecting your favorite quotes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Balladeer Faces Death

Balladeer Michael Hills plays folk/country western music. His work is kindred to that of Woody Guthrie. He told me recently that such music is the poor white man’s blues.

With one solid Top Ten hit (Matchbooks and Phone Numbers) to his credit he has always found his greatest joy in music.

Composing lyrics for his six or twelve string guitar brings him great relief as well as pleasure. Throughout his life, he has always kept returning to the homey comfort of melodies that rock him gently and the socio-political message of ballads that once helped to shape this nation. It was a country whose wars he has always despised; from the homeless street urchin phase of his youth to his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War he hated wars and the havoc they wreaked upon others.

His efforts to resist the draft found him a medic on the front lines where he salvaged what body parts he could and, like the rest of his unit, was doused repeatedly in the deadly mists of Agent Orange.

His ‘Purple Heart’ body absorbed it all; the nerve-destroying chemicals, the endless landscape of broken bodies, some of which would never be healed, and the absurdity of fighting an endless war that many today realize was ‘unjust.’

Death is on its way to Michael now. The debilitating Agent Orange is staking its final claims upon him.

At 62 years old, he tells me today he’s got six months to leave (according to his doctor)…but maybe he’s got less time than that. Because he’s not going to wait until he’s blind and deaf; until he is catatonic and incapable of being alive. He distinguishes between this and ‘just living.’

Not one to wait around idle while death plays its fiddle – one of Michael’s most favorite instruments – he’s got plans; musical plans that include regular Saturday night gigs at Bill’s Pizza Shack in Prescott, Arizona and keeping his own instruments in top shape so that when Death comes, he’ll be ready to join the band.

Now, this is the Michael I know; have known for the past 28 years. This is the Michael whose gallant efforts and integrity – even in the end - I applaud.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Family Reunions: Living History

Today's TALK OF THE NATION (NPR Radio) covered the upcoming 85th Quander Family Reunion.

What's remarkable about this particular reunion is this:

The Quander family, one of the oldest and largest black families in America, celebrates its 85th reunion this year. They'll convene at Mount Vernon, where the first Quanders were held as slaves.

I was impressed with how this family has organized itself into a folkloric machine, complete with its own non-profit historical society. The Quander Quality is devoted to preserving the family legacy that began on this continent in slavery. The society also strives to keep the family together by coordinating reunions like the one they have planned this year.

Throughout the radio interview, callers also chimed in about their family stories, each of them as unique as the caller and reminded me of my last family reunion.

95 members of the Pizante-Abouaf family took a Mexican cruise in 2008. Family from as far away as Greece were on the ship that, at times, it felt like we owned. Jokingly, I suggested that there were enough of us on the ship to redirect the boat to Rhodes which was once the heart of our family tree. Well, maybe the branches.

Our family were Spanish Jews (Sephardim) who had been forced to leave Spain during the inquisition. With relatives all over the world (thanks to the diaspora) the strain that ended up in Rhodes included my grandfather who arrived in this country in 1917. He paved the way for his brothers and then for his wife and her brothers to find a new life north of San Francisco.

Raphael Pizante's name is on the wall at Ellis Island as it that of his wife Fortunee Abouaf (Pizante). Fortunately for me, most of the Pizante and Abouaf siblings who immigrated lived near one another in Vallejo which was one a thriving port of call. A few siblings found their way to other parts of the country; cities where the Sephardic community still gather together. Those cities include Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

In the mobile nature of our fast-paced American society, we are spred out. Cousins I visited weekly now live up to 8 hours away from me by car. My own siblings live anywhere from 1 to 9 hours away and each of us live such full lives that we rarely see one another. The larger family is even harder to get together. We try every five years or so to have a reunion the one we had on the cruise ship. We select different locations and activities and price points so that everyone has an opportunity to participate.

But I am inspired by the NPR show I heard today. The Quander family is looking towards its 100th Family Reunion. Their story made me away of mine: in seven years our family will have been in this country 100 years!

Looks like it's time to start working on our next one. In the meantime, congratulations to the Quander's family and may they continue to prosper!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Frugality Doesn’t Always Pay

Folktales abound in my family. Just recently at a family barbecue my brother and I were sitting around with our nieces roasting marshmallows over the backyard fire pit. That evening we sank into telling family tales. We talked about our paternal grandparents and that led to Ralph's retelling various folktales about his sojourns to Wyoming where they lived. Here is one such story and it succinctly conveys what can happen when one is too frugal.

Fresh out of high school Ralph and our family friend Tim they took off in Ralph’s convertible for Wyoming where we had family they would stay with. For those who don’t know, Wyoming is an outdoors man's paradise. Fishing and hunting are among the more popular outdoor activities and both Ralph and Tim were hoping to catch enough trout for themselves and our grandparents to enjoy the next morning for breakfast.

In order to fish, however, a fishing license is required and at the time in Wyoming there two types of licenses: one for residents and one for non-residents. The resident license fee was, at the time, $1. The non-resident fee was $3. My brother purchased the non-resident license and Tim, eager to save money whenever he could, decided he would get the resident license and save himself a few dollars.

It took only a short period of time for the park ranger to make his way to the young men who were just settling into their day of fishing. He asked for their fishing licenses and for some form of picture identification. Ralph whipped out his driver’s license and so did Tim. Unfortunately, Tim's California picture identification did not match his resident fishing license so off he went to jail.

Bail was set at $60. Tim ended up losing much more money than he thought he would be saving by getting the resident fishing license. I don’t think he ever did something like that again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Carry Out Kindness

Get Ready Everyone! The Carry Out Kindness project will be launched on August 1, 2010.
This creative project is the brainchild of feng shui mentor Katherine Metz and the feng shui practitioners she works with.

Katherine (Art of Placement)practices feng shui with an eye for beauty,a spirit for healing,and a bit of uncommon sense.

She is a remarkable woman on so many levels and one day will no doubt become the topic of a folktale. For now, the folktale is the Carry Out Kindness project that I've had the good fortune to become part of.

Here is a brief Q&A to give you an idea of what this international kindness wave is all about.

What is Carry Out Kindness?

It’s just one way to encourage kind words and actions, because we know that kindness works—everywhere! It’s a traveling pink sticker reminding each one of us to smile and pass it on. It’s just that simple.

How did this project get started?

The kindness project is our response to the answer to a question. “How do we survive this economic crisis?” The answer, from a master, was to perform one good deed every day.” So, we took his words to heart and decided to encourage acts of kindness around the world.

What do you hope to accomplish?

An August filled with kindness—kindness that overflows the boundary of both the 31 days and the sticker’s place of origin.

What’s the relationship between kindness and Feng Shui?

This work grabs hold and won’t let go. Hearts and minds open, and we find another world breathing in us. At the heart of every method and adjustment is the notion of change. Change your mind, change your circumstance, simply allow for change. And, suddenly, there’s room for kindness.

What’s your relationship to Feng Shui?

For the past 24 years I have chronicled the pure teachings of His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Lin Yun. I have passed them on as a mentor to Feng Shui practitioners around the world. As both a teacher and consultant, I continue to introduce this ancient art and science into mainstream western culture.

How can others participate in this project?

Visit us at Look for a vendor in your community and go get yourself a kindness sticker. Take it with you and place it somewhere to create a zone of kindness. Take a picture, send a tweet, and let us know what happens. Be bold. Be courageous. Take kindness to the streets.

Or, you can order kindness stickers of your own and participate as a vendor. We will create a link to your business under Keepers of Kindness.

The beauty of this project is that anyone can participate at any level. What fun!!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fourth of July: Romantic Sparks

My husband David and I met 20 years ago at a Fourth of July BBQ potluck. The casual potluck was held at my house in Cotati and I had invited a handful of friends to come spend the afternoon with me. Among those invited were my friends David T and Susan P. David T was a colleague of mine at the Marin Independent Journal newspaper. We both worked in the production department building ads that were one of the daily newspaper’s staples. David and I had been friends about 3 years at the time and had enjoyed countless conversations and moments of camaraderie while supporting one another in our writing and romantic relationship categories.

David T asked if he could bring his friend David Gonzalez to the potluck as the two of them had been near Vacaville that morning celebrating David T’s daughter’s birthday.

Sure, I said. Why not?

While friends tricked in and out all afternoon, it was my friend David T, his friend David and my friend Susan who basically spent the afternoon together.

I was smitten right away by David Gonzalez’s big brown eyes and wanted instantly to melt beneath their powerful gaze. But I didn’t… I’d learned not to rush into relationships; especially those that carried such a magnetic pull.

It took David T about 6 weeks of off and one delicate suggestions that David Gonzalez and I should go out on a date for me to finally agree. I wasn’t looking for any romance and yet I was drawn to David Gonzalez. I finally agreed to meet him at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire… and haven’t looked back since then.

David T and Susan P also made a connection that day that would lead to the start of their marriage, too. That 4th of July was very special for all four of us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Faith in Love Restored

One of the most common folklore motifs is love. Puppy love, unrequited love, lost love, and love reclaimed. The last is perhaps one of the most profoundest human experiences. Short of never losing sight of love, reclaiming the faith one has lost in it is something everyone hopes to experience in the course of their lives.

Here is a poem about that by Danielle Joy Linehart, author of From Deep Within: Bruised and Blind. Whomever she addresses this folk poem to must be a very special person.


I love you
What does that mean?
I am sorry
Does that mean it won’t happen again?
Something that I never knew
The day I met you
You showed me the meaning of “Us”
The meaning of a relationship
Thank you
For that special note
The dozen roses
The phone call just to say “I Miss You”
The support
Most of all
The love that you give me
Without you
I would never have gained back
The love that I once lost.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Festival is held outdoors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Smithsonian museums.

There are plenty of great activities planned. Here is a partial list of the evening music/dance concert highlights:

== Bhangra and Giddha: Folk Dances of Punjab
== Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos, Hamac Caziim, Grupo de Fandango de Artesa Los Quilamos
== A Tribute to Haiti featuring Boukman Eksperyans, with special guest Tines Salvant
== Halau Ho'omau, Hakka Association in Washington, Hakka TungFa Chorus of Greater Washington

There is no admission charge. Visitors should dress for hot and humid weather. Parking around the Mall is extremely limited, so visitors are advised to use Metrorail. The Smithsonian station (Mall exit) is at the Festival site. Federal Triangle and National Archives stations are close by. For general Smithsonian visitor information, call 202.633.1000 (voice) or 202.357.1729 (TTY).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Strawberry Folklore

Strawberries are a popular summer fruit. They share the season’s bounty basket with cherries, apples, pears, peaches and nectarines (and others). Ironically, though, the strawberry really isn’t a fruit. It’s a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) family. Most of us are more familiar with the Fragaria strawberry which has a perfumed flesh.

Even though it lacks a fruit card-carrying membership, it is anything but shy of foodlore!
Take its name, for example. The word strawberry is believed to have been derived from the words strewn berry because the berries were strewn among the leaves of the plants. Over time strewn berry became pronounced as strawberry (in much the same way that over time sparrow’s grass became known as asparagus).

During medieval times the strawberry was considered as a symbol of wealth and well-being. As a result they were a desired commodity.

Long considered by Europeans to be a beauty and health aid, folklore records note that in France the nobility used to bathe in strawberries to keep their skin glowing and clear. Many people today still use them for treating skin rashes and sun burn.

But true to the nature of folklore in which something like the strawberry can have different meanings to different cultures, the strawberry was considered hazardous in certain parts of South America.

The Seneca Indians linked strawberries to spring and rebirth because they were the year’s first fruit. As such they hold a special place in the culture and, therefore, bring good health.

And, of course, there are the Roman legends about strawberries. Most commonly, that when Adonis died, Venus wept tears that dropped to the earth and became heart shaped strawberries.

From growing to harvesting to preserving and presenting, strawberries certainly have, over the centuries, captured the minds and hearts of many people.

It’s pretty amazing to think that such a small fruit can hold so much foodlore. But consider this: food is an essential life ingredient and as a result has been the topic of many conversations and stories.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Pauper Child

Childhood experiences form the backbone of many folktales. This is when most of us learn life's important lessons. Unfortunately, not all lessons are happily learned because children can be cruel to one another.

In this poem and accompanying painting on the left, My Old Brown Shoes, Marion Witte, author of Little Madhouse on the Prairie (Angel Heart Publishing) shares with us the shame she experienced as a child who was looked down upon because of her hand-me-down clothing.

In an effort to overcome the pain, she sought her father's counsel. His words gave her comfort and, more importantly, a perspective about what is really important in life. In this case what she wore in her heart was more important than what she wore on her feet.

In fact this particular memory (folktale) shows us how she's been able to turn seemingly unbearable moments into learning opportunities that now help other children elsewhere. One such example is her Angel Heart Foundation which advocates for the rights of all children.

Perhaps one day someone will write a folktale about her!

My Old Brown Shoes

A girl in my class, at my school
Saw my shoes had a little tear
She said they looked like something that
A hobo bum would wear

Another boy joined in with her
Together they laughed at me
Children can sometimes be so cruel
My hurt they did not see

I cried that night, I was so sad
Embarrassed and ashamed
I wanted to dress like everyone else
For that I can’t be blamed

I asked my daddy for advice
For the pain I could not bear
He took a breath and smiled down
These words he then did share

“Your shoes may be a little tattered
And they are handed down
Yet they are strong, and they are clean
And we keep them polished brown”

“The shoes you wear, matter not
They will soon be thrown away
But the love you wear, in your little heart
Will last forever and a day”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Florida Folk Festival: History in the Making!

Folk festivals are one of the most common ways to keep folk traditions alive. From dance, to music to food and arts, these social gatherings celebrate the past AND they also celebrate the future because they keep introducing people to folkways that could otherwise fade with time.

Take for example the upcoming Florida Folk Festival. Held May 28 - 30, 2010, this three day celebration offers people a chance to see Florida's particular expressions of folklore.

From Irish fiddle tunes and kumquat pie, to the wide varieties of music brought by immigrants, the state’s cultural heritage - now celebrating it's 58th year - reflects the lives of generations of Florida families and communities old and new.

Folk artists and tradition-bearers presented each year in the Folklife Area reflect research and field documentation conducted by the Florida Department of State’s Folklife Program. The Folklife Area celebrates the diverse cultures of Alachua County, located in the heart of north central Florida.

Activities include:
==A peek into decades of families earning a living catching catfish in local lakes using trotlines more than 2,000 feet long through the master fishing fly and artificial bait makers who will be on hand to show visitors their crafts.
== Gainesville’s vibrant Indian community's performance arts (music and dance).
== Traditional Cracker cowboy buckskin whip making by master artist-apprentice teams from Okeechobee and Orlando.
== Cowboys demonstrating roping and conduct a public roping contest each day for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages.

For a complete list of activities and complete schedule visit their website.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Death, Dying and Afterlife: More Than Meets the Eye

More Than Meets the Eye
True Stories about Death, Dying and Afterlife
ISBN 0-9753870-6-5

In More Than Meets the Eye, published by Write On! Publishing, author Yvonne Perry explores one of life’s greatest mysteries: death.

She takes on the topic in an easy to follow format. In a little more than 150 pages she explores our cultural ideas about death and the dying process in order to bring us to some understandings about life here and in the hereafter.

Basically she suggests that life and death are on the same continuum. That death is as inevitable as birth and the choices we make between those two points will touch us in the afterlife which she refers to as part of the cycle.

“As it is in heaven so it is on earth and vice-versa. Birth, death and rebirth are simply part of a cycle similar to the seasons of our earth. There are seasons for planting, growing, waiting, harvesting, fading and resurrection,” she writes in the book’s Conclusion.

Her thinking is similar to that exhibited in Einstein’s famous E=MC2. Namely that energy can never be created or destroyed. It is always in a state of becoming. She writes: "Energy replaces energy whether we see it or not. Death may seem like a dormant season, but it is far from it.”

The goal of the book is to celebrate the choices we have in life AND in death. Neither, she suggests, is to be feared.

“I can remember sitting in the back of the church and listening to the preacher talk about Heaven. If Heaven is so wonderful, I reasoned in my young mind, why are people so sad when someone dies and goes there?” Perry writes.

Why indeed?

Perry, a graduate of American Institute of Holistic Theology has spent a great deal of time and thought on how death can be embraced as a natural process that leads to other realms of reality. Utilizing the stories of those who have either had near-death experiences and/or have had interactions with loved ones who have passed on, she shows the many facets of experiences that are possible for the living.

These true story interviews are, in a way, folktales about death. Personalized accounts they each reflect back to the reader someone’s unique experience of death and each of those experiences share similar elements. For example, in near death stories each person returns to the living to continue working on this level of existence for the greater good of all. Those who do not return, move through the veils between life and death and experience spiritual opportunities that the living can only dream about.

More Than Meets the Eye offers hope and guidance (including a sample Health Care Directive) for those who are preparing for a transition to the Afterlife, and the caregivers and/or family members who know them. It also provides insights into the life/death cycle that motivate us to take advantage of the opportunities we have to know and experience more than meets the eye.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Folktale About Friendship

Family folktales come out of our life experiences. Where we live, what we do with our lives (career, hobbies, etc.) and who we have relationships with are all of the stuff of these unique and personal folk stories. They reveal what is most important to us about our relationships with family and friends and can fall into many different categories, including lovers, enemies and friends.
Here is a folktale about friendship written by Dick Ingebritson of Minnesota.

Unanticipated Gold Mine: New Great Friendship

August 1957 found our family in Paris. Two wee folk, Liesbeth, age two, and Tim, age one, and my wife Truus. We flew to France as I had accepted a job as a teacher in a defense department school in Verdun, France.

Arriving at the army base, we were billeted in a small hotel in the center of town. Getting on in that limited setting was more than a challenge for Truus. The bathroom, very necessary for a family, one member still in diapers, was down the hall. The first day Truus noticed we were sharing the room with some rather frisky brown mice.

Enduring this for a week was enough. The housing officer gave us two adjoining rooms in the Bachelor’s Officer Quarters (BOQ). It was warm, clean and sunny and we were provided with a crib, and an electric roaster and frying pan with which to cook our foods. The only fridge was on the first floor and whenever my wife needed something from the fridge, she had to run downstairs. If she forgot to cough or announce her presence in some way, she was given a lesson in male anatomy in the hall for this was a gentleman’s building.

Eventually we were given a rather cozy upper condo. There was no central heat so we had to buy a stove and feed it regularly to keep warm. Our home away from home was cozy enough. We were the only ones who weren’t in the BOQ, so my colleagues found it more homelike to come see us and have a cup of some of some fluid or other. We had lots of company.

Teachers with initiative enough to find a teaching position in France were an interesting crew. So interesting were they that after fifty plus years, we still count some of them among our friends.

Top choice of the teaching staff who became lifelong friends were Pete and Nora Gonzalez from San Francisco. Can’t recall our first meeting but the chemistry was right from the beginning. Impressed first was I with Pete’s indomitable optimism. Housing was less than desired, school faculties limited, administration inexperienced and an uncertainty about our acceptance by the French phased Pete not at all. Never was he without a smile. He had an infectious laugh and we were never certain his feet touched the ground, so easily did he move. To see him and Nora dance at the officer’s club was a treat for everyone.

As months rolled by our frequent coffees with Pete and Nora were the highlights of our week. Our kids were very fond of them. Liesbeth could not pronounce NORA but said NOWA. Still today she is NOWA!

One evening in our home, Nora, the quiet one with the very pleasant laugh, suggested we have a different sort of conversation. Her suggestion was that since we lived 2000 miles apart, the chances of seeing each other were perhaps remote. Since that was true, she suggested we be open and honest with each other. Her idea was the following:

that we very honestly tell each other what our first impression of each other was.

Exciting, exhilarating --- maybe. Her idea was followed by the suggestion that Truus and I could begin by recalling the first impression we had of them.

My impression of them was reached when Truus and I took turns running to eat at the officer’s club while the other babysat. Often I would see Pete and Nora enter the officer’s club to eat. I didn’t enjoy eating by myself but I lacked the courage to ask to join them. They seemed so sophisticated and austere. I hesitated to approach them.

As part of this experiment suggested by Nora, I told them what my first impression of them was. Reaction: (a) surely I was joking, (b) disbelief! No way they thought would they give them impression. I assured them that, indeed, was my observation.

We moved to questions “Does anyone realize what impression they give?” “Do most people think of the impression they give?” “Do most people care what impression they give?” “If you don’t care for the impression you give, can you change it?”

Conversations such as this have been our fare these sixty years since that initial year in France.

Pete and Nora have raised two fine young men; have three grandchildren and have visited us several times. We, with our family, have also visited them. Pete left us last year after a gallant struggle with coronary problems. Twice have we seen Nora since then and that will continue.

That open forthright conversation suggested by Nora in Verdun perhaps cemented our relationship. Be great had we more similar relationships.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Family Folktales - Write Your Own!

Family folktales- every family’s got ‘em!
Family Folktales: Write Your Own
6:30-7:30 pm, Wednesdays, May 12 & 19 Or 10am-12:15pm Saturday, May 15
Conference Room, Rohnert Park Community Center, 5401 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park
$32 residents/$39 non-residents
Fee includes Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook

Family heroes, prized heirlooms, and memorable gatherings are among the many folktale themes participants will write about in the upcoming Family Folktales: Write Your Own! workshop. The first session will be held 6:30-7:30 pm on May 12 and 19. The second session will be offered from 10am to 12:15pm on May 15. Both classes will be held at the Rohnert Park Community Center Conference Room at 5401 Snyder Lane.

The workshop which provides useful information about how to turn family stories into family folktales is for all levels of writers. The course will include an introduction to folktale motifs and in-class writing exercises designed to generate easy-to-write folktales.

Participants will receive a copy of the 122-page Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook. Written by workshop facilitator Karen Pierce Gonzalez it was published by Folkheart Press (2009) and provides folktale guidelines, sample folktales and information about folktale podcasts and scrapbooking techniques as well as other creative resources for preserving folktales.

Karen Pierce Gonzalez is a member of the Western States Folklore Society and earned her degree in Anthropological Linguistics/Folklore from Sonoma State University. She has been facilitating writing workshops for many years and has earned several fiction and non-fiction awards, including Farmhouse Magazine’s Editor Choice Award and nomination for the Pushcart Prize in short stories.

She is currently at work on Folktales You Can Eat, a collection of food related folktales and foodlore.

Registration fee for the workshop is $32 Rohnert Park residents, $39 non-residents. For more information, call 707-792-5476 or 707-792-4376. Wheelchair accessible.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Folktales On "Coffee Street"

This week I sat at a black wrought iron bistro table. It was one of many on the pebbled sidewalk of “Coffee Street”. One city-block long, the street boasts several national chain coffee shops attached to brand name bookstores that now replace what used to be independently owned establishments.

Now, as back then, the early April sun was generous. Coffee drinkers, like sunflowers, sat outside turning their faces to the warm light. They basked in its summer-is-coming promise.

At the table next to me were two older, retired men who were reminiscing about their respective careers. While I was not eavesdropping, I was able to hear an occasional partial sentence. I was struck by how even just a phrase conjured up the start of a folktale.

For example:
“When I was in Nigeria we didn’t worry about that…” said the light-haired man.

Worried about what I wanted to know. What was going on at the time that would have caused worry and how was that worry handled?

Ever on the lookout for living folktales, I was tempted to lean over and tell them to preserve the folktales they were telling one another. Concerned about appearing to be nosey, I said nothing. Instead I wondered whether or not they even knew they were telling each other folktales.

Most people don’t.

That’s the rub for me. Especially when it takes literally only minutes at a time to preserve a folktale that can be shared with others long after we are no longer around to do the telling ourselves.

Either one of those men could have jotted down bullet points about what they were sharing. At a later time they could have gone back to those bullet points and flushed them out into a sentence or two… maybe even three. And that would have constituted a folktale their families and friends could have enjoyed for years to come.

It’s really that simple. So the next time you find yourself telling others about a special place, thing or relationship in your life, try to find a few moments afterwards to jot down a few notes about that folktale-in-the-making.

You (and others) will be glad you did!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Egg Trick in Spring (and Fall)

My friend Michael North recently shared this great Egg Trick story. It has become a family folktale that Michael says continues to create wonder in friends and others.

For some it has become "the point of perpendicularity."

The egg trick:
Spring is big in my family. It goes back quite aways to our days in Salt Lake City, Utah, but nothing beats The Egg Trick story of 1956. It was a story my dad shared with me 20 years ago during my 30th birthday party. My dad was a rabble-rouser. He and several others didn't like their boss. One day the boss had enough and called a meeting.

The boss walked in fifteen minutes late or so and asked what the beef was. My dad and others griped awhile and he glanced at the clock and said..enough, you guys all think you can be me...then do this.

He took a egg from his pocket and set it on the table. It didn't fall over. It stayed straight up for over a minute and was greeted by open mouths, awe and total silence. He grabbed the egg, cracked it open and poured the raw contents in the trash and left.

That can only be done right at spring or fall and lasts usually for about one minute. This year it was 10:32 PDT March 21.
You can do the egg trick however you want – and can even use two eggs or more if you’d like - but know if you do, my Dad says 'hello'.

Michael says that you can set up eggs east to west and watch then fall like dominoes. He receives pictures of this every year from friends who have heard the story.
And, by the way, he said it also works in the fall!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wearing Green on St. Patrick's Day

When I was growing up, St. Patrick's Day was all about wearing green. Dashing off to school, my brother, sister and I would check to be sure that whatever green clothing or accessories we had selected to wear to the school that day were highly visible. Had to. It was more of a matter of self defense than anything else against those who took great pleasure in pinching anyone who was not wearing green.

According to some, the tradition of St. Patrick's Day which is rooted in Ireland before the 1600's, offered a 'reprise' from Lent, the forty day period of fasting that precedes Easter in the Catholic tradition. It was on this day that people could drink alcohol and indulge in a variety of merrymaking activities.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area many people - Irish or not - flock to the bars and saloons of San Francisco where they often bar hop until they can't hop anymore.

But I don't think that was the original plan for this Saint's day.

Patrick (AD 387–461)is the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain in the fifth century was a deacon in the Church like his father before him. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. In time he fled captivity and boarded a ship that returned him to England where he promptly became a priest.

A bishop in 432 he returned to Ireland to save the Irish, rich and poor alike.Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) to the Irish people.

Records show that in 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and in the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use Saint Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture.

Having no known Irish bones in my body, I easily accepted our PG rated Americanized version of St. Patrick's Day and happily wore something green to school. I looked forward to the delicious corned beef and cabbage my mother made that day each year. A first generation American from Rhodes (the Spanish Jewish quarter), she delighted in all American holidays regardless of their religious beginnings. So we celebrated St. Patrick's Day hoping the 'luck of the Irish' would shine down upon us!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dancing in Spring

Spring is here and it's popping up everywhere!
The weather of the Northern Hemisphere is enticing us to come out and play - even dance!

And what better time for a folk dance than now?

In fact around the world there are many folk dance festivals taking place. Here are a few that are happening here in the United States:

=Festival 2010 Kyklos International Folk Dancers in Portland Oregon.
= Salt Spring Island Folk Dance Festival in B.C. Canada
= Arcata International Folk Dance Festival 2010 in Bayside, California
= Israel Folkdance Festival in Boston, Mass.

Historically, folk dance require little if any professional training. A social function activity, it is linked to traditional music or music based on traditional music.

Anyone remember those western folk dance segments in physical education classes? It was the only time our all-girl class interacted with the boys. We gathered together in the multi-purpose room and dosy-dood with boys to the tune of the Walbash Cannon Ball. We all blushed as we were swung or were swinging our partners around.

I think it's interesting that those country folk dances always paired us up, girl/boy. And, as much as I hated to admit it, it was fun at the same time it was corny.

What's interesting is that no one ever told us that country dances and ballroom dances originated from folk dances. Apparently, over time the folk dances became more specific and refined.

Would it have mattered to me as a 7th grader? Probably not.

Sometimes folk dance does make it to the stage for public performance purposes. But in that case it is choreographed for specific results. I'm thinking specifically of what you might see in a musical like OKLAHOMA.

People familiar with folk dancing can often determine what country a dance is from even if they have not seen that particular dance before. Some countries' dances have features that are unique to that country, although neighboring countries sometimes have similar features. For example, the German and Austrian schuhplattling dance consists of slapping the body and shoes in a fixed pattern, a feature that few other countries' dances have.

Folk dances sometimes evolved long before current political boundaries, so that certain dances are shared by several countries. For example, some Serbian, Bulgarian, and Croatian dances share the same or similar dances, and sometimes even use the same name and music for those dances.

I've noticed a resurgence lately of ethnic folk dance groups and classes at community centers and colleges. Mostly, though, its the older crowd who takes the time to attend. The dance is easy without being heavily aerobic. And because it's non-professional it's okay to mess up every now and then.

For the young teens who must still face a section of folk dance there are the now-common Greek, Israeli or Middle Eastern dances. Or maybe something from the Slavic region that didn't require any real one-to-one contact. All the students have to do is stand in a circle holding hands; managing all the while to keep their eyes on the ground just ahead of them.

Now that's my kind of dance!