January 17, 2017

Teacher Stories 5: Capturing those aha moments

Today, I am sharing Angela Gorecki Hamilton's story. She teaches reading and math at Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island, New York. This is the fifth story in my series about teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the things that bring them joy. 

How did you decide to be a teacher or did you always want to be a teacher?

From an early age, I always enjoyed helping other kids with their homework. When I would babysit, we would play school. In high school, I wound up tutoring some of my friends. It was nice to have somebody coming to me for help and support, and they knew that I would help them through it step by step, if they needed without any judgment. If I wasn’t a teacher, I would probably have been a marine biologist since I love the ocean and marine animals, especially dolphins. I would have worked to teach children about ocean life and ways that we can help the environment.

How long have you taught at Huth Road Elementary School?

I have worked here at Huth since 2009. I’ve mostly been teaching AIS reading and math.

What else have you taught?

I’ve also taught fifth grade and second grade (twice). I really enjoy seeing the changes in students from the beginning to the end of the year, especially with their reading skills and with what they can now do. When they have that small success and have that aha moment, it is good to be there and see their faces light up when they get something, especially if they have been struggling with it.

Where did you go to school?

I went to SUNY Fredonia for my undergraduate degree and I have a concentration in earth science. I love when I get to help the classes, especially fifth grade, when they work on their geology units. I always used to find cool rocks and fossils when I was little so I wanted to learn more about that. It fascinated me and that is how I got into geology. I even have my own collection of gems and minerals. When I was in Fredonia, we went to Canada and we went on a geological dig. I found some really interesting samples of rocks, and I was able to bring many of them back with me. My college roommate teased me about that and filling up our room with rocks. I took many other science classes while in Fredonia so I am interested in ecology, biology, chemistry, and physics as well. I stayed at Fredonia and I got my master’s degree in literacy. I was able to work with first graders and fifth graders while I was pursuing my master’s degree so I was able to see the full spectrum of skills and abilities that different age students possess.

How can parents support their kids as readers?

The best thing that I could tell parents to do to support their kids as readers is to read with their child every night. It doesn’t matter if the child is reading to you or if you are reading to them. Sometimes parents don’t have the time to sit down and listen to their child read every day, so touching base with them and asking questions about what they are currently reading is also so very helpful. Having your child see you as an adult participate in reading is also really important. Showing kids that you as a parent enjoy reading is so beneficial. I would tell parents to have students focus on reading books at their level but to still let them read books that are too easy or hard if they want a challenge or want to remember a favorite book from when they were younger.

How can parents help reinforce math skills?

It’s so crucial that students are practicing their math facts every night, whether it be with flash cards, iPad apps, or doing things like ExtraMath or IXL (a computer program that students can go on to practice certain targeted skills). Students have their own accounts and can log in to practice current skills and can even practice skills from the prior year if they need some extra help. I like to teach the students that I work with tips and tricks for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. I even use Mrs. Horrigan’s multiplication song! I’m trying to get them to remember those facts, no matter what.

What is your typical day like?
My typical day is a little different this year than it has been in years past. I push in to Ms. Burczynski’s room every single morning to work with the class on a reading skill or strategy. Sometimes, we do whole group lessons and, other times, we break up into small guided reading groups. After that, I work with Mrs. Lipp’s class, where I push in during a mini-lesson and pull students aside to reinforce the skills and strategies from the mini lesson that we did as a whole group.

After that, I am back in my room for the rest of the day, where I see a mixture of reading groups and math groups. This year, the reading groups that come to me are mostly fifth graders as well as one third grade group. I teach fifth grade math, as well.  For students that need a little extra help in math, I pre-teach and reteach math concepts from the classroom. Many of my math students seem very appreciative for the extra help and often find that it’s a little easier for them, once they are getting the lesson a second time around. I touch base with all of the classroom teachers that I work with in order to make sure that I am using similar vocabulary and strategies to bridge between their classroom and my room for both reading and math.

(Interviewer’s note: terminology: Pushing in: I stay in the classroom to support the students and teacher with reinforcing specific skills from that day’s lesson. Pull out: Take kids back to my room in order to work with them on specific skills and strategies in a small group setting.)

Are you in charge of any afterschool groups?

I am! Currently I am the advisor for third grade book club after school. We meet every Thursday throughout the school year. Last week was the beginning of Session B. I do three rounds of book club since there are usually a lot of students who want to participate. Students read fiction and nonfiction books at home every week and then come to book club on Thursdays to discuss the books and complete fun activities. We even share a snack and drink while we are discussing our books!

When you aren’t at school, what do you enjoy doing?

I love reading! I try to read a lot of children’s books. I think that it is important so that I can offer book recommendations to my students and also relate to things that they are reading. I also like reading Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult books for fun. I like taking my dog Cooper for walks with my husband Brian. We recently moved to Grand Island so I’m enjoying getting completely settled in my new house. I love taking pictures. You can usually find me with my camera phone or camera, taking pictures of things outdoors. I take lots of pictures! I also love cheering on the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, even though this year hasn’t had a lot to always cheer about. 

January 16, 2017

light vs. darkness

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
--the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1957)

Today is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. It is a day of service and a day to remember a man who made a big difference in this world through his words and his actions. He confronted the scourge of racism in the United States with eloquence and faith. He put his body on the line, being arrested 29 times for civil disobedience actions. He had a dream for a better, kinder society where people would be judged on their characters, not on the color of their skin. His message of hope and faith was not always well received. He was murdered in 1968, when he was just 39 years old. Unfortunately, our society has not realized the Rev. King's dream. Racism is still a cancer that is eating our society alive. What better way to honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., than to confront, challenge, and end the nightmare of racism? I share the above image because I feel that it symbolizes the lightness and love that the Rev. Martin Luther King talked about.

January 15, 2017

Caption contest winners

Last Sunday, I announced a photo caption contest by saying:

"It's time for some audience participation sort of fun in this blog. I have posted two pictures below. Your task is to make up captions for the pictures. They can be serious, silly, poetic, or anything that you like. Use your imagination, and have fun. Just make sure to enter because my captions (picture number one and picture number two) are kind of lame. Next week, I will share the results of the contest."

I read over the entries and loved them all. But I had to choose one winner for each picture. The winning photo captions are beneath the photographs.

I will share all entries in an upcoming comments and conversations post.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest. I hope that you had a good time and I may do this again some time.

The fish was this big but it got away! (Ellen E.)
And darkness fell from the light (Rose)

Have a great week! Tomorrow, I will post something about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and, on Tuesday, I will share a teacher story! Please come back and visit again!

January 14, 2017

52 week photography project: the vibrant life photograph

Note: On January first, I started a new photography project. I will take at least one photograph a day for the entire year, following a program called the 52-week photography challenge for 2017. It is being organized by Dogwood Photography, located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Dogwood Photography operates a photography school in Wilmington and it runs online photography challenges. There are weekly assignments in three categories: story telling, technical, and artistic impression.

Today is the second in a series of 52 updates of the project. The challenge for the week was "straight out of the camera." The category is "technical." Instructions: No photoshop. Shoot a compelling image and post it without edits. No cheating!  (Be sure and save the image file for the end of the challenge.)

Church was really busy on Sunday, with four baptisms. There were so many people! Then I found out that there was also a lovely young golden retriever puppy. She's in training to be an autism companion dog. This picture just made me really happy, so I gave it the title "the vibrant life photograph." Father Earle King has that magic touch with babies and small children. If they are crying and fussing, he puts his arms out, even if he's in the middle of a sermon. The little one stops crying and fussing and starts smiling.

Come back next Saturday for the week three image(s).

January 13, 2017

Creating the photo essay

Today's topic recommendation from the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is process. How do you do what you do? Share the process. Today, I will talk about the process of creating a photo essay.

Here are my steps:

1. choose the topic
2. schedule for a day when there's plenty of free time for the outing.
3. make sure that the camera ready, and remember to pack spare battery. Make sure that the spare battery is fully charged. It is too annoying to be in the middle of happy picture taking and suddenly discover that the battery is on the verge of an abrupt demise.
4. Plan for transportation. If you have a car or live in an area with good public transportation, you're all set. If you are like me and don't have a car or access to good public transportation, you'll either have to find a ride or just walk.
5. take loads of pictures, far more than are needed. You'll end by taking many bad pictures to get a few good, usable pictures. If the image looks interesting, go ahead and take the picture. Don't worry if it doesn't fit the story that you have in mind. The story could change so you may as well have the image, even if you never use it.
6. after the expedition, let it go for a little while, unless faced with a very tight deadline (as in newspaper work).
7. upload photographs to the computer.
8. edit the photographs, mainly for color balance and exposure. Crop to improve composition, paying attention to the rule of thirds (an off-center photograph is more dynamic than a picture that is completely symmetrical).
9. choose photographs for the photo essay.
10. write a story to go with the photographs.
11. edit the written story for grammar, spelling, and word flow.
12. fact check, if necessary.
13. publish, if it is a blog post. If it is an article for the newspaper, email the article and the photographs to the editor.
14. go have a cup of tea and celebrate a job well done.

January 12, 2017

Perception of beauty, part two: Eleanor Roosevelt's story

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. ~Roald Dahl

Yesterday, I wrote about ways in which you can feel beautiful. I talked a little bit about my own experience in learning how to feel beautiful.

Today, I am sharing a quotation from Roald Dahl about feeling and being beautiful. Beauty is more than physical appearance. It is attitude. As Roald Dahl said, ugly thoughts eventually show up on the face. People who think mean, unpleasant thoughts all of the time don't look very appealing or attractive.  Good thoughts, on the other hand, shine through faces that are otherwise considered unattractive.

One person who was considered physically unattractive was Eleanor Roosevelt. Her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, called her "plain" and referred to her as "granny," even though she was a young child.  Eleanor was very embarrassed by this. Although Eleanor Roosevelt came from a rich family, she had a very difficult childhood. Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, was an alcoholic. Despite the problems that the young Eleanor faced, she was very devoted to her parents.

She and her two brothers, Elliott and Hall, were sent to live with their maternal grandmother after Anna Hall Roosevelt died of diphtheria. Not long afterward, Eleanor's brother Elliott died of diphtheria. By 1894, when Eleanor was ten years old, she was an orphan.

Eleanor was raised by wealthy grandparents who did not really want her. She received little love and attention from them. In 1899, she was sent away to school in England, and that experience shaped her life. Her teacher and mentor, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, taught her history and politics. Eleanor learned to debate as she learned languages, history, and literature. She spent the summers traveling through Europe with her headmistress. She observed poverty and her heart was affected and her thought processes were informed by the things that she observed.

Through her life, Eleanor Roosevelt was committed to social service, justice, and human rights. She was opposed to racism at a time when it was seen as dangerous to speak out against racism. When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to permit contralto Marian Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall because she was black, Eleanor Roosevelt very publicly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was outspoken in her support of civil rights for black citizens, saying that there could be no democracy in the United States if it did not include democracy for black people. She called racism a "destroyer of freedom" and said that "democracy may grow or fade as we face this problem" (racism). Racism, unfortunately, continues, to this day, to be a serious problem in the United States.

Eleanor Roosevelt had many achievements in her life. She was a brilliant woman who believed in equal rights for all. Probably her greatest achievement was the International Declaration for Human Rights. She was the chairman of the Human Rights Commission and she introduced the declaration to the United Nations' general assembly. That document is still one of the greatest documents created on the issue of human rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt's attitude created a beauty that radiated out from her heart. The work that she did has helped improve the lives of countless people.  She truly had good thoughts that "radiated out of her face like sunbeams." 

For more information about Eleanor Roosevelt, take a look at this fascinating and well written biography:
link to a great biography about Eleanor Roosevelt

January 11, 2017

What makes you feel beautiful?

Note:  Today, I looked for a blogging prompt and I found this question on the SITS girls website for January 11th: "What makes you feel beautiful?"

I almost started looking for another blogging prompt. My appearance has been an issue for me for years. I was bullied in school and was told that I was too short and too ugly. Who could like a short, ugly girl who wore glasses? I did not feel good about being me. I have learned, from friends and from therapy, that I don't have to listen to the bullies in my head. When I learned how to draw human faces in art classes, I discovered that human beings are not ugly. Every person has interesting features, worthy of drawing and painting. Every person has beauty. That includes me. If no one is ugly, I could not possibly be ugly. Be gone, you old bullies! You don't pay rent to occupy space inside my head. You're fired... um... evicted!

So I realize that I can answer the question. What makes you feel beautiful? Here are some of the things that make me feel beautiful:

  • A new hairdo. I love my hairdresser. Her name is Jacquie, and she knows how to deal with my often unruly curls.
  • A massage. When someone is attending to the needs of my body, it makes me feel beautiful.
  • My dental hygienist. Her name is Cheryl. She does a fabulous job with my teeth. The dentist who checks my teeth once told me that I have "beautiful teeth." Well, who could not feel beautiful with teeth that a dentist admires?

  • a new adventure and learning new skills. It makes you feel beautiful because, when you enjoy something new, you have a radiant smile on your face, and that is a beautiful look.

  • Once again, this is the radiant smile concept.

  • Performing on stage. Putting on a costume and makeup and performing a skill that you've been practicing for months makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself, you radiate that feeling outward, and you feel beautiful.

  • Friends and dance partners. Who could feel ugly when having fun on a dance floor?

  • Oh, what the heck? Take a picture of yourself while you're standing on one leg. 
  • Last, but not least, the thing that makes me feel beautiful is my faith. God made all humans to be beautiful. God does not make junk!
What makes you feel beautiful?

January 10, 2017

Little Red Running Hood and the Orange Man

It's time for a fractured fairy tale. So I present you with my version of Little Red Riding Hood, known here as "Little Red Running Hood." I am bringing it into the 21st century, specifically 2017 North America.

Once upon a time, there was a young girl, named Marie, who liked to run. She was small but she had long legs and she was very fast. She had bright eyes, a cheerful grin, and she was very fond of her grandmother, who lived in a senior citizen apartment building. Her grandmother liked to go to the senior citizen center to play bingo and scrabble and to eat lunch with her bingo and scrabble mates. She especially loved Marie and was happy for her visits. She worried about Marie because she walked through the park to get to the senior citizen apartment building and she never wore a hat.

One day, Granny surprised Marie with a red jacket with a hood. It had a faux fur lining and was very warm, which was good because their community had long, cold winters, and chilly and rainy summers.

One day, Marie's mom asked her to bring a sack of goodies to Granny because Granny was not feeling well. She packed a bag with white wine, gouda, brie, sardines, and fancy little crackers. She warned Marie about the park. A scary and very large wolf had been spotted there. This wolf, it was said, wasn't really a wolf at all, but, instead, was some other creature disguised as a wolf. She warned Marie not to talk to anyone while she was walking through the park.

Marie agreed to be careful and she left the house. Before long, she had arrived at the bike path. She was happy to be outside and soon was skipping down the trail. The package, however, was starting to feel quite heavy. She set it down and rested under a tree.

A man with a dog walked up to her.

"Tired, young lady?" he asked.

She didn't respond because she remembered that the wolf could disguise itself as some other creature.

"Would you like some help? Where are you going?"

He seemed so kind and helpful but, oddly enough, looked familiar.

"I am going to bring goodies to my grandmother, who is sick," Marie said. "I must run."

"Oh, my," the man said. "You have quite the red hood. I am going to call you 'Little Red Running Hood.'"

"OK," Marie said. "Well, bye bye." She started running down the trail. When she grew bored of running, she skipped. She was so happy to run and skip on the trail that she did not notice that the strange man had left the trail and had disappeared from view.
The man's mask, which was one of several masks in his pocket, was making him uncomfortable and claustrophobic so, when no one was looking, he pulled it off and put it in his pocket. His face without the mask was close to being bright orange. He had artificial yellow hair that actually looked like it was growing out of his head, and his eyes were big and bulgy. The dog ran away at the sight of him. He cackled wickedly and then put the random man in the park mask back on his face because he was approaching the senior citizen apartment building and he didn't want Granny Dearest to recognize him.

"I'm going to make America gape again," he muttered to himself as he entered the building. He already had Granny investigated so he knew where she lived. 

Meanwhile, Marie had just emerged from the park and was walking down the street where Granny lived. Before long, she walked into the building. She swung the bag and nearly broke the wine bottle with her enthusiasm. She skipped toward the elevator, but noticed that the door was starting to close. She saw the man from the woods inside the elevator and thought that, perhaps, he was visiting a family member. She waited for the next elevator.

The orange man in disguise was fast. On the elevator, he removed the random man in the park mask and put on the Big Bad Wolf mask. The elevator arrived at the right floor and he walked rapidly toward Granny's apartment. He knocked on the door. She opened it and screamed. He tied her up, gagged her, and placed her in the closet. He stripped off of his clothes, tossing them on top of Granny. He then removed one of her housedresses and put it on, promptly ripping out the left side seam. He ripped it off and put on a pink sweatsuit, a granny mask, and a wig. Then he went to Granny's bed, lay down, and covered up. He was excited about the tasty young morsel that he was going to gobble up, much better than stringy old Granny.

"Who needs Granny? I will make America gape again," he cackled, just as Marie walked in to the room.

"Granny, are you sick? Why are you lying in bed?"

"I am old, very old. I am tired and weak. What is in your bag?"

Marie wondered why Granny was so interested in the bag. Granny always hugged and kissed her and gave her a snack and listened to her stories.

"Good things to eat and drink, Granny," she said, even though she wondered why Granny was acting different. Then she noticed Granny's hands. They were very large.

"My, how large your hands are!"

"The better to hug you with." Granny gave Marie a very strong bear hug, which nearly turned Marie into a two dimensional girl.

"My, how furry your face is, Granny!" Marie said, wondering why Granny's face felt as if it needed a shave.

"The better for you to stroke my face," said Fake Granny, who loved attention and who was having trouble faking love for this annoying child.

"My, how large your teeth are!"

"The better to eat you up with!"

Marie ran out of the bedroom, screaming, which gave Fake Granny a chance to leap out of bed. Fake Granny raced after the screaming child, picked her up, and dumped her into the closet, where she found her real grandmother. He was in such a hurry that he failed to tie her up and gag her.

"Who was that?" Marie asked her real grandmother, who couldn't say a word because she was gagged. "Oh," Marie said, and she untied Granny and removed the gag. Fortunately, Marie was a 21st century child, so she had a Smartphone in her pocket. She called for the police, who came before Fake Granny/Fake Big Bad Wolf managed to leave. He had been too busy gloating when the cops came and noticed that the Orange Man was in the apartment.

"Oh, Mr. President Elect," said one of the police officers. "We heard that there was a disturbance here. How is it that you came to our fair town without media attention?" The police officer stood at attention and saluted. The Orange Man decided that this would be a good time to pounce. A cop could be an even tastier morsel than a taste test sized child or a stringy old Granny. Just then, the other police officer showed up and removed the orange faced President Elect, who could have been as fake at being a president elect as he was at being a random man in the park, a wolf, and a granny. He was removed and was never seen or heard from again.

The end!

January 09, 2017

My insect (and arachnid) photography

Note:  The Ultimate Blogging Challenge is in its ninth day. In my email today, I got this message: "Let people in on your life with some photographs." I thought, that sounds good and I chose to share a bunch of pictures of insects and spiders with you. You're probably asking, "Why are insects and spiders the thing that you would choose as a way to let people in on your life?" That's a fair enough question.

I love to be outdoors as much as possible. When I am in the natural world, I feel that I am in my element. So I was grateful to get opportunities to learn more about that world that I love so much, via a Master Gardener class and a horticulture class. When I was in the Master Gardener class, I learned about many aspects of gardening, horticulture, botany, and entomology. We studied soil ecology and how to choose plants that grow in the soil type that we have in our gardens without having to amend the soil dramatically. I found everything about gardening to be fascinating. But the thing that I was most intrigued by was entomology. In the class, we had several sessions devoted to insects. One was a general discussion of entomology, one focused on garden pests, and the other one centered on bees. I learned that insects are numerous: 75 percent of the species in the animal kingdom are insects.

I love insects and spiders because they have many great qualities that I wish that I had.
  • they are strong. Ants, for example, can carry many times their own weight.
  • they know where to go. Monarch butterflies are the only butterflies to make a two way migration, traveling up to 3,000 miles. They travel between 50 and 100 miles per day.
  • they produce good stuff. Honeybees, of course, produce honey. Shellac is a resin produced by the female lac bug, in the forests of India and Thailand. Silk is produced by various types of silkworm, such as the mulberry silkworm, a caterpillar.
  • they provide us with food by pollinating many of our fruits and vegetables, such as apple and pear trees. 
  • They take good care of the soil. Some insects act as decomposers, turning dead organic matter into soil. That effectively creates compost. It makes the soil better.
  • spiderwebs are amazing! They are brilliant feats of engineering. Their construction is absolutely amazing.
I love entomology and I love art, too, so I have spent quite a bit of time photographing insects and spiders in gardens and on driveways or where ever else I could find them. Some of these photographs could end up by being reference shots for future paintings.

Below are the portraits of insects and spiders.


This is a garden spider. A garden spider is an orb weaver and is a very common spider in suburban and urban areas. It produces a symmetrical type of orb web.

This one could be either a marbled orb weaver or a shamrock spider. Both have round abdomens. They make spiraling webs.
This is a box elder bug, a North American species of true bug.
Bumblebees have round bodies covered with soft hair. They are related to honeybees. They feed on nectar and they are pollinators. They are very photogenic bees, as you will see below.

My question to you: What type of group of animals that live in your area do you like the best and why?

January 08, 2017

Introducing... alice's photo caption contest!

It's time for some audience participation sort of fun in this blog. I have posted two pictures below. Your task is to make up captions for the pictures. They can be serious, silly, poetic, or anything that you like. Use your imagination, and have fun. Just make sure to enter because my captions (picture number one and picture number two) are kind of lame. Next week, I will share the results of the contest. 

Please don't forget to post your captions in the comments section. The results will be in next Sunday's blog.
Picture number one

Picture number two

January 07, 2017

52-week photography project: A Bear's Adventure

Note: On Sunday, I started a new photography project. I will take at least one photograph a day for the entire year, following a program called the 52-week photography challenge for 2017. It is being organized by Dogwood Photography, located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Dogwood Photography operates a photography school in Wilmington and it runs online photography challenges. There are weekly assignments in three categories: story telling, technical, and artistic impression.

Today is the first in a series of 52 updates of the project. The challenge for this week was the rule of thirds and to use it as a story telling technique.

The "rule of thirds" is a composition technique in photography. The idea behind it is that, when the subject is off center, the picture is more interesting and it looks more natural than a picture in which the subject is placed in the middle of the picture. 

For more information about the rule of thirds, take a look at the link below:

Below are seven photographs of the same bear. I chose the bear as the model for the rule of thirds and I placed him in a different pose each day. 

January 1st: Here I am, a bear with magical, statistical, and mystical cats.

January 2nd: I'm ready to be served my meal now!

January 3rd: Shall we dance?

January 4th: Out to eat! Yay!!!

January 5th: Caught with my legs and my hands in a cookie jar.

January 6th: Reading the newspaper is such hard work! I'm so tired. I'll just sleep on top of the newspaper. 

January 7th: It's too cold to go to the park so I'll just imagine.

January 06, 2017

The story teller's story: Lorna MacDonald Czarnota

Today’s suggested topic in the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is to spotlight a person whom I admire or has helped me in my life. I am fortunate to have so many role models for my writing, my art, and for so much more. Today, I have chosen to spotlight Lorna MacDonald Czarnota. She is a storyteller, a writer, a singer, and a friend. She has given me so much support and so much encouragement, and I am very grateful to have Lorna in my world.

I spoke with Lorna today and asked her how she became a story teller. She told me that her road to storytelling was filled with twists and turns. Before she became a storyteller, she was fascinated by all things medieval and was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The Society is an organization that is devoted to studying and recreating medieval European history before the seventeenth century.

This is Lorna’s road to storytelling:

I was writing a lot of stories in the folktale and the fairy tale genre. You could call them fantasy with a folk tale and a fairy tale twist. I had written a lot of stories that addressed different issues that specific people faced. Their names and faces were disguised as character. I was sending the stories to a lot of publishers and was getting my fair share of rejections. I was very frustrated. In fact, I still haven’t published these stories.

On the day that I went to a medieval feast with the Society for Creative Anachronisms, I got a new rejection. I had a conversation with a nice young man. I told him that I was disappointed that I got rejected. He said, “Have you ever thought of telling the stories?”

It was 1985, ten years after the start of the storytelling movement in the United States. I had not heard anything of it. He said that story telling was important in the middle ages. There was the power of the spoken word. Most people could not read and were not allowed to be educated. Most were peasantry.

He recommended that I join a group called Spin a Story Tellers (a Western New York storytelling guild). I had never heard of them. That’s when I joined. In those early meetings, which were about courting new people, we were practicing our stories and honing our crafts. I was still working as an interior designer then. After my divorce, I became a teacher. But the pull of Story was so strong for me. I had a conflict. I had to commit to something. In the 1990s, I made a commitment, and became a full-time story teller. I decided to focus on the art that I believed I was called to do. I couldn’t deny it. It was that strong for me. There are very few people who are completely committed to that art.

There is power in the spoken word. Celtic folklore had the bard. The bard could make or break the king.The bard had freedom to travel.  Bards played many roles. They were teachers, news reporters,  and keepers of culture. They could walk onto the battlefield, and people would be afraid to harm them because they thought that the bards' power was magical. Bards could incite wars or bring about peace.

There is a modern day bard, too. I do many things under the umbrella of storytelling. First, the story has to be entertaining or no one will listen. Our work is important, as is the responsibility that goes with it. As a teacher, I had used stories for educational purposes and for behavior modification in middle schools and in classrooms for children with special needs. I write on the board: “I am Mrs. Czarnota, and I am a storyteller.” In 1995, when my niece ran away from home, I got into healing storytelling.

I got to a runaway shelter to tell stories for a lot of reasons. It gives the kids a moment of peace in their troubled worlds. I am always assessing what they need. They may need a story that shakes them up a bit and makes them think. They learn about issues through the characters and the characters’ choices. If I am in a program that is longer than a single visit, I give the kids a voice. They need to have their voices heard. At a girls’ transitional home, the goal was that I build each week on a curriculum for them to develop their stories. At the end, they do a presentation. Often, it is in the guise of artwork. A lot of kids can tell about their artwork. They end up by telling me about themselves. There is a wall between the adult and the youth world. This helps to break down the wall and to put a door in it. A lot of times, adults want something in return. This is given freely. I am there, simply to offer them something, without requiring anything in return.

When I went to Hopevale, I was there as a resident storyteller. I was working with kids who were receiving treatment for trauma. (Hopevale was a home for troubled teenagers in Hamburg, New York, that closed in 2010.)

I have used story for community building in the face of disaster. I haven’t done as much of it as I would like. I try to get my foot in the door to help. I wish that everyone could be healed and happy. I was brought in after the shootings at Virginia Tech (in 2007, twenty-three year old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, before taking his own life).  How does this help young children? We talked about the magic fish pond and about the creation of our world. That world can be a microcosm. It is the world that you live in and not always the world at large. We are building a world and the world is destroyed. We rise above that to create the world that we would like to see. What would you like to put into the world that you want to create? It all comes about by story.

As a storyteller, I realize the responsibility of my work and my actions. I realize that I lead by example, and that I have to be in a place between worlds to make that happen. I can’t choose sides, when I would like to. That is not my job. My job is to lead people through their lives. I realized that I never live without my work. Everything I see and do is potentially a story. That is true of everybody. We are living stories. That has helped me through difficult times that I’ve experienced on a personal level. I can take the experience and see the story structure and relate that to the stories that I know. 

January 05, 2017

Walking off stress

Today's suggested topic from the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is:

 What is a subject or activity you have a lot of knowledge around? If you were giving your one best tip to someone brand new to that subject or activity, what would you tell them? What do you wish you'd known when you were new to the subject or activity?

Life can be challenging at times. Family relationships are not always good. This is something that is hard for so many of us. We don't know how to handle it because we can choose our friends, but we don't choose family. We could have dramatic personality clashes with those who are supposed to be closest to us. When you have dramatic personality clashes with friends, you can break off the relationship. If it is a long-term friendship, it is more difficult, but it is very do-able. With family, that's a different story. It is very difficult to simply break off the relationship.

I didn't know how to handle the stresses of unhealthy family relationships. I turned the pain inward and became depressed. One day, my sister, who saw that I was showing signs of depression, gave me some advice that changed my life.

"Go for a walk. Walking is good for you. It will release endorphins," she said.

I went out for a walk, and I walked and walked and walked... and did that frequently... and felt much better and happier about my life.

According to the Prevention.com website, in an article by Meghan Rabbitt, walking has the following benefits:
  • it improves mood, in the same way as a glass of wine or a square of dark chocolate, but without the calories. For me, it's better than wine because wine puts me to sleep almost immediately. My going to sleep mode (silly time, then sleepy time) is sped up so rapidly that it seems comical to any observer. In the winter, when I tend to have seasonal affective disorder, a walk is healthy because it exposes me to natural sunlight, even on a cloudy day. The article on Prevention.com quotes Melinda Jampolis, M.D., who says, "Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you'll experience a decrease in anger and hostility." 
  • People who walk are more creative than people who don't.
  • Your clothes will be looser, even if you don't lose any weight.
  • You will cut your risk of chronic disease. I think that this is very true. I had a doctor's appointment a few weeks before the election. Because I was totally disgusted by an election that I deemed to be toxic and candidates whom I felt were dysfunctional, I was sure that my blood pressure had skyrocketed and that I would be on ten medications! Not good because I am fairly bad at swallowing pills! I walked three miles to my doctor's office.  My blood pressure was actually low! He said that I was very healthy because I walk long distances.
  • Your legs will look fabulous. Well, of course! 
And there's more! Take a look at the article. To read the full article, take a look at the link below:

January 04, 2017

Four seasons in Grand Island, New York

Today's topic recommendation from the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is to write about great things that come in fours. One of the suggested great things that come in fours are "four seasons." Since I really like all four seasons (even winter, sometimes), I decided that I would share images of my community during all four seasons.

One of the great things about my community is that it is an island in the Niagara River. No matter where I walk, I am never too far from water. I love to look at the river at all times of year. Another great thing about my community is that it is the home to two state parks: Beaver Island State Park and Buckhorn Island State Park. I spend a lot of time at Buckhorn Island State Park, which is within easy walking distance of my house. It is a wildlife sanctuary and an important bird area. Many migratory birds visit Buckhorn Island State Park.  I wrote about the birds of Buckhorn on November 25th, in my "Bird Friday" blog post, when I went on a birdwatching tour, run by Tom Kerr of the Audubon Society. Here is a link to that blog post (link to the "Bird Friday" post)

So, here you go: images of Grand Island in all four seasons.

Winter on the river is very quiet. The boats have been put away, and the docks are covered in snow. I chose to use black and white photography for this image, as well as the below image, because I like the interplay between light and shadows.

One of the really great things about winter is that the trees are bare and the shapes of the branches seems more apparent. Some of them point straight out: at the sky or at the water. Some of them seem to curl around in circles. 

Buckhorn Island State Park.

A close view of the river at Buckhorn Island State Park, with the snow-covered rocks. It is quiet and peaceful, a calm winter scene.
Spring is all about pastels and more light. The trees get dressed in delicate flowers. Although I like all seasons, I would have to admit that spring is about beauty and rebirth and that it is my favorite season.

Apple blossoms, so soft and delicate.

The river at springtime. The trees have baby leaves and the river is a bright blue, reflecting the blueness of the sky.

Another image of spring.
The riparian zone at the marsh is alive with tall grasses and cattails. 

Wild geranium (geranium maculatum) is a perennial plant that flowers in spring to early summer.

Footbridge over the marsh.

Summertime view of the river and docks, where boats are now parked.
Like spring, autumn is a very colorful season. It is when we can pick the apples and enjoy the cooler air.

Woods Creek on an autumn day.

The pumpkins of autumn

This is the marsh in autumn. I took that picture on November 25th, when I was in Buckhorn Island State Park for the "Bird Friday" tour, with Tom Kerr of the Audubon Society.

Your question: what do you enjoy about the four seasons?