Sunday, December 31, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 6 - Kuumba - Creativity

My daughter drew this by hand for my parents for Christmas

Habari Gani?

Kuumba! It means creativity!

We must strive to leave the world a more beautiful place than we found it by using our creative gifts.

This is my favorite day of Kwanzaa!

It is also the night of Karamu - The feast of Kwanzaa.

This year we had Hoppin John, ham, candied sweet potatoes, pot roast, mashed potatoes, cornbread, spinach, and I made a chocolate cake just because.

We talked about how we used our various skills over the last year, and talked about what we did make beauty in the world.


There was a man with three sons. He said, "I shall leave this house to whichever of you can fill it."

The first son, the brightest, knew what he would do. He bought feathers. He bought carts and carts of feathers. He filled that house with feathers until there was not a corner that did not have feathers, but after a while, the feathers settled, and the house was not full.

The second son scoffed, but the eldest said, "It is not so easy. You will see."

The second son thought he had a better idea. He got straw. He filled that house with straw. He filled it until there was not a corner that did not have straw, but after a while, the straw settled, and the house was not full.

The youngest son couldn't help but laugh. He was a merry soul who was never taken all that seriously. The older brothers shook their head. "You will see that it is not so easy."

The youngest son went to town and got some of his friends. That evening, they took out their fiddles, banjos, and drums, and played and sang. No matter where you went in that house you could hear the merry sound.

At the end of the evening, their father announced that the youngest had surely won, for he'd filled the house from cellar to attic with music and laughter.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 5 - Nia - Purpose

A Great Example of Nia!

Habari Gani!

Nia (nee'-uh) - Purpose. We must live our lives with purpose. We must have goals and aspirations. This is the only way we move forward.

This year I got one step closer to being a novelist.

This year my son started his junior year and we are supporting him as he pursues his dreams and moves one step closer to entering the real world.

This year my daughter successfully graduated high school, and we are supporting her as she pursues her dreams in college.

This year I began to make changes in my life so that I will be there to support my parents as they need more and more of my time and energy. 

What did you do this year to further the purpose in your life?

A synopsis of Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa
by Donna Washington

Little Rabbit does not like Kwanzaa, but he loves the feast of Karamu. Unfortunately, his grandmother, who always does the cooking, is not feeling well.

He decides that he will make the Kwanzaa feast himself. He goes out into his community looking for berries or something nice to decorate the house.

He runs into his neighbors, and when he explains what he is doing and why they don't really understand what Kwanzaa is, but they know his grandmother, and they are worried about her.

He spends all day searching for something to make Kwanzaa wonderful, but despite his efforts, he is the littlest rabbit. He can't find anything.

He goes back home in defeat, but he walks into a grand celebration.

All of his neighbors have come together to celebrate all of the wonderful things that Granna Rabbit does for the community, and they've brought Karamu, the feast of Kwanzaa, alive for the family.

Li'l Rabbit had a purpose and went out in search of it. His dream brought his community together.

Get Your Copy Today!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 4 - Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics.

Habari Gani?

Ujamaa (oo-jah'-mah) - Cooperative Economics.

Ujamaa means that African Americans must strive to open and maintain businesses. This also means that African Americans should patronize African and African American businesses. 

The Regulator Bookshop!
My family embraces all local small business. We patronize small bookstores, locally owned restaurants that source their ingredients within a one hundred mile radius (as a gluten free American this can be tricky sometimes!), farmer's markets (especially when I am traveling in the summer), and boutiques, hair dressers, and products (haircare for the dreads!)

Local businesses put money back into the community instead of sending it to corporate entities in other places, local youth see their friends and neighbors running businesses, there are often unique items that cannot be found in other places, and you can get to know the owners.

What are some of the locally owned businesses in your area?
When is the last time you shopped in a local business?
Have you ever been in an African American establishment?
What can you do to support local businesses in your community this year?

Reflection: The Ring

Source of Image
There was a wise and good man who had done very well for himself. He was well respected, and people came to him for advice. 

The reason he was so wise and productive was because when he was young he'd been given a magic ring. 

His three children were a willful, wasteful, brawling bunch. 

They never bothered to control themselves, because each was certain their father would pass the magic ring to them.

At his funeral, each child was given a box. When they opened them,  they discovered identical golden rings. 

Nobody could figure out who had gotten the magic ring.

An old woman astood and said, "Ah, I think I know your father's mind. Each of you must put on your ring. Whichever of you is cured of your mad ways, that is the one who has the true ring."

When the eldest son put on the ring, he saw his father's hands as they helped him up each time he failed. 

The daughter saw the ring glinting in the light as it had the numerous times she and her father had discussions. 

The youngest felt the smooth metal that had always moved across his skin when his father hugged him. He knew he would not disappoint this man he respected. 

The siblings worked together and built their father's business into a very successful enterprise. They never forgot their neighbors and friends, and helped anyone who needed it. Each was as kind and helpful to their siblings as they could be because they understood that the others had it harder because they didn't have a magic ring to smooth their path.

Nobody in the village was ever able to tell who had gotten the true ring.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity

Day 7: Imani - Faith

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 3 - Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility

Habari Gani!

Ujima (oo-gee'-mah) - Cooperative Work and Responsibility.

We must work together to make our families and communities strong. We are responsible for ourselves and we are responsible to our communities.

What incidents of Ujima did you encounter in 2017?

- I put up a little library in my community for book sharing.             

- I work with my sister to prepare the annual, family gathering holiday meals now that my mother cannot.

- We support our local charities with donations.

-We support national political causes with our time and finances.

-I volunteer time and expertise to organizations and people locally, nationally, and internationally. 

How have you worked to improve your community?
What have you done to take responsibility in your family?


Every day a monk would take a post, put it across his shoulders and put a water jug at each end. He would carry the jugs down to the stream and fill each one. Afterwards, he would return.

Now, one of the jugs was cracked. By the time the monk returned from his trip to the stream, half of the water had leaked out of it.

In the evening, after the monks retired, the other containers would give the cracked jug a hard time.

"You are worse than useless," said the whole jug. "Our master works hard every day to bring water for the others, and you make his labor worthless."

The cracked jug felt horrible. "I will hold myself together better, I promise."

And though he promised, every single day it was the same. By the time he returned from the stream, he was half empty.

One day, in despair, when the monk put him on the pole, the cracked jug called out, "Why do you take me to the stream every day? Why not pick one of the other jugs? I am cracked and useless. Choose someone who is worthy of your labors."

"Indeed," said the whole jug "he is not worthy of your time. Why do you bother with him?"

The Monk smiled and said to both jugs. "Look down as we travel to the stream."

When they returned to the monastery, the monk asked, "What did you see?"

"The ground," replied the whole jug.

The cracked jug noted, "On the way there, I saw nothing but dry earth, but on the way back, there were beautiful flowers."

"Yes," said the monk. "When I realized you had a crack, I planted flowers all along my return journey. The water that flows from you nourishes those flowers every morning. The blooms help Brother Elgin, who is blind, find his way to the stream and back. They also feed the bees we keep,  so that we might have honey to eat and share, and candles to sell. They also bring joy to everyone who pays us a visit."

We must all do our part, and your contribution, no matter how small it seems, might be greater than you know. That is the power of Ujima.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day 2 - Kujichagulia - Self Determination!

Habari Gani!

Kujichagulia (coo'-gee-chah-goo-lee-ah) - Self-Determination.

We must strive to define ourselves, understand ourselves, make choices for ourselves, and go through the world as we choose, and not as someone else forces us to. It means to take control of your own destiny.

In 2017, there were many examples of Kujichagulia in America.

- The #metoo movement was Kujichagulia. 

- The fight to include more positive images of people of color in all media was Kujichagulia.

- Fighting for access for affordable healthcare as a right and not a privilege was Kujichagulia.

What other large scale movements did you see this year?

There were also more intimate fights for self determination this year.

What did you do in your life to define yourself?
In Relationships?


The frogs were hosting a grand concert by the pond. Everyone who was anyone was planning to attend. The dragonflies were the main attraction, and the Mayflies were doing their one and only concerto.

As everyone flew, walked, or burrowed to the concert, there was a little ant rolling a crumb up a hill. She was complaining the entire time. 

"Why do I have to do this by myself? Why won't somebody help me?" 

A grasshopper came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the grasshopper. "I am on my way to the concert."

A cricket came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the cricket. "I am on my way to a concert."

A cicada came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the cicada. "I am on my way..."
"To the concert," said the little ant.
"Why yes! Everyone is going to be there. You should come."
"I will go if somebody will help me!" shouted the little ant.

"I will help you," said a roach who just happened to be passing.
"Oh," said the ant, "thank you!"

The roach walked over and took a huge bite out of the crumb.  

"Why did you do that?" the ant demanded.

"I just made it lighter," said the roach.

"It wasn't too heavy!" yelled the ant.

"I made it easier to carry," said the roach.

"It wasn't too hard to carry!" yelled the ant.

"I made it smaller," said the roach.

"I didn't want it smaller!" yelled the ant.

"What did you want?" asked the roach.

The little ant subsided. What she had wanted was for someone else to do her work for her. She picked up the tiny morsel and went on about the rest of her day.

She didn't enjoy the work, but she did it because it was her responsibility. When she took a step back and looked at the pile of food she'd accumulated, she took pride in what she'd accomplished. 

As for the concert. She didn't have time to go, but after work she went down to the nursery and entertained the little ones. They loved it.

By the time she went to bed, she reckoned she'd had a pretty good day.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What Is Kwanzaa?

A guide for new celebrants!

Yes, it is once again Kwanzaa time!  Time to eat benne cakes, roll out the Mkeka, set up the Kinara, light the Mishuma Saba, pass around the Kikombe Cha Umoja,and reflect on the Nguzo Saba!

Before we begin...

Kwanzaa is not a Christmas substitute for African Americans...Kwanzaa doesn't have anything to do with Christmas at all.

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday.  Kwanzaa is not about religion!

If that is what Kwanzaa is not, then what is it?  Well, it is easy enough to explain.  Kwanzaa is the African American Festival that occurs at the end of the year.  It was originally created by Dr. Mulana Karenga in the late 1960's.
A picture book about the spirit of Kwanzaa!

Why have an African American inspired celebration?

African Americans have been an integral part of the history of America since the beginning.  Despite that, there are no national celebrations that recognize the contributions of African Americans to our country.  There have been and still are AfricanAmerican inventorssoldiersentrepreneurscowboys, farmersfiremen, and America even had a black president. 

Barack Obama 44th president

In the '60's and all through my childhood, as a matter of fact, there was no acknowledgement that African Americans had much impact on the country at all before Martin Luther King was born!

Kwanzaa has two main components that encourage celebrants to consider their place in the world as well as reflect on the contributions of African Americans.  The first is the Nguzo Saba, and the second are reflective readings.

Kwanzaa is a truly American celebration.  it is based on First Fruits celebrations in different parts of Africa, but it is not like any of them.

So, That's as much history as I'm giving!  Now, on to the steps!

First you need a mat of some sort of natural fibers.

MKeka (M-ke'-kah) - this mat is the foundation of your Kwanzaa display and it is the foundation that we use to build our lives.  It represents the African American culture and traditions.

Mishuma Saba (Mish-oo'-ma So'-bah) - The candles.  Three green, three red, and one black.  These are the colors of the African American Flag.  The red is for the blood we all share no matter where our ancestors were born, the green is for the hope of new life and a better world, and the black is for the color of the African American ancestral heritage.

Kinara (kin-are'-ah) - The candle holder.  The proper way to set up the Kinara is to put three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right and the black candle in the middle.  You light the black one first.  On the second day you light the red one.  On the third day you light a green one.  You continue to alternate between red and green for the remainder of the festival.

Muhindi (moo-hin'-dee) - These are ears of corn, there should be one for each child in the home.  The corn should be dried.

Mazao (mu-zow') - These are fruits and vegetables added to the Mkeka that represent crops, the bounty of the earth, good things and plenty.

Kikombe Cha Umoja (ki'-cOm'-bA chah' oo'-mO-jah) - The unity cup.  We drink communally from this cup as well as pour a libation for the ancestors.  Honoring the ancestors, those who came before us is an important aspect of Kwanzaa.

Now that the Mkeka is set up it is time to get on with the celebration!

You can give Zawadi, (zu-wo'-dee), which are small presents, typically handmade, but they can also be things like books, but gifts are not the main thrust of Kwanza.

We begin our Kwanzaa day with the words, Habri Gani! (Hu-bar'-ee go'-nee).  It means what's the news?  The answer is the principle or Nguzo Saba of the day.  So what are the seven principles of Kwanzaa?  Here they are.

Umoja (oo-mO-jah) - Unity.  We must stand together if we are to overcome our difficulties

Kujichagulia (coo'-gee-chah-goo-lee-ah) - Self-Determination.  We must not let anyone else decide who we are.  We must speak for ourselves and not let others speak for us.  Just because someone says you are lazy or useless or worthless does not mean it is true!

Ujima (oo-gee'-mah) - Cooperative Work and Responsibility.  We must work together to build the world of which we wish to be a part.  We must look after each other and understand that we are responsible to ourselves, our families and our communities.

Ujamaa (oo-jah'-mah) - Cooperative Economics.  We shop at stores owned and run by African Americans to make sure that we are supporting small business.  (My family has opened this out to all small businesses in our area.  Mom and pop are under attack from Big Box.  Support small businesses when you can.)

Nia (nee'-uh) - Purpose.  We must move through our lives with purpose and we must understand that our lives have purpose.  Approach your life with goals and actions that help you achieve good things.

Kuumba (k-oom-bah) - Creativity.  Leave the world a more beautiful place than when you found it.

Karamu (kAr'-um-moo) - The feast of Kwanzaa where you eat traditional African American foods, sing, dance, tell stories and celebrate!

Imani (i-mah'-nee) - Faith.  You must have faith in yourself and in the hope that we can build a better world.  (You can apply this to religious faith if you like, but my family does not)

The last part of the celebration deals with reflection.  You can do readings of African American artists, poets, teachers, and philosophers.  You can discuss how you plan to make the Nguzo Saba a reality in your life.  You can talk about what you have done in the past year to live up to the principles of Kwanzaa.  That bit is up to you.  Here are some readings to get you started.

So, get out there and see if you can find a Kwanzaa event!  Reflect on what you can do to make the world a better place.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Life Hack: The Travel Bag

Yeah, I'm a fool for Vera Bradley bags

I am done with touring for the year! Time to clean out and restock my travel bag!


When first I began to travel, I would load the bag with the toiletries from my side of the sink.  I'd take my lotion, skin conditioners, toothpaste, and whatever I thought I needed, put it in the bag, and then pack my clothes.  This process meant that I would occasionally turn up at my final destination without necessary items.

Every now and then I would forget essential cords, like the ones that go to my phone or computer.  After a few years, I decided there had to be a better way.  

I remembered that when I was pregnant, the literature suggested that I pack a bag with everything in it that I would need to take to the hospital with me when I went in to have the baby.  

If it worked for a trip to the hospital, it ought to work for longer trips, especially since I was anticipating taking such trips.  

With that in mind, I put together my storytelling travel bag with duplicates of all the supplies I need on a daily basis.  Then, I put the bag in my closet in easy reach.

What’s in it?

1.     A cord for my computer
2.     A cord for my phone
3.     Toiletries (Toothpaste, floss, toothbrush, you get the picture)
4.     Skin Care Regime (Oil of Olay to Jergens)
5.     Nail care regime (files, polish, creams, base and top coat)
6.     Cough drops and other throat needs
7.     Aleve (because sometimes life is a headache)
8.     Melatonin (a sleep aid when my travel schedule makes me jittery)
9.     Extra pens and pencils (You can't ever have enough)
10. Contact lens solutions (Including eyedrops)
11. My sleep mask (I like it really, really dark when I sleep)
12. Dread accessories (If you don't have dreads, use your imagination)
13. Shower cap  
14. Sleep net (I hate rolling over and pulling my own hair)

My travel bag

There are a few more things in there, but you get the point.  The toiletries are all kept in a 'kit' so that I can keep track of them, and it is easy to see when I have to replace things.  

When I get ready to leave for a week, overnight, two weeks, or however long, I only have to put my clothes a in the bag.  

When I get home, I just take out the clothes.  Everything else stays in there.  If I have to fly, I take out the large bag with my regular size toiletries and replace it with my flight kit.

 Packing has become a breeze.

For wherever your travels might lead!

This set up might not work for everyone, but it is a timesaver for me.

Every little bit helps.

Happy Traveling!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Process v.s. Product while in Residence

I truly hate doing short residencies that are meant to end up in a performance.

This is not the case if I am brought in to work with a group of kids who are already planning to present something. In a general classroom setting with a myriad of different kinds of kids...I don't enjoy it.

For a small number of kids, being on stage will be one of the most amazing things in the world, and perhaps they will get bitten by the performance bug, and someday they will be on Access Hollywood talking about that artist that came to their rural elementary school and opened their world...

Then there are the children who will freak out about it...

These are the children who will hate the performance with a red hot hatred. These are the children who are so shy they can barely open their mouths in front of their peers, and this forced performance will absolutely confirm every fear they've ever had about being on stage.

This is the person you encounter on line in the grocery store who will tell you that they were forced to get up in front of everyone, and that was the moment when they realized they had no talent and would never, ever, ever want to be on stage again.

The bulk of the children will fall in the middle of the spectrum.

As a born ham, I never had trouble speaking to anyone anywhere. I didn't really get shy kids when I was younger. I didn't grow up in a family with any, and most of my friends were anything but. That doesn't mean I didn't know some...I just didn't get them.

I took them at their word that they were scared to speak, but I didn't get it.
I remember well parents who found their shy kids embarrassing, and they attempted to force them to get over it.

This idea that if you just showed shy people that they had nothing to fear they would come out of their shy shells and be like everyone else is a myth that got picked up somewhere, and it is often used to scar shy children. 

Some grow out of being shy, and others never do. That is just how it is.

Recently, I met sixty-one absolutely marvelous third graders. We played story games, language games, and did a short skit at the end of the week.

In small groups, these kids did really well. When we did tableau work, and they had to stand before their peers, but  didn't have to say anything, they were fabulous. Then, we had our first speaking work.

Despite having ample time to practice their little skits that lasted only about thirty seconds, I had an entire class where none of the four groups could get all the way through the skit. Once they were standing in front of their peers, they just stared at them and went silent. The lines they were able to recall as long as they were in small group slipped away, and they couldn't even remember what they were supposed to do.

In the other classes, we had a variety of outcomes.

One little boy couldn't manage anything but giggling. He was a guard without any lines at all, and he giggled all the way through the five line skit they created.

One group had five kids, and only two of them were willing to say anything.

We had people who, while they were working with their group, couldn't seem to find their way, but when they were standing up in front of the group, they turned into forceful performers, and took everyone by surprise...including themselves.

Several other kids absolutely bloomed and had amazing characters that every single person in class enjoyed. We laughed and loved their wild characters, but they were the exception to the rule.

I bring all of this up because when we originally conceived this residency, I explained that what I was going for was working on communication and interpersonal skills. The district was excited about that. I explained how I would be doing that, and they were very excited. Then, they added an extra two days and asked if the kids could do a performance.

They didn't bother to tell me they wanted one until I showed up and got the schedule.

On our first day together, Monday, I did performances for the whole school.

After the show, the director realized I was not anxious to have the kids do a performance. He asked why, and I explained that if we were going to do a performance, then we would need to work all week doing that, but I only had each class 4 times for 45 minutes a day.

That would mean that in four 45 minute sessions I would have to get over sixty kids ready to stand in front of their peers and possibly the parents or other members of the school to do some storytelling.

I explained that we might be able to produce some semblance of storytelling, but we would not be able to focus on the slow, deliberate work of learning some of the basic skills that could be carried over into other areas of their lives. I also suggested we could do an exhibition where we showed the other kids and their parents what we had been doing all week.

In the end, we agreed to focus on small group and communication skills, and not sweat the "performance".

I have done some storytelling residencies that culminated in performance, but those usually require multiple hours each day with the same group of kids, or more than just a few contacts, and we go through a very particular process to reach our goal. It is much more geared to working for an audience, not small groups to learning how to better communicate with peers. That could be a side effect of the work, but it is not the main thrust.

All of the kids in those intensives are successful, and I work hard to bring each kid to a place where they feel comfortable. Any kid who doesn't think they can do it, I work with...however, I don't force kids onto the stage.

I will always choose process over performance if I can, because learning the process is like teaching the kid to fish. If they understand the process, they can apply it to many different circumstances, including getting up on stage someday if they wish.

We all progress from stage to stage at our own pace. Forcing square pegs into round holes is never a good fit.

Some people adore the performance aspect, and couldn't imagine not having a presentation.

As an artist teacher, stay true to what you do, articulate it as well as you can, and help your charges succeed...wherever they are.

Happy Teaching and Telling!