Monday, May 21, 2018

Story Creation Begins with Asking The Right Questions

Dear Friends,

Many of you have wondered what happened to me and my blog. Thank you for being so thoughtful! Here’s an update on what’s been happening with me:  A year ago this month, I started on a journey that has changed my life. I enrolled in graduate school for a Master’s degree in Writing and Oral Traditions at The Graduate Institute in Bethany, CT. Graduate school has opened many doors for me. Aside from the wonderful new friends I’ve made, I’ve grown and learned more in one year than I have since I graduated from college many years ago. I had to make some sacrifices to accommodate this new path my life has taken; one was to put my blog on hold because school work has to take priority over something. I’m proud to tell you, I have never fell below an A (Exemplary) despite working full-time, staying involved in all of my town activities such as the Arts Commission, Justice of the Peace duties, quilt and craft group, my busy social life and spending lots of quality time with my beautiful family. Until I get back to regularly publishing my blog, I hope to intermittently share some interesting pieces with you. When I graduate, my hope is to publish a more vibrant blog which will be entirely different than my previous posts.

The post I’m sharing today was published in The Graduate School May blog spot. Last month my cohort spend the last weekend in April at the 39th annual CT Storytelling Festival and Conference at CT College in New London. The experience was one I will never forget. My blog entry described a fascinating workshop I and some of my classmates attended by perhaps the most well-known storyteller in the world, Donald Davis. If you’ve ever wondered where a person gets an idea to write or tell a story, this piece will help explain where ideas for stories come from and how you can create a story from a memory.

I would love to hear from you and I welcome any and all of your thoughts and comments. Most of all, thank you for your support and visiting with me once again! I hope to be in touch again soon!



Story Creation Begins with Asking the Right Questions

Last weekend’s session with the Writing and Oral Traditions cohort was like being at a retreat. The Annual Connecticut Storytelling Festival and Conference at Connecticut College in New London was filled with music, laughter and most of all, good stories.

My favorite presenter was nationally-known storyteller Donald Davis. He was mesmerizing and funny from his first story Friday night, “Come Home with Me,” to his last “gem” on Saturday night. Through his real-life stories about his childhood, you felt like you knew the characters he described as you listened to him. There was a universal feeling of commonality in all of his stories that everyone could relate to.

Donald’s description of his parents, grandmother and little brother, were tender, warm, compassionate and funny. I wondered how he could remember all of those stories. In his Saturday afternoon workshop, titled “So You Think You Don’t Have Stories?”, he explained in a simple, straightforward way that one can find stories just by looking into their past.

Asking the Right Questions

Donald started the session with a look at early education. When a child is in grade school up to Junior High, after they read a story, they’re asked what happened. In high school, after students read a story, they’re asked what the plot was. Donald pointed out that those two questions end the creativity process. Those questions make a student feel that something has to happen or else they don’t have a story. It’s difficult to find a plot if the idea for a story hasn’t formed yet.

Donald doesn’t find stories by asking himself what happened; he goes back in time and remembers places and people. Donald writes lists of the places he’s lived and visited to start gathering bits and pieces for his stories. For example, if you ask Grandma about something that happened in her life, she would probably say nothing or wouldn’t be able to think of anything she thinks is important.

If you ask Grandma to describe her house; what the rooms looked like, who came to visit, what she liked to cook and what her family liked to eat, she would tell you everything she could think of. Through those reminisces, stories form. “Uncle Grover” may have been over one night when something happened and there’s a story. A story can be found in the midst of an uneventful memory on an average day. You may hear an inverted sentence or something out of the ordinary.

Donald makes another list of people. He writes down all the people he knew from immediate family to distant relatives, teachers, neighbors, classmates, family friends, church people, all the way down to the postman. Then, he goes back many times in his mind to those memories, concentrating, until they become clear. Years ago, he wanted to write about his childhood neighborhood, but he couldn’t remember much in the beginning. As he kept at it, going back in time to the same place, he was able to name all of the neighbors on his old street.

Sadly, Donald lost his wife last December, but he still keeps her alive in his stories. Sometimes all that’s left living of a person is their obit and their story. He doesn’t invent stories and he keeps them positive, so he doesn’t have to worry about offending anyone. He finds the humor in storytelling through descriptiveness. In laughter, there’s recognition. The audience has to feel the emotion to be there with him.

Donald used “The Odyssey” as a model for everything. Leaving home to find home. When you go back, home is the same, but we’re not. We’re changed by the journey. All of the scraps of life we gather up in our lives are like quilt scraps. They’re all there in bits and pieces and we, as storytellers, have to put them into piles, and select our stories from them.

If you build a portrait for your story, it won’t move. There has to be progress, everything comes back again and the end is at the story’s starting point. What did we learn? And, you don’t have to be chronologically correct all the time. In memoir, you can add some truth to a place in the story where it fits best and the story will still be real and authentic.

I heard every word Donald said Saturday afternoon and it got me thinking way back in my past, to all of those people who touched my life in many different ways. Not only the good but the bad, because there are stories there too, to flesh out and learn from.
The exercises Donald uses to find stories were the highlight of my weekend because I like to know how things work. I came away with so much rich material in my own life, I’ll never be without a story again!

Below is a story I created using the techniques I learned at the workshop.

Grandma’s Wake

The summer I graduated from high school my maternal grandmother, Susan, died. She was the matriarch of her family and every one of her four living children behaved while she was living. What happened after was a saga that continued for many years.

My grandfather designed the plans for the big white house that sat on a large corner block of Woodin Street and Glemby Street. The front door with the vestibule was on Woodin. If someone rang the doorbell, my grandmother wouldn’t answer because she didn’t know them. Her house was spotless and everyone took their shoes off in her back enclosed porch or you stayed outside.

After the wake, everyone (including people I didn’t know) went back to my grandmother’s house. This was a complete surprise because my grandparents lived quietly in their later years. They never had parties or people over except their children and even then, they were kept in the kitchen or on the back porch.

That night in late June after my Grandmother’s wake, every light was on in her house. The front door was wide open and the vestibule door was open. The little anti-chamber had small black and white tiles on the floor and there was a closet in there. No one ever entered the vestibule and I was afraid to look in the closet, but that night, it was overloaded with hanging coats and coats thrown on the floor. There were people everywhere. My grandfather sat in his chair in the enclosed porch, oblivious to what was going on around him. Everyone was walking on my grandmother’s white rugs with their shoes on. Someone moved her stuffed dog off the white couch and it was on its side on the floor. Drinks sat on her expensive mahogany coffee and end tables without coasters. As I watched the pools of sweat from the glasses make rings on the wood, I pictured my grandmother’s face if she were there.

I felt uneasy as I went from room to room, sober and sad, watching her family and strangers smoke and drink all over my grandmother’s beautiful, immaculate house. She wasn’t even buried yet and people were sitting in her sunroom off the living room, on the couch where she used to lie when she suffered from “palpitation” attacks. I always thought those “palpitations” were serious, because she was incapacitated for a whole day. You never knew if grandma was going to keep a date because if her “palpitations” occurred. My mother would pronounce grandma out of commission for the day, but the event would go on anyway.

I walked back through the living room into the kitchen where my Uncle Babe, the youngest, was opening the refrigerator door. He was a nice quiet guy, and the complete opposite of his siblings. I was looking for something normal in the house that night and he seemed to be acting like himself.

With his back to me, Uncle Babe asked how I was doing.

 I replied, “Grandma would die all over again if she were here tonight and saw all of this.”

Then, just as he was taking a large bottle of soda off the shelf, a dozen eggs fell right out and shattered all over the floor! He turned around and looked at me.

I said, “Oh, Grandma’s watching and she doesn’t like this at all!”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween and the End of October!

Happy HALLOWEEN and the end of October!

This is a very special post.  Last month I vowed I would start October's blog post earlier in the month but as usual life got in the way.  I'm getting it out tonight no matter what so it's all good.

September 24th I went to a quilt/craft retreat at The Incarnation Center in Ivoryton, CT.  It was one of the most wonderful long weekends I've ever had.  The Incarnation Center is set on a beautiful picturesque piece of land.  It's a very spiritual place and well known for many types of retreats.  Sue arranged the whole long weekend with Marianne's (former owner of Quadrille Quilting) help.

As you drive up the long driveway you see a big sprawling lodge.  

There are several wings to the lodge and then lots of smaller buildings surrounding it.  This is the fire pit where at night people gather to make s'mores by the fire.  We lucked out with the most beautiful warm weekend. 

As you walk into the lodge this prayer greets you.

Here's the big room where we all worked on our projects.  We had sooo much fun!  I couldn't get a photo of everyone at their tables because we all flit around all weekend in and out of the lodge and talking to everyone.  

Our rooms were off this "dorm like" hallway.

Here's my room.  Sue was next door and Ellen was across the hall.

And here's my room!!  This little room may not look like much and certainly not like the hotel rooms we're all used to but it was the cozy, warm and safest feeling room I've ever stayed in.  By the end of our stay I didn't want to leave it.  I made a mental note to clean out my bedroom and every other room I've junked up and simplify my life.  Have I done it?  Stay tuned!

Surprisingly the bathrooms were beautiful and updated.  With all the ladies on the premises that weekend I rarely saw anyone except Nancy in the morning!!

So all weekend we worked on all of our treasures.  No housework, no shopping, no cooking.  NO NOTHING BUT FUN!  What a freeing experience.  We could go to bed whenever we wanted and wake up and not have a single thing to do except play!  This is Ellen's quilt.  It's beautiful and she got so much done on it!

Yes, we made a package store and chips/candy run before we got to the retreat!!  This is Barb's glass of wine sitting on Cathi's handmade coasters!

Cathi was a busy bee that weekend.  She was working on this applique cat and

this wreath.  Cathi is so funny.  She said she was going to get up in the middle of the night and work on something and she did!

Barb made these beautiful kitty totes.  I have one on order!  She was making them for an animal fundraiser.

She wore a different beautiful dress she made every day!

Here's Donna's beautiful quilt blocks.  We always had our snacks within reach!

Sue was working on her Irish Chain quilt.  

Here's Marianne's beautiful Grandma's Flower garden quilt.  Just amazing!!

Nancy is a terrific sewer and she makes the most gorgeous outfits.  This is a jacket and scarf she was working one.

There were all kinds of crafters at this retreat and spinners.

  Here's our wonderful private chef Tim!!  He made whatever we wanted and if he didn't have it he went to the store first thing in the morning and bought it for us! 

 Sat. night we had raffles and door prizes.  Sue bought the most amazing things for this retreat.  I never win anything and I even won a gift basket!!!

Maryse won something too!!

And we celebrated Cathi's birthday with a cake!

  Sunday morning I went for a walk all around the property and came to the Chapel. 

This is like a big sports complex.  In the summer this is a well known summer camp destination.

This is a little maple syrup shack. 

My walk took me past the petting zoo.  I loved watching these adorable friendly animals!

This pig made one lap around the fenced-in area and then went back to his little house and just laid down, closed his eyes and slept like a baby.

I wish I had food to feel this little guy.

Sunday afternoon after we packed up and started to head out we had one more area on this property to see.  It was the lake!

This part of the Center was the most beautiful.  

You would never believe this beautiful beach was there!

We felt like we were on a tropical island.

It was so tranquil and

quiet and peaceful!

If you've never been on a retreat before PLEASE go to one.  The experience we had was so profound we are still talking about it.  The best part of a retreat is it can be a getaway for anything.  It's a place where when you're there you lose track of the daily routine of normal life.  And that enables your mind to be free to focus on other things. There were AA people there, a church group and a couple's retreat all staying harmoniously on the property.  We only saw them in the dining room for meals and occasionally walking around outside.

That Sunday morning I met this handsome guy and we had quite a talk.  I told him a lot of things that were on my mind.  He planted himself in that stance and listened to my every word.  I was as mesmerized by him as he was by me.

When I was done talking he moved as close he could to me and gave me a big smile as if to say he enjoyed our talk.  I hope to see him again.  He was quite the guy.

Thanks for allowing me to share my experience of going on a retreat.  I can't wait to do it again.  This could just be one of my favorite vacations.  This was a very different kind of vacation for me.  For the first time in my 27 years of married life I was away without my family.  It was an empowering and enlightening weekend.  I know that material possessions don't mean anything really in this life.  Yes, they're nice to have but the simplicity of a weekend like this really drives home the fact that sometimes the simplest pleasures in life are nature, peace and love.  Leave the Marriott and Hilton's at home and go find a place where you'll find happiness surrounded by very little. You will come away just a little bit changed for the better!

See you next month!   

Monday, September 26, 2016

September, 2016

September 2016

My favorite season is Fall.  The weather is just starting to get cool.  I've put away my white clothes which means now we'll get another heat spell!

I've been really busy and will blog a fantastic experience I just came back from next month.  I need some time to digest it all before I post about it.

Hope this wasn't the last lobster roll of the season but pumpkin everything is calling me now!!

Here are some of the things I've been working on since we last visited.  And YES more Atlas stuff!  He now has a little placemat for his water and food.  Sue is the most generous friend I've ever met.  She will give you anything she has.  She had this adorable kitty fabric in her stash and didn't bat an eye when she handed it to me.

Here's the pattern Cathi lent Sue and Sue lent me!  Enlarge it to whatever you size you like.

Here's another photo of the gorgeous little guy that all the fuss is about.  He's the cutest little thing and just gets sassier and more fresh every time we see him.  Jessi, Kristen and I think that's all part of why we can't get enough of him.  I hope he always stays a kitty because now is the most fun I fear we'll have with him.  After a few years I hope he just doesn't sleep everywhere all the time.

So I had more left over kitty fabric and decided to make him a little quilt so he can play on it.  Susan and Luke say he's on it all the time which encourages me to make more things for him.

Here's his little quilt label without the label...

Sewing for Atlas isn't the only thing I've been doing.  A few weeks ago I decided I had to bake something with pumpkin.  I went through my Cakes, Pies and Tarts board on my Pinterest and found this delicious cake.  This was easy and fantastic for Fall.  This cake rose sooo high I couldn't believe it!!  Would I make it again?  YES!!!!!!!!!!



  1. Cake:
    • 3 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
    • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
    • 1 cup canola oil
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
    • 3/4 cup raisins
    • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut plus additional for garnish
  2. Frosting:
    • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
    • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 tablespoon dark rum
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
    • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted)


  1. For cake:
    1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper; dust pans with flour. Sift 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat both sugars and oil in large bowl until combined (mixture will look grainy). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and orange peel; beat until well blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until incorporated. Stir in raisins and 3/4 cup coconut. Divide batter between prepared pans. Smooth tops.
    2. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cakes completely in pans on rack. Run knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper. Turn cakes over, rounded side up. Using serrated knife, trim rounded tops of cakes to level.
  2. For frosting:
    1. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in dark rum and vanilla. Add powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating just until frosting is smooth after each addition (do not overbeat or frosting may become too soft to spread). Place 1 pumpkin cake layer, flat side down, on platter. Spread half of cream cheese frosting over top of cake to edges. Top with second cake layer, trimmed side down. Spread remaining frosting over top (not sides) of cake. Sprinkle additional coconut over. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
    2. Cut cake into wedges and serve.
    1. It's better to underbeat the frosting than overbeat it. That bit of restraint makes for a slightly firmer frosting that's easier to spread.
This is what's next for Atlas!!  I still had more kitty fabric left!!  Soon I'm going to start making Susan and Luke a flannel quilt and I'll make sure to have leftovers for Atlas!!

Found this the other day - it will be something!!

Promise - no more Atlas stuff unless I make something so adorable I have to share it!!

I fell in love with this vintage looking 1930's lap quilt a few weeks ago when I went with Sue and Anne to Yankee Quilter and decided I have to make it.  

I got most of it cut out and now I'm waiting for more yellow from E-bay before I can cut out the 4 corner triangles.  Once again the yellow came from Sue.  She's making the same quilt but gave me her yellow border fabric.  Imagine that - I would never in a million years do that for anyone-even my kids!!  But as always she just gave it to me and said she has the same fabric in a few other colors and wasn't worried about it at all!!

I hope to get this BOO CAT kit from Yankee Cloth finished by Halloween.  I bought it a few years ago and of course never started it.  Luckily I did get it traced so the hard part is over.

Finally, I have a big fluffy bunny who has been hanging around the side of my garage for a very long time now.  This bunny is soooo friendly he doesn't even move when people are around.  Every time I have veggies or fruit that isn't edible I put it outside for my bunny.  It takes him a while but he always comes for dinner!  Last time I bought organic celery it was spotty in places.  I was going to take it back but then I remembered my bunny might be hungry so out it went.  This is what we caught on camera.  I thought there was going to be a war between this squirrel and my bunny.  The squirrel went right up to Ms. bunny and they kind of wrestled for an instant and then they separated and each munched away for so long I finally left before they finished.  It was the most beautiful sight to see these two little guys getting along side by side eating their dinner.  

See you next month with a really interesting post!!  Thanks for visiting and see you soon!!!