Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Simply Wonderful Day Part 2

Our last night at the barn was bittersweet. Liz had a group of Americans that arrived to stay the night, along with a few men from Scotland, and then there was us, and Mary, and Una, and Liz. We all had a splendid lasagna dinner, but I was a little restless for the after dinner part. After dinner and pie was cleaned up, we all gathered in the story room in chairs that had been set up in a circle. Many people from the surrounding area came to join us, a few new people entering through the red door every 5-10 minutes for awhile, most with their own instruments. Liz started everyone out with a story, and people took turns either telling a story, singing a song, or playing music. Liz was almost like an MC, and she would ask someone if they would like to share something or sing. As we sat there, captivated by everyone's talent, I wished I had prepared something ahead of time to share, but I am a mess if I am not prepared for something. Four of the people there were a family, and they all played different instruments and performed different songs at the session. They were remarkable. I cannot put into words what we felt as we experienced the true hospitality and talent of all of these remarkable people, and it is something that can never be recreated for me. It is something we will never forget. I plan to go back one day, and next time, I will be prepared to share something myself. Here are some photo and video highlights. Turn your volume way up.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Simply Wonderful Day Part 1

We started out the morning down in the kitchen with some toast (Eva discovered cinnamon sugar thanks to Mary) and coffee and lots of chitchat. It wasn't long until we were on our next adventure--The Giant's Causeway. Liz very kindly dropped us off in Ballymena, after pointing out the various places we might want to visit while we waited for the bus that would take us to the Giant's Causeway. We crossed the street to have a small breakfast at a local cafe. Eva ordered the Irish breakfast with the fatty bacon, and I had a lovely scone with jam and coffee. We still had a bit of time until the bus would arrive to take us to the coast, so we leisurely strolled down the street to a Celtic gift shop. Suddenly I realized that while we knew where to catch the bus, I could not remember what time to catch the bus. I searched through my purse for the brochure Liz had, but could not find it. Must have left it in her car. I asked the person at the shop if she knew what time the bus came, and she very nicely called the TI down the street, and then told us the time. I thanked her, but that didn't seem right to me, so I left Eva and decided to walk down the street to the TI and check it out, hoping they would have a brochure.

I talked with the woman there for awhile, and I found the brochure, checked the time, and it seemed she was right. We still had another 40 minutes to go, so I ducked into Joe's, a pub I had read about online. The pub was not open yet, but the restaurant was open upstairs. When I reached the restaurant, I explained to the very nice man that I didn't want to eat unfortunately, just have a drink. He said that would be fine. I chatted with him for awhile, then grabbed my cider and a table overlooking the street. Eva arrived just a few minutes later, and we killed time reviewing the photos on our cameras that we had taken. We still had about 10 minutes until the bus was supposed to show, but we headed across the street because we didn't want to miss it. As we were standing there a very nice woman stopped to ask us what we were waiting for. When we told her, she told us very nicely that the bus had already left, possibly an hour ago. Panic was starting to set in, as we would have no other way to get to the coast if we missed the bus. I kindly explained that she must be mistaken because I have the brochure and woman at the TI had told me this was the correct time. It was then that I noticed there were two timetables on the brochure. One was for coming from Belfast and one was for going to Belfast. We had been looking at the wrong timetable the whole time. I ran across the street hoping that I was wrong, and the lady at the TI assured me that the bus would be coming any minute. Needless to say, minutes later I was crying on the side of the street because there was no bus, and we were not going to be able to get to the Causeway.

Eva went to go talk to the lady at the TI to see if we could hire a cab or something, and all of a sudden she came back with a different woman and said that it was all fixed, and they had it all worked out. I got into the woman's car, not having a clue about what was going on, and not really caring. She drove us to another town about 15 minutes away or so to a different bus stop, and we were able to catch a different bus from there. I was so grateful that it worked out, and that people went out of their way to help us. Before we knew it, we were at the Causeway, trodding down the hill. Oh, what a sight! We spent a few hours there, enjoying the view, and listening to the folktale of how the Giant's Causeway was formed. We cannot wait to share it with our classrooms. We were also able to buy some books at the gift shop for our classrooms. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, but the day wasn't over yet. We were very much anticipating the music/storytelling session at the barn that night.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tales from Northern Ireland

After finishing our tour through Belfast, Liz drove us to Ballyeamon Barn in Cushendall. It was just as it had looked on Google Earth Street View! It was a surreal feeling as we pulled in the driveway and the red doors said welcome almost as though we were old friends. We met the barnminder, Mary, and she showed us up the steep stairs to our private room, which was actually more like a suite since it had a living room/office as well. It was just as cozy as I had imagined it would be, but when you peeked out the window, you were almost awestruck by what you saw. I always thought Ireland was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but it was simply stunning at this moment. Mary had cooked everyone some Chinese sweet and sour pork, and we all gathered downstairs in the kitchen/dining room to have a nice dinner with lots of chatter. When we were through, we all clambered into Liz's car for a drive through the Antrim Coast while Liz pointed out the points of interest as she zoomed around curves before dusk rolled in. One of the sights she showed us was the Slemish Mountain where St. Patrick worked as a slave. The first place we stopped was a scenic hill on the Waterfall Walk.

Eventually we arrived at the Glens of Antrim, and I was quiet trying to hang on Liz's every word and take in what was before us. We parked the car and walked past a restaurant/hotel into trees and brush. Ahead of us was a waterfall, hidden within the trees and green.

This is us with Liz on a bridge in front of the waterfall. Next we headed back into the car for even more beauty. She took us to the beach. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

We drove a short distance more to explore ruins of an old church.

Followed by a final story from Liz and a stop to a cemetery to search for the headstone of the person in the story. What a day! And the next day was even more beauty and stories.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Highlight of our Trip

When we originally were throwing ideas around for our Fund For Teachers proposal, fairy tales and folktales was one of our first ideas, but we really lucked out once I contacted some random storytellers in Dublin, and one of them referred us to Liz Weir.

From Liz Weir is a storyteller and writer from Northern Ireland, with an international reputation. Formerly children’s librarian for the city of Belfast, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children. She organizes workshops, appears at major international festivals (including the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee and the Australian National Storytelling Festival) and has performed in Israel, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. Liz is the author of two collections of stories for children, Boom Chicka Boom and Here There and Everywhere (The O’Brien Press) . Having worked extensively in prisons has written When Dad was Away a picture book about a child whose father is in jail to be published by Frances Lincoln in January 2012. She has presented The Gift of the Gab, a storytelling series for BBC Radio Ulster, and has written scripts for five television animations aimed at young children in Northern Ireland. The latter project was created by the Media Initiative for Children, a joint effort by the Early Years Organisation in Northern Ireland, and the Peace Initiatives Institute in Colorado. These adverts use mass media and classroom experience to teach young children the value of respecting – and including – others who are different.
Liz Weir firmly believes in the power of storytelling to promote understanding and aid conflict resolution.

Liz picked us up at the Belfast airport, with a a warm hug and lots of energy. We were off right away to watch her in action at Lurgan Model Primary School, a school that is almost 150 years old. We received a warm welcome from the school where we had a tea break with the teachers and chatted about the differences between schools in Northern Ireland and the US. We sat behind Liz so we could see the young children in the first group (Kindergarten age, i think). We were just as spell-bound as the young students, though they were a group that was full of energy. It was a a great opportunity to see how a storyteller handles young students who have a hard time sitting still. She was with them for about 30 minutes and in that period of time told too many stories to recount. Liz does not use visuals or props, but does keep the students engaged and talks to them throughout. As she told the different stories, she took great care to ask the children about their families and their cultures, and encouraged them to tell their own families the stories in their own languages. Some of the students spoke Polish or German or other various languages. We learned at some point in the day from Liz that Northern Ireland had not been very diverse for a long time during the "troubles," but since there had been peace, many people from other countries had started to move there. We traveled to the next classroom with her that had older students, and tried to absorb all the stories she shared with the next class. She also wanted them to ask her questions about being a writer, and since I have always aspired to be a writer myself, her answers were very interesting to me. The children were very interested in what Liz had to say, and we all sat hanging on to her every word. We jetted off for a quick lunch with Liz at a sandwich shop close by. After a quick lunch we rushed back to the school for Liz to do one more session with an older group of students.

While she told the students stories, Eva and I were called into the principal's office....LOL. The school had recently had an after school program where students created their own digital stories, and he had been kind enough to get the cd with the different stories for us to view. It was very helpful to see what the children had created using their own pictures and narration to tell a story, and we felt very inspired after see them. One student made a story about his guitar and the history of Fendor and another student created one about their baby sister. I had a great idea afterwards about our Star Students in our classrooms having the opportunity to share about themselves and their family by bringing different objects and pictures to school, which we can then put together with their narration to create their own digital story. I think it may be complicated at first, but after we get the hang of it, I think it will be easier week after week
As soon as Liz finished at the school, we jumped in the car and headed for the bus station in Belfast to pick up one of her friend's daughters who is 14 years old named Una. She is a breath of fresh air and just a beautiful spirit. As we drove out of the bus station, Liz drove all of us on a quick tour of Belfast to tell us about the history of the troubles and what she had experienced as a librarian in Belfast. We also went to the murals and were struck by their messages. We learned so much from Liz on that car ride through Belfast, and it was a wonderful history lesson. While Belfast had been very peaceful in recent years, unfortunately riots began in part of the city later that evening. It is hard for me to understand all the fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants because this is not something we are used to in Texas, USA, but Liz did her best to explain it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Digital Storytelling

The time in London was very brief, and was originally just supposed to be a layover on the way from Germany to Northern Ireland, but when our digital storytelling workshop in Dublin fell through, we were very thankful for finding someone to do some one on one training in London for a very nice price (FREE!) thanks to some connections. We learned about some different programs, and wished we had had more time to actually put one together for you while we were there. I think our favorite program that we learned how to use is animoto, and the best part is that because we are teachers, we can create as many as we want for free using that website. We cannot wait to take the 5000 pictures (and no, I am not exaggerating) and create our first digital story for everyone to see. We plan on taking some more classes in Houston and practicing our new skills over the summer. Stay tuned....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rats, a Pied Piper, and some Musicians, Oh My!

As we enjoyed our last breakfast at the Trendelburg castle, we received a phone call on the hotel's phone. I took the phone, feeling completely baffled as to who would be calling us in Germany, and found myself talking to the Tourist Information office down the street. After meeting us the day before, he thought that our Fund For Teachers project would make for a good news article for the local tourism newspaper. After we finished our coffee, we bounded down the hill for a short interview and some photographs featuring Rapunzel's hair. We are looking forward to seeing the article in the upcoming months, but it will be very difficult for us to read, as it will be in German!

We hurried back to the castle, grabbed our suitcases, and headed out as today would consist of hours on the road. First stop--Hamelin, or Hameln in German. Hamelin is known for the folktale of the Pied Piper. As copied from Wikipedia: The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or death of a great many children from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Germany, in the Middle Ages. The earliest references describe a piper, dressed in pied (multicolored) clothing, leading the children away from the town never to return. In the 16th century the story was expanded into a full narrative, in which the piper is a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizenry refuses to pay for this service, he retaliates by turning his magic on their children, leading them away as he had the rats. This version of the story spread as a fairy tale. This version has also appeared in the writings of, among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, theBrothers Grimm and Robert Browning.

We set out in search of rats and the Pied Piper, and did not have to wait very long to find what we were looking for. There were rats everywhere! Although many of the rats that had been painted on the sidewalk have faded, we followed them through a tunnel and up some stairs into the picturesque town. But first things first--it was lunch time. As we passed a McDondalds in a half-timbered house, I noticed a sign for a Pannekoeken Huis. Mmmmm....Dutch pancakes--my favorite. Eva followed me willingly even though she had no idea what they were, but once I muttered something under my breath about them being pancakes, just like crepes are kind of like pancakes, I think she was game. Eva ordered one with ham, a special kind of cheese, and raspberry preserves. I, of course, ordered Nutella. They were fantastic, and we left on a mission to find this Pied Piper we were seeing in statues and posters all over the city. We stopped in a few shops that were selling rat perfume, rat drinks, rat suckers, rat candy. I saw the sign for the TI, and we followed the rats on the roads to the front door of the TI. We perused the souvenirs, when all of a sudden I saw something brightly colored out of the corner of my eye. It was him! I nudged Eva, and we chased him down before he went into his office, and were able to snap a few pics with him. YAY! Mission accomplished. We took our time walking along the quaint shops on the way back to the car, and we wished we had arranged to stay atleast one night in the town of Hameln, but our day was far from over. We had an hour and a half drive ahead of us to get to our final destination on Fairy Tale Road, the town of Bremen.

The drive went pretty fast, and we finally filled up the gas tank for the first time. I think it was about $90 US dollars if I remember correctly. We found our hotel, and were very happy with it. It opened a year ago, very modern and comfortable, and a stone's thrown from the Alstadt. We dropped our bags and had to run one errand before we could search for those Bremen Town Musicians. It was time to say good-bye to the car. We had to drive downtown, and take a trolley back to our hotel. After we made it back into the Alstadt, we walked only a block or so before we found our first statue outside of a Starbucks. We snapped pictures as the rain started. We seemed to bring the rain with us where ever we went on this trip, so we weren't surprised in the least. We pulled our hoods up, and walked some more until we found ourselves outside of the Ratskeller. This is Germany's oldest wine cellar, and Bremen's most famous restaurant. We were happy to get out of the rain and walked down the stairs to find ourselves in the most beautiful restaurant. WOW! The menu was full of German cuisine, just perfect for our last dinner on fairy tale road.

The next morning, we packed our bags up again, and headed out to the post office. We had to ship a box back to the US with all of the things we had been purchasing for our classrooms. There was simply no more room in our bags. I held my breath as I waited to find out how much it was going to cost, and couldn't complain too much with the $80 or so. We still had over a week to go, and this would lighten our load quite a bit. Next we dropped our bags off with our hotel. We had the entire day to explore Bremen, but needed to check out of the hotel, as we had a late night flight to London. We wandered the streets, sipped on cappuccino, ate crepes and bratwurst, visited the Rapunzel shop in the Schnoor shopping area, went inside the cathedral, and took some pictures with the very popular Bremen Town Musicians. We walked until we could not walk anymore, then it was off to the airport, the smallest airport I have ever been to. I think there were 3 gates, and our flight was the only one scheduled for the next four hours. We couldn't wait for the next country and what we would learn there about digital storytelling. Auf Wiedersehen, Germany and Fairy Tale Road!