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My Trip to Tennessee

Author: Maya Norton

A few weeks ago, we got to learn about Bellingham storyteller Maya Norton and her upcoming trip to the National Youth Storytelling Showcase in Tennessee. Maya, a teller at the 2006 Bellingham Storytellers Guild Tellebration, was selected as one of only four middle school age finalists for the national showcase. We’re pleased to share with you a personal account from Maya about her experience at the Smoky Mountains Storytelling Festival.

It was a long plane ride from the farthest tip of Washington to mid-Tennessee, but somehow, my mom and I made it. We both arrived at the airport in Knoxville at about 12:30 am, where a man, a woman, and a girl of around my age were waiting for us. The man was from NYSS (National Youth Storytelling Showcase), and he would be driving us to our hotel. The girl’s name was Brenna, and the other woman was her mother. It turns out that Brenna lived in San Antonio, Texas, and it had been a much shorter flight for her. Finally, after about an hour of driving, we arrived at the Smoky Mountain National Park Lodge. When we got to our room, I fell asleep almost instantly.

Maya Norton Maya Norton

The next morning, we had breakfast at a buffet line (which made me very excited), and I got to meet some of the kids. After breakfast, we all went to a meeting room and took turns introducing ourselves. The kids there ranged in age from eight to seventeen—about half boys and half girls. Most of the kids there had a southern accent, which I thought was pretty cool. After we got acquainted with each other, we got to have a workshop with Bill Harley. It was amazing to be able to work with such a master of storytelling. It seemed as if he was just a kid in a fully-grown man’s clothes. He made us make up a story about our thumb on the spot in two minutes—that was a really fun challenge. Then, we gathered into groups and each shared a story about an experience from our life about us getting in trouble in some way. After that, we chose one person’s story from our little group, and all told the story as if it had happened to us. Everybody else had to guess which person the story had really happened to.

After our workshop, we split into groups and went to a couple different elementary schools where we told stories to the classes. The kids were, thankfully, a very good crowd—they laughed a lot, and at just the right times. It was really encouraging and exhilarating to have an audience, especially one of children. Then, we went to the American Jukebox Theater, and watched some professional storytellers tell, which was very entertaining. We had dinner, then went back to the Jukebox and watched some more tellers. Afterwards, we were all so tired that we went straight to bed.

The next morning, we had a workshop with Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, a husband and wife who had been telling stories together for a long time. We did some really fun exercises with them including telling your story to the wall as if it were an audience in different ways. Our next workshop was with Carmen Agra-Deedy—probably one of my favorite of the whole week. We mostly talked about storytelling and the importance of it, and she told us about herself, ending by telling the group a story. She also told stories from her childhood as a Cuban-American, growing up in the strict household that she did. All of those stories were very interesting (for some reason, it’s very entertaining to listen to stories of other people getting into trouble).

That evening our group went to a concert featuring Bill Harley, Carmen Agra-Deedy, Willy Claflin and Bil Lepp—all of my favorite storytellers of the week.  Early next morning, we had a puppet and voice workshop with Willy Claflin which made it fun to experiment with all of the voices that we are capable of using. Then, there came a workshop with Kim Weitkamp, a wonderful storyteller who told us a great story about her old childhood school and helped us to stretch our imagination. She emphasized that nobody could tell you that being unique or creative was a bad thing, because it really isn’t. But that afternoon was the showcase itself—the real deal that was the reason why we were there. Everybody had bonded really well, and I don’t think that anybody felt any competition, so it wasn’t that bad. We all shuffled into the Jukebox theater once more, though this time, it would be us performing.

I would be going third, after one tandem team, and one boy from the fifth grade. I really didn’t feel nervous when it was my turn to tell. When the spotlight found me as I walked to the microphone, I felt like some celebrity about to make a speech. Thankfully, I didn’t make any mistakes on my story, Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman. I was glad to have my story over with; I could really sit back and enjoy the other kids’ stories. The stories ranged from the playground from a spider’s point of view told by an eight-year-old to a rapping nerd-prince who finds true love.

Overall, I think that the whole thing went very well, and though I didn’t get first place, I didn’t mind. It had been a really fun experience, and equally fun to cheer my fellow tellers on. would like to thank to Maya, her parents Laura and Bob, and the Bellingham Storytellers Guild for all the stories they tell!

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Get On Your Feet and Wii

When the sun shines and a comfortable breeze blows around the yard, there’s no excuse for not heading outside in the fresh air for some physical activity. But during the early spring in Bellingham, it can be difficult to motivate the kids (and plenty of grown-ups too) to do anything but curl up on the couch in front of the television on a drizzly afternoon.

Everything Bad is Good for You

Even during bouts of unexpected sunshine, you might find your kids glued to the TV with a video game controller in their hands. Sure, they’re developing some hand-eye coordination and depending on the game, they’re learning problem-solving skills, as Steven Johnson describes in his book Everything Bad is Good for You. But they’re also just sitting there, staring at a screen for hours on end. That can’t be good for their eyes, or their physical fitness.

But recently, gaming time has converted into exercise time too.

In 1998, the game “Dance Dance Revolution” (commonly referred to as DDR) made its debuts in Japanese video arcades. The basic idea is to mimic the dance moves on the screen with your feet by stepping on the appropriate arrow (front back, left and right). Your score is calculated based on accuracy and difficulty level.

Dance Dance Revolution A DDR dance pad for home play.

Since its arcade introduction, DDR has been converted into home use with a variety of video game consoles with a plastic dance pad. Many versions of the game come with a “Work Out” mode, but just playing the game on a medium-skill level (the higher the level, the faster the tempo and the faster your feet have to move) will get your blood pumping.

Another game system that is starting a fitness revolution is Nintendo’s latest home console, Wii, which first became available in the fall of 2006. It can be a difficult game to track down, but its popularity is only matched by its versatility. You can hold the cordless controller, the Wii Remote, with both hands, like any other video game controller. Or you hand hold it in one hand and use it to simulate bowling, golfing, boxing and all kinds of activities for Wii Sports, the game pack that comes with the Wii console.

Although a round of Wii tennis isn't as physically taxing as actually playing the sport, at least it gets you on your feet and requires more movement than your usual afternoon of video games. Nintendo will debut a new game in the Wii series, Wii Fit, in America this spring, which includes training for aerobic fitness, muscle conditioning, yoga poses and balance games, which just means that you might find yourself vying for Wii time with your spouse and your kids.

That's one of the most unique features about the Wii. Just about anyone can play it, and it appeals to men and woman equally. It's also appropriate for all ages– you're as likely to find the system in a retirement home as you are in a local elementary school.

That’s right. Video games in schools.

Wii Remote The wireless Wii remote allows gamers to play a variety of sports in their own living room.

Isom Elementary School in Lynden embraced the DDR/Wii craze when they purchased the game and console for their regular Family Fun nights and class celebrations.

“Teachers can check out the Wii for class parties when kids achieve a goal, like positive behavior,” explained Isom's principal, David VanderYacht. “It’s a great replacement for the standard pizza or root beer float parties because it encourages kids to be active.”

The school also obtained 25 extra dance pads so part of their physical education program now includes a DDR unit. “We project the video screen on the gym wall and the kids can dance along with it,” Mr. VanderYacht said. “And since we can adjust the ability level, everyone from kindergarteners to fifth graders can participate.” He also pointed out that not all kids are exposed to this kind of technology at home, so it's a unique opportunity for them to experience these games at school.

“The one challenge we’ve had is that some of the dancers in the video game are wearing outfits that don’t follow our dress code,” Mr. VanderYacht admitted with a laugh. “We try to be conservative, and we haven’t had any parent complaints yet.” Despite some scantily-clad virtual dancers, the DDR and Wii phenomenon is spreading to other Lynden schools, and schools across the country, as reported by MTV News.

Get outside! When it comes to exercise, nothing compares with good, old-fashioned play outside.

Now, here's a question you may be asking. If you’re going to bowl on the Wii, why not just go to a bowling alley? Sure, a virtual golf course in your very own living room is convenient, but what do you lose when it’s not the real thing? Being outside, being with other people, sharing in our community— these are things that video games can never truly replicate.

It’s important to remember that the Wii is a great alternative to other, more sedentary video games, but nothing can compare to actually getting outside and getting some physical activity.

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Leap for Leap Day!

Once every four years (except years that are divisible by exactly 100 but not 400), users of the Gregorian calendar (the most widely-used calendar in the world and the calendar that the United States follows) tack on an extra day (February 29) to keep the calendar year synchronized with the solar year (which is 6 hours longer than 365 days). Which is a complicated way of saying that it’s Leap Day!

Leap Day Enjoy the view of the bay as you traverse the boardwalk.

In a world where there never seems to be enough time, Leap Day can be a catch-up day to clean out the garage or to (finally) prepare those taxes that are due in April. While you're checking off your To-Do list, try to have a little fun and enjoy the unique features of our community too.

In case you haven’t thought about what to do with those precious extra hours today, here are 29 Ways to Keep the Family Busy on Leap Day.

  1. Ride your bike from Fairhaven to Boulevard on the boardwalk.
  2. Count the Taylor Street Stairs.
  3. Buy 29 beads at the Bead Bazaar to make some original jewelry.
  4. Clean out the closet and make a donation-run to Goodwill.
  5. While you’re at Goodwill, find an inexpensive green outfit for St. Patrick’s Day.
  6. Trek down to the Woodland Park Zoo for their special Leap Day activities.
  7. Depending on visibility, cloud gaze at Fairhaven Park.
  8. Cloud gazing What interesting shapes do you see as the clouds roll by?
  9. Make sack lunches to pass out in the downtown area.
  10. Return any overdue library books or movie rentals.
  11. Visit a nearby museum.
  12. Lead a round of "29 Bottles of Boundary Bay Root Beer on the Wall."
  13. Make and send postcards by gluing white paper on the back of 4×6 photographs.
  14. Watch or listen to Washington State High School Basketball semifinal games.
  15. Enjoy an extra day of the Boomers Drive-In Sale.
  16. Play Leap Frog.
  17. Finish the Friday Sudoku in less than 29 minutes.
  18. Get your Mother’s Day gift ready by painting at mug at CreativiTea.
  19. Practice handstands.
  20. Bake cookies for your mail carrier.
  21. Swim 29 laps at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center (or 2.9 laps for little swimmers).
  22. Search the couch cushions for loose change and put your findings towards a tasty treat at Mallard Ice Cream.
  23. Ribbit! Leap Day: A great day to celebrate our amphibious friends.
  24. Read for an extra 29 minutes.
  25. Get a haircut.
  26. Learn about Edward Eldridge, a founding father of Bellingham and namesake of Eldridge Avenue.
  27. Think of as many words you can that rhyme with “leap” and write some poems.
  28. Learn to play the nose flute.
  29. Organize your sock drawer and use all those lonely unmatched socks to make hand puppets.
  30. See if you recognize any of these Famous Leap Day Babies.
  31. Make a list of 29 things to accomplish before Leap Day 2012.
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