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Happy Place

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I do a lot of teacher training and motivation workshops in an effort to help preschool teachers survive their very stressful job.  One tool I use in my instruction is the old tried and true method of going to your “happy place” when things get crazy.  Just taking a breath, closing your eyes and picturing the one place in the world that will make you feel good.  Everyone has their own happy place and some need to go there more than others.  Heck when I was a preschool teacher I had to go to my happy place so often I had my mail forwarded there.

Over the years my happy place has changed.  I have been to new destinations and had new experiences and that has redefined for me the place that puts me at ease.  I have kept my happy place to myself, but seeing as today’s assignment in my “Writing 101” course is to describe one place you would go to right now, I thought it would be nice to share my happiness destination.

A few years ago, Mrs. Big Joe and I took a cruise to her home country of Greece.  It was so amazing being right next to historical places like the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the McDonalds in Athens (where the Spartans got their Big Macs apparently).  I saw places I only read about in history books and got to be up close and personal with objects from ancient times.

While there were many sites to behold, the one place that stood out was the island of Mykonos.  It was one of the last stops on our journey, and after all we had seen, I wasn’t sure if there was anything on that island that would thrill me.  Mykonos is famous for its windmills, and while they are lovely, they weren’t nearly as impressive as ancient wonders we got to see.  As it turned out however it wasn’t the windmills that were amazing but rather what happened at the windmills.

We were on our own to explore the island, and it was indeed very pretty.  We had just about an hour left before we had to be back on the ship and decided to get up close to the windmills.  It had been windy that whole day and the ocean around the island was choppy.  While we made our way towards the windmills, the wind died down (which in an ironic twist robbed us of seeing the one thing “windmills” do best).  The ocean calmed with the wind and the waters stilled.  From where we were standing, it looked like there was no motion out there at all.

As we stood there, the sun began to set.  It was amazing how quickly it happened. One minute the sun was over our heads and the sky was a stark clear blue.  Just a few minutes later, the sun dropped low on the horizon and blue sky faded into a mix of red and orange. There was a short wall in front of us, and I climbed up on it to get a better view.  I wanted Mrs. Big Joe to come up with me, and at first she resisted ( ever the law abiding citizen she didn’t want to climb on someone’s property.) Finally I convinced her and she climbed up with me.

We sat on that wall and watched nature’s spectacular light show.  The sun sunk slowly on the horizon, and every inch it dropped turned the sky brilliant shaded of red, orange, and brown.  It looked like the sun was striking the ocean and setting the horizon on fire. We were in awe at the beautiful site before us.  I pulled my wife close to me and kissed her cheek as the sun vanished from the sky. As we gazed at the setting sun, we were silent. I realized at that moment that there was not only silence from us, but from everyone around us. Moments earlier there had been the din of tourists talking and moving around the island. Now everyone was still in a moment of magic and majesty.

When life (and or small children) make me crazy and I need to be at peace, I go in my mind to that wall in Mykonos next to my wife and in front of that breathtaking sunset and just like that I have arrived at my happy place 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Oy Come All Ye Faithful

Being a storyteller means I am constantly searching out and writing new stories.  As a result, over time  my collection of tales has grown quite large (about 400 or so at last count).  I have stories of every type and style for everyone from the very young to the very not so young. My stories cover a wide range of topics and themes.  This means that no matter what type of event or classroom I am doing a show for, I have stories that will fit the bill.  This fact serves me well when I am tasked to do a holiday event.  I have stories for just about every holiday, from the high holidays to the manufactured ones (I’m looking at you Valentine’s Day!) and everything in between.  I am also well versed on the traditions and celebrations of various religious groups, and I have stories that will do them justice.

Of course it wasn’t always that way.  My first year as a storyteller, I didn’t have that many stories at my disposal.  I knew a few basic tales (3 Pigs etc.) and wrote some stuff, but I didn’t have the number and type of stories to meet all the demands of my clients.  To make matters worse, I had come from being a preschool teacher, so most of the stories in my collection were for that age level.  Preschool shows were easy, but anything above that age level put me in a tough spot.

So I buckled down and started to add stories to my arsenal as quickly as I could.  Time was passing, and December was coming up.  I knew I had to have material to help carry me through that month of Holiday fun. I found some great Christmas stories and wrote a few others that I was very proud of.  I tested them out, and I knew they would be a big hit.  Finally I got my first chance to debut my new tales at a big party in Newton MA one week before Christmas.  I was very excited and knew the stories would be a hit.

There were about 50 kids all ready to have a good time, and I was going to give it to them!  I launched into my first tale, and while I expected to get some big cheers and laughs, I got a pretty tepid response.  I went to my next story which was a fun tale about Santa and again the response was not what I had hoped.  I threw everything at them, jingling bells, stockings hung by the chimney with care, flying reindeer, but nothing got more than a little bit of polite laughter.

I finished the show and felt horrible about myself.  I began to doubt my skills as a storyteller and writer and began to think I wasn’t cut out to be a teller of tales.  As I waded into the deep end of my self pity pool, my client came to talk to me, and threw me a life preserver of sorts.  He shook my hand, thanked me, and said “Those stories were very nice, the thing is pretty much all of those kids are Orthodox Jewish.”  I felt embarrassed and kind of stupid.  He assured me it was okay, and when he paid me, he even gave me a tip.  Of course the best tip I took from that show was that I needed to expand my horizons and find stories for every holiday, and not just the one that features a fat man in a red suit!

– Big Joe 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Requiem for a Hamster

I was visiting a preschool the other day, and they were mourning the loss of one of their classroom pets (a fish).  It is always difficult when something like that happens.  For the children, it is hard because they have to deal with the concept of death and process the loss on an emotional level.  For the teacher it is hard, because they have to deal with a dead animal, and conduct a full on investigation to figure out who was responsible (trust me, very few classroom pets die of natural causes!)  When I was a teacher, I had to deal with a lot of dead classroom pets (I will have more to say on this subject in later posts).  I had a group of preschoolers hell bent on destruction and as a result none of our pets lived very long.  We were the only preschool class whose newsletter had an obituary section.  For the most part, when one of our pets met an inglorious end, we would dispose of them properly (usually a flushing) and replace them with a new one.  If we did it smoothly enough, we could pretty much pass off the new one as the old one and life would go on. However if the pet was beloved, or if it met a very “visible” end, we would conduct a funeral to allow the kids to morn and to hopefully guilt the murderer into a confession.  One of our more memorable pets was our hamster Snuggles #6.  He was a survivor, and lived the longest of all our classroom pets (3 whole months!)  I wrote a eulogy for him but never got to deliver it (my director was very uptight!)  I forgot all about it, but my visit to the classroom with the deceased fish the other day reminded me about it and I dug it up (pun only slightly intended).  So here now dear readers is how I would have liked to send  Snuggles #6 off to that hamster wheel in the sky…

Requiem for a Hamster

We are here today to mourn the passing of our beloved hamster Snuggles #6. He was a very nice hamster, a very gentle hamster, and before the “incident” on Tuesday a very live hamster.  We learned a lot about hamsters from Snuggles #6. Lessons such as hamsters have fur, hamsters have claws (Billy learned that one the hard way), hamsters eat seeds, hamsters go to the bathroom (a lot), and of course we learned that hamsters cannot fly (a lesson we should have already learned from Snuggles 1 through 3 and Snuggles #5!)   It was fun watching him run around in his cage, but admittedly less fun spending countless hours searching for him all the times one of you let him out of his cage.  We will always cherish the fond memories of Snuggles #6, like the time one of you fed him a cookie and he ran on his wheel till he passed out, or when he had to be water rescued from the toilet during the unsanctioned experiment to see if hamsters can swim (they cannot).  And who can forget the wonderful sight of Snuggles #6 playing “leap frog” with the hamster from Classroom 2 when they brought her over for a visit.  Snuggles #6 was a fighter (just ask Billy) and lasted for a record three months as our classroom pet.  In the end however he was no match for all of you preschoolers, and of course gravity.  So now we bury our friend Snuggles #6 and return him to the earth till God calls us all home, or until one of you maniacs digs him up and takes him home in your lunch box.

Thanks for reading,

Big Joe 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Dog Tale

They say you can’t con a con man (there is a more colorful version of that saying involving a bull but I want to keep this blog above boards for anyone nice enough to be reading it.)  In my case that is very true.  I am a storyteller, so I deal in fiction all the time. I am very good at re imagining the truth, speaking of things that do not exist, pulling words from thin air, or to put it more bluntly I can lie like a Persian rug.  Be able to “tell stories”, also has given me the ability to tell when others are “telling stories”.  This ability has served me well and for the most part has kept me out of trouble.  It is very hard to lie to me without me picking up on it. As a rule I am hardly ever fooled.  Of course with every rule there is an exception.

His name was Christopher and he was four.  He was one of the the preschoolers I taught in my former teaching life.  He was always the last child to be picked up, and with me working the end of the day shift, he and I spent a lot of time together.  It was kind of cool having one on one time, because we got to hang out and do things without all the the other kids pulling me in a million different directions.

Chris was a very chilled out kid, so for the most part we would sit at a table and draw, or play with play-dough, or build stuff with Legos (by the way getting to play with Legos was one of my top 3 three reasons for wanting to be a preschool teacher!)  As we hung out, we would talk about different subjects like cartoons, or dinosaurs, or superheroes. It was fun, but also a little disconcerting when I realized I had a lot of the same interests as a four year old.

One of Chris’ favorite things to talk about was his dog Lance. He loved that dog, and told me all about him.  Every day he would tell me about a cute thing that Lance did or a funny anecdote about him. He talked about him playing in the yard with Lance, giving him a bath, teaching him to fetch, and a whole host of other things relating to a boy and his dog.

For a couple of days one week, Chris and I chatted but he didn’t mention Lance at all.  On the third day, I became a little curious and a bit concerned, so I gently asked how Lance was.  Chris looked up at me with very sad eyes and told me that Lance was very sick. He said they had taken him to the vet and he may have to have an operation.  Having lost a dog recently myself, I knew what he was going through, so I comforted him and told him things would be okay.

When his mom came to pick him up, I pulled her aside and told her that Chris was a bit upset and told her I felt bad that their dog was sick.  She looked at me completely baffled and uttered a very drawn out “Whaaat?”  In that moment, I realized I was lied to, and felt kind of silly.  I said “Wait a minute, your dog isn’t really sick is he?”  She smiled and said “No, but that’s just because we don’t have a dog!” For the first time in a long long while I was rendered speechless. Chris’ mom had a good laugh about the whole thing, and all I could do was shake my head. As I watched her and “Keyser Soze Jr” leave the classroom I realized you can con a con man, and sometimes all it takes is a four year old with a very active imagination 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

2nd Fiddle to Santa

Santa and me in happier times

Santa and me in happier times

December is here which means the countdown to Christmas has begun.  Although let’s face it the countdown began the day after Halloween when stores traded one set of decorations for another and started to force feed us Christmas (I’m sorry “Holiday”) cheer.  I don’t mind the hype, and I kind of dig Christmas music (to a point), but there is one part of the whole season that bugs me.  Between now and the 25th I will do a ton of Christmas themed shows.  That is not the bad part, because I work for myself and lots of shows means lots of money and I am very fond of such a thing.  No no, the part I don’t like is that most of the Christmas shows I do involve Santa.  Now I have nothing against Santa per say (other than fact that it’s been 42 years and I haven’t gotten a pony), its just that when I do shows where he is involved, he is the main attraction.

Usually when I do a regular show, everyone is there to see me.  When I do Christmas shows however I am just an opening act, a warm up, a prelude to something bigger.  I am there to set the stage for the true star of the show.  Don’t get me wrong, my problem with all this has nothing to do with ego.  I have opened for many big performers, bands, and entertainers and was fine doing it. The problem with opening for Santa is that he’s, well..Santa.  He is the one who brings kids tons of presents once a year and really how can you compete with someone like that?

When I am on the same bill as him, I am pretty much meaningless.  I am basically the guy that is preventing kids from seeing Santa. They don’t want stories, they don’t want entertainment, they want presents.  It doesn’t help that when I do these shows they introduce me by saying “Okay kids it’s time for Big Joe the Storyteller, then after him: SANTA!!!”  From that moment on they hear nothing I say because I am talking and all they hear in their head is “Santa,Santa,Santa,Santa,Santa,Santa, Presents, Santa Santa, Santa, Santa!!”

I am fairly good at keeping an audience’s attention, but in that situation three minutes in and I start to lose them as visions of sugarplums start dancing in their heads.  I try to hold onto them by name dropping Santa in a story or two, but that only serves to remind them of what’s coming next.  What’s coming next is their main focus and I’m pretty much white noise (or in this case “White Christmas” noise – your groan here).  I swear I could just talk gibberish for a half hour and I would get the same reaction I get telling my cute little tales.

Being second fiddle to Santa isn’t the worst thing in the world because at least I can say I am sharing the stage with an icon.  Of course it would be nice to get some of the adulation and cheers the big guy gets.  There was one time last year when I was doing a Christmas show and it was particularly grueling.  The kids had gone off to get cookies before the main event and I sat in my chair collecting my thoughts. A three year old came up to me and said “Thank you for the show!” and proceeded to give me a hug.  I was momentarily touched but then he followed it with “I love you Santa!”    The sentiment wasn’t meant for me but I took it anyway as my own personal Christmas present.  Let’s face it I need all the presents I can get because I am pretty sure I am not getting a pony again this year!

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

G-Man

As a storyteller I am a lover of the classics, three pigs, three bears etc.  Stories we all know, stories we all love, and stories I grew up with.  One of my favorites is the story of the Gingerbread Man.  Loved that story when I was a kid and love it even more as a storyteller.  I tell the original version, not any of the newer ones that have been written like “The Gingerbread Boy”,  “The Gingerbread Girl”, The Gingerbread Certified Public Accountant” (might have made that last one up!)

Of course while I do tell the original version, I do make one slight change to the ending.  As you may remember,  at the end of “The Gingerbread Man”  (SPOILER ALERT) he gets eaten by a fox.  Now I have nothing wrong with the ending because after all he was only a cookie, so no real harm was done.  However I made the change after an incident that happened early on on my storytelling career.

When I started out, I would tell “The Gingerbread Man” with the original death by fox ending.  No one seemed to mind and no one complained so I kept telling it that way.  Then one day I was in a preschool in Andover telling tales and I decided to end with “The Gingerbread Man”.  It was going very well and the kids were enjoying it until I got to the end.  After the fox ate G-Man, the happy looks on the faces of the kids turned to shock and horror.  Hands covered mouths, eyes bugged out and some kids started to cry.

Now I was used to individual kids having bad reactions to parts of stories, but never had I witnessed mass hysteria.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on.  Then one of the kids who was crying started to point at the wall behind me.  I turned around and there across the back wall was a mural depicting the adventures of the Gingerbread man who was very much alive.  I also noticed that hanging on a hook at the end of the mural was a Gingerbread man puppet.  I found out later that he was the classroom mascot and the teachers used the puppet during transition time and to tell stories before nap.  So I had pretty much just killed their hero and ruined their tiny little lives. I felt really bad and tried to explain my way out of things but no one was buying it.  I left feeling horrible with a group of sad kids in my wake.  Needless to say I was never invited back to that preschool.

That was a bout 12 years ago and all should be forgotten. However if there are any kids out there who were at that show and are still traumatized from my tale I sincerely apologize. Rest assured the Gingerbread Man did NOT get eaten.  He kept on running and is now retired and living in a nice condo in Tampa.  You can also rest assured that from that day on my version of the story has been amended so in the end the Gingerbread man and everyone else lives happily ever after!

– Big Joe