Sparkle Stories Blog

And then it snowed

It worked!


We got snow.  Weird wishing for snow in the end of February, but there it is.  That is how the weather rolls.  And truly, the weather and children really get each other.  Totally present tense  – totally what it is.


Children can definitely complain and moan about the weather as much as their parents can.  But if left alone to be with the snow, rain or whatever – it doesn’t take long for them to find the magic and beauty and perfect rightness that is the weather at that moment.


Snowstorms in May?  Sledding.

Sixth day of rain?  Lets go check the brook.

Another day of 1oo plus temperatures?  I wonder if I can cook something on this rock.


So a few days ago, the boys were wanting no more snow – they were ready for spring and spotting crocuses and song birds and mud.  But then it snowed.  And they are thrilled.

A Bonus Story of Snow – “Jack and the Snowman” (download below)

Northern Vermont is without snow.  Well, a lot of Northern Vermont is without snow – the slopes have snow and lots of it – and there are pockets here and there – but generally, our part of the world is golden brown.

This year

If taken out of context, the landscape is actually quite beautiful in its vintage color scheme and spartan endurance.  All things are pointing to spring, but the land knows better and is staying put.  Apparently next week we might get a little of the magic crystals but we’ll see.

last year

So this is what it is.  We can read into it and we can listen to explanations from meteorologists, but in the end – this is this.  What’s so.

But we can still dream.  And to help that process, we have a story for you.  A winter story.  A story about snow and the miracle that comes when you make a snowman or snow woman or snow dog or what have you.  The fairies regard such creations as a statement of reality and they invest heavily each and every one.

So, in honor of the promise of snow – a story about a boy named Jack and what happens when he positions a carrot in just the right way in the middle of his snowman’s face.  Enjoy!

Mardi Gras

In this week’s “At Home with Martin and Sylvia”, brother and sister attend a Mardi Gras festival in their town hall.  There is a band, a dance caller and a piece of “King’s Cake” for everyone (but only one bean).

A big inspiration for this story is the yearly Mardi Gras celebration that our local Waldorf School holds every year where the French teacher teaches songs and dances all winter long – culminating in a colorful mask-laden carnival dance in the community room.  After writing the “At Home” story, I found out that the school decided to hold this year’s dance in the town hall as well.

Life is art is life, to be true.  Especially when children are involved.  Let the good times roll everyone.  May your Fat Tuesday bring you color, whimsy, frolic and indeed a healthy helping of fat!

Getting Ready

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday – a brilliant name for a day.  Abundant, decadent, joyful, indulgent, tasty – a day to let loose and get all the wilds and woolies so that the soul can focus on getting right with the All-That-Is the following day on Ash Wednesday.


Lent begins in ashes.


Whether you are Christian or not Christian, Lent mirrors the landscape of this part of the world.  The last days of winter in the Northeast are a bleak affair.  Unwelcome snowstorms can come at the end of March.  Longstanding ice and snow are dirty and stubborn.  If there is a thaw, it yields profound mud – mud that finds its way into every part of your life.  There is an impatience to the next 40 days that cannot be remedied from without.  Trips to Florida only help in the temporary – the sober truth is that Lent in the Northeast is not unlike the desert.


In my experience, the only way to meet this thin and challenging time of year is to go inward and tighten up the will.   Give myself challenges.  No sugar for 40 days.  No grains.  No caffeine.  Meditate twice a day.  Exercise 20 minutes – whatever.  But to make a promise to myself and then endeavor to keep it.


This, I think, is a good thing.  It feels like a cleanse and a preparation for the magic of spring – the brilliance and craziness of spring.  The euphoric shriek of “I’m Alive!” The testament that death is only what comes before rebirth.  It is an amazing time in the Northeast when crocuses burst through ice and snow, when geese come honking back on the scene and trees redden with new buds.  Like getting up after a very long sleep – it’s a little crazy but the aches and pains feel reassuring. 


But before we get there, we need a taste of suffering – or at least challenge.  We need a beanstalk to climb and a dark forest to walk through.  We need something to overcome so we can feel a little stronger, braver and more authentic than before. 


I wonder what Lent feels like in the Southern Hemisphere – when summer is yielding to Autumn.   What is the tendency then?  The world is a big place and we picture the seasons by what is around us – but certain dates are in the calendar no matter where you live.  So what is Lent in the Tundra?  In the rain forest?  In the outback?  In the desert?  What do we share that is beyond temperature and landscape?  What is at the heart of this particular season?


So if Marti Gras is part of your life – then dance, let the good times roll and clear out your larders.  And on Wednesday, feel the shift as we mark ourselves with ash.   For everyone else, what stories are living in you this week?  Is there overlap with the narratives of cleansing, making ready, being penitent and praying? I wonder what is global during this time of year.  What is deeper than any calendar date or holiday description.   Tomorrow is Tuesday – the most energetic and willful day of the week.  Whether our Tuesday is Fat or just Tuesday, let us be inspired by the day and maybe even make a little noise while we are at it. 

The Human Classroom – Questioning the benefits of High Tech devices

An article in the LA times expands on a general intention from the current federal administration and influential high tech interests to get laptops, ipads and the like into all elementary schools.   Those of you who read this blog and others that advocate a mindful (and restricted) approach to media and children, will likely cringe at the idea of computers in every classroom.


Now the good news is that the LA times article, like the NY times article of month’s previous, is critical of this initiative citing quotes like “Computers, in and of themselves, do very little to aid learning,” and that studies found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was “not statistically different from zero.”


Those are not opinions, those are statistics – and though statistics are only as good as the studies that breed them, numbers do have currency in general public.


My proposal is that along with all the stats and control group studies, parents around the world have their own control group study with their own children.  Give them an ipad and some instruction on how to use it.   Set them up with an app that teaches them a bit of American history or the water cycle or something age appropriate that they might be learning at school.  Let them use it for 20 minutes and be available to answer questions.  Then take the ipad away and propose to do something else.  How do they respond?  What was the quality of their experience?  How are they relating to the content and the intentions of the lesson?  Pay attention to their behavior as well as the feeling in the room.  Your feelings count too.  How do you feel?


Then the next day try a different approach.  I propose an approach that asks more of you as educator.  In this approach you need to do more work and engage yourself in the lesson.  Take a similar lesson as the one taught in the app – history, science or whatever – and this time put together a short story.  If the lesson is about history, tell the story of that nugget of history.  If the lesson is about something scientific, tell a story about the natural world or about children experiencing the science involved.  Then say, “Once upon a time” and keep talking for 15 minutes.  Tell the story.  When you are finished, give a little space for questions or responses and then pay attention.  Ask yourself the same questions as before and note the difference in your child.  Remember to pay attention to how you feel.


Now – aside from the natural anxiety that comes when preparing to tell a story – please note the tone in the room and how the rest of the day goes.


I know my relationship to technology.  I am so very grateful for spell check, Wikipedia, access to blogs, email and huffington post.  Creating content is easy and allows me to sit in my chair and be able to find stuff out that I would not otherwise be able to find.


I also constantly battle the desire to check my email, favorite blogs, huff post updates, google analytics and my email again.  It feels like a drug sometimes – like everything will be OK if I just check.  That seeing a spike in activity on our website will bring me peace.  But it doesn’t.  It only feeds the desire for more checking.


If this lives in me – imagine what lives in a developing mind?  A mind that is building entirely new neural pathways that will be the unique mental infrastructure of that child’s life.  What dynamics are we allowing when we place incredibly stimulating technologies in front of young children.  Dimitri Christakis, a neurologist and parent sees a definitive connection between screen time and attention deficit – because real life does not match the hyper-stimulating world of contemporary TV and computer apps.

The question is in the air and is still being justly criticized.  The time is now to propose a highly conservative approach to educating children – making it a human experience.  Hand held devices are only as useful as the hands that hold them – so lets start with those first.  ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ is a motto that just makes sense to me.

Here is some high tech I can stand by:


Bonus Story for Valentines Day – “The Caster’s Daughter”

Here is a story from our “by Thistle by Thimble” story series called “The Caster’s Daughter”

In an age when trades were passed on exclusively from fathers to sons, a famous plaster caster teaches everything he knows to his daughter. As he gets older and less able to work, his daughter secretly takes on more and more work until it is she that completes some of the most complicated castings of that time. After her father dies, a Duke’s son arrives at the workshop’s door with a very lucrative opportunity. The caster’s daughter is faced with a difficult decision: tell the Duke’s son the truth, or pretend like her father is still alive and take the job. Her choice has bigger consequences than she can imagine.

Secret Heart Totes

In this week’s “At Home with Martin & Sylvia” , the brother and sister make secret heart totes – homemade satchels of valentines and sweets with the declaration “You are Loved” on the front – and then secretly leave them on their friends’ and neighbors’ front doors.

Well, we’ve had a lot of dear friends taking care of us these last weeks, and so we thanked just a few of them with secret gifts….

We started with production

Delivery required disguises and stealth

Though we weren’t able to visit you all yesterday –  here’s to you!  Friends and family, near and far, remember you are truly deeply and delightfully…

Fear and the New Hip

So I’ve kept a pretty significant personal bit of news from you all that I have previously filed under “family business” – that I am now ready to upgrade to “public information”. 10 days ago I had full hip replacement surgery. My right hip is now made of titanium and ceramic with a thin plastic sleeve in between to serve as a buffer.

I am unfolding this today because I am not only celebrating the fact that I am now walking (with a cane) without pain – but that the stories are still coming. This was the biggest news. You see, previous to the surgery I had an unfounded and irrational worry that the hip replacement would somehow “disrupt the antenna” that was tapped into the great big vat of stories. I have always seen sparkle stories as a delivery service for stories plucked out of the infinite. I claim no “ownership” of the stories in the same way as there are no “authors” of the classic fairy tails. My part is to deliver the story – to make myself soft and available to the wisdom and narrative muses and then just talk. The stories are universal and I manifest them. That’s my job.

And so, making myself soft and receptive had become pretty easy for me. I knew how to do it – how to pay attention, follow the attraction and then trust the tale enough to open my mouth and start talking. I’d follow the story along with you all and be just as surprised at the end. It would then be written down and worked a bit by my editor and narrative specialist (and wife) and then we’d send it out via the website as a complete audio story. The system worked and worked well. High quality stories were delivered every week.

Then I found out that the pain in my hip that I’d been experiencing for months was due to a crazy medical fluke that resulted in the rapid disintegration of my femoral head. The bone was dead and my hip needed to be replaced. My doctor did over 300 of these replacements a year and every one of them was very grateful they did. I was able to walk but I could not hike or X country ski or play football with my two boys – so the decision seemed clear. Replace it.

But I was worried. What did it mean to replace bone (albeit dead bone) with metal and ceramic? What would that do to my antenna? Would I still be able to pluck so many stories from the cosmos as before? All year I had been teaching people how to do just that – and likely some of them had hip or knee replacements – so why would I be an exception? Again – the fear was unfounded and irrational, but most fears are. Unless you are being chased by a bear, most fears are based in the imagination and have no place in reality. So I’d talk myself out of the fear and then it would come back. It seemed that the only way to know was to move ahead.

I had completed what I believed to be one of our best stories yet: “The Fool’s Son” – and was ready to accept whatever fate brought me. The surgery went perfectly and for the past 10 days my recovery has been right on track. Today I graduate to a cane. And I am thrilled to say that over the past two days I have told some amazing tales to my boys that have been written down and will be delivered to you all in a few week’s time. One is about a horse and a jockey (I don’t know anything about horse racing) and another is about a baker finding his true home. Really great stories. I am grateful to have been a part of them.

So all is well. In fact it is better. The hip is about movementmovement forward. It is the primary joint between the up above and the down below. It is where heaven meets the earth and one of my hips is now shiny and new. Made of the earth yet crafted by people. I feel blessed and indeed, the stories are undaunted and freely arriving every day.

Why the Super Bowl is so Important

Like most people my age, I’ve watched the superbowl as long as I can remember. The event is a little older than me, so it lives in the childhood memories of a few generations now. I don’t follow football – never really have. I loved the rams when I was very young because of their helmet. Then I became a Bills fan when I lived outside of Buffalo – the Bills were terrible then. Then I became an enduring Packers fan because they had the audacity of wearing yellow and green. No other team had that kind of confidence.


But I didn’t really watch much football.  The season would unfold and then mid January I would hear about the playoffs and which teams were doing well.  It was usually a surprise – and occasionally it would be a team that was important to me.  Then superbowl sunday arrived and I, along with the rest of the country, became a huge fan.


I watched this happen with my oldest boy this year.  This was his first superbowl – it was always too late and we don’t have a television anyway – but this year he was 10 and the network decided to put it online.  So we said yes.  And I got really excited.  I would be sharing this huge event with my boy and since it was online, it would be easy to blot out the commercials and focus on the game.  Plus it was the Patriots and we live in New England.


So then the family proceeded to become huge football fans.  We haven’t paid attention all year but suddenly we were rabid.  Every move, every throw, every down became a nail biting experience.  And when the game ended with a Hail Mary pass from Brady into the inzone – and was not caught – we were heartbroken.  My boy cried.  He professed his deep hatred for the Giants.  He felt sick. 


It took a while for him to fall asleep.  He kept talking about all the “What ifs” and possibilities where the Patriots could have won.  He was authentically grieving.


That is powerful stuff and I am not writing to either encourage or discourage this kind of emotional journey for a 10 year old – I am writing to acknowledge the power and importance of the super bowl in our culture.


We are starving for epic stories.  It feeds our souls to navigate through an difficult journey of great hardship and life lessons – to follow a hero or heroine across miles of desert or tundra or rainforest or ocean – to be chased by alligators or enemy forces or giants or aggressive birds – to make one’s way back home, bringing back riches or a wife or a prince or a magical goose and to celebrate that a transformation has occurred.  We hear those stories and sigh.  We have just been fed.


We adults have a harder time finding these stories in their pure form so we find them all dressed up in films and TV shows and indeed, sports.  Nothing like sports to get you into the us verses them mentality where archetypal dynamics can be played out in a safe, contained environment.  The heroes and heroines take the ball and work it like a long sword or crossbow – fighting with majesty and grace and elegance and courage – never giving up, right to the bitter end.  And then they face the music.  One team has “won” and the other has “lost”.  And we ,who have aligned ourselves with one side of the story, experience the emotional fallout together.


And so the Super Bowl is the big event.  The best of the best.  We learn about the players and their stories.  We learn about the coaches and their stories.  We learn about the teams and towns and their stories.  And then they play.  Their is strategy and surprise.  There are thrills and huge disappointments.  And then there is the final minute that can last a lifetime.  We are braced and taught.  We watch like we are watching our own lives – like everything might change according to how the game goes.  And then it is over.  And we have either won or lost.  And we must deal with it.


To say “But it was a good game” meant nothing to my boy whose world had fallen with the Patriot’s defeat.  He was in a purely narrative space and needed to work through its tragic conclusion.


The superbowl is important because it is thick with story.  It is washed in it and every moment a part of a narrative that tugs at our basic humanity.  Now, just because it is important does not mean it is for everyone and child development needs to be a factor in deciding whether this particular story is right for your child or not.   There is a lot to swallow in this story of victory and defeat.  There is no righteousness with the superbowl – that is why one can bet on it.  The best team does not always win.  The team that is winning for nearly the entire game does not always win in the end.


What does it mean?  I don’t know.  I don’t know why a pass completion makes me want to cry or why a particular defensive strategy can create incredible nostalgia but it does and I am grateful for it.

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