What do you get when you have a pumpkin that won’t stand upright, a few dowels, some clothespins, a long strip of paper and a couple of hours to kill? That’s right, a crank-o-lantern!




So! I wrote a beginner ukulele book! I have been teaching people to play ukulele for years, and in the process I developed a teaching method that helps people play their first songs on a musical instrument, even if it’s something they didn’t think they could do. I combined my “first-time-beginner” learning method with nice big illustrations for little kids to enjoy.

I’ve received many requests for songs that are really easy, so I limited this songbook to songs that mostly have only the two easiest chords: F and C7. My goal was that anybody could pick up a ukulele, no matter how “musically challenged” they claim to be, and entertain their daughter, nephew, grandchild, or themselves with this book.


The Easy Illustrated book of Kids’ Ukulele Folk Songs will be available on Amazon in time for Christmas!

In the process of making easy ukulele songs accessible to everyone, I invented something I called the “player’s eye view chord chart.” (I think it’s new—or at least I haven’t seen any others quite like it.)

I  thought it might be easier for beginners to understand finger placement if the illustrations showed the chords from their viewpoint.

Here’s the page from The Easy Illustrated book of Kids’ Ukulele Folk Songs that features the “Player’s Eye View” ukulele chord illustrations. Pin away! And thanks for spreading the word about my new book. I hope it’s perfect for parents, teachers, grandparents, or anyone who wants to play music with children. It could also make a nice gift for kids (~ages 5-9) who are new to the ukulele.




In May I got together with a bunch of friends and we tested out my theory that a crankie show could be made in one sitting by a group of people.

I used John Prine’s tune Big Old Goofy World, because it has lots of literal images, and because I love John Prine, and because it IS a big old goofy world.

I gave out pieces of black self adhesive vinyl, and the 20 or so participants each devised and cut out their own illustration. I have numbered the segments and written the words out on the scroll ahead of time, then we called out the numbers and people came up and stuck their pictures down on the scroll.

Fiddler Tom Robison helped me perform the song on the fly, (our friend Joe and his wife Tara were the extemporaneous cranking and puppeteering team) and in spite of my horrible ability to remember lyrics, it was just a wonderful, warm experience to see the show and the audience’s reaction to their collaborative work.

I finished the “There Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” crankie and my friend, fiddler Tom Robison helped me perform it live at a crankie party we hosted at the public library. Holy smokes does Tom sound good on that thing. He just walked in cold, I hummed a few bars, and he tore it up.

My crankie fever continues… I’ve scheduled kids’ workshops in Butte (IBRC, Aug, 6-7 2019) and Bozeman (Public Library, Aug 13 2019).

I wanted to find a medium that young kids could use that makes a big bold mark, but not a wet mess (since I want to perform our crankie right after we make it) and I found “Kwik Stix” tempera sticks. (Other brands are available, but this is the only kind I’ve tried so far.)

My brother Kent was in town, so after dinner one rainy evening I talked him into drawing a crankie with me. We solicited the help of our 9-year-old cousin, Suri, her mom, Susan, and my nephew, Nick to make a crankie of a song we used to sing a lot as kids: “The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night.” After Kent drew the cartoons and Suri outlined and colored them, I went back in and added some details and watercolor to fill in the backgrounds.

I left white areas for shadow puppets. I probably could have done a better job of puppeteering, but I was too excited to upload this. 🙂

I liked the paint sticks: Amazingly, they dry in seconds! They have a consistency similar to gel or oil sticks, but none of the mess. Unfortunately, they’re not available in single colors, so you have to buy them in full sets. But they do go a pretty long way. We only used about 1/4 of a stick to draw the whole crankie scroll.

Here’s where I got my Kwik Stix. In the spirit of full disclosure, the link below an Amazon Affiliate link, so I think maybe I get a few pennies if you click through and buy from my link.

The Pencil Grip Kwik Stix Solid Tempera Paint, Super Quick Drying, 12 Pack (TPG-602)



So I bought this painting today.


Last spring, when my friend, Irish fiddler Tom Robison, told me he was making a crankie, I had no idea what he was talking about. Then he sent me this link to Meg Chittenden’s “The Wheel” performance, and I immediately knew I had to make a crankie.

Basically, crankies are like those “movies” you made in grade school where you poke a couple of cardboard tubes through holes in a cardboard box with a “TV screen” window cut out of it, then reel a scroll (which you’ve painstakingly illustrated in crayon) from one tube to the other, creating a moving narrative.

Those were cool! And crankies are even cooler! You can add a backlight for added drama and contrivances (such as crank handles with knobs!) to make the scroll crank more smoothly. Apparently, moving panoramas have been around a very long time, which I learned more about from Sue Truman’s Cranky Factory web page. To my delight, it seems that making and performing them has emerged in the folk music community, where people create beautiful pictorial scrolls (often set to story songs) and show them with live acoustic music. Some add layers and shadow puppetry, and some are quite simple.

I guess there are even cranky festivals cropping up all over the place, where you can see people performing their crankies and music live. What could be more enticing to the folk art lover? I can’t imagine.

Anyway, it took me a while (let’s say a year?) to get around to building my first real crankie box. (Last year I made a test mini-cranky in an old SLR camera. It held some challenges and my illustration was a little bit half-assed, but it satisfied my crankie fever, at least temporarily.) My test crankie was to my original tune, “The Angel of the Ukulele Cabaret,” performed by Seattle ukulele busking legend, Howlin Hobbit.

This spring I was teaching a ukulele class for a group of 9th graders and, desperate for ways to keep them interested, I tossed out making a crankie as an activity idea. In the spirit of “if you build it they will come” I brought black paper, glue sticks, scissors and a roll of baking parchment to the classroom before I even had my cranky box made.

I asked the students to brainstorm words to the Barenaked Ladies tune, “If I Had a Million Dollars” by providing five or six answers to each of the questions, “What would you do if you had a billion dollars, superpowers, or magical powers?” Each student picked their two or three most visual answers and set to work drawing and cutting out their segment of the scroll. My only advice was to make things big and bold, since it would be shown in silhouette, and to include some kind of continuous horizon line through their illustration to help tie together the motion of the story. They did an amazing job and I loved how their art turned out! (It’s shown later in post.)

Meanwhile, while the students were on Spring Break, I got busy and made the crankie box. David stood by, handing me power tools, making suggestions, and generally tempering my impetuous nature. For the first box we made, we used a dresser drawer (amazingly, I found a dresser for $5 at a thrift store!). I loosely followed the instructions provided at Sue Truman’s Cranky Factory web page, but simplified it a little. We just cut a window in the bottom of a drawer with a saber saw, drilled some holes to insert dowels, and assembled it with screws.

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The dresser drawer box was my “test drive.” I envisioned using a suitcase, but I didn’t want to ruin the suitcase if I messed it up. Here’s the test drive (to me singing part of the Louis Jordan song, “There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”

It worked pretty well, but the black paper shapes did not stick to parchment paper. Nothing sticks to parchment paper! Luckily, I had read that clear adhesive shelf paper can add strength to cranky scrolls, so I added clear shelf paper to the students’ illustrations and then lifted them right off of the parchment paper and transferred them to tracing paper (which worked ok, but I’m still looking for a backing I like better. Some people use Tyvek.).

I learned that it’s much easier to apply the adhesive shelf paper if you don’t try to do too big of a piece. I started using vertical pieces, 6″ or so wide, (this tip thanks to the inspiring crankie artist, Dejah Leger check her out!) overlapping them slightly, all my wrinkle worries were over. I adhered the students’ scenes to the tracing paper scroll, combining them with my own additional scenes to make one big scroll. I used a credit card to apply Yes! paste to the backs of areas that had quite a lot of black space. Otherwise, it didn’t take too much glue, since the shelf paper helps hold everything down.

Here’s the finished suitcase crankie, with my students singing their Million Dollar parody. (There’s another version of the song on my youtube channel where the kids are cranking and I’m playing the ukulele, but I enjoy hearing them sing it by themselves. 🙂

Now, to get back to the studio and finish up those chickens! After that, I’m going to try a different style of paper in an even smaller crankie box that I’m hoping to make in an old Emerson radio case. And Tom and I are putting our heads together to host some type of community crankie event in Bozeman soon. Stay tuned…


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I got a Graco Pack and Play playard for my new grandson and the mobile that came with it is super boring!

When my own daughter was a baby, I made a makeshift mobile for her using some chopsticks as cross supports, sewing thread for hanging, and triangles of cereal box cardboard covered with bright gift wrap paper. The triangle shapes made the pictures face her when she was looking up. (I did not hang it above her crib, just in case my home-made contraption might fall and entangle her. I hung it in the living room where I could keep an eye on her.)

I now have more tools at my disposal, so I whipped up a conversion kit for the playpen mobile. You wouldn’t need fancy tools to do something like this. You could get by with plain paper (with bold marks on it), scissors and some adhesive tape (pretty sure that’s what I used my first time around). Obviously, don’t leave a baby unattended with anything you’ve cobbled together like this. That said, since it’s paper, it hangs easily and makes baby’s view much more interesting. Here’s how I made it.

Some other means of closure would probably work. Keep safety in mind, though!

This was to work on the pre-installed velcro that comes on the Graco Pack and Play mobile. You could probably attach via some other means, though again, keep safety in mind, and don’t leave baby unattended with anything that might endanger them in any way. If your pictures were on your triangles, you’d be done at this point. I wanted to add some existing pictures to mine though:

This process could be simplified by just drawing on the middle third of some paper triangles (probably wider ones), hanging them up (safely) and calling it done! I was retrofitting an existing mobile with some laminated pictures I already had.

The Brownpaper Christmas Alphabet

It’s a special Christmas, folks. I became a Granny!

To celebrate receiving a perfect grandchild, I published my first children’s book, The Brownpaper Christmas Alphabet. The edition shown above has a big illustration and one warm-hearted Christmas alphabet word on each page. It’s available in paperback on Amazon and downloadable on Kindle.


As a surprise for my sisters to read to their first grade classes, I also made a bigger version of the book, called the Big Brownpaper Christmas Mouse Alphabet Storybook. (It has the same sweet illustrations, but includes a rhyming verse just right for read-aloud time. They loved it!)

It all started when I bought some blocks to draw on for my daughter Wren’s baby shower. After I drew this vole in a vest playing violin, I knew I had to do a whole alphabet.


Rather than drawing on blocks, though, I thought it would be fun to make a book, so I turned to the pile of brown paper Town and Country Grocery bags waiting for their second chance at utility and lopped them into squares.

Marla Goodman mouse illustrations

I got out my Prismacolor pencils and just went to town. I had to take a rest when the thumb on my right hand staged an arthritic protest, but more I drew, the more I wanted to draw.

I kept thinking of tricky details to add to the pictures. Each picture has hidden alphabet words to find! (I included a list of them at the end of the book, but don’t stop looking, because there are even more hidden alphabet words than I listed!)

Mouse dancing illustration by Marla Goodman

J is for Joy we feel down to our toes. (But also for jacket, jug, juice, jam, jitterbug, jazz and jump!)

I had so much fun in my little mouse world, drawing and coloring away the dreary November evenings. Come December, the expected heir did indeed arrive, and I was much too excited to wait for Christmas. I gave it to my grandson Ira when he was only a day old! Now, I can hardly wait to start on his Christmas gift for next year. And the year after!

Mouse sleeping illustration

Can you find more words that begin with N? There are at least five in this picture. Want to find more? You can pick up your own copy of the Big Brownpaper Christmas Mouse Alphabet Storybook, snuggle up with a friend and have a cozy holiday season!


Update: I did indeed finish a second book in time for Ira’s second Christmas. 🙂 He isn’t quite ready to play ukulele yet, but maybe it will be just right for someone you know: The Amazon, too!



This aspen tree palette knife painting project for senior citizens was done at The Gallatin Rest Home, which cares for very elderly people, many with significant health issues.

Preface about this “cookie cutter” project approach. I have found that many adults feel apprehensive about making art and enjoy themselves more if they are given some kind of structure to begin with. I’ve also noticed that using non-traditional tools and techniques helps participants overcome the fear of “messing up.” (For senior citizens, having diminished dexterity can be very frustrating, so using tools they haven’t tried before circumvents expectations of how the tool should work.)

I chose aspen trees since their shape is simple and distinctly recognizable. Fall is a nice time to talk about bright, falling leaves which are beautiful in their imperfection.

  1. Since my class time is only an hour, I prepped my canvases with a background color to dry overnight. (I used a credit card and a rag to create a smooth gradation from robin’s egg blue to navy blue. –Note on the example photos, I had first tried white to blue to black, but I decided brighter blue was better– It didn’t matter if they were perfect because the background recedes behind the trees in the finished painting.)
  2. I started with short (5-minutes or less) demonstration of using the palette knife to apply white trunks and branches, black shadows and knotholes, and blobby yellow leaves. (This is for the seniors’ benefit, but also for the helpers, who need an understanding of the process in order to assist the seniors.)
  3. I passed out example images of aspen trees that had been painted with a palette knife, making sure that people understood that their painting didn’t need to match.
  4. We gave each painter a plastic palette knife and blobs of white and black paint (about the size of a quarter) on a paper plate.
  5. I demonstrated how to drag the palette knife downwards to create a straight tree trunk, then pull the branches upward.
  6. I showed how adding black along one side of each trunk creates a shaded side, then added black and gray dots and flecks to look like knot holes and bark.
  7. I gave each artist a wet paper towel (baby wipes work great) to clean their palette knife.
  8. When trunks were done, I gave each artist two shades for leaves: a darker ochre, and a bright lemon yellow. I showed how to dab yellow on to create the impression of leaves, and talked about how some leaves might be falling, or already on the ground.

The project took about 30 minutes for each person to do. For some older seniors, this is a plenty long time to sustain attention. For younger seniors or people with fewer physical challenges or more time, I would provide some photos of aspen trees for inspiration. The painters could have painted their own gradient backgrounds using a credit card or piece or card stock if the class had met twice (so there would be time for the background to dry).

Helping seniors paint: If you’re a helper with this activity, here are some examples of how you can help.


Getting started:

  • Sometimes people have a hard time getting started, so I’m not shy about demonstrating that first line. If I see someone who looks like they don’t know how to begin, I ask, Would you like me to make the first trunk so you can see how it works? If I get no answer, I just do it and then load up the palette knife and casually hand it to the person. Sometimes I may point to an area on the canvas and say, It looks like this would be a good place to start.
  • People often lose momentum, so helping them continue and complete a work is a delicate art. Here are some ideas to help them be attentive without nagging:

Talk about the tools and the paint:

  • Have you ever painted with a palette knife before? It’s quite different from a brush, isn’t it? You don’t have to worry about the details.
  • That white paint looks nice and bright on the blue.
  • I see you have mixed some black paint in the white. That reminds me of tree bark.
  • Do you want some more white paint? Here’s some more. I’ll load up your tool for you.
  • Load up their palette knife with paint, repeatedly, if needed!

Talk about what they have done so far, and encourage them to keep going:

  • “You see you painted one trunk. Do you want to make another one? Here’s some more white.”
  • “I see you made a nice, bold white line. What do you think it needs now?”
  • I see you made a leaf. If you want more, you could dab some more paint on.

Countering negativity:

Always resist the urge to talk about “good” or “bad” artists or art.

  • Please, never say in front of any artist of any age, “I’m a bad artist” or “You’re a good artist.” There is never a need to bring up the topic of self-judgment, even if you’re judging yourself. Keep it light and easygoing. Think more in terms of, “We’re experimenting here, and anything goes.”
  • If a participant is saying “Mine looks messy” you don’t have to contradict them. You can quietly let them have their opinion, or if you feel they want reassurance, you can say “To me it looks lively!” or “I’ve noticed when I walk in the forest that leaves do look messy sometimes. I love windy days in the fall. How about you?”
  • Again, you don’t have to tell the artist, “It’s good.” It’s not your job to judge their art. Instead, encourage them by saying something more like, “It’s adventurous of you to experiment with this messy technique!” or just validate their feelings by saying, “You like things to be tidy, don’t you?” or “This is kind of a messy process, isn’t it?”
  • Although most participants enjoyed this activity, one said over and over, “I can’t paint my way out of a wet paper bag.” In this case, I just joked, “Well, you never know!”
  • Unlike small children, many older people have spent a lifetime being judged and criticized, so don’t feel discouraged if some people come with “baggage” about art. Just congratulate them for touching art supplies and thank them for joining you on an adventure, knowing that this sensory and cognitive experience is valuable, and it’s not up to you to “fix” their attitude.

I always enjoy the end of a workshop, when people see what others have done, how different and individual each piece is, and how we can celebrate each different approach. Participants always seem to leave feeling good about the works as a group.



aspen tree trunks

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