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Going to the Dogs

Unwinding With Wood

A Tennessee support professional sticks it to stress with a unique gift.

people02.jpgSuperstitious? Knock on wood. Stressed? Rub some wood.

That’s the theory behind Stress Sticks, created by John Brazee, a carpenter and warehouse supervisor for Tennessee’s Jackson-Madison County school system. He carves each of the pocket-size wooden rectangles himself and gives them out for folks to tote in a wallet or handbag. “Keep stress in pocket or purse—not in heart,” read the accompanying instructions.

Brazee conceived the idea five years ago while working among the large stacks of wood in his warehouse. “The original idea was floating around from living stones and other little things you carry around with you,” he says. “So I made mine a Stress Stick.”

When he unveiled them at a college job fair, offering them to undergrads who came to hear him talk about carpentry, the sticks were a hit. So much so that Brazee started attaching his business card and giving them to the salespeople with whom he did business. Soon, he was handing them out at Tennessee  Education Association meetings, ESP National Committee conferences, and the NEA Representative Assembly. At one RA, NEA Vice President Dennis Van Roekel got his first
Stress Stick.

“I give them away to anybody I can get my hands on,” Brazee says, estimating that about 2,000 have passed from his hands to others’. And that’s a lot of stress relief.

Command Performance

Collecting histories that might otherwise get lost keeps this teacher on his toes.

Charles Jerome Woods, a special education teacher in Los Angeles, has a passion for dance and perhaps an even larger passion for preserving it. From dancing in the kitchen as a young man and mulling a career as a dancer or critic, he’s come to view the development of a National Black Dance Archive as his top priority outside of the classroom.

Dancers are dying or leaving the region, Woods says, and their playbills, flyers, and ephemera are getting lost or discarded. He has nearly 1,000 pieces now, but is grappling with where to house it all.

This isn’t Woods’ only foray into complex archival work. He is also amassing documents that will comprise the Western States Black, Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Archive.
Woods says he’s not a spokesperson for the cultural communities he creates archives for, “but I want them to be preserved. And not just preserved, but seen, heard, and enjoyed.”

Going to the Dogs

A Montana retiree chases her new passion across frozen expanses—and back into the classroom.

When Lela Schlitz retired from teaching elementary school in 2002, she knew she’d need something to keep her busy, so she went barking up another tree.

Her husband had started a five-dog touring sled team with $5,000 of their savings. She began joining him on weekends, taking the dogs to a nearby ski resort and giving people rides for cash. The couple “slogged through the snow on a sled in winter and a golf cart in summer,” says Schlitz. “It was exhausting. As mushers, we push more than we ride.”

It wasn’t long before education returned to Schlitz’s life, this time as part of her new business enterprise. While giving a fellow teacher a ride one day, the woman mentioned that her class was reading a book about a boy trying to save his grandfather’s farm by winning a sled race. She asked Schlitz to bring the team to her school. “That’s when we realized we could tie this in with literature,” Schlitz says. “We use Stone Fox in the elementary classes and Call of the Wild among high schoolers.” In addition to the reading programs, she and her husband conduct school assemblies, giving children the chance to pet the dogs and learn about their work on a team. They relax on their 20-acre spread in Montana.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have mushed a dog sled,” she says. “But I found something that I can put my heart and soul into.”

A Hobby That’s (Not) Music to His Ears

One Minnesota choral and drama teacher has spent the last 20 years in stitches.

Mike Ellingsen knows that as in the music and drama lessons he imparts to his students, artistry is in perfecting the details. For 20 years, Ellingsen has melded countless fabric swatches and delicate thread into more than 90 heirloom quilts.

It was watching his wife work on a sewing machine that first drew his interest. “I thought, ‘It’s just another power tool so it looks fun,’” he recalls. When the couple saw a quilt on a magazine cover that they liked, they considered its expense and decided to take a crack at making one themselves. Ellingsen has primarily taught himself, using books and watching instructional TV shows. While he’s certainly not the only male quilter out there, he says men practicing the art are “a pretty rare breed, maybe one in 100.”

His work has garnered the attention of not only the myriad recipients of his creations, but also the area quilting community. This year, he was the featured quilter at a quilting exposition in his hometown of Blue Earth, and he designed a special blanket for the event, featuring 150-year-old pictures from the town’s history.

The tranquility of the hobby appeals most to the man whose day is filled with a medley of sounds, sometimes cacophonous.

“I spend my whole day using my voice, but quilting is silent,” Ellingsen says.

When you look back on 2007, what’s the one thing you most want to be able to say about your year?

Do you have an interesting story idea? Contact section editor Cynthia Kopkowski at

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