Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise of Doodling.....


.....and fidgeting, and bouncing, and walking in the park, and getting one's head up in the clouds.....




Remember how a nun's ruler would rap your knuckles if she caught you doodling?

I have news for the good Sister. According to recent studies "doodling has been shown to increase attention in monotonous tasks and to improve recall." So, what was with all the knuckle rapping?

And surely you remember fidgeting in church and getting "the look" from your mother? Now it comes to light that "fidgeting is theorized to modulate focus!" I hope my dear departed mother knows this now and is repenting.

Our creativity workshop on Saturday afternoon touched on the effect of movement on creativity.
Turns out that fidgeting and doodling entertain the part of our brain that is starting to get bored so that, with the rest of it, we can pay better attention to the task at hand. And, right off the bat, I can hear the OC's voice demanding to see the "data."

 I don't have any. I have half-formed, fuzzy ideas. Scientific American is not begging for permission to publish my findings (though, come to think of it, wouldn't that be nice!) Off he goes, no longer interested. He's partial to hard facts verified in a lab setting. Anything less and he starts to fidget and grow restless.

But back to the doodling and the fidgeting. It doesn't take a Department of Education study, at great cost to the taxpayer, to figure out  that people need to move. Especially little people. I was horrified to hear, a few years ago, that some schools were doing away with recess. Someone high up in an administrative ivory tower had obviously lost his mind. Any woman with children could tell you, for free, what an insane idea that was.

Even the nuns knew we had to move.They circled the playground like Border Collies, nipping at the heels of those inclined to clump together for chatting purposes. "Run, girls! Play ball! Jump rope! Play tag.....Move!" They knew our brains would balk at declining Latin verbs, or wrestling with Algebra, if we didn't energetically oxygenate our blood during that brief ten minutes on the playground. Anything to increase the flow to the grey matter. But they seemed to have a blind spot when it came to doodling and fidgeting. Neither, in their books, rated as exercise.




I make no claims to be a scientist. I'm merely reporting random tidbits, bandied about by a bunch of women at the library, some of whom were fidgeting as they spoke.  And nobody rapped their knuckles. All the tidbits related to how movement encourages productivity and creativity. One woman told of taking part in an experiment where, in a set amount of time, participants had to connect two lines on a sheet of paper. She only managed to draw nine connecting lines in the given time. All participants were then asked to stand up and jump around for a few minutes. They then repeated the exercise and everyone drew a significantly higher number of lines after the physical activity. Ergo, as the OC cowers in dismay, whatever about creativity, the activity certainly increased production.

One study done in the UK in 2005 concluded that "kids who are allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not." One of our group told of autistic children being allowed to bounce up and down in their seats as they worked because experiments had shown that, when allowed to do so, they would learn more and get better scores.

Interestingly, the effects on the teachers of classrooms full of  bouncing, fidgeting children were not reported.

Curious, I  turned to Google and read the introduction to a paper on this very subject. Thinking I had hit the mother lode, I scrolled down to the meat of the article only to have the writer switch from the English of the introduction to her native Swedish, leaving me up the garden path without a shovel. But from the introduction I had at least gleaned that she believed we fidget the better to focus, relax, explore new ideas and to delay the onset of boredom.

Those are some ideas I could raise a glass to.

Another paper set out to compare highly creative children with those diagnosed as having ADHD. The implication seemed to be that it is sometimes easier, and more convenient, to label an energetic, creative child as hyper active and to medicate him, than to actually provide the level of stimulation that such a child needs.




I'd done nothing more active all day than boil the kettle for tea and drive to the library. The hyperactive child who lives and bounces around in my head had been lacking inspiration lately so, based on what I had so recently heard, I stopped at the park on my way home from the library. It was busy ---  parents pushing toddlers on the swings, hordes of teenagers playing basketball, tennis balls pinging back and forth and kids kicking balls around the soccer fields. I set off at a trot on the walking path....Well, as close to a trot as my aging knees will allow.  The sky overhead was blue. Red leaves shone among the green along a fence, cheeky squirrels squatted in my path, palm trees stood silhouetted against turquoise and peach as the sun started sinking, the scrubby oaks arched over my head and my mental cobwebs got swept away, at least for a while. And here you have the result --- full of the usual half-formed ideas, woefully lacking in hard data.....and not one call yet from Scientific American.

I probably need my knuckles rapped.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

There Was Once a Little Tiger With a Very Big Roar


On November thirteenth, an unspecified number of years ago, I became a mother for the first time. The universe had not researched my qualifications, just plopped her in my lap. She was the most beautiful and the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me.
I could not believe that, after less than a week in the hospital (those were the days!) they turned us out. The OC, who was at that time a very junior curmudgeon and better at bluffing confidence than I was, came to take us home. When I suggested they should send a nurse to live with us for that first year they only laughed and told us everything would be fine. Really? I could not believe their cavalier attitude towards this precious new scrap of humanity.

But, to my everlasting surprise, everthing was fine.

She grew and she thrived and she taught me not to be such a scardy cat and to have a little faith.

She changed and enriched our lives forever.

Now she is all grown up - a smart, kind, gentle and beautiful soul, with two children of her own.

Today is her birthday.

Happy, happy, day EB!

With love,

Mom

Friday, November 11, 2016

Embracing My Inner Pollyanna




My California Girl called me the day after the election. Distraught. When you're distraught about something you call your mom, right? She should be able to fix it, make it better. But I couldn't fix it. I couldn't make it better. As I tried, she only became more enraged that I wasn't as devastated as she was. She's an intelligent, articulate woman, who thinks faster on her feet than I do on mine.  The penny drops s-l-o-w-l-y here. It takes a while for stuff to sink in. Clunk. With her though it had sunk in right away and she was undone.





 .

 It is beyond comprehension that a person who has said such vile things about so many people could be elected president. Since nothing I said to try to calm my daughter was perceived as helpful, I want to let Kahil Gibran have a shot at it.....


"Your children are not your children. 
They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so
He loves also the bow that is stable."


It humbles me that five intelligent, articulate and very individual "arrows" arrived here through me. Makes me feel like a "portal" of some kind. I can no more imagine "the house of tomorrow" than my parents could have imagined the "house" of today. Each one of my children "have their own thoughts" and I am sure that they and their peers will step up to this challenge with the can-do attitude and creative thinking that, it seems to me, is typically American.




When I channel my Inner Pollyanna, people (husband, daughters, sons) smile indulgently, shake their heads and roll their eyes. I grew up in a world that has vanished, a world that protected me for a long time from some of the harsher realities of life. As a resident alien (will I be asked to leave now?) I do not have a vote, but if I did I would have chosen to abstain. There is no good choice between a rock and a hard place.





(It may look like I'm changing the subject here but I'm not.) They say there are no such things as co-incidences. Maybe "they're" right. Doing some badly needed dusting on bookshelves this week, I came across a book my oldest son sent me several years ago. I had good intentions at the time. I meant to read it. But, like lots of my good intentions, it disappeared under a gradually growing pile of other books. I sat down on the floor and started reading (this often happens when I'm in the throes of a spurt of domesticity.) And the further I read the more I found myself smiling.






Best book I could have read this week.Validation! Someone else agrees with me --- there is nothing wrong with having your Inner Pollyanna control your view of the world. The title of the book is "A Quaker Book of Wisdom - Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service and Common Sense," by Robert Lawrence Smith. It made me think I must have been switched at birth and should really have been a Quaker.

I wish I could quote all of it to my children and anyone else who thinks we're on our way to hell in a hand basket, but I'll confine myself to quoting only one passage ---

"Accept the fact that our lives are only partly in our own hands. Luck, the actions of other people, and a host of circumstances beyond our control will invariably affect the outward shape of our lives. Often we don't have the luxury of making choices. Our lives are lived as if we were riding in a canoe down a strongly flowing river, just trying to stay upright and get to the end. Character is measured by how we deal with this reality. Why do good people suffer and live in misery while others, arguably not as good, experience life as a warm, sunny day? The beginning of understanding is when, after asking why, we become silent."

That is #5 in a list of ten life lessons listed at the end of the book. From silence, the Quakers believe, comes wisdom and it doesn't take a genius, or Pollyanna, to connect the ubiquitous lack of silence in the world today to a woeful lack of wisdom.

So call me Pollyanna.

I can take it.

And R? I hope this helps.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Quilt for Miss P



There should have been a drumroll, or several; also a parade with marching musicians; lots of balloons released into the heavens; maybe an air raid siren or two to alert the natives; possibly a leading story in the local newspaper; or, at the very least, a letter of congratulations from the president of the National Quilting Association. 

Inexplicably, there was none of that when I finally finished Miss P's quilt this summer.

 But look what I got instead.  Far more satisfying than all of the above... That smile! 




It all started with this, back in February 2013.





After the initial oohing and ahhing and wishing she weren't on the other side of the planet, my next instinct was to make a quilt. Each grandchild has to have at least one me-made quilt.
 I decided to make her a 
Little Red Hen quilt.
 I knew that, as she grew, she'd be spending time with her UK grandparents who are lucky enough to live closer to her than we do, and therefore with the chickens and guinea fowl, lambs, geese and pigs that live with them.

The fact that there's a well worn copy of The Little Red Hen among the books from our own childrens' childhoods' was a factor. And it certainly helped that "In The Nursery" by Jennifer Sampou and Carolyn Schmitz had a helpful pattern. I had used another pattern from this book for a quilt for Miss P's big brother,





which, I am ashamed to say, was also eons in the making.


I cringed at the instructions which said to fuse the applique shapes for the Little Red Hen and her friends onto the background fabric. Choke, gasp, splutter! Depending on your point of view, I am either a purist, a masochist, or seriously deranged. I'm arguing for purist. I like handwork. Glue would be fine for a paper collage, but for fabric --- never!


The Little Red Hen finds a seed and asks her farmyard friends to help her plant it.

They decline so she plants it all by herself. Here she is, well most of her, digging the hole....after I had first back basted her parts in place (my absolutely favorite applique technique.)







After the seed is planted it has to be watered and the ground around it hoed. Otherwise it will die (as I know  from personal experience.) But when the Little Red Hen asks her friends again to help with these chores they are, once again, too busy, and our hard working feathered friend has to do it all by herself.






Meanwhile the lazy little pig was taking shape, and plans for the cute, but unhelpful, kitten were coming along.








The seed grows into wheat and the Little Red Hen again asks for help harvesting it, but the other critters are  too busy, so she does it all by herself.

Then, all by herself, she grinds it into flour.

Ever the optimist, she asks her friends if they would like to help her bake some bread.
 But no.
They are still too busy.

So she bakes the bread all by herself..

 When the heavenly aroma of bread baking wafts through the farmyard all the friends rush to the Little Red Hen's side to help her eat it. But, the Little Red Hen has managed thus far without any help from her friends and decides that she will eat the bread all by herself, thanks for offering though.



While the Little Red Hen's wheat was growing, so was Miss P. When she was six months old we went to visit.




Her first b'day came and went. Her second birthday came and went.

She had a third birthday, and shortly after that




she came to visit us.





Was the quilt ready and waiting for her? Alas. Again. No.

 The Little Red Hen and her friends were still scratching about in my sewing room, unfinished.




But , as you can see, Miss P was a lot less bothered by the whole business than I was.





The creatures were all assembled, the center panel was finished, so what was my problem?.





It is possible that my brain is disfunctional, considering all the chances I had to get it right .......

When they left, I got to work and, finally, finished the quilt top.

But I wasn't out of the woods yet. Now more opportunities for procrastination presented themselves.
 Should I hand quilt it?
And risk taking another three years to finish?
Threw out that daft idea.
Piecing and applique are my comfort zone. The actual quilting fills me with terror so, I did the sensible thing, and took the quilt to a friend of a friend and paid her to machine quilt it.



It was a long road but it's finally done. I had such fun making it I think I just wanted the process to go on and on and on...
I am always more about the journey than the destination.

And, best of all, reports are that Miss P loves all her quilted farmyard friends.












Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tiptoeing Through the Dahlias


Where to start? 
I've been off visiting in the Northwest and my head is so crowded with images and ideas I'm frozen into inaction. Since I was recently blogging about butterflies, maybe I should get the ball rolling, or unfreeze my brain, by posting another butterfly photo, taken while watering in the garden this morning. He's not as dramatic as the others but his name is very apt --- he's the one most like a pat of butter. If you click to "embiggen" (thanks for that Elephant's Child!) you can see his delicate sippy straw inserted in the flower.
" The summer's gone and all the flowers are dying," the butterflies know their days are numbered so they're flitting frenetically. I'm not a chest-pounding, butterbox-climbing religious zealot but I don't need much more than butterflies, bugs, and flowers, trees and birds to convince me God's in his heaven and there's still a lot right with the world.




On my first weekend in the Northwest we went to a dahlia farm. There, more than here, summer's on the fast track to becoming a distant memory. The flowers were past their prime but still the fields were ablaze with color. I once planted a dahlia, encouraged by a friend's success. Nothing happened. I kept looking for little green shoots and kept not finding them. And recently discovered that our California Girl is a dahlia enthusiast. You could call me one too....the difference between us being that she can actually grow them while I kill them (albeit unintentionally) in infancy. Sigh. My mother had a beautiful flower bed that ran the length of our garden. She'd be so proud of her grandchildren, all of whom, unlike her daughter, can nurture green, leafy things.







It reminded me of growing up, when mother would send me off on my bike to get flowers from the gardens of a grand house nearby. She was on friendly terms with the gardener there. He'd been the hospital gardener when she was nursing and had helped her set up her own flower border. Unfortunately, that little acre of heaven exists only in my memory now. It was long ago paved over and covered with houses. But back then mum always had a vase of fresh flowers on the hall table. I hope she has fields like these in heaven!




As you can see, the bees were busy too at summer's end in the Northwest.

Each variety of dahlia seemed more beautiful than the last but, if I had to pick my overall favourite it would be this....




If forced to choose, I'd say blue was my favourite colour, but when it comes to flowers my heart belongs to the pinks and burgundies.

And though I'm not usually a fan of orange, this baby could almost change my mind!





Another memory stirred by this visit to the dahlia fields was of visiting the tulip fields in Keukenhof, Holland when we lived in Belgium --- Oh my!




Our knowledge of Dutch was minimal but flowers need no words, just appreciative eyes.
No wonder tongue-tied lovers resort to bouquets to do their talking...





Doesn't this pink stir vague memories in your brain of Fibonacci numbers? I'd never heard of them until youngest son learned about them in science class. I was blown away! Proof that you're never too old to learn something new, or a new way of seeing familiar things, such as flowers, that you've been looking at all your life. I checked on Google though and found that Fibonacci numbers don't apply to dahlias. Someone (very dedicated!) took a dahlia apart to count the petals and they were not in the Fibonacci  sequence. But sunflowers are, if you want to take a look...





By the time we headed home our brains were saturated with colour...





....our senses overloaded....




...and we couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day!










Monday, October 03, 2016

The Butterfly and the Plumber's Assistant




 Asking me to go to Home Depot is akin to asking the OC to go and buy me some thread in a Quilt shop. I'll go if I absolutely have to, if all the lightbulbs in the house have burned out, or I need batteries, or we're pricing new washing machines. But, as a place to go and browse? For pleasure? Low on the list. In fact,  close to the bottom.




But occasionally I find myself in a hostage situation. We'll have gone out for a seemingly innocent errand and suddenly, mar dhea, he remembers something he urgently needs from the big box store. It's too far and too hot to walk home, so I try to remember to bring a book along, just in case.




Saturday he lured me into it. He was in handyman mode, installing a new sink in the laundry room so he needed plumbing supplies. Since I'll be the one benefitting I wasn't exactly in a good position to argue.





He assured me it would be a quick stop and why don't I go to the garden section and select some house plants to replace the two I had recently murdered, oh and get a cart. The garden section is the one redeeming thing about HD. The OC can cruise up and down the aisles, pausing and rubbing his chin over these screws or those nuts, or the other bolts, while my knees begin to buckle and my pulse slows and I think if he doesn't get on with it I'm going to collapse right there on the cement floor from the boredom of it all.. And God forbid we shouln't stop to drool over the latest, ridiculously large and complicated barbeques. For all the wild and crazy parties we throw in our back garden, don't you know.

Off he went to Plumbing and me to Garden. I weighed the benefits of one house plant after another. Looking for those that thrive on neglect. This one needs low light, this one bright; this one needs to dry out between waterings, this one likes to keep its toes damp; this one is pretty, this one looks like a weed ..... Hmm. Decisions made, I meandered over to the flower section, ablaze with red pentas and purple somethings and lots and lots of yellow. And what should flutter past my eyes but the most amazing, huge butterfly!  With a wingspan as wide as both of my hands. Oh joy! I set down my plants, got out my phone and gave chase.  And this was my reward --- culled later from the forty eight shots I took --- yes. Forty eight. And yes, I did get some strange looks and yes, if I'd stuck around longer they might have summoned the men in white coats --- but what's the matter with everyone? Not only should we take time to smell the flowers but we should also take time to notice things of staggering beauty fluttering right past our noses instead of head down, shuffling along, oblivious.




Suddenly I remembered the OC and turned to look for him only to find him standing right behind me, arms laden with plumbing supplies, rolling his eyes and wondering where the cart was. Chasing butterflies, getting a cart --- which would you choose? Happy with my forty eight I dutifully went and got a cart.

Note: The largest photo is the one I chased that day. The others are butterflies I "caught" at various times over the summer.













Friday, September 23, 2016

Random Thoughts on "The Yearling."




 We interrupt (ir)regular blogging to bring you some thoughts on a recent read. Probably everyone of my generation who likes to read has read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Everyone except me. It had been on my to-read list for forever but kept getting bumped in favor of newer books. Maybe I had the idea in the back of my head that, since it was originally published in 1938, it wouldn't have much relevance today. Well, hat in hand, I was wrong. I often am.



So what prompted me to finally pick it up? I had sent it as a present to this young person a while back and on our recent trip to see him and his family I found it on a shelf among some of their other books. Sad to report, I don't think grandson B has read it yet though he is an avid reader and always has his nose in a book.




School had already started when we visited so there was ample time for me to bury my nose in a book. I picked up The Yearling just to read a few sample pages and could not put it down.

Why do we read? I read because I love stories and because I am constantly awed by the myriad and magical ways good writers put words together. I also love to write and, by reading the works of talented writers, there's an outside chance some of their magic will find its way into my writing. The talent of the writer is what carries the story along and I became lost in Rawlings' world of life in earlier times in Florida.

Her characters did not come to Florida for the sunshine, for Spring Break or the beaches, or to live out their declining years in air conditioned comfort. They were born here or blown here by circumstance. Life was hard and rations scarce.  The native animals struggled to survive from one season to the next just as the people did. If a hungry bear killed your heifer, life got even harder. If you were bitten by a rattlesnake you'd better hope the doc was home, and sober, and that you could get to him fast. And if a hurricane happened by it was touch and go if you'd survive to pick up the pieces. It was a lonesome existance out in the swamp for young Jody, his dad, Penny, and Ma Baxter. But he was loved, and he loved nature and all its wonders as much as his dad did. Penny had grown up working hard from early childhood and wanted to make life a little less harsh for his only son, so when Jody found an orphaned fawn, Penny persuaded Ma Baxter to let him keep it though she, of the sharp tongue, thought it was enough of a struggle to feed themselves and their animals without taking on the care and feeding of a wild creature. Penny however knew that the belly is not the only part of us that needs feeding. He knew that caring for that orphan fawn would feed his son's soul.

I had to leave the last few chapters unread when our visit came to an end, and the book was not immediately available at the library here. I have now read to the end (and wept, as I remember my middle son doing when he watched the movie as a little boy). It made us weep, but her writing is never maudlin. The heartbreak in the story was just part of life. I wouldn't hesitate to call this one of my all-time favorite books. Read it B! You'll be glad you did.

 A few days after I finished "The Yearling" I happened to read in the newspaper about another, totally different writer, Sebastian Junger, a journalist who has been a war correspondent in conflicts around the world. He directed the documentary "Restrepo" and has written a new book, "Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging," which explores social alienation and lessons from tribal cultures. In explaining why soldiers and Peace Corp volunteers often find themselves depressed when they come home he says "... humans are social primates....wired to live and operate and feel secure in close groups. Wealthier societies are more individualized and we are not really wired for that.......As societies get wealthier the suicide rate goes up. Depression goes up........people come home and find themselves depressed..........stemming from the transition from a close, communal living situation to (an) alienated, individual one back home."


Are you with me still? I know I seem to have wandered from the point. I do have one, though it is bit woolly.Maybe because I had so recently finished The Yearling, Junger's thoughts seemed connected to what I had gleaned from that book.We are wealthier and better educated than any of the characters in the book but the fact that the story resonated with me so much tells me, as if I hadn't known this already, that many of us would forego our modern toys and conveniences for a simpler life, closer to the earth, and with deeper connections to each other.

In explaining some of the harsher aspects of living (his mother's sharp tongue, for example)to his son Penny has this this to say ---

"You kin tame a 'coon. You kin tame a bear. You kin tame a wild-cat and you kin tame a panther." He pondered. His mind went back to his father's sermons. "You kin tame anything, son, excusin' the human tongue."

 We have not changed from the times Rawlings wrote of. We all yearn to belong. Ease and comfort don't make us as happy as we think they should. We miss our tribe. Even though Jody, Penny and Ma Baxter teetered on the brink of poverty most of the time, they were not depressed. They were too busy staying alive, too tired at the end of each day and too happy to have made their way successfully through it to be depressed. They also had wealth beyond the material. They had the love and support of each other, mutual respect and co-operation with their neighbors, and an appreciation of, and respect for, the boundless beauty and natural resources of the world we live in. In today's fractured society how many of us are that well off?