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,


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.