Thursday, December 31, 2009

Heading into a New Year Creatively...

I love the day of New Year’s Eve.  I got up early this morning and curled up on the couch to write in my journal by the light of the Christmas tree, enjoying the twinkle of the lights.

It has been almost 4 months of this adventure with more interruptions along the way than I’d expected, but bringing Creativity into my life on a daily basis has now become a way of life.  I thought it might be funny to end 2009 with a look at some of the daily exercises I tried that DIDN’T work well enough to share them.  Hope they put a smile on your face as we get ready to inhale the air of a brand new year!

1)  Being creative with your socks.  I wore 2 different socks to work to see if anyone would notice!  Less than 1% of the kids and staff at school noticed.  One student asked if I’d gotten dressed in the dark and several just looked at my with an “I hope I don’t get weird and senile like that when I am old!” look.

2)  Using food colouring to change the colours of food like potatoes.  DON’T!  (Even the pictures looked too gross to put up on the site!)

3)  Making an Acrostic with the letters of your name.
R-eally not sure this is a good idea...

4)  Finger painting with your feet.  What was I thinking except to see if my toes had any talent.  Artists are always worried about something happening to their hands... but I will NOT be learning to draw with my feel if that comes about.  Luckily, I tried this one when the kids were out. I am sure they’d have been more talented, but the mess would have sent Nick into shock.

5)  Writing Your Day as a Dr. Seuss Poem.  “The last days of teaching before Christmas break, are filled with caffeine just for sanity’s sake.  The students are bouncy and giddy with glee... I might as well try to nail slush to a tree!”

INHALE: We sometimes forget that in order to become more Creative, we have to try things that WON’T work in order to find what will.  Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”  For the rest of this adventure, I want to keep trying and possibly failing because the discoveries along the way will be more exciting than how often I succeed.  I found this quote of his that will be one of my mantras for 2010:

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

EXHALE: If you can find a quiet moment in the chaos of the year’s ending, write a list of 3 things that you discovered about yourself this year, 3 things you’d like to change in yourself or the world around you in the New Year and write down 3 quotes that inspire you on the same page of your book or journal.

Then go quietly out into the last day of this year and celebrate it’s ending and all the new beginnings that stretch before us!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Overboard Cookie Decorating...

We just can’t help it.  Our family loves decorating cookies together.  It’s just another way of drawing using different colours of edible products  and blank cookies instead of crayons and paper. 

Since cookies keep for a while when stored in airtight containers, I usually bake ahead and then we get out everything for a massive icing session while the Christmas playlist blares away on my iPod.

This year, we iced in two batches, one for the teachers a few days before I left for Dad’s funeral and then the last of the cookies on the same day we made our Gingerbread house as a family.

Royal icing powder from places like the Bulk Barn is great to use because it hardens so quickly. It also holds up well if you are packing a variety of  cookies into a single tin or container.  We usually make up two batches of white icing and then put food colouring into a variety of plastic bags to tint the white from there.  Never use cheaper sandwich bags for this because the zip seal tops have a tendency to explode when you least expect them to.  Snipping off a tiny corner of each bag allows for a fairly even flow of icing.

We also try to stick to similar shapes of cookies every year; gingerbread, sugar cookies and shortbread.

I tend to keep mine looking fairly consistent since I ice big batches on cookie sheets all at once...

The girls are fond of picking out a selection of cookies to ice individually for their teachers...

and Nick likes to make the really odd ones that we give to our closest friends.

Once everything is done, the pictures are taken, the cookies batched up and the best ones chosen for Santa’s plate, there’s really nothing left to do except the dishes... and plan for next year’s cookie extravaganza.

INHALE:  It’s funny how many of our celebrations revolve around food.  I used to feel guilty as a Weight Watchers leader about giving food as gifts.  Now I understand that sometimes it’s not about quantity, but rather about quality and presentation.  A small selection of hand decorated cookies makes a wonderful, caring gift even if it does contain calories.  The girls get such a kick out of making them as well as presenting them to their teachers on the last day of school before the holidays. Handmade isn’t always cheaper or easier, but it can be a lot of fun!

EXHALE:  Holiday baking is all done now.  This post was originally going to appear before Christmas, but there are still ways to dream for next year.  Where do you keep your favourite holiday recipes?  If you have children, there are recipes that they will want to have later when they set out on their own to duplicate childhood memories in their own homes someday.  Take a page in your book and write, sketch or doodle some of your earliest childhood memories about holiday baking.  Try to capture the smells, the sights and above all.... try not to drool too much on the page!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There is Nothing Creative about Death... Except how you Celebrate Life

Did I ever dream that when I began this adventure that almost 2 weeks would get swallowed up by pain and grief?  My father passed away the day after my last blog entry and we got the news in the midst of volleyball championships and the night before our church pageant.  I’d planned to blog about the backdrop I’d painted, the massive cookie icing we had planned as a family...  and all of that just disappeared in the rush to book a last minute plane ticket to Tulsa for his funeral.  I traveled as light as I could, left the laptop behind and wrote my thoughts out in my journal instead.  From a blogger’s point of view, I fell of the face of the earth.  From a daughter’s point of view, I went to honour my father’s life.  From a dragon’s point of view, I crawled into a cave to lick my wounds.  Time to step back out into the light.

Though I didn’t come up with an activity for myself each day, I still found that some of the key things I am learning on this adventure will now kick in automatically.  There are three things that I can count on to help me relax no matter what life throws at me.  The first is taking deep even breaths as I think “Inhale, Exhale, Inhale, Exhale” to myself, picturing the little green and blue icons I created for this site.  The second one is finding any random patterned surface and looking for images.  This worked well with tiles on airport washroom floors,  stucco on hotel ceilings, carpet in church waiting rooms and clouds over unfamiliar cities.  The third one is to open my sketchbook that travels everywhere with me and just let random words or images flow out through the pen and onto the paper. Sometimes it will start with an object I want to sketch and other times, the images are more iconic, drawn from memory rather than real life.  All three of these automatically calm me down or give me something creative to focus on as an anchor.

This past week also taught me a lot about Celebrating a person’s Life even as you mourn the loss their Death creates.  It was hard reconciling my memories with the person who meant so much to so many people in a city far away.  It was important to be there to support his newest family as they grieved with the fresh loss but also the peace as Dad’s physical suffering ended.  It was comforting to hear all of the stories of how my father touched the lives of the many families into which he delivered babies in a caring and prayerful way. It was healing to be able to hug siblings and spend time with them when we are usually scattered so far around the globe, sharing memories of Dad that were private to us.

Creativity surrounds us no matter where we go and what we face.  We just have to look for it, reach out for it and draw it close for comfort and inspiration.

INHALE: Living Creatively teaches us to be better prepared for every adventure, even Death.  Every project has an end.  No project is perfect as we always seem to point out to those who compliment us.  Creativity sometimes carries us to create things that are very different that what we first sat down to make, just as our lives sometimes take turns in directions we didn’t expect. Through it all, despite it all, Creative opportunities linger joyfully around us, hoping that we will chose to MAKE something, JOIN in the dance, WRITE to inspire ourselves or others, SING rather than remain silent and GIVE to the world instead of just taking. The choice is always ours.

EXHALE:  Go looking for a photo of someone you loved who is no longer with you.  Find a quiet spot and write down words or memories of what that person meant to you, how they helped you to grow, what you miss most about them and what special memories give you comfort even though they are gone.  Celebrating someone’s life and how it touched you doesn’t just happen at a funeral or a memorial service... the very best of what someone brought to your life carries on within you for the rest of your days.  Celebrate that gift.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time For Some Holiday Fun...

When I revamped my website last week, I added a contest for the holidays and linked it to my drawing blog .  Since no one has been brave enough to enter the contest yet, I thought I would throw it out here for those of you who are trying to inhale a bit of Creativity.

This isn’t about drawing ability so much as ideas...

Are you up for some fun?  Let’s see what some of you can come up with!

INHALE:  The thing about taking chances or trying something new is that it can be scary.  We are worried about how people may judge us.  Today was report card day and Bethany was actually disappointed that she only had one A+ in a straight A report card!  So often, we create impossible expectations in our heads that keep us from trying something because we are afraid to look foolish or to fail. The more I try to be Creative, the more I realize that failing is actually a necessary part of being Creative.  It is only when you try something different or push the envelope that you may sail off in to brave, uncharted territories!

EXHALE:  Today is easy.  Print out the picture and doodle... colour it... turn it into a paper airplane.  You don’t have to enter the contest if you don’t want to, you just have to play.  We need to have more play and experimentation in our lives!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trying Not to Hold My Breath...

This is a time of year when the veil between Heaven and Earth thins a little.  Everyone is rushing around preparing for the many celebrations that brighten this time of year.  This weekend is going to be incredibly busy as so many obligations collide...  and I keep catching myself holding my breath.

I do that while driving or as a passenger, especially now that snow has fallen, as cars cut each other off or run red lights in their hurry.  The girls were disappointed that today wasn’t a snow day after the storm blew through to quickly... but I needed that day home alone.

I hold my breath to calm myself when a wave of anxiety about my father hits.  When I exhale, I am reminded that there are things in this world over which I have no control.  I can, however, try not to make myself turn blue or purple.

I hold my breath when I am excited. There will be plenty of that this weekend as Erin’s team plays in the Provincial Volleyball Finals to establish rankings for the year.  When the score gets close, I am often so caught up in the volleys back and forth that I don’t breathe until someone scores a point!

I also find myself holding my breath sometimes while creating things.  Today was all about getting angel costumes ready for Sunday’s pageant at church.  Hemming was easy, but working with fabric paint and glitter requires steady hands... and sometimes holding your breath so that you don’t wobble.

My basement floor became the perfect place to let most of them dry overnight... as long as the rabbit doesn’t sneak out of her cage!

Every time I exhale after one of these moments, I am reminded of neat twist of fate that gave this blog its name.  I thought I was being clever and creative, but little did I know how those simple images would come to mean to me on this 365 day journey.  I can hardly believe it has been 3 months since the start of the adventure.  There was so much more that I expected to have done by now!  Through all of the fun and most of the chaos, thinking about ways to bring Creativity into my life has been a wonderful anchor.  Maybe that’s what we need most when storms hit - an anchor or a safe harbour.

INHALE:  If I have learned nothing else in the last 90 days, it has been that you cannot control everything in your life.  The wonder of all of this is that you CAN control how you respond to what is thrown at you, especially when looking for Creative solutions.  I haven’t always been successful in the past 3 months, but some of the strength I have gained along the way has been because of the effort more than because of the results.  I’m learning to love the expression “Plan all the details, then go with the flow!”

EXHALE:  There are SO many opportunities to get involved in something Creative during this time of year, especially in ways that help others.  Can you knit mittens or scarves for a shelter? Take some toys to a hospital or youth charity? Buy an extra turkey for a family who may have none?  Think about how you could stop holding your breath and just get out there to make a difference in one other person’s life.  If nothing else, you’ll get so busy that you’ll forget about whether or not you should hold your breath and one other person’s life will be enriched!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Watching and Waiting...

The first snowstorm of the season has left our city looking like a magical postcard.  Everything is transformed into a winter wonderland where imperfections are covered up under the puffy whiteness of new beginnings.  Right now, I feel like my life could use a blanket of that snow!

The past few days have been both busy and difficult ones.  We have been preparing our house and our lives for Christmas, living with hope in our hearts and running the gauntlet of seasonal commitments... all the while knowing that the phone could ring any day to tell me that my father has lost his battle with cancer.

Every phone call has become something to treasure, even the awful, incoherent ones like this afternoon.  Hearing his voice, however tired, means that I can still reach him on the other end of a phone line.  Every chance I have to tell him that I love him is one more time that he will hear those words from my lips as well as from my heart.

Our Christmas tree is a mad celebration of homemade and purchased ornaments that stretch back all the way to the first ornament I stitched when I was a little girl who wanted to make a Mary for the tree.

I have cardinals and a banjo to remind me of my Bop and Jet, precious grandparents that I lost while still in my teens.

Talented friends have made many beautiful ornaments for me over the years... this is just the most recent one to grace this year’s tree...

or a carving from Debbie that will someday grace my daughter’s tree when she has a home of her own.

Every year I try to make a different ornament for friends and family, always keeping one for our tree, like this Santa from a few years ago.

Sometimes, like this year, Christmas can also be about preparing to say Goodbye.

This little bear graced the trees of my Childhood.  Made of Chenille pipe cleaners, “Boris” has been slowly rusting and rotting away from the inside.  Last year, I couldn’t bear to throw him out and put off the decision.  This year, the analogy between an ornament and my father’s failing body seems almost too much to bear.  (OK... that made me groan through my tears!)

We can be Creative in how we let go... as well as how we hold on to things.

INHALE: Some Inhales feel more shaky than others these days, but every moment still teaching me something when I let go and take time to feel things instead of staying numb and busy.  As I was hanging my ornaments this year, I was aware of how my best friend is starting her tree over almost from scratch after losing everything in a fire last spring.  Each one of my ornaments has a story and a legacy... but in the end, they are all just stuff.  No matter what gets broken, lost, destroyed of thrown out, nothing can take away the memories that brought us joy.  It is to that knowledge and hope that I cling to as I take each breath.

EXHALE:  Create a new piece of history for your home, buy a new ornament that speaks to you, a new tablecloth to lay out or a new story of the holidays to read to children.  Try a new cookie recipe to share with a friend.  No matter which holiday you celebrate in this darkening time of year, add something new to your life this week.  Take the time to LET GO of something else this week as well... a negative emotion or something broken that doesn’t work.  When everything felt out of control today, I sat down and sorted the pen jar near the phone and threw out 6 of the pens that really didn’t work anymore.  It felt surprisingly good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why Does Creativity Differ From Day to Day?

There are times when Creativity just seems to flow as easily as breathing and other times when it moves slower than molasses on a -30 degree January night.

I fully intended to have the overhaul of my websites done during November... and yet every time I  got a few minutes to work on the basic organization of it (as well as the look), something would happen or interrupt me.

Today, I finally got everything updated and even posted a contest on my Doodling Dragons blog .  I put the best of my sketchbook pages on flickr so that I can link a slideshow to my websites.  I mailed out an order to a distributor after batching everything.  I am working on some Biology sheets with little drawings to help the struggling students.

Why does it still feel as if I am moving through quicksand?

INHALE:  Perfectionism is something that I have struggled with all my life.  Sometimes the voices offering advice were external, but mostly they are internal.  The past few years have finally started to teach me that it isn’t so much about doing something perfectly, it is more about just doing it.  Does is matter how fast a job gets done, how well a job gets done or just that the job gets done?  The answer can be different at any given moment, but the trick is to make sure that you at least make an attempt.  To do nothing does not help the world in any way.

EXHALE:  If you find yourself making lists and checking them twice or marking way too many things on your calendar as we flip the page over to December, don’t forget to add some Creative doodles to lighten the mood.  Your challenge today is to go online or into your local newspaper and find a cartoon that makes you laugh.  Print it out or cut it out and paste it into your book to make you a smile anytime you return to that page.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Greeting Advent Creatively...

Advent is one of my favourite season of the year.  I love the very idea of preparing room, setting the scene for the magic of this season, acknowledging that the best gifts are not the ones that can be purchased.

When we tidied the shed a few weeks ago to bring the winter stuff forward and send the summer stuff back, I stared at the 5 green and red rubbermaid totes in anticipation.  We put up the lights while it was still mild, but they only turned on for the first time tonight.

Part of the joy of unpacking familiar seasonal treasures is the sheer delight we can take in seeing them again.  One of our Advent treasures is the Corner Santa carved for us by the talented Debbie Everett.  She and my step-father’s brother, George Foster, are two incredibly creative people and we are lucky enough to have a treasure or two from each of them in our home.  Debbie and George are both living proof that Creativity can grow and thrive without “formal” training. All that matters is that you explore the potential that lies within you, not how many hours of lessons you take!  This Santa graces the corner by our front door every year, complete with his cross stitch stocking!

Getting ready for Advent also means adding Creative touches around the house.  We have a garland that goes right on top of our usual cranberry coloured swag, tucking into the regular holders...

I fill the two low, white bowls that grace our table for every season with interesting shapes of holiday potpourri and pine cones...

and look around for spots in which to settle favourite treasures about the house.

This year I feel that I am preparing myself Creatively...both inside and out.

INHALE: Forget about rushing out to buy the perfect gifts. While retailers are yelling at us about great bargains and low prices, we need to find the time to centre ourselves.  Some of the best gifts are the ones that money cannot buy.  Some of the best memories are made when we least expect them.  Instead of thinking how much you should spend, think about how you could practice your Creativity this holiday season so that those who mean the most to you know they are loved and cherished.  It is not the cost of the gift that matters, it is the act of giving, especially Creatively, that brings us close to others.

EXHALE:  What touch of colour, what scent, what sound can you savour today that will begin this process of preparing? Many cultures and faiths celebrate light in this time of darkness, contemplate the closing of one year and the beginning of the next.  Down under, the longest day is celebrated instead of the darkest night.  Find a bowl and fill it with holiday treasures, string up a ribbon on which to hang cards as they arrive or sit down and play that first playlist or CD of holiday favourites as you look through cookie recipes.  The possibilities for being Creative, even amid all the business of the season are endless!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Shout Out to Incredible Creativity..

There are times when you discover something so beautiful and powerful that you just have to share it with others.  My mom was at a workshop this weekend led by Jan Richardson.  Her website and her blog offer a look into how she writes about her faith or creates powerful, beautiful images.  She has the most incredible way of putting complex issues and ideas into words, living out her beliefs  as well as inspiring others to explore and giving them ideas to try.  As a preparation for Advent, she encouraged groups of people to explore while making images that fit each of the topics out of torn paper.

Can you tell that my Mom had fun playing?

I love looking at the textures and colours that she mixed as well as the unexpected shapes and images that form when you just give yourself over to something creative.

Being given the chance to play and explore is such a gift in itself.

How can you carve out a bit of time amid the chaos of this season to be Creative?  The time will be well spent.

INHALE:  When life gets busy or emotional, we have a tendency to hide, to make excuses, to avoid putting our own needs on the “to do” list, I think that we actually make things worse.  Just as our bodies cannot go forever without rest, our spirits need Creative moments to restore them and keep them in balance.  We need to Inhale our Creativity on a daily basis during busy seasons as well as quiet ones.

EXHALE:  Almost everyone has a calendar or planning book where they keep track of their major appointments and events.  Open yours and block off 2 half hour sessions sometime in the next week where you can be creative.  Now find 3 fifteen minute blocks to look through magazines, fondle supplies, shop for ingredients or sort creative spaces.  Shorter times can be just as valuable when we work them in.  Aren’t you worth it?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Creativity in Chaos and Quiet..

It’s been a busy time in our household.  I am now substitute teaching 3 to 5 days a week until Christmas because of the 3 day a week position and other days that had been booked way ahead that I’d accepted.  It is also volleyball season, so our whole family jumped in the van right after school on Friday and drove up to Bathurst , just over 2 hours away, to stay overnight before yesterday’s huge tournament.  Erin’s team played an exhausting 13 games in the 9 hours of the tournament (winning 9 and loosing 4) going right down to a 15 point tiebreaker for 3rd place when both teams were literally falling down with exhaustion.  Along the way they overcame some real challenges, played some truly beautiful volleyball and gave all the parents a lot to cheer for.  I manages to knit scarves without too many changes in tension... though the metal needles got a little slippery when my palms got sweaty!  I discovered that creating amid chaos and noise not only helps keep me calm, it gives me something to show for all those hours on the court side.

My mom was at a retreat all day yesterday entitled Making Way for Advent  where she got to think, create and celebrate fellowship in far less noise.  It was an event that I really wanted to attend, but I’d already missed 2 weekends of tournaments while teaching in Toronto and being at the cross stitch retreat a few weekends ago.

Don’t misunderstand.  There is nothing wrong with any parent or person putting themselves first now and then to follow their dreams, conduct business or indulge in something they really need.  Being a parent or being in a relationship with a partner (or both) means that you have to find the balance between the needs of self and the needs of the other(s). It means finding ways of being Creative whether you are in chaos or quiet.  It means knowing that there can be a certain peace or satisfaction found in almost any moment of our lives if we start looking for them.

Just make your choices and go with them instead of looking over your shoulder or wondering what could have been.

Inhaling Creativity is teaching me to live in each moment more fully.

INHALE:  I think that we need both Chaos and Quiet in which to create... just not at the same time.  Anyone who has ever spent time at an event where people are being Creative knows that people with energy can get a little noisy.  That energy can pump us up and push us on to new heights of inspiration and exhilaration when we understand that almost anything is possible.  Quiet moments on the other hand, allow us to get in touch with our inner selves, recharge our batteries, sort through our supplies, organize our thoughts or creating spaces and dreams of next projects or possibilities.  Nature reminds us all the time that both stages are part of the circle.  As the Fall meanders slowly into Winter here and prepares for a sleep, I know that on the other side of the world, the frenzy of Spring is leading into the warmth of summer.

EXHALE:  Many of us prefer one part of this cycle more than the other, even though both are necessary.  Maybe I’ve been studying too many plant life cycles for the Biology class I am supervising with the diploid(2N) and haploid (N) stages of things, but it really rings true for me.  Divide a page in your book in half and label the two sections QUIET and CHAOS.  In each area, write down, doodle, collage or identify the things you like about each stage.  What Creative acts do you like to do in chaos with others or what creative things do you like to do that involve chaos?  What do you enjoy about having quiet time in which to create?  Do some creative things lend themselves to being done in both quiet and chaos?  Like discovering that you can actually enjoy using a colour you didn’t think you liked, you may find that there are quiet a few things about being Creative in Chaos or Quiet that you didn’t expect you enjoyed as much as you do!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creativity in Teaching...

When I first started this journey over 2 months ago, I never dreamed the many ways in which Creativity would show itself in my life.  This Monday, I began a substitute teaching assignment to replace a teacher 3 days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) from now until the Christmas break.  This offers me some predictability in my schedule and also give me some consistency in terms of the young people I am dealing with.  I will be helping a student teacher cope with the teaching load for these classes and also working with struggling learners.

Creativity has its place in Education because we don’t all learn things in the same way.  I went to a French high school in Montreal as a french immersion student and learned most of my courses in a language that wasn’t my mother tongue, so I learned a variety of ways to help myself understand.  I drew pictures, made cartoons and graphed out charts or diagrams to help things make sense.

Tomorrow, I am bringing in our play dough so that the struggling students can BUILD a cell with all of the parts in different colours and shapes of play dough.  I have also come up with a truly dorky rap song about how to learn the chain of plants from algae to bryophytes and tracheophytes (which include spore plants, gymnosperm and angiosperm). It should be interesting at least...if they don’t fall off their chairs laughing themselves silly!

Being Creative in how we teach ourselves to absorb information or learn new things can only enrich the experience...

INHALE:  The more our society advances, the more we learn how different and individual each one of us is.  We are all UNIQUE creations and yet society continues to expect us to behave “en masse” (rough translation- as a group).  Maybe being 6’5” in my bare feet allows me to balk at being fit into a cookie-cutter, one size fits all mold, but I think we do ourselves an INJUSTICE when we expect everything to only go one way.  It might be easier not to have to push the envelope, think outside the box or try new ways of doing something, but that does not mean we shouldn’t keep looking for NEW solutions to OLD problems.

EXHALE: Do you know what your own learning style is (or styles are)?  Do you learn best when you hear something explained? See it done? Try it yourself? Take something apart and put it back together?  Spend a few minutes thinking about this and doodle, write or jot down ideas about what WORKS for YOU in your notebook.  The more you know what works best for you, the easier it is to be Creative within your own style of learning and share that with others to help them learn as well.  Just because something works for someone else, does not mean it has to work for you, so keep searching until you find the key to your own puzzles. That way someday, you can help someone else unlock theirs!