Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding Creativity in the Mundane...

I faced my fears today and drove to France for some afterschool activities with my niece and nephew... surviving roundabouts and mopeds, narrow lanes, delivery trucks and unmanned border crossings. I did not have to resort to chocolate in triumph and the worst moment came as the sun suddenly cleared the clouds to shine on one mountain in particular. I found myself contemplating pulling over suddenly into the farmer’s field to take a picture... luckily, common sense won out.
Yes, today, I finally saw the mountains! The local Swiss probably think the tall person in the burgundy coat is as mad as a hatter. I went up to the top floor of the shopping centre and out into a courtyard between buildings to shoot one picture of Geneva with the mountains behind it. I am sure that tourists with cameras never go there, only smokers, but I might not have had any other proof of Alp sightings! Images are stuck in my camera for now since I am using my brother's computer, but I will alter these posts once I get home to include the images I intended to put here.

Today’s inhalation actually came from the more mundane tasks in my life today as lived in someone else’s house.

INHALE: Chores are pretty un-fun no matter what age you are. Encouraging children to help out can sometimes try your patience on the best of days. Being the visiting Auntie, I can actually coax things out of my niece and nephew because it is something novel, but I truly believe that kids should learn to help out in a family as they grow. When a bit too much of supper landed on the floor under the table tonight, I asked them to show me where the broom hid and once I had the pile of crumbs and meal remains swept into a pile, they took turns "dustbustering". I asked them to clear their plates to the sink from the table by being waiters or waitresses and we got toys put away by asking them to show me where they went. This works because I am visiting... but it at least plants the seed. I am, however, pretty exhausted. This is like looking back in time 6 years at what my own kids were like and trying to remember what tricks worked and what didn’t. The neat thing about young children is that you get instant feedback!

EXHALE: If you are going to find more time to be creative in your everyday life, you have to stop being a martyr and doing it all yourself. This isn’t to say that 4 year olds are capable of complex chores or that 8 year olds can handle doing loads of laundry, but it starts with baby steps. The first thing is to be honest with yourself and know the areas where you can and can’t accept help. I am pretty particular about both washing dishes and washing laundry, but I will always welcome help drying and putting things away. Finding ways to be Creative about how you teach the need for each and every member of a family to help in some way goes a long way towards keeping your own sanity. Think of one or two chores that you could use some help with around the house and some Creative ways in which you could make even the mundane a bit more interesting. Sock fights anyone?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creativity in Taste...

I am sitting in a home that is not my own, having finally convinced my niece and nephew to settle down and go to sleep. Today, I wrestled with DVDs and TVs that were not familiar to me, European washing machines to help with laundry and ovens to try to bake cookies with nephew. Everything feels slightly different and yet the same.

What defines the familiar in sensations, sights and tastes that make us say “HOME”? Is it the smell of a favourite recipe baking that takes us back to our childhood, the feel of a certain pillow, blanket or toy, the sight of certain stars to anchor us in space?

Tonight is both a celebration and a shout-out to one person’s creativity as I sip a glass of my favourite wine in the world... one that can only be purchased in Provence near where my brother and sister-in-law have a house and from where they were able to buy bottles to keep here in Geneva.

“à mon père” (accents probably disappeared) means “To My Father” in French. This full-bodied red wine is produced in the Cotes du Ventoux region of France by a son who took over his father’s vineyards and began experimenting with artisanal wines. This one is actually made from a type of grape that was going extinct and was dedicated to his father and the generations that made wine before him. It is an earthy, rich wine that takes me back to sun drenched valleys, sitting by a pool looking down into a French valley and spending time with family. To true craftsmanship and Creativity, I lift my glass. Tears flowed as I sipped this, thinking of my own father, missing my husband who also thinks this is one of the tastiest wines on our planet (and he usually sticks to beer) and celebrating how one person’s creativity in one area can create something to savour.

SCEA Château Blanc, propriétaire récoltant* 84220 Roussillon, France * Tel 04 90 05 64 56


INHALE Today’s post is dedicated to those who pour their Creativity into tastes that we enjoy. In a world where the emphasis is on fast and cheap or convenient, we need to speak up and reclaim the idea that tastes can nourish our souls as well as our bodies. Think of the favourite dishes from your childhood that make you feel loved, the smells and tastes that recreate a holiday you enjoyed or food that is so beautifully crafted that it becomes an experience on more than one level. Creativity can leap out to us in so many ways if we just watch for it or go looking.

EXHALE Think about a food or taste that evokes a Creative response in you. How could you bring a little bit of that into your life this week? When so much of society seems to place an emphasis on QUANTITY rather than Quality, it is important to remember that feeding our eyes and souls is as important as filling our bellies, especially when so many people in our world go hungry every day.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Facing Fears Creatively...

Sometimes in life there are things that scare us. What is easy for one person might be incredibly difficult for another. Ask me to draw a dinosaur roller-skating and I can do it in a flash. Ask me to speak in public to a crowd of 500? Bring it on! Ask me to do a quadratic equation or drive in a foreign country in someone else’s car... well that’s when my palms get a little sweaty.

I guess because my husband, Nick, is such a good driver and honestly loves to drive any type of car in almost any situation, I seldom drive on long trips in our van. That is PRIME knitting, staring at scenery or daydreaming time!

Being in Geneva, Switzerland this week to help out with my niece and nephew while my brother is away and my sister-in-law handles some major conference calls and then leaves on her own trip meant I was going to have to drive them to and from school each day as well as get them to their various weekly activities. In theory, that sounded a lot less scary than Sunday night and yesterday morning when Anne showed me the various routes I’d need to take. I tried not to panic on the outside as much as I was doing on the inside...

So what do you do when that cold grip of fear starts to take hold? Face your fears and think creatively!

INHALE When Fear strikes or there is something you need to do that will be difficult, the best thing to do is tackle it as soon as possible. Facing fear head on and attacking the problem is much better than ignoring it and hoping it will just go away. Bait is also very good. Once the rush hour traffic was over, I took Anne’s car out on the roads and traced the route I’d have to follow to pick them up later in the day. After that, I even went to the main department store in their area which had underground parking just a bit taller than I am. I was almost giddy with satisfaction once I parked the car and stepped into the store... so of course I rewarded myself with a new type of chocolate bar to try. Since losing my extra weight about 8 years ago and keeping it off, I try not to use food as a reward very often... but I am in a country where really EXCELLENT chocolate takes up almost a full grocery aisle! Need I say more?

EXHALE Find something in your life that you find difficult to do but that needs to be done. Spend 15 minutes and map out a road plan, write a list or brainstorm doodle ways to break that scary task down into some smaller steps. Martha Beck calls them Turtle Steps. Someone else once said “Just eat the elephant one bite at a time.” Taking the first step towards change can often be the hardest part. By thinking more creatively, you may find interesting solutions to challenges that have stumped you up until now. Plus, don’t forget to find some good bait!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Learning to Pray Creatively...

I meant to post this last night after my safe arrival in Geneva, Switzerland to look after my niece and nephew for a week, but between jetlag, travel adventures and being the Aunty Dragon hug machine, I never got on my brother’s computer until this morning. Given all that has happened since Dad died, all that a few of my friends are facing and some of my travel experiences to get here, this felt like the right topic for today’s Inhaling Creativity.
Any weird typos will be because the y and z are reversed on this European keyboard... so do bear with me if I don’t catch them all.

Prayer comes in many forms for many different religions around the world. Certainly with the disaster in Haiti, many of us around the world are praying for other people in other places more than ever before. That is what intercessory prayer is all about.

INHALE What do you do when you don’t know what you are supposed to pray for? You just turn everything over to God. Praying about someone and for someone doesn’t have to be a bargain, a list of demands or wishes, a plea or even a formal prayer. All you have to do is hold that person, issue or concern in your innermost being and let it go...

EXHALE The next time that someone or something is weighing heavy on your heart, just try being creative in how you pray. I had to calm myself when the customs officer in London took a 3\4 filled bottle of lens solution because it COULD contain 120 ml (companies don’t make a smaller size yet) instead of 100 ml. After I got over the initial desire to pray for a bolt of lightning, I turned my creativity to prayer instead. Inhale, exhale. That’s becoming routine now in tough times as well as good ones. I hold a prayer in my heart and then imagine it as a butterfly, coloured bird or even a balloon... drifting up to Heaven. If we believe in a Creative God (and I have ever since I first saw a platypus) then why should our prayers not reflect that? Pray or praise with music, drawings or images. Write down your own prayers that move you or string one word after the other like worry beads to hold them in your heart; Peace... Healing... Love... Joy...Strength. Just take it one breath at a time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Traveling Creatively...

I am all packed and ready to get on a variety of planes tomorrow to head from Moncton, New Brunswick to Geneva, Switzerland.  “Aunty Dragon” is needed to look after my niece and nephew for a week while by brother and sister-in-law are away on business, so between the two families, we are getting me there on a combination of airline points.

I will be waiting in one airport for almost 7 hours, so I have already planned how to travel creatively.

My small carryon bag has my iPod touch, my sketchbook, my journal, my old gameboy colour with Pokemon Blue in it (nostalgia gaming) and a pair of socks that I have been meaning to finish for a while now but got distracted by other projects.

My suitcase is full of craft supplies to do with my wonderful dragonlets over there, graph paper to chart a magazine design in cross stitch that I will need to stitch when I get home, two big sketchbooks, watercolour pencils, a manuscript to read over and a knitting project that I have been hoarding for quite some time now.

Now I just need to find enough hours in each day!

INHALE:  Traveling isn’t always easy, even though we can now fly around the globe in shorter times than ever before.  There can be waits, delays, turbulence and unplanned events.  Learning how to travel creatively can go a long way towards reducing stress.  Having things to do and read can make the hours go much more quickly.  I love writing long journal entries or working on projects while sitting in an airport because I so seldom get that time to just focus on one task.  Maybe I should learn how to carry some of that traveling creativity back over into my everyday life!

EXHALE:  Traveling teaches us a lot about ourselves and the incredible world around us.  Drop by a travel agency and pick out brochures that intrigue you.  Clip out photographs from magazines, the internet or articles in magazines that show places where you’d love to visit.  Make a list of your top ten destinations in the world and then start saving or planning for a trip somewhere. We have our coin jar ready for our next big family trip and you can bet that our children keep an eye on how often we add to it!  When we take it to the bank and add to the trip account, they learn that dreams can come true bit by bit if you just plan for it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Finding Creativity In Silence...

Maybe being back in a school environment, among kids who seem to be constantly plugged into music, their phones, the drama of teenage life, that prompted this post.  I’m sometimes not sure what drives a certain topic to the forefront when I fully expected to write about something else, but I learned a long time ago to listen to that inner voice.

It sometimes gets drowned out by all the other noise.

I’m not even sure if this post would have been possible to write until now... when the rest of my family is fast asleep, the clock is getting closer to striking midnight and I have moved beyond the panic of everything that needs to get done before I get on a plane Saturday morning.

There is very little noise in my world right now other than the tapping of my fingers as they race across the keyboard, trying to keep up with my scattered thoughts, and the faint sounds of the plows out clearing driveways now that the latest snowfall is done.  All is calm, all is quiet.

How often do we allow ourselves to just listen to nothing anymore?

Moments of stillness and silence are sometimes very needed when the world rushes around us at a dizzying speed.  Sometimes, instead of finding a fanfare of ideas or rushing about in a firework burst of activity, we need to just listen for the little whispers of our innermost soul... and for that, it must usually be quiet.

Don’t be afraid of the silences in your life... they are the rests and pauses in the song.

INHALE:  Some people fear silence more than others.  My grandmother kept a police scanner in her bedroom after my grandfather died so that she could not only hear what was going on in her little community, but there were other voices to fill the void after his cheerful whistling about the house was silenced.  Nick often keeps the TV on in the background while he gets work done and both my girls love having music blaring in their rooms, listening to playlists that seldom sync with each other.  I absolutely LOVE moments when I can hear nothing but the world around me or the sound of my own breathing.  Today was a reminder of how much I need to have that quiet reflection time to keep myself in balance.

EXHALE:  This will be harder for some of you than others.  Find a quiet spot and just sit to listen and think for at least 15 minutes.  Pay attention to the random thoughts that pop into your head, but try to turn off the “to do” lists.  Listen to the sound of your own breathing.  If you find it hard to have your hands empty, you can pick up needles to stitch or knit, doodle something or twiddle your thumbs... but just listen to the silence which is full of other sounds.  How comfortable are you with the quiet?  What thoughts or ideas scurry through your head most often?  What inner truths about your life right now have you been trying to keep from hearing?  This is what quiet contemplation can be all about.  Turn down the other noise and turn up the quiet... it might just spark something unexpected!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Creativity in Exercise...


Who would have thought that two syllables would have been such a workout and so much fun!

Ever since discovering that I had degenerative disk disease two years ago, which forced me to give up any exercise that involved a lot of impact, I have been searching for an exercise routine that would be fun, challenging and not hurt me.  Tonight, Nick and I went out together on a “date” to the Zumba class at St. Pat’s Family Center .  42 people shook and shimmied and sweated for an hour as the instructor put us through our paces.  41 women and Nick.  He was VERY brave and actually enjoyed himself!  Two women came up to me afterwards and told me that I had the coolest husband in the world and I agree!

Zumba mixed Latin dance moves, bouncy music and a LOT of upper body work.  I kept modifying the routines so that I wasn’t breaking contact with the floor the way some of the younger, perkier people there were, but I love dancing and it was still an awesome workout!  The only problem is... my bum hurts.  I can’t wait until next Friday!

INHALE:  Staying fit shouldn’t be about locking yourself into a routine or type of exercise that becomes a chore... it should be about celebrating how your body can move and taking joy in that.  Kids are rarely still. They move like hummingbirds, graze at food and crash for naps when they get tired.  It’s too bad that we learn to override all that as adults.

EXHALE:  If you have been going through the motions with your exercise routine or avoiding having one at all, it’s time to be creative. Find something that feels more like PLAY than  a chore!  Think back to the type of activities you used to do as a child for inspiration or browse through the brochures at your local fitness centers.  I was able to try tonight’s class for free since it was my first time. I would pay just $6.00 or less for any future sessions and don’t even need a yearly membership.  I also adore the Wii Fit Plus game we got for Christmas to go with our board because it has new games to try, new challenges and more ways to tailor individual workouts.  Whatever you discover, remember that creativity can apply to ever part of your life, even getting back into shape or staying that way.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When Someone Else Can Say It Better..

I’ve been struggling with how to post the scattered thoughts I’ve had all week as I struggle to find little ways of being Creative while getting back into a regular routine.  To complicate matters, I also gave up drinking Pepsi a week ago and the headaches were pretty bad at first.  I still find myself missing my Dad at odd times or wondering how to work in some time for creativity at the end of the day when I need to exercise and pack lunches.  Sometimes, it feels as if I am starting over from scratch every day...

Then a beautiful entry on my sister’s blog reminds me that each of us wrestles with that on any creative journey.

Her gift with words sometimes takes my breath away!  Then I remember to just take the next breath... and repeat... again and again and again.

INHALE: How often does trying to be perfect get in your way of doing anything at all?  How hard are you on yourself when you create anything?  How often to you stop before you get very far and think about starting all over again?  Maybe it is time to stop trying to be perfect and just concentrate on being.

EXHALE:  Instead of trying to do it all ourselves, we can learn from and lean on the wisdom of others.  When you feel flustered or frazzled, remember that you are not alone.  When you feel like giving up, go looking for words of comfort or inspiration from others.  I found these gems tonight and plan to scribe them into my sketchbook!

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.”
-Alan Alda

“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.”
-Edwin Land

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Life is "trying things to see if they work."
-Ray Bradbury

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Learning the Zen of Knitting...

Knitters have known for years what I am only discovering in this quiet time after my father’s passing. Until now, I have worked on one or two projects at a time and forged ahead until each one is completed before starting anything new. Now I have 3 scarves, one pair of socks and a baby blanket on the go at the same time. Depending on my mood, I am taking time to sit down for a little while with any of them, watching them grow stitch by stitch. Only one of them has a deadline... and that is in flux because babies can be a bit unpredictable in their arrival date. The rest are just for the sheer pleasure of working with the particular colour of texture of the chosen yarn. None of the knitting is complicated enough that I have to concentrate very hard, so there is also the fun of letting my mind wander. Creative ideas pop up, prayers are spoken from the depths of my heart, dreams remembered or the week ahead planned out as stitch after stitch slips from one needle to the next. When my “thinking time” is over, I have something to show for it. When I sit down to watch television or help the girls with homework, I have something to show for it. 

Bit by bit the knitting grows, a single thread turned into something beautiful and functional.
No wonder so many of us get hooked on different crafts or ways of being creative. Each has a magic of its own and something to teach us if we only listen.

INHALE: Sometimes, in order to be creative, we have to pick up something simple to get our hands, mind and spirit to connect better with one another. Musicians have scales to keep them limber on their instrument of choice. Doodling is a great way to let your mind wander for artwork, but every craft out there probably has a simple step or an easy task that can accomplish the same purpose. You want to be creative, but you also want to give your mind a chance to wander a bit and the stress of everyday challenges to be held at bay for just a little while.

EXHALE: This week, find time to enjoy a simple part of the craft you love the most. Find a ball of yarn that you love to touch, cast on 16 stitches and knit until it is used up. Sort your floss boxes or wind some onto their little cards and then tidy up your stitching fabric to see what might work for a simple chart to stitch up between larger projects. Scrapbook some gift tags for next year instead of a whole page for an album. String a group of beads that you like to make a bracelet instead of a fancy necklace. Whatever craft touches your heart in a way that replenishes it, take the time to indulge in something simple so that your mind can go off to a calm place while your hands stay busy. It’s a great escape!

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Awe...

Every now and then, a movie comes along that makes you believe in something beyond your own reality.  The first experience I had with that was, as a child, seeing the original Star Wars movie in 1977.  I left the theater in awe and desperately wanting a lightsabre of my own!

There have been other movies where I walked out feeling that same incredible disorientation of not returning to my own reality right away... Lord of the Rings , Narnia , Terminator , the Passion of Christ  , some of the Star Trek movies and, of course, Titanic .

Seeing Avatar  today was even more profound.  I truly felt as if I had set foot on Pandora and experienced another culture, another way of looking at the world... one that was far more in harmony with their planet than ours.

This was not just a movie... it was an EPIC... and I believed!

To James Cameron , I tip my hat for the 3rd time in my life.  This movie not only pushed the boundaries of what has been possible up until now, it reminded me and scores of movie goers that the STORY matters.  Just as he used a make-believe love story to bring home the tragedy of the Titanic’s sinking in a way that moved people to the core, this time he has crafted a story of how love can trancend even species and how the greedy, human “consumer” way of putting profit above all else is NOT the best for any species or any planet.  If there is a world like Pandora out there, I hope that humans never discover it!

Like J.K Rowling , Stephenie Meyer , George Lucas , C.S. Lewis , Tolkein or any great storyteller, James Cameron has overseen something truly unique and original.  It is SO powerful when someone puts their creativity out there for the world to enjoy... it changes us on a level that lingers with us for the rest of our lives.

To the many, many talented people who worked on creating this movie to bring it to life, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You have reminded me of why I always wanted to draw pictures or tell stories.  It is like holding a rainbow or lightning in your hand when you see the finished project... it takes your breath away and just leaves you saying...


INHALE:  I still feel out of breath from today’s experience.  When I close my eyes, I can see some of the best scenes play out against my eyelids.  I have already downloaded James Horner’s incredible soundtrack to my iPod and I can’t wait to see the film again with Nick. He had to go back to work today, but he will be my excuse to see it again at least one more time on the big screen.

EXHALE: The next time you have an idea that you are afraid to bring to life, remember that the first step in any magic, in any change, in anything becoming possible, is that you must say YES to the idea.  Then you must do all of the hard workto bring that idea to life!  Don’t be afraid of the work involved... of the sweat... of the way it will make you feel vulnerable.  You may be the only one that can bring a certain vision to life for the world to enjoy.  What dreams, stories, images have been hiding inside you, longing to be born but held prisoner by your own fears?  Writing a few of them down may be the first step in saying YES to something incredible.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Savouring Creativity and Snowstorms...

It was a WILD weekend of snow and rain and wind and flickering power and then more snow.  It is only just ending, but instead of worrying, we took it all in stride and stayed indoors.

We played games as a family, took the tree down, tidied rooms in preparation for getting back to a routine this week, made our turkey carcass into soup and I wrote up some thank you cards to the many people who helped my family while I was away at my father’s funeral.

A New Year stretches before us full of creative possibilities, but we have to look for them, embrace them and take advantage of even the smallest moments.

I also have to learn not to be such a perfectionist!  Bethany’s scarf is done and I’ll take a picture of it tomorrow as soon as my camera recharges fully.  I took it along to New Year’s Eve celebrations at a friend’s house and left it in sleep mode rather than off, so it ran down.

Erin’s scarf is on it’s 3rd try because I was trying to find a pattern for her red wool that was different from her sister’s, but Yarn Harlot’s single row scarf  has probably ruined me for most other scarf patterns. Sigh!  Finally, Erin gave me this look tonight that said “Will you just make up your mind and knit something!  School goes back on Wednesday and there is WAY too much snow out there now not to have a funky scarf!” (or at least that’s what I interpreted the look to say... it was during one of the intense battle scenes of the 3rd Lord of the Rings movie, so I can’t be sure I interpreted teenager glare right!

Mother Nature throws us all some challenges now and then.  I must admit that even though Winter can last a bit too long sometimes in my part of the world, I love the fact that snowstorms can force us to just take a break from the business of life and stay in one place.  Unlike tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes or mudslides, they aren’t that life threatening... just cold.  Maybe we need to impose that kind of escapes for ourselves even when it isn’t due to a storm.

INHALE:  I am sure that most of us now have a few new calendars hanging up in the house.  I sat down to fill our Master calendar in the kitchen with all the appointments that have been piling up on bits of paper until I hung the new one and found myself getting very tense.  So I got up and went looking for the beautiful gift my sister sent me, the Pathways to Peace calendar from Ministry of the Arts .  Instead of places to write things, there are suggestions for each day filling up the squares.  It is going to hang in my bedroom so that each day, I can look at the beautiful artwork and take those inspirational challenges or quotes with me into the day.

EXHALE:  Find a colour of pen that you like and take a look at the month that stretches now before you.  Where can you carve out some time for yourself? Time to spend with someone special? Time to indulge in a creative pastime that always seems to fall to the wayside because of chores and commitments.  THIS is the year when you need to plan moments for yourself, even 15 minutes at a time.  THIS is the year to embrace those opportunities, no matter how fleeting, whenever they present themselves. Go ahead and mark out your time now before the month fills up too quickly.  You will feel SO much better for it.  I know that I do!