Wonderfully Powerful Words

Words are amazing things. They are beautiful alone and when strung together. I love the way plethora feels as I say it. When I string it together with possibilities, it encourages me to open my mind to a plethora of possibilities! I eagerly await a myriad of miracles. I am fierce — fantabulously fierce.

Words allow us to express our thoughts, feelings, understanding, and wonderings. That in and of itself makes words wonderful. But, beyond that, I find that words, used well, allow me to discover and give joy, reinforce or alter my feelings, and create new spaces for breath, life, and ease.

Poetry is not my usual creative jam. I’m intrigued by it. I enjoy the rhythm, and the way words are used to form incredible images. But, I don’t often indulge.

However, for some reason, a few years ago I started a poetry journal. I played and experimented. I pieced together words that encouraged life, joy, peace, breathing, and possibility.

I found that journal the other day, and was amazed at how much I need the words I wrote 8 years ago. Perhaps I will experiment again — there are many blank pages — but for now, I will simply share a few poems with you.

Two Magnet Poems:

Life is.
Laughter is essential.
Tears are inevitable.
Life is good.
Possibility surrounds me.
I see possibilities.
They whisper to me.
"We can happen soon." 

Transforming Fear:

From every acorn regrowth. 
Face everything and relax.
Flying eagles are radiant.
Fantabulous, easy, and remarkable.
Fun even amidst rainstorms.
Funky earrings are rockin'!
Fantastic embraces are relished.

Enjoy Every Moment

Let's ... 
sing with the bluebirds
breathe between kisses
laugh in the sunshine
smell every flower
make many wishes
dance beneath the moon.
Let's ... 
enjoy every moment.

A bit of alliteration — I love alliteration, I’m not sure why, but I find it so satisfying.

Super soft sunshine
pours perfect pretty patterns
in incredible intricacies
making mere movements
become beautiful bits
of 
amazing abstract art
upon 
otherwise ordinary 
simple surfaces.

And then there are words, written on my body, in smooth, beautiful henna. These words mingle with my spirit, my actions — with my very self — and become a living poem.

Perhaps that will be my new poetry experiment – life, me, and relentless positivity.

I Did It!

I did it!

My brother and I got out for walk in nature, and I PAINTED!!!

I sat quietly, enfolded in the sounds and sights of nature. But, something in me rejoiced loudly “YAY!!! II’m sitting by the water, and I’m painting!!! All is right with the world”

It was a remarkably beautiful, and emotional few moments. I’m not sure I can express how lovely it is to sit by a river, with my watercolors, a fresh piece of paper, a paint brush, and some water (often from the river itself).

I know creativity isn’t the same thing as art. But, sometimes art gives me the opportunity to indulge in my love for creativity and creative thinking. Art sharpens my ability to be open to possibility and think differently — How might I express with the paint what I see with my eyes? How might I use the water, or the vegetation, or the wind as part of my process? Is there something new I might try? What if I expressed it in shades of black and white rather than color?

Strangely, COVID gives me more opportunities to think creatively as well. How might I feel comfortable sitting and painting? Where can we find a place to actually sit? If I have to stand, how might I use what is around me to hold my paint and water? Might I wonder and entertain all the possible things that might go right, instead of the things that might go wrong?

We humans have a negativity bias – keeps us safe – but I think sometimes for creatives our ability to problem find and imagine possibilities works against us. Well, I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes it works against me. Remember I said the moment was emotional? It was emotional because of the beauty, joy, and peace I felt. It was emotional because it was one of the first moments I have not felt afraid being out of doors doing something normal.

Yesterday I painted by the river.

Today I knitted.

Life is good.

These artistic endeavors soothe my soul. They teach me to look, notice, and wonder. They encourage me to be in the moment, open to possibility, even when it seems elusive.

I am a creative. It is part of who I am. I think I was born with the ‘I love noticing, thinking, creating, and figuring things out’ gene. Or perhaps, I don’t have that gene, but simply was blessed with parents who raised me to notice, think, create, and figure things out. Either way, here I am.

Yes, I am a creative. Each day gifts me with opportunities to increase my understanding of creativity and creative thinking, challenges that strengthen my creative confidence, and moments that urge me to consider possibilities. As I write this I am reminded of the Mary Anne Radmacher quote ““… sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

If I might be bold enough to allow her quote to speak to me and inspire me about creativity, I would rephrase it like this — often creativity is the quiet voice at the end of the day, that, looking at opportunities untaken, or problems as yet unsolved, says “I will sleep on it tonight and will try again tomorrow.”

May we always treasure and nurture that small voice.

Painting Today

There will be painting today!

I got these beauties in the mail a few days ago, but they had to sit in quarantine before I opened them, so for all intents and purposes, I got them today!

I staged the photo as I did because it pleased me aesthetically, but also because it hints at a message. The brush is supported by hope and courage. The combination of the three make the image complete, and somehow — in my heart today — increases the possibility of my being open to the many miracles that are gifted to me each moment.

That brush is fantabulous. I cannot wait to see how much water and paint it is able to soak up, and how it moves across the page.

Yes, there will be painting today.

Perhaps on my porch, or — gasp — dare I hope, at the edge of a stream on a walk? Mask and glasses on, but heart blissfully open to the blessings that will surely come my way. And, if tears come, it will be alright. They will mingle with the watercolors bringing unexpected beauty.

Saint Joan of Arc

I fence. Actually, I don’t just fence, I LOVE to fence, I enjoy doing drills, bouting, learning, even being smoked by a fencer who is better than I am. Fighting with all I am emotionally, intellectually, and physically is magnificent!

As a fencer and a Catholic, I’m a big fan of Saint Joan of Arc. A while back, I read the book — Joan of Arc In Her Own Words, by William Trask — and was deeply touched by her faith and her courage. I think it was after reading that book, that I added her as a regular, to my nightly litany.

My brother Harry, me, and St. Joan of Arc.

Long ago, someone told me they thought we didn’t choose the Saints we have a devotion to. Instead, the Saints choose us. Quite remarkable that Joan of Arc might choose me. Remarkable, and quite fantabulous. I like it. I embrace Joan of Arc as my spiritual sister — a fierce woman of God who can understand my humanness, my fears, my love of fighting, my love of God — me.

People who know my story, remark on my courage, my fierceness, my bad-ass-ness. Sometimes I don’t see it as clearly. asthey do. Or, I know it is true, but don’t feel it, and don’t affirm myself in it as fully as I might.

That’s been my experience lately. I’ve been feeling a bit off my fierceness game as I manage life, remote teaching, family and friends, and try to wrap my head and heart around beginning cancer treatment sooner than I expected. It’s all good, but it’s not easy.

The moments of fear and emotion, where I cannot keep from crying, seem to fly in the face of fierceness. But perhaps that inner sense is not an adequate, or accurate, assessment of the situation.

As I sit here — not in a whirlwind of fear, grief, emotion, or crying — it appears my crying and feeling deeply, is an intense expression of fierceness and courage. I am not running away from the feeling or the intensity. I’m not pushing it down. I’m sitting with it, feeling it, and then going about life.

I will do my best to recall that truth when next I am in the storm.

The other day, amidst feelings of anxiousness, I noticed the book – Sitting Like A Saint, by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. I decided to play a bit of “bible roulette.” Have you ever done that? You ask for a word, and then just open the bible and see what is there. I figured “Sitting Like A Saint roulette” could work too.

I said a quick prayer and opened the book to — you guessed it –Joan of Arc.

“Sometimes we might feel scared, or not up for the challenge

Yes, yes, that’s what I’m feeling

“… but remembering God loves us and is here to protect us can help to calm our worried minds. You can be courageous in the face of a challenge … covered by God’s love and protection … and a soft white light”

The meditation continued with a suggestion of a form of standing that I immediately recognized as the power pose! I always use the power pose. I suggest it to my Kindergartners, my HS athletes, and myself. So, it made me laugh out loud to see it in my “Sitting Like A Saint roulette.”

I mean really, how much more perfect? Joan of Arc, courage, being covered in the light, love, and protection of God, breathing. and the power pose.

I took a few breathes, and then whispered with a chuckle “I just might have to cry uncle, and finally believe you’re protecting me.”

We shall see.

I am super grateful for these moments when my inside and outside life collide in a brilliant display of awesomeness and clear message. It’s very interesting. I’ve been experiencing it with some regularity in my teaching as well. I must pay a tad more attention to those moments so as to really hear them and allow them to inform my inner dialogue and sense of being.

PS.

I let this post sit for a bit before publishing it, and I’m so glad I did. While I was away I was reminded of my post from April 19. I quoted Ruth Ayers in that post — “the magic of story happens when a story is released into the world and it wraps around someone’s heart.” That is exactly what happened here! The story that the Gregory and Barbara Bottaro crafted and released into the world found its way — with all its magic and blessing — to me, and my heart. How cool is that?

Possibility and Fantabulousness in Quarantine

The other day a colleague shared a link about how to force a copy to be made of a google doc, sheet, slide, or drawing, when you attempt to download it. What a great idea! Now no one has to remember to make a copy, or risk changing your original by mistake.

While I was on the Shake Up Learning site learning how to do that, I clicked on a few other things I found interesting. My absolute favorite was her magnetic poetry board that featured small white rectangles with black lettered words, waiting to be placed on a retro mint green refrigerator! Oh my GOSH!!! So good.

After playing for a bit, I noticed she had a free mini course about how to make the magnetic boards. I wasted no time clicking on that link.

I listened, played, and created a magnetic board for my Kindergartners. It was lovely, but a bit too complicated. Back to the drawing board I went.

Finally I decided I’d create a board that had space to create sentences in the middle, while holding the words on the top and bottom of the slide. This would allow the Kindergartners to create the sentences by clicking and dragging.

I shared it as an optional assignment.

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When you are finished with your other projects, please consider teaming with me as an Official Tester of Our Kindergarten Virtual Magnetic Words Board.

I can’t come put magnets on your refrig, so I had to do it on the computer. I learned some new skills, and used them to make word “magnets” as well as a place for you to create sentences, poems, lists, or other things we haven’t yet imagined, on your computer.

This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m not sure how it will work for you on your device, or how much you will enjoy it. But I’d really like to know.

If you’re ready to be brave, resilient, I can do it Kindergartners, click here. Make a copy, and see what you can do. Try it for a few days. I’ll be waiting for your thoughts, and your sentences.

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I was sure they would except the challenge. But, I had no idea what I’d get in return. I waited, with hopeful anticipation.

Slowly their responses began filling my email inbox. They were great! Each one showed me the spirit, resilience, and all around awesomeness of the student who did the work.

Their sentences speak volumes about who they are, how they see themselves, and what they are experiencing and thinking. I gotta say, they filled my heart with joy! Take a look at a few:

Yes, yes indeed, I do feel all the love!

Fantabulous, right? I included a few words in their word bank that were a little less than positive – yell, cry, worries. I added them to honor and validate the reality that we might want to yell, cry, or be worried. They didn’t choose them — except to suggest — after a long line of things they do — love, laugh, imagine, and create — they don’t yell. That actually made me laugh out loud.

Curious to consider, but true none-the-less, this fantabulousness happened because of the quarantine.

Because we’re home and not together in our school, I needed to rethink how to do what I would normally do in our classroom. How could I give them open ended opportunities to create with words? How could I allow them to share themselves and their ideas? How could I do some formative assessment?

Living during this pandemic I have a bit more time, and am experiencing a good deal more stress. So what could I do? I could try to follow my passion to learn and create. So when this opportunity to learn and get caught up in the flow of creativity came my way, I eagerly embraced it.

I think this fantabulousness also happened because of all the work we put in together pre-quarantine. Not just the work to develop skills, but the work to develop relationships.

Everything about our time together — even now — is about relationships. Relationships with arms, hearts, and big beautiful brains, wide open to embrace each other and all we bring to one another.

We say good morning, inquire how the other is, look each other in the eye, and share our thoughts ideas and feelings. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. Our relationship is based on trust, love, openness to possibility, wonder, willingness to risk, and mutual respect.

For sure, that relationship allowed me to take a risk, do something new, and ask my students and their parents to join me in my experiment. Undoubtedly it gave them courage and freedom as well.

We remain apart, but at the same time together — together in all our fantabulousness!

Notice Small Things

“They world is full of ordinary moments, and when noticed they become special.” Ruth Ayers

The other day — well actually it was months ago, but saying the other day soothes my heart. I miss my Kindergartners! So please, join me in imagining that it was just the other day that I was with them, rather than nearly two months ago.

The other day, in my Kindergarten classroom, the girls were dismantling their Lego creations. I couldn’t find the tools Lego makes to take the bricks apart. Even if I could find them we hadn’t made the creations on the Lego plates, so the tools wouldn’t have been that helpful. So, instead of the tools, I gave suggestions of ways to get the bricks apart, and lent my fingers when their fingers reached a snag.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of my girls working with incredible focus and intensity. She was getting her blocks apart like a champ! I wandered over for a closer look, and noticed she had created her own tool. She didn’t ask for help. She problem solved all by herself!

She was using a paperclip as her handmade tool!

I immediately abandoned any thought of the pre-made tools, and began sending everyone who asked for help to this sweet and ingenious girl. Each time I did, I said, “C figured out a way to make a handmade tool. Go ask her to teach you.” And, each time I sent a girl her way, she humbly and quietly showed them what to do.

Day two of Lego dismantling began with requests for paperclips. I recalled the one C had used the day before was small and silver, so I quickly found the small silver ones and handed them out. They didn’t work. I thought perhaps C had opened them the blocks a bit before she used the paperclip, so I suggested trying that.

From across the room, C noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She came over and said “They aren’t the right paperclips, Ms. James.” To which I responded, “They’re not? I thought you had the small silver ones.” To which C replied, with incredible patience and complete confidence. “Yeah, but not those.”

I think perhaps at that point I laughed. “Not these?”

‘No” C said, as she took the container from my hands.

She moved the paperclips around, clearly looking for something specific. I still wasn’t sure what she was searching for. Then I saw it! The day before I had borrowed several paperclips from a colleague. They were thinner than the silver ones we typically used, and they had tiny lines on them.

“See, Ms. James. These are the ones that work!” C said with a smile. “Oh my GOSH!” I replied. “I didn’t notice that, C. Thanks so much for showing me.”

Small things. They really are important. I’m glad I noticed C’s creativity and ingenuity, but if she hadn’t noticed the small things about her tool — the things I had overlooked — my noticing would have been much less.

She taught me a great lesson about being in the moment, present, observant, and focused. I love C and all my girls. They never cease to amaze me.

Hope and Create

Recently, I received an SOS — an invitation to be part of a group of bloggers making and experiencing magic by sharing our stories. I love their idea that “the magic of story happens when a story is released into the world and it wraps around someone’s heart.” Fantabulous, isn’t it? I hope this bit of my story wraps around someone’s heart bringing a sweet song of hope and peace.

Sometimes, being is difficult, because life is difficult. That is not to suggest in any way that being and life are not glorious, mysterious, and wonderful. They are! But, sometimes, there is uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and pain, amidst the glory, wonder, and mystery, and that can be burdensome.

This year has had some wearying moments.

I have an incurable — but totally manageable — form of cancer. I am well, I really am. I am strong, brave, beautiful, fantabulous, and very loved. And yet, sometimes, it gets the best of me. It has been becoming more active over the last few years. And that, as well as how it makes me feel – fatigued, sometimes ill and unsafe — has been hard to manage.

Did I mention wearying? Yes, I did. Part of me whispers “It bears repeating — weary.”

But even for the weary there is hope. I love Pope Francis! Listen to a few things he has said recently about hope.

“Hope does not disappoint!”

“Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us this very night.”

And not only hope, but creativity as well.

“I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty. It’s a time for inventing, for creativity.”

I am doing my best to breathe, and to live the words Pope Francis speaks to me, and to us. Let us live in the moment, even in uncertainty — with hope and creativity.

Start Small

I want so much to engage in the creative, to blog and share all my thoughts, to find that space of peace and flow that creativity brings me. And yet, I am experiencing feelings of tiredness, anxiousness, and worry, and these seem to keep me from being able to do any of that. Even as I sit at the keyboard, my head hurts, and my eyes well with tears.

But, I encourage myself, as I do my students.

“Just do something. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be you.”

So I thought I’d just start small, and share my new art teaching board.

Nice right? At other times, it’s the barn door to my bathroom. Makes me chuckle, because I often joke that my bathroom — with its easily cleaned tile floor — is my art studio for messy projects.

My students haven’t finished the project. They’ve actually only received the part one video, but they are already sending me messages and photos via their parents. One mom remarked, “I love watching her. The whole time she’s working, she’s talking to you.”

My heart is full.

New Tools, New Mindset, New Possibilities

Phew it’s been a stressful couple of weeks, and it looks like it may be a while before things even out. Thank goodness for creativity and the opportunity to play in my studio. I love getting into some creative project, experiencing flow, learning new things, observing, trying again, and just playing. It’s really an incredible blessing for me. It brings me joy, magnifies the positive, and lightens the negative. (By the way, my studio is wherever I happen to be!)

I picked up some Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons a few weeks ago, and threw them in my bag when I headed to DF for my cancer check up. I packed a back with all sorts of art supplies figuring it would help me zen out a bit, and not fret quite as much about whatever news I got. I was right!

Ok, back to the watercolor crayons. I haven’t used them very much, but after just a couple tries, I”m super intrigued by them. I recently came upon the advice to sketch everything, everyday. It seemed like a perfect way to use the crayons. I’ve adopted the advice as part of my daily practice. Being that I can sometimes have rather high expectations for my work, and a bit of a harsh inner critic, I decided to enhance my daily practice advice. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Sketch everything.
  • Don’t sweat the results.
  • When possible give those watercolor crayons a try.
  • Notice, think, wonder.
  • Breathe, smile, nap.
  • Repeat.

So, another day, another sketch. I decided to use the crayons to sketch, and then watercolor, one of my hiking photos. It was an interesting process — the physical, as well as the mental and emotional ones.

I photographed my progress at various points — just crayon, some watercolor action, the finished product. It was fascinating — still is — to see the piece at the various stages. They each have their own feel with different things to notice, wonder, and appreciate.

As I mentioned before, I’m intrigued by the crayons and how they work. I’m always amazed by watercolor paint. It’s incredibly forgiving, yet at the same time somewhat difficult to manage. There is so much more for me to learn about watercolor — how it moves, what is possible, how to remove it, how to add it, the different possibilities that are present when the paint is wet, and when it is dry — to name just a few. Sometimes I think I need to learn more in order to better understand it and control it, at other moments I think I need to surrender more to its will and just see what happens. Both are valuable approaches.

My brother was telling me about John Marin and the number of times he would paint the same scene. Marin has some beautiful work, that I think (hopefully he would not be insulted) I might be able to aspire to doing. Not as well as he did perhaps, but with the freedom he had, and the willingness to start again, and again, with a beginners mind and heart.

Mr resistance, or perhaps reticence and mild fretting, always surprises me. It’s difficult for me to embrace a beginners mind with regard to my product. I’m working on that. I think the sketch something every day idea will help me.

It’s funny isn’t it, that I experience some fretting over the same things I ask my K girls to do everyday. Right? Every day – usually many more than once — I ask my K to take these risks, try, enjoy the process, and to not fret quite so much about the process or product. As I type this I’m realizing I need to encourage myself to respond to my own angst, and my own process and product, they way I respond to theirs. I tell them not to fret, to just try, to not worry, to see their work and process as courageous and beautiful – and I completely believe and mean that when I tell them. And then, when I look at their work, I look with eyes and mind full of love, respect, admiration, and joy-filled expectation and surprise. That is the way I must interact with my work as well.

I’m facing my art shelves as I sit here. The newest painting is there amidst many other experiments, investigations, playing, and painting. It’s nice to look at it from afar, among all the other painting. It does give me a sense of space, of growth, and of possibility.

In the spirit of John Marin, and a great book I’m reading – Living Color by Natalie Goldberg – I may have today’s sketch and watercolor be worked from the same photo. But, perhaps more action and shape oriented, with unusual colors. Might I be able to convey other feelings? Might I enjoy the process? What will I learn? No idea. But, for sure, I’m going to approach it with a new mindset, and equally sure, I will have fun.

Tell Me More

I recently did a free-paint art project with my students. The only requirement was to paint something on the paper using the paint colors they had mixed during our color mixing activity. They love to paint, and being able to use colors they created intensified their enjoyment.

I moved around the room snapping photos, chatting with the girls, and putting finished works on the drying rack. On one of my passes I captured this.

jojo1

I was intrigued by the horizontal lines. I loved the structure and the contrast between the flowers organic shape and the horizontal lines.

After a bit of time I returned to this same artist. She was focused. She didn’t raise her head but continued to look and add, look and add.

Her work was so different than when I last saw it. I was intrigued. I loved it even more now then before. I wasn’t sure what was behind the flower, but I liked. I snapped a photo, and told her how cool I thought it was.

jojo2

She stopped painting, gave it one more look. and then with a gigantic smile and complete clarity, she looked up and said.  “It’s a flower growing in a library.”

Me: “Oh, wow … it is!!! That’s fantabulous!”

I snapped another photo, and continued the controlled chaos that art clean up sometimes is.

Afterwards I realize I missed an opportunity. I missed an opportunity to take a breath and a moment to let her tell me more.

Did she have that idea from the beginning?

Did it just happen?

Did her work remind her of a library?

Does she have a library with a flower in it?

So many questions. So many opportunities for connection, affirmation, wonder, relationship, joy, learning.

For some time, I fretted about not giving her that time.

Now I see it as a lesson and an opportunity for me to learn and grow as an educator and human being. And, I breathe easy remembering her focus, intensity, experience and smile. She was content.