Sit, Sip, Breathe, Look

PART ONE:

I love to sit on my back porch. I sit, sip delicious green tea, breathe, and look.

One tree is particularly attractive to me. It stands in my neighbor’s backyard, and greets me from above their fence. I first noticed it as its leaves turned from green to brilliant gold. Its trunk and branches stood in spectacularly stark contrast to the blazing leaves.

I began to wonder if I could capture it in art. Each time I’m on the porch, I look at this tree. I study it. I admire it. I imagine how I might capture its shape and structure. I wonder what colors and techniques I might use to create the fiery leaves glistening in the sun.

Then, one day, in a remarkably unexpected turn of events, I noticed the tree was bare. All its leaves had fallen to the ground …

… and I saw the sky.

Wow!

Same tree. Same sky.

And yet, completely new.

New perspective. New information. New understanding. New love.

It’s amazing isn’t it?

I’m contemplating doing a study of this tree and sky. Can you imagine? Each day, maybe more than once a day, I would capture this tree and sky in my journal. Every page the same, and yet wildly different! Even if two pages end up being the same, I will grow in my understanding of the tree, the sky, my materials, and my process. And, who’s to say I have to make the sky blue, or the clouds white? It’s my journal, my study, my discovery, my process, my learning, my joy!

I’m excited … and a bit nervous.

PART TWO:

While I wonder if I have a watercolor journal lying around, and where it actually might be, my thoughts turn to my Kindergartners.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I did this tree and sky study, and then shared it with them? Not as an art project, but as a way to be, and as a powerful way to learn!

I should copyright and market this as a new pedagogical practice – The Sit, Sip, Breathe and Look, Method of Learning. Sit, Sip, Breathe, and Look — Increased learning through relaxation and curiosity. For short I could call it the SSBL Method of Learning.

I started writing the paragraph above with a chuckle. I thought, typed, deleted, and thought some more as I crated a title for my learning method. My chuckles — and clarity– increased as I typed the quick explanation and abbreviation. Naming it seemed to enhance the legitimacy of this as a fantabulous pedagogical practice! Hmmm. I think there’s an article, or some coaching possibilities here.

Until then, back to my students. How would I present my study and the SSBL Method to them? What would I want to them to know?
*It’s good — and important — to sit, sip, breathe, and look.
*Our brains learn best when we, and they, are relaxed.
*Noticing, thinking, and wondering are fascinating, fantabulous, and fun.
*Be curious.
*Be open to more — more noticing, more thinking, more wondering.
*Look, and then look again.
*Even when you think you know something, look again.
*Especially when you think you know something, look again.
*Be willing to be surprised. Expect it, even!
*It’s ok to not know, yet. It’s actually kind of exciting!
*It’s ok to be a little nervous.
*Keep looking.
*Keep learning.
*Be inspired by others.
*Share your noticing, wondering, thinking, ideas, with others.
*Create a study.
*You can do it.

And, there’s no point in telling them all of this, if I don’t also help them do it.

So what might I do to help them embrace the SSBL method of learning?
*Create the infrastructure they need to be successful.
*Talk with their parents and invite them into the SSBL method and concept of learning.
*Explain some of the brain science the supports this method of learning.
*Encourage the parents to create opportunities for the children to sit, sip, breathe, and look.
*Inspire the parents to join their children in their sit, sip, breathe, and look sessions.
*Gift parents with their own study journal.
*Incorporate this form of inquiry and learning as a regular part of our school day.
*Provide time for students to sit, sip, breathe, and look — for their own interests, and curricular purposes.
*Create journals for them to use to record their studies.
*Teach them how to make journals that they can make for their studies.
*Join them in their studies, and invite them into mine.
*Model curiosity, wonder, and awe.
*Value their study and make time to let them share it with others.

I can’t wait to give this a bit more thought, and then give it a go with my girls! Oh, (wink) and market it!






Reflections on Month 6 and Beyond

Last week this happened.

I had my 6 month infusion, and after 6 hours in the chair, I was able to ring the bell.

The infusion itself was exhausting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. And ringing the bell? That was a swirl of all sorts of emotions. I had finished at the infusion center, but my last month of at home meds started the next day. Phew.

I’ve been expecting this last month to be easy. I was mistaken.

The level of difficulty has me feeling distressed, and a tad bit guilty. Perhaps that’s a lack of humility. Or perhaps it’s a misunderstanding of the process and gravity of it all. I’m the queen of relentless positivity and possibility. That’s good — fantabulous even. But, sometimes I need to remember that the positivity and possibility are happening against a backdrop of struggle, and endurance.

Those two photos speak to me of this dicotomy.

I purposefully captured the struggle amidst the positivity in the first photo. My face is to the sun — and the Son. Simultaneously an IV is pumping a plethora of medications into my vein. That is fantabulous and awful. Fantabulous because they are helping me crush the cancer. Awful because they are pummeling my body, mind, and spirit. It’s often remarkably difficult to keep them from vanquishing me.

In the second, I am ringing the bell — indicating the end of my infusion treatment. I’m laughing with my awesome nurse, as she and others cheer me on. Immediately after, we embraced in tears. It was a moment of exhilaration, joy, and relief; as well as a moment of exhaustion, sadness, trepidation, and some disconnect.

Perhaps that sounds odd. Why wouldn’t I just be relieved and happy?

I was! But, those infusions, and those remarkably wonderful, brilliant, and caring nurses have become part of my life. There’s an intense comfort knowing those fantabulous nurses are waiting for me each time I go in. There is security knowing their expertise, and those meds they give me, are keeping me alive and helping me thrive. It’s difficult to leave them, and nearly impossible to express my depth of gratitude.

Add to that the current status of my cancer as incurable, and the emotions intensify. That nagging negative voice in the back of my head complains and points out that it’s not really the end. There will be more.

It is only now, over a week later, that I can take a breath, acknowledge the truth the voice raises, and remind it that even so, for the moment, I am done with the infusions, and that is good.

Meanwhile, I push on with my home medications. They are working their own particular magic. They press on against my cancer, giving it no rest. For that I couldn’t be more grateful. And yet, they continue to press on me as well, and that is not pleasant. Thankfully, they too will soon end, at least for this session. And that too will be a victory worth celebrating. They are no easier, and no less important than the infusions, so their conclusion shall be celebrated as well. (smile)

As I sit here with an pounding head, aching chest, and overall malaise, I chuckle thinking, “Perhaps we should all do more daily bell ringing!”

We took the time to meditate and pray? Ring a bell!
We pause for some breathing and positive thoughts? Ring a bell!
We see the beauty in the little things? Ring a bell!
We are the recipient of unexpected kindness? Ring a bell!
We have patience, and don’t crank at the person who accidentally stepped on our last nerve? Ring a bell!
We notice the miracles and gifts of every day? Ring a bell!
We don’t vomit — even though we feel like we might? Ring many bells! (laughter)

When my last infusion was finally finished, and my nurse excitedly said “Wait! You get to ring the bell! Give me your phone, I’ll take a photo!” I chuckled. The photographer in me thought “Where shall we take it?” I momentarily considered good backgrounds. Then my aching head and ridiculous exhaustion got the better of me, and my thoughts morphed into “Oh my gosh, let’s just take it anywhere!”

In hindsight, the background is perfect. Behind me are all the little infusion pods. Behind me are my six months of infusions.

BEHIND me.

They are behind me. Finished.
At least for now.

They are behind me. Making me cancer lighter.
That is miraculous

They are behind me. Exhausting me.
That’s something I have to remind myself.

These 6 months have not been easy. My body, mind, and spirit have worked hard, and had more bad days than good. They have been pummeled. They are fantabulous for sure, but they are going to take a bit of time to recover. When I talked with my Dana Farber oncologist in October he said “You should be feeling great (pause) by sometime in January.”

Sometime in JANUARY?!?!?!??? Eee gads. If I recall correctly, I thought to myself “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did he just meet me?!?!” But, now, I realize the wisdom of his words. This isn’t a little sprint. This isn’t an easy workout. This is an endurance event. And no matter how fantabulous I am, as with every endurance event there is preparation, execution, and recovery.

Now I need to respect the final push, and the recovery.

With that in mind, I remind myself this final push of medications and side effects, as well as my recovery are supported by all the things I do in the background.

Where I am, and who is there with me — in person, prayer, and spirit — matters!

How I eat supports me and all my work.

The things I do, and the ways I think, fuel me.

I always tell my Kindergartners about the importance of the struggle in our lives and learning. One year, one of them reminded me with great conviction “The struggle is real, Ms. James, and it’s important!”

Yes, my sweet, courageous, determined, girl — you are right. The struggle is real and supremely important. So too are these things. They overflow with life, energy, hope, joy, possibility, and power. They enable me to endure, survive, advance, and thrive.

So, with a big breath, I remind myself (and perhaps you) sometimes angst is just part of the process. But guilt? Guilt is inappropriate. Patience, peace, and acknowledgement of all I am, all I do, and all I have accomplished (with the help of so many) — that is appropriate. Let the bell ringing continue.

But first, I must collapse for a nap.

Erase Discouragement

Today’s calendar journal entry.

The image and letters are from some junk mail — hence they lost a bit of color as I worked with them. It’s funny how irritating I find that. And yet, it fits with the quote — erase discouragement and keep going.

The brown image behind the words is the cross section of a tree. I find trees to be some of the least discouraged individuals. If there’s a rock in the way, they work on growing around it or over it. Another tree falls on them? No problem, they adjust and grow on. And what about autumn? Each year, the trees appear to die as they drop their leaves. But even in apparent defeat they are brazenly defiant, surrendering only after putting on a spectacular show of color. And of course, come spring they burst forth in victorious life.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we erased discouragement — not only from our dictionary but from our lives? And imagine how remarkable it would be be if we helped erase it from the dictionaries and lives of our students! Of course there will be difficulties and struggles. But, might we approach them like a tree?

“Drat a rock. That’s not what I was planning. Hmmm, how might I continue and grow, even though this rock is in my way. Ohhhh, I wonder — might I use this rock to my advantage?”

Oh my! I love this. I’m imagining all the students — and teachers — out exploring, looking for their favorite tree. What will they choose? Will they choose one that is already tall and strong? Or, might a smaller tree that is struggling speak to them? What will they notice, wonder, learn, and think? The opportunities for growth, and the possibilities for curriculum integration, social emotional learning, and STEAM related activities are unending.

BE LIKE A TREE
Speak the truth. This rock’s in my way.
Acknowledge the dilemma and feeling. This wasn’t the plan. This might not be easy. Ugh.
Speak more truth. I want to ______.
Think creatively, and explore possibility. What might I do now? Is all lost? What do I know? What have I learned?
Embrace my strength and keep going.

I’m on it. How about you?

Join Me For A Piece of PIE #2

I hope you’re in the mood for some PIE (Picturebook Inspiration and Encouragement). Today’s PIE comes courtesy of author Byrd Baylor and artist Peter Parnall in their book Everybody Needs A Rock.

It’s such an unassuming little book — paper back with illustrations that are black, white, and earth tones. But don’t let that fool you. Byrd and Peter have crafted a piece of PIE rich with possibility and depth. You just have to take the time to sit, breathe, look, think, and find your perfect nugget.

I was gifted this book by friends who knew my penchant for collecting rocks while hiking — especially when hiking near water. I love the way the water smoothed stones feel in my hands. When I hold them, I am transported back to the places, sensations, and experiences of searching, finding, and choosing them. My collection of rocks sometimes expands to include shells, and other bits that fascinate me or increase my joy .

I keep them close by — at home and at work. Two of my favorite rocks sit on my drying rack desk at school. Many a kindergartner has become a lover of rocks after eyeing, and handling, those two perfectly river-smoothed rocks.

In Everybody Needs A Rock, Byrd Baylor shares her 10 rules for finding “a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can — maybe forever.”

She talks of perfect rock finding spaces, but then assures the reader that really any place will do. I agree. I sometimes find the best rocks in the most unassuming places — nestled under other rocks, hidden by leaves, or somehow overlooked until I slow down and sit for a while. What seems to matter more than the place is me. I find the best treasures when I am most mindful and open to being surprised and gifted with wonder and awe.

Byrd encourages agency, exploration, and deep noticing. I particularly love her suggestion to get down close to the rock and “look it right in the eye.”

I’m reminded of the poem about kindness that my Kindergartners wrote last year. Do you see me? Really see me? That’s what Byrd wants you to do. Don’t just see the rock. Really see it. She suggests you squint. I suggest you give the rock a look when it’s wet, dry, in the sun, and in the shade. You might be surprised by the nuances each setting brings out in the rock.

I laughed out loud when Byrd suggested “If your rock is going to be special it should look good by itself in the bathtub.” But, it’s true! There should be something special about the rock, even when it’s all alone, no longer in the environment where you noticed and found it.

Byrd reminds us to go beyond what we see with our eyes. We should consider how the rock feels in our hands, our pocket — and I would add — in our heart and mind. Often, when I’m rock hunting, there is something about the rock that speaks to me in my heart. It’s something more than what it looks like, it’s how it makes me feel.

As I reread the book to share it with you as PIE, I was struck by how Byrd’s rules for finding and choosing the perfect rock are fantabulous rules for choosing friends — and not just any friends, but friends that you keep as long as you can — maybe forever. I’m not certain if that’s what Byrd intended, but I see it there for sure.

Just like finding the perfect rock – finding the perfect friend takes time. It helps to slow down, squint, look them in the eye, and notice them in different situations. How do I feel when I am with them? How does their hand feel in my hand? How does my mind feel with their mind, and my heart feel with their heart?

A super powerful nugget for me is Byrd’s recommendation to look without worry — or as I tell my Kindergartners, without fretting. We’ll find it, and when we do, we’ll know it’s the rock or friend for us. We just need to take some time, squint, look, and really see.

I like that advice for finding friends. I love the agency and the encouragement it gives to all of us — but I’m thinking especially of my Kindergartners — to trust our hearts, our minds, our decisions. Even if the friend, or the rock, isn’t the best looking, or the most popular, that’s ok. If our hearts, minds, hands, and lives, feel good and safe in theirs, then choose away, without worrying about others’ opinions.

Sometimes the rock that was hiding on the edge of the shore, under a pile of seaweed or leaves, turns out to be the most spectacular rock of all.

Every Day Is A Beautiful Day!

My creativity, positivity, and art challenge this week is to use things found in some sort of print form — magazines, papers, letters, cards, coloring books, even junk mail is fair game — in my calendar journal posts.

Today I grabbed an old Bella Grace magazine for inspiration . As I flipped through the magazine I was drawn to two pages with images filled with words. I decided to do a riff on a black out poem.

I clipped words and phrases that meant something to me. I looked for words within words. I cut and rearranged the words to create new phrases and thoughts.

These are some of the words, I didn’t use. I didn’t see any connections that struck me so I stashed them in a bag for future use. Now, I see phrases that eluded me as I worked the first time. Here are two: Positivity is healthy, and Turn goals into friends.

I enjoy the black out poetry process, and see more possibility, when I cut the piece apart, rather than use the typical method. I think it’s the ability to see things together, and apart, as well as the increased opportunity to move the words around. Seeing the words from different angles — even upside down — increases my brain’s ability to concoct new phrases, see as yet unseen connections, and have aha moments.

It reminds me of Edward DeBono’s concept of lateral thinking. The easiest way to explain lateral thinking is to imagine looking at something from the side. When you do, you see a completely new item. For instance, a rectangular sheet of paper suddenly becomes a line. And, depending on which side you look at, it could be long line, a short line, or even a line with a point somewhere in the between the two ends. Oh, and if the paper doesn’t stay perfectly straight you can see all sorts of other shapes.

But, back to my cut out poem.

I arranged and rearranged the words in today’s space. I returned to the pile of cut papers and searched out other words. Every once in awhile, I spoke the words out loud to see if I liked the phrasing, meter, and emphasis.

I always kept in mind the vibe I hoped to create, and the story I wanted to tell. The general tone and direction remained the same, but the words themselves changed as I pondered and noticed new possibilities.

Finally pleasantly satisfied, I glued them to the page.

Other than some fab advice in my journal, what are my take aways? As the lead learner in my classroom what did I learn? What do I want to bring to my learners and incorporate into my teaching practice?

Remember, use, and teach about lateral thinking.
It’s good to be inspired by others.
If you take the ideas of others and make them your own it’s not copying, it’s not cheating. It’s collaborating, creating, and being inspired!
Look for things you know.
Look for things that are unique, unusual, or that surprise you.
Take time.
Play.
Breathe.
Enjoy.

Be open to new ways.
Connections are important. Search for them, see them, and make them — especially ones that surprise or entertain you
See possibility
Wonder about the connections and possibility you noticed, as well as those you didn’t.
Embrace the importance of your story
Explore and enjoy the sound of words and phrasing
Search for the best but enjoy the rest
Iterate, iterate, iterate.
Remember there is always tomorrow rich with possibility and new opportunities to go again.

Nourishing Me and My Creativity

I love walking out into my backyard and picking food to eat. In the middle of the summer, I take it for granted. But, now, as the nights have a chill, and autumn is deepening, I relish each visit to the garden.

I marvel at the beautiful colors — who knew all the shades our tomatoes could be? Peachy, yellow, orange, pink, red, and many colors in between. And the chard — such a rich green with brilliant orange yellow stalks. We have other vegetables through the summer, but these are the ones that have held on the longest. I have been enjoying them with my eggs each morning.

I’m encouraged by how the plants persevere through hardship. The chard was hidden beneath zucchini plants that grew to an enormous size. When we finally removed the behemoths, the chard was there, a bit worse for wear, but still there. I’ve been watering it, admiring it, and encouraging it to grow. Amazingly, it’s producing beautiful new leaves. The tomatoes are nearing the end of their growing cycle, but even amidst the browning leaves, they continue to generate flowers, and ripen their fruit.

Oh and our figs! The tree is absolutely spectacular this season. Actually more like a bush than a tree, filled with ridiculously richly color leaves. There are also many many figs. The question is whether or not they will ripen. My fingers are crossed.

I’m enjoying some of the lovely green joy of the garden in the house as well. Basil, cilantro, and mint adorn a southern facing window sill.

If you’re looking to start some sort of indoor growing fun check out Back to the Roots. Their products are 100% guaranteed to grow. I have yet to make tea with the lemon balm, but the basil and cilantro have been delicious additions to many meals. One of my favorite recipes is this lemon basil drizzle by Rebecca Katz.

Now for the creativity. Have you ever heard of Bruno Munari? I discovered his work years ago through my study of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Designer, artist, and author, I find him fascinating. I’ve used Munari’s Zoo, and Le Machine di Munari with my Kindergarten learners with great process, result, and joy.

Today my inspiration came from his book Roses in the Salad.

I recalled this book as I was wondering what I might do with the zillions of green tomatoes that may not ripen on the vine. I love the images, ideas, words, and delight found in the book.

So, looking for something to distract myself from my head, eye, and chest ache — and always open for some good delight and creativity — I popped out onto my back porch and picked one small green tomato from the vine. Back up to my studio space, I harvested a browning leaf from my peace plant and set to creating stamps. I cut the tomato in half, and cut the stem horizontally. Did you know that the stem of the peace plant has a hole running along its length? I was pleasantly surprised.

I tested a few marks. They were crude, but they definitely suggested flowers. The stem printed multiple times reminded me of lavender. Encouraged by what was taking shape on the paper, I dropped some color into the tomato flowers, and painted in a few stems and leaves. The final splashes of paint mimicked the stem printed lavender, and added a bit of whimsey.

Tomorrow, if the rain has stopped and I’m feeling better, I’m going to harvest some chard — to eat, of course, but also to see if its stem yields interesting marks. I may have to bring a basket with me. There are a plethora of things in our gardens. I’m betting there are tons of fantabulous mark making items waiting for me to find them.

For now, I’ll resist the urge to go out in the dark with my flashlight.

Press

The 4 Ps of creativity (thanks Mel Rhodes, 1961) are person, process, product, and press. Each is important as one ponders creativity — what it means, how we might support it in ourselves and others, what it looks like, or how we might teach it.

My favorite P has always been press. I even had a paper published about managing the classroom press for creativity. It’s not that I don’t like the other 3 Ps, press just resonates with me. The other Ps exist — and flourish or not — within the press. That’s critical. Plus, I love constructing creativity, joy, possibility, and relationship enhancing press.

So, you may be wondering, what is press? Press is what presses on us. It’s the environment — inside and out — that supports us, challenges us, encourages curiosity and creative and critical thinking, helps us learn, or that makes all that quite difficult.

Recently I thought “Press is a lot like the setting of a story.” I mention that because we tell a story each time we write, or share ideas — about creativity or anything else. Thing is, we don’t always share the setting of our story. Sometimes we share about ourselves, or our process and product. Much less frequently we talk about our setting. That’s unfortunate, because, when we don’t share the setting, when we don’t talk about the things that press on us, we don’t tell the whole story, or worse, we tell a story that is less than accurate. That may make it more difficult for others to be creative because they think their press couldn’t possibly be like ours. We must have a lovely studio, or an amazing library and set of colleagues, or a fantabulous mental press. Instead of working where they are, or enhancing their particular press, they search for some elusively perfect setting instead of just sitting down, wherever they are, and getting to it.

So, to encourage you to start wherever you are — with whatever space is available — I thought I’d share a bit of my press with you.

My physical environment doesn’t always look conducive to thinking, or making. Often I’m grabbing a corner of my kitchen island, surrounded by the stuff of life. Sometimes that stuff feels like clutter — and I neaten up or find a new space. But, other times it feels like home, reminds me of who I am, and gives me the support and shelter I need to think, risk, and create. Funny, sometimes things that seem incongruous to positive press remain near me. That little pill bottle in the photo is part of my cancer meds. That’s a big press on my life these days and I try to embrace it as a normal part of my press. Thankfully, today I’m experiencing the presence of that bottle as positive and encouraging.

I think I may be the poster child for unusual creative thinking spaces. The other night, I needed a quiet, slightly dark space to manage the blechiness that I felt. At the same time I wanted to connect with art and learn some new things. That night, my press was the comfort of my floor, wrapped in a blanket, light flooding softly from my bathroom into my room. Interestingly, the connection between the two physical settings is a sense of solitude, combined with a relatively intense experience of being safe, centered, and comfortable.

Our inner press is also really important. Sometimes my inner critic rules my mental and emotional press — cranking at me about my work or ideas. I’ve been working on quieting that voice, with affirmations, acknowledging other’s positive reviews of my thought and work, and just enjoying a beginner’s mind. Consequently, and thankfully, lately my inner press has been hopeful, open, and helpful. The positive inner press, open to possibility, and learning, helps me make connections, entertain new ideas, risk, learn, and experience joy and hope in the process.

Thinking about, and sharing, my own press, encourages me to consider the press of others. What presses on my students, my colleagues, my friends and family, and the people who get on my last nerve? It’s important to be cognizant about the press others exist within, to act out of that understanding, and to do what we can to positively impact the press of others.

One quick thought on creativity and art. I just read an article in which the author lamented the many times creativity and art are linked with one another. I agree that creativity is not synonymous with art. Incredibly profound and valuable creative thinking happens outside of the art world. However, art is a part of my creative world. When I make art, I research, ponder, reflect, observe, take notes, think creatively and critically, problem solve, and often innovate.

The Magic of Three

For some reason I like groups of three. I often put patterns of three in my art. I find power in the sounds of three words strung together — Breathe, pray, trust. I chuckle as I contemplate a plethora of wonderful blueberries.

This week my threes showed up as reminders to feed my mind with truth, beauty, and positivity.

Did you know, the neuroplasticity of our brain allows us to replace negative thought patterns with more truthful and positive ones? We aid our brain in this task by focusing more of our attention and inner conversation on these new thoughts. So, in praise of the magic of three, and in my never ending quest to program my brain for health, happiness, and holiness, here are three thoughts from this week that are true, positive, and, I think, beautiful.

It’s always good to try, isn’t it? — Liz Steel

Yes, in art and in life. It’s always good to try. Try to be grateful. Try to be kind. Try to be brave. And perhaps most importantly, try, even when it seems unlikely you’ll succeed. What’s the worst that can happen? You won’t be able to do it — yet.

Liz’s book is finally out of my mail quarantine. I’m fascinated by her sketches. I’m equally fascinated by how difficult it is for me to translate what I see with my eyes into a sketch on my page. None-the-less, it was remarkably satisfying to try!

“We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart.”
 Brother David Steindl-Rast

I am a huge Brother David fan. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to his audio book The Grateful Heart as I drive from one place to another.

If you haven’t read or listened to Br. David, stop reading this, click on this link, and listen.

Did you go yet? His spirit, voice, and words are a blessing. “Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. … Look at the faces of people you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face.”

I’ve decided to document my grateful noticing . Last week I jotted down things for which I am grateful. This week, I’m collecting scripture verses that I’ve experienced as gifts.

You are a true warrior!
I’m putting all those dates into my calendar to pray extra for you.
A friend

When I received this text message, I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed. It was amazing, in the midst of my fear, angst, and fatigue, to be reminded of the truth — I am a warrior, and I’m supported by my warrior friends.

As I looked for a photo to add to this magic of 3 thought, I came upon many ways I am a warrior — prayer warrior, positivity warrior, cancer-fighting warrior, sword wielding warrior, creativity warrior, teaching and learning warrior. None of them felt right for this particular connection. Then I found this photo.

It’s from a visit to the PEM. A large piece of art, lit from within, hung in one of their exhibition spaces. That light cast intricate shadows of the art on the walls. It was beautiful to look at as I stood in the doorway. When I stepped into the room, the light hit me as well, casting my image onto the wall. It was awesome.

At the PEM, the light from the piece of art projected an accurate image of me onto the wall. This time the light of my friend and her words, projected an accurate image of me onto my own heart and mind. I’m grateful for her, and every other amazing person who walks beside me, light at the ready.

Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity

Curiosity, courage, and creativity have been my constant companions these past few months. These three emotions, mindsets, and actions — they seem to be all three — help me survive and thrive with cancer; increase my experience of joy, awe, and wonder; and facilitate and strengthen my making and learning.

I’ve been making a lot of art lately. Perhaps because I have more time and opportunities for mindful engagement, I’ve had a uniquely fantabulous experience as I create. I seem to be able to watch myself make art — almost as though I were watching someone else. The closest I can get to explaining it is to say it’s like metacognition for art and creativity. I’m present, curious, and aware of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what I’m feeling, what I’m noticing, and what I’m thinking. I gotta say, it’s fascinating.  

I’ve been primarily studying and playing with watercolor and various kinds of sketching. The other day I watched a tutorial video with Liz Steele over at Art Toolkit. Wow, she has a beautiful process and product. I’m fascinated by her use of watercolor to lay down structure, and her balance between precise thinking and loose relaxed lines and painting.  Before I even finished the tutorial, I grabbed my watercolors, marker, and a black and white photo of a church I love, and set to work.

My curiosity  — Would her method work for me? How will it go? How will I feel?  Might I do that? Can I adopt her loose line method? Can watercolor really give me that structure? — combined with my love of making, gave me the courage to try.

Is it perfect? No. Was it fantabulous to try? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes. Do I want to keep experimenting? Yes. Do I have more questions now than when I began? Indeed! Did I buy another journal to use for my urban and life sketching? You bet!

I’ve since subscribed to Liz’s blog, found Urban Sketchers, am waiting with anticipation for Liz’s book to make it out of quarantine, and am resisting the urge to buy any other books. There’s so much to learn!

My curiosity propels me, and, I’m noticing, helps me to engage with my process and art in an almost detached way. I’m less worried about trying new things, and when I make mistakes, I recognize them as opportunities rather than disasters.

Here’s an example. I’ve been making folded books to send to friends during the pandemic. As I flipped through one of the books, I saw the same quote on two consecutive pages – UGH! I didn’t want to redo the whole book, and I wanted to maintain the structure of a single sheet folded and cut in such a way as to create a folded book. What was I to do?  I took a breath and a moment to think and wonder “How might I … ?”

After a bit I realized I could cut the page, and paste in a piece of my collaging stash.

By approaching the mistake with curiosity, I was able to see it as an opportunity rich with potential and possibility. The problem opened my eyes to ideas I hadn’t previously considered, and encouraged me to make connections I hadn’t yet made. It turned out to be a happy mistake as I discovered a new way to create the books while adding color, interest, and a unique place for me to add art and inspiration!

Curiosity isn’t always all I need. There are times I am curious and still afraid. Just the other day I was working on my purposely wonky mandala-like designs. I had finished the design and inked in all the various elements. I loved it. My plan was to add color with the watercolor glazing technique — laying down light layers to create shades and depth of color. But, as I looked a the piece I hesitated. Dare I take the next step? Dare I follow through on my desire to try watercolor glazing? Dare I let curiosity lead me to take the risk of putting color to the paper — and possibly wrecking it. Eeee gads.

I did all those things, but not without first stirring up my courage. It’s remarkable, really, how much courage I sometimes need in order to do things, even, and perhaps especially, things I very much want to do. 

I made a few copies of my work so I could begin to experiment with the watercolors before placing them on my design. As I played with the colors, I noticed how they interacted with one another, and how they presented when placed together. It was fun, it taught me a lot, and it increased my confidence.

While experimenting and painting my actual piece, I was constantly stopping, looking, thinking, wondering. I looked from different angles — sometimes by changing the angle of the paper, and at others the angle of my head. I read an article that suggested the angled head posture is a sign of curiosity — trying to understand, to see in different ways, and to orient our ears in a way to gather more information. How cool is that? I laughed to myself thinking, ah, that is what I do when I’m listening or deep in concentration — nice to know it suggests I’m always curious and helps me learn.

My painting process was a blend of intuitive work and critical thinking. I was happy to have the time, quiet, and opportunity to experiment, notice, wonder, and learn. I was fascinated by my eyes growing ability to distinguish between very subtle differences in color. It was interesting to become aware of the things I saw, and didn’t see, each time I looked. It seemed my brain was able to perceive new things with each new look — things my eyes had already seen but my brain hadn’t been ready to process.

I’m super happy with my process, and product.

So, back to my wonderful companions — curiosity, courage, and creativity. 

Curiosity.

Curiosity encourages me to engage and persevere. The curious person is constantly asking questions, and looking to discover new things. I love when it opens the door to new ways of seeing by pushing me to ask questions like why? and why not?

Creativity.

Creativity births new ideas and opportunities as I problem-find and problem-solve. Creative thinking encourages me to make new connections and see possibility.  It encourages me to be open to new ideas, and enables me to create things and ideas that didn’t exist before. Creative thinking is crucial in our ever changing and increasingly complex world.

Courage.

Courage fosters my curiosity, creativity, and learning. With courage I am more willing and able to take risks, think, and learn.

My best work, learning, and enjoyment come when I am curious, courageous, and creative. If my best work, learning and enjoyment are championed by curiosity, courage, and creativity, so too for my students.

So I’m back to asking questions, and thinking about why, why not, and how might we?

Metacognition:

Do I encourage metacognition– even in Kindergarten? Do I teach them the word? What structures are in place in my learning environment that encourage my learners to value their own thinking — sometimes even over the solution?  When do they have the time to notice, think about, and document their own thinking? Perhaps even more powerful  — how do I discourage it? What are the subtle ways I value the end result over the process?

Curiosity:

Do I value and model curiosity? Am I teaching my students to wonder, ask questions, and strive for understanding? Do I provide time, opportunity, and my presence to their questions, wondering, learning, and understanding? And again, how might I unknowingly or unintentionally discourage questioning and self directed learning?

Courage:

Do I honor the fear my learners may feel — especially when they are deeply invested in learning or doing something? What strategies do I teach them to help them increase their own courage? Have I created an infrastructure in my learning space that can help them find the right level of challenge — neither too easy or too hard — so as to grow their courage? Do my learners and I celebrate mistakes, and actively search for learning and beauty within our mistakes? Am I courageous enough to allow my learners to fail? Am I creative and sensitive enough to help them learn from their mistakes and fail forward? How might I be foiling their attempts to strengthen their courage?

Creativity:

Do my students understand the power of creative thinking? Do I encourage dreaming, wondering, fantastical ideas? Is there time in the day for my learners to experiment, tinker,  and make? Am I encouraging creative thinking as well as doing? Are my learners empowered to find problems that mean something to them, and search for solutions? Am I patient, courageous, curious, and creative enough to find ways to allow my learners to find their own answers and way of doing things? Do I share my creativity without usurping theirs?

So much to consider. For now, I will let these thoughts ferment in the deep recesses of my mind. I’m on leave, and need to focus my energy on my health.

Birds, Photos, and Stories


It’s a beautiful quiet morning. The breeze is cool and lovely, and everything feels like gift.

As I sit, I notice a bird on the power line, silhouetted against the morning sun. I grab my phone and take a few photos. Intrigued by the images, and chasing the perfect one, I take a few more.

It may seem silly to pay so much attention to birds sitting on a power line. Really, what’s the draw?

At first the draw was art and possibility. The birds seemed like a perfect subject, with great possibilities for pen, pencil, or watercolor.

With each photo, I noticed more and more, and as I did, curiosity, wonder, awe, and delight joined the party.

The sun was bright white, and at first the scene appeared black and white to me. But, as I studied the photographs I took, I noticed blue. Blue?! I gazed upwards at the actual scene. Sure enough, there it was.

I took one more shot, and was gifted with the moon!

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At some point, connection and making meaning rounded out my morning party.

Curiosity, wonder, delight, and awe have been my constant companions these past few days. They’ve been filling my thoughts as I make art, and popping up in my research and reading as a colleague and I construct new curriculum. This morning they were present like faithful friends, encouraging me to photograph, study, consider, and enjoy these birds on the wire.

And, speaking of faithful friends — birds! They tweet their remarkable voices in the woods while I walk, and in the yard while I sit. They flit in and out of the garden, and even venture bravely onto the porch near my chair. And, just the other day, they blessed my art world in this Art Tool-kit video on sketching birds, and this remarkable resource by John Muir Laws.

When I first noticed the bird perched on the line this morning, I grabbed his image for the artistic possibilities. I thought he might fly off, and I’d miss the moment. But he stayed, and was joined by friends.

I’ve been working on breathing, and trusting life and God during these unusual days of the pandemic. That work, the birds continued presence, and my peaceful noticing, brought to mind the great spiritual His Eye is On the Sparrow, and the scripture of how important the small and seemingly insignificant sparrows are to God.

Birds, photos, and stories. I love when everyday things come together to tell a story.

I am held, seen, and heard.
I am loved.
Beauty is always present.
Hope is always warranted.
There is always more.
More joy, more surprise, more awe,
More beauty, more possibility, more reason to hope.
Look for the more.
It is here.
Expect it.
Accept it.
Live it.

There are endless stories to tell. Make them good ones.