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Pink Palm Trees & Blue Pumpkins

In my mid 30s I was enrolled in a workshop to incorporate Play/Art Therapy into treatments for children experiencing trauma. I knew the world of art had been a great tool for healing in my own life and although, I am not an art therapist, I wanted to be able to use techniques in my teaching that might help a student. The instructor handed us each a small brown paper bag containing a myriad of odd things. As a homework assignment she said to take the bag of objects and create something, and if we wanted to add other things we could, but we weren’t required to use all the contents. That was it. She gave us a few minutes to review the items but answered no questions as she moved on to another subject.  I peered into my bag and eyed two pieces of card stock in different colors, a slice of microfiche film strip, a button, a piece of green sea glass and a couple of other random items. These were not materials I would have chosen, in fact, I could not even assimilate them into groups. I quickly put everything back in the bag, mortified. Embarrassment and anger filled my mind. How dare a teacher give us an assignment without adequate instructions! Self-doubt began flooding my being. What if I did this assignment incorrectly? How would I be judged by the results of what I created? I was so preoccupied by my own destructive demons and invisible rulebook, that I probably missed some great creative nuggets from the workshop.

Art derived from the mind of a young child is pure and untethered by “rightness” or “wrongness”. They have not been corrupted by the world of “shoulds” and it allows them to just create. Art allows self-expression, encourages decision-making and creative problem-solving. I had missed the whole point of the homework assignment. Just take what works for you, add something if you want to, delete what is unnecessary and create something. It’s really a lesson for life.

This was all stirred up as I brought out fall decorations. I have a ceramic pumpkin that my oldest son made when he was three. Our children had an opportunity with an amazing home-based care-giver to get messy and be creative. One year she had all six of her students, ages 18 months to 4, paint pumpkins. My son chose to paint his blue and yellow, which in some places turned green when the two colors met. He topped it with a sealer containing glitter. Now some nearly twenty-five years later, it still glistens on my counter every fall.

A few years later I had a young girl, maybe seven or eight years old, in my art class. She sat there terrified to start her drawing. We were working from a reference drawing of a beach scene. Much of the class were well into crafting their rendition, but she could not start. Working one-on-one with her, she finally gathered the courage to begin. Within a few minutes she had loosened up and was having fun creating a Caribbean blue ocean and hot pink palm trees, when her mother came into the classroom. The mother stood over her not only telling her the trees should be green but taking the markers from her and “correcting” the piece by drawing over the vibrant pink trees. I was mortified. The girl was completely deflated. There is a delicate dance one must do as a teacher. Being an art instructor and respectfully honoring a parent’s views on what they say to their child has to be approached carefully, however, I did intervene. Sadly, the child never came back to my class.

Recently, a question came about with our ceramic Christmas trees. “How do you instruct a young child in the right way to paint these trees?” The answer is simply, you don’t. You let them create. There is no wrong way or right way to do it. You allow them the creative expression, the ability to make decisions and the opportunity to problem solve. Pumpkins can be blue and yellow. Palm trees can be pink.

And, by the way, I still have the brown paper bag with all the odd objects in a box. While I didn’t complete the assignment over twenty years ago, I did learn so much from the assignment. It has taught me to be brave, to take risks and to not fear judgement. If you find you are in need of an art therapist, check out my former colleague, Anna Reyner with Studio Art Therapy. Her website is https://www.creativeplayla.com/workshop/

Make Memories with These Trees

These ceramic Christmas trees are nostalgic for so many people. Getting the tree out each holiday season can evoke fond memories of loved ones and warm your heart as you see the glow of the lights. We are pleased to have an affiliation with a company still making bisque ware that can be painted with regular acrylic craft paints. We have three unpainted sizes: 11″ is $40 , 13″ is $55 and 18″ is $80. They each come with a base, bulb, plug and colored lights. Clear lights can be

purchased separately. This is a great opportunity to create new memories with your own children, delight someone who remembers these trees and craft an heirloom piece to be passed to the next generation.  We also have the delightful truck with lighted tree that can be painted to your taste, which is $40. Order your tree or truck today to have in time for celebrating the holidays. A video with painting tips can be viewed here.

Fragile Eggs

Those who know me know how much I like my chickens; I spoil them rotten with treats and toys. My younger chickens have finally started laying eggs. That’s a good thing, right? Well, I noticed one race out from underneath the coop with something in her mouth and then several others quickly chasing after her. By the time I reached the chicken yard it was apparent they had devoured one of their own, a freshly laid egg. That’s not good, right? If you have ever been around chickens and examined their eggs you know the shells of the younger ones are more fragile; their shell glands have not fully developed or they are deficient in calcium, either way,  it will work itself out in time. The problem is now they have a taste for it. Another issue I have found with these new chickens is they have decided to lay their eggs outside the layer boxes, so, ever day is a bit of an egg hunt, so you really must walk gingerly, as to not crush an egg. Now, I must make some changes in how I manage the flock to prevent further issues.

Etymology is interesting. In considering my experience with the hens, I find the idiom, “walking on eggshells” curious in our culture. It is an exercise in carefully speaking and crafting each word as to not offend or perpetuate an alternative interpretation of message meaning. As a scholar in communications, I find it all an interesting study. Narratives and storytelling to frame a perceived reality, when the truth is, a perceived reality can only come from oneself, yet, we all walk on eggshells. Defined injustices, hypocrisy, conspiracy all make perceived realities real. Maybe the shell glands just haven’t matured. Maybe we are living in an alternate reality, or maybe we just need a little more “calcium”. Either way, I’ll keep tending to my hens, fluffing up their laying boxes and making sure they have all they need while protecting them from the coyotes.  Yes, there are real threats to my flock.

Egg shells are fragile, and they do break from time to time. I’ve added some calcium to their diet, and I’ve increased the number of times per day I gather the eggs. I’ll just need to coddle them a while until their shell glands mature, the calcium kicks in and they find their way to the laying boxes.

What Color do You Feel?

I confess. I am an addict. I love crayons. I’ve loved crayons since I was a young child. Christmas morning, 1974, it wasn’t the Barbie Dream House or the baby doll that pooped that got my heart racing. It was the box of 64 Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener. Do you remember? Oh, it had so many colors to pick; magenta, sky blue, blue-green, and even gold and silver! Ah, be still my heart…crayons.  And I tend to be a bit of a crayon snob; I like a crayon with more pigment and less wax which tends to be a gateway to oil pastels.

During out period of stay-at-home, it’s the perfect time to pull out a box of crayons and exercise some constructivism with remote learning. While coloring books are great, it is a wonderful practice to have plain paper and just randomly draw from the brain. In younger children it promotes fine motor skills and exercises the fingers; in fact, it helps develop muscles used for writing and pre-literacy. In older children it jump starts creativity by having them visualize what they are drawing or by telling a story in picture form. Use the crayons to promote language and storytelling. Ask your youngster how each color makes them feel and let them make up scenarios about what the crayons might be doing.

Here’s a fun activity for the whole family: put out a box of crayons. Watch the process as children and adults choose their crayon. There’s emotional decision making that goes on. Why? Because colors make us “feel”. Color is attached to adjectives such as warm, cool, cozy, peaceful and powerful. There is a whole psychology to color and what it does for us. Make a game of it and ask each person to put colors together that feel the same to them. If you have older adolescents, let them evaluate the groupings of crayons and discuss why they think the colors go together.

Ok, more confessions. When my children were young and we would go to restaurants if they had crayons on the table, I usually took them to have in my purse (for the kids, of course!) Well, maybe that’s not true. I’ve been known to be sitting at the courthouse awaiting jury duty coloring scraps of paper and gum wrappers from my purse. The truth is, coloring can be therapeutic. It can help dispel anxiety. Exploring textures and value is working creative muscles and allowing logic to relax. Learning to calm ourselves is a valuable skill, especially right now with so much uncertainty.

Today, I feel a little canary yellow with an outline of aqua blue. Translation: my outlook is hopeful and bright. What color do you feel? Keep coloring and keep calm!

Oh my, How Time Flies…

Cliché as it is, I know time flies. Last night, just as I had tucked myself in bed, lights out, eyes closed, it happened. There was a loud BANG! Then CLANG, and finally the sound of breaking glass. What! Lights on via the remote control from my techie son, slipped into my slippers and crept into the living room. There it was: the injured remains of an attempt at time flying. Apparently, the 29” farm-style clock with a white distressed finish had enough of “stay-at-home” orders. It decided to leap from the wall and fly off into the moon glow of the night. Unfortunately, it tripped over two bottles of wine: one, my favorite, a 2017 Siduri Pinot Noir, and the other a lesser red wine, but wine none the less. I confess, I was a bit angry with the clock. Though it lay there crippled with its hands clutching its bashed face and broken glass scattered, I was more concerned at the fatality of the wine. THE WINE! We are in a monumental, historic time of global crisis with limited trips to the stores and the clock took out not one, but two soldiers of contemplation. Time I’m not concerned about; as of late it seems to drone on, but the wine, oh the wine, it is a commodity not to be wasted!

Plugging in the vacuum, I cried, and then it began to wail. “This sucks,” it moaned. And it did. And it does. But here we are with the hands of time going in circles, the shards glass glistening and the red tears of Pinot Noir puddled around us. Ironic that we all have needed time. We needed rest. We needed things to slow down. And it has. Now so many of us are saying, “hurry up; let’s get this over.” And it will be over. In the meanwhile, my advice is to watch your time…it’s taking flight.

Work-From Home Warriors

It’s mid-afternoon and my husband just handed me a large green cup filled with a warm latte. I steadied the cup gripping it with two hands and brought it to my lips. Thick foam rested on my upper lip as I slurped the coffee. Hazelnut filled my nostrils, and all was right with the world.  For much of the past 12 years I have worked from home while my husband has been a remote worker since 2001. This little coffee ritual has become one of our favorite parts of the day. We both settle down at our desks and perch over our keyboards tapping out email responses or other work-related materials. We sit less than three feet apart and each vanish into our respective work worlds, while enjoying a coffee “together”. In the background, I can hear laundry being tossed around the dryer and the Roomba makes her way around the kitchen.

Does working from home allow for more productivity? In an article from Business News Daily (2019) remote workers average more than 1.4 days more per month than an office worker, accounting for more than three additional weeks of work annually. The study conducted by Airtasker, found employees who work from home lost 27 minutes daily on distractions, while office workers averaged 10 minutes longer with 37 minutes of distractions per day (Martins, 2019).

Given the advantage of cutting out a commute, a remote worker has ample time to amp up exercise and live a healthier lifestyle. However, the Airtasker study showed 29% of the remote workers to have challenges with work-life balance. For me and my husband that has not been an issue. We set work parameters, stick to schedules and establish daily goals. By focusing on tasks to be completed, we maintain a productive work-life balance.

Martins, A. (2019), Working from home increases productivity, Business News Daily, retrieved from https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html

Schwantes, M. (2019). A new study reveals why working from home makes employees more productive: how do virtual and in-office workers differ? It might surprise you, Inc., retrieved from https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/new-study-reveals-why-working-from-home-makes-workers-more-productive.html