Monday, January 31, 2011

Does My Happy Make You Sad?



     On the radio yesterday I listened with interest as a deejay reported findings of a study about fb. She shared results that point toward an affect of reading other people's happy statuses.  Apparently this makes people feel worse about themselves.  Some reported that it ruined their day to read of someone's good fortune.
     I'm not sure that this is true, at least for me.  But I am not in high school or college anymore and tend not to feel threatened by another person's happiness.  But if I am truly honest, I love a good, sad drama about people surviving terrible conditions.  Ever read Angela's Ashes or watch the movie?  I couldn't put it down.  Frank McCourt's childhood has to be one of the worst cases of poverty I've ever read...even topping my dad's childhood on the suffering index. Perhaps the fb study shows us a paradox.  Sadness evokes good feelings.  Feelings that connect us to one another when we struggle and grieve.
     I was still thinking of this paradox while watching AFV with Elliot.  If ever there was an occasion to laugh happily at people having mishaps that look painful, this is it.  Lifting people up by knocking them down is a theater that's been going strong for over 20 years.
    It reminds me of childhood. My father had a string of serious accidents each year.  One year he drove off the road after a sneezing attack and broke his nose.  Another year he broke a bone in his foot while playing soccer with his brother in law.  Once he broke his thumb at the joint catching a baseball with his bare hand at a family reunion.  On a cold winter's night one December, he shattered his ankle while skiing behind a snowmobile.  And each time, my father's pain sent my mother into fits of giggles.   Our hospital, Wheelock, had an emergency room staff who knew my dad by his first name.  When he'd come in to report his bad fortune, my mother would start
saying, "Rog, is it time to go to Wheeeeelock?" Te-he-ing all the way as she drove.  I can still see my dad looking up to the sky, silently asking God why his wife was filled with laughter at his pain.
   Both of my parents loved AFV because it showed them that they were normal.
     And then, if I tell you that on my wedding day, my parents and Richard's parents were in a high speed car accident with one another on the way to the chapel having-never-met-in-person before, you might start to chuckle.  The newspapers wanted that story so badly they wouldn't stop calling.
     It was a feel good story.  When I think about how we could have been in the morgue identifying bodies instead of shakily sharing our vows..


Yes, we went on with the wedding after a slight three hour delay.
    Then we drove them directly to the ER where they received pain medication and insisted that they be driven to the reception where there were double scotches to drink and embarrassing toasts to make.  We celebrated being ALIVE and together.




So, I can understand why this study makes logical sense.  It's like the feeling of safety you get while driving past and accident scene.
      I'm not saying that I'll stop writing happy statuses, but it's true.  Someone's image of perfection kinda makes me feel, well, a little messy.  But thankfully, we are all bloggers in this room.  We tell it straight and we keep it positive and we support one another.  We have a lot more to say to one another than will fit in a status bar.  We are not brought down by our shared joy.

Monday Mugs, Minimalist Shot








I'm still learning all the technical photography terms, so I'm not sure which of these would be considered minimalist.  The second calls to the minimalist me, the girl within. I used to imagine myself as a tiny person who could live in a doll house or in a fairy house in the woods.   The first one was taken by Emily, who is skilled at capturing Elliot in his naturally active and often silly expressions.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Headlights



"Writing a book is like driving a car at night.  You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way." --E.L. Doctorow

I'm not writing a book, but this is what I try to remember when learning how to be in business or taking on any long term project (such as blogging!). 




Friday, January 28, 2011

Out and About

Downtown Greensboro at the Festival of Lights

Later that night, we discovered a Pottery Studio where Elliot was invited to make his first bowl.

A surprise date at a popular nightclub where we attended a live concert

Home school that's not really at home

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Benefit of Reading Poetry to 4 Year Olds

     Elliot is a boy of many talents and pursuits.  His favorite pop culture toys are Lego Star Wars.  He loves video games, and many other things that boys love to do.  I have watched him build complex Lego creations since he was in preschool.  He loves to work with his hands, building and creating from his imagination.  He loves to climb trees, build forts, ride bikes, skate board, and wrestle with his best pal, Ozzie the dog.
     And I don't know if this will create a conflict for him later in life, but he has developed an appreciation for poetry.
     I have been reading to him at bed time since before he was born.  I gave him pieces of my childhood by reading all the books I loved.  And somehow, one book that I barely touched as a child, survived  15 moves and 24 years of sitting on shelves or hidden in boxes.  It is a treasure from my archives; the gem Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne.  My mother never read it to me.  I was a very independent reader, but this book of poems, like most good poetry, needs to be read aloud to be fully appreciated.
     The benefit of reading poems to a four year old is that when you read them again to the same child at six, he will recite the lines aloud while building Legos, as if he is singing a familiar song.
    Last night while he built Legos and I sewed Dragon Paws, I heard the lines of Twice Times being recited from the voice of my child.
   At bed time, he asked me to read more from that fragile book whose pages are yellow and torn, but still full of the magic of a boy growing up.  The beauty of Milne's poems is that there are humorous bits, but no trace of edgy sarcasm present today.  Simple beautiful themes of imaginary friends, playing outside, going to bed in the dark, alone...conveyed as a pleasant experience.
    So if you are four, or six, or 39, or 99...and want to remember the beauty of a simple day pretending, remember to read Milne aloud.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scientists Talk about Play

On a bulletin board at the Little Friends co-op, I was held captive by an article about play that appeared in the NY Times.  I must be living under a rock, or spending too much time "playing" because honestly, I did not know that play was a scientific topic of study.  Many times I've felt a little embarrassed that I have spent the last year building a business that seeks to uplift the spirits of children through imaginary play.  I've felt tiny pangs of insecurity over the choice to home school.  Some days I wonder...
   Maybe I should be going back to school for that teaching license or Master's degree.  Maybe I should be devoting 30 plus hours a week job searching.  I have those little guilty twinges, more often than I care to admit.
    But the discovery that there is something called the National Institute for Play validates my endeavors. In the article,  I read the following phrases as if I were sampling chocolates in Switzerland:

     "dangerous, long-term consequences of play deprivation"


     "play is as fundamental as sleep and dreams"


     "essential time for idle, creative, unstructured free play"

The article in its entirety can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/magazine/17play.htm

Through reading this article I discovered this amazing video of a Polar Bear playing with a Husky.  Even Bears like to play dogs!!!!!
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCJ5_Oc2T3g

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Baking Bread From Scratch

I love to bake bread almost as much as I love to create items for the Etsy shop. As some of you know, we had to live without a fully functional kitchen for several months due to water damage from a broken dishwasher hose. To celebrate our kitchen being almost finished, this Sunday I baked two loaves of bread. My secret to making the bread rise beautifully is to use very hot water to activate the yeast (120 degrees!) It is also helpful to bake something else in the oven while the dough rises on the warm stove top. The following recipe is taken from the Wedding Cookbook by Betty Crocker.

Country White Bread

5 to 5 1/2 loaves of bread flour
1 t sugar
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups very warm water 120 degrees
2 T vegetable or olive oil
2 t salt

1. Mix 2 cups of flour, sugar and yeast, add warm water and stir.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until bubbly
3. Stir in oil and salt. Stir in remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Knead dough for at least ten minutes. No cheating!
4. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, place in a warm place for one hour.
5. Grease loaf pan and place dough inside the pan. Let rise for another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

6. place a pan of water on the bottom rack, then place loaf above. Bake 35-40 min.

The dough rises best when dinner is baking in the oven.

Wheat and White Country Loaves

Wonderful with Pot Roast!

Ozzie Update

     It has been one month since we adopted our new puppy, Ozzie.  After a few weeks of bathroom troubles and chewing up toys, suddenly he's become the perfect dog.  I don't know if this will last, but he seems to want to please us and understands the new expectations and routine.  He is quickly learning more obedience commands and we are thrilled with his progress.  The kitty, Annie, is even willing to be in the same room with him now.  Elliot was right to be an optimist when he said that cats and dogs can learn to be friends.
   Last night, Ozzie slept on the floor in our room.  At three o'clock we were awoken by the most forlorn, sad howl.  Ozzie wasn't hurt, but dreaming.  We remembered that in his first three months of life, he watched all of his siblings die. We woke him, giving sleepy noises of reassurance that we loved him and everything would be okay now.
   Later in the morning I got out of bed remembering that his rescue paperwork had arrived.  Looking it over, I noticed that the county animal shelter named him "Survivor."  Ozzie was born after his human owner passed away.  No one knew that this person had died for three months.  When it was discovered, they also found Ozzie, who was still alive despite having no human caregiver and his canine family destroyed by Parvo.  He weighed 26 lbs then, but is now up to 43.  His coat is shiny and full.  His eyes are not so rimmed in red.  His tail wags a lot more.  He does a backwards happy dance if you give him toasted bread. 
   It took a long time for me to get over my fear of being bitten after I was viciously attacked by our neighbor's dog.  For several years I thought I would never be able to rebuild the trust I once had for dogs.  Just running along the roads near my home was an act of courage.  I winced at dogs behind fences and purposely avoided areas where I knew the dogs would be free to roam.  Perhaps that fear ended during our hike in Shenandoah when we saw so many black bears.  Whatever the reason, I am glad to be sharing life with a dog again, and not just because it delights my son.  Ozzie heals my fear of being wounded, and helps me trust again.
        

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Paintings

I've been so focused on digital images in the last year that I keep forgetting how much I love painted works of art.  This morning while sipping coffee with the cat on my lap, I noticed the painting I bought as my first purchase for my apartment when I was a single mom.  (I had nothing, not even a tv, but I had to have this!) During that time, nearly eight years ago, I was working as a maintenance apprentice and groundskeeper for an apartment community.  My work day apparel was a collection of jean shorts, t shirts, a frayed baseball cap and a tool apron.  I loved the freedom of that job which included lots of outside activity and projects.  One day after work, while shopping in a craft store, I found a painting that says so much about my inner identity.  And I only write about it here because of the observation I made this morning.  The painting actually contained a piece of my future.  It told of the young woman I was, and of things to come.  I guess that's what makes it a masterpiece.  So this morning I'd like to share Fredrick Seigert's Dreaming on the Windowsill.  In this painting, a young woman (a girl, really) sits with the cat, gazing out into the morning, waiting for her life to begin.  Waiting for that wonderful husband who she imagines is somewhere out there.  Waiting to get out of her current subservient domestic life and into the one where she makes the decisions.  But in the beauty and stillness of this moment, we can peek deeper into her world to find her future self, her aging grandmother, spinning wool by hand.  As younger gazes out, the elder gazes inward.  I love that the young woman holds something she's stitching by hand.  When I bought this, I did not know how to sew.  I had no idea that one day, eight years later, I would be sitting and gazing out of my own window with something I'm sewing on my lap and the cat nearby.  I love that her workday clothes are not t shirts, but puffy sleeves under a pretty apron.   
     The second painting was the housewarming gift I gave to my husband when we bought our home.   I had been studying a lot of medieval literature in my English courses.  But I felt I had to give this one to my love because it told the story of what happened after I left the windowsill and went into the woods.  It even has a heart on the girl's sleeve, and hearts are my "symbol." When I see one, I know I am on the right path.  But when I bought this I did not even think of things like symbols as trail markers.  I just loved this scene of willing romantic conquest.  The knight in shadow was and is my reality, something I could never explain to anyone with family photographs.  Even our wedding pictures do not convey how I feel about Richard.  This is the way I look at him, and the way he looks at me.  Still.

Friday, January 21, 2011

For A Kindred Spirit and a Friend I am Thankful

     Being independent is hard.  I mean, really, really hard.  If it weren't for the daily support of my husband there is no way I would do this, not in a million years.  I wouldn't wish this kind of insecurity on anyone.  The most difficult part of making a business from scratch is not taxes, legalese, revenue (difficult but God provides what I need), or even marketing.  The most difficult part of growing a start up from home is making real connections with people.  An artist who sells has a workday full of rejection, even more rejection than a hopeful writer.  An artist has to believe in unseen successes and not despair during the long stretches where nothing seems to be happening.
     During the doldrums, many times I have taken for granted the truly valuable exchanges that make life working from home more pleasurable.  Fellow blogger and artist Michelle Ballard has continually supported me with comments that are not just kind, but helpful and full of wisdom.  I have truly enjoyed the last few weeks of our exchanges.  In response to my last post about Bright Spot thinking, she wrote a post that had the effect of growing my heart bigger in the Grinch Who Stole Christmas kind of way. For her heartfelt kindness, I am lifted up and restored.  Michelle is not aware that I had been struggling with family conflict that sent me spiraling downward during the holidays.  Therefore she is probably has no idea of the value I place on the gift she gave.   
      Michelle has a gorgeous shop on Artfire where she showcases her wonderful sea glass creations and beautiful display cases.   I love her style of combining just the right amount of color and textures to show the simplicity and brilliance of nature's treasures from the ocean.  I am also excited about her new display cases because I NEED one (hint, hint, Richard... please put it on my birthday list!).
     Michelle lives on Camano Island, Washington.  When she writes about life and observations from that location I can almost feel the cool rushing air, prompted by the expansive views of sky and sea.  Especially magical was a virtual trip I took reading her post about a drive to Mt. Baker after a snow storm.  She has a great eye for capturing stunning views in the natural world.  I can see  potential for a travel blog about her location, but I know she has an incredible work load with five teens, a lovely home, her business and many other interests.



    Since the sun is rising higher and I must be going, I sign out today with a happy bubble in my heart, full of thanks for the blessings of friends like Michelle.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Power of Bright Spot Thinking

     I have a habit of collecting outdated magazines from the free box at the library.  This morning I stumbled upon a terrific article by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company.  The article is an excerpt from their book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. 
     I have a lot of things I'd like to change, or to help change.  I belong to a focus group called SafeR Schools, which may someday expand to SafeR City Libraries, if I will help create it.  This week I participated in a community Forum with our county Sheriff and a school board member leading the discussion.  Midway through the conversation, I  told my story of working with teen gang members at the library.   I had not prepared to share this, but as I spoke, I realized that I was changing from being a  victim of assault to the survivor of assault. Spontaneously, I remembered to share something that turned the Forum discussion from hopeless analyzing to positive action.  I said that the school has a bright and shining star in their midst. I remembered that Guilford County has at least one sixth grade teacher who successfully maintains a nonviolent classroom using Fight Free, a  merit based method that teaches students to act as a group to create their own peaceful environment. 
     Immediately after speaking, the board member asked me to contact him with further information.  A veteran teacher in attendance raised her hand and triumphantly said "Yes! that is what we need!"   As the forum ended, people came to thank me for sharing, asking my name and saying encouraging things.  I was lifted up by the experience.  I don't know if my participation will actually change anything.  But it had a positive affect on me.  My husband says that the world changes when people individually act to solve their own problems.  I think, in a way, he is right.  But often times, we feel helpless and alone.  We need community to move us in the right direction, even if that community is a single friend.
      Three days later that I discovered why people at the Forum reacted positively to my participation.  It's not that I'm particularly eloquent or charismatic.  It was because I did what the authors of SWITCH say we should all do when we want to change things.  They attest that we must find a bright spot and clone it.  They say
     "that's the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to maltrition.  A problem may look hopelessly complex.  But there's a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues.  And it starts with locating a bright spot--a ray of hope."
     I know that this is true and useful, not TBU  (True But Useless.)  When I quit smoking, I did it by following the lead of someone who successfully quit.  For some reason, that person was my ray of hope.  But then, I followed through because I believed in my heart that I could do it.
   In other areas of my life and my business, I am discouraged to the point of near hopelessness.  But today, I plan to seek out every bright spot I can find.  

     

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Frog and Toad are Friends




  Frog and Toad are Friends.  They are different, but still like each other.  The following are new items in my Etsy shop and make great companions to lessons on the Frog and Toad books.  Dramatic play in the classroom helps to boost reading success!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Getting Out of Here

      This was taken on our way to Kansas City, Missouri to visit my husband's family.  It reminds me to think about the feeling of driving on the highway at dusk.  It reminds me to plan more outings.  The house may be a cozy, warm, safe place to spend this unusually cold winter, but cabin fever has set in. 
      I realize that this blog needs to get out more too.  Looking ahead, I plan to take pictures of all the places we love to visit in our city and beyond.  Perhaps I'll discover something new in the ordinary, or something unexpected.  What do you do to stay happy and healthy during winter?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughts after Arizona's Tragedy

      One of my roles as a staffer in an inner city library was to serve teen gangsters and homeless guys who pretended not to sleep on the dirty vinyl chairs.  Every night there was a new drama.  Drunks would throw things at the glass doors. Teens regularly gathered and at the entrance, with nowhere to go and nothing interesting to do.  This fact usually meant that they got into trouble. The police were called at least five days a week for incidents as minor as panhandling and as serious as assault.  I was one of the assaulted. But I still kept working long after a homeless patron attempted to strangle me during closing time.  It was only later, when a man arrived waving a semi automatic at the group of teens that I decided to leave for good.
     I'm not a martyr.  I lobbied for security for months but this was repeatedly denied.
     So I'm home now. There are no more books to shelve, people to assist, or crazies to manage.  There's no driving social concern to bring up at every meeting.  There's just me, our son, my husband, a dog, a cat, five fish and some plants.  I don't have a regular paycheck, but I don't miss the extra money.  I have learned to see my life in terms of other kinds of assets.  The real value of my life is now measured not in the things I know or the numbers in the bank.  My biggest assets are the people who keep loving me despite my faults.   Another asset is my ability to wait patiently for inspiration, for direction and for peace.  Another is my ability to teach myself new skills and to stretch myself creatively.  And after watching the coverage of the Arizona tragedy, I'm reminded that the biggest asset is simply my life.
    I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Arizona.  There's no way to comprehend the depth of grief that those families now face.
   At home I am privileged to be safe, warm, healthy and free to think and feel, to work and go about my ordinary life. But my friends who still work at that library do not always have those luxuries, just like many people who work on the front lines, with a public that includes increasingly violent and unstable individuals.   Librarians, teachers, students and political leaders are not the only people who have this nagging, unsettling worry.  After 9/11 we are all afraid.  There's never enough security to put us all at ease.
I've recently been asked to join a focus group for safety in schools.  This week I'll attend the group's first Forum.  I'm not sure what value I can add to the discussion.  Does it make a difference when concerned people gather to discuss the issues?  Or is it a complete waste of time?
Wishing you peace....
~Jenny

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Confidence, my fair weather friend

     Last night, while watching Dragonfly, I was captivated by the line "imagination is what gets us there".  A story of a man who loses his wife and unborn child to a natural disaster in Central America, this film is suspenseful, intelligent and visually beautiful.  The main character, played by Kevin Costner, is an ER physician.  When things start to get intense, someone says,  "the reason you are doctor is that you previously imagined yourself to be one."
      The idea that we construct our current reality is an attractive but complicated message. There is a part of me that believes this.  I read this prior to taking a leap into business. On some level we do shape our lives out of imaginations and desires.  But it takes faith to walk this path.
      I lose my confidence often.  It comes and goes like the wind.  One day, I'll wake up feeling full of energy and purpose.  Then a random set of events sends me in a tailspin, straight down a hole of negative blathering.
      And then there's this nagging thought that my imagination is atrophied. There are stretches when I don't create.  I don't write.  I hardly think clear thoughts.  There's a million interruptions.  Something always needs my attention.  I lose my focus.
     If I would only remember that sitting quietly in a patient waiting mode brings great things to the surface. To listen for the still small voice.  Wait to feel the presence.  Spend time with the source of all that is good and beautiful.  It is accessible all the time, but I forget.
     And then I'm left with this question.  When people are ready to die, it seems like they remember their lives as truly beautiful, with amazing and wonderful memories.  I think they are thankful that God was the one who imagined and created it.  The gift of their lives was something they didn't have to create, but something they were blessed to experience.
    So maybe I should stop trying to construct my own future and let it go where it's going to go.   Do you ever wrestle with this?   I'd love to hear what you think.
     

Saturday, January 8, 2011

3D Glasses Aren't One Size Fits All

     Today, for the first time in weeks, nothing happened.  Well, nothing as in the TV, washing machine, and pipes did not break.  The power did go out for a moment and the dog did chew up a custom order I was working on, but other than that, it was an exquisitely ORDINARY day.  It was so quiet and peaceful that we  were able to go out to the movies like normal people.  We decided to see TRON in 3D.  We ordered the large popcorn and two drinks that were too heavy for a six year old to carry.   Even with my sore throat and sniffly nose, I relished the taste of  buttery, chewy puffs of golden awesomeness and washed it down with nearly a two liter of cold, fountain Coke.  Having sworn of soft drinks in my attempt to lose weight (I gained 15 pounds anyway)  I really enjoy soda pop when I'm sick. Secondary to the experience of theater popcorn and fountain soft drinks, the movie was also entertaining.  I was entranced by the light show and loved that it was  a commentary on the error of perfectionism.  My favorite line in TRON is "perfection is unknowable."

He wore the child size glasses for the entire 127 minutes of the show.
And although it was a perfectly ordinary Saturday, my husband realized that 3D glasses are not one size fits all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Two Front Teeth

Elliot is happy that his two front teeth are arriving just in time for Christmas!

But I want to remember what he looked like with his baby teeth.

He's going to grow up faster than I'm ready.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Optimist and Megatron

In the home where Knees and Paws are created, there now lives an actual dog and cat.  I don't keep them around for inspiration; that comes directly from children and their imaginations.  As it so happens, our cat Annie has an aversion to dogs.  Perhaps this is because she was chased repeatedly by my Mom's dog, the infamous talking Chocolate Lab, Bear.  Or possibly she hates dogs because of the four yellow labs that live on the other side of the fence. They love to rush the boundary between our yards and bark whenever we walk outside.  In any case, Annie has every right to hiss, groan and swipe when dogs are near.
But some of us feel kinda sad for Ozzie, who is terribly sensitive and gentle.  He loves cats and spent a lot of time with 14 them on the farm with his rescuer.

Amid our crazy holiday that included an unlikely snowstorm, loss of power (we camped indoors with NO HEAT!!!), a broken washing machine, broken TV, lots of dog pee on the carpet and other random bad juju, the cat was not getting along with our new family member.  I overheard and  joined in on the following argument:

Emily:  "The cat and dog are not friends and they never will be, Elliot!  So keep Ozzie away!" (I thought it was sweet that she brought up the cat litter box and food dish to her room to protect her.)

Elliot:  "I think one day they will be friends.  They can learn it.

Me:  "Elliot is an optimist."


Elliot:  "What's an optimist?"


Me:  "Someone who sees the good side of things, with hope."

Elliot:  "Then Emily is a Megatron!"

And if you have been reading my recent posts, I came up with two New Year's resolutions.  The first is to relearn to play my French Horn.  Now that I'm a non smoker I can actually make some sounds!

  The second is to not be Megatronian in my daily attitude.

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