Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nourish to Flourish

When we hear the word "nourish", we often think of food. More specifically, when I hear the word, it conjures an image of feeding a young child in a such a way to promote health and growth. However, we can also use the word "nourish" more broadly. We can nourish our bodies, our minds, our spirits. I believe that how we nourish ourselves makes a difference in our health, growth, contentment, and joy.

I have not always been very good at nourishing myself. My focus for many years was on how to nourish my own children as they grew and on nourishing my students. I remember a day at work, quite a few years ago, that had been very challenging for me. A co-worker walked up to my desk at the end of the day, and in a voice filled with kindness and empathy, she said to me, "Go home, and do something really nice for yourself." She was suggesting that I find a way to nourish myself. I appreciated both her kindness and her suggestion, but after she left, I remember thinking, "Well, how do I do that?" I was not used to purposefully and intentionally finding ways to nourish myself. Asking myself that question was the beginning of taking better care of my own needs, of finding intentional nourishment.

Now that I am retired, I am finding that once again, I am questioning how to best nourish myself. I have realized that my mind was nourished by my career--in teaching children (where I was a learner as well) and by belonging to groups that provided intellectual stimulation. I certainly have more time now, as a retiree, to pursue hobbies such as sewing and quilting. 

Creative activities, such as these, have always nourished me. I find time falling away as I enter into the "flow", a state in which a person performing an activity is  immersed in a feeling of full involvement and enjoyment of the process of the activity. (Click here to read more about "flow" and about a leader in this field of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.) But how do I find a balance of nourishing my body, my mind, and my spirit now that I'm retired?

Recently, I heard a podcast which recommended not setting particular long-term goals but to instead ask the question "Will I...?" or "How will I...?" followed by a short term goal. It seems that research supports this questioning method as a more successful way to ultimately reach one's goals. After thinking about that podcast and putting that information together with my question about nourishment, I came up with an idea. Each morning, I will ask myself, "How will I nourish myself today?" 

Even though I just recently began this daily questioning, I will have to say that it is working well so far. I have been more mindful about eating healthy foods with an added intention of eating more vegetables daily. Since my husband is an avid gardener, I am looking forward to the upcoming growing season where we will have an abundance of those veggies in our backyard. It will be much easier to answer my nourishment question each morning when I can walk outside and pick from a variety of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collards, and kale among others. 

spinach and parsley, 2016 garden

broccoli, 2016 garden

I am now paying closer attention to activities and events that feed both my mind and spirit. Recently, along with my friend, Debbie, I attended an event at a local bookstore. We listened to the author, Helen Simonson, tell her story about how she started to write later in life. It was a delightful evening learning from an author whose work has brought literary pleasure to so many. (You can read more about our experience here at Debbie's blog.) 

Then just a few days ago, my husband and I attended a WORD! event at the main branch of our county's library system. For two hours, we were immersed in the talents and skills of artists as they told their own stories through poetry, storytelling, and song.  

Raymond Christian, champion storyteller

Attending these cultural events certainly fed both my mind and spirit, but part of that nourishment included being able to share the experiences with special people in my life.

So as I move further into retirement, I plan to continue to pay attention to what I need to nourish myself in body, mind, and spirit. Stay tuned to see how my daily question leads to new experiences as I pursue a balanced and flourishing life in retirement.

Please leave a comment and share what nourishes you.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sit Back and Relax--All You Need Is a Book

Wit, Wisdom, Intrigue--It's All There

(No payment or compensation of any kind has been received for books and articles mentioned in this post. All writing/opinions are my own.) 

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
                                                   --Madeleine L'Engle, author

A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.
                                                  --C.S. Lewis, author

Writing a picture book is like writing "War and Peace" in Haiku.
                                                    --Mem Fox, author

Years ago, I participated in a weekend seminar in a nearby town. The keynote speaker started the first session by reading aloud a children's picture book. I knew at that moment this was going to be a good seminar. This speaker knew the value of using children's literature with adults. 

I have been an avid reader since childhood, and I have never outgrown my love of children's literature. In my last blog post, I mentioned how even children's picture books can be powerful and poignant. It is my deep belief that children's literature is often not just for children. Adults can find great stories, humor, and wisdom by reading children's books. So for today's post, I would like to feature some books for children that I would recommend to adults. Some of these selections are "oldies but goodies", but all are available at libraries and in book stores.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
I'm a retired educator, and this was one of my favorite books to use with fifth graders. Discussions of this book were always deep and rich. And it never failed when I assigned this book, parents of my students would read it as well, become intrigued with the book, and then would call or email me wanting to get in on the discussion! This book deals with the theme of safety vs. freedom--an appropriate topic for our current culture. Lois Lowry has written two companion books, Gathering Blue and The Messenger. These books continue the story and the intrigue.

Quotes from books by Lois Lowry
"It's the choosing that's important, isn't it?"

"Even trained for years as they all had been in precision of language, what words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine?"

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
This charming book is adventurous and includes a twist toward the end of the book that rivals any books written for adults. Mrs. Frankweiler, a memorable character, is full of wisdom and wit. 

Quotes from books by E. L. Konigsburg
"Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."

"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

"The eyes are the windows of the soul...If someone was to look into your eyes, what would you want them to see?"

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This book is the winner of the 1963 Newbery Award for the best children's book of the year. It is full of fanciful adventures as the characters solve a mystery in their own space and time. It will engage the imagination of adults as well as children. This book is part of a series which also includes A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.

Quotes from books by Madeleine L'Engle
"Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."

"Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light."

"We can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts."

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been."

"Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving."

Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
To read these two award winning books is to be transported back in time to the Great Depression (in Bud, Not Buddy) and to both America's Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement (in The Watsons Go To Birmingham). This very talented author allows readers to view history through the lives of believable and endearing characters. These are powerful, not to be missed, books. 

Quotes from books by Christopher Paul Curtis
"A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower in waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It's a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that's you."

"Things aren't ever what they seem to be when you first look at them. What's important is to keep your mind wide open and try to understand what's going on from a lot of different angles."

Esperanza Rising and When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan
This prolific author has written many notable books, but these are two of my favorites. Esperanza Rising is the story of a family forced by a tragedy to leave their home in Mexico and emigrate to California during the Great Depression. A beautiful picture book illustrated by Brian Selznick, When Marian Sang is the story of Marian Anderson. The book focuses on Marian's childhood dreams and the struggle it took for Marian to realize those dreams as an adult in a segregated country. 

Quotes from books by Pam Munoz Ryan
"We are like the phoenix...rising again with a new life ahead of us."

"Oh...I think my heart is dancing."

"How many others were walking around and not even knowing that someone far away cared for them? Imagine all that love floating in the air, waiting to land on someone's life."

"Music does not have a race or a disposition. Every instrument has a voice that contributes. Music is a universal language...Music surpasses all distinctions between people."

"Everybody has a heart. Sometimes you gotta work hard to find it."

"The words he had written wriggled off the page and escaped from the drawer. The letters stacked themselves, one on top of the other. Their towers reached higher and higher until they stood majestic and tall...HUMANITY. SOLIDARITY. GENEROSITY. PEACE. JUSTICE. LOVE. Then a tiny, conceited word came along. Like a hungry termite, it began to gnaw on the tall words, chewing at their foundation, gulping their pulp until they swayed, toppled, and collapsed. All that remained was one fat, satisfied syllable. FEAR."

The Trellis and the Seed: A Book of Encouragement for All Ages by Jan Karon, paintings by Robert Gantt Steele
Jan Karon is absolutely one of my favorite authors. Most people know her for her Mitford series books, but she has also writtten a few picture books for children. This simple, yet beautiful, story is definitely a treat for both children and adults as the subtitle implies. 

Quotes from Jan Karon's The Trellis and the Seed
"It was only a seed, and very, very small. How could it ever be a beautiful vine with blossoms?"

"Just start...The job is half done when you've made a beginning."

Other memorable children's books recommended for adults:

  • The Eagle and the Wren by Jane Goodall--a fable retold beautifully by this author and anthropologist
  • Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox--a powerful picture book that is suitable for older children and adults
  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama--a delightful book recommended for individuals and families

Do you have any favorite children's books? What lessons have you learned from reading children's books? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

While writing this post, I found and read an article, posted on The Week's Best Stories from NPR Books, about the percentage of characters in children's books that are people of color as of 2016. You can read the article here.

Note: The blog post title is a quote from Dr. Seuss.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What Do You See?

Freedom, Oh Freedom

(No payment or compensation of any kind has been received for books, articles, or museums and their exhibits mentioned in this post. All writing/opinions are my own.)

What do you see when you view a quilt? Viewers of quilt exhibits might see harmonious colors and patterns woven together to create works of art. A person who is fortunate enough to own an heirloom quilt, which has been passed down for a few generations, might see family memories and stories sewn together with love. However, in the early to mid-19th century, the way individuals viewed quilts might have affected their own personal freedom.

Books and stories tell us of the importance of quilts during the time of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by African-American slaves to escape into free states. Many of these slaves were illiterate due to the rules of white slaveowners who forbade them to learn reading and writing. Because of this, symbols and signs were crucial as the slaves attempted to escape slavery and travel north. Freedom quilts provided symbols, known now as slave codes, to guide slaves to safe routes and to people who would help them on their challenging journey. These quilts were made with specific blocks and patterns that included symbols the slaves memorized and communicated to each other. Quilts were hung over fences, seemingly to air out, but in actuality the quilts were there to provide necessary information to the slaves. To see some of these quilt patterns and slave codes and the messages they communicated, click here.

Illustration from Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome

Many of the quilt patterns that were so important in the era of the Underground Railroad are still used by quilters today. One of the most popular is the log cabin. According to tradition, the center of a log cabin block is red to represent hearth and home. However, if slaves saw a log cabin quilt where the centers of the blocks were a deep blue, like the illustration above, this told them that they were at a safe house where they would be fed and sheltered.

Stories of freedom quilts have become a bit controversial in recent years. Some historians have pointed out that there is no written evidence about slaves using symbols on quilts to aid in their escape. These historians have protested the writing of books for both adults and children which give information about freedom quilts. They have spoken against museums which display exhibits about slave codes and quilts. They are quick to try to debunk what they consider the "myth of quilts and the Underground Railroad" as a 2007 Time Magazine article states. 

Does it really matter if we have written evidence of the freedom quilts? I say, in this case, it does not. We have a rich, oral storytelling tradition about freedom quilts that has been documented in books. These stories provide a way for us to have a glimpse into the struggles and challenges the African-American slaves faced and their strength and perseverance as they sought to overcome those challenges. Seeing the perspective of others and understanding their struggles can allow us to experience empathy and compassion and to gain wisdom through their stories. In this case, that's what matters. 

Flossie Hamm and I agree about the importance of freedom quilts. Flossie is a seamstress and dressmaker who has decided to honor her own heritage by making Underground Railroad quilts. One of her quilts has been displayed in the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton, Georgia. Flossie, now called the underground seamstress, intends to make an Underground Railroad quilt for each of her children and grandchildren--11 quilts in all. Then she aspires to make a quilt like this for every black church across the United States. In Flossie's own words: "I want each of them to have a quilt to tell the story of our heritage, not focusing on slavery or the difficulties our people had, but of their strength and determination. Strength and determination to do anything to attain freedom and to make something of their lives."  You can read more about Flossie's story here.

Flossie Hamm
Source: http://deepsouthmag.com/2016/05/12/the-underground-seamstress/

Underground Railroad Quilt by Flossie Hamm
Source: http://deepsouthmag.com/2016/05/12/the-underground-seamstress/

So what do you see? I encourage you, when you next see a quilt, to remember the courage of those African-American slaves who risked their lives for freedom. I ask you to think about the individuals and families who made those freedom quilts with just the right symbols and codes and then who had the courage to display those quilts and offer shelter and a meal to freedom-seeking individuals. 

For more information on the Underground Railroad and freedom quilts, please visit this online resource from Maryland Public Television. While visiting this site, you can even create your own secret message quilt block.

Children's picture books are often powerful and poignant with words of wisdom for both children and adults. For more information about the Underground Railroad and freedom quilts, you might enjoy the following picture books.

  • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (a Reading Rainbow book)
  • Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson (featured above in this blog post)
Your comments are important to me. Please respond and share your thoughts and opinions.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Just My Cup of Tea

For Tea Drinkers Everywhere

If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you.
                                                                              --William Ewart Gladstone
                                                                                Prime Minister of Great Britain 1868-1894

Tea is quiet, and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.
                                                                             --James Norwood Pratt

Bread and water can so easily become toast and tea.
                                                                            --Author Unknown

A daily delight for me is to settle in with a cup of tea. One of the nice things about being retired is the opportunity for a leisurely morning which includes that steaming cup of tea. This is in contrast to those early "just get ready and get out the door to work" mornings that I used to experience. And then at night, what is better than a relaxing cup of hot chamomile tea before bed?

Legend has it that tea was discovered accidentally. The story of tea begins with an ancient Chinese emperor as he boiled water in his garden, and a leaf fell into the water from a nearby tea tree. The emperor was delighted with the taste of the newly discovered tea, and since he was a scientist also, he was inspired to do further research. His investigations led him to believe that tea had medicinal value as well.

Over time, the popularity of tea spread worldwide. Cultures around the world began their own traditions regarding tea. On a very hot day in 1904 during the St. Louis World Fair, a tea vendor realized that no one really wanted hot tea on such a scorching day. He asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice. The ice was added to the tea, and the American tradition of iced tea began! A tall glass of well-brewed iced tea is still a welcome treat on a hot summer day.

Some continue to believe in positive impacts of drinking tea. Tea is thought to help lower blood pressure, provide mental relaxation, and reduce inflammation while boosting the immune system.

Making quilts is just my cup of tea, so I decided to celebrate our tea traditions by making a tea inspired quilt. I started with a tea themed fabric as my focus fabric, and I found coordinating fabrics in blue and yellow. Working with such bright and cheery colors in the middle of winter is especially nice.

In a previous post, I mentioned how much I enjoy a quilting technique called paper piecing. I used that technique to paper piece a tea cup and saucer for the center of the quilt.

Paper Piecing Pattern: Cup and Saucer from Needles and Notions by Jaynette Huff

Then I added borders around the center design to add pops of color. Here is the quilt top with just two of the four borders. At this point, I could have stopped and finished the very small quilt with two borders. 

However, I wanted to use my tea themed fabric so I added two more borders to make an 19" square quilt. A quilt this size could be used as a wall hanging or as a table topper. The quilt top was now finished, but there was still a bit of work to do before the entire quilt was complete. 

I added the batting and the backing to the quilt top and I machine quilted those layers together. For the finishing touch, I added a bright yellow binding around the edges. 

Having completed the quilt, I think it's time now to relax with a cup of hot tea!

Do you have a daily tradition that brings a small delight or treat to your life?  Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

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