Creative Beginnings

Sewing and crocheting supples

It was a long day in the car driving 500 miles to visit Grandma’s sister in Alabama. Daddy drove and Momma sat in the back so Grandma, who got car sick, could sit up front. My sister and I were young, and alternated between the front and back seats when we got bored or started picking on each other. To pass the time, Grandma brought hand crafts to work on, and as I watched, she held a piece of fabric with a hoop around it, filling in the printed design with colorful thread. I was used to seeing Grandma put in a hem or sew on a button, but this was different. “What is that?” I asked. It’s embroidery,” she answered, pushing the needle down through the fabric, then pulling it back up again. I kept watching as miles of sugarcane and cotton fields passed outside the car windows. “Will you teach me how to do that?” I asked. “Yes, we’ll get you a piece to work on when we go into town.”

Embroidery

My early embroidery pieces
My first two embroidery pieces

We visited the Five and Dime store the day after arriving so my sister and I could pick something to play with during the trip. I selected a doily, embroidery floss and a set of hoops. Back at Aunt Bonnie’s house, Grandma helped me place the hoops on the fabric, separated the strands of floss, and showed me the basic stitches. Though I worked on the piece the rest of the trip, it was months before it was finally completed. I made another piece and gave both of them to Momma. She used them on a dresser for years, before putting them away, returning them to me a few years ago.

Crochet

Yarn, crochet hook and work in progress
Crochet work in progress

Grandma also taught me to crochet. Starting with a basic chain stitch, I crocheted a yard or two of it before unraveling to practice it again. Once I had mastered that stitch, she showed me single and double crochet stitches. It fascinated me to take yarn and a crochet hook and make something with it. I have crocheted since then. One Christmas, when I didn’t have much money, I bought yarn and a pattern to crochet scarves for everyone on my list. Years later, I made a couple of afghans for my parents who always appreciated gifts made with love. I even made a few things to sell on Etsy. These days I crochet for fun. I love learning and practicing new stithces, and pull out my supplies when I need a change from writing or a break from everyday stresses.

Sewing

Sewing and crocheting supples
Grandma’s shears, snippers and other supplies

Grandma moved to live near us when I was about five. I knew she sewed, having made and altered clothes for my sister and me our entire lives, but I saw just how much sewing she did. Besides doing alterations at a local department store, she also sewed for others from home. A room off her bedroom became a sewing room which was filled with stacks of neatly folded fabric with patterns and notes attached, tins of buttons and zippers, and spools of thread. Her black Singer sewing machine was usually threaded and ready to go, while works in progress hung nearby.

Watching her take flat fabric, cut out pieces, and sew it into clothes seemed like magic. I wanted to learn to sew. One Sunday I spent the night with her to help turn pieces from her scrap bag into clothes for my Barbie doll. After supper, I asked if we could start but Grandma said no. “The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest, so we don’t do work,” she told me. For her, sewing was work, understandable since she was paid for it, not a hobby or fun activity. Yet, even after retiring from the store, she continued making clothes and doing alterations. When she passed away, Momma found her sewing room was full of projects, some in progress and others waiting. It may have been work, but it also kept her busy.

Momma taught me how to thread her machine and do basic mending, but in my early teens I wanted to learn more and asked Grandma to help me make a dress. At the fabric store I selected white eyelet fabric adorned with small bouquets of blue flowers and a sewing pattern too complicated for my beginner skills. At Grandma’s house, we laid the cutting board across her bed. Following the pattern directions, she showed me how to find the grain of the fabric and how to lay and pin the pattern pieces for cutting. Using her sharp, heavy shears, we cut out the pieces then organized them in order. I was ready to start sewing, but first there were notches to cut, pieces to baste and darts to put in. Sewing, it turned out, involved a lot more than sitting at a machine sewing pieces together. Even after we started sewing on her Singer, there were more steps than I expected: taking out and re-doing stitches, putting in facings, and ironing pieces so the seams lay the correct way. Impatient to get my dress made, I got bored, lost interest, and quit going to Grandma’s to work on it. Eventually she finished it alone. I enjoyed wearing the dress, but it was always accessorized with a sense of guilt that I had let Grandma down.

I may have been bored, but I did learn to sew. Not only can I sew on a button or repair a hem, I have made and altered clothes for myself. I’ve volunteered in the costume department of local theaters. My favorite thing is to take pieces from different patterns and create my own designs.

I keep returning to the skills Grandma taught me, drawn to use my hands to make things. While I never saw sewing and crocheting from a pattern as being creative, thinking anyone can learn to do it, I was wrong. Though I never believed I was a creative person, I now realize that whenever I make something, I am, in fact, creating the final project. Taking raw materials and turning them into something else is an act of creation.

I am grateful Grandma took the time to teach me. I am grateful I have her shears, snippers and thimble to use. I am grateful I can carry on the tradition of creating things with my hands.

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Libraries and Me

Public Library Camden Arkansas

I have used the library most of my life, starting with the Public Library in Camden, Arkansas.* Momma checked out books for me until, when I was about seven or 8, she took me to get my own library card. We climbed the steps to the red brick building, pushed open the heavy door, and stepped inside. As always, I immediately noticed how quiet it was, hearing only the sounds of hushed voices and the librarians checking in and reshelving books. Approaching the desk, Momma told the librarian I wanted to get my own library card. She smiled, took my name, completed the paperwork, and handed me my card with a reminder to bring it with me when I wanted to check out books.

I then headed to the children’s section to slowly look through the shelves of books. While I had books at home to read, the library gave me a larger selection to explore, and I believe having access to them helped grow my interest in reading. Finally selecting a few new ones along with some favorites, I carried them to the desk and handed them and my card to the librarian. She removed the check out cards, stamped them with the return date, and handed the books back to me, telling me to enjoy them. I walked out feeling very grown up.

As I got older, there were fewer trips to the library. I amassed quite a collection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, which I read and reread, and romance novels. By high school, English classes required reading many classic works, and with other homework, left little time for pleasure reading. This situation only worsened when I was in college and graduate school. By now, trips to the library were to conduct research for school projects. This was the 1980s before you could find information with an internet connection and a few clicks of a computer mouse. I would wander through the stacks for the books I needed, carefully checking what was located on either side of it, a tip I learned from a professor that I continue using today. Sometimes what I needed was stored on microfilm or microfiche, or was located in a specialized library elsewhere on campus. Other times the resource wasn’t available locally but could be obtained through interlibrary loan, another wonderful service offered by libraries. I cannot count the hours I spent researching and studying in libraries as a young adult. The quiet atmosphere, which I had first noticed as a child, was the perfect change to department study rooms or cramped student housing. Living in England for a year, I researched my Master’s degree thesis in a nearby library, soaking up the history that surrounded me.

In my mid-30s, I moved to a new city as a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old child. I had time to read for pleasure again, and went to the local library to find books for both of us and to pass on the tradition of exploring shelves to find new things to read. The nearest branch was located in a converted 1903 school building. Our footsteps echoed as we walked down the wood floor until we reached the old door that creaked as we opened it. Inside was the room that housed the library. While small in size, it offered a good selection that was regularly rotated with other books from the library system, as well as Children’s Story Time every Wednesday afternoon. Several years later, a new branch was built, replacing the cramped space in the school building and providing a larger selection of books, plenty of room to sit and read, and ample parking. It was wonderful to be able to find more books close to home, yet I missed the coziness of the previous location, perhaps a reminder of the small library I had frequented as a child.

Moving to Daytona Beach, I quickly got a library card and took advantage of other City Island branch, Volusia County Librarythings the local library offered: free wi-fi when my apartment didn’t have it, a quiet place to work, and DVDs to borrow and watch. Even after I moved and had internet access, I continued using the library, both in person to check out books, and from my computer at home to download books to read on my Kindle. Like many things, I took it for granted, thinking the library would always be there. Then Hurricane Irma blew through in the early morning hours of September 11, 2017, the rain and tidal surge flooding many buildings downtown, including the local library that I use. Seven months later, it is still closed, and I have missed having a library close by, being able to stop in and check out books to take home and browse the shelves of books for sale to find new treasures for my collection.

The latest report is the library plans to reopen in May. I hope so. Libraries have always been in my life, playing a variety of roles as my life has changed. I hope there is always a library nearby.

What role have libraries played in your life?

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*The photo of my hometown library in Camden, Arkansas was taken in late December 2010. Six months later, the library caught fire one night and was destroyed. The library was rebuilt in a new location.

 

Jelly Beans

Easter morning Momma woke us, telling us to get up because the Easter Bunny had left eggs for my sister and me to find. We’d hurry to put on our new Easter outfits of spring dress and white shoes. Some years the temperature outside felt more like winter than spring, so we would add a sweater or coat. Other years were rainy, so we would hunt for eggs hidden inside. Then there were the years that were just right – sunny and warm, the scent of blooming flowers filling the air.

Grabbing our baskets filled with green Easter grass, we’d hurry outside. We searched among the clumps of daffodils and irises that filled our large yard, and in lower crotches of the apple trees. We looked beneath the giant oaks whose gnarled, weathered roots protruded from the ground, creating the perfect space to cradle an Easter egg. Before long, our baskets were full of eggs, both hard-boiled eggs, dyed a rainbow of pastel colors, and the brightly colored plastic eggs that pulled apart to reveal one of my favorite Easter treats, jelly beans.

I’ve always preferred chocolate over other candy, so I’m not sure why I anticipated jelly beans on Easter morning. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat them very often. Maybe it was the sweet taste of the different flavors – grape, lemon, orange, lime, and cherry. Perhaps it was the slight crunch of the outer shell that gave way to the jelly center. Whatever the reason, I was happy finding them on Easter morning.

Sometimes I ate them one at a time, savoring each distinct flavor. Other times, I put two of the same flavor in my mouth, creating a stronger taste. I also experimented with different combinations to see what they would taste like. While my favorites have always been red cherry and green lime, I enjoyed them all, happy to take the black licorice-flavored ones my sister didn’t like.

I still ate jelly beans as I got older, and was excited to try Jelly Belly® jelly beans when introduced in 1976, fascinated that they could taste like peanut butter, root beer, and buttered popcorn. Smaller than traditional jelly beans, it was hard to eat them one at a time. The package printed combinations to try, such as peanut butter and jelly, and green apple and caramel.

*****

Jelly beans took on a different role in my late 20s. I woke up one Sunday morning with a throbbing, pounding pain above my left eye. Unlike any headache I had experienced, the intense pain drained my energy and left me queasy. Aspirin didn’t help, and I could only escape the pain by sleeping. The next day my doctor diagnosed it as a migraine.

It was the first of many, coming every other month and lasting for three days. I tried several prescription medications before discovering the over-the-counter medicines that provided enough relief to allow me to work. I also found that keeping food in my stomach eased the queasiness. What I craved most was something sweet, the sugar perhaps giving me some energy when I hurt. After trying gumdrops, candy corn, M&M’s and other chocolates, I found that jelly beans helped the most.

I still get migraines, but they are less frequent and intense. Keeping food in my stomach continues to help the queasiness, but I no longer crave jelly beans. Since I am cutting back on sugar, I rarely buy them, or any candy, these days. But every so often, I walk down the aisle in the grocery store, notice the rows and rows of candy, and see the bags of colorful jelly beans. I smile, recall enjoying them in my past and think to myself that maybe it is time to enjoy them again. I grab a bag, put it in my cart, and anticipate enjoying the sweet taste of jelly beans.

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Daffodils

“Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
W
illiam Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The dirt road rises and the dense woods open to reveal the cleared land where our house and yard sit. Row upon row of bright yellow daffodils blanket the hill beside the road and driveway, a guide to the entrance. Even though there is still a chill in the air, I excitedly think “it is spring!”

A second large patch of daffodils decorates our backyard. When in bloom, they cover almost half the grassy area where I practice cartwheels and round offs. Daffodils also circle a large oak tree and are scattered in clusters around the yard.

Daffodil is the common name for any of the varieties that fall within the Narcissus genus, a member of the Amaryllis family. Thought to have originated in the woods and meadows of southern Europe, particularly the Iberian Penninsula, and North Africa, they spread out from there reaching Asia by the 10th century. Their popularity grew in Europe after the 16th century and they were the subject of poems by William Shakespeare and Willliam Wordsworth. Settlers brought them to the American colonies, and today they can be found throughout the United States.

“Daffodils,
That come before the swallow does, and take
The winds of March with beauty.” 
William Shakespear (1564-1616)

When I was about seven Aunt Kate had me help her plant a small row of daffodil bulbs in an empty space between two outbuildings we used for storage. I helped her dig out a trough and watched as she planted the first bulb, showing me how to correctly place it. She had me plant the remaining 8 or 9 bulbs, then fill in with the dirt we had dug out. Handing me the metal watering can, she told me to give them a good soak to help pack down the dirt and set the bulbs. (Tips for planting and growing your own daffodils.)

The next spring, like magic, the leaves and buds appeared, opening their trumpet-shaped blooms a few days later. I was excited to have planted something that actually bloomed, not realizing that daffodils are some of the easiest flowers to grow. Seeing the daffodils return each spring always brought a smile to my face.

 

Daffodils have a long history of breeding and by 1739 Dutch nursery catalogs listed 50 different varieties available. Today there are between 40-200 different daffodil species and 25,000 hybrids registered in a 13 part classification system.  I had no idea daffodils came in so many varieties even though Aunt Kate once tried to teach me the different ones that grew in our yard. I only remember her pointing out jonquils, buttercups (which actually are not daffodils), and my favorite name, the double daffodil “Scrambled Eggs”, whose center does indeed resemble scrambled eggs.

I often walked among the rows of daffodils, picking a few and catching a whiff of the scent in the spring breeze. Bending down to sniff individual blooms, I noticed some were stronger than others. When I was 16, I picked handfuls of daffodils, stuffed them into a wide-mouth vase and placed them on the nightstand beside my bed, a cheery sight when I entered my room. Laying in bed that night, I noticed the scent was rather strong with so many blooms crammed together, and I woke the next morning almost overpowered from the scent filling my nose and tickling my throat. Still, I loved it and kept them there as long as possible, removing dead ones, and dusting up the yellow pollen that coated the table each day.

The daffodils would bloom for a few weeks unless a late freeze or frost killed them. As the blooms died, we would deadhead them, pulling off the dried, shriveled, brown heads. The leaves stayed green for a few weeks, but once they began to yellow Daddy would mow them down, allowing the bulbs to begin creating the flowers for the next year.

After Momma and Daddy sold the house and moved to town, Momma planted daffodils around their new yard. Not only was she carrying on the family tradition, she was also celebrating the annual Daffodil Festival in my hometown of Camden, Arkansas. Long associated with spring festivals, daffodils are celebrated annually in other parts of Arkansas and throughout the United States.

I don’t know if the daffodils, especially the small row I planted, continue to bloom around the old house. If they do, I hope the new owners enjoy them. I miss seeing them each spring, yet spending most of my adult years renting or moving didn’t make it feasible to plant my own. Maybe now is the time to change that. Daffodils grow in zones 3-10, and while there is mixed information on how well they do in Florida, I am in zone 9a so it is worth a try. Time to take a look at what is available, order a dozen or so bulbs, plant them around the yard and renew the tradition of welcoming spring with daffodils.

Sources:
American Daffodil Society, https://daffodilusa.org/
Southern Living, https://www.southernliving.com/garden/flowers/daffodil-flower-facts
Todayshomeowner.com, https://www.todayshomeowner.com/whats-the-difference-between-daffodils-jonquils-and-buttercups/
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(plant)

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Full Moon Magic

Today is a full moon. For centuries the full moon has been blamed for madness, werewolf transformations and an increase of strange behavior (based on stories from First Responders and Emergency Room workers). While there isn’t scientific evidence to support these beliefs, the stories continue.

For me, however, the full moon has always been magical. Waking up as a child to the light of the full moon streaming in through my bedroom windows, I would look around the room, amazed at how much light there was in the dark room. It seemed as bright as the sun – it is sunlight reflected off the moon’s surface after all – but the light is different, subtler, softer. When I got older, I realized that under a full moon I could walk around outside without the need for a flashlight. I have a friend who makes it a point to take a walk under the light of the full moon each month, soaking in its magic. I like this idea, and if I can’t walk, I will stand outside and look up, the light of the full moon shining on my face.

—————————————————————————————————————–

My favorite memories, however, are from when I lived aboard my sailboat. Here’s that story:

I crawl into the berth at the back of the boat and settle in for the night. Looking up, I can see out the open hatch. While the lights from the marina block out most stars, I can see the backstay running from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat just behind my bed.

A breeze moves the boat, gently rocking me to sleep. A few hours later, I wake up and realize my cabin is filled with light. Looking up through the hatch, I see the full moon, perfectly positioned to shine on my face. It is only a few days each month that the moon is in the right position for this to happen. Mentioning this to a friend, she asks why I don’t close the hatch, and maybe even cover it, to prevent the light from waking me. Because I like the moonlight on my face, I reply. It is only a few days each month, and I enjoy lying there, in the quiet of the night, watching the moon.

The return of the full moon reflects the rhythms of nature, marking the passage of time. I reflect on what has happened in the past month, when the moon last visited during the night, and wonder what is to come in the next.

Those thoughts float through my head as the moon slowly moves away from my face. Sleep returns until the light of the sun begins filling the cabin. Another reminder of the rhythms of nature, the passage of time. A new day begins. And before I know it, enough days will pass, and the full moon will return.

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Sweetheart Valentines

We were restless first graders, squirming in our seats. Anxious to get the party started, we sprang to action when our teacher told us to gather our supplies.

Taking out an old shoe box brought from home, we cut a slot into the box top so the Valentine cards could be slipped in. I don’t recall injuries, which is amazing since a room of awkward, excited kids were using scissors. Next, we wrapped the box in craft paper, then decorated it with construction paper, ribbons, crayons, paper doilies, and glitter.

Hearts were made by folding a piece of construction paper in half, then cutting half a heart along the fold. When opened up, it made a whole, symmetrical heart – something I could not do otherwise. Paper doilies were glued on in one piece and adorned with construction paper hearts, or cut into pieces and scattered about the box. Crayons added further decoration, as did a squeeze of glue sprinkled with glitter. I can only imagine the mess left for the janitors to clean up later that afternoon.

Once finished, we’d proudly display the boxes on our desks. Taking out the Valentine cards we’d brought from home, we’d walk among the desks, slipping one into each box. Everyone received one, even the snot-nosed kid who was always picking on me. Most were simple Valentine cards purchased in packages. Sometimes though, we’d receive something extra. There might be a sucker inserted into holes that pierced the paper or, if we were lucky, receive a box of Sweetheart® candies.

The heart-shaped candy wafers came in small, rectangular boxes. A window on the front gave a view of the candies, while the back had space for writing the name of who it was To and From. Valentine Day sayings were printed on the pastel-colored candies such as Be Mine, Love You, and Kiss Me. Easy to chew for a quick sugar-rush, you could also suck on them for a few minutes and savor their tangy sweetness as they melted on your tongue. Since there were other goodies to enjoy at the party I usually saved mine to eat on the way home, or for a treat the next day.

Sweetheart® candies are still around, but with a few changes. A 2010 formula change produced a softer candy with more vivid colors and a more intense and sour flavor. The printed sayings have evolved as well and now include Text Me, You Rock, and Tweet Me, reflections of the times. It doesn’t matter to me how they look and taste now. Seeing the boxes of Sweetheart candies takes me back to my school days when Valentines was a day of awkwardly delivering Valentine cards to classmates, hurrying back to my desk to see what I had received, and savoring Sweetheart® candies.

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Cardinals

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.Sometimes, when I bend down and look under the awning over the bathroom window I can see him. A male cardinal sitting near the top of the neighbor’s tree. A bright shock of red that stands out against blue sky and green leaves, that also provides much-needed color on gray days.

The tree is often a bother, dropping small leaves that land among the small lava rocks that border the patio. It seems I am constantly picking them up. Yet, that tree gives the cardinal a place to land so that I can see him, a sight that always makes me happy.

My great aunt began every day feeding the squirrels and birds that filled our yard. First, she would throw birdseed on the ground and placed it in feeders. As the birds began to arrive to eat, she’d crack open the pecans to feed the squirrels that would take them from her hand. Of the numerous birds that arrived, the red feathers of the male cardinal were the easiest to recognize, and the first bird I could identify.

Many years later, I moved to Memphis and discovered that a bush outside the garage was home to a male and female cardinal. After watching them flying in and out of the bush, I carefully pulled back the branches and discovered the nest they were building. A careful look a few weeks later revealed three pale, speckled eggs. Then one day I walked by the bush and was surprised as a flash of red flew out of the bush, just missing me. The male cardinal was warning me to keep my distance from the featherless babies that now inhabited the nest.

I moved a mile or so away a couple of years later. Sitting on my back patio, I enjoyed the variety of birds that flew by: mockingbirds, robins, blue jays, and cardinals. I often wondered if those cardinals were related to the ones who built the nest in the bush by the garage of my former home.

I don’t see as many cardinals in Florida. They don’t stop at the birdbath outside the living room window, perhaps because it is often filled with mockingbirds, doves, finches, small blackbirds, and the occasional woodpecker. So anytime I do see them, whether on the utility lines behind the house or perched atop the neighbor’s tree, it is a happy sight.

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Gray Days

It has been cloudy and cold this entire month. I moved to Florida to get AWAY from this weather, but it occasionally finds me. Looking out at the gray clouds see in the picture reminded me of a time from my past, a week of gray, cold weather when I was a teenager. This was before I had ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which I believe is part of what was going on with me. It is a short story that you may be able to relate to. 

It was late January my freshman year in high school. As I sat in the front passenger seat of the car in the school parking lot, I looked out at the gray sky and shivered.

Heavy, dark gray clouds hung below the lighter grey sky. It was hard to tell where they ended and the gray concrete blocks of the building began. Even the trees, bare of their leaves, were a grayish black. How many shades of gray were there?

It had been this way for about a week, and I wondered when it would end, even if it would end. I could handle cold if there was at least some sunlight to warm my soul, if not the air.

The cold gray outside reflected how I felt inside – dull and lifeless. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, pull up the covers, and not emerge until it was sunny and warm, there was color to be seen, and my soul brightened up.

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Painted Bones

Growing up in the country, we always had a couple of dogs, our version of an alarm system. For a treat, Momma would give them bones leftover after cooking roasts and pork chops, and they’d carry them into the yard and happily gnaw on them for hours. Sometimes my sister and I would step on them while playing outside. It hurt for a minute but was just a part of our life.

Until that afternoon.

I was five or 6, my sister three years younger. Daddy was mowing the yard, and Great-Aunt Kate, who lived with us, was walking around outside checking on her chickens and flowers. Suddenly, there was a loud “clunk” as the mower picked up a bone and forcefully threw it out the side of the mower and into Aunt Kate. Daddy stopped the mower and jumped off while yelling to Momma to come help. Aunt Kate had been badly hurt.

After they got her in bed, my sister and I were given the job of walking through the yard and picking up all the pieces of bones we could find, to prevent this happening again. As we found bits and pieces, we proudly piled them on the steps to the back door. When we thought we had found them all, I told Momma, who thanked me and told me we could go back to playing.

My sister, however, had another idea.

Gathering her watercolors and brushes, she proceeded to paint the bones we had collected. Nothing fancy, just transparent blotches of colors on the dirty, chewed bones. Momma came out as she was finishing, and oohed and aahed over them, telling her what a good job she had done.

A few days later, a friend visited to see how Aunt Kate was doing. As Momma described all that had happened, she showed her the painted bones. The friend looked at them 0and said, “how creative!”

It was creative to see the bones differently, not as trash, but as a canvas to create on. It was creative take something that had caused pain and beautify it. And what I felt was that since I didn’t think of it, I was not creative. I think I’ve always believed that you either are creative, or you aren’t. It isn’t something to be learned or developed. And since I didn’t have the idea to paint the bones, I wasn’t creative.

Every time I have difficulty writing my stories, my first thought is I’m not meant to be writing and need to just move on to something else. Every time I look at Instagram and see the beautiful photographs, see the creative ideas people have for sharing their stories, I wonder why I have trouble coming up with ideas to post, and think, yet again, that I’m not creative. But I am tired of holding myself back, tired of assuming I’m not creative and want to challenge the assumption I’ve held for too many years.

I want to expand my definition of what creativity is. It isn’t just about seeing old bones as a surface that can be decorated. Taking leftovers and making a good meal out of them is creative. Finding a way to bring in more money is creative. Finding a way to change your life, however slowly, is creative. Some of us may naturally be more creative, but it is a skill we can all learn. Maybe it is more like a muscle that needs to be exercised, developed, refined.

In 2018 I want to challenge myself to explore being creative. Tell myself, as often as I need to, that I am a creative person. Accept that some days writing is hard, and keep working on it anyway, because that is what creative people do – keep working and trying different things.

Let’s see where a creative mindset will lead me!

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Toy Trains

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floor

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floorI don’t remember Christmas when I was two years old. Pictures show me smiling as I sit on my new tricycle. On the floor around me are my other gifts, including a small train track with a few cars on it.

According to the story, my dad wanted to get me a toy train set for Christmas. “You can’t give a girl a train set!” my mom told him. “Why not?” he asked. He thought it was a fine gift for any child. As the second of 3 boys, he wasn’t around girls while growing up so his reference point was what he and his brothers had played with.

I am sure you can imagine who actually played with the toy trains. Growing up he always had to share with his brothers, but this time he was in charge. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever played with it, and since I had one sibling, a younger sister born 7 months after I received it, my dad probably played with it more than anyone.

Twenty-five years later, my mom mentioned that several of their friends were putting train sets under their Christmas trees as decoration. She thought it was a fun idea, and of course, my dad was fascinated to watch them go around. That gave me an idea.

My dad was always hard to buy gifts for. If he asked for anything, it was something practical that he needed. A homemade card meant more to him than anything that could be bought, and in later years, his usual reply was “just come home for Christmas.” So buying him a train set, one that was his – no sharing with brothers, no pretending it was his daughter’s gift – seemed the perfect opportunity to give him something fun and completely unexpected.

The look of joy on his face when he opened that gift is one of my favorite Christmas memories as an adult. I didn’t often surprise my dad, but the train set did. It was a larger than the one I received, both in the number of cars and the size of them. After Christmas, he carefully padded the top of the dining room table, placed a large piece of plywood on top, attached the track, and played with the train set for months. He added more cars, and more track to handle them. Eventually, it entertained the grandchildren as it ran under the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights, letting a third generation share the joy of toy trains at Christmas.

You can listen to an audio version here.

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