Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 365: The Circle Closes

Nearly a year ago I started this blog with the purpose of casting a daily eye at the things in ordinary life that serve me and my family. My life has been the grist for this mill.  Sometimes my focus drifted from things to poetry, art, or travel trivia.  This year brought waves of travel adventures: ten trips, as far reaching as Ireland, Sedona, Arizona; Richmond, VA, Los Angeles and Spokane.

My purpose was also about discipline.  I wanted to challenge myself to do something every day. I would write every day, regardless of inspiration.  This proved to have its ups and downs.  On the up side I captured everyday treasures  that would otherwise have been overlooked while I was waiting for inspiration or for "something worthy" to write about.  I came to learn that all of life is worthy.  One simply needs to train the eye.  It isn't necessary to have a shiny thing in front of you. Some of the most thoughtful posts came about when there seemed to be nothing to write about.  The discipline kept the writing muscle going. The down side was that all of the 365 pages of writing went unedited.  And one thing I have learned is that editing is essential for writing to be readable. Every post would be improved with a clear editor's eye.

Somewhere along the way I got the count wrong.  Here it is the last day of March and I find myself on Day 365.  I seem to have lost nine or ten days.  I'll find them along the way as I read over the whole blog.  I plan to use "Blog2print" to turn this into a book.  It will be my diary of the past year as a blogger.  I don't really mind the mistakes.  Those who know me understand my enthusiasm for "making mistakes."

I would like to thank my dozen readers, especially my cousin, Mary Frances Wood and my sister Kathleen Ryan.  I think that Susan Landor Keegan also has checked in from time to time. And, my beloved Ron got roped into reading it regularly.  It has been pleasing to know that someone is reading this.  I am grateful to other bloggers and friends from whom I have borrowed ideas.  We are surrounded by stimulus and recommendations.  If one can sort through the daily offerings on Facebook and Twitter and the "dear gang all" emails that stuff one's boxes there is often gold.  Thanks to others for sharing what they find worthy of attention.

I have noticed that making a habit of looking around for "the things that serve me" is easy.  There is never a moment when I am not in the care of someone or in their debt.  People and energy and objects are at my disposal.  And even in those moments when I find myself complaining I am still being served.  I am in the debt of others.  This computer facilitates my writing.  The Google Blogger app makes this all possible.  My Comcast provider creates the network that allows these words to float out onto the cloud of the WWW so that you may read them.  My teriyaki- broccoli rice bowl nourishes me tonight so that my body has energy to write.  This chair supports my back.  This tiffany lamp lights my way.

When ordinary life is the WAY there is much to do and even more to be grateful for.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 364B: Flying high above the earth

Today, March 30, 2011 was a travel day.  Here Ron plays a word game as we wait for our boarding call on Alaska Airlines.  In the past year there have been many changes in US airports.  A majority offer free WiFi.  This allow us to check email, make a post on Facebook, find a poem or new article or check a sports score.  With the world of information in the palm of our hands airport waiting time can become productive or recreative.  I find that I rejoice when I discover the availability of WiFi connections as we move around the world.  I'm sure that someday our young nephews and nieces will marvel at the world  of the past in which you had to drive to Starbucks to hook up your computer or phone to the Internet.  That is, if our natural world lasts that long.  The images of the Japan earthquake and tsunami remind us that there are uncontrollable forces greater than ourselves.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 364: Saluting the pioneers of healthcare in Spokane

Our visit to Spokane has given us an extra day to relax and enjoy the city. Although the weather has been rainy and grey I set out for a walk in the River Park today. This city has an exceptional number of public sculpture. This series is dedicated to those pioneers who made the health care system in Spokane. The life-sized sculptures here show a man with a wheelbarrow and a nun with a trowel doing the physical building. I wonder how often we consider those laborers whose work led to the creation of those buildings in which we receive care? Many hands and strong backs made it possible. Thanks to those workers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 363: Beautiful birds and nature sounds

An old friend, Ellison Horne, posted a link on Facebook to this calming video of colorful birds. The sweetness of their bird sounds reminds us of a world beyond our electronic devices. Take two minutes and let nature's magic bring you wonder.  It seems that the bird video isn't available, so instead I post Ron's amazing picture of a black faced laughing thrush taken with Tiger's Nest in the distance.  We were in Bhutan.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 362: The many ways of coaching

Our seats at the quarterfinals here in Spokane placed us seven rows up from the Louisville TN players bench. (In the second game we were behind the UNC women). This vantage point allowed us to get a bird's eye view of the coaching styles. The coach for Louisville Jeff Walz coaches by intimidation. Apparently the women are under strict orders ONLY to follow his directions. He screamed into the face of a player "YOU PLAY MY GAME, you hear!" He then berated the player for acting on her own impulses. Throughout the game he did a lot of angry screaming at the players and at the refs. At one point he was so angry at a call that he kicked the table where the officials preside. This earned him a technical foul allowing the other team to make a free throw. A Louisville fan told us that he does this most every game. How sad. There are many ways to inspire and teach. His style full of hubris, ego and emotion seems one of the poorer choices. It makes me even prouder of our own Tara Vandeveer and her positive style of communicating. Stanford did win last night. We beat UNC by a margin of 7 points in the final minutes. We go on to play Gonzaga on Monday night.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 361: The Quarterfinals in Spokane

The atmosphere here in Spokane is full of sparks as the Sweet 16 teams face off. We are here to cheer on Stanford and hope we continue on to the Elite 8 on Monday night. Spokane is a charming city and the weather is cooperating kindly. The Lady Cardinal went on to defeat first University of North Carolina with a score of 73-65 and a day later we routed hometown Gongaza 83-60. These victories send them to their fourth consecutive Final Four in Indianapolis. What a privilege to watch them shine.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:E Grace Ave,Spokane,United States

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 360: The smell of a new car

The Madsons are serious fans of Subaru.  For the past two decades we have been Subaru Forester owners.  And so, after 105K miles on our gold Subaru we said a fond farewell and moved up to the 2011 Forester.  This our new car sits proudly in the driveway.  I love the soft grey green.  Sage green, it is called.  We look forward to many happy and safe years of driving this vehicle.  "The Golden Snitch" (the name of our previous car) still sits in the neighborhood.  Ron's sister, Joan, became the proud owner on the day ours arrived.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 359: The Best Guide on Bali

Two weeks ago my husband's son,  Jason Madson and his wife Karen (pictured here) arrived in Bali, Indonesia for a two week vacation.  A longtime friend of ours, Dana Lee, who is a professional guide on Bali, agreed to assist them during their visit and help make introductions to "the real Bali" including members of his family.  In addition to touring the island Dana arranged for them to take a class in wood carving from a master craftsman.  Both Jay and Karen are artists and deeply appreciate what it means to be a craftsman in the old tradition.  It is thanks to the kindness of Dana that these special opportunities were available to make their trip a "once in a lifetime" experience.  All hail and thanks to Dana for helping to make this happen.  Here Jay carves a plumeria. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 358: My little teapot

Nearly a year ago when I started this blog I began with a photo of this hand painted mug.  It's my favorite cup and I am rarely far from it.  The little steel teapot came from England.  It's the type used in cheap teahouses.  I love it because it holds just the right amount of tea for one big mug plus a few fingers of tea to top it off and warm it up.  I have a number of ceramic teapots large and small, but I usually turn to this practical, easy to clean steel pot.  I enjoy looking around each day to determine "what is serving me today?"  As the winter storm winds blow this week I am warmed by my tiny teapot and favorite cup.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 357: The Restorative Power of Silence

It's four thirty on a Tuesday afternoon. I'm sitting next to our gas hearth and reveling in the quiet. Ron and Joan are both away.  Bodhi is sleeping soundly in his kitty bed. The world seems gracious and good. Few states provide more healing for my spirit than that of silence. Actually silence isn't accurate. There is the ticking of two family heirloom clocks that Ron has going.  They strike alternately doing a gentle tick tock dance. The gas fire has a soft whine and periodically there is the sound of a car driving up El Granada Boulevard.  Otherwise there is a kind of silence.

In this silence my thoughts can rest. I am not pulled by offers to add something to my world or news of the latest update on Japan's tragedy.  I am not massaged by music or song. I can slow my body/mind and troll for what may be important or useful now.  Or I can avoid selection and simply take this now into consciousness.  Silence feels like cool water on my soul. In a noisy world I rejoice in the blessing of silent moments. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 356: Folding Laundry

When I started this blog nearly a year ago my purpose was to cast a spotlight on ordinary things.  Today what comes to mind is laundry.  I have always loved doing laundry.  I find the smell of clothing fresh from a warm dryer to be comforting.  As I fold I think of the service which the item has performed and I often thank it.  "Thanks, dishtowel, for helping to wipe the counters and dry cups."  "Thanks, t-shirt, for covering Ron's body and keeping him dry when he runs."  This might seem silly, but it reminds me of a relationship that I have with the ordinary things in my life.  These clothes and towels DO serve me.  It is fitting that I keep them clean and put them away folded.  
You may notice that the two dishtowels in the front of this photo, one yellow and one orange, are folded differently.  One sits as a square and the other is more rectangular.  This is because I folded the orange one and Ron happened by while I was folding and helped.  He folded the yellow one.  He prefers this way of folding a dishtowel.  In days gone by I would "correct" Ron and show him the right way to fold a towel.  These days I have learned that we each have a right to fold the towels as we like.  There is no "right way" . . .  Life is easier when I don't try and impose my preferences on him.  It's just fine to have things folded differently.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 355: Blow ye winds . . .

This week the Bay Area is beset by storms.  Last night 100 mile an hour winds pummeled our world.  When we looked out on our deck we noticed that our weathervane. a tall copper heron perched on a N/S/E/W axis, had blown down and was lying on our deck next to the pond.   This large sculpture weighs a lot.  It must have taken quite a wind to catapult it from its strong mooring.  It made me think about impermanence.  No matter how well situated, no matter how strong or how healthy we are, no matter how much insurance we have, how much security we have amassed it can all turn on a dime.  Everything can change in a heartbeat.  The Japan earthquake and tsunami reminds us of this.  So we know that it is sensible to put our houses in order and take care of our health, and pay our bills and put away something for "hard times;" it only makes sense, however, to cherish and appreciate the moment at hand.  Thank those who help you.  Acknowledge those whose work makes yours possible.  Go beyond petty squabbles or beefs and make whole torn friendships.  Life can only be lived forward, although it can only be understood backward.  Carpe diem.  Honor today. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 354: NCAA Basketball Championship is underway

Today begins March Madness for the collegiate women's basketball. Ron and I are court side at Maples Pavillion to see round one. Game one is between Texas Tech and St. Johns. Texas Tech has distinguished itself by beating Baylor this year.  They lost, however, today to St. Johns 55-50. At 3:30 today Stanford faces UC Davis at Maples. Stanford triumphed over UCD with a final score 86-59. On Monday night we play St Johns of Manhattan.  What a joy women's basketball is to watch. Go Cardinal.

Happy fans!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 353: The Birth of Improv Wisdom in Japan

March 11, 2011 is a date that will remain historic for Japan.  It is the day that the devastating earthquake and tsunami stuck Japan.  I learned today from Tomoko Nozu, my wonderful translator in Japan that March 11, 2011 was also the publication date for my book, Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up in Japan.  This date the book went on sale in bookstores and on  Yesterday Tomoko reported that the book was #39 in sales on Japan's Amazon site.  As the world watches Japan work to heal itself and come together again as a country it is my prayer that this small book can be a help to those who read it.  I am indebted to Tomoko for her skillful work bringing the book to life in her country. Arigato gozaimasu, Tomoko-san.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 352: St Patrick's Day

"May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand."
~ Gaelic Blessing

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 349: An unexpected gift

This past week I received the most remarkable letter and gift.  The handwritten number 10 envelope had a name and return address in New York City.  I didn't recognize the name.  When I opened the envelope the first thing that struck me was a personal check made out to me in the amount of $250 from the sender of the letter.  His typed letter, dated January 25, 2011 read as follows:

Dear Ms. Madson,
I just wanted to take the time to write a letter to you to let you know how much your book, "Improv Wisdom" influenced me.  On a surface level I am a musical theatre actor, and so technically I appreciated what you had to say! On a much deeper level I found that the "maxims" that you have outlined in the book really helped me to think about my life and the way that I approach each and every day!

Every time that I would read a chapter or a "maxim" principle, my soul was literally rejoicing and it began to really make sense to me what you were trying to convey.  I certainly don't claim to have a handle on it's entirety, of course.  However, it has motivated me to do forward and attempt to put those principles into practice in my own life.  The principles were like fresh water poured onto my soul.  I tend to be a rigid individual and even though I have been working on that, this book has been not only confirmation that I am heading in the right direction but also instrumental in my letting go and "just showing up"!  It is a book that brought such sweet conviction to my soul.

Now for the second reason that I am writing this letter.  No doubt you may have been a bit interested in what was in this envelope when you opened it.  I will attempt to explain this as seamlessly and quickly as possible.

I am a person of faith, and I am learning that money is energy and God in motion.  I attended a lecture last year given by Edwene Gaines, author of The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity. As she spoke about the first Spiritual Law of tithing I became interested in her words.  She instructed that our tithe should go wherever we receive our spiritual food.  She said often times that will be our spiritual home or church.  However, oftentimes you will receive your spiritual food from an artist, author, painter, waitress, etc.  Regardless of where your spiritual food comes from you simply need to tithe your money to where you are receiving spiritual food.

I am attempting to be faithful to that.  I have received much spiritual food from the work that you have produced and it has enlightened and encouraged me more than I can say.

When I first feel the call to do something like this the ego begins to be involved saying things like "Nathan, Ms Madson is going to think that you are a crazy person or, some sort of super fan!!"  What I have come to realize is that all of that ego talk doesn't really matter.  I could spend time here justifying why I am doing this, or giving examples as to why I am an appreciator of your work, and yet not a "crazy super fan", but frankly that's not what it's about.  It is about me returning provision where I have received spiritual food so as to do my part for the  continuing flow of the Universe.  I am simply the conduit that is being used for a greater purpose.

I have explained this as briefly and efficiently as possible.  I trust that you will be able to receive this gift not only in the spirit that it is given, but also as a manifestation from God/Goddess honoring he/her people when they step out in faith to do the work intended for them to do.

I pray continued peace and blessing upon you!
King regards.

The gentleman who sent the letter, whose name will remain anonymous, kindly gave me permission to share the letter.  What a moving tribute.  I can only say I was speechless.  What a brilliant and sensible idea: to tithe in the direction of one's spiritual food.  Where do YOU receive your spiritual food?  Think about it.  And, my deep gratitude to the sender of the letter and gift.  I hope it is an inspiration to my readers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 348: Japan's natural disaster

A person walks through a vast area of tsunami-devastated Shizugawa district in Minami Sanriku of Miyagi prefecture, on Monday, March 14. Thousands of people were feared dead after last week's earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

As life goes on here in California, the Japanese people are facing a natural disaster of enormous proportions.  Our prayers go out to those affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear scare.  This week the Constructive Living newsletter included a selection by Dr. David K. Reynolds.  His words ring true and offer sage advice to us all.  I quote him here with his permission.
"Do you already know that you can't hold on to anything? Health will come
and go; love, too; intellect, friends and relatives will leave in one way or
another. Religious belief will merge and fade and merge and fade, sometimes
forgotten. Even the precious routines and rituals you use to hold on to life
will be disrupted and evolve. Life can't be preserved with paintings or
photos or solid houses or dependable cars or secure jobs or careful
monitoring of your health, or dutiful application of cosmetics. Watch
everything change over time. So treasure the now. Reality has to keep
finding new ways to support you, whether you realize it or not."
by Dr. David K. Reynolds in his reflections on The Imitation of Christ, 2011
(unpublished manuscript)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 347: PAC10 Tournament today

Most of you know that we are serious women's basketball fans. Today is the final championship game in LA. Our Stanford women play UCLA for the title (which we already hold from the regular season). This photo shows our band giving the team a big SENDOFF this morning. Women's sports are inspiring. Go Stanford. It was a thrilling game. UCLA dominated the first half, shutting down the Ogwumike sisters. At the half Stanford trailed by nine points. Things looked bad for the home team. However in the second half our girls came alive. Freshman Toni Kokenis scored an astonishing 17 points. The final winning score 64-55. What a joy to watch them win. Back home tomorrow.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 346: New haircut

So after almost three years of growing my hair long and longer I got a haircut.  My stylist, Mary Barrako, did a good job, I think.  Instead of having to pull the long hair back into a pony tail most of time I'm able to wear a shoulder length, breezy look.  This is the new look.  I'll be wearing it along with my Stanford retro letter jacket this weekend at the Pac10 conference in LA.  Go Cardinal!  Beat everybody!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 345: Help is at hand

Recently we added to the growing mountain of electronic equipment in our house by purchasing a new HP wireless printer/fax/scanner.  This pictured device is the second piece of hardware; the first one out of the box was defective.  It took quite a while to set it up and get it communicating with our computers and IPads and telephone lines.  All seemed to be working well until some problems with the print quality arose.  After trying all of the detailed advice on the website I got on the phone to HP and reached a helpful operator sitting in Canada. As he walked me through various instructions and I complied, he would add encouraging remarks such as: "Good work, well done" "You did that very well."  At each step of the "do this, try that", he was with me, coaching me along cheerfully.  If something took me a while to execute he waited patiently and then, said:  "Good job" when I would complete the task.  At the end of the troubleshoot it was determined that my printer cartridge had actually run out of ink and needed replacing.  This was not obvious to me since we had owned the machine less than a week.  I discovered that new HP machines don't ship with a normal full cartridge.  Instead you are given the equivalent of "training wheels" and expected to buy a normal full cartridge rather soon.  I was disappointed in this finding, but accepted it and went on to order new cartridges, which arrived, free shipping, the next day.  What struck me today was the miracle of  customer service help which is very often at hand.  I am (I'm ashamed to say) easy to complain and criticize technology when it does other than perform perfectly and on cue.  I am less quick to show my appreciation for the help that is at hand for many fine companies.  I have always had good luck with HP and their customer service.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the technicians who sit in windowless offices around the world helping me here at home.  Thanks, HP.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 344: Kudos to my readers

An author's dream is that her work is received in a positive spirit and that what she has written can become of use or inspiration to her reader.  This week I was delighted to received fan mail from a reader in Atlanta who is the Director of Admissions at Emory University.  Her name is Allison Gilmore and the photos below are those of her copy of my book, Improv Wisdom  complete with markings and bookmarks.  I am thrilled with this.  Here is part of the email she wrote:
Good morning, Professor,

My name is Allison Gilmore and I have been performing improvisational comedy in Atlanta for almost 30 years.  A few months back, my business partner and I discovered your book and it has so greatly informed our work.  We have our own company, DuMore Improv, and we teach improvisation as leadership to folks in higher education, corporations, and non-profits.

Thank you so much for writing this book.  It is truly amazing and so insightful.    .  .  .
We recommend  your book to every group we teach – and lately that’s been a lot of folks!  We even list it in our recommended reading.  Would love to the opportunity to meet / discuss our mutual work one day.  Let me know if you’re ever in Atlanta.  I’ll be teaching at Berkeley this summer as well.  Maybe there’s an opportunity here somewhere!
Allison Gilmore, Director of Admissions and Student Services
Goizueta Doctoral Program  |  Goizueta Business School  |  Emory University

I really appreciate the depth of her study of my book and of her taking the time to share this enthusiasm with me by sending these delightful photos.  I am one lucky author!  Oh, and I learned yesterday that Random House signed a contract with Apple to place 17 thousand of their titles (including Improv Wisdom into the bookstore at the Apple Store.  So for only $9.95 you can instantly download a copy of my book onto your IPad or Mac computer or even your IPhone.  Having the search function allows the reader to find a passage they liked.  Thank you, Allison, for writing and sharing the photos.  Good luck on your work teaching improv to others.  Go girl!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 343: Trusting the Moment by Jeannie Lindheim

Recently I received an autographed copy of a new book by Jeannie Lindheim, called Trusting the Moment.  She is a fascinating women who juggles many balls, teaching creativity as well as clowning.  An earlier book, The Art and Joy of Hospital Clowning shares her expertise in this unusual occupation.  She did me the kindness of allowing me to see earlier drafts of this manuscript.  Now it lives as a "real book", blue guiding star and all!  

The publication of a book is right up there with the birth of a child in momentousness.  So, great good luck to Jeannie and the life of this book.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 342: Found Blessings by John O'Donohue

In the poet John O'Donohue's wonderful book To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (Doubleday, 2008) he offers essays and poems to use on the occasions (ordinary and extraordinary) of our lives.  In the epilogue he write this essay called "Found Blessings."  I quote him here.

"It was Kierkegaard who said that life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward.  Most of the time we are unaware of how blessed our lives are.  Poets often refer to an occasional poem as a "found poem."  In contrast to the usual travails, frustrations, and endless versions through which most poems come to life, this a a poem that practically wrote itself.  Perhaps in terms of blessing, we could say the same: there are around our lives "found blessings."  Friendship, for instance, is one.  Yeats once said, friendship is the only house we have to offer.  Without the blessing of friendship, we would never have become who we are.  In the climate of love and understanding that friendship provides, we take root and blossom into full human beings.  Our friends are the mirrors where we recognize ourselves, and quite often it is their generosity of spirit that has enabled us to grow and flourish.  There is also the blessing of health: the ability to see, to hear, to understand, and to celebrate life.  The found blessings also include the gifts that we find coming alive in our lives, abilities that sleep in our hearts that we never suspected.  There are also the blessings of our discoveries and modest accomplishments.  All of these have been given to us; on our own we could never have merited or earned them.  The more we recognize our found blessings, the more they increase around us."  
p. p. 213 

I'm not sure why I chose to use this bushel of lemons to accompany this inspiring quote.  We have a large Meyer lemon tree and just harvested a bounty.  These, too, may be among the found blessings of our lives.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 341: Kaleidoscopic Turkey Loaf

Kaleidoscopic Turkey Loaf
This basic recipe from Martie is very versatile and very forgiving. Simply use what appeals to your family and you can’t miss.
1                  lb. ground turkey
112-2                  Cups finely chopped vegetables—a mix of any of the following according to season (be careful not to add more than 2 Cups or it is hard for the meat loaf to stick together and stay a loaf!): onions (always); red, yellow or orange
bell peppers; carrots; squash; parsnips; apples; celery; cranberries; nuts; fresh chives; mushrooms; corn, fresh from the cob or frozen; peas, fresh or frozen; capers
1                  large egg, or 14 Cup cream or 14 Cup catsup to bind
1                  tsp. salt
14-12                                    tsp. PENZEYS FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER, to taste
2                  TB. fresh herbs (sage, basil, oregano or marjoram) or 2 tsp. dried
1                  TB. MURAL OF FLAVOR, TUSCAN SUNSET or ARIZONA DREAMING  or use Chili Powder!
14-13                                    Cup panko or regular bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat
2                  TB. butter
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, your choice of chopped ingredients, egg, salt, PEPPER, herbs and SEASONING. Mix until thoroughly combined. Pat into a standard loaf pan. In a small frying pan, melt the butter. Add the bread crumbs and stir to coat with butter. Spread over the loaf. Or, spread the bread crumbs over the loaf and dot with butter. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes.
Notes from Martie: “The wonderful thing about this family favorite is that it can be varied with the season—green onions, celery, mushrooms and fresh green peas for spring; peppers, carrots, parsnips or squash and onions for winter; and apples, cranberries, nuts and celery for fall. Or what have you! It can also be Chinese-influenced with soy sauce and chopped water chestnuts, CHINESE FIVE SPICE and topping with Chinese noodles;
or it can have an Indian flavor by using GINGER, TURMERIC, CURRY POWDER and CINNAMON; Italian with chopped tomatoes, catsup, OREGANO and BASIL and a little olive oil if extra moisture is needed.”
Prep. time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 40-45 minutes Serves: 4-6
Nutritional Information: Servings 4; Serving Size 2 slices (235g); Calories 330; Calories from fat 150; Total fat 17g; Cholesterol 170mg; Sodium 1100mg; Carbohydrate 15g; Dietary Fiber 3g.

Several times a year I look forward to receiving the PenzySpices Catalogue.  Each catalogue has wonderful free recipes.  You can access the whole catalogue online as well. I copy here a new favorite recipe.  It is like "kitchen sink turkey loaf" for it encourages you to be creative.  Try it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 340: Bad Art Night

So, thanks to Laura McHugh of Half Moon Bay for being our host for a serendipitous Friday BAD ART NIGHT.  Seven intrepid artist showed up with a variety of materials to play together.  Last night I was working on cards.  These are a collage style using fabric that I painted or dyed recently. It is delightful to pull together different materials and see what I can make.  I have always loved color and texture.  There is something liberating about going out to do "bad art" . . . that is something that we can succeed at.  ;-)  And, sometimes, the bad art ain't so bad.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Day 339: The Secret of Happiness

Readers of Improv Wisdom know that one of the daily rituals of my life is "making the marriage bed".  I point out that the three minute activity of smoothing the sheets, pulling up the bedspread and setting the pillows starts my day, every day, and gives my life a sense of order.  Ordinary rituals contribute to my mental health and well being.  Recently a student in my evening class on "Everyday Spontaneity" sent me this link to an article by a psychologist about the proven benefits of daily bed making.
What surprised me most in the article was the statistic that 59% of those polled don't make their beds in the morning.  A stunning 12% have someone else make the bed for them.  Wow.  Lots of folks with housekeepers.  Wow.  Most people give the excuse: "I don't have time."  The actual time it takes to straighten bedclothes in under three minutes, depending upon how many pillows and accessories you have to arrange.  Three minutes.  Not a bad investment to start the day with order and a sense of accomplishment.  Try it, if you are part of the 59%.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 338: I'm an Award Winner!


I am in the debt of the amazing Diane Walker, whose blog: "Contemplative Photography" never ceases to inspire me.  She recently named me as one of those whose blog she admires.  This is itself an amazing compliment.  Apparently this award comes with a set of rules that the recipients need to follow.    Here are the five rules that those who I nominate should follow:

1.✦ Link back to the blogger who bestows the award. (✓) (Contemplative Photography for me and this blog for YOU if you are a winner.)

2.✦ Display the image from the award creator (see graphic above). (✓)

3.✦ Pass the award on to five (5) other 
bloggers who must follow these rules. (✓)

4.✦ Link the post back, so 
Jillsmo can follow its trajectory. (✓)

And then the fifth: TA-DA!!

5.✦ List five (5) facts about yourself, four (4) of which must be lies
Drumroll  .  .    .Here are my the Bloggers of Note that I admire and to whom I give this award:

Patti Digh  37 Days 
Steve Pressfield Writing Wednesdays
Colleen Wainwright  Communicatrix
Susan Landor Keegan  A Little Painting Everyday
Susan Elliott  Plays With Needles 
Cate  Serendipity

The  five facts about me:
1. I absolutely LOVE octopus.
2. I was the youngest person to ever graduate from  Wayne State University.
3. I suffer from acid reflux.
4. I've written two books that have been published.
5. I have a trip to Ecuador planned for this fall.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 337: Why Creativity, Why Now?

This article sponsored by Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning (see details at the end) makes a persuasive case for the necessity of teaching the creative process.  Improv has been a vehicle for this work for decades.  Education is finally getting this.

Why Creativity, Why Now?
by Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet of Eastern Kentucky University, and is #55 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum (NT&LF) newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership."

In 2006 the Association of American Colleges and Universities surveyed 306 businesses to determine the most valuable skills that institutions of higher learning should be teaching, and the Top Three were (in order) teamwork, critical thinking, and communication. Yet in 2010 when IBM's Institute for Business Values asked 1500 chief executives what leadership competency they championed
above all others, voters selected none of the winners from three years before. Instead, the new American idol was creativity.

Retrospectively, more seismic signs of this tectonic shift were visible in this past decade. In 2001 Anderson and Krathwohl revised Bloom?s Taxonomy to situate "Create" as the highest of higher-order learning skills. Richard Florida stressed in The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) the importance of the creative class in economic growth. In The Whole New Mind (2006) Daniel Pink, while using an oversimplified metaphor, concluded that right-brained people will rule the world of the future, and Erica McWilliam, in The Creative Workforce (2008), declared creativity the cornerstone of contemporary education.

As the body of evidence on the importance of creativity grows, maybe the first question educators should be asking is, can creativity be taught? Ken Robinson, author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative (2001) argues that "we can teach generic skills of creative thinking, just in the way we can teach people to read, write, and do math," and to do so "the pedagogy is designed to encourage other people to think creatively. You encourage kids to experiment, to innovate, not giving them all the answers but giving them the tools they need to find out what the answers might be"(26).

A Creative Pedagogy

How do we teach students to write the next Carrie, to invent the i-Pod's successor, or simply to solve simpler problems? More specifically, if a good education is, above all, a habit of mind, and choreographer Twyla Tharp claims that "creativity is a habit and the best creativity is the result of good work habits" (7), how can we intentionally develop in students a creative frame of mind?

Experts in creativity break its study into the four Ps "person, process, product, and press (environment)". Let's assume we want our person/student to be capable of creative products (e.g., short stories, songs, paintings, new processes, or simply innovative solutions) and focus mainly on the other two aspects, the creative environment and the creative process.

The Creative Environment

Establishing the most conducive environment for creativity starts with an open atmosphere where students feel a freedom to take risks, where bad guesses aren't pounced on, and where every answer isn't necessarily right or wrong. This safety urges them to look at things in different?even radical?ways without fear of punishment, condescension, or even a bad grade. In fact, this creative atmosphere accepts, even encourages, missteps and errors, thus minimizing the stress of pure correctness. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame says simply, "creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes." In fact, research demonstrates the atmosphere needs to be not only supportive, but fun. Do you know one reason Southwest Airlines is the only profitable airline in this country? Check out their mission statement: "People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it."

Even the physical surroundings of the environment can promote creative thought. Coming out of the Industrial Revolution, our schools have throughout the past century been dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge. Picture the typical static classroom: neatly rowed chairs and desks for note-taking fronted by a lectern. The 21st century has not only brought new knowledge, but also new methodologies and audiences with a new way of learning. Even the more recent active learning approach has been replaced by a cutting edge pedagogy that Erica McWilliam calls in The Creative Workforce "meddler-in- the-middle"; students and faculty co-facilitate the development of knowledge in groups, sitting at tables, in comfortable chairs, with the instructor smack dab (physically and educationally) in the center of the environment.

Since researchers concur that creativity often comes out of extant knowledge, it is important that students have access to that knowledge as a foundation. New technology helps that process. At Eastern Kentucky University, we have developed an incubator classroom to promote this creative environment. By bringing together experts from the fields of educational research, instructional communication, pedagogy, technology, and instructional design into a learning community we call L.E.A.F. (Learning Environment for Academia's Future), we have created an atmosphere that embodies all the features necessary for creativity. We have even studied the optimum room temperature and amount of illumination. Moveable tables with wireless laptops and wickedly comfortable chairs surround an instructor, who has control of the laptops, the screens in all four corners of the room, the data readers, clicker technology, and a multitude of software. Student assessments constantly reference the relaxed atmosphere of the classroom and the freedom provided by its instructors as major factors in helping them express ideas and approaches.

The Creative Process

But creativity demands more than what has been called a "softly fascinating environment" to express itself. After all, creativity is more than a freedom to range wide with our thinking, or as Walt Whitman held, "For freest action form'd under the laws divine." To foster creativity in our students we must develop a process by which to coax that creative impulse from them, then shape it in discipline- specific ways. That process necessitates our students learning certain skills key to creativity, skills often not taught in traditional classrooms.

Goal-Orientation is important because students, inventors, and even artistic geniuses rarely have eureka moments wherein a bolt from the blue suddenly strikes them and they write an epic, paint a masterpiece, or invent the next i-Product. As a wise person once said (maybe it was Bill Cosby), "You can?t make Jell-O without a mold." Whether it?s a 500-word theme or a twenty-minute speech, give students a goal to produce.

Brainstorming occurs when you ask students to generate individually and collectively as many ideas as they possibly can in a defined period of time. Quantity is the goal, not quality; all ideas initially live.

Piggybacking often occurs right after brainstorming. Students are asked collectively or individually to build upon an idea, such as those just generated. David Kord Murray has written an excellent book called Borrowing Brilliance (2009), where he points out that so many great inventions occurred because someone stood on the shoulders of a previous giant. Darwin's theory of evolution comes out of Lyell's geology and economic theory. The i-Pod needed the Walkman to precede it. "The secret of creativity," Einstein believed, "is knowing how to hide your sources."

Perception Shift is the ability to look at something from a different angle and see something new. For instance, you are doing a cross- word puzzle and for a four-letter word you see the clue "First place."Athletically inclined, you immediately try to fill in "GOLD," but it doesn?t fit and you find yourself stuck. Perception shift is the skill of being able to back away from the object/clue and see another possibility. Maybe the four-letter word is seen through the prism of biology and you write "CELL" or "WOMB"; maybe you also have a religious side and fill in "EDEN."

Combining/Synthesis is the process of connecting the dots or finding what Henry James called "the figure in the carpet." Intelligence analysts look at threat analyses from all over the globe to try to locate a pattern. Literary and music critics try to discover motifs in etudes and epics. Divergent thinking, as illustrated by these examples, demands more than memorization. In fact, it often demands applying, analyzing, and evaluating"the higher-order skills of Bloom's taxonomy" as necessary precedents for creating.

Recognizing and Pursuing Glimmers is a highly metacognitive skill. Students have to be taught to listen to others and themselves. For instance, when we were typing this article, we did not want to outline it beforehand. Instead, as we typed the first draft and while we were on one idea, another"FLOW"would suddenly come to mind. Rather than concentrate solely on the concept we were putting into a paragraph, we would just stick the "glimmer" or the embryo of another idea right into the text. As a result, we wouldn't forget that we wanted to include something on . . .

Flow is how cognition experts describe what athletes experience when they suddenly hit seven three-point shots in a row. Psychologists tell us that when it happens we are in intense concentration upon a subject.

Why teach creativity now? Because we can?t afford not to.

Sponsored by
Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning


The posting above looks at the teaching of creativity and why it is so important to do so now. It is by Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet of Eastern Kentucky University, and is #55 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum (NT&LF) newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 20, Number 1, December, 2010 .? Copyright 1996-2010. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 336: Out of Print

This evening at the Mill Valley  
Library my friend Susan Landor Keegan's wonderful art work will go on display.  There is a reception from 6-8 open to the public.  Susan is a remarkable artist who had devoted herself in the past few years to a project called:  "A Little Painting Every Day".  Her blog keeps us abreast of her current work.  The paintings are small (usually around 6 inches by 8 inches).  She paints in oil on canvas usually.  Her current exhibit at the Library focuses on a collection of painting on the subject of books.  She finds reverence in the ordinary.  And this ability is anything but ordinary.  I bought these two of her paintings a year ago and love looking at them.  I hope you will go to her website and enjoy her remarkable work.  Perhaps I will see you at her reception tonight.  Brava, Susan.