Category Archives: Diversions

Where Do Songs Come From?

We’ve always been a very musical family and yesterday I realized that music holds my memories, giving them a time, context and emotion. For other families, it may be a handmade article, special piece of jewelry or other artifact that stirs the memory pot, but for me, it’s the music.

Sunday, at my daughter’s suggestion, my spouse and I met her family to take food to Mamaw at the nursing home. This was the first time I’d seen Mother since my back surgery 2 weeks ago and it was exciting to be out.

We usually eat outside in the courtyard when we visit Mamaw, but for some reason I was insistent upon eating indoors in the living room this time. We all enjoyed our food and talk, but the littlest one soon moved from our table over to the corner of the room where two new cockatiels were in their cage. He pulled a wooden rocking chair up in front of the pair and as they screeched, he sang to them.

bird3

Appearing a bit disgusted with the birds, he sang louder and then softer, trying to get them to stop being “annoying”. Finally, he tried a new tactic, we made up a song for the birds. The tune was strangely family . . . mmm and Bingo was his name . . . but the words were new. They had something to do with a shooting star. The birds selected the point at which the new song started to become quiet and we’re all sure it was the song that did it.

bird1

Later, when the child’s mom asked who taught him the song. He said “no one”. “Then where did it come from?” she queried. Without hesitation, the little 4-year-old put his hand over his heart and said “from my heart and then it goes to my brain.” I guess that’s where all good songs come from.

G

This episode helped me remember so many of those little songs this child’s mother and his “unc” made up when they were little. “Unc” is still doing it, having just given an acoustic performance of his own music at a café in San Francisco the night before.  My daughter performs daily with this little fellow as they sing through part of their day. My songs seldom escape in any audible form anymore, but they are definitely still within me.

So where DOES the song come from? My songs comes from a need –  to comfort sadness, to bring joy or perhaps to find a memory. Now that I really think about it . . . songs DO come from the heart. It’s a good place to hold them.

Strange Happenings at Dreamcatcher Ranch

These things have happened over time - the last year and a half to be exact. Once we found dinosaur footprints on the floor of the house and another time a note led us to a science experiment in the wagon. On a separate occasion there were cow prints strewn about and then there were those ants (raisins) that crossed the carpet and led to the sugar bowl.

Today, however, there was something different. At first we didn’t see it, but then at snack time it caught our eye. What was that gold ribbon doing hanging out of the refrigerator? Do you see it down at the bottom?

ribbon1

We followed the ribbon and found a piece of paper at the other end.

ribbon2

I asked my grandson what it was and he retorted that he didn’t know because he couldn’t read. He’s four. He suggested that I should read it. Since I remained silent, he simply followed the ribbon back to the fridge and . . .

ribbon5ribbon6

. . . found it connected to a bowl of something strange. “It looks like mashed potatoes,” he said. What do you think?

ribbon4

Upon close examination and a quick read, we finally determined that we had cookie dough in our refrigerator. We learned what to do with it by reading the paper, but I’m not sure it told us to stick our fingers right in. It is, however, impossible to roll those little sugar cookie balls without getting messy and there’s only one thing to do about messy fingers . . . lick them!

ribbon8ribbon7    

In the end, we had good sugar cookies which we decorated with a dollop of cream cheese and a blackberry. We put a tiny bit of cool whip on each prior to eating. Tomorrow, I’m told, we are continuing our “experiment” by trying a different topping. I can hardly wait to see what that will be. I think I may have heard something about peanut butter.

I just wish we knew why these unusual things happen at our house and why they only happen when the grandson is here. . . hmm . . . any thoughts? Do these things happen at your house too?

Family Traditions

I used to get a bit down in the dumps around various holidays. People on television would discuss what they “always” do with their family on this and that holiday and friends would inquire as to what we were going to do. When I would try to think of our specific holiday traditions, I didn’t think that we had any in particular. My parents always felt that you could celebrate just whenever you got together and you didn’t have to do the same thing at the same time on just the right day every year. I seem to have embraced that with my own family as well.

Yesterday, however when we were privileged to have our grandson spend the night, I realized that the things we did together were actually my family traditions.

It was just a simple thing that I thought we would enjoy doing together; yet, after my grandson started to question me about why we did this and that, I realized it was tradition. You see, we were making Wilson Biscuits from my Dad’s recipe.

Wilson Biscuits

I can’t actually say that the mess we made was traditional, but then I think I was a lot older than four when I made these biscuits for the first time. At one point my grandson wanted to know why we didn’t roll out the biscuits the “proper way”. He meant we should use a rolling pin. Thinking quickly, I told him we were doing it the Wilson way and just using our hands. Hopefully he will remember a little about our traditional way of making Wilson Biscuits. By the way, he used his great great great grandmother’s biscuit cutters. The oldest  one is not shown in the photos.

Wilson biscuits3

 

Wilson Biscuits2

On the second day of my grandson’s visit, we made Easter cupcakes. I hadn’t made these in years, but remembered doing them most Easters with my own children. I guess it was one of our traditions. My husband showed the little guy how to share the batter bowl with someone. They drew a line down the center of the bowl and each person ate on his own side. I think Sir (what my grandson calls my husband) was sad when the batter on his side was gone. It is traditional to lick the bowl at our house.

G & Sir

I’ll bet some of you decorate cupcakes in the same manner with green coconut grass and jelly bean Easter eggs. It’s really hard to keep from licking the spreader while you are doing the icing.

cupcakes1

cupcakes2

The cupcakes turned out well and tasted great. Do you think he’ll remember and ask to make them again next Easter?

Now that I’ve realized that traditions don’t have to be grandiose, I’m going to pay better attention to activities we’ve enjoyed together first as children, then parents and finally grandparents. Perhaps we have more family traditions than I realized.

Happy Easter to All!

Catching Up

My husband and I just spent a grand eight days in Hawaii; thus I’m trying to catch up on a few things today. We were in Honolulu for three days.

sunset Then we flew to Kona for the remainder of our trip. Notice who got good and wet while we were whale watching on a boat.

whale don and K2

While I was gone, several readers emailed that they were not able to open the link for the ring tutorial in the previous entry. I didn’t realize that what shows up as I write and goes directly on the website URL is not necessarily what transfers to you all in your mailboxes. If you were not able to open the tutorial, here is another link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ-Az7jIeFA&feature=player_embedded I hope you will try the ring. Wearing it on our trip, I received many compliments and have made several more rings for an upcoming show. I’m trying to figure out how to turn the ring design into a bracelet. Don’t hold your breath on that one!

I was anxious to view the jewelry in Hawaii, and found that the places I looked carried mainly the same style. They were small, lightweight and mostly silver. I didn’t see anything in copper. The exception was some lovely work by different artists featured at Elements, a gallery in Kapaau on Kona. I especially liked the lightweight and colorful anodized niobium earrings. Do any of you work with this metal?  The owner of this gallery was very friendly and gave me lots of information. This is unlike many of the places where I felt they gave me as little information as possible thinking I might steal some grand idea or secret.

I saw very few beaded strands in Hawaii and didn’t find any handmade chains. It made me wonder if my work was truly unique or just out of step. I’m still pondering that one.

Let’s hope I have new pieces to show you in just a few days after I catch up with things around here. For now, I’m just enjoying sleeping in my own bed as I listen to my own dogs barking. You just never know what you might miss on vacation.

Laughter and Productivity

Most of us know that laughter is an excellent way to prepare for creative thinking. The research certainly backs this up and I can attest to it. When I worked with the Creativity Division of the National Association for Gifted Children, it seemed the other divisions tried to avoid our proximity during our meetings. We were probably the loudest and most fun group in the building. Most years, the division meetings were all held at the same time and in various parts of the same large room. The Creativity Division could clear out the entire room when we met. While many probably thought we were just goof offs, we were one of the most productive divisions in the association. Our spontaneous eruptions usually led to a new idea that proved beneficial.

Lately, I’ve seemed to be in need of some of the Division’s spontaneity. At this point in December, I’m feeling a bit spent and my productivity has waned. It’s obvious to me that creativity and productivity are inextricably linked for me. If I’m not producing, I’m not problem solving and therefore am not being creative.

Yesterday, I got a little help with this problem from a friend . . . my mother. When I arrived at the nursing home to visit her, she informed me that it was about time I got there. She had on one earring and was trying to get the other stud on. I couldn’t help but wonder how long she had been at it. We laughed when she was finally “fixed”.

Then I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Without missing a beat she said, “my TWO FRONT TEETH” and flashed me a big toothless grin. Indeed, her two front teeth are missing and she does need a couple! Again, we laughed and laughed. I think it was her spontaneity as well as her answer that got me. We went shopping together and then grabbed some lunch, but I just kept thinking about her Christmas wish.

This little episode reminded me of last year when we asked her where she was when she and my father got married. Again, without missing a beat, she said, “Out of My MIND!” The woman, who will be 91 in January, is quite clever.

When I got home yesterday, I continued to chuckle and decided to try a bit or jewelry work. That’s when things began to flow nicely and the ideas became present again. Was it just time to design or did the laughter really help. I vote that it was the latter.

I mainly worked with cabochons yesterday, but was pleased with a couple of the new wrappings and the bezel I created.  The first stone is a boulder opal and all the rest are turquoise (yes, even the brown one). See what you think.

boulder                     brown turq

turqsI’m hoping to hang on to this productive thinking and continue to get some good work completed. I’m a believer that for me, at least, laughter leads to productivity and creative thinking.

I guess that the moral of this entry is . . . find something to laugh about and if you can’t find anything, go visit my mother!

Fling Those Beads!

I’ve seldom been known to fling my beads, but every once in a while you just have to.

About bedtime last evening I sat peacefully in the den with my bead tray on my lap. It was full of various beads and wires as I worked on a new ring design. I always enjoy this peaceful time of the day when things are at a basic standstill here at the ranch. My spouse was putting his dog, Bruno, back into the outside pen after his evening visit. (every dog needs its special time!) I heard the pen gate open and then the yelling commenced. “Karen, I need you now. I need you Right now – hurry!” I could tell by the tone of voice that there was an emergency.

I flung the bead tray to the floor and raced, barefooted out the back door. “Get the dogs!” I didn’t even stop to ask “why”, but immediately called the dogs. Luckily, all three came racing into the house where I trapped them and then went back outside. There stood my husband beside a large rattle snake that was coiled, ready to strike and in full rattle. The noise was frightening.

I ran to the garage to get the hoe, but the light was burned out and I couldn’t see anything. I grabbed the first tool I could feel off the wall of garden weapons. When I got to my husband, he was sure the short-handled hoe I had procured was not going to work. Back I went – three times – three different tools that wouldn’t work and the entire time the rattler was making plenty of noise.

Finally, I managed to secure the long-handled hoe and give it to my husband in the dog pen. Then I got my first clear thought since flinging my beads. Chopping that big snake even the long-handled hoe was not a good idea.

I ran back inside and got the gun, praying that it was full of bullets – praying my spouse wouldn’t miss. One shot and it was over – two more shots and we were sure. Snake dead – people relieved – dogs confused.

snake2As snakes go, this was a big rattler. We measured it at four feet in length and about three inches in diameter.

snake1Need I tell you that we didn’t sleep much that night? I’m still “rattled” by the thought of that snake in with my dogs and know that we were all very fortunate. I didn’t know a snake would rattle for such a long time before striking, but I’m certainly glad this one did. It was definitely trying to get us to go away.

So, I definitely recommend flinging beads when needed.  Beads can be replaced, but husbands and pets cannot. Now, if I could just find my glasses that were also on that beading tray pre-fling, I’d be back in business. So, go ahead. Fling those beads and keep your eyes and ears open at Dreamcatcher Ranch.

Heavy Metal

The creative mind is a funny thing (not funny “ha, ha”, but funny “unexpected”). My day started with an early morning walk. Early for this artist is 9 AM when it’s already good and hot in South Texas. The moment I went out the front door, I spied my mother’s cat, Callie, who has lived with us for ten years. She’s a beautiful little calico who was lounging, full body, in the bird bath which was empty due to our drought. Can you picture her beautiful black, white and yellow body against the white concrete of the bath?

As I started down the hill, I was accosted by the loud sound of one of the hawks that is homing here at the ranch this summer. We’re not talking about a sweet little bird chirp here. We’re talking about a loud “caw, caw, caw” in a screeching tone as the hawk circled my head. I wasn’t sure whether I should run back to the house or hide under a tree. Eventually the hawk went on and I proceeded down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill and on down the road between pastures the wind brought a cool mist from the irrigation machine that was watering the land. It had that marvelous clean smell to it and reminded me of fresh rain. It was cooling for a while, but soon thereafter, my own mist was dripping off my brow as I trudged on in the heat.

The sights and sounds of the ranch engulfed me as I continued walking, encountering little birds, startled calves and lizards swishing through the grass. Just as I was thinking how pleasant it all was, I got to the top of the hill and there stood four of the bulls. They really are beauties in this own right, but the final sound I heard on my walk was the splat, splat as the business of those guys hit the ground. What a bummer!

Long ago, Dr. Sidney Parnes, taught me that one of the best ways to get creative ideas is to engage the senses. From him, I learned to bring fragrant tea or other natural aromas into the creative thinking process. I remember a tactile experience I provided for graduate students who, with eyes tightly shut, gently held a large strawberry in the very middle of one palm while touching it with one finger of the other hand. It sounds crazy, but they did some great descriptive writing following this experience.

With this in mind, I sat at the workbench and let the results of the morning walk wash over me. I thought I might produce something organic and natural looking, but I did not! I ended up with heavy metal jewelry. The pieces below started as foldformed metal and ended with chain. Even though I tried to put pretty beads on the pieces, they just didn’t work. How could the sights and sounds of nature drive me to this?

foldform pendant

 

The piece on the left is a pendant hanging from leather. It started as a rectangular piece of metal and just kept changing. I used a ceramic bead on the leather.

 

The earrings below were planned as leaves, but that chain just kept getting on them and I finally gave in. They have a nice little swish to them and I’m pleased that they aren’t noisy little fellows.

 

metal ear

 

 

So here’s the question. How can a morning walk end up as heavy metal jewelry? The answer lies in the nature of creative thought which often erupts from experiences. In this case the experiences were sensory. Those sensory experiences can open the artist to possibilities that were previously blocked. The idea/art produced may have no seeming relation to the experience; yet they are connected. I think it’s important to remember that when ideas cease to flow or your muse has gone home, there are many things you can do to find your way back home. The trick is to be open when creativity knocks on your noggin. A closed mind bears no art! 

You see . . . creativity really is a funny thing!

A Ranching Tale: How Many Aggies Does It Take to . . .

I think most people have a favorite “Aggie” joke. In Oklahoma, my father was poking fun at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, formerly Oklahoma A & M, when he told an Aggie joke. Here in Texas we are usually thinking about Texas A & M when we tell an Aggie joke. If you are out of the country or unfamiliar with Aggie jokes, they are usually told to make the Aggie look ignorant as in the following example: Why was the Aggie housewife mad at her husband?
He was out shooting craps and she didn't know how to cook them.

I never thought these jokes were particularly funny, but yesterday a few of them flashed back through my mind during a ranch episode. Here’s the question: How many ranchers does it take to feed a new born calf?

We were out bottle feeding a new born calf. He was a big strong fellow, but his mother hadn’t yet come into her milk. We thawed some colostrum previously saved from a mom with a still born, put it in a calf-sized bottle and set off for the pasture. Luckily, we picked our foreman up at the barn prior to heading to the pastures. Yes, we wondered how many ranchers it would take to feed that newborn. When we started the feeding, the answer became obvious. The foreman straddled the calf to keep him in one place, no simple job since the bull weighed a good 70 + pounds. I poked the bottle in and the bull drank his fluid while the third party, my husband, carrying a big stick kept the momma cow from killing us. The latter was the most difficult. You just haven’t felt fear until you’ve heard a great big momma cow who just delivered a calf bellow at you and start in your direction with her head down. They don’t just stand in one spot to do this; they circle you creating a smaller and smaller distance from you with each round. As if this wasn’t dangerous enough, another new momma cow thought we were too close to her calf and decided to help out. Now there were two people feeding the newborn, one person keeping the cows away and two cows wanting to flatten the people. Meanwhile, the little calf was taking his sweet time downing the bottle. Once he finally finished, we all backed away, keeping a close eye on both angry mothers. Of course, the silly newborn followed me because I had been his only source of nourishment. This didn’t help his mother like me any better.

So, back to the original question; How many ranchers does it take to feed a newborn? From the reading, you would most likely answer “three”;  From my experience, I think FOUR would have been safer!

Aside from this experience, when the three of us went back to the pasture for the second feeding, the buzzards were swarming near the fence and a different cow was going crazy. That’s when we saw her just born calf on the opposite side of the fence from her. When a cow is calving, she may back up to something, thinking this will help with the delivery (if a cow really thinks). We’ve found many calves that were delivered outside the fence from their mothers. We picked up the calf and tagged his ears for identification. This, of course, caused him to holler as though we’d shot him and I thought him mom would come right through the fence. Eventually, we pushed him through to her side and all was well. She quickly herded him away from the terrible people.  We were certainly glad that we made that second trip to the pasture and saved this little heifer.

I’m hoping that no Aggie jokes are needed today and that all will be well out in the pasture. Yet, with another seven calves due at the same time, you just never know.

Playing with Dough

This isn’t about money! Who would have enough to play with anyway?  Yet, it is about playing with dough.

While at the nursing home yesterday, I asked the art teacher (working with three slightly comatose inmates) whether or not she has worked with polymer clay. The activities director overheard us and said she had been wanting to do some sculpture with a few of the residents. That’s when I told her about playing with dough . . . play dough.

I have an activity for and a recipe for making homemade play dough in one of my books, It’s in the Bag. (Pieces of Learning Press, Available at the publisher's site) I’ve used it for years; given it away; and even selected it for use in a motivational speech at a meeting. In my workshops on the brain, we used to make the triune brain out of three different colors of play dough. As you can tell, I’ve made a good deal of the stuff.

I was so pleased when my daughter, who was probably the very first recipient of my homemade play dough made it for her son. It’s really neat when your progeny can pass it on. You can see from the expression on my grandson’s face that his mom made it a fun experience.       playdough 2

Of course working with clay isn’t solely for fun. It is great for developing motor skills and will also give the child a safe experience with mixing colors. (Adults – it can also work for soothing the nerves through a sufficient amount of play dough squishing or relieving frustrations by pounding it!)

Just in case you need to do either of the above mentioned adult activities or have a young person coming for a fun day, why not give this recipe a try?

Playdough

Combine in medium-sized saucepan

1 tablespoon oil 1 cup salt 2 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tarter 2 cups water

Heat and stir until mixture forms a ball. Place mixture on waxed paper to cool until you can work it with your hands. Knead the dough until it is smooth and then store it in a zip-lock bag. *Food coloring may be added when kneading the dough. Paste cake decorating colors are move vivid than liquid colors. HINT: if you get the paste coloring on your hands, it can be removed with toothpaste.

*I wear plastic bags on my hands when working in the food coloring.

Can You Trust Oprah: Credibility About the Brain

My husband took me out for breakfast this morning. It wasn’t a special day and he hadn’t committed any sin; he just took me out to eat. Yes, he’s a good fellow! Afterwards, we wandered through the bookstore, relaxing as we looked at magazines. Although I normally only look at jewelry design periodicals, today, I picked up a copy of Oprah’s magazine. It seemed to call my name. Hurrying to get on to the other jewelry magazine I had grabbed, I quickly thumbed through the Oprah pages and a picture of the brain caught my eye. The single page of information was divided into regions of the brain, but it was while I read about the hippocampus (No that’s not a school for hippos!) that I questioned the credibility of the article. The information stated that “Arthur Kramer, PhD,. . . show[ed] that exercise actually makes your hippocampus bigger. . . [perhaps] increas[ing] the number of capillaries in the region, which in turn helps new cells grow. “

Upon reading the above information, I basically dismissed what I had read, in the article, since I previously learned that we don’t “grow” new cells, but rather form additional connections. Past learning caused me to question the credibility of the article. Since credibility has to do with the believability of the source, I was quite sure that now I didn’t trust Oprah.  Of course Oprah didn’t actually write the article, but isn’t she responsible for “her people”? Why would THEY print something that was incorrect? That’s when it hit me . . . maybe I was the one who was incorrect.

It didn’t require much of an online search to learn I was the problem! The past few years of research have led researchers to believe that some neurogenesis IS possible. Halleluiah. I thought that I could only branch new dendrites, but now I know that I can actually generate new brain cells in my hippocampus. Here’s the only problem. Dr. Kramer says that one must sweat at least three times a week for this to occur. He’s talking about good aerobic exercise as opposed to simply walking into the grocery store in the Texas heat.

Now, as I sit in my comfortable chair and think about regular aerobic exercise, I’m wondering if I really need those extra neurons in my hippocampus. Those I have seem to have worked pretty well; but what about the cells that are being sloughed off? Hmm . . . maybe I do need to work out . . . let’s see, treadmill? stationary bike? jogging? . . . I’m going to have to sit right here in this comfortable chair and figure that one out.