How to encourage creativity in our kids

christmas 2I’ve been reading about creativity in children and it made me reflect on how I raised my kids.  I’ve always considered creativity to be an innate talent, but according to science it’s a skill that can be fostered. As parents, we can promote the creative spirit by allowing space and time for creativity. That means allowing messes, free time–and getting out of the way.
I’d let my kids have a tub of large chalk and draw all over our patio. It drove my husband crazy to come home from work and see our kids and their friends drawing all over our back yard. It hosed off, though. Also, I’d buy a roll of butcher paper and let them paint or draw across the patio, hoping they’d keep it on the paper.
At the beach, they’d build villages with drip castles and loved to play chef at a restaurant. I’d patiently taste each creation (pile of wet sand) and tell them how delicious it was.
I remember taking my kids to a photographer for Christmas pictures. I had them all dressed up in their matching red and green Gymboree outfits. My daughter was a baby and my son three. My son moved all the chairs and benches into two rows all facing forward. We asked him what he was doing and he explained he was building an airplane (the two lines of furniture were the seats and aisle.) The photographer was extremely patient as I tried to put everything back in it’s place.
My mom was big on creativity and she allowed us to destroy our living room with forts of card tables and sheets, dig to China and build a pond for polliwogs. I remember making dozens of puppets with Woolite bottles as the heads and swatches of fabric for the clothing. Mom did get annoyed with me for chopping out a chunk of fabric from the center of all the yardage of fabric in her sewing room!
What exactly is creativity? Here’s a definition:
noun
  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
    “firms are keen to encourage creativity”
Here’s an excerpt from Greater Good Magazine 7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids by Christine Carter:

Many people assume that creativity is an inborn talent that their kids either do or do not have: just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children are not equally creative. But actually, creativity is more skill than inborn talent, and it is a skill parents can help their kids develop.

Because it is a key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a key component of health and happiness and a core skill to practice with kids. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence. Creative people are more flexible and better problem solvers, which makes them more able to adapt to technological advances and deal with change—as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. Toy and entertainment companies feed kids an endless stream of prefab characters, images, props and plot-lines that allow children to put their imaginations to rest. Children no longer need to imagine a stick is a sword in a game or story they’ve imagined: they can play Star Wars with a specific light-saber in costumes designed for the specific role they are playing.

Carter has a bunch of tips of things we can do to promote creativity that includes giving  kids space and resources for creative play. Also she says it’s important to allow our kids to make mistakes and fail. If they’re afraid of failure their creativity will be stifled. Limiting screen and TV time will give kids a chance for art and reading. Another bit of advice is to not tell our kids what to do. For example, I made my daughter take piano lessons for years against her will. She would have been much better off following her own passions like making mosaics and painting. For years she made gifts for her friends by getting a few supplies from Michaels and using her creativity. For a complete list of her tips, read the article here

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How to improve happiness in 10 minutes a day

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A view from our “Wellness Park” in Palm Springs.

Is it possible to make yourself feel better and happier by doing a simple 10-minute exercise daily? In a book I’m reading called Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I learned about a simple practice called What-Went-Well Exercise or Three Blessings:

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance. (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

“Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause “God was looking out for her” or “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”

“Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”

The book Flourish is written by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. bestselling author of Authentic Happiness. He’s world renowned for his work on Positive Psychology and is the Zellerbach Family Professor Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. I heard about the book from David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life, who is used as a consultant by USA Swimming, and holds monthly webinars about Sports Parenting.

Here’s why Seligman says this Three Blessings exercise works:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”

I’ve only begun reading the book, but this simple exercise seems like something not too difficult to do. If it increases a sense of well-being then why not give it a try? Yesterday, I was thankful for more than three things. They included having a pedicure and glancing at my daughter in the seat next to me–because it’s a mother-daughter tradition we’ve done for years and I cherish our time together. Second, was working on a book proposal. The reason why is because I’m making progress and accomplishment is satisfying. Third was a phone call with a friend I’ve had since my oldest was in kindergarten. We met in the women’s restroom after dropping our oldest kids off on their first day of school! It’s so nice to know I have supportive friends in my life that will come to my aid when I need them.

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What are your thoughts about what you’re thankful for today? Do you think you’ll give the Three Blessings exercise a try? If you do, please let me know if you notice any changes in your sense of happiness and well-being.

A weekend to lift my spirits

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Big Bear Lake

I’ve been feeling down for a few days, missing my friend who recently and unexpectantly passed away. Fortunately, we had a few fun things planned this past weekend that helped me feel a little bit better.

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The flower arrangement I made at Seasons by My Little Flower Shop in Palm Springs.

First, my daughter and I went to a flower-arranging class at Seasons by My Little Flower Shop in downtown Palm Springs. We were invited by close friends from the Piranha Swim Team. My friend’s two daughters bought her a flower-arranging class for Mother’s Day. I was so tickled that they asked me to join them. I asked to include my daughter, who is home for one more week. My friend’s daughters are both older than my daughter by four and five years, but that swim team connection is a bond that never lets go. They both swam for USC, and even though my daughter was a Ute, they have the shared experience of being PAC 12 student-athletes.IMG_0923-2

We learned some basics about flower arranging, which I never knew. First, never let any of the greens touch the water. The greens decompose and create bacteria which kills flowers in a few days. When you buy a bunch of flowers from the grocery store, always strip the greens down where the water will be and your arrangement should last up to ten days.

The other thing I learned was to buy some clear florist tape at Joanne’s or Michael’s. On the top of the vase, put a strip of tape across the center, then two more strips evenly on each side. Then do the same perpendicularly. You’ll end with a grid that will support your flowers and keep them standing up.IMG_0920-2

The next thing we did to raise my spirits was escaping the desert and driving to the mountains. It’s starting to get hot and being stuck inside isn’t a joy. Up in the mountains at Big Bear Lake, it’s not only gorgeous but the high was 77 degrees as opposed to 111 at home. We went for a walk, set up our motorhome for the summer, went out to lunch at our favorite restaurant the North Shore Cafe and relaxed in the cool mountain air. We had Waffles as our buddy and he loved it since he hates the heat.

Here are pictures from our day in Big Bear:

 

Third, one of my friends in Seattle took my mom to Bingo on Sunday. I’ve written about my Bingo days with mom and how much she’s loved it. I’ve been looking for someone to take her because she refuses to go on her own–even though it’s down the hall from her room. I was reminiscing about Rebecca with the childhood friend who was married to her years ago. I mentioned my mom to him. (Our parents have been friends for decades and we used to go on camping trips together as families). He immediately volunteered and said that he thought going to Bingo with Mom would be “a hoot.” I called her afterward and she sounded so happy. Which made me happy, too.

One thing that losing a good friend has taught me is to not take anyone for granted and to reach out to friends and family.

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Waffles

 

 

Sharing daily inspiration with your kids

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Back in the day: summer vacation in Laguna Beach.

One year ago, Thanksgiving week, my college roommate and family came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. My girlfriend stayed with us a few days past Thanksgiving and I learned how she and her two brothers and mom share a little inspiration daily. My kids and I started this practice and we’ve kept it up for a year so far–at least weekly. It’s brought a smile to my face all year long. Read more how you can share inspiration with your family thanks to the miracle of today’s technology:

When my college roommate was visiting after Thanksgiving, I would hear her phone ping every morning with texts.

Her mom, who is in her 80s, lives alone and asks that my college roommate and her two brothers make some contact via text every morning. That way, they know that she’s okay.

I’d hear the familiar ping of my friend’s phone. She’d say, “That’s from mom. Listen to what she has to say today….”

Then she’d read an inspirational quote that her mom sent. Her brothers would chime in and my friend would respond as well.

I thought, what a great idea. I’m a terrible worrier, and if I don’t hear from my kids for a few days or weeks, I get more worried. With one child in the Bay area and the other in Utah, I feel like they’re both too far away. I sent my kids a group text and explained how it would work. We would send an inspiring note to each other by noon each day. It only takes a moment, we’d check in and pass along some inspiration. Also, I’d know that they were okay.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” —Swami Sivananda

That was my first text. I told them, “Now you guys need to respond by noon with a quote or a ok thanks,” I texted.

“Would that be ‘an’ okay, thanks. Not a,” my daughter texted back.

She then responded with a meme with the following words:

“What are a few things that have inspired you lately?

To be better than everyone. Cause I hate everyone.”

I take it she wasn’t enjoying my inspirational quote thing so much.

My son responded with “I don’t like inspirational quotes, so here is a good painting.”

A Vase of Roses–Van Gogh, 1890

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The next day, I sent a quote and my daughter responded with “Eew that’s so and so’s bio on Twitter. New quote please.”

I sent “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” It was a quote we had on the back of our swim club’s shirts a few years ago.

“Except Michael Phelps quit and he’s a winner,” she pointed out. Yes, she’s right about that, too.

My son sent a painting by Henri Matisse.img_2866

“I like it. It reminds me of SpongeBob,” my daughter said.

“Fun fact: the SpongeBob art was inspired by his cut-outs,” he answered.

My daughter texted this:img_9775

It’s been interesting to see what they come up with on a daily basis. It adds a little joy to my day like we’re sharing special secrets.

And then my son called, “Thank you, Mom, for starting the inspiration thing. I really love it.”

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Me and my college roommate.

 

You Have Two Choices: Quit or Keep Trying…

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My kids learned perseverance and to never give up from swimming.

I got an unfortunate email yesterday. It was from an agent, who was reviewing my mid-grade novel I’ve been working on for years. Long story short, it was a no.

This is a big goal of mine, to get this book published. Finding an agent is one step along the way, and I had glimmers of hope when a couple agents were truly interested and one in particular, wanted eight weeks to take a deep dive.

When my husband consoled me I said, “I have two choices. I can quit or keep going.”

Four times since that email, I ran into messages like someone was placing a big neon sign in front of me with specific directions.

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Dad shared that he spent almost three hours fishing yesterday. He was ready to give up, but decided to cast one more time in the last few minutes before he was due to return the boat. Yes, he caught a fish!13726609_10210408420550641_3524328241513157479_n

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I was looking at FB and a writer friend posted how lucky she was to find several four-leaf clovers yesterday after hours of looking. She said to never give up. Never!

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On Twitter, I saw from bestselling author Brad Thor a book recommendation for #Grit, a book about passion and perseverance. Yes, I’ll order it from Amazon today.

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Four

On SwimSwam.com, an article jumped before my eyes: “6 TIPS TO KEEP YOU CHASING YOUR SWIMMING GOALS WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP,” by Olivier Poirier-Leroy, who writes really good stuff for swimmers, that can be used in all aspects of life.

Here was part of his advice to get in touch with your feelings when you started on the journey:

“What are the reasons that I want to achieve this goal? List 2-3 reasons for why this goal is important to you. This is the simplest way to get in touch with your original set of motivations.

How will you feel when you push past the resistance you are feeling now? Think back to the last time you kicked down the wall of resistance that was in front of you. Yeah, that time. How did you feel afterwards? Proud? Like a certified O.G.?

Will you regret giving up a year from now? Imagine yourself a year from now. A year smarter, a year older, and hopefully a year further along. Is “Future You” going to be pumped about you having quit today?”

I got the message loud and clear. I’m not giving up on my goals or dreams. This is all part of the process, and yes there will be some ups and downs. It’s so cliched, but it’s also true.

In  masters swimming we have a new slogan and shirts. After a hard set that I was convinced I couldn’t finish, I blurted, “Hey, it’s not that bad!”

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Showing off new shirts at Piranha Swim Team’s Masters. “Hey, it’s not that bad.”

 

Yes, getting a rejection letter is not great, but how much better is it than quitting on a dream? Honestly, it’s not that bad.

How do you handle disappointment?

“Be Good. Do Good. We’ll Be Doing Good.”

My son learning to dive with the swim team.

My son learning to dive with the swim team. He’s third from the right.

“Do Good. Be Good. We’ll Be Doing Good.”

These are the words my son recorded for our voice mail message when he was four years old.  I saved that for years.

What a thoughtful thing for our young son to say! My husband and I adopted that saying as our family motto.

A walk on the UCSB campus during our vacation.

A walk on the UCSB campus during our vacation.

I try to do good. Be good. Some days it’s a bigger struggle than others. But, it’s something to think about, too. What are we doing with our lives? Are we making a difference? Is the world a better place because we are in it?

A lot has to do with our outlook. I’m definitely one of the “glass is half full” types. I try to look at the positive and stay away from those who are negative. Turning on the TV can put you into negativity land. I truly believe that we can stay positive by removing negative influences around us. Turn off the TV. Listen to music. Read interesting books and essays. Swim! Like Ray Bradbury said, “Garbage in, garbage out!”

My kids at the age when my son recorded the voice mail message.

My kids at the age when my son recorded the voice mail message. Vacation pic from years ago.

After spending a week in paradise—otherwise known as Carpinteria, CA—I look back on our vacation as perfect. We have great friends who live there who inspire me. I always come home with so much energy from being around positive, hard working entrepreneurs.

Also, my children spent a bit of the week with us. What a treat that was for me! With two college aged kids, having them together was priceless. We rode bikes, hiked, swam in the ocean, sailed, shared meals together. It’s hard to leave them, but I’m so thankful for the time we had together. That’s my glass half full talking as I sit in my lonely, quiet house once again.

Our main mode of transportation on our vacation.

Our main mode of transportation on our vacation.

I’m proud to say my kids look truly happy. They are definitely doing and being good.

My kids and friend.

My kids and friend.

If Ray Bradbury Were to Give You Advice About Life and Writing

images-2I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

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