The Little Things

What were the little things you carried in your pockets before the world made you empty them? Mine literally were rocks and dandelions. I would marvel at a rock as I found it fascinating. I loved and still enjoy collecting rocks. Ultimately, it’s not about the things you buy, it’s about the experiences you have. The moments made into memories. It’s about the little things you care about. Perhaps it keeps you up at night or wakes you up really early in the morning. Perhaps it sits with you for awhile mid-afternoon while you have your tea. It calls out to you. It knows your name without ever having to say it.

When is the last time you noticed or discovered that little thing you care about? When you saw or realized it did you marvel and sit with it for awhile? Were you present in the moment with it? When is the last time you did something about it? No expectations. Not because you have to but because you want to. Not following steps walking into “adulthood” but into “yourself hood” When will you follow your calling? Your own footsteps, left foot, right foot one in front of the other? Not for money but for your soul. Those are the kinds of things that are worth carrying in your pocket. Noticing and fulfilling the little things that you care about are victories.

I remember a little thing. A student of mine wanted to take a worm back to the classroom. So, he put some dirt in his pocket. Then he put the earthworm in his pocket. He carefully sprinkled a bit more dirt on top of the worm in his pocket as well so the worm in his own words would have a home. Think of the care and careful consideration he took to look out for the worm as he fulfilled his mission of bringing it back into our classroom.

If I had interrupted this play and told him to empty his pockets and that a pocket is no place for an earthworm even to transport it then we would have missed out on all of the learning with earthworms, anatomy and how to care for them and how they care for our Earth creating nutrients for plants and other organisms. It started with one worm and turned into so much more.

A worm. A single worm created a moment which created a memory and is in the process of possibly creating an entomologist. We all have an inner child, an inner soul. Nurture it. Nurture the little thing you love and yearn for whether it’s an ant or the sky. You are drawn to it for a reason. When someone asks you why are you “fixated” or “stuck” on something. Ask them, why not? Keep your wonder and your fascination especially in a world that is “stuck” and “fixated” on being busy and moving onto something else before really getting to know and work with what it started with to begin with. Studying and observing earthworms doesn’t take a week or month. For example, Darwin studied earthworms for forty years.

What were the little things you carried in your pockets before the world made you empty them?

Four decades Darwin hung out and observed the worms. So take your time with your passion and purpose, on purpose. The little thing you care about. The little thing that keeps knocking on your brain and on your heart: your soul. It’s worth it. Nurture it, care for it and be there with it for awhile. Sit with it. Walk with it. Crawl with it. Do whatever it is you have to do to be with it for awhile. Keep it safe, give it a home. Put it in your pocket. Take a decade or two or three or four or even more with it. Slow down and move with it in a world that wants to move onto the next thing. It warms. It cools. It warms. It cools. Stay with it for awhile. Savor it like the last bite. In fact, save the best bite for last.

So what is it and what will you do with it?

Ps. Here is a book entitled Finding Me by Viola Davis that may encourage you to dig a little deeper than the earthworms.

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A Piece of Heart

I walked to my mailbox. I physically opened my quiet and subtle mailbox not my loud and pinging gmail inbox. No need to sign on or even click on anything. I opened my literal real 3D mailbox outside of my home and took out a piece of real mail. Real paper. Real ink. Real love. I am afraid of clowns but as I saw the clown nose with the stethoscope; my heart fluttered like a hummingbird and sang like one too! I screamed and danced love and gratitude. I opened the letter and read the words from none other than Patch Adams himself who deeply inspires and resonates like the same beating of a drum except its the same beating of a heart. I am grateful.

Don’t know who he is? Check out Robin Williams playing him in Patch Adams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqGA1ldvYE

I am deeply moved and inspired by his genius and caring way of being. His message was to catch the sunrises and sunsets. He told me to read poetry by Emily Dickinson. He told me to write and make art. He said many times when we feel low and down that something is missing. That something could be and is the creative arts for our soul.

He listened as he read my letter. He knew what I was deeply missing as I was in the midst and mixture of a rat race not life. When we feel lost or “off”, a feeling of not being ourselves, of not feeling the essence of our being, we miss our core human way of being…our art, our creation, our time, our love…the greatest gift that we give ourselves and emit to the world.

We are merely working to survive not working to thrive. I jumped off the rat wheel, stopped running and racing. Instead I walked into love.

I can’t merely live to work. I work to live. Connection. Love. Life-long learning. L-o-v-e. Real love. Jump, slow down and walk into it. How do you show love to yourself? How do you show love to those around you and your environment?

Dogs and Roses

It was a cold evening in Arlington and I was walking around a few blocks during my 30 minute break. This happened pre-pandemic back when we were at school in person and not online.

I stopped at a corner, as light snow started falling, a rose blanket caught my eye. 

It was tan and worn out patterned all over with roses. It covered a man crouched and hunched over in the corner. 

I stood still in time watching the man under the blanket. Strangers on the street walked, kept walking by. They had places to go and people to see.

Two strangers were walking up opposite sides of the sidewalk. One stranger with a dog. The other stranger with a warm drink cusped in their hands, steam rising from it. Maybe a coffee or maybe a hot chocolate. Maybe, neither. They stopped in front of the man with the rose blanket. 

The person holding the warm cup asked about the dog and if she could pet her. The dog walker nodded, “Yea, go ahead she’s friendly”. 

The woman with the warm cup placed it on the ground, knelt down and pet the dog. She asked, “What’s her name?” The dog walker responded, “Rose.” 

No one asked the man with the rose blanket covering his shoulders like petals, what his name was. The strangers didn’t ask each other’s names either.

Why do we call humans homeless when we’ve in fact, made them strangers? We’ve turned them nameless.  We’ve turned each other into strangers.

The holidays. Depending on your perspective is a time for thankfulness and togetherness. 

What type of thankful and gratitude are you showing? What are you giving, what are you noticing…what are you asking?

I am asking for names.

This is What Happens While Wearing Two Different Shoes

You could tell a lot about a person by how they handle certain things in life like accidents, mistakes, rainy days, spilled milk and so on and so forth. The ultimate and most obvious timeless question to ask is could they laugh at themselves in moments like that?

Throughout the pandemic and especially during the height of it all, a student of mine has been working at McDonalds while also attending college and caring for her young son (who is also doing elementary virtual class).

No matter how tired and exhausted and scary the pandemic was and is — She still rises and goes to work.

Each and everyday she rose and (still rises) at 5:30 am, left and arrived to work at 7:00 am where her manager took her temperature, scanned and looked her over. On this particular morning worth mentioning, he glanced down and pointed at her shoes.

She looked down and when she looked down she saw two completely different colors!

She took another look. She went to work with mismatched shoes. One shoe was a jet matte metallic black and the other one, a silver neon gray slip on.

Her manager told her to go home and change them.

She went home, changed her shoes and went back to work. Again, her manager pointed down to her mismatched shoes. Feeling exhausted and defeated but with a second wind, she said, “I don’t care. I feel like wearing them just like this today. Take me as I am or let me go.”

She said, “I feel so small, I feel like a bug or an ant. Most times — I don’t even want to wake up but on this day I laughed until I cried myself and felt better.”

I told her 2 things. 1. Keep laughing and 2. Keep laughing.

You see, this life is too precious than to worry about matching socks or shoes plus it’s Halloween and second, ants have superhuman strength.

When you “feel” like no one and nobody notices, trust the process and know that you can and literally are carrying a weight 100 times your mass just like the ant. You are rare and your very purpose is to be here. We are somehow chosen and we don’t even know who, what, when, where, why and how our stones will ripple, wreck, melt, shift and shake up the world.

Time is too precious than to spend our precious energy on matching our socks or our shoes or our feelings to match what society thinks we should be or act or feel.

Just be yourself.

Who are you? Who are you in a process of becoming? What’s your reason? How are you getting there?

Walk in whatever fits you best. Walk in that.

Walk that well.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Would you give your most precious belongings to a stranger?

I’m not sure what you care about but think about it. Think about something you care a lot about and wonder whether or not you would give it away freely or with hesitation. Would you give a stranger your mother’s ring? Would you give your car? Would you give your cellphone?

Now imagine what that may feel like for a family when they arrive to a classroom or school for the first time where their child will be going. 
It’s not easy. Our families need hugs the most. During the day, when our children say they miss their loved ones we often remind our children that no matter what they are always in their hearts. I used to say no matter what they will always be back but a part of me feels like that is a lie. Because I remember when my mother didn’t come back. I remember the day my mother died.

Now I say, no matter what they are always in your heart. No matter what. It’s never really a goodbye. And, a great educator and now friend from Nigeria said, “We meet to part and part to meet.” It’s never really a goodbye. She had a finesse and way of saying goodbye without ever saying bye. In that moment, she spoke to and educated not my head but my heart and spirit. I pay that kind of thing forward. With love+light+hugs.

Lots of them.

This Chair is Just Right

2016. In the words of Sister Souljah: It was the Coldest Winter Ever. It was around Christmas time. And, in the words of the character Goldilocks in The Three Bears, the Chair featured in the image, was and still is just right.

Around this time, I ended a 13 year relationship with someone who I thought was the love of my life. It felt like someone died. I experienced death before. My mom. My god mother. My dad. That kind of pain never goes away.

I was going through it. I was healing and having epiphones and growing stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually: all of me. 

I got a call from my sister. She said, “I have a surprise for you.” I was planning to go home for the holidays and sleep over my sisters. It was awhile since I did that. When I arrived to her house that winter, it was cold outside and inside myself. I was really sad and depleted. I felt empty. I felt cold. And, no one even noticed.

She said, “I was going to wait until Christmas but do you want your surprise now?” We are so similar when it comes to surprises, I thought. I can’t wait either to give someone their surprise or gift. I said, “Yes!” She left to get the surprise. 

She walked back into the room with a painted chair. She had an artist paint a chair for me. It said: “Ms. Jill” and it was soooooo incredible and colorful that I couldn’t speak. It even had a rainbow. A symbol as a promise for me. This meant the world to me. I swallowed. I stared at her table.

I looked more closely at her table and the empty chairs around it. I cried. I noticed that a chair was missing from it. I noticed how the chair she had painted for me was from her table. She had 3 out of 4 chairs left. 

I took a d e e p breath. I was full of gratitude that I have someone like this in my life. We talk about who sits at our tables, who no longer fills the empty chairs and spaces, who breaks our chairs like in that Three Bears Story but what about when a person takes a chair from their own table and gives it away. It is a reminder of who was standing with you all along. Chair or no chair. Table or no table. 

I am full of gratitude. Of light. Of love. Of all of the above. None of these material possessions we can take with us when we pass on from this physical realm. But that kind of thing, most of all, that kind of love lives on even when we die

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We All Die or Do We?

To Die or Not to Die?

That is the question.

“We all die and go to Heaven.”

“We become angels when we die.”

“No we don’t.”
“Yes we do.”
“No we don’t.”
“Yes, we do.”
“All of us die. We turn into angels. And, we go to Heaven!”
A metal pail is thrown.
“We DON’T DIE.” 
“Yes, we do!”
“My Mom said we do. We all die and go to Heaven.”
We are born and we die. 
Or do we?
Our preschool classroom has me question everything about our life and spiritual existence.
Life is death and death is life.
C’est le vie. C’est la mort.

Do we ever really die?

That is the real question.

Let Your Voice Ring. Sing Everywhere. Even if You’re Off Key. 

I remember singing in the car with my older sister during my formative years. Janet boomed from our car speakers: “Thats the way, thats the way, thats the way love goes.” We would sing our hearts out. I reminisced about my childhood memories of singing a lot during my last night drive with my other sister and we sang a lot during our road trip.

When is the last time you sang in the car? In the shower? With your family? Singing has endless benefits for our young and old. An Alzheimer’s patient may not remember their name but you know what they can remember? They can remember their favorite song!

Singing in the early education classroom is one of the keys for brain plasticity and growth. During the first five years of life the most connections (think synapses) are made out of the entire lifespan.  Every year of a child’s life is precious, but when it comes to development, the first 8 are the most important. This is when a child becomes the person they are going to be. It is when they learn appropriate behavior, boundaries, empathy and many other important social skills that will remain with them for life. Guess what else will stay with a child for life? Their favorite jams!

Babies are born with more synapses than adults. In a child’s early development stages, the speed of the synapse formation is the greatest from birth until 18 months of age. From 18 months until 3 years of age during the process of cognitive development in kids, synapses continue to form and expand. The number of synapses reaches about 1,000 trillion at this age and because of that a toddler’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain. This is also the reason why toddlers enjoy heavy outdoor activities such as running, jumping and climbing. From 6 to 9 years of age in kids’ development stage, the brain reduces the number of synapses which are not used and they eventually die off.

So sing. Sing your heart out! Play Motown to Country. Most of all sing and dance to your favorite songs and ask families for their favorites. Home school connection is powerful. Even change the lyrics to the songs.

Here are 7 benefits of singing. For more benefits click: https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing

  1. Singing creates a better sense of well being and causes us sensations of feeling good.
  2. Improves concentration, alertness and memory.
  3. Singing strengthens the immune system. That’s right it’s good for our health like an apple. A song a day keeps the doctor away.
  4. Singing is in fact exercise
  5. It helps with sleeping well and getting a good night’s Zzz.
  6. It lowers stress levels
  7. It’s a natural anti-depressant

So, turn the speaker up and sing like no one’s listening or watching!

The Power and Genius of Books

While at The Genius of the Book Exhibit in DC https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book something came full circle for me. The exhibition also affirmed why I love and recognize the power of books. Historically, there was and still is a reason why people in power choose to burn books that challenge thinking, status quo and create different and opposing ways of being. Books are powerful.

When selecting books what questions and thoughts materialize in your brain? Many come to my mind each and every time I’m picking out a new book or picking up an old one to read again, especially when choosing literature for children, families and myself. I ask myself what do the illustrations and writing portray? What images are painted in µy mind

For example, look for illustrations of culture, ability and disability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and many more. Are we being portrayed non-stereotypically and in powerful roles?

As noted by an NAEYC article, a list of common and undermining set of stereotypes are when people are portrayed as:

  • Strong, independent girls and women are “manlike”
  • Book-loving or nonathletic boys and men are “effeminate”
  • Latino men talk funny, are lazy, gang members, or wear oversize sombreros
  • Latina women are earth mothers or subservient
  • African American men are gang members, oversexed, or underemployed
  • African American women are too independent, oversexed, or “welfare moms”
  • LGBTQ people are invisible or sexual predators
  • Poor people are invisible or depicted as passively needing help from others
  • American Indians live in teepees, carry bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter
  • People with disabilities are not independent or are to be pitied
  • Arab and/or Muslim men are terrorists
  • Arab and/or Muslim women are voiceless and passive
  • All Muslims are Arab

Some of mine I look for:

  • People are invisible or in a side role not empowering ones
  • Characters matter: who is the hero?
  • The storyline and perspectives in it
  • Gender and are women and men portrayed accurately?
  • Race, culture, ethnicity: is it an authentic and accurate portrayal?

When I see stereotypes in the drawings/illustrations or writing in books, I put it down and move on to another such as suggested: http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books

I am also starting to write letters to publishers.

Another tip: look at the dates and authors. Dates and writers matter.  Research and support people in comparing and contrasting. Also ask why is a book written?   Books are like people, they serve a purpose. For example, If you got a book entitled: Firemen Fight Fires, time to move on because the term Firefighters include everyone and they do more than ride in firetrucks fighting fires anyway. Just saying.

Books and children’s books continue to be an invaluable transmitter of messages we absorb influencing who we are and how we see each another.  Media and books are transmitters of cultures, perspectives and values.  Books reflect our personal identities, diversity and varying relationships among different groups of people.  Books and media (AND ADVERTISEMENTS) portray who matters and creates a positive or negative self-image and concept.  Look at who is advertised/displayed on your outside arena where people perform or play sports. Who is displayed? Are women?

Looking at the Verizon Center, our students did not see women and said, “See, it’s true, we were right, women don’t play basketball.” We walked inside to see the Mystics playing. Talk about a transformative experience.

It is crucial to show and share an eclectic set of books about people like us and different from us (TO CELEBRATE OUR AWESOME DIFFERENCES) and our families. ALL of the books should be non-stereotypical and authentic. *Reminder items to look for: look for dates, portrayal of lifestyles, cultures, social identities, relationships, social change and justice, invisibility and tokenism.*

When discovering new books or reading classic books what questions materialize in your mind?

And speaking of choosing and reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tis the Season: the Jolly and Not So Jolly of Times

With the results of the election, holidays and inauguration looming I am feeling tension and unlike myself lately.

I chalked it up to the full moon and it’s power of making waves. In fact, there has been a cataclysm of events making waves. Lately, I have been hanging on to hope and resiliency. I stare at a photo of 6 year old Ruby Bridges who endured and triumphed standing as a metaphor and reminder that “what doesn’t kill you does in fact make you stronger”.  At 6, Ruby Bridges showed a courage that resonates today. I had the opportunity of listening to Ruby Bridges speak in 2015 at the annual NAEYC conference. The kind of courage and poise she personifies and how it connects with us, children, families and educators will be written about in a later blog.

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Holidays are hard for many. For a lot of my own life, holidays were often off for me and awkward. There are empty chairs of those we miss and love. You feel the infinite loss and ache of missing loved ones. It is easier to send a gift and/or photo of smiling faces saying Happy Holidays. It is the thought that counts but what do we do for those who feel alone? How do we help others cope during grief or a sense of loss? What gifts can you give to the broken-hearted?

Here are gifts to give:

  • Gift of Memory: Take a moment to remember and honor the memory of a loved one by a hug, card or phone call. Although there is an empty chair at the table fill it with memories and honor their memory.
  • Gift of hope: We experience both sadness and joy. It’s deeply triggered by the holidays. Show up and offer to help those you care about. From the daily routines to collaging and scrap booking memories.
  • Gift of Love: Be in the moment with those who are still living. Show them you love them. If you are the one feeling sad tell them it is hard but stay hopeful.
  • Gift of friendship: Invite and include those who feel sad even if they may cancel or decline from shopping to having dinner.
  • Gift of Surprise and Spontaneity: Encourage doing something unusual such as a road trip or a flight to visit loved ones still here. Follow through.
  • Give the gift of time: Its about time well spent with those you love so spend it wisely. Spend some time whether over coffee, a movie, a stop by visit or something special to do together
  • Give the gift of food for the soul whether baked goods or a home cooked meal to enjoy together
  • The gift of listening: remember, it’s not not knowing what to say but listening and being there.

Looking for more gift ideas? Visit Sympathy Solutions at:

http://www.sympathysolutions.com/current-newsletter/10-things-you-can-do-for-someone-lost-loved-lone.html

Most of all, ensure to reach out, don’t expect someone who feels alone to reach out to you.

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