Jun 282015

When I was in college, one of my favorite classes was the history of the English language, which incorporated a study of etymology—the history of word origins—and involved many trips to the school library, where I pored through tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary. Much of the OED is now available online to the public for free. I still remember the musty smell of old, rare books, with their tissue-thin pages and tiny typography. Delving into these books was like following a trail: one word led to another, which in turn took you to another volume, and perhaps another. Several hours later, you wondered where the time had gone because it was all so fascinating. Decades later, when my husband and I spent time on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida, my husband was amused by (but understood) how excited I was to discover a copy of The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

In the spirit of fascination—and in memory of my once-upon-a-time study of the English language at Mount Mary College (now Mount Mary University) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I hope you’ll enjoy this post’s word journey, beginning with a question: Have you ever wondered where the expression, “Be mindful of your Ps and Qs,” originated?

According to Fiona McPherson, a Senior Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, in Where does the expression ‘to mind your Ps and Qs’ come from, no one really knows, but there are a lot of theories. “The concept seems reasonable enough—behaving well and not giving offence—but quite what the letters P and Q have to do with this is a little more mysterious,” writes Fiona. She points out that the Oxford English Dictionary devotes an entire entry to the subject. If you’re on your Ps and Qs, in the U.S. this means you’re on your best behavior, and if something is P and Q, it’s of the highest quality. One theory is that P stands for pint and Q stands for quart, with a landlord being reminded not to mix up these terms on a customer’s account. Another theory is that P represents a sailor’s pea coat, and Q is a queue, or pigtail. And there are many other hypotheses about the meanings of P and Q.

On the surface, the word “mindful” does not seem to have as many stories to tell. According to Merriam-Webster, being mindful means to be aware of something important. Mindfulness, in turn, according to the same dictionary, is a state of being aware. Psychology Today expands the definition of mindfulness to the following:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

In this context, mindfulness can be a technique, possibly meditation, which is encouraged by psychologists and psychiatrists alike to combat depression, anxiety and stress. There’s somewhat of a Buddhist tradition that ties in with this idea, too.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About 18 months ago, TIME magazine published an issue whose cover focused on the practice of mindfulness. To write the article, editor Kate Pickert took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course originally developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. According to The Mindful Revolution, Pickert describes how she ate a raisin mindfully, instead of mindlessly—almost meditatively, you might say. “We’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness,” she wrote, “as the secret to health and happiness—and a growing body of evidence suggests it has clear benefits.”

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness in the context of the course, the Mindful site urges you to download an e-book called Mindful: Taking Time for What Matters. The e-book points out that mindfulness is known by other terms, depending on who practices it. For example, athletes might refer to “being in the zone,” caregivers might refer to “attention” and “empathy,” soldiers might describe “situational awareness,” and business leaders, artists and writers might speak of “flow.”

But mindfulness is also simply living in the moment, taking each day for what it is. It has become to some extent a buzzword these days, with magazines such as the Dutch publication, Flow, and Bella Grace Magazine (published by Stampington & Company) embedding mindfulness in the vision for their publications.

We dreamed of a magazine with which we could explore our love of paper,” write the editors of Flow. “A magazine of unhurried time, all about doing things differently and making new choices. Small happiness, daily life and the beauty of not always managing to be perfect. That is how Flow began. Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection.”

Flow Magazine

Today Flow released a special issue devoted to mindfulness. You can preview excerpts from this issue HERE, as well as order it.

Bella Grace’s tagline reads “Life’s a Beautiful Journey,” and its editors state, “We believe: An ordinary life can be extraordinary, there is beauty in imperfection, and that magic can be found in the everyday.” If you want to write for the magazine, the editors remind you that they believe:

  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • An ordinary life can be an extraordinary life.
  • There is beauty and magic to be found everywhere.
  • It’s OK to embrace imperfection.
  • Life should be lived with a full heart and open eyes.

Bella Grace Magazine

I have written previously about a current trend, The lure of coloring activity books for adults, which I believe is part of today’s focus on mindfulness. So, too, are all of the books, blogs and Web sites that teach you about Zentangle®, Zen doodling, and “tangles,” which are often variations on both techniques. The publishers of Cloth Paper Scissors, for example, just released their premiere issue of a magazine called Zen Doodle Workshop.

This premiere issue of Zen Doodle Workshop,” says the publisher, “is a magazine dedicated to the art and joy of doodling. Doodling is more than a mindless distraction you do while in a boring meeting, it’s a mindful art form with a limitless array of designs and styles that provide you with a little zen at the same time!”

Zen Doodle Workshop Magazine

Mindfulness has also arrived in the form of various “slow movements.” There’s the art of slow cooking, the art of slow stitching, and the art of slow writing, not to mention books that reflect mindfulness without calling attention to the word:

One hundred years from now, I suspect that the Oxford English Dictionary will describe the evolution of the word mindful as not only the state of being aware—and its relationship to self-actualization, creativity and well-being—but also as a source of income for the publishing industry, on whose doorstep the concept of mindfulness has squarely landed. I’m mindful, of course, that I am one of its consumers!

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 312015

Zentangle, Zen doodle, tangle, coloring book—all of these words reference a hot trend in every bookstore or online publishing market: coloring activity books for adults. When I visited my local bookstore this weekend, next to the escalator stood a special display for doodling, tangling and coloring—all intended for, but not limited to—adults.

Book Display Front

I was tempted to make a purchase, but couldn’t justify doing so because I have an untouched coloring book waiting for me at home. After discovering in late March that my local Barnes & Noble stores had sold all copies of Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, I turned to Amazon. But Amazon, too, reported the title was on back order. I ordered it, anyway, and it finally arrived last week. I noticed, on the copyright page, that the book is so popular that it was reprinted five times in 2013, six times in 2014, and twice so far this year. Basford’s newest book, just released this year, is An Enchanted Forest: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring, and it, too, is on back order.

While I was waiting for The Secret Garden, I received a note from the author via Amazon, something that’s a first for me.


Firstly, thank you for buying one of my books! The coloring craze is sweeping the world!

Perhaps more importantly though, I’m so sorry you have had to wait so long for your book to arrive. I think it’s fair to say we’ve been completely overwhelmed by global demand for the books and it has caught us quite off guard!

The ink is *almost* dry on your book and we hope to have it in your hands very, soon. I’m so sorry you’ve had to wait so long, if I could get into the print factory and help speed things up myself, I would!

As a thank you for your patience and to tide you over until your book arrives, we’ve put together 3 pages from Enchanted Forest that you can print at home and start coloring. Think of it as a warm-up!

Thank you again for bearing with us and happy coloring!

Johanna Basford

There are other adult coloring books out there, but Secret Garden and its companion, Enchanted Forest, are probably the king and queen of the genre—in other words, something pretty special. When my book arrived, I was delighted to discover 96 pages of beautiful pen and ink drawings on thick, creamy paper. The drawings feature the flora and fauna of Basford’s home in rural Scotland. At the beginning of the book is a guide to creatures that are hidden within the detailed drawings. If you visit Artist Goes Outside The Lines With Coloring Books For Grown-Ups on the National Public Radio Web site, you can see some images from the book and listen to an interview of the author.

Secret Garden

So, what’s behind the lure of coloring books for adults? According to Basford, coloring is a charming and nostalgic activity, as well as a nice way to be creative. “You don’t have to sit down with a blank sheet of paper,” she says, “or, you know, have that scary moment of thinking what can I draw? The outlines are already there for you, so it’s just something that you can do quietly for a couple of hours that, you know, is hand held and analog and quiet.”

For me a coloring book like this evokes childhood memories, when my younger brother and I spent hours coloring pages of cartoon characters with fresh crayons. Sometimes a little more than the coloring book pages got colored—I recall running out to the end of the driveway to share our newly colored fingernails with the paper boy delivering the evening newspaper from his bike basket. Those coloring books were eventually the springboard for our own drawings of paper dress-up dolls that populated our Lego world. Back in those days, there weren’t any elaborate Lego sets with theme-based figures. Coloring during childhood, as it is today, was a soothing activity that fired our imaginations with colors and shapes, and created stories in our minds.

According to Elena Santos in Coloring Isn’t Just For Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress., coloring “…generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.” She points out that one of the first psychologists to use coloring as a de-stressing activity was Carl Jung in the early 20th century, who asked his patients to color mandalas, circular geometric designs that have their origins in the culture of India. The reason the activity works for de-stressing purposes is that it causes us to focus on something other than our worries, much in the same way that other repetitive hands-on activities do, such as crochet, knitting, weaving or cross-stitch. Santos points out that another psychologist, Gloria Martínez Ayala, believes that coloring activates multiple areas of our cerebral hemispheres that involve logic, creativity, vision, and fine motor skills.

Coloring books are simply one of the ways that the coloring trend for adults shows up. Have you participated in a “paint and sip” party lately, where an artist leads a group of adults in copying a painting and enjoying a glass of wine at the same time? If you read Grownups Pay Big Bucks to Attend NYC ‘Adult Preschool’, you’ll learn about adults in Brooklyn, New York who pay $333 to $999 to attend Preschool Mastermind, founded by Michelle Joni, where they can fingerpaint, sing, snack and nap.

According to Jared Keller in The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time, playing (in this case, coloring) is as important for adults as it is for children. “More generally, for both children and adults,” writes Keller, “it really gives us a chance to build our imagination. The fantastical becomes real, the real becomes fantastical; we can try out a new hypothesis without consequence.” He points out that Americans in particular downplay the importance of playtime as they aim to be more productive, more efficient, and more in charge. Americans, he says, tend to be proud of not taking time off, whereas in other countries such as France, adults are allowed to take a month off for play.

Obviously, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars—or even $25—to reap the benefits of coloring. You can purchase a coloring book with elaborate designs such as those found in Johanna Basford’s books or Lucy Muckow and Angela Porter’s Color Me Calm, or color geometric designs found in books like Creative Haven Mandalas or Creative Haven Paisley Patterns. You can learn how to Zen doodle within shapes in Sandy Steen Bartholomew’s Totally Tangled: Zentangle and Beyond, or download printable designs. You can even color an embroidery design with colored pencils, such as the downloadable design found in Crafty’s Staying Inside the Lines: Pencil Coloring Embroidery Designs.

Feeling a little stressed? Coloring is cheap therapy.

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 292015

How do you take time from your busy schedule to be creative? Whether you’re running from job to job, you have a day job that keeps you so busy you don’t dare take your lunch hour, or you have so many errands to run that you can’t even see straight, the bottom line is that you may feel you have neither time nor energy to spare for creativity. You walk into your sewing room and see the fabrics piled on a shelf a year ago for a project you know will take hours, but you simply can’t spare that length of time. It can be overwhelming to have so many tasks on your to-do list—so overwhelming, in fact, that you don’t know where to start. And then you don’t start at all, and you feel even more tired and discouraged.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For me, the challenge is not coming up with creative ideas, but finding time to explore all of them. So, what’s the solution for finding more time to be creative? Here are a few strategies to help you get back into the creative groove when you’re feeling overwhelmed by other, usually more mundane tasks. At the end of this post are some links to related posts, if you need additional suggestions. Obviously, I need help myself, since I have written about this topic more than once!

Arrange your most frequently used tools and supplies within arm’s reach. This allows you to be efficient and productive during whatever time you may have available, however short that may be. I don’t put away all of my tools after each work session, for example. Instead, I have a basket filled with my most frequently used tools. This is moved to my work space (usually the kitchen table).

Tool basket

Additionally, I use a compartmentalized Oreo cookie package insert for my books and a few supplies that are “in process.” This enables me to get right to work, without a lot of preparation, when inspiration strikes.

This "basket" is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the items we purchase can be re-purposed!

This “basket” is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the consumable items we purchase can be re-purposed!

Break down your project into parts, and pull a Nancy Zieman. What do I mean by this? On my bookshelf I have a series of how-to books written by sewing guru and video host Nancy Zieman, all of which suggest setting aside a short period each day to attack part of a project, instead of several hours. A couple of the titles include 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew and 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew for Your Home—both of which point out that when you spend 10, 20, or 30 minutes a day toward a specific goal, those minutes add up. “Like you,” says Nancy Zieman, “I struggle to find time to sew. Yet I find that even on busy days, I can free up 10, 20, or 30 minutes.” Before you know it, your project will be done, and you’ll be ready to begin another.

Nancy Zieman books

Set aside non-essential tasks for another day. Ask yourself if anyone besides you will notice the dust collecting on top of the bookshelf or the piano. Lots of laundry to do? Put if off for an afternoon or a day. In a pinch, you can wear a garment a second day so that you can work on a creative project instead. Better yet, delegate household tasks when you can; things don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to do it all yourself.

“You want to create art,” say Cherie Haas in An Easy Way to Make Art. “You want to express yourself and make beautiful things. It’s as important as any other aspect of your life, because it is who you are. There’s a lot of pressure on us to prioritize our lives, to put other people first, to keep our living space immaculate, to have perfect nails. But when you have a project to create, you’ll find that the household things can fill your day quicker than you can say ‘domestic.'”

Clothes hamper

Exchange favors, or get the kids involved. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who just can’t get personal time away from the kids, offer to trade child care responsibilities with a friend in the same situation. You can take her kids for an afternoon, and she can return the favor. If that’s not a possibility, or you’re simply uncomfortable with an exchange, get the kids involved in a simple art project while you create (something else) beside them. Who knows? Your creativity and theirs may rub off each other. And if you can afford it, hire a babysitter to keep your children occupied while you create.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Work when everyone else is asleep. Set your alarm clock so you can rise 30 to 60 minutes before everyone else, and resist the temptation to do household work during that period. Or, stay up 30 to 60 minutes longer than everyone else. If your children nap, use that time to tackle your creative project: drawing, writing, needlework, or whatever your creative niche may be. Remember that you don’t have to complete the entire project, only make some progress toward your ultimate goal!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stop the electronic train. Turn off your mobile devices and power down your laptop. If you need your laptop for your creative project, stay away from e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and basically all social networks. In fact, limit the length of time each day or week that you spend on social networks; this is precious time that you can convert to creative minutes. Ask yourself if there is a television show you can live without to scrape up time to create.

Image courtesy of smarnad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of smarnad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Take the long view, and record your progress. To encourage yourself to follow the suggestions in this post, keep a record of what works. Keep a diary that acts as a creativity time clock—record the minutes and times of day you are working on a project, and what you have accomplished. Add up the minutes each month, and pat yourself on the back. Or, keep a journal of completed projects, filled with photos, such as the beautiful one below by Kalona Creativity. You’ll be amazed by how much you complete, when you tune out the distractions. Reward yourself at intervals by buying yourself a gift: an inspirational craft book, a new set of pastels, some specialty beads, or ribbon trims or threads in your favorite colors.

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Need some other suggestions for carving out time for creativity? You may find these previous posts I wrote helpful:

Do you have other ideas for finding time to create? Share them in the comments below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.