Sunday, 9 December 2012

Advent Playing

One of the delightful things about this time of year is the opportunity for play. As any child psychologist will tell you, play is essential to children's healthy development and we take that pretty much for granted these days. When small children are in our orbit (or we are in theirs) we get to revisit play through them and there is unparalleled joy in that. Children provide the perfect excuse to mess about and be a little bit foolish and not worry about it. As children get older, they naturally tend to do their own thing more, and such opportunities correspondingly diminish somewhat, except, that is, at this time of year! No matter how old you are or how old your children are, Advent is the perfect time to let your inner child out and get blissfully stuck into playing. Of course it's not necessarily labelled as "playing" but, joy oh joy, that's what it is, even if it comes under the heading of arranging a crib scene on the mantlepiece, making Christmas decorations, designing Christmas cards or making or doing other frivolous things just for the sheer delight of them. Now is the time of year when you can sing along to a carol or two, regardless of your ability to hit the notes, wear a silly paper hat, play with baubles and gewgaws and get covered in paint, glitter-glue and cotton wool to your heart's content! Never mind the fact that the oven needs cleaning or the laundry needs sorting, Christmas is coming! And we have permission to get out all manner of toys, our poster paint and felt pens, glue sticks and scissors, fabric and ribbon and have a ball!

Not only do I think there is a huge amount of truth in the old adage that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", I'd go one stage further and say, I think play is vital, not just to keep our tendencies to dullness at bay but to enable us to feel properly and vividly alive.

I saw an article the other day about a book written by a nurse out of her experiences of providing palliative care in which she highlights the regrets that are most commonly experienced by those nearing the ends of their lives. My own experiences of being alongside the terminally ill, echo her findings and what she writes makes interesting reading. You can read the article in full here if you're interested. Not surprisingly one of the most commonly expressed regrets is to wish that less time had been spent on the treadmill of work. But up there also, is a wish to have laughed more, to have let oneself go more and allowed some silliness to light up the routine of life. Work, of course, is not an optional extra for most, even if it isn't full time, but it's salutary sometimes to remember that no one ever gets to the end of their lives and wishes they had spent more time in the office (or the equivalent). And it seems we might get to the end of our lives and wish we'd been a bit more frivolous.

To which end I am taking the opportunities for play in Advent seriously and shall aim to uphold them in the coming New Year as well. In playtime news here:

1 I have been playing with paper and scissors (and the sewing machine!). I have given up sending vast numbers of Christmas cards because I just couldn't keep up with it and the cost was becoming exorbitant but I have always made a handful for immediate family and friends. Keeping numbers small means that the process remains fun and enjoyable and never gets into a sweatshop-production-line situation - been there, done that and it's not play, it's hard graft!

I got the idea from Sue on her beautifully thoughtful blog, Mouse Notebook, in her post here. So simple but so effective. (And so thrifty!)

For the Christmas trees I have used pages from a pile of obsolete, old hymn books, that the church down the road was throwing out and I thought I could turn to better use. Each one is cut from a different Christmas carol melody and a verse from the same carol, (artlessly, but carefully!) torn out, is stuck on the reverse of the card. If you don't have a pile of obsolete, old hymnbooks to hand, you could use the same idea and just photocopy some music and carols. I used the sewing machine to embroider lines of tinsel in iridescent sewing thread and the paper pom poms are made, (as per Sue's instructions on Mouse Notebook), from discs, punched out from junk mail catalogues and scraps of old wrapping paper, and stitched down the centre.





2 I have been playing with paint and sponges, as the kitchen, slightly alarmingly, bears witness to in odd places! I refuse to buy expensive Christmas wrapping paper and find that the cheaper sort tends to be so thin that I always tear it in the wrong places, when wrapping things, and it looks a mess. The solution? Buy a roll of thickish brown parcel paper (£1.65 for six metres at the village shop and probably less at WHSmiths or somewhere) and play with sponges and paint! So quick, so easy, such fun!

I used acrylic paint, because that's what I had, thinned out with water, but any poster type paint will work. Raid the kitchen cupboard for a pan scourer sponge (and an apron), spread out a sheet of brown paper as big as your work surface allows, and you're away! Weigh down the corners of the paper with a pebble or two to keep it flat. Choose several colours that will blend well together and daub and dab to your heart's content. Wet your sponge first so that the paint releases nice and easily. I started with red, moved onto the deep yellow colour then went to pink and finally purple to get the sort of sunset effect here. I then sponged on some coppery gold stars with an old star-shaped sponge that H had in a set of painting sponges when he was tiny. No star-shaped sponge? Make a star shaped potato print or cut up another pan scourer. On the second sheet I used a patterned roller also originally belonging to H, to make swirly coppery gold stripes. A bit homespun may be but what fun to do! The results have a lovely thick, expensive feel to them and the slight initial roughness of the brown paper is replaced by the satisfying, satiny glaze of the paint.


3 H and I always begin the Christmas holidays with some Christmassy project or other - last year it was paper birds (a homemade paper aeroplane design tweaked to produce birds rather than B52s!) and 3-dimensional paper stars to hang on the Christmas tree. This year is still open to suggestion! I've got until Friday, when he breaks up from school, to think of something! After seeing Lucy's festive wreath beginnings here and Kristen's here, a pom pom garland perhaps? We'll see!

4 Other playing will include messing about with molten chocolate and gingerbread dough and also setting up my Proven├žal santons in their stable, aka an old skittle box sawn up and given a new function in life as shelter for those for whom "there was no room in the inn". More on this when they reach Bethlehem, as it were! I do love Advent!

Most of my play, I realise, involves some form of creative whatnot, but play embraces a lot more than just creative stuff - hum a tune, dance a jig, run in the rain, taste snowflakes on your tongue, make believe according to your imagination. Really anything goes that isn't measured by the standard of its output, but is driven by imagination and enjoyment for its own sake. Play can result in something constructive or useful or beautiful, but it doesn't in the least have to. So much in the world we live in, comes under the inexorable and unforgiving scrutiny of evaluation metrics which only sees things in terms of measurable output and dismisses what falls outside that. I think this is quite pernicious and can stifle initiative, dessiccate inspiration and kill creative risk-taking stone-dead. It's countercultural, healthy and liberating for the human spirit, deliberately to choose to bypass that occasionally.

So if anyone challenges your choosing to play, you can rebut them with the response that you are investing in the health of your spirit. I believe that the human spirit when luminously and vividly alive is one of the most powerful and creative forces for good in the universe. Conversely, the human spirit when impoverished and denied, not only does not have much fun, but can also be very destructive.

So I shall continue to make space for play, and hopefully re-energised and quickened by it, (in the old-fashioned sense of being brought to life), I hope, I won't reach Christmas frazzled, weary, or, perish the thought, dull!

Happy Advent Playing!

E x

PS This is the second of my posts linking in to Floss hosting A Pause In Advent. Click on the link or the button in my sidebar to explore other takes on the theme via Floss's blog.


28 comments:

  1. Just love it all. You have such a great attitude and you help us remember what's important in life. Thank you!

    I've made some salt dough decorations with my little one today but at just under two years old he got a bit fed up with pressing his hand in the dough for his hand print, ah the attention span of the very young is very short. And I've also made some gingerbread men, sans nearly two yr old, didnt want to test his patience again! Feeling a bit worse for wear now though as enjoyable as it was, at nearly 7.5 months pregnant nothing is just that easy any more. Think the nearly two yr old might as something to do with it!

    Thanks for perking me up with your lovely inspiring words

    Helen xx

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    1. Happy days with the salt dough decoration making, Helen! Not to mention the gingerbread men! Take care of yourself in these busy, last weeks of the year waiting for your own new-born! E xx

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  2. What a poigniant post E with the need to live life in the moment. So true and yet so easy to get caught up in the mundane trivia that sometimes takes over. I love all your crafts. My creative juices seem to be in full flow at the moment, just need a few more hours in the day!!! Sx

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    1. Yes, a few more hours would come in very handy! Having to burn the midnight oil a bit at the moment in order to get done both what I have to do and what ! want to do! Happy creative days, Sonia! E x

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  3. Lovely post! Your treasure trove of old hymn books is being put to such good use. I have something to add about play, or at least about 'fun' - my husband was saying he didn't play any more (he sure hates board games, I can tell you that!) and I suggested that all his work building things from scratch in the garden is a form or play. Over the last 7 years he's built a pergola, a large shed, a wood shed, a chicken run etc... all from first principles and many with recycled wood. It's not my idea of play but he seems to find it intensely exciting and rewarding, in the same way as your Christmas card production... so does it count as play, I wonder? (As well as being incredibly useful, obviously!)

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    1. I'd definitely say building things from scratch in the garden could qualify as play, but only of course if your husband loves doing it and is driven by the delight of making things from wood rather than making himself do it because he needs something to prop up the roses, house the chickens etc! Though having said that, this is where the lines blur a bit because those things clearly do have a practical use but this is the case with other play too. Making thing from first principles and experimenting along the way sounds one of the best kinds of play there is actually! E x

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  4. Love how you've done the garlands on the trees with stitch - great idea! So pleased you found some inspiration from my blog :-)

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    1. Thank you Sue, your blog is full of inspiration! May just have to have a go at a garland next! E x

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  5. O Joy! Play and fun and jolly fiddling in the paint and scissors and glue! Your cards are wonderful. I am in full agreement with you that play is necessary. It keeps us young and seeing things through clearer, brighter eyes. Blessed Advent.

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    1. "Seeing things through clearer brighter eyes" - what an absolutely lovely way of looking at it! Blessings to you too. E x

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  6. What a fantastically uplifting post..........'make time to play' may well be my new mantra for 2013, the cards are especially beautiful and just right for family giving, and I think I may be taking my scissors to some catalogues destined for the recycling bin, those garlands are lovely.
    Kim x

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    1. Yes, I've been trying to work out how many discs Sue used in each section. Have got to have a go at those next! Happy Recycling Bin Raiding! E x

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  7. I love your Christmas cards ! So lovely and so thrifty !...Sadly, nobody seems to send Christmas cards in France...last year I received just 4 cards...(and a lot of emails ......) but I love sending cards !

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    1. So do I! Unfortunately something has had to give and cards seem to have been it the last few years! Certainly in the UK the postage is an issue - it's so expensive to send lots of cards by post that I think many people have cut right back. E x

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  8. Dear E
    What a fantastic post! I absolutely agree, 100% - we need to let that inner child out (more often than adults think) to simply enjoy playing, in whatever form that may take. The fact that your playing ended up with some beautiful Christmas cards and paper is just an added bonus. I had a day full of play yesterday, doing lots of creative things and felt that it was a very enjoyable (and also quite productive) way to spend my time. Enjoy your playing and thank you for such a lovely post.
    Best wishes
    Ellie

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    1. Thank you Ellie! Glad you too have been playing productively! E x

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  9. The idea of using old hymnal pages is genius when making the trees with stitched down cording. I loved seeing all of your play things; wish I had been there to use a bit of glue and join in the fun.

    I did link over to the article. It reminds me of the Nadine Stair poem:

    "If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.
    You see, I'm one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
    If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies."

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    1. I'd love you to pop in and join me over the scissors and glue stick! - always more fun with two! Thank you so, so much for posting this Nadine Stair piece - it says it all. Living life in "moments" is not always easy but I am sure we all might be happier if we tried it more. And the travelling light thing... yes, very important but again not always easy. I am going to print this piece out and put it up in my study as hopefully an encouragement to "ride more merry-go-rounds and pick more daisies" in 2013. Thank you, Nancy. E xx

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  10. Wonderful post thank you. Delightful cards & such a grand idea for the paper making. I forgot that paper stitches so well. Having a child-like heart is so precious. Play seems to come more readily as we practice doing it & & as you say engaging with children is the best way to start. Much love Catherine x

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    1. Thank you, Catherine and yes, you are so right - having a child-like heart is crucial. Good thinking about practice encouraging play to happen more readily! Am taking that advice to heart! E x

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  11. Great Christmas projects and beautiful post!

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  12. Oooh! Just what I need to hear are these words: "Really anything goes that isn't measured by the standard of its output, but is driven by imagination and enjoyment for its own sake." I am sharing some of my journal pages this Advent, and I really need to forget that these have to be "perfect". They are just what I feel like doig - and maybe they won't work, maybe they will.

    I love your wrapping paper, by the way.

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    1. Your journal pages are lovely - have left a comment over on your blog. It's such a nice idea to do make an art journal. Another project I must try in 2013 I think! E x

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  13. You have summed up much better than I ever could why play and creativity is so important for adults and children alike. I am very conscious that my young children give me an excuse to indulge certain whims; I hope that when they are older I will continue to potter/craft/make/create in the same way. x

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  14. This is why my husband has taken up painting these last few years -- it's definite play therapy for him. Christmas play in the past here has been making Christmas ornaments out of bread dough or candy making (which hopefully will commence this weekend). Also playing board games. But I notice a tendency in myself to put off play too much, which leads to feeling stressed out. Thanks for your good reminders! And I love your wrapping paper:)

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  15. What a lovely craft that I've added to my Pinterest, with your name and a link to your blog. Thank you for sharing this sweet idea for A Pause in Advent.

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  16. Sometimes I think we just need to "be" and I worry about children ferried from activity to activity with no time to be idle and then of course this spills into adult life where work is target driven. Always good to just play and be creative. I love your cards - so simple yet very effective. A x

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