Colors and Sparkles
Naomi is not a regular to our Quilt Group, but her sparkly blouse caught my eye when I was gathering the regulars! I didn't offer much of an explanation about our group, but I told her she looked like she might be up for some Mardi Gras fun. She was willing!
(Naomi hardly needs to wear bright clothes to be noticed. Her blue eyes have always caught my attention!)
Hats and Masks
I'm always amazed by this group and its willingness to just have fun. Libby tried on the feathered mask. Harriet liked the gold top hat and Vivian cleverly turned the large purple hat sideways, so it wouldn't slip down over her petite head!
Celebrating around the quilt might not have been quite as exciting as being in New Orleans, or even nearby Galveston, but there was something so cozy about sitting around all the purple, gold and green decorations and and talking about parades and king cakes and music!
Getting Serious with Beads
Our quiet group didn't try to compete with the big Mardi Gras Party that the Center puts on each year. Instead of dancing and feasting and "throwing" beads, we played games with the beads. I was actually pretty surprised to see how many shapes and designs the group came up with!
Harriet came up with a smile. That's perfect for Harriet, because she smiles a lot in our group.
My mom, Nancy used to love sharing stories. She isn't able to anymore, but she loves hearing them.
In this photo my mom is smiling after hearing me share a childhood memory of when our family celebrated Mardi Gras with The Betts Family, who lived across the street from us in Grinnell, Iowa.
There were 3 others who had Mardi Gras stories to share. One told a story of her mother at a Mardi Gras Ball. She captured the group with her descriptive words and an amusing punch line. When she repeated the story a few minutes later, I wasn't too worried. We repeat in this group and that is okay.
What I learned about Repeating
The third time the story was told, I quickly watched the faces of the others. Would the others be annoyed or comment that we had already heard the story? Would I need to gently interrupt or steer the focus elsewhere? Not today. Our story teller told her quick story at least 10 times in an hour. Each time, she sighed and smiled as she recalled the memory. She drew in her audience with her warm words and expression. And at the end of each story the group gave a quick laugh or clap at the clever ending, just as they had done the first time. I was touched. If the others could enjoy the repeated story, then I decided I would, too. I tried to listen and smile with the same genuine enthusiasm and just for my own creative challenge, I offered a new remark each time.
I can easily get impatient or stressed over repetition, but on this day at least, I learned to embrace it!
On Valentine's Day, I spread out the quilt...
...and covered it with lots of pink and red. Then, I went to gather folks.
Keeping Things Light
I have to be a little cautious when we start sharing stories about Valentine's Day. So many have lost special loved ones. Emotions can surface easily. Instead, we laughed a lot and remembered famous couples and songs about love...and Romantic movie titles...
We all shared stories about exchanging Valentines as kids. I laughed at how I loved carrying home my decorated shoebox, stuffed with colorful cards and the occasional lollipop. And how I hated Valentine's Day by the time I got to high school. I rolled my eyes when I passed the popular girls carrying carnations and heart shaped boxes, like it was no big deal.
We did a little "Name that Tune" with some old Beatles' love songs. I can't believe how many there are!
And then we made a little music...as close to what the cupids might make with their harps! A zither is one of those instruments you can't go wrong with. Everyone could pluck or strum a nice sounding piece!
We talked about other kinds of love. Love between parents and children, people and pets, friends and siblings...and how people express their caring... with hugs...or words.
Our Own Poem
"Poems are easy!" I assured the group. When I was 8, I stacked up 101 pieces of notebook paper and wrote on the title page, "100 Poems by Beth Meyer". And I plunged in to work! I will admit, they were pretty lame poems, but I used the same determination to get our group of 8 to come up with words for a love poem. Harriet thought up the title, "Heart to Heart" and we went forth. We only had a few disagreements about whether to rhyme or not...or if using the word "never" in our poem was too negative. I was hollering over the group like an auctioneer..."Give me a word that rhymes with heart!! Come on, come on!" I don't think "Love Poems" are meant to be written by more than one person...but I'll say we did a pretty good job!
What I learned on Valentine's Day!
Even though I kept things light, I still heard a lot of stories from both my groups on Valentine's Day. I was told about some special gifts, some crushes, a Valentine's dance...and one sad story shared privately. And as corny as it sounds, those stories were my gifts on Valentine's Day! Stories last a lot longer than candy!
These February rains remind me of the Texas drought last August!
A Draught Inspired Theme!
Back in August, after months of scorching, dry weather in Texas, I decided to use "rain" as a theme for The Quilt Group. I dragged in books, poems and movies with Rain themes. I printed pictures of clouds and umbrellas and storms. I even brought in an Indian drum and some shakers to help with a rain dance!
We closed the blinds to make it darker and stormish. Catherine and Charlotte created the sound of rain to help us imagine how wonderful a rainfall would be.
Drumming up Some Rain
We accompanied the drumming sounds on a CD of Native American music, to create our own musical Rain Dance! This was all in good humor, as you can tell by Harriet's expression. (R)
We came up with as many songs as we could remember with "rain" in them. We did our best trying to remember the words to "Singing in the Rain" and we even chanted "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain"
Now and then I added a little drama to our zaniness and peeked through the blinds only to tell them sadly. "Nope. We must not be trying hard enough."
You can see the brightness through the closed blinds when Charlotte stood up from the table to rattle the shaker while we sang, "Raindrops keep Fallin' on my Head". It was in the middle of that song that we heard it...
Did you hear that??!
I interrupted the song, because I heard a rumble. I ran to the window and raised the blinds! The sky had turned black and rain was gushing over the roof gutters! Our group squealed and took full credit!
"The Quilt Group Made Rain!"
Those are the words I shouted as I opened the door of our private dining room to the residents out in the main living area of Silverado. Residents and staff were already moving towards windows and glass doors. The cheers and gasps of surprise were as corny and overplayed as the characters in the musical, "110 in the Shade".
I hollered out to the celebrating crowd that we folks of the Quilt Group would be taking all credit! A few flowed into our room to join us for a little more drum pounding and cheering!
What did I learn that day, 6 months ago?
Something simple, that we all know...positive thinking pays off!
Stuff to Share
It helps to have a lot of "stuff" when I pick a theme. Having lots of theme related items spread out all over the quilt makes both kids and adults curious. And I do have a lot of Chinese stuff... mostly gifts from people who have visited. I recently picked up a wonderful 1980 National Geographic at Half Price books for 50 cents. And once a week the "China Daily" appears on my sidewalk, although I've never subscribed. But the gong is my favorite of all the stuff.
There's something about the gong that makes kids and adults pay attention. Everyone wants a turn to see what it feels like to strike that big disc of metal and make it shiver for nearly a minute. At the community center, we took turns gonging in the Chinese New Year. I've read up on every possible way the Chinese bring luck to the New Year...I'm not sure if that's even one of them.
Year of the Dragon
But the year of the Dragon is definitely a good thing. The Chinese still are thrilled to have their child born in the year of the dragon. Those born under that sign are said to be powerful and successful. In my class at the community center we each decorated pieces that we fit together to create a sort of puzzle dragon. They told me last week they wanted more "hands on", so that was our cooperative project.
Another popular prop is chop sticks. With another group we tried various techniques trying to pick up Rice Chex cereal. I learned a year ago that Styrofoam pieces are great for giving folks a feeling of accomplishment. If all else fails, you can at least stab a Styrofoam piece. But my bigger lesson was that most people (and especially those with memory issues) really like the reward of eating the item they have managed to grasp with their wooden sticks. Eating Styrofoam is never a good thing...
Hats! Why are they so fun?
The folks in both groups this week, got a kick out of trying on the Chinese straw hat. We talked about the usefulness of such a design...and I put it to very good use when I dashed to my car in a downpour after class!
A few days later, I lugged my stuff to the Fort Bend Women's Shelter and each child took a turn racing across the room balancing the wobbly hat on his/her head while the other kids chanted a song.
The kids also loved the wearing the "Emperor's Hat" with the long braid hanging from the back. They were surprised to know the very last Emperor was a little boy, just about their age.
No time for the dragon!
I had so much STUFF that we ran out of time. No time to work the Dragon Shadow Puppet. No time to look at the books about children celebrating the Spring Festival. No time to look at the Chinese Yuan ($$) tucked inside the little red envelope that children get on New Year's. I had just begun teaching them h0w to use chopsticks when dinner arrived. And oh how I wish I had been allowed to photograph their expressions as they experienced success! (sometimes with their own technique!) When I left, they were happily eating dinner with their new wooden utensils!
And what I learned?
I always pack a lot of stuff...plan a lot of activities. Any teacher should have more prepared than she'll use... but I can still leave disappointed when we haven't done it all. But sometimes I need to remind myself of all the tiny things that happen, that I never planned. I didn't plan on the kids eating dinner with chopsticks! I would happily trade that! I need to enjoy the unexpected surprises. Those are really the best!
The Quilt Theme with a Third Group
After using the theme of QUILTS with children at the shelter and the Seniors Group at the community center, it was time to bring the same theme to my dearest original Quilt Group friends.
I consider myself flexible...I have to be. When I was told I couldn't use the private room with my group, I was happy to spread out the quilt in the main living area. I've bragged about how we can gather around the quilt and the world behind us disappears. Well, maybe not.
Where is the Magic in The Magic Quilt?
The Quilt didn't seem to be doing its' job of blocking out the world. I had to holler over the pounding of a new remodeling job. I had to ignore the gentleman behind me who repeatedly announced, "You are my Sweetheart!" I had to assist numerous residents who wandered towards the colorful guilt with a concern or a desire to take away some of the intriquing books or props. And as much as I love the animals at the Center, I kept having to shoo Thomas (a gigantic hound dog) from the snacks at our table.
Maybe it was just the pounding that set everything off. Like an elementary classroom on a rainy day, everything seemed agitated. At one point I looked across the table to see my dear mother, who was once a writer and collector of books, tearing 2 pages out of one of mine. I rushed around the table and handed her a quilted bib to examine, then tucked the book away.
The Last Word
But despite all the distraction, we did manage to sing some songs and share some stories. We even made a list of all the words that came to mind with the idea of a quilt.
Our goal was 45 words and Margaret came up with the last one. "Sleep" she said softly, with a smile. I loved that.
One More Try
The next week I lugged the same stuff back. We had the private dining room to ourselves this time. The magic returned to the quilt and I had to smile as I listened to the quiet voices around the table.
One of my favorite book lovers kept gasping at the beautiful designs in a book of quilts. Then I looked over a few minutes later and she was reading a poem called "Colors" to Harriet.
Harriet and Neva admired a patchwork design made by a good friend of mine years ago. And Rita and Libby spread out a piece of stitched work that was made by Rita's mother...even more years ago. I was touched to know the "Quilt Theme" had inspired Rita to bring in something special to share.
And then we pulled out the words we'd written a week earlier on squares of paper.
The women reminded me of quilters longs ago, deciding which colors looked good next to each other...changing their minds and shuffling the squares...
Our Word Quilt
And before long the words were laid out the way they liked. Their words...comfort, soft, safe...
And what I learned...
Sometimes I need more than the quilt to bring folks together to focus. The walls helped give our second group a more thoughtful gathering. But I guess the quilt was still doing its' welcoming job even in the middle of the large living space with dogs and pounding. There were folks who joined us for just a while, or listened to us sing from across the room. There were even caregivers and staff members who stopped by to add a remark or to flip through a book.
Maybe I don't always need to isolate the Quilt Group. Hmmm?
New Group...We do everything but quilt!
Last week I started a New Quilt Group at Mamie George Community Center in Fort Bend County. I was eager to gather a different group of seniors around the quilt to share theme related stories, music, ideas and art. The center offers numerous classes for Seniors and I was excited to be a part of this bright, welcoming atmosphere. But if I call it "The Quilt Group" how do I really expect folks to understand we don't make quilts?
What's all this stuff?
I introduced myself casually as individuals wandered in and looked at the books, photos and props scattered on the table. This would be fun! I'm so used to dealing with the mental and physical limitations of my Alzheimer's group, this would be a treat. But nearly every person who entered the room asked the same question. "Will we be making a quilt!" And each time I answered, I saw disappointment. "Today, we'll start with a theme of Quilts!" I said and as I rattled on with enthusiasm, I saw their expressions change...to confusion. "Each week we'll have a new theme! I'll bring all sorts of things, instruments, art materials, props, books! We'll share stories about that theme. We can pick ideas that you all are interested in!" "Hmm?" faces seemed to reconsider, "But, do you think we could do some quilting?"
A Language Barrier
So we talked about quilting in history and why the craft was popular in different times. I encouraged them to think about what other things quilters did together. Sing, tell stories, share... And then I began to tell the story of how this Magic Quilt began...with children. But it became clear that my babble was not being absorbed. As it turns out, there are a number of folks who speak no English. But there are also a few, very kind and helpful friends who offered to interpret for them!
Ahh. This will be a learning experince for me, I thought. I love to tell stories, but I may have to find better ways to share stories.
Okay...then we'll make a quilt!
Towards the end of our 90 minutes, I pulled out a poster board and pre-cut squares of interesting paper. "Okay, we can sort of make a quilt," I laughed. I handed over a glue stick and stood back to watch them go at the simple, quick project. There was a lot of leaning and reaching and discussion about which colors look good near each other. There were changing expressions. A frown and a head shake. Raised eyebrows of satisfaction. And then we were done.
What I learned...
Even a tiny cooperative project is satisfying! Groups who gather for months to work on one quilt, may enjoy a bigger reward at the end, but both groups enjoy the fun of working together...talking, laughing, discussing, deciding...
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.