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Children playing on the beach by Mary Cassatt
What do you do when you're happy? I tend to hum. A friend whistles.

I mentioned a few weeks before I went on vacation, that I was in search of playfulness, wanting to reconnect with the freedom and delight that comes in those moments when you're not trying to solve the world's problems, or even your own.

The energy of happiness, or the power of joy, is one that can take me a long way in my daily endeavors. While on vacation, I rediscovered the joy of playing the piano, painting and riding my bike. I found myself re-energized as I pedaled along the lake and up to the pool, smiling as I noticed vignettes that would make for good sketching, moved as my fingers flowed through DeBussy.

Coming home, I looked again at my kitchen and living room, waiting (as they have for the past several years) for a makeover that was "more me." At Christmas I had received two paintings from my eldest daughter, Aletheia, who has recently plunged into her artistic self. (You can find examples of her art work here). I loved the colors and movement in the pieces and had them framed and mounted on the wall between the kitchen and living room. Now the wall was dying for some color - the art needed a more suitable background.

I grabbed a friend to help with the multitude of cheery greens at Lowes, and came home with a can of paint. Two days later, the wall was pulsating with verditas (Hildegard of Bingen's favorite word), the power of spring, new birth, growth. Everytime I looked at the wall I smiled; some of that Florida sunshine seemed to have come north after all! Now tearing down the old wallpaper wasn't so daunting. The color suggested other options that I hadn't thought of before, and soon the kitchen project was taking shape in my mind.

We all live our lives from different centers. What works for me may not work for you, but then again, maybe it might. While in Florida I visited a long-time friend. "I'm remembering that one of my basic desires is to be happy," I said. "I like to have fun." She looked at me quizzically. "I know," she said, "I don't think about having fun much."  "Well," I said, "Maybe our ideas of fun are just different. If you were in charge of something big, coordinating a group of people to accomplish a meaningful objective, wouldn't that be fun?"  Her eyes lit up. "Yup," she said, "that would be fun." "Sounds like a lot of work to me," I said. "But you would be great."

Any personality test will help point out that we're wired differently. As someone certified with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I know that some of us are happier when we're exploring new ideas, and others when we're getting things checked off a list. Intimate conversations will jazz some of us; large parties will get others stoked. And while a quiet walk, or an afternoon of music can be just what the doctor ordered, bungee jumping and white water rafting can make others feel alive. The important thing is to notice what we're doing when we feel the most "like ourselves."

So I'm paying attention to when I'm humming, choosing to do things that bring a smile. It may not seem like much, but I know that it's what makes life meaningful to me. And what energizes me to move forward with a sense of joy.
 
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A friend posted a link on her facebook page that caught my eye yesterday. The article describes how gamers have helped to solve a puzzle in AIDS research that had stumped scientists for years. As a final (creative) solution to understanding the structure of a retrovirus protein (necessary for creating an effective treatment) "researchers at the  University of Washington turned to Foldit, a program created by the university a few years ago that transforms problems of science into competitive computer games, and challenged players to use their three-dimensional problem-solving skills to build accurate models of the protein.

With(in) days, the gamers generated models good enough for the researchers to refine into an accurate portrayal of the enzyme's structure. What's more, the scientists identified parts of the molecule that are likely targets for drugs to block the enzyme." You can read the full post here.

Don't you love that play succeeded where serious research and investigation failed? And not only did the solution come quickly (after only three weeks), but everyone involved had a blast trying to figure it out.

If you can't make your work be an extension of your play, then you can become playful at work. In a TEDS talk, Tim Brown discusses the  connection between creativity and play. In his, and other innovative companies, creating a culture of play is a necessity. It takes people out of traditional ways of seeing and organizing things and allows for out of the box thinking.

I wonder how many of us remember how to be playful? It's so easy as children, but as we grow, we seem to think of reasons not to play, to be more productive, to take things seriously. Children look for ways to play; they don't have to motivated to spend time
doing things that bring them joy. Maybe the way forward as a culture is to actually take things less seriously. To lighten up, and free ourselves to more creatively engage in the world around us. The reality is, play is actually a really great way facilitate effective problem solving AND creativity, and I'm guessing it produces a lot less stress on our
bodies and relationships. Choosing to play may not be "childish" after all, just childlike - a gift that little children (and adult gamers) can bring to us.

(While looking for a picture illustrating this post, I came across this one of my nieces (and neighborhood child) shucking corn. I was reminded that my mom has always felt that work was play. To her, the camaraderie of being together and getting a task done was a pleasurable thing. This photo illustrates that family value - making "work" fun. Thanks, Mom.)
 
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I think God enjoys Godself. That thought came to me while pondering what it will be like to be in the presence of God. Often I think about this as being caught up in love, peace, rest. But this morning I imagined the playful energy that comes from freedom and delight. Kind of like God saying, "Hey come on up here, we're having a great time!" So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that when I went outside later in the day, God ambushed me.

Playtime in Fall

The tree outside my window grins.
Come, play with me!, she says.
I see the golden leaves that spin and swirl like honey in the wind.
And smile.  That would be fun, I think.
But not right now,
I’m making soup and sorting files.

Files done, soup is made.
I should go for a walk.
I need to get some exercise,
It’s good for you, you know.

The tree ambushes me.

I’m more intent on raking leaves
That snuck inside my clean garage.
But then I look and SEE those leaves.
The treasure chest of gold and ruby,
Strewn beneath her boughs.
Ah ha! she says, then flirts.
Enjoy me! Scuff those leaves.
Drink the yellow, feel the breezes swaying through my hair.
See, I’ll pose against the blue November sky.

I smile, snap her photograph. Smell the yellow,

Drink in warmth. Mmmmm.

Well, time to move along.
I need to take my walk.
Good for me, my exercise
Good for me, I know.

Hey, what about the stream (our entry point for kayaking)
I’ve forgotten that it’s there,
Just beyond the grassy lawn.
I wander over to the bank, to gaze a while and muse.

The cheery sun would like to plant a kiss upon my face,
And so I lift my chin and pause for love.

I love the stream, I love the sound
Of eager waters, filling up the banks and in a rush
To who knows where-
Its music makes me happy.

And then it’s home for lunch, and so
I turn my steps toward the spacious green,
Kept tailored by a neighbor whom I do not know.

Ambushed again!

A wave of leaves, caught by the wind,
Is rolling in. My hands spring up to guard my face.
I gasp and laugh! Who knew the force,
The breakercrash of leaves?
I stand and watch the next gust draw them back into their sea,
The eddies settle, calm- until they pounce again.

I chuckle as I’m heading home.
My face a ruddy glow.
I’d rather play than exercise.
It’s good for you, you know.
 
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Several years ago, my husband and I had our introduction to the marvleous artistry in glass of Dale Chihuly. We were visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum with a friend and struck by the exuberant extravagance of a glass sculpture hanging in the foyer. It was love at first sight. Since then, we've been on the lookout for more of Chihuly's handiwork, discovering chandeliers in Seattle (his hometown) and the Corning Glass Museum. Last winter, Dan brought home some DVDs that described the history of Dale's creative process, his team approach, and showed footage of several installations that he'd done around the world. These were usually in gardens or conservatories, blending his exquisite glass objects with lush vegetation and colorful plantings.

So imagine my delight when I heard that there was a Chihuly exhibit at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI, and that my husband had a business trip planned and was willing for me to tag along. It didn't hurt that I could also see a dear friend and visit my sister and family on either side. We were set!

Friday was cool but sunny, a perfect fall day for viewing the gardens and as we left our car and headed across the parking lot to the main entrance, my husband pointed and said, "there's one." In the distance we could see a tree of brilliant reds and greenish yellows, flinging its curlicued "branches" into the crystalline blue sky. The time flew by as we wandered from one grouping to the next; garnet spikes sprang from the hillside, graceful herons clustered in meadow grasses, glass that mimicked calas and jack-in-the-pulpits blended with colorful mums under fall foliage. Inside the conservatory, we explored the tropical forest; bishop weavers and canaries chortled and warbled while we discovered clam-shaped translucent bowls under a grove of bamboo, and fluted platters of gold resting in the tiny stream.

Outside once again, we followed the path to the sculpture gardens and rounded a corner to view a reed-rimmed pond, sporting floating glass reminiscent of hershey kisses, or miniature domes flung from a Russian cathedral. Hugging the far shore, a skiff was overflowing with a crazy array of sunshine yellow swans and oddly-blown black shapes that just had to be penguins! Further along the walkway, we marveled as carefully formed glass spheres perched on waterfall ledges, and a tower of yellow crystals caught the autumn sun.

By the time we finished walking through the gardens, we were ravenous. My friend had made me promise not to miss eating at the cafe. "You'll be sorry if you don't," she said. There hung enchanting chandeliers, clusters of flowers that traced the rainbow as they arched and spun across the ceiling. We ate our lunch and continued to feast our eyes on the whimsical mastery of a dedicated artist.

I think what I love about Chihuly is just that, the combination of mastery and whimsy that flow from his love of glass, and his playful curiosity. What happens if...? This love and curiosity, blended with a deep knowledge of the medium, allow him to create art that is technically flawless, delightfully innovative, and joyfully inspiring.

For more pictures of Chihuly at the Meijers Gardens, click here.