Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Don't Miss It


“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”
—William Feather

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Do You Know How to "Do" Happy?

I like getting out of bed in the morning. Most days, I look forward to what I have planned—I always have plenty to do, but I enjoy most of it. I’m currently healthy and facing no immediate emergencies, nor am I working my way through any crises.


Knock wood.

I was almost afraid to write the words above because I’m just superstitious enough not to want to jinx things. I also don’t want to brag or portray my life or my self as being without flaws—both of those things are untrue, obviously. But right here, right now, things are awfully good. I can complain, whine, and worry with the best of them, but can I actually be…happy? 

While it’s true that there is much to be upset and unhappy about in the world, there is also much to be happy and grateful for. I’m not always able to enjoy the happy—indeed, I often feel guilty or nervous about doing so—but I want to get over that.  I don’t want to miss or overlook my own happiness! So I’ve been thinking about how to relax and enjoy it when things are going well in my life. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a happy place like I am right now, here are some tips to help you “do” happy:

First, be grateful. Don’t take the happy times for granted. Pause at the beginning or end of the day to ponder what’s going right, or even better, write down the things you are grateful for. (Research has demonstrated that this practice improves happiness and well being.) 

Savor the happy. Notice and enjoy what’s good, happy, and right about your life. This is where I stumble—unbelievably, I think I’m afraid to be happy! (I’m afraid if I feel too happy, it might get taken away.) Yes, it’s inevitable that happy times pass, just as unhappy ones do. How sad if you miss out on fully enjoying your own happiness because you’re afraid you might lose it.

Prepare for bad times. Perhaps you could tuck away some money to use for things that will help you ease through difficult times, like a massage, a few extra take out meals, and so on. Go ahead and keep that gratitude journal so when things are hard you can look back at written proof of happier times. Stock a comfort drawer. Think about the things that are making you happy and take steps to keep them going as long as possible. 

Share your good fortune. This doesn’t mean rubbing your happiness in others’ faces, but providing support and encouragement to them while you have the mental and emotional resources to do so. Look around—is there someone who is currently going through a hard time whom you can comfort? Perhaps you can write a note to someone you care about expressing your feelings for them. Happiness is contagious—why not spread it around?

As strange as it sounds, “doing” happy doesn’t always come easy. I hope these tips will help you enjoy the happy times when they come, and that there are many happy times in your future to enjoy.

How do you “do” happy?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Unseen, Unpaid Workman


Introduction by Ted Kooser: Poetry has often served to remind us to look more closely, to see what may have been at first overlooked. Today’s poem is by Kaelum Poulson of Washington state. A middle school student and already accomplished maker of poems, he writes of the thankless toils of an unlikely but entirely necessary member of our community—the crow!

The Crow

So beautiful
but often unseen
a maid of nature
the street cleaner that’s everywhere
never thanked
never liked
always ignored
so elegant in a way no one sees
but without it we would
be in trash up to our knees
with the heart of a lion
the mind of a fox
the color of the night sky
a crow
the unpaid workman
that helps in every way
each and every day.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © by Seattle Arts & Lectures. Reprinted from “The Universal Controversial Hive: poems, stories, & memoirs by students,” Writers in the Schools, 2006, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004- 2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

The Road Trip Continues...


When last we left our heroines, they were meandering through the Everglades

We rejoin them as make their way to their final destination, Key West. 

We hoped to see some Key deer on our trip, but when we arrived in Big Pine Key, the National Key Deer Refuge was closed for the day. Luckily for us, the Blue Hole (an abandoned rock quarry filled with water—the only fresh water lake in the Keys), which is part of the refuge, was accessible from the roadside. Jackpot! As soon as we got out of the car, we saw a Key deer foraging along the path. Eventually, she was joined by two others. Obligingly, they kept close to the paths and we were able to quietly follow them around snapping photos.

The Key deer, which is endangered, is the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer. It measures between 24 and 32 inches at the shoulder, and weighs between 45 and 80 pounds.  Seventy-five percent of Key deer live on No Name Key and Big Pine Key, according to the National Key Deer Refuge website. The refuge was established on Big Pine Key in 1957.  (To learn more about Key deer, click here or here.) 

What lovely little creatures they are:




After leaving the deer behind, we arrived in Key West just in time to park and watch the sunset…right next door to Mallory Square:


The next morning, we packed our one full day in Key West with walking, eating, and taking pictures. We’re wild like that.

Ernest Hemingway’s house:

Side view

Writing room
One of the Hemingway house cats holding court:


The Key West lighthouse:


One of the best things I’ve ever eaten—a goat cheese and walnut crepe, at Banana Cafe:


And then, oh then, the best destination of all: The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. We both lost our minds a little bit in this tiny gem of a place, between the butterflies flitting everywhere, the button quail at our feet, the flamingos flapping and calling (mating season), and the bright birds high in the trees. We stayed for at least two and a half hours, until they threw us out at closing time, in fact. If you go to Key West, this place is well worth a visit. (Two-dollar off discount coupons are readily available, and the gift shop here is something special, too.) Here are only a few of the photos I took:












After we staggered out of the Butterfly Conservancy, we wandered to the Southernmost Point marker:


and then all the way back to Mallory Square for dinner and one last sunset:

Shot with my phone after my camera battery died!
The next morning, we packed up and drove home. And that, my friends, brings our road trip saga to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of some of the simple pleasures and everyday adventures you can find while road tripping in Florida. Thanks for letting me relive our adventures as I shared them with you!

Do you have any road trip adventures planned this spring or summer?

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Meandering Through the Everglades

Anhinga in Shark Valley
Without being able to put into words why—other than “I want to see this before it’s gone”—I’ve wanted to visit the Florida Everglades for years. I’m ashamed to admit that before I went I knew virtually nothing about it. I imagined a kind of giant swamp, filled with mosquitoes, alligators and pythons.  Happily, what I found instead was a place with its own quiet beauty—a beauty that is more than skin deep. What I was most struck by was the intricate, often invisible, interconnection of life in the Everglades: plants, birds, animals, insects—and ultimately humans—so dependent on each other. And because it’s so interconnected, it’s also exceptionally sensitive and fragile. Threats to the health and survival of the Everglades include runoff of fertilizers as well as other types of pollution from encroaching urban areas, and the invasion of exotic/non-native plants and animals.

Just one of the many gators we saw
A little history: The Everglades once covered nearly three million acres, stretching from just below Orlando, through Lake Okeechobee, all the way to the very tip of the peninsula, as well as east and west towards both coasts. Link to map. However, it was not always valued, or even understood. In the early 1900s, even conservationists felt that the dredging of the Everglades was the “smart, progressive thing to do.” The wetlands and marshes were seen as worthless, and many areas were dredged, drained, and diked to make way for agriculture and development. (One governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, was elected after running on a platform that included promising to drain the Everglades.)

Baby gators--surprisingly cute!
The Everglades became a national park in December of 1947. According the National Park Service website, “For the first time in American history, a large tract of wilderness was permanently protected not for its scenic value, but for the benefit of the unique diversity of life it sustained. The mosaic of habitats found within the Greater Everglades Ecosystem supports an assemblage of plant and animal species not found elsewhere on the planet.” The park is approximately 1.5 million acres, but the Greater Everglades Ecosystem is much larger than the national park itself.

A view from the 65-foot Shark Valley observation tower
Kerri and I took parts of two days to explore, and could easily have spent much more time there. The park is huge, and there are many ways to see it: scenic drives, hiking, biking, canoeing, boat tours, and naturalist-led guided tram tours. I highly recommend the tram tour at the Shark Valley Visitor’s Center. I took most of the photos in this post while on this tour. You can bike or hike the 15-mile loop the tram takes if you prefer, but I learned a lot from the guide. (We also took an airboat tour, but it wasn’t nearly as informative as the tram tour.) Some things I learned:

Seven million people (one out of every three Floridians) rely on the Everglades for water.

The Everglades is not a swamp, but a very slow-moving river. It flows at the speed of about 100 feet per day (contrast that with the Mississippi, which at its headwaters, flows at an average speed of 1.2 miles per hour). Talk about meandering.

View from the airboat
Alligator approaching the airboat
The Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

Buttonbush

Purple gallinule
Everglades National Park is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest designated wilderness in the southeast, and the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America.


Cormorant on the Anhinga Trail
It’s the only place in the world where the American Alligator and American Crocodile coexist.

Kerri at Eco Pond--the only place we battled mosquitoes
We agreed that the more we learn about natural places like the Everglades, the more questions we have, and the more we want to learn. For me, that’s one of the happiest, most important benefits of travel: discovery and the urge to know more. 

A new friend--photo courtesy Kerri Dowd
Thank you for reading installment two of Kerri and Kathy’s road trip. I hope you’ll return next week for our further adventures—we’re bound for the Florida Keys!

For more information on the Everglades:





The Everglades: River of Grass, Marjory Stoneman Douglas


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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

More Gratitude Equals More Happiness


“Gratitude is the only thing that will ever make you happy. Without a doubt, if you can master the art of feeling and expressing gratitude on a daily basis, then you will have mastered happiness. It’s that simple: more gratitude equals more happiness.”
—Jason Wachob, WELLth: How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Road Trippin'

I had a visitor last week—my friend Kerri—and we took to the road, heading to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, then meandering through the Everglades, all the way down to Key West. Want to come along? 

Both of us love to travel—to see how other people live, to infuse our creative banks with new sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, and for the change of pace escaping our normal routine brings. I think it’s also fun traveling with different people. I’ve taken trips with my husband, my friend Laure, and now with Kerri, and each trip has a different feel and focus. It’s fascinating to see how other people travel: what they enjoy doing, how they see things. (This trip was especially good for that, as Kerri is an accomplished photographer and she saw much I wouldn’t have noticed.) Also, as we caught up on each other’s lives, I learned how I really felt about certain things as I heard myself talk. There’s something about formulating thoughts and exposing them to a “safe” person that clarifies things for me.

But that’s enough of why we travel—onward to what we actually saw. I’ll break the trip into a series of posts, since it would be unbearably long if I tried to cram it all into one. And before you ask, I didn’t make one sketch—I simply didn’t have enough time in any one place, and I was too tired at night. I took many photos (so many my camera battery died on the last day), and my plan is to make at least one sketch from them.

Our first stop was the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, seagrass beds, marshes, and hardwood hammocks. The refuge provides habitat for more than 245 species of birds. We took the four-mile wildlife drive (you can also bike or take a tram), but we could have walked the four miles quicker. We kept stopping to jump out to look for wildlife—we saw white pelicans, little blue herons, ibis, gulls, sandpipers—and our first alligator.  (There will be plenty more gators when we arrive in the Everglades—stay tuned!)

Little blue heron

Gator number one

This photo, taken by Kerri, pretty much sums up what we did:

Look up, look down, look all around...

We ended the day on Captiva Island, drinking wine and watching the sunset.  (Special thanks to our friend Mary, pictured with me above, who not only chauffeured us around Sanibel and Captiva, but also invited us to stay overnight in her beautiful home.)


Next up: the Everglades—gators, and cormorants, and purple gallinules, oh my!

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