Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gratitude Transforms

Photo courtesy Mayur Gala

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
—William Arthur Ward

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 23, 2015

"Artists Need to Take Risks"--An Afternoon With Mary GrandPre

Mary GrandPre
On Saturday afternoon, Laure Ferlita and I attended a talk by illustrator Mary GrandPre sponsored by our local arts council. Though GrandPre is probably best known for her illustrations for the Harry Potter books, she’s illustrated seven picture books as well as created illustrations for many editorial and advertising clients. 

GrandPre was born in South Dakota, but her family moved to Minnesota when she was still a baby. She began drawing at age 5, went through a “Salvador Dali phase,” and later practiced drawing by copying black and white photos from the encyclopedia. After attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she paid her dues waiting tables as she built her portfolio and began to attract clients. Eventually she moved into illustrating children’s books, and it was her first one, Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat, that attracted the attention of executives at Scholastic, Inc., who were looking for an illustrator for a book about a young wizard. At first she planned to turn down the job because she was already busy, she told us, but after the publisher encouraged her to read the manuscript, she changed her mind. As she told Communications Arts Magazine, “It sounded like a nice job, so I said  ‘sure.’ I presented three cover sketches, they chose one, and I was pretty happy with everything. They were great to work with, and I think I remember them saying there might be more. At the time, it just seemed like another job.” GrandPre is grateful for the popularity of Harry Potter, but she’s just as proud of (and deservedly so) her other work, which includes The Noisy Paint Box, The Carnival of the Animals and Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, a project she worked on with her husband, Tom.

Sketches from the creation of The Noisy Paint Box
I knew nothing about the process of illustrating books, so I was interested in how she described it. After researching her topic, she begins sketching quickly, often using tracing paper and ink. Sometimes, she said, she does get stuck, especially at the beginning of the process. She tries not to get discouraged if she ends up with nothing usable after a day of work, believing that there are no wasted days. “The next day will be better because of today,” she said. After some back and forth with the art director of the project, the sketches are finalized. She likes to have three to four months to complete the final paintings. She has worked in pastels, acrylics, oils, and charcoal, and has used collage in at least one of her projects.

I was impressed with how kindly and patiently she answered audience questions that ranged from “How can I encourage my child who loves to draw?” to “I’m writing a children’s book—how do I find a publisher?” After her talk, we were able to examine some of her work close up, and it was beautiful. She grew up attending Catholic school and church, and she mentioned that one of her early influences was the glow of the light coming through stained glass windows. I think that same glow fills her work.

GrandPre tries to do something different in each project. It’s important to her to keep growing. “Artists need to take risks,” she said. “I want to be challenged and try new things. If not, I’d rather wait on tables.”

You can learn more about Mary GrandPre and see some of her work on her website,


Friday, November 20, 2015

Small Changes Coming to Catching Happiness

After six years, it’s time for a change. This blog was never intended to make money (except in my wildest fantasies), and good thing, too, because it’s been a crashing failure in that regard. It was intended to be a creative outlet for me, and a way to make connections with other like-minded people. In that regard, it’s been a complete success. But now it’s time for me to put my primary writing focus elsewhere—on building my freelancing business. You may have noticed a couple of other changes as well: I’ve updated “About Me” and streamlined the sidebars. (Don’t worry if your blog was in my sidebar—I’ve added it to my feed reader and still plan to visit often!)

I love writing for Catching Happiness and will continue to post here, just not quite as often. My plan right now is to post once or twice a week instead of two to three times a week. I’ll continue to share simple pleasures and everyday adventures, as well as bits of happiness news and other happy little things. I still love to hear from you, so please share whatever is on your mind via the comments section, or by contacting me directly. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment over these past years—your words mean more to me than you know.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Does Your Happiness Depend On?

“For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness on major events like a great job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”
—Andy Rooney


Friday, November 13, 2015

Happy Little Things: Essential Oil Aromatherapy

It’s funny how things start. In yoga class, the teacher offered us a dab of a stress-relieving essential oil during our final resting pose. I don’t know if it alleviated my stress (which was pretty low after practicing yoga for an hour), but it smelled lovely. In the back of my mind, I decided I wanted to buy a bottle of that scent to have on hand, simply because it smelled good.

Then, after thus stimulating my reticular activating system, I began to see information about essential oils and aromatherapy everywhere. Friends began to use and sell different brands of oils. I remembered that one friend of mine used essential oils on her horse to help calm her after another friend asked me about trying them on a pony at our barn who is especially high strung. I wondered if using essential oils in a diffuser would make our house smell better (we rarely open the windows because of the humidity so I think it smells stale in here) and maybe even boost our moods and immune systems. Maybe I could find some essential oils to improve my ability to think and concentrate when I’m writing!

So with my mom’s help, for my birthday I bought a diffuser, a set of oils for the aromatherapy beginner, and a book on basic aromatherapy. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with the oils and the diffuser and have found several combinations I like: eucalyptus and lemon for the kitchen, peppermint for my office, lavender in our bedroom at night. I only have one diffuser, so I move it around the house with me as needed. I plan to use the oils in making cleaning solutions for the house, and also find a way to use them in my car—either a diffuser meant for the car, or simply a cotton ball with a bit of oil on it. I have a lot to learn about what each oil is good for (and I still haven’t bought that first bottle that started all this) but I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of finding out. Essential oils are my newest happy little thing!

What’s your newest happy little thing?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Verses for the Armed Services

Photo courtesy picaland

Introduction by Ted Kooser: During World War II the government endorsed the publication of inexpensive paperbacks for persons serving overseas. Jehanne Dubrow, who lives and teaches in Maryland and whose husband is a naval officer, here shows us one of those pocket-sized volumes. This poet's latest book is The Arranged Marriage, (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).

Armed Services Editions

My copy of The Fireside Book of Verse
is as the seller promised—the stapled spine,
the paper aged to Army tan—no worse
for wear, given the cost of its design,
six cents to make and printed on a press
once used for magazines and pulp. This book
was never meant to last a war much less
three quarters of a century.
                                                I look
for evidence of all the men who scanned
these lines, crouched down in holes or lying in
their racks. I read the poems secondhand.
Someone has creased the page. Did he begin
then stop to sleep? to clean his gun perhaps?
to listen to the bugler playing taps?

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Jehanne Dubrow, “Armed Services Editions,” (Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, no. 2, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Jehanne Dubrow and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2015 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.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Should We Pursue Happiness?

Albert Camus said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Does this mean we shouldn’t try to seek ways to be happier? Should we just “get over it” and live the life before us?

Well, that depends on what we mean by happiness.

If we’re confusing happiness with pleasure, maybe. Continual chasing of pleasure and feel-good moments will not bring deep and lasting happiness. Being afraid of or avoiding negative emotions will also backfire, because frankly, no life is devoid of experiences that feel sad or scary and there is a lot to be learned from those experiences. But happiness as I define it here on the blog isn’t just pleasure—it’s a deeper, wider, more all-encompassing emotion. An emotion that includes joy and pleasure, but also satisfaction after achieving something worthwhile, or living up to my ideals in a difficult situation. It also encompasses contentment and a feeling of well-being. So many facets of happiness make achieving it easier as well as more worthwhile.

We run into trouble when we feel we should always feel happy. Negative feelings are normal. Thinking we shouldn’t have them can make us even more miserable. We shouldn’t pursue feelings of happiness at the expense of everything else. That would be like eating only chocolate and never eating spinach and expecting to be healthy. Maybe the spinach doesn’t taste as good as the chocolate (at least to me it doesn’t), but it offers nutrients chocolate doesn’t. I want to be strong and healthy in both body and mind, and I can’t do that if I only eat chocolate…or pursue pleasure. We should be open and accepting of the richness of all our emotions, even times of sadness, fear, boredom, or frustration. These emotions often bear a message of change, or wake us up from sleepwalking through life.

I can’t say that I’ve been especially happy the past two weeks. And yet—I have. I’m heartbroken over losing our beloved family dog, but somehow the breaking open of my heart has allowed in the caring and understanding of others, and in those moments, I’ve felt loved by and connected to them in ways I hadn’t before. The crack in my heart has released my feelings of love and gratitude for those people, and for the many other rich gifts in my life.

What does pursuing happiness mean to you?