Monday, October 20, 2014

Homes Sweet Homes

Lucky me.

I can call more than one place home. There is, of course, my home here in Florida, where I’ve lived for more than 20 years, raised my son, put down roots. And there is California, the home of my birth and growing-up years, where my parents still live, and, I confess, where a piece of my heart remains. I just returned from a 10-day trip to California, and while I loved my time there, I was so very happy to come…home.

Always have to stop here for coffee!
When I arrive in CA, I always want to do everything at once—hug everyone, pet the cats (we all have cats), hear what’s been going on, go shopping, play games, and eat all the special foods they always have for me. I told everyone that I mainly wanted to just hang out and relax; they weren’t to worry about “entertaining” me. I run around enough at home. So that’s mainly what we did—I was able to sleep eight and nine hours a night without an elderly dog waking me up, I had time to read, and I even did a couple of watercolor sketches! We did go on a few planned outings—to Turtle Bay and the Sundial Bridge (look for a Field Trip Friday soon), and my favorite used bookstore with my mom; lunch out and a shopping trip with my stepmom. And since my Rays were not in the playoffs, I rooted for my stepmom’s favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, in their playoff games against Saint Louis. (They won and will be meeting the Kansas City Royals in the World Series starting tomorrow.)

One of my favorite places--the old cow barn at my mom's


My dad making my favorite salad.
When I come back to Florida, I want to sleep in my own bed, drink my morning coffee made just so, wear the clothes I didn’t take on the trip…you get the idea. Now that I’m home home, I’m appreciating my life more: my work, my leisure, my little routines and treats. Whether it was because of the rest I got while in CA, or the fallish (for FL) weather, I feel reenergized and more awake. Ready to tackle daily life again. Grateful for the people, pets and places—the simple pleasures and everyday adventures—that feel like home.

My mom's newest addition

Misty, my dad and stepmom's cat
Like I said, lucky me.

Has anything reenergized you lately?


Friday, October 10, 2014

Living It Up in California

I’m living it up in California visiting my family—no housework, no cooking, no laundry…except for helping out, of course. And no writing, except for journaling. Time to catch up with the parents, refill the well, and take some much-needed time off. I’ll be back to the blog soon, and in the meantime I hope you have a very happy week!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rummage Sale

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale 

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

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 ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone: All Quiet on the Western Front

I usually avoid books on war (and other harrowing topics), but I needed a classic about war to finish my Back to the Classics challenge. I happened to have All Quiet on the Western Front on my TBR shelf, and since on its cover there was a banner proclaiming, “The greatest war novel of all time,” I thought I’d give it a try. And I’m so glad I did. This novel, by Erich Maria Remarque, was beautifully and sensitively written in a way that helped me understand the emotional experience of soldiers at war without overwhelming my emotions. Originally written in German, my copy was translated by A.W. Wheen and I found the writing simple and easy to read.  Some of the most affecting passages for me included the following:

Describing a dying friend: “Under the skin the life no longer pulses, it has already pressed out the boundaries of the body. Death is working from within. It already has command in the eyes. Here lies our comrade. Kemmerich, who a little while ago was roasting horse flesh with us and squatting in the shell-holes. He it is still and yet it is not he any longer. His features have become uncertain and faint, like a photographic plate from which two pictures have been taken. Even his voice sounds like ashes.”

After guarding Russian prisoners of war: “A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together that very crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim. But who can draw such a distinction when he looks at these quiet men with their childlike faces and apostles’ beards. Any non-commissioned officer is more of an enemy to a recruit, any schoolmaster to a pupil, than they are to us. And yet we would shoot at them again and they at us if they were free.”

Reflecting on the future: “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me…. Through the years our business has been killing;—it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?”

Remarque, who was born in 1898, knew whereof he wrote. He was conscripted into the German army at age 18, and eventually wounded several times. After his discharge, he worked as a teacher, stonecutter and test car driver for a tire company, among other things. All Quiet on the Western Front was first published as Im Westen Nichts Neues in German in 1929, and sold more than a million copies the first year. The English translation, published the same year, was just as successful. The book was subsequently translated into 12 languages and made into a movie in 1930. Unsurprisingly, Remarque’s books were banned in Germany in the 1930s, and publicly burned in 1933.

Remarque wrote nine more novels, though none was as successful as All Quiet. He led quite a colorful life, and died in Switzerland in 1970 from an aneurysm.

All Quiet on the Western Front gives us a peek inside the minds of those who actually fight. Warfare may have changed a lot since 1918, but I imagine those fighting still go through most of the emotions and experiences found in this novel. All Quiet was more than worth the read. I felt sensitized and educated rather than depressed, and would definitely recommend it.

What book(s) have you read that are outside your comfort zone?


Friday, October 3, 2014

Three Forms of Happiness--and How to Boost Them

When we talk about “happiness” we’re really talking about several different things. I’ve chosen to categorize them like this: momentary pleasure, overall happiness and long-term contentment. Ideally, a truly happy life balances all three. Let’s look at these forms and at how we can boost each one.

Momentary pleasure. Momentary pleasure includes all our feel-good moments and jolts of fleeting pleasure. We feel it when we eat a brownie or have a massage, receive a compliment or buy a new shirt. Fleeting pleasures are nice while they last, and we can—and should—easily add them to our daily lives. We should be on the lookout for opportunities to do something nice for ourselves—whether that means taking a break to read a novel, buying some fresh flowers or savoring a delicious meal. We might even make a list of momentary pleasures to indulge in when the time is right.

Nice as it is, however, momentary pleasure is just the tip of the happiness iceberg, so to speak. Chasing momentary pleasure without regard to deeper forms of happiness can backfire, ultimately leaving us unhappy. Which brings us to…

Overall happiness. Overall happiness is a general good feeling about life. Baseline happiness, if you will. Generally, things are going right for you and you appreciate what’s going on in your life. This form of happiness is a little more work than momentary pleasure—you might do things such as work out, eat right, pay your bills on time or help out a neighbor in need—things that contribute to overall happiness but might not always offer momentary pleasure. (For example, I’d much rather eat a brownie than broccoli, but I know my health will suffer if I don’t eat right, and that definitely makes me unhappy). Gretchen Rubin’s excellent books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home both examine ways we can boost our overall happiness. And finally, we come to…

Long-term contentment. Contentment comes from deep within, running like an underground river, even when our outward circumstances seem unhappy. I believe it comes from alignment of purpose, knowing we’re primarily acting according to our deepest values. We can look within and know we’re doing what we believe to be right. We believe our lives are full of more good than bad, and we’re grateful. Boosting this form of happiness requires some introspection, examination of what we really believe, and deciding whether we feel we’re living those beliefs. Meditation and other spiritual practices can guide us to long-term contentment. One practice I’m working on incorporating is the “three good things” exercise: every day before bed record three good things from that day. It’s so easy for me to dwell on the negative; this practice helps me refocus on the positive.

Pursuing—and catching—happiness seems to involve a balance between nourishing the body and the soul, taking pleasure and giving it. How do you boost your happiness?


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Anything Might Be Possible

“After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth...The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her...In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”
—Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond


Monday, September 29, 2014

Being Enough

Have you ever felt that somehow, you just weren’t quite enough?

Lately I’ve been pondering the concept of worth and of being enough, because I’ve been feeling inadequate. No matter what I do, it never feels like enough. And if I’m not doing enough, then I feel I don’t “deserve” good things. It’s not a happy way to live. I feel like I’m required to give and produce constantly before I can receive—be worthy of—love and respect.

I know part of this feeling is tied to money. I’m not earning right now, though not for a lack of trying. I have several essays out in the world awaiting judgment, and I’ve applied for several jobs in the past six months and have been met with silence. When you hit enough walls, you begin to doubt your worth.

In my head I know that my worth is not contingent upon what I earn. I contribute to my family and the world by giving love, support, encouragement, and even physical labor. In my head, I know that I have worth just because I’m alive. But…

I still struggle.

Here are some things that help me, and might help you if you suffer from the occasional feeling that you’re not enough:

Examine the concept of “enough.” Who determines what is enough? Is it the same or different for each person? Does doing “enough” equal being “enough”? Quantifying “enough” is treading dangerously close to the slippery slope of perfectionism and all the craziness thereof.

Do less, counterproductive as that may seem. It’s possible to set too ambitious goals for the amount of time I have. The constant failure to do everything on the to-do list, even if it’s unreasonable to expect to finish, makes me feel inadequate. I’ve taken to putting time estimates next to my to-dos so I can see if I’m packing the day with 15 hours of work. I’m now making a core to-do list with the most important things on it, and I’m limiting them to just a few each day. I’m going to give myself credit and a reward when I complete them. If I want to do more, that’s fine, but I can quit and consider my day productive if I’ve done my core to-dos.

Stop comparing myself with others. I am who I am, I do what I do. I believe what  teacher Jim Tolles wrote in his post, “Feeling Like You’re Not Enough”: “You are. I won't even say you are enough because that kind of statement presumes that in someway you could ever be ‘not enough.’ This is an absurdity. You are as you are. That is perfect in the sense that you don't have to validate your existence or your ability to be, receive, or give love.”

Be honest with myself. It’s true: sometimes (though not always) feeling not good enough is an indicator that I need to do something different, learn more, try harder. If my work doesn’t get accepted, it may be because it isn’t quite good enough, humbling though that is. I know I’m not the writer that I want to be yet, and I must keep learning, experimenting, writing, in order to improve.

Treat myself the way I would treat another. I wouldn’t criticize or put down a friend who was feeling inadequate. I’d offer support and encouragement. I need to be kind and gentle with myself because I know I’m doing the best that I can.

We in the U.S. live in a culture of more, better, faster, higher. A culture based on doing and tangible achievement rather than the more amorphous concept of being. I want to value myself just for being myself, no strings attached, no expectations to meet. And that just might be enough.