Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Summer's Ghost

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
—Henry Rollins


Friday, August 28, 2015

Link Love—Too Darn Hot Edition

I’m done with summer. I want to cry every time I go outside. It’s been hot and humid for a long, long time and I’M TIRED OF SWEATING EVEN WHEN ALL I’VE DONE IS GET THE NEWSPAPER FROM THE DRIVEWAY. Sorry about that—just my little rant for the day. Instead of putting my antiperspirant to the test, I think I’ll stay indoors and surf the ’net. Want to join me?

Does happiness scare you? Check out this post for ways to allow yourself to feel joy.

Solo travel—for women, it's one contributing factor for happiness. turns quotes and concepts into cartoons. I discovered the site through this one. Here are two more of my favorites: and 

The Yet Mindset. It’s more empowering than simply saying “I can’t.”

Can reading make you happier? I think so. And so does Ceridwen Dovey in “Can Reading Make You Happier?” 

It might seem odd to include this link in Link Love, but “Is It Time for a Digital Break?” As summer winds down, wouldn’t it be nice to take a day, a few days, a week, away from the digital world, clear your mind, and get ready for the season to come? 

Happy Friday!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Down Among the Mallards

Photo courtesy Gunter Hofer

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Several years ago, Judith Kitchen and I published an anthology of poems about birds, and since then I keep finding ones I wished we’d known about at the time. Here’s one by Barbara Ellen Sorensen, who lives in Colorado.


Under warm New Mexico sun,
we watched the pelican place
himself down among the mallards
as if he had been there all along,
as if they were expecting the large,
cumbersome body, the ungainliness.
And he, sensing his own unsightly
appearance, tucked his head close
to his body and took on the smooth
insouciance of a swan.

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 Barbara Ellen Sorensen from her most recent book of poems Compositions of the Dead Playing Flutes, Able Muse Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Ellen Sorensen 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.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Rerun: 7 Things You Can Do to Feel Happier Right Now

Note: I'm taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this summer, so occasionally I'm going to rerun a previous post. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2013.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what gives you deep, lasting happiness and contentment. But sometimes what it takes to reach that deep happiness doesn’t make you feel…all that happy. What if you’d just like to give your mood a little boost—what can you do to feel happier right now? Here are seven simple things you can do to feel happier right now:

Make a List. List your dreams, your goals (but not your chores), your top-ten favorite movies, the books you’d take to a desert island, the five happiest moments you can remember, or the next three places you want to visit. (As I was preparing this piece, Gretchen Rubin put up this post, strictly about making lists!)   Gretchen writes, “Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life.” 

Go outside. A dose of natural light might be just the ticket to make you feel happier. If you can be near trees or water, that’s even better. Connecting with nature is a better pick-me-up than a cup of coffee, according to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. So step away from that computer screen and take a walk in the park. 

Reframe “failures.”  When you’re striving for an ambitious goal, you’ll probably face some setbacks, and yes, even some failures. One way to feel happier about this is to reframe your “failure,” according to happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener in The World Book of Happiness. “Sometimes your most treasured goals run up against serious obstacles. Sometimes these obstacles are outside circumstances and sometimes they are related to how we have framed the goal in the first place. When this happens we tend to react with frustration and disappointment. But by learning to think flexibly about our goals and to adjust them in the face of failure, we can end up feeling happier.” Thomas Edison is probably the best known proponent of this theory—he is often quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Go for the flow. According to social psychologist David G. Myers, “Happy people often are in the zone called ‘flow’, absorbed in tasks that challenge but don’t overwhelm them” (The World Book of Happiness). Take up a hobby that offers the chance for flow—gardening, sketching, crafting, baking—whatever appeals to you. You’ll find more happiness when involved in one of these activities than if you spent the same amount of time watching TV, for example.

Complete a nagging task. You know, that errand you’ve been putting off, the phone call you need to make or the household chore that you hate but you have to do. If you’re like me, unfinished business nags at the back of your mind, draining some of the happiness out of your day. Gretchen Rubin writes about this here, and about how to get yourself to do those tasks you don’t want to do here

Listen to upbeat music. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that participants’ feelings of happiness increased when they listened to upbeat music and focused on lifting their moods. Other studies have found that music not only affects mood, but changes how you perceive the world. Create a playlist with your favorite songs for times when you need a mood boost. (And for extra happiness, sing along!)

Choose to be happy. Commit to enjoying the next 24 hours no matter what. It’s amazing what a simple commitment to being happy can do for you.

How do you lift your mood?


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Excess of Shells

Photo courtesy Unsplash

“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There is only one moon in the sky….

“There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures—an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.”
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea


Friday, August 14, 2015

Why You'll Have to Pry My Books From My Cold, Dead Hands

“I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.”—Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing.

I could have written these words. Like Hill, I am a bibliophile—one who loves and collects books. My books are friends. To have my friends around me is a comforting simple pleasure, a delight. I’m all for living with less—less clutter, less activity, less stress. Except when it comes to my books.

You’ll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

In addition to my ever-growing pile of to-be-read (TBR) books, I have many shelves of books I’ve already read. They’re not valuable first editions, but they’re treasured and priceless to me. I cull them from time to time, but I take so much pleasure in my personal library that it would be painful to disperse it. (If you’d like a peek at my shelves, click here—I was part of Danielle’s Lost in the Stacks Home Edition feature at A Work in Progress.)

I don’t keep every book I buy—only ones I think I’ll reread at least once, books I’ll use for reference and/or inspiration, and books that were once important to me that I can’t quite give up yet.

Some of the books I own I’ve searched for over years, or stumbled upon serendipitously. Less than a handful are autographed by their authors, including a copy of the children’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Many years ago I heard the author, Judith Viorst, speak at my local library, and was completely tongue-tied when I asked her to sign my book afterwards. Just looking at that book reminds me of the entire experience of that night.

My books don’t have to be beautiful, but as I’ve gotten older (and my bookshelves more crowded), I’ve started being pickier about what they look like. It pained me that my second-hand copy of All Passion Spent had an unattractive cover illustration (but not enough for me to turn down the copy that became available on Paperback Swap). I covet the lovely dove-gray Persephone books, though I’ve yet to collect my first one. Perhaps looking for books I think are attractive will slow down the entire acquisition process!

I use books to boost my mood, and it’s comforting to have my favorites at my fingertips. There are certain books I reread frequently—not having them on hand might constitute an emotional crisis.

As William Giraldi writes in “Why We Need Physical Books”: “Across a collector’s bookshelves, upright and alert like uniformed sentinels, are segments of his personal history, segments that he needs to summon in order to ascertain himself fully, which is part of his motive for reading books in the first place—whatever else it is, a life with books is incentive to remember, and in remembering, understand.”

I start every day in my office, where I allow my eyes to play over the titles on my shelves while I drink my morning coffee. So many of the books I’ve kept have left a lasting mark on me, and sometimes I need to see them to remember. I need to pull them off the shelf and flip through them, letting them transport and transform me for a second time. What could be more of a simple pleasure than that?

Do you keep books after you’ve read them? What are your favorites?


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Now What?

Photo courtesy Mikael Kristenson
Introduction by Ted Kooser: A poem whose subject needs no introduction! Melissa Balmain lives in New York State, and her most recent book is Walking in on People, from Able Muse Press.


Your TV cable’s on the fritz.
Your Xbox is corroded.
Your iPod sits in useless bits.
Your Game Boy just imploded.

Your cell phone? Static’s off the scale.
Your land line? Disconnected.
You’ve got no mail—E, junk or snail.
Your hard drive is infected.

So here you idle, dumb and blue,
with children, spouse and mother—
and wish you knew what people do
to entertain each other.

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 ©2014 by Melissa Balmain, “Nightmare,” from Walking in on People, (Able Muse Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Melissa Balmain and Able Muse Press. 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.