Friday, October 24, 2014

Field Trip Friday: Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Some places resonate with me—they feel like old friends, even the first time I visit them. One such place for me is Turtle Bay Exploration Park (TBEP) in Redding, California. When I visit my family, it’s one of the places I always want to go back to—what better place to share with you as a Field Trip Friday?

TBEP is 300-acre “gathering place” divided into north and south “campuses,” separated by the Sacramento River and connected by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge. In addition to the bridge, there is a museum, a forestry and wildlife center, and an arboretum and botanical gardens. The complex houses approximately 800 plant species/cultivars and 225 animals. Here’s a brief description of each of the major components:

McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
The 20 acres of water-wise gardens here represent the world’s five Mediterranean climate zones: Southwest Australia, South Africa, California, Chile and the Mediterranean Basin. The plants share survival adaptations that enable them to thrive in climate conditions with warm/hot dry summers and rainy winters, and all require moderate to low water usage. The gardens are divided into several areas, including a Children’s Garden, Perennial Companions Display Garden, Butterfly Garden, Medicinal Garden and the Pacific Rim Garden. Mosaic features and fountains are scattered throughout the gardens. This is my favorite area of the TBEP—lots of places to sketch, take pictures, or simply sit and enjoy the gardens. I didn’t sketch while I was there, but did take some pictures:

Sounds of Water by Betsy Damon 

Mosaic fountain, part of Mosaic Oasis, by Colleen Barry

Earthstone, by Colleen Barry
Detail from Earthstone

Museum and Forest Camp
Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp is a popular destination for children. It includes a playground; the Parrot Playhouse, a year-round lorikeet aviary; Wildlife Woods; a seasonal Butterfly House and an amphitheater where daily educational shows take place. There are lots of hands-on activities for kids, and this is where you’ll find the animals. Though we never found the newest addition, a young bobcat (she was being used in a presentation that we missed), we did see a porcupine, a couple of raptors and a beautiful red fox.

The museum houses several permanent and interactive exhibits focusing on local and regional history, as well as traveling exhibits. When we were there, so was Toytopia, an exploration of the past century of toy making. We saw the world’s largest Etch-A-Sketch (more than eight feet tall—and I didn’t take a picture!), a retro arcade with games like Tron and Donkey Kong, building areas for kids with Lego and Lincoln Logs, and toys from the early 1900s onward.

Sundial Bridge
This beautiful bridge is indeed a sundial, though the shadow of its 217-foot-tall pylon is only completely accurate once a year, on the summer solstice. Opened July 4, 2004, the Sundial Bridge is also a downtown entrance for Redding’s Sacramento River Trail system, a 35-mile long trail that extends along both sides of the river, connecting the bridge to the Shasta Dam. Made of steel, glass and granite, it’s 700 feet long and 23 feet wide. No vehicles are allowed on the bridge, and it’s an easy stroll across the river. When we were there, we saw men fly fishing on one side of the river, and Canada Geese bobbing and floating on the other side.

Sacramento River--see the teeny fishermen?

If you’re ever in the Redding area, the Turtle Bay Exploration Park is well worth the visit. There is no admission charge to walk over the Sundial Bridge and down the Sacramento River Trail, but you do have to pay to enter the botanical gardens, museum and forestry camp. If I lived in this area, I’d like to think I’d often be found here, though you know how that is. We don’t always use and appreciate the simple pleasures and everyday adventures we have available to us. (When was the last time I was at the USF Botanical Gardens, for instance?)

Where have your wanderings taken you lately?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Coin of Your Life

Photo courtesy Sanja Gjenero

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
—Carl Sandburg

Friday, October 24 marks the 11th annual Take Back Your Time Day. How will you take charge of your time? 


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?