Word of the year

December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010

As I write this, the family is asleep, except for my son who is playing paintball. Scout is sitting on my lap while I enjoy the last cup of morning coffee and piece of orange scone of 2010. I reflect on the year that’s just passed—can it be that it has passed already?

Today we have no plans to do much of anything, except play games this evening after dinner, so I’m enjoying this still moment to reflect and appreciate the old while looking forward to the new.

My word of the year for 2010 was “open,” and though I don’t feel like I fully embraced and incorporated it, as I look back I see areas where the door has been left ajar instead of being firmly closed and bolted. For example, I entered a contest to blog at the World Equestrian Games, which required me to step outside my comfort zone with a video entry. I took a couple of online art classes, and my first writing business trip. I also began natural horsemanship training with Tank, which most assuredly requires openness to new ideas. I plan to choose a new word for 2011 (so far “possibility” is a top contender) and to increase its effectiveness, I plan to check in with myself every month to see how I’m doing. (If you want to know more about choosing a word of the year, see Christine Kane’s blog and download the free word of the year worksheet.)

How was your 2010? What was most memorable about it? What would you like to be different in 2011? The same?

Happy New Year, dear friends! Hope 2011 is the best ever.


Holiday Hats

December 24, 2010

Wishing you a very joyful holiday!

At least this is a little better than that ridiculous birthday hat.

No, not the antlers again!

P.S. We will be having family visitors for the holidays, so I’ll be taking a break from the blog next week. Hope your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are the best ever!


'Tis the Season

December 20, 2010

...for making merry and making memories. As I write this, our Christmas tree flickers and glows in the corner of the family room. Presents are starting to appear beneath it, and plans are being made for a family get together at our house this weekend. We have a few traditions we observe every year: the baking of molasses sugar cookies, watching A Christmas Story on TV, gag gifts in the Christmas stockings, a fire in the fireplace on Christmas day, even if we have to run the air conditioning!

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Do they involve special foods, or the scents of pine, balsam or simmering spiced cider? Are you planning a new tradition this year? Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you take time to recall memories from the past—and create new ones—this holiday season.

End of the year

Checking In

December 15, 2010

I was sick last week, and though I'm just about recovered, I'm behind on my usual activities, including posting here. This week, the last before school gets out for winter break, must be devoted to holiday preparation and beating the house into submission (that is, cleaning it). Then comes the usual end-of-the-year flurry of activity interspersed with introspection in which I will decide that I must change everything about my life and make a new start.

Just kidding. I think.

Does that happen to you? You take a look at your perfectly servicable--even happy--life and decide you'd like it to be different, better somehow. As the year winds down, I think about how it's gone, turn my thoughts to my hopes and desires for next year and consider what I might do differently. I have to fight the urge to set a bunch of goals, commit to challenges (I wanted to sign up for this one because it sounds so fun and the badge is pretty...but I restrained myself) and so on. I guess I think of this season as one of contemplation and evaluation--a sort of natural turning point in my life.

Scout contemplates trimming the shrubs so she can see the squirrels better
On a less philosophical note, I'm choosing books for the Off the Shelf Challenge--my goal was 15, but I've already got 17 stacked up (and still more lurking on closet shelves). I've chosen the first book I'm going to read for the Vintage Mystery Challenge: The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham. I've never read anything by her before. This book is the first Albert Campion mystery. According to the book's back cover, I'm likely to like this if I'm a fan of Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and the Golden Age of British Mystery. That's me! Though I'm not officially doing the 50 States Challenge, I'm going to keep track of the settings of the books I read to see how many states--or countries--are represented.

The contenders
What does the end of the year bring for you? Do you do any sort of check-in with yourself? Are you making plans for next year?

P.S. I wrote a piece on visiting New Orleans on a budget--if you're interested, you can read it here.


The Gift of Permission

December 10, 2010

Most of us are thinking of what we and our loved ones would like as gifts this holiday season. Along with the wish lists we generally have, what about a gift we can give ourselves: the gift of permission? Here are three things we should give ourselves permission to do:

Permission to have the life you want
Do you, deep down, believe you deserve the life you want? If you don’t, your dream life will never become real. Women in particular often put others’ needs first, and sacrifice their own goals and dreams in favor of helping others achieve theirs. This is not all bad, of course. Many of us find deep satisfaction in helping others. It becomes a problem when you always sacrifice your own dreams and wishes in favor of others’ and never or rarely have a chance to pursue your own passions and pleasures.

Joy Chudacoff writes in “Smart Women Give Themselves Permission,” “There comes a time when you will begin to feel a calling to create more of what you prefer in your own life. It does not mean that you do not love and care for all of those people who mean so much to you. It’s a signal that the time has come for you to embrace more of who you uniquely are.”

This is definitely an issue for me: why do I “deserve” to have my dreams come true—owning my own horse, working as a freelancer (i.e., often getting paid more in satisfaction than in money), simply having what I have in my life? I feel guilty because I have the time and resources to pursue the life of my dreams, and then I begin to dissipate my energy to such an extent that I no longer do have the time and resources to do what I want. I realize I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me it’s OK to have the life I want. The truth is, I deserve the life I want just as much as—not more than, not less than—any other human being does. And so do you.

Permission to be imperfect
I’m not saying you consciously think you have to be “perfect,” but I’ll bet you think you should be better. We could all be “better” than we are—it’s part of the human condition to be imperfect. If you’re like me, you can probably name 25 things you wish were different about you and your life. Stop worrying over that and feeling guilty about it and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Admit your flaws, then realize that’s just how it is right now. If it’s truly something that must be changed, then commit to changing, but refuse to wallow in the feeling that somehow you should have already overcome this problem and you’re a bad person for not having done so. (Channel Popeye by saying, “I yam what I yam.”)

Permission to try and succeed…or to try and fail
This is one of my biggest issues. When I have a big, hairy goal or project in mind, I often become paralyzed, equally worried about succeeding or failing! If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own. Safer and more comfortable just to do nothing.

And what if trying for your big, hairy goal causes someone in your life discomfort or inconvenience? That may be true. How often does someone else’s important goal cause you discomfort or inconvenience? How do you feel about that? Probably you feel that’s OK, within reason, if the other person’s activity or achievement is important enough to them. (I also refer you back to my first point.)

Regardless of success or failure, you should give yourself permission to try. Either outcome is better than not making the attempt.

So this is what we’re going to do. I give you permission to follow your dreams, to learn something new, to succeed, to do something badly, to be imperfect. And you do the same for me. But truthfully, we don’t really need each other’s permission, do we?

What would you do if you had “permission”?

Seen on a store window in New Orleans

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
--Grace Murray Hopper


Do You See?

December 03, 2010

 “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

This time of year, many of us become more introspective (when we’re not rushing around preparing for the holidays). We often take stock of what we’ve done in the past year, and think ahead to the coming new year. Now is also a good time to take a moment to enjoy the festive decorations or observe the changes in the natural world (for a good example of this, see Elizabeth Smith’s lovely post about autumn in Florida here).

“I think the reason we all get up in the morning, whether we know it or not, is that brief moment during the day when we recognize the beauty in something,” writer Penelope Michler observed. I discovered this quote in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book, Romancing the Ordinary. Breathnach herself continued, “Today recognize one moment of exquisite beauty in your own daily round. Notice it, rejoice in it, and give thanks.”
What was your moment of beauty today?


Ready for a Challenge?

November 30, 2010

Cheryl at Scrappy Cat recently posted a review of Going After Cacciato, a book she’d just finished for a reading challenge. I’ve enjoyed reading her reviews of the challenge books she’s read this year, so I asked if she’s planning to participate in another challenge in 2011—she is, the War Through the Generations Challenge. When she asked if I knew of any reading challenges for 2011, I decided I’d do a little internet poking around to see what challenges readers are planning in 2011. Two blogs I found, A Novel Challenge and Book Obsessed, list a number of different and interesting challenges, including the following:

I'm not sure I'm quite up for the 50 States Reading Challenge, but I think just choosing the books would be a lot of fun. The goal is to read a book set in each of the 50 U.S. states, and books can be in any genre, including audiobooks.

I'm definitely participating in the Off the Shelf Challenge--"Are your books multiplying like rabbits before you even get a chance to read them? Trying to keep up with them, but can't stop buying new ones? Maybe this challenge is for you. I know what it's like. There's so many titles and so many beautiful books out there sometimes it's hard to keep that TBR shelf under control..." Challenge levels include: "Tempted--Choose 5 books to read" all the way up to "Buried--Choose 126 to 200 books to read." (I see some people are worse off than I am!)

And just for fun, I'm going to do the 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge--"A challenge for all you mystery lovers out there who already love mysteries from the years prior to 1960 and also anyone who's ever thought, 'I should give Agatha Christie (Dorothy L Sayers...Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...etc) a try.'" I love mysteries, especially ones from this era, so I don't know if this even counts as a challenge--maybe more of an excuse to read the kind of book I love! (If this one sounds good to you, too, today is the last day to sign up.)

I've never participated in an "official" reading challenge before. I tend to be an impulsive reader and I like to have plenty of freedom be able to follow my whims. I consider reading primarily fun—not something that should become a chore or responsibility. On the other hand, I really need to weed out my To Be Read collection, and I love discovering new authors and compelling books—opening up my reading world, so to speak. And it's OK if books fulfill more than one of the challenges, so ideally, I'd find a vintage mystery set in one of the 50 states already on my TBR shelf...

Are you planning to participate in any reading challenges in 2011? If so, which ones? If not, do you have any kind of reading goals or plans, or are you more like I usually am…a rambling and random reader?


Please Pass the Garbanzo Beans

November 24, 2010

Tomorrow we here in the United States will be celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving with a meal that most likely includes turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other side dishes each family considers necessary for the feast. A far cry from the first Thanksgiving, which featured cocido, a stew made with salt pork, garbanzo beans seasoned with garlic.

Say what?!

According to current historical research, 56 years before the “first Thanksgiving” in Plymouth, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles and a company of 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 farmers and craftsmen (and some wives and children) landed at what is now St. Augustine, FL on September 8, 1565. To celebrate the expedition’s safe arrival, the Spanish and natives of the area took part in a Mass of thanksgiving followed by a meal. In addition to the stew, hard sea biscuits and red wine from the ships’ stores probably rounded out the meal. If the natives contributed food, it may have been deer, gopher tortoise, fish, maize, beans, squash, nuts or fruits, food items common to their diet. According to historian Michael Gannon, “These stand as the first documented thanksgiving events in a permanent settlement anywhere in North America north of Mexico.” (To read more about the real first Thanksgiving meal, click here.)

Site of the first Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyday adventures

So Much More

November 20, 2010

I returned early last week from a long weekend in New Orleans, LA with Laure Ferlita (of Imaginary Trips and the Painted Thoughts blog) and I’m wondering where to begin to write about the trip. Do I start with the food? The architecture? The history? The music? NOLA was so much more than I expected it to be.

As The Rough Guide to New Orleans aptly describes it, NOLA is a town of melancholy beauty and ebullient spirit. Founded by the French in 1718, it became part of the United States in 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was signed at the Cabildo). After that, New Orleans grew rapidly and became the second largest port and the fourth wealthiest city in the United States.

The city’s beauty is mingled with great poverty and a level of crime that has guidebooks warning visitors to be mindful of their surroundings and avoid wandering alone, especially at night. Still, every block holds surprises, gorgeous or quirky. Laure’s description of the city nailed it: genteel, with a good dose of grit and moxie.

This was a working trip for us both, and each day began early, after a cup of coffee and a look through our maps and guidebooks. We grouped things we wanted to see geographically as best we could, since we had no car and depended on public transportation to get us where we wanted to go. We rode the streetcar every day, both St. Charles and Canal Street lines—not the speediest method of travel, but we got to see more of New Orleans than if we’d been contending with traffic in an unfamiliar city. We spent the rest of the time on foot, in order to see more and, perhaps, to make up for the praline taste-testing we did all over town. And the etoufee, and the po'boys, and the gelato and the beignets.... This is not a town for the calorie-conscious.

The French Quarter, or Vieux Carre (“old square”), fascinated me. Graceful wrought-iron balconies awash in plants stand next to dilapidated and rundown buildings. Narrow alleyways lead to leafy courtyards, men walk down the street with cats (or snakes) draped over their shoulders. Interesting and unique shops selling everything from Mardi Gras masks to voodoo dolls to perfume line the narrow streets. I fed my obsession with books when I stumbled across a used bookstore in the Quarter (the Librairie) and deliberately sought out the Faulkner House bookstore, so named because William Faulkner lived and wrote there for a time.

Any discussion of New Orleans must include reference to Katrina. I had never been to NOLA before, so had no way to compare pre- and post-hurricane conditions. Though I looked for it, I did not see the “Katrina tattoo”—the line on many buildings that marked the high point of Katrina’s floodwaters, and we didn’t stray into the Ninth Ward or the other areas that were hardest hit by the storm. (There are hurricane tours you can take, but for several reasons we chose not to do this.) The few residents we spoke with gave me the impression that they had been emotionally scarred by Katrina, but were so deeply rooted in the area they would find it nearly impossible to leave. After visiting, I believe it would be a tragedy to lose New Orleans and I applaud those who have worked so diligently to bring it back.

The French Quarter is so much more than Bourbon Street, and New Orleans is so much more than the French Quarter. Even spending 10-12 hours a day exploring, we simply didn’t have time to see everything we wanted to see—we’ve barely scratched the surface of this mysterious, multi-faceted town.

Care for a beignet?
My feet still hurt.



November 11, 2010

Today is a special day for me…know why? Today is the one-year anniversary of Catching Happiness, and coincidentally, this is my 100th post. I’ve had a blast getting this thing up and running, and I’ve also learned a few things in the past 12 months. Things like:
  • Take your camera everywhere. It’s much easier to take tons of pictures and doctor them up in Picasa than to search high and low on free stock photo sites for an appropriate photo for a blog post. It’s also more fun.
  • Don’t simultaneously make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and attempt to take photos for the blog. Your first clue that you’ve forgotten the sandwiches will be the smell of burning bread.
  • Slow down and pay attention to what’s around you. The butterfly sipping from the red penta in the front yard is beautiful just for itself, but it may also make you think of something to write for the blog.
No butterfly, but if you look closely, there's a bee here.
  • Don’t expect every little thing you observe to be of interest to blog readers. I have half a dozen infant blog posts on my computer that I began in my enthusiasm, and soon realized no one but my mother would care about this particular observation—and maybe not even her.
  • Sometimes the best posts just “come to you.” The ones you labor over to get just right don’t always resonate with the readers the way the ones that appear nearly finished in your brain do.
  • When in doubt, post a picture of a cute animal.
You're welcome.
  • Residents of the blogosphere are, in general, friendly and funny folks. It’s a rare day that I don’t read a blog post or a comment that teaches me something, entertains me or just simply makes me happy.
Thank you for a great year!


A Classic Dilemma

November 08, 2010

Last weekend, my husband, mother-in-law and I had a, shall we say, spirited discussion about what “classic” novels are, and whether or not we should read them. We discussed who decides what a “classic” is, why a book would be considered a classic, what modern literature will someday be considered classic and so on.

The three of us are all avid readers, with very different tastes. My husband argued that we should read modern books that deal with modern social issues and situations, instead of reading traditional classics that perhaps deal with issues of days gone by. I argued that as a writer, I feel I should at least attempt to read books that have been deemed classics in order to educate myself about literature.  (My mother-in-law diplomatically could see both our points of view.)

This discussion got me thinking about classics—I couldn’t easily define what makes a book a classic, so I decided to research and think about it a bit more. From my research, it seems there is considerable difference of opinion and shades of grey on this subject, but there are a few common points. A “classic” should have an element of timelessness—the work has connected with readers over many decades, and the theme—love, death, guilt, loyalty, innocence, etc.—is relevant now as well as when it was written. Classics often greatly influence modern writers. In addition, as Liz Foley, Vintage Classics Editorial Director, wrote, “There usually has to be more to these books than simply a rollicking good story—either in terms of the depth of the issues they discuss, the innovative nature of their stylistic form or the impact they have on contemporary culture.”

With limited reading time, I try to balance reading classics with reading current literature and with "comfort reads." If the classic I choose proves to be unreadable for me for some reason—I dislike the characters, the story doesn’t interest or engage me, or something simply doesn’t click—I put it aside, perhaps to try again later, perhaps not. There are far too many “classics” for me ever to read in my lifetime, and I figure if I don’t like one, I will just as easily find one I do like. For example, I don’t care for Hemingway and Henry James, but I love Jane Austen and would like to read more Dickens, rather to my surprise.

What do you think? What makes a book “classic”? What classics have you enjoyed (or not) and why? What modern books do you think will be classics 100 years from now? If you’re interested in reading classics, there are any number of lists to consult, from Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels, to Great Books of the Western World, the Penguin Classics, Everyman’s Library, the Harvard Classics and many more. (For an excellent discussion of what makes a classic, see Foley’s entire article here.)


A Typical Sunday Morning

November 01, 2010

Ah, Sunday mornings... A cup of coffee and The New York Times...

Why are there never any articles about dogs?

Heaven. (Happy Monday!)


Running Dry

October 29, 2010

If you work or play in a creative field such as writing, painting, quilting, making jewelry, etc., there will likely come a time when you find yourself running dry of ideas and inspiration—and sometimes even the will and desire to create. When this happens to me, it usually indicates a lack of “filling the well.” I’ve denied my inner artist raw materials with which to create new things, and it’s time for replenishment of emotional and physical resources.

Here are some things I've found help fill the well when I'm running dry:

Immerse yourself in something related to your own creative field. For me, that would be reading instructional material related to writing and/or reading good writing by authors I admire. Sometimes a good drenching with the words, images, music, and so on, by masters in your field will inspire and encourage you.

Try doing something unrelated to your field. If you write, try drawing or photography or needlework. If you paint, maybe try journaling or working with clay. You get the idea. You don’t have to master this new creative endeavor—just let your inner artist dip her toes into something new.

Get physical. Take a walk, dig in the garden, ride a bike, paint the living room. Often a mindless physical activity allows buried thoughts and ideas to bubble to the surface.

Go on a formal artist’s date, a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you set aside a chunk of time that is yours alone in which to explore, and you do your artist’s date alone. If someone is with you, he or she will subtly influence you, even if you don’t realize it. The artist’s date is for your inner child as well as your inner artist, and you might not feel as free to be yourself if you have a companion.

Artist’s dates can be of varying lengths, from 15 minutes to a whole day. I’ve taken my camera to a local botanical garden, gone solo to a matinee, and wandered through art supply and book stores. Other possibilities include going to a flea market or secondhand store, watching the sun rise or set, playing with Play-Doh or coloring in a coloring book—really anything you think will be fun for your inner artist/child to do.

Creativity must be nurtured. If you want to continue to live a creative life, you have to fill the well, not just continually draw from it. As Cameron notes, your inner artist needs pampering and she needs to be listened to. Stimulate your brain with new sights, sounds and activities, different from your normal routine. Take time to reflect on how you felt and what you learned.

I’ve been feeling a little dry lately and could use some new ideas for creative refreshment myself. What do you do to refill the well?

Take Back Your Time Day

Take Back Your Time

October 22, 2010

"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

Did you know that we in the U.S. work more hours than any other industrialized nation? In fact, we work more hours than medieval peasants!

This Sunday, Oct. 24, marks the seventh annual Take Back Your Time Day. This movement, which grew out of the voluntary simplicity movement, is a “major U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment,” according to the movement’s official Web site, http://www.timeday.org/. (The date of Oct. 24 is significant: it falls nine weeks before the end of the year, and symbolizes the fact that Americans now work an average of nine full weeks more per year than Western Europeans.)

Time for contemplation and awe

Time Day organizers encourage both personal efforts and local and national legislation to help people win back their time. If you want to learn more, you can visit their Web site, read the official handbook, check out Take Back Your Time’s channel on YouTube, or read my SheKnows.com article.

No matter what your paid work situation, it’s good to evaluate periodically how you spend your time, and whether or not you’re using it wisely. As a freelancer as well as a mother, I find that even though I don’t go to an office 40+ hours a week, work has a way of filling my hours and days. My paid and unpaid work and personal life tend to bleed into each other. Sometimes I have to adjust how much time I’m spending at the barn with Tank or with friends socializing (ahem) and how much time I spend keeping the house running or meeting writing deadlines, even and especially self-imposed ones. Sometimes we have to take back our time not from someone or something outside of ourselves, but from our own habits. I think it may be time for a reevaluation of how I spend my time.

Time to explore the natural world

Whether or not you work full time for pay, I’m pretty sure you work hard at whatever you do. So this Sunday, take back your time—spend a few hours with your family or friends, alone doing something you enjoy—or even doing absolutely nothing. Be mindful and deliberate about what you’re doing, or not doing, and see how that feels. I plan to spend the afternoon on my lanai, with a good book and my journal so I can write out what’s going on, what’s working and what isn’t—I’m going to take back my time.

What about you? How have you been spending your time? How do you want to spend it? How can you take back your time?

Time well spent

Everyday adventures

Speaking of Adventure...

October 19, 2010

I was called for jury duty yesterday. I’ve never been able to serve before, and I can’t say I was all that happy to see the notice arrive in the mail…but, hey, here was an everyday adventure, ready and waiting for me.

I arrived at the courthouse a few minutes before my scheduled appearance time, and promptly set off the walk-through security alarm. After being wanded and showing my ankles (!!) to the security guard, I rode the escalator to the second floor where I checked in. Thus began the waiting.

After an hour in the main area with probably 150 other people, the clerks called my name in a group of 36. We were given two and a half hours until we needed to appear at the appointed courtroom, where we would be questioned by the prosecuting and defense attorneys as they chose a jury for a criminal trial set to take place later in the week.

More waiting.

It was too early for lunch, so I found myself a padded chair in a quiet area where I read the book I’d brought (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which I highly recommend) until I was ready to eat. When I was ready, I decided to opt for more mild adventure: skip the courthouse cafeteria and find an appealing restaurant downtown.

I set off briskly, avoiding the occasional giver-of-pamphlets or homeless person. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot and quite a few people were out. I noticed the downtown area had the same smell many large cities have: a combination of exhaust and rotting garbage. Nice. Fortunately, the smell wasn’t constant. Right about the time I began to regret my choice of shoes (I was dressed in “business casual,” instead of my usual shorts and t-shirt), I glanced down a side street and saw: a used and out-of-print bookstore! I detoured to spend a few blissful minutes looking through the shelves and breathing in that special used-bookstore smell. I found no treasures, but discovering the store there at all was a treat.

After lunch at a First Watch, a breakfast/brunch/lunch restaurant, I reentered the courthouse (setting off the alarm again…wand…ankles…) and returned to my quiet corner. At 1:30, I and my fellow prospective jurors met up outside the courtroom, where we found them running behind, and guess what? More waiting. Finally, after 2:30 we entered the courtroom.

According to Wikipedia, the process by which prospective jurors (also called veniremen) are questioned regarding their backgrounds and possible biases is called voir dire. (Voir dire also refers to the questioning of potential expert witnesses. The words come from the Anglo-French, literally meaning “to speak the truth.”) I won’t further bore you with the details, but two hours later, the attorneys from both sides had questioned every member of the 36-person group in some way. I was impressed by the professionalism and patience of all the court personnel I dealt with (even Wand Guy), and gained respect for the whole process. I felt that both defense and prosecuting attorneys treated the potential jurors kindly and respectfully, even when questioning us about some pretty personal matters (though we were given the option of speaking privately with the judge and attorneys if something was too sensitive for public consumption).

Six hours after I arrived, I left for home. I wasn’t chosen for the jury—and I’m glad. A girl can stand only so much adventure in one week.

Everyday adventures

The Everyday Adventurer

October 15, 2010

Many of my posts focus on simple pleasures, as I try to slow down and appreciate what a richly blessed life I have. But there is a second part to the tagline of “Catching Happiness”—what about everyday adventures?

I’m not what I would automatically think of as an adventurous person. Sky diving, bungee jumping, sailing around the world and other feats don’t appeal to me. But is that really what being adventurous means?

As adventure consultant Matt Walker wrote in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,”  “At its core, adventure is the willingness to commit to an uncertain outcome with an open heart and an open mind. It is the ability to take a leap into the unknown with mindfulness and grace. Framed this way, opportunities for adventure present themselves to us every day…”

(Notice the word “open” in there?!)

He continued, “Adventure isn’t something that’s reserved for the extreme athlete or the daredevil. It is an expression of your heart’s intention and passion for life.”

I may not be a stereotypical adventurer, but I truly am passionate and curious about life. I’m interested to see what each day brings, even when it scares me to death. Personally, I’ve found marriage and parenthood to be incredible adventures…talk about your commitment to an uncertain outcome!

Walker concludes that to bring more adventure into your life, you don’t have to scale mountains or travel the world. You invite adventure in by making small changes to your routine. Perhaps changes like choosing a different sandwich at your favorite lunch place or picking up a magazine you’ve never read before.

I see many of my blogging friends opening up to this sort of adventure: Teresa at Blueberries, Art and Life taking on Twenty-Minute Challenges and sharing what she learns, Cheryl at Scrappy Cat participating in a new author challenge, and Laure of Painted Thoughts stepping outside the studio to paint and sketch on location. I’m inspired by their efforts, and encouraged to make more small changes of my own. I recently went to the movies by myself—something I’ve never done before. Soon I’m going to try packing up my laptop and working at the library (where I can’t be distracted by laundry). Very small changes, true. But that’s the way it goes for an everyday adventurer.

Tell me, how do you invite adventure in?

The road less traveled?



Reading Roundup

October 11, 2010

When I’m not busy taking care of the family/house, writing, or providing equine spa services, I’m probably reading. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I usually have more than one (or two or three) books going at once. I just finished Dickens’ Bleak House, one of my “classic” reads for the year. I can’t remember ever reading Dickens before, and I found Bleak House absorbing, though not an easy read—and long (989 pages). I had recently watched the PBS miniseries with Gillian Anderson, so that helped keep some of the myriad characters straight in my mind. My trick for getting through long or difficult books is to commit to reading a certain number of pages per week, which allows me to keep up with the story line, but also read other things if I feel like it. I don’t like turning reading into a chore, but I also like to push myself a little in my reading choices.

While I was finishing up Bleak House, I began reading The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker, a novel about a poet struggling to write an introduction to an anthology of poems. I enjoyed the main character’s personality, and had to smile when I read this on page 140:

“Thursday is the day of fear. On Monday you’re in great shape because you’ve got the whole week. Then Tuesday, still pretty good, still at the beginning more or less. Then Wednesday, and you’re poised, and you can accomplish much if you just apply yourself vigorously and catch up. And then, suddenly, you’re driving under that huge tattered banner, with that T and that H and that U and that frightening R and the appalling S—Thursday—and you slide down the steep slope toward the clacking shredder blades that wait on Sunday afternoon. Another whole week of your one life. Your one ‘precious life,’ as Mary Oliver says. You don’t have too many Thursdays left. There are after all only fifty-two of them in the year. Fifty-two may sound like a lot, but when Thursdays come around, fifty-two doesn’t seem like a lot at all. I just wish I had more money.” (Don’t we all?)

Another lovely book I read recently was Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness by Dominique Browning. Browning was the long-time editor-in-chief of House & Garden who lost her job when the magazine was abruptly shut down. Browning states, “I want to write about moving at a gentler, more loving pace in everything I do, learning to appreciate the beauty of everyday moments, the wisdom of thinking things over. I was forced to slow down when I lost my job--and the journey of grieving and recovery is what my book is about. Slow living led me to falling in love with the world, what I think of as slow love.”

Some of my favorite snippets:

“My basic decorating rule of thumb is to create as many lovely places in which to sit and read as possible. By this time in my life, I need a certain kind of chair and a certain kind of table nearby, a place on which to prop my feet, and a kind of light that suits my eyes.” (A woman after my own heart!)

“Over the years, though, I’ve learned not to worry so much about what will or won’t make it: I’m learning the ‘So what?’ lesson. So what if it fails? That doesn’t mean it was all a mistake. So what if it ends? That doesn’t mean it should never have begun.”

“‘Nothing to do’ is not the same as ‘Nothing can be done.’ One is hopeless; the other, the place from which hope becomes possible.” (You can visit Browning’s related blog at http://www.slowlovelife.com/)

What have you been reading lately? Let’s hear about what has entertained, inspired, encouraged or taught you.

As promised, Tank's "after" shot.

Breast cancer awareness

One in Eight

October 05, 2010

October 2010 is the 25th year of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know:One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women (skin cancer is the most common).
  • There are approximately 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the U.S.
  • Men can also develop breast cancer, but the disease is 100 times more common in women.
  • For the best chance at early detection, women should have a yearly screening mammogram beginning at age 40 (though there has been some controversy about this, this remains the American Cancer Society’s recommendation). In addition, women should also have an annual clinical breast exam and perform a monthly breast self-exam.
For more information, visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site or National Breast Cancer Month.

Chances are you know someone touched by breast cancer, whether friend or family member. My best friend Kerri was diagnosed at age 47 (you can read her story here). Since then, I’ve become more aware of breast cancer research and recommendations, and more careful about my own habits.

This month, I encourage you to educate yourself about breast cancer, support companies that donate to breast cancer research and/or donate yourself. Here’s to a healthy future!


A Little Off the Top and Sides…and Belly?

October 01, 2010

My horse, who was born about five miles from where he lives now, apparently thinks he lives in Siberia. Every year in September he begins to grow a wooly winter coat suitable for life on the tundra. This is unfortunate, because we do not live in a tundra-like environment. We live in a tropical-rainforest-like environment: hot and sticky for much of the year. Once he’s grown his winter coat, he can be covered in sweat just from standing placidly in his paddock. If you add in a ride, he’s one soggy and overheated mess.

 So every year at this time, knowing we have at least three more months of not-so-wintry weather, I pull out my trusty clippers and give him a whole body clip. (He immediately begins to regrow that winter coat, but by the time it comes in completely, he’ll need it for the few cold winter days we have.)

This year before clipping, we added a new service to salon day at the barn: hair color. Since our horses live outside, not in stalls, their manes and tails bleach in the sun. So before his bath and clip, Tank had his mane and tail dyed. (You can imagine how much we all enjoyed this.)

At work on Tank's tail--a two-person job
Pitiful forelock
 After the dye job, it was time to clip. Clipping a horse is one of the less-fun jobs a horse owner has, because to get a good clip without ruining your clippers, you must bathe the horse, let him dry, then clip him. The whole process takes hours. So here, for the uninitiated, is what happens when you bathe and clip horse.

Take horse to wash rack. Spray all over with hose (the horse, not yourself, though you might just as well spray yourself and be done with it). Shampoo horse, taking special care with legs, as the hair there is often particularly thick and hard to clip. If you’re a girly horse owner, shampoo and condition mane and tail. While rinsing off shampoo, try not to let water from hose run down your arm and into your shoes as you spray the taller parts of the horse. Fail.

Are you sure we have to do this?
Squeegee horse with sweat scraper and dry with towel as much as you can to shorten air drying time. Go change your socks and, possibly, your shirt and shorts. (I frequently wear a bathing suit top and quick drying shorts when I bathe my horse.) Take horse for a walk, looking for edible things until you’re too tired and thirsty to do that anymore. (You can’t just turn him loose because he’s sure to roll and dirty up his clean coat.) While he’s drying, spray the hair with a silicone spray, such as Show Sheen, to help the clippers glide through easier. This adds a little to the drying time, but is worth it in the long run.

Tie up horse, and even though he’s still a little damp, you optimistically think there are some areas dry enough to start on. Begin clipping. Keep even pressure on the clippers so you have no gouged spots. Some people clip the legs first because they’re more technical (and ticklish) and it’s good to do them when you and the horse are fresh and your clipper blades are sharp. Some people start on the face. I personally like to see immediate progress, so I start somewhere I can see inroads, like the neck, chest or hindquarters. I also skip around when I get tired of working on one area, so my horse looks like nothing on earth until he’s completely done.

Making inroads
If you’re lucky and you have a cooperative horse, you may finish your horse clipping in one session. If you tire out, your clippers die or your horse decides he’s had enough, come back another time to finish the job. Better to have a funky-looking horse for a day or two than risk either of you melting down in the process.

Horse hair sticks to everything, so when you are done, you will be covered from head to foot with little pieces of hair. In fact, YOU will look like you need clipping. Turn your horse out or put him in his stall and offer him treats for being such a good boy. Go home, take a shower, pour yourself your adult beverage of choice and inform the family that dinner will come from the nearest pizza place that delivers.

The finished tail
Right about now you're thinking you're really glad you don't have a horse.  It's a testament to my madness that I think salon day is a whole lot of fun. (Many thanks to my friends Marianne and Mary Ann for their help in coloring and clipping.) 

P.S. I have to go back this weekend and clean up a few areas--I'll post a picture of the finished product at that time. Stay tuned!


Someday Isle

September 27, 2010

Have you ever been to Someday Isle? Maybe you find yourself taking up residence now and then—I know I do. Someday Isle is a wonderful place—there is always enough time and enough money to do just what you want to do. On Someday Isle my desires are just as important as everyone else’s. I can follow a dream and not worry about what that will mean for anyone else. (I don’t have to do laundry on Someday Isle, either.)

I visit Someday Isle every time I say, “Someday, I’ll…”

“Someday, I’ll” can keep you going when things are tough, give you hope for the future. There can be many excellent reasons why you’ll do whatever-it-is “someday.” There really are times when personal responsibilities and lack of time or money will keep you from your dreams. But not always. The trick is knowing when “someday, I’ll…” is a cop-out and when it’s legit. Usually, what’s stopping me is an issue with time or money, but occasionally it’s fear or guilt.

That’s right: sometimes actually getting what you want brings up some negative emotions. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece for two weeks. I have always wanted to visit Greece, my husband said to go for it, and we had the money to afford the group fare. I had a traveling companion, my mother-in-law, who had brought the trip to my attention in the first place. I hesitated—I hadn’t traveled overseas in years, I didn’t know anyone else in the group besides my mother-in-law, I would have to renew my passport, and figure out what to pack and make plans for keeping things running on the home front while I was gone. I felt guilty about spending that much money just on myself. Life had given me a beautiful gift, and I was afraid to take it. Thankfully, I didn’t let any of my apprehensions get the better of me. I went and I had the time of my life. I think about that trip often and the good feelings remain with me to this day.

Of course, that doesn’t’ mean the words “someday, I’ll” don’t still frequently come out of my mouth. I have a file folder labeled “Someday” filled with clippings of things I want to do or experience…“someday.” There are also plenty of things I want to do with my horse “someday” and there’s that book I want to write “someday….” Well, you get the picture.

What are some of your “someday, I’ll”s? Do you really have to wait for someday? If so, what can you do right now to bring someday closer?

Someday Isle?


I Read It on a Tea Bag

September 23, 2010

I have a friend who receives messages from the universe from fortune cookie fortunes. (Don’t laugh—some of those sayings are pretty profound.) I myself recently received a message from the tag on a tea bag: "When God made time, He made enough of it."

Sometimes messages that resonate or inspire come from unusual places—and that’s OK. “If you need the messenger to help lend credibility, that’s fine, just don’t be too quick to judge before you listen to the words,” writes Yaro Starak in “2009 in Review: Did You Focus On What You Really Wanted?” He continues, “Far too many people miss out on potentially life-changing insights because they refuse to take on ideas simply because of where the information is coming from. If something challenges your way of thinking, don’t reject it on principle, keep your eyes and mind open, listen to the words, see how what is being said can fit into your world view, and grow from there. You don’t have to like or even trust the messenger to benefit from the message.”

I read (more than) my share of self-help books, and I’ve learned a lot from them. But sometimes, a line or two from an unexpected source sticks in my head, like:

“I might as well be myself. Everyone else is taken,” director Oliver Stone.

“Sometimes you have to let go so new things can come in,” blogger and author Laurie Perry (http://www.crazyauntpurl.com/), Aug. 1, 2007 post.

And last but not least, “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one,” Dr. Seuss.

What are your unusual sources of inspiration? Take inspiration whenever and wherever it comes from—and pass it on!


I Have a Sunroof!

September 21, 2010

It was time. A moment of silence, please.

After 17 years, we’ve traded our car for a new model. Who knew you don’t have to crank the engine to get it started anymore?

We have a just-turned 16-year-old in the house, and few things are scarier to a parent than turning a young driver loose for the first few times. We tried to keep the old car long enough to pass on to our son, but it had become, shall we say, quirky. Lots of little things were amiss, not worth fixing on a car that old. The final straw came when the oil light flashed on repeatedly and the mechanics were unable to fix it or really say why it was coming on. I didn’t want my young, inexperienced driver out on the road breaking down. Plus, the car had virtually no safety features, and frankly, it worried me. I’d cocoon my son in bubble wrap when he’s behind the wheel if I could.

Despite the expense of insuring a teenage boy on a new car (can you say, “astronomical”?), we decided it would be best to buy now, while we could get a decent deal and before I had a waiting room chair named after me at the auto shop.


The new car is sooooo much nicer than the old one…smoother, quieter, more features. I’m inventing errands just to have the chance to drive it.

If you want me, I’ll be on the road.

P.S. Does anyone name their cars? I never have, but I know a few people who do and it seems like fun.  Any suggestions of a moniker for the new wheels?

Everyday adventures

When Things Go Wrong

September 17, 2010

Last summer, my friend Kerri introduced me to a song called “What About Everything?” by Carbon Leaf, and I can’t get it out of my head. (It’s a great song to sing along with in the car.) I love the progression of thoughts the singer goes through, and how he finally comes to the conclusion, “I am not in need.”

That song ran through my head when I waited at the mechanic for my car’s AC to be fixed for the second time in three months. (Here in FL, working AC is second in importance only to football.) It ran through my head when I had to drive 20 minutes back into town because I left my purse in art class. (Don’t ask me how.)

Sure, annoyances and problems matter. My relatively minor problems make me uncomfortable, and they even hurt sometimes. (See: Helmet Required.) But I always come back to that line in the song. “I am not in need.”

As Sarah Vowell writes in The Partly Cloudy Patriot:“….my motto in any situation is ‘It Could Be Worse.’ It could be worse is how I meet every setback. Though nothing all that bad has ever happened to me, every time I’ve had my heart broken or gotten fired or watched an audience member at one of my readings have a seizure as I stand at the podium trying not to cry, I remind myself that it could be worse. In my self-help universe, when things go wrong I whisper mantras to myself, mantras like ‘Andersonville’ or ‘Texas School Book Depository.’ ‘Andersonville’ is a code word for ‘You could be one of the prisoners of war dying of disease and malnutrition in the worst Confederate prison, so just calm down about the movie you wanted to go to being sold out.’ ‘Texas School Book Depository’ means that having the delivery guy forget the guacamole isn’t nearly as bad as being assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the blood from your head stains your wife’s pink suit.”

Thank you for your concern and good wishes following my fall off Tank—I really, really appreciate them, and I’m healing up nicely. I’m so grateful it wasn’t worse, and that I had the resources to get treatment for the injury. (I had a massage today...it was almost worth falling off the horse…) Despite this little hiccup in my smoothly-running life, things are about back to normal.

I am not in need.


Helmet Required

September 13, 2010

Last week was…unusual. I finished some writing for SheKnows early in the week, and then took my first riding lesson in a couple of months. It went pretty well, except that near the end, my horse decided there were horse-eating monsters in the woods that border our jump field. He did a nifty spin move and tossed me into the air. It wouldn’t have been too bad if it hadn’t been for that tree stump…

Nothing broken or torn, just a bruised shoulder and some whiplash. I’m pretty much recovered now.

As I lay in bed the night after the fall from the horse, evaluating what hurt and what didn’t, the thought occurred to me that falls are pretty much inevitable. (As one T-shirt I’ve seen proclaims, “The hardest thing about horseback riding is the ground.”) I don’t think much about falling off, I always wear my riding helmet, and I’m a careful rider. My horse is gentle, obedient and generally quite mellow, though like most horses, he will occasionally spook. You can minimize risk, but if you ride regularly, it’s pretty much not a matter of if you will come off the horse, but a matter of when.

That’s true of life, too, isn’t it? There’s risk in everything—driving to the grocery store, riding bikes with the kids, even eating bagged salad! If you thought too long and hard about what might happen, you wouldn’t be able to leave your home.

Falls in life are inevitable, just like they are in horseback riding. All you can do is minimize risk. Buckle your seat belt, wear your helmet, thoroughly wash the greens...live your life.

(But I especially recommend wearing your helmet.)


From One Sentient Being to Another

September 03, 2010

“If you live your life as though there is a fixed amount of happiness in the world, it’s easy to fall into an embittered, resentful state of competition with others. But happiness isn’t a limited commodity that has to be rationed or hoarded…. There’s no chance that someone will get the last of it. Happiness, like love, increases when it is shared. When you feel truly happy for others, your own happiness increases, along with, as Patanjali reminds us, your peace of mind. What’s more, when you share happiness or love with all sentient beings, by the very nature of your own sentience, you are included!” (Frank Jude Boccio, “I’m So Happy for You,” June 2010 Yoga Journal)

Wishing you all a happy, relaxing Labor Day weekend!

Simple pleasures

This Little Piggy

August 30, 2010

Cute, isn’t she? Penelope the Flying Pig hangs from a shelf on my desk. She’s a symbol—representing whimsy and creativity to me. I don’t go so far as to call her my muse, but she watches over me while I work at my desk, and makes me smile every time I see her curly, pink tail.

We also have a flying pig in our foyer:

My husband purchased this one on a family trip just after we sold our business. This little piggy represents freedom. After years of working long hours in our insurance business, he finally felt free from stress, free from having to be somewhere all dressed up at eight (or earlier) in the morning, free from problems with clients or staff.

We only have two flying pigs in our home, but we have no fewer than five variations of bicycle objets d’art (including a bicycling pig). I don’t know what the bicycles stand for yet. My husband is an avid cyclist, but we started picking up the bicycles before he started riding regularly. Perhaps they also represent freedom—the ability to ride away if things get tough? Or maybe they symbolize the excitement of exploring or going on adventures? (Clearly I have too much time on my hands if I’m assigning hidden meaning to articles of household decoration. Maybe they’re just bikes.)

Is it just me, or do you have any objects in your life that are more than just decoration? Objects that speak to your heart and soul for some perhaps unaccountable reason? Maybe it’s a trinket brought back from a family vacation, or an item picked up at a flea market because it called your name.

When I see the pigs, I think of vacations (I bought Penelope while on vacation, also), freedom, playfulness, joy. My heart lifts, even if it’s just for a moment. I think we need these unexpected hits of happiness in our daily lives—little jolts from a special item or a photo of a happy occasion placed where we see it often during the day.

If you have any items that serve as symbols for you, what are they, what do they mean to you and where do you keep them?