Pass the Popcorn

March 30, 2010

When I’m sick, feeling a little down, or too tired to read, one of my favorite things to do is escape into a familiar, comforting movie. I think a lot of people have movies they turn to when they just want to veg out. For my husband, it’s usually action and adventure—the more exciting the better. I prefer a movie in which I don’t have to cover my eyes to avoid splattering gore, or my ears to block out explosions, though he seems to find these things soothing. (Sometimes, however, his go-to movie is Gosford Park. Go figure.) I like a good story, interesting and clever dialogue and beautiful scenery. (And I don’t want any animals to die, either, thanks very much.)

Here are a few of my favorite feel-good movies, and why I like them:

Under the Tuscan Sun. Frances discovers love is all around, even if it doesn’t look like she expects it to, while restoring a gorgeous old house in romantic Tuscany. Sigh.

Shirley Valentine. Shirley comes out of her shell, and falls in love…with herself.

What Shirley might have seen (Santorini, Greece)

Last Holiday. Georgia opens herself to all the good things in life, and instead of losing it all, gains even more.

Georgia (could have) slept here

American Dreamer. (Synopsis for those who have never heard of this movie: A housewife wins a writing contest, and the prize is a trip to Paris. On the way to a luncheon in her honor, she is hit by a car and wakes in the hospital convinced she is “Rebecca Ryan,” the main character in the series of books the contest was based on. Mayhem ensues.) What’s not to like about someone named Kathy winning a writing contest and going to Paris?

My Life in Ruins. I originally wanted to see this because it takes place in many of the Greek sites I visited on my own life-changing trip nearly three years ago. I’ll keep coming back to it, because of the lovely message about regaining your kefi, or zest for living.

My life, in ruins (Delphi, Greece)

Thinking about these movies, I realized I had a sort of theme emerging: woman leaves husband/job/ordinary life, goes to foreign country and “finds herself.” Hmm. I wonder what that says about me? Perhaps I think I have to travel somewhere, leaving my ordinary life, in order to learn about myself and what I really want. I do know that I love to watch women opening up to the world, stepping outside their comfort zones to embrace life, probably because in general I’m such a big chicken about doing that myself. I live vicariously through them, when I’m not willing or able to buy a house in Italy or spend all my savings on food and clothes and snowboarding in Europe.

I suspect I’m not alone in having a theme arise in my favorite movies. When I mentioned my theme to my mother-in-law, she noted that many of her favorite movies have a road trip theme. In fact, she’ll rent or borrow a movie she’s never heard of before if it includes a road trip. (My husband’s theme seems to be good triumphing over evil, after a heck of a lot of blood loss.)

On a real road trip with Mom-in-Law in NC

What are your favorite feel-good movies? Do they have an underlying theme and what do you think that means? Share them, and maybe I’ll have some new ones to add to my list.


Let the Sunshine In

March 27, 2010

Laure at the Painted Thoughts blog was kind enough to give me a Sunshine Award for creativity and positivity. This means a lot to me, as those are two things I really want and strive to be: creative and positive. Makes sense for a blog titled “Catching Happiness”!

Now it’s my turn. Though I read and enjoy quite a few blogs, I am passing this award on to three blogs that I feel especially meet the criteria of being creative and positive:

The Enchanted Earth—Visit Meredith for some beautiful photos and heartfelt, thoughtful prose.

Beginning a Life at 50—Julie is a fellow SheWrites member, and always has something interesting to say.

Elizabeth Patch's More to Love Sketchbook—Another SheWrites member, Elizabeth shares a message we all need to hear.

As each one of us types away in solitude, we hope to touch someone else “out there.” We visit each other’s blogs and leave comments, even just a couple of words to show that we’re paying attention. I think these blog awards are one more way we connect with and encourage each other.

So thank you Laure for the award, and thank you, fellow bloggers, for brightening my days, giving me something to think about and inspiring me to write better every time I sit down in front of the computer.



March 23, 2010

The white tent went up at the state fairgrounds last week. The signs appeared all over town and the full-page ads appeared in the paper…Cavalia was coming to town!

What, you may ask, is Cavalia? The shiny official brochure calls it “A magical encounter between Man and Horse.” Some have described it as “Cirque du Soleil with horses.” It isn’t affiliated with Cirque du Soleil, but it was created by one of the Cirque co-founders, Normand Latourelle. The show takes place under a castle-like white tent, billed as the largest touring big-top tent in the world. Twenty-five hundred tons of sand and dirt make up the stage area.

I read about this show in a magazine article a couple of years ago, and promised myself I’d go if it ever came to a town near me. Saturday, I was able to keep that promise when a barn buddy and I went to the afternoon show at the state fairgrounds in Tampa.

All I can say is wow. The troupe of human and horse performers thrilled us with lavish costumes, unbelievable displays of horsemanship, acrobatics and romantically beautiful or humorous scenarios.

My favorite section featured one trainer working with nine horses at liberty (wearing no tack of any kind). The horses trotted or cantered on stage by ones and twos, and spent the first few moments being horses: sniffing the ground, grooming each other, reinforcing the equine hierarchy with flattened ears and other body language. The trainer entered and took control. The horses moved in a circle around her, around the larger stage, responding to her almost imperceptible cues. Poetry in motion!

Other highlights for me were the trick riding and Roman riding (riders stand on two horses, with one foot on the back of each).

My friend and I agreed that having some knowledge of horses helped us to appreciate the difficulty of what we saw on stage. But anyone who enjoys the beauty of horses or seeing the close relationship man and horse have developed, will enjoy this show. To learn more about Cavalia, visit Or click here to see a short video.

Two happy audience members


Good-Bye, Crusher

March 17, 2010

I’ve been putting off writing this week’s first blog post because I’m afraid I’m going to cry. Crusher, our little parakeet, died this weekend, and we are all in mourning.

You might not think a little creature weighing only an ounce or two could have much of an impact. But this little guy’s effect on our lives was much larger than his size.

About five years ago, our son asked to have a pet bird. We waffled a bit, but eventually decided that we would indulge him. We bought Crusher (more about his name later) at a local bird store. Out of a cage containing at least 20 parakeets, our son pointed at “that one”—and the store clerk caught him for us. When we got him home, he was immediately friendly, pecking bird seed out of our hands, and acting more curious than scared about his new surroundings.

Crusher got his name from a joking discussion between me and my son. We were trying to come up with the most incongruous name for a tiny bird. I suggested Crusher, after a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. (Remember the cartoon where Bugs ended up as a wrestler? One of the other wrestlers was called “The CRUSHER.”) My son and I cracked up thinking about calling a parakeet Crusher, and the name stuck. Crusher seemed to try to live up to his name, too, being just about fearless for a little parakeet.

We kept him in our family room, which is open to the kitchen, and Crusher often chose the time I was making dinner to sing. I loved hearing his little voice chirping and trilling while I chopped vegetables or sautéed chicken. He loved bells, and when we heard him dinging one in the morning, we knew it was time to uncover him. He occasionally came out of his cage and joined my son in his bedroom, perching on the computer monitor, or sat on his little jungle gym with my husband and me in our office. He received Christmas presents, just like every other member of the family. (It’s good to be a pet in the Johnson household.)

Soon, I hope, I will be able to remember the cute things Crusher did without getting a lump in my throat. Soon I hope the happy memories will outweigh the pain of losing him. But right now there is a small, bird-shaped hole in my heart.

Everyday adventures

Art Therapy

March 12, 2010

This week I completed one of Laure Ferlita’s Imaginary Trips—this one to the beach. Imaginary Trips are online video watercolor sketch classes, with such destinations as Paris and England, as well as the beach class, and one called “Autumn.” You can read more about them here.

I took this class for fun, but also so I could learn skills I’d need to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: keep an illustrated journal. I’ve kept a written journal for years, and I take lots of pictures, too, especially when we travel. Now I want to learn how to draw what I see, either here in my neighborhood or while we’re on a trip. I think I really begin to see a thing when I attempt to draw or paint it. To sketch something, I have to slow down and pause in the hectic pace of my daily life. (Learning to draw using pencil, pen and ink and my waterbrushes is also on my Six-Year Calendar of Happiness.)

The class was great, and my classmates were even better. What I learned from it (and them) went beyond adding pigment to paper or learning to sketch quickly and confidently. I learned not to give up on an assignment even when I felt it was turning out poorly. I learned to make adjustments to a sketch to make it more personal, instead of just copying the instructor. I learned not to panic when I made a mistake—most mistakes are fixable, even in watercolor. I learned that art is therapeutic, even if you have an emotional meltdown in the middle of a picture. And I learned that there’s always something you can like in a sketch, even when it doesn’t turn out like you wanted it to. Here are three of my assignments:

Is there something new you’d like to try? What are you waiting for? Do you want to learn to knit? Play a new sport? Explore a new place? I urge you to do it—open up to something you haven’t tried before, and see where it takes you. And come back here and share your experiences with me!


Celebrating Women

March 08, 2010

Myspace Graphics
Image courtesy of

Today is the 99th official International Women’s Day! Yay—a day to celebrate being female (without having to be a mother). So what, exactly, is it?

“International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future,” according to And according to the United Nations, “International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men.”
First observed in the U.S. in the early 1900s, IWD is now celebrated all over the world. It’s an official holiday in many countries, including Bulgaria, China, Russia and Vietnam, and is widely observed in many others. In some countries, it is also observed as a day equivalent to Mother's Day, and children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

More seriously, on this day every year, events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Every year, the United Nations selects a global theme countries can choose to use in their events and celebrations. (2010’s theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.”) Governments, women’s groups and other organizations are free to choose their own themes to reflect the issues they feel are important.

You can read more about International Women’s Day here and here, as well as on the International Women’s Day Web site (see above).

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
--Margaret Thatcher

“The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world.”

--Charles Malik


The Great Turkey Terror of 2010

March 06, 2010

All was confusion and chaos in one of the horse paddocks at the barn yesterday morning. The two ponies and the Thoroughbred gelding were frantic, trotting around and foamy with sweat under their winter blankets. What frightening mishap had occurred? What monster lurked in the back 40? Get ready…a hateful, horrifying, horse-eating…turkey. Yup, that’s right. One. Turkey.

That turkey's been around for a while.  We’ve been hearing gobbling in the fields next door for a couple of weeks. Apparently, hearing and seeing are two different things. After finally chasing away the offending fowl, Mary Ann and Holly had to hose off the sweating horses, cover them with a light blanket since it’s still chilly and windy, and move them to stalls so they could recover from their terrifying ordeal.

Honestly. Wouldn’t you think that a 1000-pound animal could figure out he was bigger and stronger than a turkey, and the turkey was no threat to him? But horses don’t think like that. They are prey animals, attuned to the smallest changes in their environments, and used to running first and asking questions later.

We’re so much smarter than horses, aren’t we? We reason, have the ability to weigh pros and cons, deal with what challenges we face in life. But how many times do we still work ourselves up over what turns out to be nothing? Or worry ourselves sick about things we have absolutely no control over?

When I worry and fret over the homeless in Haiti, rising tensions in Iran, the state of the world economy, or even what grade my son will get on his next Spanish test, I’m like those horses churning around fruitlessly in their paddock. My worry does no good to anyone in need, and merely saps the joy from my own life. What I now do instead—when I’m functioning well—is take a deep breath and ask myself if what I’m worried about is in my control. If it is, what can I do to improve the situation? If it’s not, I let it go.

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained,” said Arthur Somers Roche. I don’t want to fill my mind with worry and anxiety, allowing it to color and shape my thoughts. I want to focus on the good and uplifting in my life and the world in general.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful weekend. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

Gratuitous picture of Tank.  He was NOT afraid of the turkey...


After the Rain

March 02, 2010

I woke up to the delicious, patter-y sound of rain this morning—half an hour before my alarm was set to go off. Instead of feeling cheated of that last half hour of sleep, I curled up under my warm covers and listened to the sounds of raindrops falling on our roof and shrubs, and the distant booming of thunder. I imagined my tomato plants, purchased yesterday, drinking up the rainwater, and the purple and orange violas that were an impulse buy, lifting their tiny faces to the drops. I wished that my orchids were out in the rain, but they’ve been hanging out inside recently because of the cold (pampered creatures). I imagined our frost-bitten grass and all the recently-pruned landscape plants thirstily drinking in the rain. Rainwater seems like it would be so much tastier to plants than our city water is—I can’t drink the water from the tap without filtering it first!

Now the rain has stopped, but the wind has picked up. Our oak trees’ beards of Spanish moss flutter in the breeze. Pollen counts have been really high recently, driving the allergic among us (including our dog) into fits, and the rain has washed the yellow pollen off driveways and mailboxes.

The air is bright and clean today—and I feel the same. Yesterday was a difficult day. But instead of flying off the handle emotionally, I allowed myself to feel my emotions without stifling them, to realize that the issues in question were not necessarily my issues, and that I didn’t have to take on the burdens other people were bearing. I have my own burdens, of course, but they’re wearing lightly on me at the moment. It’s OK for me to enjoy my life, to find fulfillment and satisfaction in my work and play. I can let the rain and storm go on around me while I stay cozy beneath my covers. After the rain, the natural world emerges renewed—and so can I.