Ordinary Things

March 30, 2011

“The only difference between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one is the extraordinary pleasures you find in ordinary things.”
Veronique Vienne

*I'm beginning a new feature on Catching Happiness--each Wednesday, I'll post a photo, an interesting quote or piece of poetry--something to inpire, amuse, uplift--and help us make it through the week. Hope you enjoy it (and please let me know what you think).


Looking for the Light (Word-of-the-Year Update)

March 28, 2011

This is my second year to choose a “word of the year” to guide me, and I wanted to stay more in touch with my word than I did last year, when I pretty much let “open” recede into the background. To do that, I’m keeping some brief notes, and performing a quarterly evaluation of how things are going. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The concept of light can be applied to many areas of my life—my home, health, relationships and attitudes. Each of these areas could use a little “light therapy.” In my home, I’m lightening up by getting rid of excess possessions—pretty obvious, and an ongoing process as I fight my pack-rat-ish tendencies. In addition to getting rid of stuff, I’m incorporating things that bring light to my life, like the simple act of opening all the blinds in my bedroom each day because it lifts my spirits to see the room flooded with light when I walk by.

I’m working to eat lighter (another ongoing project) in hopes that I’ll eventually be lighter; I’m striving for a light touch with family and friends by doing more listening and encouraging and less advising and correcting.

And most important of all, when it comes to my attitudes, choosing light as my word of the year has reminded me to look for the bright side, to focus on the good I find in daily life. When two or more courses of action present themselves, I choose the one that feels “light.” When I feel myself spiraling down into melancholy, I remind myself to look for the light. I think that’s my take-away lesson of the first three months of 2011: Look for the light.

Do you have a word of the year? How is it working for you so far and what have you learned?

Everyday adventures

Charting Unknown Territory

March 25, 2011

Nikolay Okhitin,
In my reading this morning, I stumbled on a phrase that captured my imagination: terra incognita.

Terra incognita means “unknown territory.” It’s a term cartographers used to use to describe unmapped or undocumented regions. According to urban legend, these areas were sometimes labelled “Here be dragons,” though only one map survives with this wording (“Hic svnt dracones”). However, Roman and medieval cartographers did mark maps with the phrase, “Hic svnt leones,” which means “Here are lions.” (Wikipedia)

Why do we expect scary things (dragons, lions) when we face the unknown? Why not expect unicorns, or daisies? It seems to be human nature to expect the worst when facing the unknown, and to some extent, that’s what keeps explorers alive: expecting and preparing for the worst.

To my knowledge, there are no more unknown and unmapped physical lands, though terra incognita is sometimes used metaphorically to describe an unexplored subject or field of research. However, there is still the unknown land, the terra incognita, of the future. None of us knows what the future holds, though plenty of dire predictions can be found as close as your nearest screen—TV or computer.

Since we will all navigate the unknown land of the future, what tools should we use? The same ones we use in navigating our known world: our good sense, our friends and family, our spiritual principles, our ability to learn, and a positive outlook that we can handle whatever lions life throws at us. While we explore, we should be on the lookout for the positive, not just the negative, because I’m more and more convinced we see what we expect to see.

While we certainly should prepare for negative eventualities in our lives, why not also prepare for positive ones? Save money not just for a calamity, but for a celebration once the promotion comes through, the report card contains straight As, or the grandchild is born.

Truly, every new day is terra incognita. We don’t know what it will bring. Whatever it holds for us—daisy or dragon, unicorn or lion—if we cling to our tools of navigation, we’ll come through safely.


RX for Troubled Times

March 21, 2011

There’s no question that world events right now are as troubling as they’ve ever been in my adult life, barring perhaps the events of 9/11. I've been feeling frivolous to be writing a blog about “catching happiness” when it seems that all around me what people are really catching is misery. Then I remember the words I wrote in my “About Me” introduction: “I want this blog to be an exploration of simple pleasures, a place to go to hear about ordinary dreams and everyday adventures, and about all things positive that will inspire, encourage or even make us laugh. Heaven knows we need an antidote to all the bad news out there.”

I don’t believe my path and purpose in life is to “save the world.” What I can do is try to make life a little nicer for myself and those around me. Really, that’s all anyone can do, isn’t it? So here’s my very simple prescription for catching happiness, even in troubled times.

Be good to yourself. Be gentle and kind in your thoughts and expectations of yourself. When you’re hurting—afraid, worried, anxious, overwhelmed—ask yourself, “What would make me feel better right now? Ask this question several times until you arrive at one thing you can do right now that will really help. Sometimes it will be doing something active—once, unbelievably for me, it was cleaning my office. Sometimes it will be pampering, like taking a hot bath or a nap. Maybe it will be a brisk walk or some yoga poses. Maybe it will be a delicious meal with some good wine, or simply sitting outside and listening to the birds singing. Once you know what that one thing is, do it.

Coffee and beignets make me feel better
You can also be good to yourself by paying special attention to the details of your day-to-day life. Choose the pretty pocket notebook rather than the plain one. Eat lunch on real dishes rather than paper plates. Wear perfume every day, not just on special occasions. Buy the fresh flowers, replace the tatty underwear, make sure you have scissors in every room that needs them… If at all possible, deal with the things that constantly irritate you, and make the items you work with and around every day things that make you happy.

Which notebook should I choose?
Be good to others. While your heart aches for the people of Japan, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain (and the list could go on), chances are all you can do for them is to send up a prayer and maybe make a monetary donation. You can, however, be good to someone closer to home. You can volunteer your time in any number of ways locally, of course, but you can also make your family’s favorite meal, compliment the cashier at the supermarket, hug your child, or send a friend a card or gift for no reason. A nation, or even better, a world, filled with people trying to be good to one another—wouldn’t that be awesome?

Be kind in your thoughts about others, too. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Yes, there are some truly horrible people in the world, but most of us are muddling along, making mistakes, but doing the best we can.

Times like these make us grateful for what most of us have (a comfortable place to live and enough to eat) and what we don’t have (a nuclear reactor melting down or a government shooting at us). Our irritations and problems still exist, but seem less troublesome in comparison. Instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed, be good to yourself. Be good to others. And we’ll get through this, too.

When in doubt, curl up in a blanket
What small daily details can you tweak to lift your spirits? How can you do the same for others?

Earthquake in Japan

Letting in the Light

March 14, 2011

There is a crack in everything;
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the aftermath thereof is a sobering reminder of how fragile our human lives are, how little “control” we really have. The quake shifted the Earth’s axis, a shift that will affect the seasons and the length of the day, shortening it by an estimated 1.8 microseconds. (You can read more about this here.)  Scientists believe the changes will be subtle and won’t be seen for centuries, but the very idea that the Earth can be shifted on its axis amazes me.

It seems 2011 has gotten off to a rough start. As hard as I try to remain positive about the future, I don’t see a lot of good things going on out there. I’ve had to limit my news exposure because I’m feeling a bit fragile, a little cracked. The good news is that light comes in through the cracks—and light is my word of the year. I have to believe that the cracks will provide a way for the light of change, the light of new experience, learning and blessings to stream in.

Here's to letting in the light.

Photo courtesy


I Hear He Was Great in Toy Story 3

March 11, 2011

Originally from Willows, WI, he’s been a photographer, an Olympic gold medalist, a pizza delivery guy and a member of the military. He’s turning 50 today, and has recently reconciled with his long-time love after being apart for six years. He is…

Ken Carson. You know, Ken—Barbie’s main man!*

When I was a child, Ken was part of my Barbie family. He had brown molded plastic hair and a head that, disturbingly, popped off without warning. If I had needed a doll for regular decapitations, he would have been my go-to guy. When his head stayed on, and there was always some doubt about that, he was the perfect companion for Barbie in all her adventures.

Poor Ken had few wardrobe choices. I seem to recall some flowered bathing trunks, but I can’t remember what else he wore. (Maybe he was really Cabana Boy Ken?) My Barbie had a whole wardrobe, including shoes. I am not as well-dressed today as my Barbie was when I was 7. My most treasured items were handmade, 50s-style doll clothes someone had given to me.

Barbie and Ken traveled in a chic yellow and orange Country Camper, with Skipper, Barbie’s sister, and their daughter, a non-Mattel toddler-size doll who had miraculously come into being well before I had any idea of the actual process involved. I spent many happy hours playing with Barbie & Co. (when I wasn’t creating elaborate storylines for my Breyer model horses—that’s a story for another day), and I packed them carefully away when I left for college. I believe I would still have them if it weren’t for The Incident. On returning from college, all my Barbie stuff had “disappeared” from our garage. Frankly, I’m still suspicious about the circumstances of that disappearance. My mom swears she didn’t get rid of them, but, really, that’s the only thing the thieves took?! Come on. I could have had a real investment there: a quick check of eBay shows the camper alone selling for more than $200!

I still pine for Barbie and her pretty wardrobe, Decapitation Ken and, especially, the Country Camper. Never mind that my life (and my house) is filled with more grown-up toys, like laptops and piles of books and art supplies, not to mention I now have a real horse to replace my models. If I still had Barbie and Ken they'd likely be stored in the attic with the Christmas decorations and the silverfish—a sad comedown from their days as a free-wheeling, camper-driving team.

What was your favorite childhood toy? Do you still have it? What’s your favorite toy now?

*For more information on Ken, see


Celebrating International Women's Day: 100 Years and Counting

March 08, 2011

One hundred years ago, more than a million people came together at rallies in several European countries to call for women’s right to vote, work and hold public office and an end to discrimination. International Women’s Day (IWD) was born. Today, IWD has become a celebration of women’s economic, political and social achievements, but also brings attention to how much work still needs to be done in order for women to achieve equality. For example, around the world, women perform 66 percent of the world’s work—but earn just 10 percent of the income and own one percent of the property.

To mark this special 100th anniversary, the IWD Global Arts Initiative has launched  “100 Women, 100 Artworks” and “100 Women, 100 Stories.” All of the stories and works of art, which include paintings, sculptures, photographs, collages and more, have been created by women from around the world, “to inspire, challenge, entertain and provoke thought from a gender angle,” according to the IWD website.

If you want to celebrate International Women’s Day, here are some simple things you can do:

Create something uniquely “you”—write a story or a poem, paint a picture, bake something, build something. And think of all the other women around the world who are creating today, too.

Thank a woman who has helped, encouraged or inspired you. (I'm sending a note to my high school creative writing teacher.)

Read a book or watch a movie about women’s history, struggles or achievements. Share what you learn with your family and friends. (On my list: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.)

Donate to a cause that supports women (UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, for example).

Artist's dates

It's a Date

March 04, 2011

Yesterday I went on my second “artist’s date” of the year. Somewhere in the needlework aisle of a large arts and crafts store, I realized…I’m not very “good” at artist’s dates. I feel like I don’t quite know what I’m supposed to get out of them. I’m not really sure what to do with myself, maybe because I don’t do them very often. I feel guilty taking time for an artist’s date when I should be working, whether on writing or around my house and for my family, because I already spend so much time at the barn with my horse. At least, I used to feel guilty until I began to think of artist’s dates as part of my work. Yes, I need to put in plenty of time continuing to learn my craft, reading and writing daily, but if I don’t occasionally stop to refill the well, it will run dry.

Part of my problem is that I don’t have many ideas of where to go or what to do for an artist’s date. I don’t always want to go to a store, because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on these excursions—plus I don’t find stores all that inspiring. I finally typed “artist’s dates” into Google, trying to figure out what to do with myself. (Some suggestions I found included going to a nursery to look at plants, getting a blanket and lying down outside to count the stars or find constellations, or visiting a picturesque part of town with a sketchbook.)

For my first artist’s date I went to a thrift store, one of the other suggested destinations. I spent a good two hours trying on clothes, looking at housewares and decorative items, and saving the shelves of books for last, like dessert.

For my second date, I made a trip to the aforementioned arts and crafts store. I needed a hook-and-eye closure to fix a pair of shorts (shorts weather is already here in Florida—take heart, Northerners, spring is on the way) so I decided to combine that errand with an artist’s date.

I went to the thrift store with no list or agenda, but hopeful that I’d find some inexpensive clothing to refresh my wardrobe or maybe come across a quirky item for our shelves, or a book or two. Wandering through the large, sunny space, I took time to look at things, and at my fellow shoppers. At the arts and crafts store, I discovered aisles and aisles of fascinating tools and supplies. While few of the craft supplies tempted me, and I skipped the fabric section altogether, once again I enjoyed the experience of just looking.

What I got from both these dates, aside from a few books and that hook-and-eye closure, was a feeling of possibility. Opportunities for expression, whether through clothing, decorating or crafting, are everywhere, and can be had inexpensively.

Am I doing artist’s dates “right”? Is there a “right”? Should I have walked up and down every aisle of fabric, even though I know I’m not going to sew anything? Would I have been inspired by the colors and textures of cloth? Am I limiting myself with the idea that I’m not going to sew anything? (Yup, I can turn a simple trip to a crafts store into a moral dilemma.)

I guess the point of an artist’s date is that I’m making an effort to step outside the usual confines of my days. It doesn’t matter how I do it, as long as I do it. Like anything else, I’ll get better with practice.

Have you ever gone on an artist’s date? What did you do? What did you take away from it? Any suggestions for my future artist’s dates?


Five Down, 95 to Go

March 01, 2011

I have a confession to make. I want to write a book. I’ve got a title, some chapter headings, an introduction and a vague idea of where I want to go with it. But I don’t really know anything about writing a book. Magazine articles, short pieces for the internet, blog posts, yes—books, no. So I’m educating myself, starting with a book called Chapter After Chapter. One of the recommendations the author makes is to read 100 books similar to the one you want to write. I’ve begun that project by exploring the world of blogger/authors. I thought I’d share with you five books by bloggers I’ve read recently:

My Formerly Hot Life, Stephanie Dolgoff. Blog: “You are not the young, relevant, in-the-mix woman you used to be. But neither are you old, or even what you think of as middle-aged. You are no longer what you were, but not quite sure what you are.” Dolgoff examines the major areas of a Formerly’s life, and how they have changed and are changing. Her conclusion: it’s not so bad to be a Formerly—but you won’t know that until you become one.

Living Oprah, Robyn Okrant. Blog: Is it possible to discover one’s authentic self by following someone else’s ideal? Okrant attempts to answer this by doing everything Oprah says to do on her TV show, in O Magazine and on her Web site. This book entertained me, while making me glad I wasn’t taking on a project like this. (The control freak in me would have had a nervous breakdown.)

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin. Blog: This is one of my favorite blogs, and I’ve mentioned the book here before.

It Sucked and Then I Cried, Heather B. Armstrong, otherwise known as Dooce. Blog: Armstrong’s book chronicles her struggle with mental health issues while trying to care for her infant daughter. Dooce is incredibly successful as a blogger, and was featured this weekend in the New York Times Magazine.

Life is a Verb, Patti Digh. Digh is not primarily a blogger, though she does have one ( I happened to finish her book right when I was preparing this post, and I loved it so much I wanted to share it with you. The 37-day time frame came from Digh’s experience of her stepfather’s death: he died 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She writes, “The time frame of thirty-seven days made an impression on me. We often live as if we have all the time in the world, but the definite-ness of thirty-seven days was striking. So short a time, as if all the regrets and joys of a life would barely have time to register before it was up…. What emerged was a commitment to ask myself this question every morning: What would I be doing today if I only had thirty-seven days to live?

These books give me hope. If they can do it, why can’t I?

I’m going to keep exploring the world of blogger/authors. Any recommendations?