Slack Tide

July 30, 2012

Every life has a series of tides, times of transition and fluctuating circumstances. For example, as children grow up, a parent’s focus changes from the physical care of changing diapers and feeing babies to supervising homework, and on to grilling teenagers about where they’re going and who they will be with. Parenting is a series of ebbs and flows as children’s needs change from one day to the next. Marriages, friendships, jobs, hobbies and interests all have their own rhythms of ebb and flow.

I’ve been thinking about ebbs and flows as my son prepares for his senior year in high school. In most ways he requires little care, and can even be helpful. In others, we’ve had to tighten up certain rules and practices. We’ve also made it a point to spend as much time with him as possible (and as he will allow!) while he’s still at home. In a short time (God willing) he’ll be gone, and we’ll be faced with the complete ebb of our roles as parents.

While this is happening, I’m trying to shift my focus from household responsibilities to writing projects. I’m finding this hard to do because there’s no guarantee my writing projects will be successful (and they’re certainly not contributing to the family finances right at this moment) and it’s easy to see when the bathroom is clean, the laundry is done and dinner is on the table. The problem is, my writing projects will never be successful if they don’t get the time and attention they need to blossom. That time and attention has to come from somewhere, and I can’t (and don’t want to) give up all leisure time, so some household stuff is just going to have to take a backseat.

While I’m learning to cope with the ebbs and flows of life, I’ve found these principles helpful.

Pay attention. What you need, what your family and friends need from you, may—will!—change. Maybe instead of a nap you need a bike ride, or vice versa. Maybe your best friend needs a kick in the pants instead of a listening ear, or vice versa. What was soothing or energizing last month might not do the trick today. As a sailor studies tides, watch for changes in the current of your life.

Go with the flow. Don’t fight the current. Don’t get hung up on what you “should” do or “should” have or “should” want. If you feel strongly that the tide is taking you away from where you want to be, know that new tides will come. The ocean, and your life, is always moving, always changing. Down times give way to up times. Try to keep your head above water and watch for a break in the current. Fighting the tides will exhaust you and can be dangerous. Allow the current to take you. You might end up someplace wonderful.

Float when you get the chance. Slack water, or slack tide, is the moment that tidal current ceases. This occurs just before the tide turns and begins running the other direction. If you’ve been paying attention and going with the flow, you should be able to sense this change and float for a while before flowing off to who knows where. Relax, gather strength and look forward to what’s next. (That’s kind of where I feel I am now.)

Ocean tides are among the most reliable natural phenomena in the world. In life, we are sure to face times of ebb and flow, just like the ocean. How about you? What is flowing into your life? Out of it?

P.S. I’ve had a big uptick in spam lately, so I’m putting word verification on for at least a little while—sorry for the inconvenience!


What Kind of Bird Is That?

July 27, 2012

Is the coast clear?

Yum, yum…

Oh, you saw that? Well, you meant for me to eat this, right?

Happy Friday. I’m going to go refill the feeder so the birds will have something to eat…


A Happier Life

July 25, 2012

There is a type of poem, the Found Poem, that records an author’s discovery of the beauty that occasionally occurs in the everyday discourse of others. Such a poem might be words scrawled on a wadded scrap of paper, or buried in the classified ads, or on a billboard by the road. The poet makes it his or her poem by holding it up for us to look at. Here the Washington, D.C., poet Joshua Weiner directs us to the poetry in a letter written not by him but to him. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Found Letter

What makes for a happier life, Josh, comes to this:   
Gifts freely given, that you never earned;   
Open affection with your wife and kids;   
Clear pipes in winter, in summer screens that fit;   
Few days in court, with little consequence;   
A quiet mind, a strong body, short hours   
In the office; close friends who speak the truth;   
Good food, cooked simply; a memory that’s rich   
Enough to build the future with; a bed   
In which to love, read, dream, and re-imagine love;   
A warm, dry field for laying down in sleep,   
And sleep to trim the long night coming;   
Knowledge of who you are, the wish to be   
None other; freedom to forget the time;   
To know the soul exceeds where it’s confined   
Yet does not seek the terms of its release,   
Like a child’s kite catching at the wind   
That flies because the hand holds tight the line.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2006 by Joshua Weiner. Reprinted from “From the Book of Giants,” University of Chicago Press, 2006, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Beautiful moments

Noticing the Beautiful Moments

July 23, 2012

Life’s so busy, isn’t it? Our days are full of work, play, family, friends—and it’s good to have a full life. But it’s also good to slow down once in a while to notice the beautiful moments. Summer is perfect for this, because generally life’s fast pace slows down somewhat, and you might have a little more time to look for and appreciate those moments.

I’d like to share two beautiful moments I’ve had recently with my horse, Tank. He now shares a paddock with a small group of horses during the day (he still eats and spends the night in his smaller “private” paddock). I think likes being with his new friends, all mares except for a two-year old colt. At first, I wondered how this would affect how he feels about my coming to get him. When he lived alone, he was eager to see me. Would he still whinny, come to meet me at the gate, be happy to see me? Happily, the answer to these questions is yes. One of those moments I was talking about occurred last week as I stood at the gate of the large paddock, lead rope and halter in hand. Tank left his buddies and came to me, ears pricked, expression asking, “What are we doing today?” I stood there, melting into my boots (and not just because it was 92 degrees), marveling that this lovely, powerful creature belongs to me, knows me, looks to me for attention and guidance. After owning him for eight years, I sometimes take him for granted. Every now and then, I wake up the miracle of his presence in my life.

The second moment with Tank happened on Saturday. After we tacked up, I had a few minutes to wait until the riding lesson started, so I sat down in one of the green plastic outdoor chairs clustered under the trees. Tank stood next to me, relaxed, so I began to stroke and massage his ears and poll (the top of his head). He seemed to like it, slowly blinking his eyes and lowering his head. When I stopped, he left his head low, so I leaned forward and breathed into his nostrils (one way horses greet each other). I gently touched his muzzle with my forehead while we inhaled and exhaled together. We stayed like that for a few minutes, and I don’t know about Tank, but I found this so soothing that I nearly fell asleep.

My beautiful moments had nothing to do with achievement or accomplishing a goal. For once, I put aside my jabbering mind, my busyness, and relaxed into the present moment. I want to have more experiences like this—with Tank and in all areas of my life—moments where time stands still and the to-do list falls from memory, moments in which I truly realize how lucky I am and how grateful I am for my life.

I hope that you experience beautiful moments such as these. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.


Play Ball!

July 20, 2012

Ah, the crack of the bat, the noise of the crowd, the smell of the…pressed Cuban sandwiches? That’s how we do it, here in Tampa Bay.

Yesterday my family and I went to a Tampa Bay Rays game—I’m the baseball fan in the family, so a summer isn’t complete for me without a game or two over at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. We like going to day games during the week—the crowds are usually smaller and we don’t get home at midnight.  (We’re fuddy-duddies, I admit.)

We had a great crowd today, more than 27,000. Lots of kids from local camps and childcare centers banging thunder sticks and hoping to catch a foul ball.

My favorite part:

The Tropicana Field roof—and the air conditioning contained therein.

Rays lefthander David Price getting ready to pitch.

Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the Cuban sandwich before we ate it...

Oh, and best of all, the Rays beat Cleveland 6-0. And since Rays pitching struck out 10, we all get coupons for free pizza from Papa John’s!

Rays baseball—an awesome summer tradition. What are you favorite summer traditions?

Simple pleasures

Summer Day

July 18, 2012

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.”
—John Lubbock


Don't Try This at Home

July 16, 2012

I just bought a new battery for my laptop, and for some reason I decided to read the single-page instruction manual it came with. I learned:

Never throw the battery pack into fire, as that could cause the battery pack to explode.
Never short-circuit the main battery pack by either accidentally or intentionally bringing the terminals in contact with another metal object. This could cause personal injury or a fire, and could also damage the battery pack.
Never hammer a nail into the battery pack.
Never hit a hammer on the battery pack.

You know someone, somewhere has done each one of these things. Possibly my son.

What I want to know is…why?

Why would you want to throw a laptop battery into a fire? Hit it with a hammer or pound a nail into it? The only reason I can think of is to find out what happens. Personally, I can’t imagine anything good coming from those actions, but that’s just me. I’m pretty cautious about experimentation.

But thankfully, not everyone is like me. We need people who are curious and test boundaries, or we’d never have inventions like the laptop and its battery-that-shouldn’t-be-hammered. People who step outside their comfort zones to try experiments the average person wouldn’t dream of have made the world an immeasurably better place, often at great cost to themselves. I’m grateful for the men and women who want to find out what happens. (All I ask is that they pause for a moment to ask themselves what could go wrong, and how they’re going to cope if it does.)

Once again, I guess people can be divided into two categories: Those who put their laptop batteries in their computers and those who come at them with a hammer. Which one are you?


July Pleasures

July 13, 2012

Jewel-toned fruits.
Flip flops.
Fresh herbs.
Ice cream.
Cotton-ball clouds in cobalt skies…

July is really and truly summer. There’s no school (both June and August contain a few days of school where we live). Summer weather patterns set in and we get thunderstorms nearly every afternoon. I love to hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, watch the skies darken, hear the pounding rain. Then sun again. Sometimes we get “sunshowers”—rain and sunshine at the same time.

In July, we slow down. After all, it’s too hot and humid to do much of anything but sit. Grab a cool glass of something to drink, put your feet up and chill—usually with a good book. Yeah, that sounds pretty good. Think I’ll do that this weekend…

Every month, every season has its own pleasures. Though I like to complain about the heat and humidity, just this once I’m going to shut up and appreciate what July has to offer.

What are your favorite July pleasures?


Please Pass It Around

July 11, 2012

There are thousands upon thousands of poems about love, many of them using predictable words, predictable rhymes. Ho-hum. But here the Illinois poet Lisel Mueller talks about love in a totally fresh and new way, in terms of table salt. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Love Like Salt

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 1996) by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


It's Not About the Label Maker

July 09, 2012

My husband laughs at me because I read a lot of books about getting organized. After 24 years of being married, living in seven different domiciles of my own, moving cross country, and running our household more or less successfully, he figures I should have it all down pat. What’s funny about this is he’s often not happy with the level of cleanliness and organization in our household. (I suppose he thinks I should put down the book and pick up a broom. And perhaps he's right.)  Now, I believe I am a basically organized person, but sometimes the complexity of life and the sheer number of different activities and projects I need and want to do overwhelm me. I’m always on the lookout for something that will make my life run more smoothly with less mess.

With that in mind, I picked up David Allen’s Getting Things Done, mentioned briefly here. This is not a book focused on physically decluttering your house or workplace, but rather one that focuses on setting up a system for getting all your projects, both large and small, corralled in such a way that you clearly see what the next step is for each one, and nothing gets lost in the shuffle. I’ve found it helpful and have been trying to put the principles into practice.

Enter the label maker.

I’ve always resisted a label maker before, feeling like it was an unnecessary purchase, one that would end up adding to the clutter in my life. And that may still turn out to be true, but in the meantime I’m using it to put my files in order, both personal and professional. Before I take the time to print a label, I make sure whatever’s in that file is really something I need or want to keep—is it label worthy? It’s been an excellent way to purge files and simplify the giant wads of paper I tend to accumulate. (Allen isn’t the only one to recommend a label maker. See here and here.)

Despite what my husband thinks, I have not “read every organization book known to man.” If you type “getting organized” in’s search bar you’ll get 5,385 results in books alone and I’ve only read a small fraction of them! I keep reading because each getting organized book provides one more little piece of the having-a-beautiful life puzzle. I do not think the label maker, or any one gadget or program, is going to magically organize my life. My real goal for getting better organized is to have my family life run smoothly and have time to pursue and get better at my many hobbies and interests. Until I feel like I've got a handle on it all, I'll continue to read about and try new systems. (Next up: Organizing for the Creative Person.) 

What’s one thing you do to keep your life running smoothly?


Treasures Within Treasures

July 06, 2012

Have you ever opened a library or second-hand book to find a trace of a previous reader in a left-behind bookmark? I love it when I come across someone’s marker—it feels like a tiny connection made between me and another presumably like-minded reader.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I just finished a fascinating little book, ForgottenBookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages, by Michael Popek.

Popek, who serves as manager of his family’s used-book business, loves his most important task: buying and sorting books. (Lucky!) As he wrote in the introduction, “What I found is that I loved the fact that I could come across nearly anything: a moldy copy of Ulysses, a Victorian-era scrapbook filled with trade cards, a first edition of Steinbeck. This treasure hunt still remains my favorite part of bookselling and led directly to my fascination with forgotten bookmarks.” Popek aptly terms the left-behind page markers “treasures within treasures.” Collecting this ephemera became an unlikely passion for Popek who was surprised to find how interested others were in this unusual hobby. He started his blog in 2007 and the book followed from there.

Each spread in Forgotten Bookmarks shows a picture of the marker left behind as well as the cover of the book in which it was found. Popek’s collection includes everything from four-leaf clovers to recipes, postcards, letters (some heart-breaking), drawings, ticket stubs, photos, baseball cards, unused cap gun caps, and a few more unusual items.

Collecting bookmarks is one of my simple pleasures, and though I have plenty of them, I still find myself shoving whatever is to hand into my books to mark my place until I can put in a “real” one. I also have a few books that I like to refer back to from time to time, and I’ve left markers other than bookmarks in some of them. A quick scan of my shelves and I find I’ve used the following to mark my place: a small notebook page with two web addresses I want to check out, a “Non Sequitur” comic strip, a publishing house order form, a page torn from a page-a-day calendar, and a strip of paper with a typed writing quote (“In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway”—Juno Diaz). I usually make sure I flip through any books I’m returning to the library or trading/donating for anything left behind, but now I’m reconsidering. I might just leave something in the next book I get rid of, as a way of saying hello to the next reader who picks it up.

Have you discovered any forgotten bookmarks?

4th of July

Happy Birthday, USA

July 04, 2012

“The United States is the only country with a known birthday.”—James G. Blaine 

Here are a few quotes in honor of that birthday. Hope you have a festive 4th!

America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact—the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality.”—Adlai Stevenson

 “How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy.”—Paul Sweeney

 “Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.”—Louis D. Brandeis