A Happy Little Thing, and Announcing an Upcoming (Not-so) Everyday Adventure

April 25, 2014

When it comes to happy little things, I’m pretty easy to please—fun food, pretty notebooks, and, of course, books, all make me happy. Today I’m going to share one of my happy little things that’s just a bit bigger: yoga asana practice. Asana is what many people think of when they hear the word yoga: the physical postures.  (There’s much more to yoga, and you can read about it here if you’re interested.)

I’ve included a gentle and basic yoga practice in my exercise routine for more than 15 years, since I first discovered a class at my gym. After class I drove home feeling as if my shoulders were about six inches lower than before class. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve sampled yoga DVDs from my library and bought a few to have at home. I usually do Rodney Yee’s AM Yoga before I go to ride Tank, and I also love Suzanne Deason’s Stress Relief Yoga on the same DVD (All Day Yoga for Beginners). Other favorites include Yoga for the Rest of Us and Yoga for Weight Loss. And just recently my subdivision has started a yoga club, with a weekly meeting/class taught by a resident. A group of us meets in our clubhouse to breathe and stretch our way through an hour-long routine and learn a bit about the benefits of yoga.

Nothing I do makes me feel as good afterward as yoga does. It’s definitely a simple pleasure—and sometimes an adventure, since I’m not terribly flexible, and some poses are quite challenging. But with this new weekly class, I feel myself getting stronger and more flexible, and I always walk out relaxed and serene when I’m done.

What little thing is making you happy right now?

And now...

Looking for an Adventure?

My friend Laure Ferlita has just announced the next location for Imaginary Trips Made Real.  Winter Interrupted will take place in January of 2015 in St. Petersburg, FL. I will be her “first mate” (assistant)—and that will be an adventure for all. If you enjoy sketching on location (or want to learn how), I highly recommend both Laure’s online classes and live workshops. See Laure’s blog for complete details. We’d love to see you there!


Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare

April 23, 2014

By In Helmolt, H.F., ed. History of the World. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1902. Author unknown, but the portrait has several centuries [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Though no one knows for sure, it seems likely that April 23 marks the day William Shakespeare was born in 1564, 450 years ago. Shakespeare, one of the most influential writers of all time, wrote poetry and plays that have influenced the English language in many ways. According to, “In his poems and plays, Shakespeare invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany.”

As I was looking for an appropriate Shakespeare quote for today, I was surprised at how many quotes and phrases I’m familiar with but didn’t always realize came from his writing, such as:

To thine own self be true (the line continues: And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.) 

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed.

What’s past is prologue.

Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

The course of true love never did run smooth.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

I’ve read very little Shakespeare, unfortunately, but perhaps now is the time to do a little exploring. I have a copy of The Sonnets of William Shakespeare I bought when I was a romantic teenager which I plan to dip into it in the next few weeks, and perhaps I’ll start watching movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays. I love a man who plays with language.

Do you have a favorite poem, quotation or play by Shakespeare? If so, please share.


Paying the Price

April 21, 2014

Fannin Hill, 2012. Photo courtesy Holly Bryan
We did get to go to Fannin Hill on Friday, and it was awesome. Unfortunately, I have no photos to show for it…just some sore muscles and good memories. And , of course, a whole lot of things to clean: my bridle bag, Tank’s shipping boots, my saddle bag and even Tank’s bridle (at one of the water troughs, he immersed his face up to the eyes and shook his head side to side, sending water cascading onto the ground and turning the leather of his bridle into a mucky mess). An outing like this means extra work before and after, as well as stepping outside my comfort zone during. Tank gets excited when we ride off site, and sometimes I feel like I’m on top of a rocket ready to explode. I have to work at communicating what I want in a way that makes sense to him and doesn’t frustrate him:

Tank: “If all the other horses are cantering and jumping over there, why are we over here jumping over this little log?”

Me: “Because those jumps are beyond my abilities and confidence right now—I know you could do it, but would I still be on your back on the other side?”

 Tank: “OK. I guess I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Who would bring me carrots?”

Every time we go to Fannin Hill, we try new things and come home inspired. This time, we practiced going up and down a small bank, which required him to jump up to a higher level while going up, and to step down (into the scary unknown) when going down. He did just fine going up, but was pretty skeptical of going down. We tried several different approaches until he hopped down like it was a non-issue.

Sometimes the best things require effort. In the past, I tended to give up too easily when faced with challenges. Tank is teaching me to think things through, break them down into smaller steps, and to keep trying slightly different approaches. I still find myself avoiding things because I either don’t know what to do, or I think it’s too hard, but I’m becoming more willing and able to pay the price for what I want. And that’s a lesson worth learning.

What dream are you willing to pay the price for?


Lucky Link Love

April 18, 2014

Welcome to the Lucky Number Seven edition of Link Love. If the weather holds, today Tank and I are enjoying a Field Trip Friday at Fannin Hill. Enjoy the following links that have been making me happy lately:

Are you at the crossroads of Should and Must? This is an interesting article about choosing between the two. An excerpt:
“Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us….
“Must is different—there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.
 “Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.”
How to stop being an emotional sponge.

Introverts unite! Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, gives an inspiring TED talk about why introverts should be encouraged and valued. 

As a person who struggles with feeling overwhelmed, I found “25 Bold Ways to Avoid the Trap of Overwhelm” to be helpful. “Overwhelm is a story we tell ourselves. It offers us an excuse to get out of what we don’t want to do or don’t feel we can do. Overwhelm is an illusion.” Ouch.

I learned of this new quarterly online magazine through Danielle at A Work in Progress. Even though I do not need any more suggestions for what to read (I already have FAR too many books piled on my shelves or noted on lists), I’m still going to have some fun with this.

Looking for some help in achieving your goals? Check out the four-step “Commitment Contract” process at stickK. Sign up is free.

Four minutes of happy:

I love, love, love this song! Clap along! 

What’s making you happy this week?

Cherry Trees

Early Blooming

April 16, 2014

From your school days you may remember A. E. Housman’s poem that begins, “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now/ Is hung with bloom along the bough.” Here’s a look at a blossoming cherry, done 120 years later, on site among the famous cherry trees of Washington, by D.C. poet Judith Harris. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

In Your Absence

Not yet summer,   
but unseasonable heat   
pries open the cherry tree.   

It stands there stupefied,   
in its sham, pink frills,   
dense with early blooming.   

Then, as afternoon cools   
into more furtive winds,   
I look up to see   
a blizzard of petals   
rushing the sky.   

It is only April.   
I can’t stop my own life   
from hurrying by.   
The moon, already pacing.

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 ©2007 by Judith Harris, whose most recent collection of poems is The Bad Secret, Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Reprinted by permission of Judith Harris. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Playing With Words: An Introduction to Haiku

April 14, 2014

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a brief look at one of my favorite forms of poetry: the haiku.

For many people, haiku is a more approachable form of poetry. Poems are short, usually three lines of 17 syllables or less—perfect for a hurried world. (And, dare I say, even Twitter-sized?) I was taught in school that they should be broken into 5-7-5 form, but it’s increasingly popular and acceptable to break the lines in a different pattern and/or use fewer than 17 syllables. Line breaks should be at natural pauses, and are used to punctuate the poem.

Haiku are deceptively simple—a lot is packed into a few syllables. They focus on what’s happening in the moment, often involve nature and frequently indicate a specific season. They should evoke some type of emotion. According to Creative Writing Now, “Instead of saying how a scene makes him or her feel, the poet shows the details that caused that emotion. If the sight of an empty winter sky made the poet feel lonely, describing that sky can give the same feeling to the reader.”

Even for a novice, haiku are fun to write and read. I’ve gotten away from this practice lately, but for a while I was writing haiku several times a week. This is my most recent one:

huddled like mourners
black vultures crowd together
warm April rain

Two more of my haiku appear in this post found at Belle, Book and Candle where she shares reader haiku. She also has two more posts on haiku here and here. And one of my favorite spots for a dose of haiku is Susan Tweit’s Pinterest page where she writes and posts a haiku and photo every day.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth exploration of haiku, I recommend The Haiku Handbook. For more information on writing your own haiku, click here.

Playing with words makes me happy—and haiku are a fun way to do that. Why not try your hand at haiku, and come back here to share them with us?


Happily Human

April 11, 2014

Beautifully imperfect
“It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”
—Will Rogers

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. No, really, I know you all thought I was and you’re probably very disappointed to learn otherwise. Oh, wait. You didn’t think I was perfect. I did. Or, more accurately, I hoped you thought I was, if not perfect, then very, very close to it. It gives me great pain—and also great relief—to finally admit, publicly, that I’m flawed. I can be messy, selfish, stubborn, controlling, I hate to admit I’m wrong… I could go on, but my ego is begging me to quit. I’d really prefer to list “faults” that are really virtues in disguise (as we’ve been told to do on job interviews), but I’m finally becoming too old wise not to accept all parts of myself.

I’m tired of being afraid of mistakes and missteps, of being paralyzed by fear of looking foolish or hypocritical. I’m tired of unreasonable expectations (my own and society’s). I’m tired of perfectionism when it comes to appearance or character or accomplishment. I’m tired of trying to force myself into even attempting to look perfect when—newsflash!—NO ONE is perfect. No, not even me.

Why am I so afraid of showing my imperfections, of looking foolish and admitting mistakes? One reason—I feel a certain shame in admitting imperfection. I should always be kind, warm, giving, an excellent writer, wife and mother, and, on top of that, perfectly fit and healthy. (Shouldn’t I?) My people-pleasing, perfectionist little heart doesn’t want to do anything “wrong” and risk rejection. At bottom, I’m truly afraid if I don’t present myself as darn near perfect, I am not “enough”—and I won’t be liked, let alone loved.

I’m not sure exactly where this comes from. Perhaps because I’ve been given so much in my life—in teaching, examples to follow, health, good fortune and opportunity. I feel I have no excuse for not being, at the very least, really, really close to perfection. I don’t want to waste what I’ve been given. However, just because I know better doesn’t mean I can always do better. I’m still human, and to be human is to make mistakes. I’m still working on feeling OK with that.

The funny thing is, pretending to be perfect actually keeps me from receiving the love I want. Sharing mistakes and weaknesses—imperfections—deepens intimacy between people. And keeping up an appearance of perfection means I can’t share my weaknesses with others, and perhaps receive the help and encouragement I need. It also may keep others from sharing their imperfections with me and allowing me to help them.

Life isn’t about being perfect. It’s about growing, learning from mistakes when we make them. My faults don’t define me. They are just threads woven into the cloth of my personality. I also have many good qualities, and it’s the unique combination of faults and virtues that makes me me. I am human, and learning to be happily so. I want to be loved in spite of and because of my faults. I can’t hide them, from myself or from others. I’m taking to heart Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton’s words: “If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.”

What have you learned from imperfection? How do you overcome your own perfectionism?

Benjamin Zander

The Joyful Question

April 09, 2014

“Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Is it enough?’ and the even more fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am or for what I have accomplished?’ could both be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contributor today?’
—Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility 


Beauty and the Soul: The Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal

April 04, 2014

As I write this, I look out my office window at the greenness of spring in Florida—our oak trees have mostly leafed out, my crepe myrtle has the tiniest bronze leaflets clinging to its bare limbs and I know in time it will bear ruffley lavender flowers. A cardinal is visiting the bird feeder, his red feathers bright against the greens and browns of the front yard. I’m listening to acoustic guitar music on Pandora, and I have my window open to smell all that green leafiness and hear the birds’ songs more clearly. Not only do I enjoy looking and listening to the beauty around me, I find that it has a calming and uplifting effect on my mood.

While most people would not argue that beauty is nice, is it something we all need? Best-selling author Piero Ferrucci thinks it is, and explores that topic in his book Beauty and the Soul: The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life.

Ferrucci believes that beauty is an essential ingredient in a happy, healthy life. He writes, “Beauty plays a central role in our decision to be here. The more we can perceive beauty in our surroundings, and also inside us, the more we will feel at home and glad to exist. Some perceive beauty in the sound of rain and shape of clouds, in people’s faces and voices, in birdsong and the rustling of leaves. Some see it in modern design or ancient embroidered silk, in a cathedral’s stained glass or an advertising poster, in the flowering of intelligence or in altruism, in musical phrasing or the melodic rhythm of poetry, in the dynamism of a statue or the lightness of a dance. For such people the world is a place of great interest, of continuing amazement. Their relation with life is erotic: They are in love with life.”

Ferrucci also notes that contact with beauty makes us less angry and anxious, and that Swedish studies indicate that those who attended theater, movies, concerts and exhibitions have a greater chance of longevity. One explanation is that beauty stimulates the immune system.

Of course, beauty doesn’t just exist in cultural events and experiences. Beauty is everywhere—we just need to notice it. To improve our ability to seek and find beauty, Ferrucci suggests keeping a diary of what we find beautiful, slowing down and paying more attention to what is all around us (“Hurry usually obliterates all forms of beauty”), and removing the attitudes that hamper beauty (“I don’t deserve it, it’s a waste of time, there are better things to think about…”).  As he notes, “Attention is nourishing. Anything we give our interest to grows and develops. Anything we neglect or ignore atrophies. Attention is like a spotlight on a theater stage. It gives emphasis. The world is what it is, but we provide the accent. We look for beauty, give it our vital interest, create space for it. Then beauty will proliferate for us.”

Beauty lifts up the soul, lightens burdens, gives hope and inspiration—all things we so desperately need in this world. If we seek beauty in our lives, we will add to our happiness.

What do you find beautiful? How can you add beauty to your days?

Kim Dower

Brilliantly Hydrated

April 02, 2014

Photo courtesy Liz West

My parents didn’t live long enough to be confronted with the notion of paying for a bottle of water. They’d be horrified. Pay for water? Who ever heard of such a thing? Well . . . Here’s a good poem by Kim Dower, who lives in Los Angeles, about what we go through to quench our thirst today. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Bottled Water

I go to the corner liquor store
for a bottle of water, middle
of a hectic day, must get out
of the office, stop making decisions,
quit obsessing does my blue skirt clash
with my hot pink flats; should I get
my mother a caregiver or just put her
in a home, and I pull open the glass
refrigerator door, am confronted
by brands—Arrowhead, Glitter Geyser,
Deer Park, spring, summer, winter water,
and clearly the bosses of bottled water:
Real Water and Smart Water—how different
will they taste? If I drink Smart Water
will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?
If I choose Real Water will I no longer
deny the truth, but will I attract confused,
needy people who’ll take advantage
of my realness by dumping their problems
on me, and will I be too stupid to help them
sort through their murky dilemmas?
I take no chances, buy them both,
sparkling smart, purified real, drain both bottles,
look around to see is anyone watching?
I’m now brilliantly hydrated.

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 ©2012 by Kim Dower, whose most recent book of poems is Slice of Moon, Red Hen Press, 2013. Poem reprinted from Barrow Street, Winter 2012/13, by permission of Kim Dower and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.