Oh, No--It's Summer!

May 30, 2014

I feel like I’m the opposite of most people because I dread summer, and my summer plans mostly involve figuring out how to stay inside as much as possible. If I could hibernate during summer, I would! But since I can’t, I’m going to make the best of the new season by finding ways to make summer fun instead of a time to be endured. I’m going to work less, have more fun, shake up the routine, and just generally be more relaxed. Here are some of the things I want to do this summer when Florida’s temperatures and humidity make hibernating look appealing:

  • Institute Friday movie nights—my husband and I plan to pop some popcorn and rewatch some old favorites—like My Cousin Vinny and The Princess Bride. (I’m going to slip in Mama Mia! and My Life in Ruins, but I doubt I’ll get him to watch those with me! He can watch something more manly while I’m reveling in Greek scenery and romance.)
  • Spend time with friends. I have two friends coming in from out of town this summer, and I’m going to make the time to be with them, even if I have to—gasp!—let my normal work slide. I’m also going to make more time for getting together with local friends—I’ve been missing our long breakfasts/lunches/coffee dates
  • Reinstate “Summer Reruns” on the blog—once a month I’ll rerun a favorite post from a previous year.
  • Read at whim, regardless of bookish challenges. I want to read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in making summer reading plans. Fear not, though—I’ll be reading plenty, hopefully while relaxing on a chaise lounge and sipping some cold iced tea. (Note to self: make iced tea.)
If you ask nicely, I might move.
You’ll notice that not one of those things would fit on a traditional to-do list. I’ve got more than enough of those floating around—in fact, I should add “discard projects and goals” to the above list so I can indulge in my summer plans with no guilt feelings. Too often when I find life a little uncomfortable, I mope around feeling sorry for myself or helpless to make things better instead of looking for ways to add simple pleasures to my days. You can see from the above list that it doesn’t take much to make me feel happier—and you’re probably the same. So this summer I’m going to actively pursue my favorite simple pleasures—and maybe a few everyday adventures—instead of letting the hot, humid weather get me down.

What are some of your summer plans?

Pretty but HOT

Amy Fleury

Everything Rising

May 28, 2014

Photo courtesy Peter Rossing

Let’s celebrate the first warm days of spring with a poem for mushroom hunters, this one by Amy Fleury, who lives in Louisiana. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

First Morel

Up from wood rot,
wrinkling up from duff
and homely damps,
spore-born and cauled
like a meager seer,
it pushes aside earth
to make a small place
from decay. Bashful,
it brings honeycombed
news from below
of the coming plenty
and everything rising.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Amy Fleury from her most recent book of poems, Sympathetic Magic, Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Amy Fleury 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.

Everyday adventures

Happiness is a Bigger Bed

May 23, 2014

The discussion starts like this:

“Could you move your elbow?”

“No, there’s no place for me to put it.”

“You’re on my side.”

“No, I’m not. I’m right on the edge of the bed. Look—you’re taking up more than your half!”

“No, I’m not—I’m hanging off my side…”

And on it goes as my husband and I bicker about space while we read in bed before we go to sleep. He’s bigger than I am, but does that mean I should give up my comfort so he can have more room? And in turn, why do I insist on a strict 50-50 division, even though we are not equal in size?

Don't forget room for me...
It occurs to me this little argument is a sort of parallel for marriage, or any close relationship for that matter: Each person struggling for territory of his or her own while trying to stay together in a finite space.

Is there a solution? Yes, and it’s simple:

Buy a bigger bed.

Or, create a relationship that gives both parties more room. Look for the win-win.

Too often we get caught up in our own points of view, in believing we’re right and our partner is wrong, when really, we’re both right. Working this out takes awareness and flexibility. We need to be aware of our true needs, our partner’s needs and what the situation calls for. One person shouldn’t have to make all the sacrifices, and both should feel free to make their needs known. We shouldn’t always cling to our “rights” OR always be the one who bends and accommodates. We lose flexibility when we establish arbitrary rules. This means we must also feel that we’re worthy of our space, needs and wants and that they matter as much as our partner’s. As much as, not more than.

Of course, balance in relationships is a constantly moving target. That’s one of the great things about a relationship—being aware of the other person’s needs and supporting him, and having your own needs supported in turn. Learning how to perform this balancing act is a challenge, but one worth mastering if we want to live happily with another. After 26 years of marriage, I’m still working on it.

How do you create win-win situations in your life?


Death of a Storyteller

May 19, 2014

I just learned that one of my all-time favorite writers, Mary Stewart, passed away May 9 at age 97. My copies of her books are practically falling apart, mostly because I’ve had them since I was a teenager, but also because I’ve reread them many times. My mom introduced me to her books, and she is still one of my favorite writers. I often turn to her when I need a comfort read.

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow (!) was born Sept. 17, 1916 in the town of Sunderland, England. She attended Durham University and received a First Class Honours B.A. in English. In 1941, she accepted a post at Durham where she lectured on English Language and Literature. It was here she later met the man who would become her husband, Frederick Henry Stewart (later Sir Frederick). They married in 1945, and eventually moved to Edinburgh, Scotland in 1956, where he became the chairman of the geology department at Edinburgh University.

According to her obituary in The Guardian, Mary Stewart began writing novels “in the mid-1950s [because of] an ectopic pregnancy and consequent operation which meant she could not have children.” Her first book, Madam, Will You Talk?, was published in 1954. She was most popular in the late 60s, 70s and 80s, and one of her books, The Moon-Spinners, was made into a Disney movie (the movie is quite different from the book).

In addition to her novels, she also wrote several children’s books and one book of poetry.  My favorites have always been her “superior romantic thrillers,” especially This Rough Magic, My Brother Michael, and The Moon-Spinners, but she is also well-known for her Merlin/Arthur books, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I’ve never read any of these, because I’ve never been much interested in the King Arthur legend, but I think I’ll pick up at least The Crystal Cave to see what these are like. (She later wrote two more books in the series, The Wicked Day and The Prince and the Pilgrim.)

I love her books for the writing itself, but also because of her heroines. They’re ordinary young women, often traveling alone in places I’d love to visit, who prove themselves when they’re thrown into adventure. They leave their comfort zones, and through their courage and fortitude solve the mystery and win the heart of the hero. The stories are just plain fun.

One of the biggest thrills of my life was visiting Delphi in Greece, with my copy of My Brother Michael as company. I even saw the statue of the Charioteer mentioned in the book in the museum there. Here he is:

If you’re a Mary Stewart fan, I’m sure you don’t need any urging to read or re-read one of her books. If you’ve never read her, I hope you’ll give her a try. To learn more about Mary Stewart and her books, check out marystewartnovels.com.


Advice from One of the World's Happiest Countries

May 16, 2014

For years, Iceland has been high on the list of countries I’d like to visit. I want to soak in the Blue Lagoon  meet an Icelandic horse, and I’d love to explore a place that is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. Despite a devastating financial crash in 2008, erupting volcanoes, and dark winters, Iceland currently ranks 9th in the World Happiness Report (the U.S. ranks 17th). There are certainly many factors involved, but one has got to be an emphasis on the factors that strengthen mental health.

The Blue Lagoon (photo courtesy briongloid)
More than 10 years ago, Reykjavik psychologist Dora Gudrun Gudmundsdottir knew that Iceland was consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest nations, but she could find no studies on happiness in her country. She was curious about what factors predicted happiness. She found that the best predictor for happiness was not money, as many people believed, but social relationships (living with and/or spending time with a partner, friends or family). A second important predictor was health, especially mental health. This prompted her and her colleagues at the Public Health Institute to launch a public campaign to encourage better mental health and greater happiness among Iceland’s citizens. After studying research literature for common strategies and characteristics of people generally considered happy and successful, the result was the “Ten Commandments of Mental Health,” phrases that remind people what they can do every day to strengthen their mental health, and thus increase their happiness. The Public Health Institute of Iceland sponsored lectures and a media campaign, and sent a refrigerator magnet displaying “The Ten Commandments of Mental Health” to every household in the country. (Magnets were available in English for foreigners who couldn’t read Icelandic). Curious about the ten? Here they are:
  1. Think positively; it’s easier
  2. Cherish the ones you love
  3. Continue learning as long as you live
  4. Learn from your mistakes
  5. Exercise daily; it enhances your well-being
  6. Do not complicate your life unnecessarily
  7. Try to understand and encourage those around you
  8. Do not give up; success in life is a marathon
  9. Discover and nurture your talents
  10. Set goals for yourself and pursue your dreams 
So much that contributes to happiness is within our own power—we just need the occasional reminder. (And if I ever get to Iceland, I’d love to snag one of those magnets!)

Do you have any “commandments” regarding mental health and happiness?

Icelandic horse (photo courtesy Ida Lindell)

Cherry Trees

Gifts from a Cherry Tree

May 14, 2014

My grandmother Moser made wonderful cherry pies from fruit from a tree just across the road from her house, and I have loved fruit trees ever since. A cherry tree is all about giving. Here’s a poem by Nathaniel Perry, who lives in Virginia, giving us an orchard made of words. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Remaking a Neglected Orchard 

It was a good idea, cutting away
the vines and ivy, trimming back
the chest-high thicket lazy years
had let grow here. Though it wasn’t for lack

of love for the trees, I’d like to point out.
Years love trees in a way we can’t
imagine. They just don’t use the fruit
like us; they want instead the slant

of sun through narrow branches, the buckshot
of rain on these old cherries. And we,
now that I think on it, want those
things too, we just always and desperately

want the sugar of the fruit, the best
we’ll get from this irascible land:
sweetness we can gather for years,
new stains staining the stains on our hands.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Nathaniel Perry, and reprinted fromGettysburg Review, Vol. 23, no. 1, Spring 2010, by permission of Nathaniel Perry 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.

Being vs. doing

What's the Rush?

May 12, 2014

“Slowness is an option for everyone on the planet, not just a privilege reserved for the very wise or very young or very rich. All of us can decide (and the phrase is a potent one)
to take our time.”
—Christian McEwen, World Enough and Time

For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with deliberately slowing down my actions. I’ve been surprised by how many times I catch myself rushing, as opposed to simply moving efficiently and deliberately. When I take the dog’s medications out of the cupboard, when I get out of the car to go inside, when I unload the dishwasher—I feel an internal push to hurry. (Gretchen Rubin describes this feeling perfectly in Happier at Home: “I always have the feeling that I should be working. I always feel pressed for time, as if someone were shoving a pistol in my back and muttering ‘Move, move, move!’”) I’m already aware that when I hurry I break things and hurt myself, and I really don’t need to hurry every minute of every day, so what gives?

It’s at least partly the familiar and eternal battle between doing and being. No matter how hard I try, it seems that I can’t shake the feeling that if I’m not doing something (or hurrying on to the next something) then I’m not worthy. No matter how much I streamline my do-do list, there’s always more to do than I’ll ever be able to accomplish. Hurry has become a habit. One I’m determined to break.

Even with my new focus on not hurrying, and even though I’ve written several blog posts about the concepts of doing less and slowing down (see “Do Less in More Time” and “One Less Thing,” for example), I still struggle to follow my own advice. Take last Thursday. First, while driving home from the grocery store, I stopped too quickly at a stop sign, spilling my coffee into the cup holder and down the center console. After I cleaned that up and got the groceries unloaded, instead of just chilling for a few minutes, I got caught up on the computer and was late leaving for yoga class. I barely had time to take off my shoes, drop my keys and roll out my mat before it started. I felt flustered, distracted and off balance for at least half the class and the quality of my poses suffered. After lunch, while on the way to run an errand with no timetable, I realized I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I tried to hit every traffic light just right.

Slow down there, girl.

After that, I started reminding myself of a principle Natural Horsemanship practitioner Pat Parelli often refers to: Go slower to go faster. Here’s an example in action: that five seconds I saved by hurrying to go in the house is more than eaten up by the time it takes me to retrieve the mail from beneath the car where I just dropped it. If I’d taken my time in the first place, I’d already be inside (in the air conditioning) rather than crawling on the floor of the garage.  

When I remember to slow down, time does seem to lengthen. I’m able to move more smoothly from one thing to another without feeling internal pressure goading me on. So I’ll continue to pay attention to the speed at which I move. Keep saying no to busy work and rushing. Value the time and space between activities as much as the activities themselves. Seek out activities with a slower pace. And I’ll keep working on taking my time.

What makes you feel rushed? How do you slow down?

No rushing allowed


To Successfully Pursue Happiness

May 07, 2014

“To successfully pursue happiness, one must also work up the nerve to feel it, knowing full well that to finally open the heart is to encounter the other outlawed emotions in all their terrible glory.”
—Linda Kohanov, Riding Between the Worlds

Pursuing happiness: My son at age 4 with a litter of puppies. Scout is
the one licking his face.

Everyday adventures

I Love a Good Putter*

May 05, 2014

Already out of sync because of last week’s computer fiasco, this weekend I threw aside my usual routines for two days of puttering. Instead of riding Tank, working out, doing laundry and other household things, I:
  • Took a nap in the recliner (because Scout doesn’t understand the concept of sleeping in on the weekend, I had to walk her early Saturday morning since it was too early to just let her out in the backyard—she can be a noisy dog, and I want to remain friends with my neighbors).
  • Repotted a few orchids that were looking peaky. 
  • Puttered about town with my husband while he looked for tomato cages and a few other gardening items. We stopped at a place we’ve driven by for years—it turned out to be full of winding paths, ironwork, garden statuary, interesting plants, and…baby peacocks! And I did not have my camera! I will be going back.
  • Ate lunch with my husband at a favorite local restaurant. We both work at home so it feels like we’re always together, but really we don’t spend much time actually interacting. It was fun chatting and eating food someone else cooked.
  • Took off the winter slipcovers and replaced them with the summer ones. I’ll do the bed linens today.
  • Finished off the weekend by drinking a glass of wine and reading out on the lanai.

Prudy supervises the puttering

Though I felt a bit guilty about skipping some of my normal weekend activities, I think it’s good to change things up now and then, to wander through town with no real agenda, to blow off formal exercise for puttering around the house and yard. The laundry and elliptical machine will still be there. (Unfortunately.) And I finally trust myself to return to my healthy and organized habits after a brief break—I’m not going to throw all my systems to the wind and never return to my responsibilities. A weekend spent puttering refreshed me, helping me to look forward to what I hope will be a busy and productive week.

What would you do if you had a free weekend? What simple pleasures and everyday adventures would you like to indulge in?

*and I am not referring to the golf club.


When Good Computers Go Bad

May 02, 2014

Life took an unexpected detour last weekend when my computer began “acting funny” (my tech-savvy description). My husband spent a good portion of two days helping me tinker with the computer and doing online searches for things like “log on process has failed to create the security options dialog” and other, more ominous messages. After running various diagnostics and “fixes” (haha), which resulted in the computer doing nothing but blink at us, we finally determined the hard drive was failing and needed replacement.

My husband was confident he could replace the hard drive himself and we ordered a new one. We read a step-by-step description of the process, and watched a tutorial on YouTube. After the new drive arrived, he was able to put it in in just a few minutes. The most time-consuming thing has been reloading my operating system and all my programs. Fortunately, I had all my documents backed up. I thought I had my photos backed up but didn’t, not all of them—I’m still working on that. And figuring out how I can plug in my iPod without iTunes erasing all my music! (That’s happened to me before…) I figure by the end of today I’ll be finished getting things back to normal.

New hard drive
I’m deeply grateful to my husband, Larry, who worked patiently for hours while we tried to figure out the problem, and finally fix it. He put into words the moral of this story when he said, “You can fix anything if someone will show you how.” A good takeaway when life hands you unexpected adventure.

I would also add, if you have anything you value on your computer, back it up, Back It Up, BACK IT UP!

So endeth the lesson.

And how was your week?