Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Turning of the Year

Photo courtesy winterdove

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Here’s a New Year’s poem by Judy Ray, who lives and writes in Tucson. I like the way that common phrase, “the turning of a year,” has suggested to her the turns in a race track. Her most recent book is To Fly Without Wings, (Helicon Nine Editions, 2009). 

Turning of the Year

We never know if the turn
is into the home stretch.
We call it that—a stretch
of place and time—
with vision of straining,
racing.  We acknowledge
each turn with cheers
though we don’t know
how many laps remain.
But we can hope the course
leads on far and clear
while the horses have strength
and balance on their lean legs,
fine-tuned muscles, desire
for the length of the run.
Some may find the year smooth,
others stumble at obstacles
along the way.  We never know
if the finish line will be reached
after faltering, slowing,
or in mid-stride, leaping forward.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher ofPoetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Judy Ray, “Turning of the Year,” from The Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers, (Whirlybird Press, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Judy Ray and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year in Review: 2015 in Pictures and Posts

It seems like only yesterday that I was contemplating the fresh new calendar year of 2015, and yet here we are only four days away from 2016. In looking back over the year, I notice that I’ve chosen to write about—and highlight here—mostly 2015’s simple pleasures and everyday adventures—and that’s fitting for the theme of this blog. The one glaring exception is the post I wrote about the death of our dog. I haven’t chosen to share the details of every moment good or bad (you’re welcome), merely the ones I thought you would enjoy hearing about or  possibly learn from along with me. Even though I try to remain positive, and to focus on what good and useful things can be taken from difficult or painful experiences, life is rarely ever all good or all bad, but a mixture of both. Here’s a look back at my 2015 in pictures and posts.

January

Interrupting winter.


February

Completing a sketching challenge and Tanks 20th birthday.



March

Appreciating the delight of little things.


April




May

Picking blueberries and extolling the pleasures of journaling.


June

Making a summer bucket list and  going to the beach with Tank.


July

Cultivating pronoia.


August

Proclaiming my love for books.


September



October

Visiting the Chocolate Kingdom, banishing the B word, and beginning the grieving process for our dog. 


November

Joining the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge and experimenting with essential oils.



Which brings us to December, where I’ve spent my time keeping the cat out of the tree, taking walks, and trying to finish up my 2015 reading challenges (I’ve finished Mount TBR, I have one book left to make a Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo, but I’ve no hope at all of completing the classics challenge.)

Onward to 2016!

What were the highlights of your year? What were some of your challenges, triumphs, and disappointments? What have you learned in 2015?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Wish for You


“This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!”
—D.M. Dellinger

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Spirits of Blog Posts Past: The Good Enough Blog Post

Photo courtesy Laure Ferlita
This originally ran in December of 2011. The thoughts expressed are once again on my mind, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m reposting it. I’m pretty sure we could all use reminding.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of Good Enough. The painting trip to NOLA focused my attention on the concept as I created sketchbook pages that were far from perfect, but were “good enough” for their purpose: to help me remember a captivating place and group of people.

For me, that’s the biggest blessing: Good Enough is an antidote to perfectionism. How many times do we avoid trying new things, obsess over details, or become stalled by the idea that something must be Perfect, or even its cousin Really Good, before it sees the light of day? (I know this blog post could be better—I could spend hours “perfecting” it, but it still wouldn’t be “perfect.” I’ve already delayed posting it once because it wasn’t—you guessed it—Good Enough.)

The holiday season is a good time to focus on the concept of Good Enough. How easy it is to fall into the trap of searching for the “perfect” gift, decorating the house perfectly, cooking up delicious and special Christmas treats, and so on. All this on top of your regular, everyday life and its responsibilities! Frankly, that way lies madness and sitting in a corner, slugging down eggnog and biting the heads off gingerbread men on Christmas morning.

Good Enough can be excellent. Or it can be average. It’s not settling, but as author Heather Sellers writes, “It’s celebrating the truth. Good Enough means you know when to quit.” It’s up to us to decide what gets our time, resources and attention—and how much of those resources we are willing to spend. Everything we do cannot be Perfect. I’m sorry, but it just can’t be.

So how can we embrace Good Enough? By applying the three Ls:

Lower our standards. Don’t have time to cook an entire holiday meal from scratch? I know from experience that many grocery stores have really fine options for the harried holiday hostess. Can’t work out for an hour? Take a 15-minute walk. Something is better than nothing, and it will keep us in the exercise habit.

Laugh when things go wrong, or don’t quite come out the way we envisioned. Laughter is a better option than tears, and others are more likely to relax and go with the flow when they see that we’re not overly bothered by the unexpected.

Love the opportunity, love the process, love the result. Sometimes we (I) forget that life is an adventure, full of new experiences, not all of which will seem “good” on the surface. It’s all a process, leading to the result of a full, rich life.

And repeat after me: Good Enough is…Good Enough.

Has there been a time when you’ve embraced Good Enough and found the outcome was just fine, or even better than you expected?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The First Ornament


Introduction by Ted Kooser: The first winter my wife and I lived in the country, I brought a wild juniper tree in from our pasture and prepared to decorate it for Christmas. As it began to warm up, it started to smell as if a coyote, in fact a number of coyotes, had stopped to mark it, and it was soon banished to the yard. Jeffrey Harrison, a poet who lives in Massachusetts, had a much better experience with nature.

Nest

It wasn’t until we got the Christmas tree
into the house and up on the stand
that our daughter discovered a small bird’s nest
tucked among its needled branches.

Amazing, that the nest had made it
all the way from Nova Scotia on a truck
mashed together with hundreds of other trees
without being dislodged or crushed.

And now it made the tree feel wilder,
a balsam fir growing in our living room,
as though at any moment a bird might flutter
through the house and return to the nest.

And yet, because we’d brought the tree indoors,
we’d turned the nest into the first ornament.
So we wound the tree with strings of lights,
draped it with strands of red beads,

and added the other ornaments, then dropped
two small brass bells into the nest, like eggs
containing music, and hung a painted goldfinch
from the branch above, as if to keep them warm.

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 ©2011 by Jeffrey Harrison, whose most recent book of poems is Incomplete Knowledge, Four Way Books, 2006. Reprinted from upstreet, No. 8, June 2012, by permission of Jeffrey Harrison and the publisher. 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Scenes From a Morning Walk


Trying not to take for granted the beautiful place I live—despite the less-than-ideal climate, I do love to take a walk in the morning. The pictures in this post come from two different walks, but are indicative of what I see when I make time to look:


You can barely see it, but there's a hawk on the sign!




If we were to move, I think our trail would be one of the things I’d miss the most. Why is it we take for granted the simple pleasures that are always available to us?

What treasures, what simple pleasures, are right under your nose? 

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Share Some Happiness

Photo courtesy Thomas Muhl

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
—Buddha


What’s making you happy today?

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Friday, December 4, 2015

December So Far


If the year were a car, someone just stepped on the gas. We’re accelerating—streaking down the road toward the end of the race that is 2015.

How did that happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was exploring in Georgia?  Or a couple of weeks ago that I was interrupting winter?  Even though we’re only a few days into December, I've already enjoyed many simple pleasures and everyday adventures. For instance:

We’re expecting out of town relatives this weekend, so we decorated the house for the holidays. We haven’t done this since Prudy joined the household for this reason:


You might think that she’d stay out of the tree now that she’s a big ol’ cat rather than a tiny little kitten. You would be wrong. I remove her from the tree several times every day. Her general attitude seems to be, “How kind of you to place this giant cat toy in the family room!” My husband and son have a bet going on how many ornaments she’ll break (only one so far but it’s early days yet). Our most special or sentimental ornaments are safely displayed where she can’t get to them, but I imagine the tree will be somewhat ragged by the end of the month if she continues to be fascinated by it.

I’ve been sulking about the weather, which remains stubbornly and unseasonably warm and humid. I predict simultaneous use of the central air and the fireplace on Christmas.

I saw Kinky Boots at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. 

I’ve had to start my horse on a fat supplement because he needs to gain some weight in preparation for the cold weather that will, eventually, I hope, come. That’s just all kinds of unfair.

I’ve been reading a lot. I just finished the delightful Cold Comfort Farm, I’m reading (or rereading) Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss novels, and I’ve started reading graphic memoirs (is that a thing?)—An Age of License (Lucy Knisley), and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast). My reading challenges languish while I read at whim. 

Despite the full schedule (notice I didn’t say busy), I’m doing my best to think about what I’m doing and enjoy it, instead of rushing through it. No need to make that car go any faster!

What have you been up to lately? What plans do you have for the end of the year?

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Call Her Back


Introduction by Ted Kooser: This may be the only poem ever written in which a person claps the mud from a pair of shoes! Michael McFee’s poetry is just that original, in all of his books. His most recent is That Was Oasis (Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 2012), and he lives in North Carolina.

Ovation

He stood on his stoop
and clapped her sneakers together
hard, a sharp report,
smacking right sole against left,
trying to shock the mud
from each complicated tread,
spanking those expensive footprints
until clay flakes and plus
ticked onto the boxwood’s leaves
like a light filthy sleet
from the rubber craters and crannies
where they stuck weeks ago,
until her shoes were banged clean
though that didn’t stop
his stiff-armed slow-motion applause
with her feet’s emptied gloves,
slapping mate against mate
without missing a beat,
half-wishing that hollow sound
echoing off their neighbors’ houses
could call her back.

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 Michael McFee, “Ovation,” (River Styx 83, 2010). Poem reprinted by permission of Michael McFee and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gratitude Transforms

Photo courtesy Mayur Gala

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
—William Arthur Ward

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 23, 2015

"Artists Need to Take Risks"--An Afternoon With Mary GrandPre

Mary GrandPre
On Saturday afternoon, Laure Ferlita and I attended a talk by illustrator Mary GrandPre sponsored by our local arts council. Though GrandPre is probably best known for her illustrations for the Harry Potter books, she’s illustrated seven picture books as well as created illustrations for many editorial and advertising clients. 

GrandPre was born in South Dakota, but her family moved to Minnesota when she was still a baby. She began drawing at age 5, went through a “Salvador Dali phase,” and later practiced drawing by copying black and white photos from the encyclopedia. After attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she paid her dues waiting tables as she built her portfolio and began to attract clients. Eventually she moved into illustrating children’s books, and it was her first one, Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat, that attracted the attention of executives at Scholastic, Inc., who were looking for an illustrator for a book about a young wizard. At first she planned to turn down the job because she was already busy, she told us, but after the publisher encouraged her to read the manuscript, she changed her mind. As she told Communications Arts Magazine, “It sounded like a nice job, so I said  ‘sure.’ I presented three cover sketches, they chose one, and I was pretty happy with everything. They were great to work with, and I think I remember them saying there might be more. At the time, it just seemed like another job.” GrandPre is grateful for the popularity of Harry Potter, but she’s just as proud of (and deservedly so) her other work, which includes The Noisy Paint Box, The Carnival of the Animals and Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, a project she worked on with her husband, Tom.

Sketches from the creation of The Noisy Paint Box
I knew nothing about the process of illustrating books, so I was interested in how she described it. After researching her topic, she begins sketching quickly, often using tracing paper and ink. Sometimes, she said, she does get stuck, especially at the beginning of the process. She tries not to get discouraged if she ends up with nothing usable after a day of work, believing that there are no wasted days. “The next day will be better because of today,” she said. After some back and forth with the art director of the project, the sketches are finalized. She likes to have three to four months to complete the final paintings. She has worked in pastels, acrylics, oils, and charcoal, and has used collage in at least one of her projects.

I was impressed with how kindly and patiently she answered audience questions that ranged from “How can I encourage my child who loves to draw?” to “I’m writing a children’s book—how do I find a publisher?” After her talk, we were able to examine some of her work close up, and it was beautiful. She grew up attending Catholic school and church, and she mentioned that one of her early influences was the glow of the light coming through stained glass windows. I think that same glow fills her work.

GrandPre tries to do something different in each project. It’s important to her to keep growing. “Artists need to take risks,” she said. “I want to be challenged and try new things. If not, I’d rather wait on tables.”

You can learn more about Mary GrandPre and see some of her work on her website, marygrandpre.com



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Friday, November 20, 2015

Small Changes Coming to Catching Happiness


After six years, it’s time for a change. This blog was never intended to make money (except in my wildest fantasies), and good thing, too, because it’s been a crashing failure in that regard. It was intended to be a creative outlet for me, and a way to make connections with other like-minded people. In that regard, it’s been a complete success. But now it’s time for me to put my primary writing focus elsewhere—on building my freelancing business. You may have noticed a couple of other changes as well: I’ve updated “About Me” and streamlined the sidebars. (Don’t worry if your blog was in my sidebar—I’ve added it to my feed reader and still plan to visit often!)

I love writing for Catching Happiness and will continue to post here, just not quite as often. My plan right now is to post once or twice a week instead of two to three times a week. I’ll continue to share simple pleasures and everyday adventures, as well as bits of happiness news and other happy little things. I still love to hear from you, so please share whatever is on your mind via the comments section, or by contacting me directly. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment over these past years—your words mean more to me than you know.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Does Your Happiness Depend On?


“For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness on major events like a great job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”
—Andy Rooney

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Happy Little Things: Essential Oil Aromatherapy

It’s funny how things start. In yoga class, the teacher offered us a dab of a stress-relieving essential oil during our final resting pose. I don’t know if it alleviated my stress (which was pretty low after practicing yoga for an hour), but it smelled lovely. In the back of my mind, I decided I wanted to buy a bottle of that scent to have on hand, simply because it smelled good.

Then, after thus stimulating my reticular activating system, I began to see information about essential oils and aromatherapy everywhere. Friends began to use and sell different brands of oils. I remembered that one friend of mine used essential oils on her horse to help calm her after another friend asked me about trying them on a pony at our barn who is especially high strung. I wondered if using essential oils in a diffuser would make our house smell better (we rarely open the windows because of the humidity so I think it smells stale in here) and maybe even boost our moods and immune systems. Maybe I could find some essential oils to improve my ability to think and concentrate when I’m writing!

So with my mom’s help, for my birthday I bought a diffuser, a set of oils for the aromatherapy beginner, and a book on basic aromatherapy. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with the oils and the diffuser and have found several combinations I like: eucalyptus and lemon for the kitchen, peppermint for my office, lavender in our bedroom at night. I only have one diffuser, so I move it around the house with me as needed. I plan to use the oils in making cleaning solutions for the house, and also find a way to use them in my car—either a diffuser meant for the car, or simply a cotton ball with a bit of oil on it. I have a lot to learn about what each oil is good for (and I still haven’t bought that first bottle that started all this) but I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of finding out. Essential oils are my newest happy little thing!

What’s your newest happy little thing?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Verses for the Armed Services

Photo courtesy picaland

Introduction by Ted Kooser: During World War II the government endorsed the publication of inexpensive paperbacks for persons serving overseas. Jehanne Dubrow, who lives and teaches in Maryland and whose husband is a naval officer, here shows us one of those pocket-sized volumes. This poet's latest book is The Arranged Marriage, (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).

Armed Services Editions

My copy of The Fireside Book of Verse
is as the seller promised—the stapled spine,
the paper aged to Army tan—no worse
for wear, given the cost of its design,
six cents to make and printed on a press
once used for magazines and pulp. This book
was never meant to last a war much less
three quarters of a century.
                                                I look
for evidence of all the men who scanned
these lines, crouched down in holes or lying in
their racks. I read the poems secondhand.
Someone has creased the page. Did he begin
then stop to sleep? to clean his gun perhaps?
to listen to the bugler playing taps?

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 ©2015 by Jehanne Dubrow, “Armed Services Editions,” (Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, no. 2, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Jehanne Dubrow and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2015 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Should We Pursue Happiness?


Albert Camus said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Does this mean we shouldn’t try to seek ways to be happier? Should we just “get over it” and live the life before us?

Well, that depends on what we mean by happiness.

If we’re confusing happiness with pleasure, maybe. Continual chasing of pleasure and feel-good moments will not bring deep and lasting happiness. Being afraid of or avoiding negative emotions will also backfire, because frankly, no life is devoid of experiences that feel sad or scary and there is a lot to be learned from those experiences. But happiness as I define it here on the blog isn’t just pleasure—it’s a deeper, wider, more all-encompassing emotion. An emotion that includes joy and pleasure, but also satisfaction after achieving something worthwhile, or living up to my ideals in a difficult situation. It also encompasses contentment and a feeling of well-being. So many facets of happiness make achieving it easier as well as more worthwhile.

We run into trouble when we feel we should always feel happy. Negative feelings are normal. Thinking we shouldn’t have them can make us even more miserable. We shouldn’t pursue feelings of happiness at the expense of everything else. That would be like eating only chocolate and never eating spinach and expecting to be healthy. Maybe the spinach doesn’t taste as good as the chocolate (at least to me it doesn’t), but it offers nutrients chocolate doesn’t. I want to be strong and healthy in both body and mind, and I can’t do that if I only eat chocolate…or pursue pleasure. We should be open and accepting of the richness of all our emotions, even times of sadness, fear, boredom, or frustration. These emotions often bear a message of change, or wake us up from sleepwalking through life.

I can’t say that I’ve been especially happy the past two weeks. And yet—I have. I’m heartbroken over losing our beloved family dog, but somehow the breaking open of my heart has allowed in the caring and understanding of others, and in those moments, I’ve felt loved by and connected to them in ways I hadn’t before. The crack in my heart has released my feelings of love and gratitude for those people, and for the many other rich gifts in my life.

What does pursuing happiness mean to you?

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