If This Isn't Nice...

April 29, 2015

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
—Kurt Vonnegut

Link love

Link Love XIII

April 24, 2015

Stress - What You See
Image courtesy Always Well Within

Guess what I’m doing today? I’m having a Field Trip Friday with my partner in adventure, Laure Ferlita. Come back to this here space next week for photos and details.

In the meantime, I leave you with the thirteenth edition of Link Love. I hope you find the following collection of Internet goodies as interesting as I did:

This article, “7 Cultural Concepts We Don’t Have in the U.S.,” intrigued me. I enjoy learning about what other cultures value. Personally, I’m a fan of gem├╝tlichkeit, and I wrote about wabi-sabi here, and kaizen here

One thing U.S. culture does have is an obsession with personal appearance. As I get older, I’m becoming more interested in what’s on the inside rather than the outside (which, let’s be frank, is not what it once was and won’t be ever again). This article helped: “Aging With Grace: Myth or Reality?”

I often include posts from Dani DiPirro’s blog, Positively Present, in Link Love, and for good reason. She’s always got something interesting to say.  In this post, she writes: “Happiness in the general sense is what many people strive for, but what they should be striving for instead is to cultivate a positive mindset that will lead to more happy moments. Creating a positive mindset involves a lifestyle change and a complete shift in how you see the world…. Happy moments, on the other hand, can be created with small acts.”

I identify with many of Austin Kleon’s “33 Thoughts on Reading.” Especially numbers one, eight, 16 (sigh) and 18.

I especially like the first suggestion listed in “9 Mostly Free Ways to Spark Creativity and Fun.” 

Some stories seem simple but pack a huge punch. Click here to read “10 Lessons From the Story of the Mexican Fisherman.” 

What would constitute a perfect day for you? This video, by Brenden Burchard, discusses “How to Design the Perfect Day.”


Not Let Go

April 22, 2015

Photo courtesy David Mao

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything that, later, I didn’t wish I had back, and I have a list of regrets as long as my arm. So this poem by Melissa Balmain really caught my attention. Balmain lives in New York State, and her most recent book is Walking in on People, from Able Muse Press.

Love Poem

The afternoon we left our first apartment,
we scrubbed it down from ceiling to parquet.
Who knew the place could smell like lemon muffins?
It suddenly seemed nuts to move away.

The morning someone bought our station wagon,
it gleamed with wax and every piston purred.
That car looked like a centerfold in Hot Rod!
Too late, we saw that selling was absurd.

And then there was the freshly tuned piano
we passed along to neighbors with a wince.
We told ourselves we’d find one even better;
instead we’ve missed its timbre ever since.

So if, God help us, we are ever tempted
to ditch our marriage when it’s lost its glow,
let’s give the thing our finest spit and polish—
and, having learned our lesson, not let go.

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 ©2014 by Melissa Balmain, “Love Poem,” from Walking in on People, (Able Muse Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Melissa Balmain and Able Muse Press. 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.


Mixed-Up Monday

April 20, 2015

Today we are having all our carpets cleaned. This means the whole house is torn apart, the animals are disturbed, it’s noisy, and my usual Monday routine has been upended. That’s the bad news.

The good news is: our carpets will look like new and I will feel like I got something major accomplished from my to do list (never mind that I’m not doing the actual cleaning).

I feel untethered—without my usual Monday activities performed in their usual order. Sometimes, untethered is good. Sometimes I narrow my vision too much, and become inflexible. Routines can become so ingrained that I lose all my creativity and joy in the doing.

I don’t want to throw all my routines to the wind, but maybe, just for today, I will. Maybe today I’ll binge read Janice MacLeod-Lik’s blog. Maybe today I’ll write a poem. Maybe today I’ll lounge around and finish reading Rex Stout’s Death of a Doxy. Maybe I won’t do one more blessed thing that could be considered productive.

After all, the carpets are clean… Isn’t that enough?

This is NOT what my office looks like right now...


Morning Walk

April 17, 2015

It poured last night, so I expected the air to be soupy this morning, but it’s surprisingly cool and fresh. As I walk, hear birds chirping, see cardinals, a catbird, and a blue jay flitting about. I also see a hawk glide silently to a perch high in tree.

Since I’m alone and not walking for exercise (i.e., fast), I notice things I frequently miss: the way the traffic along the main road near us hums almost harmoniously; the large shell ginger plants outside someone’s backyard, heavy with flowers; star jasmine scenting my own backyard. I see places where wild hogs have rooted through the woods looking for food. When I look up, I see spring green leaves forming a canopy over the path. Simple pleasures usually lost in the hurry of daily living.

I’m lucky enough to have a quiet, safe place to walk right in my community—I can walk right out my back gate onto a paved trail. I usually take it for granted. Even worse, when I do use it, I almost always only use it for exercise—making the loop as quickly as I can instead of taking it slowly, exploring, noticing. As part of my focus on delight this year, I plan to take more of these short, rambling walks. At least until the heat and humidity make it impossible to enjoy. I know that day is coming, and soon, but until then, I’ll indulge in a few more relaxed morning walks. Who knows what I might discover?

What delights do you take for granted?

A Moveable Feast

Spring Happiness

April 15, 2015

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
― Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast


Falling in Love With Paris Letters

April 13, 2015

Reading is like dating. There are the books you’re initially infatuated with, but become irritated by as the relationship progresses. There are the books you should love because they’re perfect for you, but you just can’t seem to connect. There are the books you love secretly because they’re no good, and you’d be embarrassed if your friends knew. There are the fix-ups, the “meet cutes,” the love-at-first-sights, and the long-term relationships that grow stronger over time. For me, Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters was an immediate friendship that grew into love. However, it was a romance that almost never happened.

See below for downloadable stationery*

I initially requested Paris Letters from the library thinking it was a book of artwork, the painted letters from Paris referenced in the title. When it turned out to be memoir, I nearly took it back, because do I really need to read another story of a woman simplifying her life, jetting off to see the world, and finding herself and/or true love? I mean, I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love and many other stories both fictional and non- of that ilk. Still, I decided to read the first few pages just to see…and I connected with MacLeod immediately. I liked her turns of phrase and casual voice. She seemed approachable, down-to-earth, real.  Somehow, this story of a 30-something vegan copywriter who goes to Paris and unexpectedly falls in love with a French-speaking Polish butcher resonated with me.

For MacLeod, it all started with a New Year’s resolution in 2010. She wanted to become an artist, and began journaling nearly every day, following Julia Cameron’s instructions regarding Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way. “Really, I just wanted to create something that made me feel good, because what I was currently creating definitely did not,” MacLeod writes.  What was she creating? Junk mail.

After two months of journaling and complaining about her job, a question emerged: “How much money does it take to quit your job?” In discussing it with a friend, she chose the figure of $100 a day (partly because of the easy math!) multiplied by how many days she did not want to work (at least one year). She spent the next year selling, saving and being vigilant about where her money went, eventually saving $60,000! It helped that she had a good job and was successful investing in the stock market. She quit her job in December with the plan of traveling the world and writing about it. When her money ran out, she would decide what to do next.

The rest of the book follows her journey to Paris, the UK, Italy…and back to Paris to be with “the lovely Cristophe.” She writes humorously about her struggles to communicate with Cristophe, the daunting paperwork required for her visa, and the challenges of (spoiler alert) planning a wedding in a foreign country. The title of the book comes from her unique solution for refilling her dwindling bank account: she would write and illustrate an original letter from Paris, and make personalized copies to sell. (At the time the book was printed, she had sent out more than 10,000 painted letters about life in France.) Some chapters end with copies of her Paris letters, illustrated in black and white (an unfortunate decision made by her publisher). She also includes a list of 100 ways she saved or didn’t spend her $100 a day. You can see (and subscribe to) her illustrated letters here.

Paris Letters was a happy read—and so far, one of my favorite books of 2015.

Have you “dated” any good books lately?

*Click here to download the stationery pictured beneath the book.


A Thousand Things

April 08, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I was born in April and have never agreed with T.S. Eliot that it is “the cruellest month.” Why would I want to have been born from that? Here’s Robert Hedin, who lives in Minnesota, showing us what April can be like once Eliot is swept aside.

This Morning I Could Do
a Thousand Things

I could fix the leaky pipe
Under the sink, or wander over
And bother Jerry who’s lost
In the bog of his crankcase.
I could drive the half-mile down
To the local mall and browse
Through the bright stables
Of mowers, or maybe catch
The power-walkers puffing away
On their last laps. I could clean
The garage, weed the garden,
Or get out the shears and
Prune the rose bushes back.
Yes, a thousand things
This beautiful April morning
But I’ve decided to just lie
Here in this old hammock,
Rocking like a lazy metronome,
And wait for the day lilies
To open. The sun is barely
Over the trees, and already
The sprinklers are out,
Raining their immaculate
Bands of light over the lawns.

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 Robert Hedin from his most recent book of poems, Poems Prose Poems, Red Dragonfly Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Robert Hedin 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


It's Not All Daffodils and Donuts

April 06, 2015

Friday I wrote about my trip to Georgia, and I realized after I posted that I had only included only what was positive during the trip. That’s what people usually want to read about, not necessarily a list of complaints about what went wrong, but it made me feel a little dishonest. The trip was excellent, and had very few bumps and bruises, but it did have a few. For example: just before we left, I got sick (with a cold) for the first time in at least two years. While I was gone, my husband had a rough week with our elderly dog and it worried me enough to consider coming home a day early. I got a cold sore part way through the trip, and Marianne got into some poison ivy that she’s still coping with. I tell you this to remind you (and myself) that few things are unadulteratedly perfect. Most experiences are a mix of good and bad, happy and sad, thrilling and annoying. It’s up to us to choose what to focus on. And when we choose to focus on the good, our memories usually, kindly, allow the bad to fade away.

Life isn’t all daffodils and donuts—sometimes it’s cold sores and poison ivy. So the next time you’re facing something that is not living up to your expectations or is more difficult or unpleasant than expected, there are a couple of ways to help yourself through. For instance, you can think about how you’ll enjoy having done whatever-it-is when you’re through (childbirth comes to mind here…) or how great the end result will be. (Again, childbirth comes to mind, but there are plenty of less extreme examples!)

The Georgia trip was filled by far with more delights than difficulties, but even if the balance had fallen the other way, I would have tried to look for the good. What good does it do to focus on the bad? That’s not what I want more of in my life. I much prefer the daffodils and donuts.

When you face difficulties, how do you focus on the positive?


Georgia On My Mind...and My Shoes

April 03, 2015

As promised, today’s post will detail some of the delights of my trip to Georgia last week.

My friend Marianne and her family own an old farmhouse on acreage in Georgia, and she invited me and two other friends for a week’s stay there. We all accepted happily...and then life intervened. Our two friends had to drop out, and what started out as four barn buddies on the road turned into an intimate, two-person trip. Marianne and I have been friends for years, but this is the first trip we’ve taken together.  I was confident we’d do well, and from my standpoint, we did.  (You’ll have to ask Marianne how she feels…) We talked about everything from awkward childhoods, first loves, how we met our husbands, how our college-age kids are doing, to what’s new with our horses. After two long drives and a week’s togetherness, we’re still friends!

Some trip highlights:

The first morning after we arrived, we drove to Blue Ridge, where we visited the Blue Ridge Art Center, and ate lunch at a little coffee shop/restaurant. We explored some of the charming shops, both of us reveling in the ability to browse without our male family members hurrying us along. We scoped out a used bookstore and wondered about the fluffy white trees blooming everywhere (anyone know what these are?).

After Blue Ridge, our next stop was Mercier Orchards, where we stocked up on essentials: cider donuts and cinnamon pecan bread.

We picked up some groceries and fortified ourselves at Starbucks, then hit the meadow for some quality rambling.

On day two, we packed up the camp chairs to sketch. No sooner had we settled ourselves on the hill than we felt sprinkles of rain, so we adjourned to the front porch, where we both sketched the corn crib (see my sketch below). It had stopped raining by the time we were done with our sketches, so we moved our chairs down by the creek. We sketched a bit more, read, or simply listened to the music of the water.

After lunch, we carried bucket and shovel down to the meadow to collect some daffodils for transplanting up near the house and corn crib. Marianne performed the labor (and I do mean labor) wrestling the bulbs from the thick Georgia clay, and digging holes for them in their new locations. I planted the bulbs and helped water them in. Our reward: a cold, hard cider on the front porch before taking a hike up the hill at the far edge of their property.

We enjoyed comfortable temperatures the first few days, but the weather turned cold and damp towards the end of the week…just in time for us to go trail riding! Suitably bundled up, we mounted our trail horses (Polly and Diesel), and proceeded to learn the outfitters were called Adventure Trail Rides for good reason. The trails wound mostly up and down hills, one so steep the horses had to take a running start to get up it! The trails themselves were thick, slippery clay laced with rocks, but our horses slithered surefooted through them anyway.  As long as I gave my horse his head and let him pick his way up and down, we did fine. It was fun riding in a completely different environment—at home we mostly ride in a ring or at the very “roughest,” on flat, sandy trails. We joked that our horses would take one look at these trails and go on strike. Yes, we have sissy horses. (We didn’t take cameras or phones on the ride, so I have no photos from this experience, unfortunately.)

We woke up Sunday to 16 degrees Fahrenheit, and a car covered with frost! Reluctantly, we said good-bye to the farmhouse and hit the road.

The farmhouse had wireless Internet but no TV, and I didn’t bring my computer, deliberately giving myself permission to disconnect. Without the distractions of TV and hours spent on the Internet, we had plenty of time every day to take long walks through the meadow and up the hill. Our meals were quiet and relaxed. I wrote in my journal nearly every day, and read whenever I got the chance. It occurred to me that at home I make myself artificially busy by thinking I have to read all my emails, keep up with umpteen bloggers, and do so many other little things that don’t really matter. As usual, I came home determined to tweak my daily routine to make it more fulfilling. I’ve started unsubscribing to email newsletters and skimming (or even skipping) blog posts in my feed reader. At the farmhouse, instead of TV, we played music from Marianne’s iPod (she’s the playlist queen!) and that’s something I want to do more here at home. I’ve started making my own playlists and I’m looking into getting an iPod dock with speakers so I can listen to music without using ear buds.

Travel, friendship, sketching, wandering outside, having precious time for doing nothing—these simple pleasures and everyday adventures mean so much to me. Thank you, Marianne, for giving them to me last week.


Yes, You

April 01, 2015

Seen on the streets of Blue Ridge, GA:

What will you make today?