Do You Do What Feeds Your Soul?

September 30, 2015

Photo courtesy Stefanus Martanto Setyo Husodo

“Paying close attention to those things that bring us joy is critical to creating a life that we love. Whether it’s making things, hiking, studying, or working with people…if it feeds our soul, gives us energy, transports us out of time and into a space of flow…we are meant to do more of these things. These gifts help make us the unique individuals we are. These gifts energize us, nurture us, and move us to a place where the fullness of our joy spills over to others. I wish I could banish the guilt most of must feel over spending time doing the things we enjoy!”
—Kathy Davis, Scatter Joy


When You'd Rather Go Back to Bed

September 28, 2015

It’s a gray Monday morning. It’s still hot and humid. My Tampa Bay Rays are playing the last few games of their season, trying to avoid being last in their division. It was too cloudy last night for me to see the lunar eclipse, which I had been looking forward to. Today I just feel generally grumpy. I have plenty to do, but I’d rather go to bed with a stack of books.

On days like this, I remind myself that these are not real problems. Having no place to sleep and not enough to eat, those are problems. But when I feel grumpy, it doesn’t make me less grumpy to be told I have no reason to be grumpy. Instead, I’m kind to myself, working into my day some of the simple pleasures I love most. For instance, today I’m enjoying:

A Pumpkin Spice Latte, purchased with the last of a gift card from my son.

A good cuddle with her:

And her:

A literal stack of books from my library (I went overboard on the hold requests):

Into every life, gray Monday mornings fall. We can weather them better if we have a few simple pleasures easily available to fortify us. What are some of your favorite ways to cope with a gray Monday?

168 Hours

How Keeping a Time Log Boosted My Happiness

September 25, 2015

Since 2012 after reading 168 Hours, by Laura Vanderkam, I’ve periodically used a time log to get a sense of where my time goes each day. I track my time for one week, and I always find it eye-opening. This time I took it one step farther by asking myself the three questions Vanderkam suggests we ask when evaluating time logs: What do I like about my schedule? What do I want to do more of with my time? What do I want to spend less time doing?

What do I like about my schedule?

I am incredibly lucky to be in charge of my schedule. I don’t go to an office every day to work for someone else, and since my son is grown, my days no longer revolve around his school and activities. My appointments and obligations are mostly ones I’ve chosen. I have the flexibility to experiment with my schedule, shuffling blocks of time for various activities: writing, errands, exercise, barn time, household chores and so on.

What do I want to do more of with my time?

I want to write more and read more. Since I’ve decided to get serious about my writing again, I’m shooting for 20 hours a week spent writing, marketing, and educating myself on either topics I want to write about or ways to improve my writing. I want chunks of time for reading during the day instead of waiting until evening when I’m too mentally tired. I want to add an occasional artist’s date to my writing schedule, not in addition to the time I’ve allotted for writing, but as a part of it—filling the well.

I also want to spend more time walking outdoors and with Tank when the weather finally cools off. That will require some shifting of working hours.

What do I want to spend less time doing?

Watching TV. I enjoy watching a few shows and the occasional movie with my husband, but I find that I keep watching when our show finishes and suddenly two hours (or more) has gone by.

Cooking and working in the kitchen. We eat at home 99 percent of the time, and I do most of the cooking. I don’t love cooking, but we want to eat healthfully, so I try to make most of our meals myself. I spend a great deal of time (at least a couple of hours a day) in the kitchen, between making meals and cleaning up after them. How can I simplify our meals and clean up so that I’m not spending so much time in the kitchen?

Understanding how I actually use my time (rather than how I think I do) helps me work better and play better. I realize how much control I have over my schedule, and I’m reminded of how productive I really can be, and that yes, I do spend time doing things I love: playing with Tank, reading, eating dinner with my husband every night. My time log is a snapshot of a full and interesting life—and that makes me happy.

Tracking your time can be a huge help if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels or you have no idea where your time goes. Evaluating the results of your time tracking can help you see what’s working well, what isn’t, and if there are any unnecessary activities sneaking in. If you want to try time tracking, you can download Vanderkam’s time log here

What do you want to do more of with your time? What do you want to spend less time doing?

Jane Hirshfield

The Drumming of the Woodpecker

September 23, 2015

Photo courtesy Joan Greenman

Introduction by Ted Kooser: In this fascinating poem by the California poet, Jane Hirshfield, the speaker discovers that through paying attention to an event she has become part of it, has indeed become inseparable from the event and its implications. This is more than an act of empathy. It speaks, in my reading of it, to the perception of an order into which all creatures and events are fitted, and are essential.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

Poem copyright © 2005 by Jane Hirshfield from her forthcoming book “After” (Harper Collins, 2006), and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. American Life in Poetry ©2005 The Poetry Foundation Contact: alp@poetryfoundation.org This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


Adventure Is Easier Than You Think

September 21, 2015

Photo courtesy Amanda Sandlin

This weekend I watched the movie Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s book about her experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in an effort to put her life back together following personal tragedy. While watching, my first thought was: I couldn’t do that. I’m just not physically and mentally tough enough to undertake a three-month, 1,000-mile hike through the wilderness by myself.

Good thing for me, I don’t have to. Instead of feeling inadequate, I remembered I have absolutely no desire to try grueling challenges like hiking the PCT (and I’m also blessed not to be coping with the amount of trauma and drama Strayed was). 

My adventures don’t need to look like Cheryl Strayed’s, or yours, or anyone else’s. Adventures don’t have to be big, scary undertakings to be adventurous. Adventure is not one-size-fits-all. Little adventures—everyday adventures as I call them—add immeasurable happiness to life. While bigger adventures may be more life-changing, everyday adventures (the new class, the trip to the beach at sunset, the visit to the farmer’s market, or watching for the next “blood moon,” for instance) are much more accessible to most people.

Adventures, small and large, are important because they open the mind, build confidence, and give the remembering self something to savor. When we stop waiting for the next big adventure and start incorporating everyday adventure into our lives, we’ll be happier for it.

Make a list of everyday adventures you want to try—and come back here to share with us!


Happy Little Things: Pumpkin Season

September 18, 2015

Photo courtesy Tim Becker

Signs of fall:

Changing leaves (nope).

A nip in the air (haha—nope).

Sweater weather (I think we’ve established this already…no and no and no).

Pumpkin everywhere (yes)!

Here in Florida, fall won’t start for another month at least, and that’s if we’re lucky. We don’t have changing leaves, but we do have pumpkin. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin bagels, and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes. While I’m waiting for fall, my favorite season, I’ll make pumpkin pie cookie dough energy balls and pumpkin cranberry bread. And yes, I will indulge in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. (Rumor has it Pumpkin Spice Lattes now contain some real pumpkin!)

What are your favorite happy little things of fall?


Dawna Markova

Full Bloom or Harvest?

September 16, 2015

 “Like the rest of the natural world, human beings go through seasons. At one point, we are in the full bloom of summer, harvesting, committed, in abundance. Then, naturally, there is an autumnal time of falling away, disillusionment, stagnation, a shedding of what has been used up. Then must come the fallowness and dormancy of winter, death, rest. Eventually…there is a great melting into muck and mud, which, if one can persevere, opens naturally into an abundant yellow-green time, when everything is possible and horizons open. Consider your own passion for a moment. Is it hiding under the softest fall of snow, or going through a raw shedding? And is your sense of purpose trembling with spring green or flaming in full harvest?”
—Dawna Markova, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life


Open for Business

September 14, 2015

Photo courtesy Dustin Lee

Today’s post is more of an announcement than a true post, but it’s definitely an everyday adventure and I want to share it with you. Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned revitalizing my freelance writing career, steep learning curves, etc. I’m still learning—I suspect I always will be—but finally, I’m officially open for business at kathyajohnsonwriter.com.

My first love is writing articles, both print and online, and I plan to continue to pursue those opportunities, but I’m also branching out into writing guest blog posts (bylined or ghost written), web content, and other types of writing as needed. Need a blog post for your business website? I can write it. Need copy for your email newsletter? Let me help. Need a flyer or brochure for your business? I can write that, too. I also offer copyediting and proofreading services. If you know of anyone who needs the kind of writing and editing services I offer, please pass along my name and contact info.

I want to thank Carol Tice (makealivingwriting.com) for my new mantra: “Stop waiting. You’re a writer, not a waiter.” Her matter-of-fact attitude and encouraging blog posts, as well as the support of the Freelance Writer’s Den, have helped enormously. I’ve taken advantage of the huge amounts of information and instruction both she and Linda Formichelli (of The Renegade Writer) offer (much of it free), and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

I owe another thank you to Laure Ferlita, who as my friend and partner in adventure, has encouraged me at every step to believe in myself and just do it, already. (Laure is beginning a new chapter in her own business, independent learning classes, and if you’re interested in go-at-your-own-pace watercolor instruction, I encourage you to give her classes a try. She’s an awesome teacher. Check out her post introducing her new classes here.) 

I could keep thanking people all day—my husband, the rest of my friends, and even those of you I only know through this blog. Your kindness and encouragement keep me going when I don’t feel like writing and the words won’t come.

Here’s to a new everyday adventure!



Three Habits That Trap Us in Our Comfort Zones

September 11, 2015

Photo courtesy Martin Wessley

So many times we’re tempted to procrastinate, to quit, or, worse, not to try at all, because something we want to do is complicated or doesn’t come easily. Just once, I’d like to try something new and find it immediately easy, but this has not been my experience with even my favorite activities: horseback riding, sketching, yoga, writing. These activities often push me well outside my comfort zone, but they have given me hours of happiness. I still don’t find them “easy,”—easier, yes, but not easy. Maybe easy is not the point?

Worthwhile pursuits—the ones that give us lasting happiness—often don’t come easy. We have to practice, to put in the time and effort to improve, or else we’ll be frustrated. And how many times do we opt for the easier choice: the TV program, the mindless internet surfing, and so on? What other factors keep us safe in our comfort zones instead of pursuing the very things we say we want to pursue? In my experience, there are three things that contribute to the inertia keeping us from enjoying challenging and happy-making pastimes: comparing ourselves to others; worrying about what others think; and not stopping to appreciate how far we’ve come.

Comparing ourselves with others. When we see someone perform effortlessly (or even just better than we do), we compare ourselves to them. Problem is, we compare our “inside” to their “outside.” We don’t know their lives and experience. We don’t know what’s going on in their heads and hearts, how easy or hard things are for them, how long it has taken for them to make it look effortless. It may feel just as hard to them as it does to us, only we can’t see that. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” according to Theodore Roosevelt. If we must compare, we should compare ourselves to ourselves. (See below.)

Worrying about what others think. If we’ve been comparing ourselves to others and feel we’re falling short, we probably also feel others are looking down on us. If we are new to a pastime or putting our work out there for everyone to see, it’s only natural that we feel worried about others’ responses. The truth? Most people don’t care what we do, or what we look like while doing it. They are too busy worrying about themselves. While they’re otherwise occupied, we can do what we want without fear of what others think.

Not appreciating how far we’ve come. The first time I took a horseback riding lesson, I was scared. Thrilled, but scared. My school horse was big and, to my mind, unpredictable. My body was confused about pretty much everything it was expected to do. Now, many years later, I’ve learned a great deal about horses and riding, and many of my actions on horseback are automatic. But since I’m still learning new things, I do have times when I perform awkwardly, or just plain badly. I could get frustrated by this, but because of my past experiences, I know not to give up if my first attempts are awkward or embarrassing. Compared with how I rode as beginner (sorry, Tank), I’ve come a long way.

Most things, if we keep at them, will become easier. We won’t always feel awkward and embarrassed, we won’t always have to think so hard about every action. Even if we’re trying something for the first time and we’re awful, by stepping outside our comfort zones, we’re miles ahead of all the people who haven’t been brave enough to try in the first place.

What challenging pursuit would you like to begin? What’s holding you back?

Lola Haskins

To Play Pianissimo

September 09, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Lola Haskins, who lives in Florida, has written a number of poems about musical terms, entitled “Adagio,”  “Allegrissimo,” “Staccato,”  and so on. Here is just one of those, presenting the gentleness of pianissimo playing through a series of comparisons.

To Play Pianissimo

Does not mean silence.
The absence of moon in the day sky
for example.

Does not mean barely to speak,
the way a child's whisper
makes only warm air
on his mother's right ear.

To play pianissimo
is to carry sweet words
to the old woman in the last dark row
who cannot hear anything else,
and to lay them across her lap like a shawl.

From “Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems,” BOA Editions, Rochester, NY. Copyright © 2004 by Lola Haskins and reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The column does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Baseball, Birthdays, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

September 04, 2015

Some weeks fly by faster than others. Some are more filled with simple pleasures and everyday adventures. I just experienced one of those weeks when my mom came to visit for a week. She lives in California, so we’re lucky to see each other once a year.

We started by anticipating the pleasure for several months leading up to her visit. Anticipation is a great simple pleasure, don’t you think? After we made airline reservations, I started making lists of things I wanted to do while she was here. Mostly what we wanted to do was talk and be together, so we didn’t plan activities for every day. We spontaneously chose to do what we felt like doing, whether that was taking a swim in the pool, shopping, or going out to lunch. I put aside my usual chores and activities so that I could sit and talk. And watch movies in the afternoon—decadence!

Some other highlights:

We had a family gathering so she could reconnect with my husband’s family who live locally. We used this get-together to celebrate two milestone birthdays: my son’s 21st and my father-in-law’s 80th. They share the same birthday!

We headed over to St. Petersburg for a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. My mom loves to go as much as I do, and Nick joined us. The Rays have been having an up and down season, but they won the day we went—go Rays! (Maybe we should go more often?)

Entrance to Tropicana Field

Nathan Karns pitching

We all went to Cinebistro for dinner and a movie on my son’s actual 21st birthday (Cinebistro is a 21-and-older establishment), one of our favorite outings. (We saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E.—a fun movie we all enjoyed.)

Now Mom is safely home, and I will be playing catch up on household chores and writing tasks. I feel refreshed from slowing down and enjoying the moments we spent together. It’s September, so I’ll be thinking about how this year has gone, and what I still would like to accomplish in 2015. (After all, September is the New January.)  And trying not to think about how long it will be before I see my mom again.

Mom getting ready to go home. Isn't she cute?

Henry Rollins

Summer's Ghost

September 02, 2015

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
—Henry Rollins