End of the year

2016 End-of-Year Link Love

December 23, 2016

I typically take a break from blogging during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I’m doing just that next week. For me, this time of year is a time of reflection and planning. I’ll be reviewing 2016, working on setting goals, and choosing a word of the year next week, as well as spending a little extra time reading for pleasure, and resting up after hosting the family for Christmas. I didn’t want you to have Catching Happiness withdrawals (haha) so I prepared this Link Love for you to enjoy while I’m gone.

I loved Marie Forleo’s three-question end-of-the-year review process.  Simple, yet powerful.

For a more in-depth review of 2016, try Sandra Pawula’s 18 questions. There’s a free downloadable workbook, as well. 

I find choosing a word of the year a helpful practice (though I didn’t write about it on the blog, 2016’s word was “Quality.”) Here’s an article by Liz Smith about choosing a guiding word for 2017. As she writes, “Once you have your word, let it light the unknown path for you next year.”

I rarely listen to podcasts, but it’s something I would like to do more of in the coming year. I just discovered the Beaks and Geeks podcast, thanks to an email from Penguin Random House. Here’s a link to a round-up of “10 Best of Books Author Podcasts.” I’ll probably listen to some of these next week as well.

I would love to try this monthly art and inspiration subscription from Holstee. I’m adding it to my list of treats/rewards. (No affiliation.)

If you’re looking for a way to improve your habits, you can try this habit-tracking calendar. (No affiliation.)

And on a less introspective note, I’ve spent far too much time watching Simon’s Cat videos on YouTube. Why don’t you join me? Click below for the Christmas Collection:


I truly hope your 2016 was a stellar year, and that even better things are in store for you in 2017.

Happiness

Wishing You Happiness and Peace This Holiday Season

December 21, 2016


“Happiness, true happiness, is an inner quality. It is a state of mind. If your mind is at peace, you are happy. If your mind is at peace, but you have nothing else, you can be happy. If you have everything the world can give—pleasure, possessions, power—but  lack peace of mind, you can never be happy.”
—Dada Vaswani

Change

The Discomfort Zone

December 16, 2016


I indulge in the comforts of life—comfort food, comfort reads, comfortable routines—at least as much as the next person. But I must admit that dis-comfort has also played an important and positive role in my life. As much as I hate to admit it, discomfort does more to help me towards my best life than comfort does.

Why is discomfort important? Discomfort prompts us to change. It’s a sign that something is wrong or needs attention. If things are great as they are, why would you want or need to change? It’s that restless, edgy, something’s-not-quite-right feeling that spurs us on to better things.

For example, when I become uncomfortable in my body, I increase my exercise and monitor my eating if it’s my weight that’s bothering me. If I’m exhausted, I get more sleep, and if I’m hurting, I make appointments with professionals who can help me feel better. When the mess in my office becomes uncomfortable, it’s time to go through the paper piles (see photo!). Most recently I’ve become uncomfortable with the amount of stuff in my house. I’m not a minimalist (or a hoarder), but my belongings are weighing on me rather than bringing me joy and comfort. I’ve tipped over the edge of enough into too much. Discomfort will help me pare away the “too much” and reach the “just right.”

Sometimes I’ll notice that nagging feeling of discomfort around my behavior. I’ll say or do something and wonder later what I was thinking. Or I’ll hear myself talking griping about a situation to a friend or my husband, and realize there’s something about it that’s getting under my skin. Often, this means it’s time to examine my motives, my needs, and my true desires. Do my actions match up with my stated goals? If not, time to change.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with being in our comfort zones…sometimes. If we were constantly uncomfortable, it would make for an unpleasant, unhappy life. Our comfort zones can be places to relax and recharge, places to regroup and ready ourselves for a return to the discomfort zone—because that’s where real growth takes place.

Is anything causing you discomfort right now? Does something need to change?

December

December Ladybug

December 14, 2016

Photo courtesy Filip Kruchlik

Introduction by Ted Kooser:
We are never without our insect companions, even in winter, and here’s one who has the run of the house. Roger Pfingston lives in Indiana.

December

Lodged tight for days
in a corner of the wall,
ladybug can’t resist the tree

crawling now over cold
light, ceramic fruits,
tinsel lamb and sleigh.

Flies out of the tree
to try rum cake on a
plate of caroling cherubs.

Ends up on her back,
wings flared, silly girl
spinning over the kitchen floor.

Later, between the blinds,
tiny bump of silhouette:
a stillness against the falling snow.


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 Roger Pfingston and reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 80 & 81, Fall 2013. Roger Pfingston’s most recent book of poems is A Day Marked for Telling, Finishing Line Pr., 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Roger Pfingston 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.

Books

Recklessly Buying Books

December 09, 2016

Despite my stated goal of reducing the to-be-read (TBR) stack of books I own, the theme of 2016 could easily be summed up in the title of this post. Never mind that my closet shelves already groaned beneath the weight of books I just HAD to have, never mind that even a rapid reader would literally have reading material for years, I have gone and purchased (or received from Paperback Swap) more than 50 books this year.


While I’ve been diligent about reading from my stack, there’s simply no way to get ahead—that is, reduce the TBR stack to a more manageable level—if I keep buying books at such a pace.

But really, who can resist David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls for 50 cents?  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady for $1? Or even At Home With Beatrix Potter for $8.50? Not I.

It’s not just the books themselves that I love—I love the hunt. I carry lists of books I’m looking for in my purse. I search out used bookstores when I’m on vacation, and I happily troll the Internet for books to add to my collection.

There is a way to fix this, I know. Simply stop going into the Friends of the Library bookstore at my local library. Stop frequenting used bookstores. Stop reading book blogs because they introduce me to books I want to read and if I can’t find them at the library I end up adding them to my wish list (and we all know what I wind up doing then—say it with me—recklessly buying books). Stop reading the book reviews in my Sunday paper (because: see above).

But who am I kidding? I’m not going to do, or stop doing, any of those things. Searching for books is a huge source of simple pleasure and happiness. This is a relatively harmless addiction, since most of my book purchases are $10 or less. I could collect Faberge eggs, or antique cars, or even first editions, all of which cost a lot more than my second-hand copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. And my TBR stack is not—yet—a fire hazard.

I have to conclude that unless my very nature changes, I’ll continue recklessly buying books.

I can live with that.

How about you? Anything you’ve spent 2016 “recklessly buying”?

Happiness

The Greatest Feat

December 07, 2016

Photo courtesy Joe Beck
“It takes great wit and interest and energy to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is a great activity. One must be open and alive. It is the greatest feat man has to accomplish.”
—Robert Herrick

Cats

A Lovely Old Cat

November 30, 2016


Introduction by Ted Kooser: We've been selecting poems for this column for more than ten years and I can't remember ever publishing a poem about a cat. But here at last is a cat, a lovely old cat. Ron Koertge lives in California, and his most recent book of poems is Vampire Planet: New & Selected Poems, from Red Hen Press.

Lily

No one would take her when Ruth passed.
As the survivors assessed some antiques,
I kept hearing, “She's old. Somebody
should put her down.”

I picked her up instead. Every night I tell her
about the fish who died for her, the ones
in the cheerful aluminum cans.

She lies on my chest to sleep, rising
and falling, rising and falling like a rowboat
fastened to a battered dock by a string.

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 ©2016 by Ron Koertge, “Lily,” from Vampire Planet: New & Selected Poems, (Red Hen Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Ron Koertge and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.

30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge: 2016 Edition

28 Days and Counting--Gratitude Challenge Review

November 28, 2016

For the past 28 days I’ve been participating in the 2016 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge, sponsored by Dani from Positively Present and Caroline from Made Vibrant. Each day, I’ve used a prompt to write about something for which I’m grateful, added a photo, and posted the results on Instagram and Facebook. Some days I’ve gone deeper than others, some days practically wrote themselves, and other days I’ve had to mull over the prompt all day before I could come up with something to write about.

I really am grateful for all that I have, and all that I’ve experienced and learned, even the hard things. My life isn’t “perfect,” but it’s perfect for me. Twenty-eight (and counting) days of gratitude have reminded me of just how good I have it. As promised, here are a few of my favorite posts along with their photos (prompts are in bold):

Day 2/Love: 

“Love them with your heart, not your ego.” I can’t remember where I read this, but it has been a life-changing lesson for me when people I SAY I love don’t behave the way I want them to! It’s helped me to let go of my expectations for others and simply love them. It’s brought me peace instead of frustration and pain. It’s even helped me love myself when I’m not (surprise!) perfect. This photo is of my cat—who I love with all my heart, even though she sometimes (ahem) behaves in ways I don’t want her to!

Day 9/Wonder:
It took half a lifetime of dreaming, but 12 years ago this guy came into my life. I’m still filled with wonder when I’m with him, even today, when I finished up his fall clip (in Florida, he won’t need his winter coat until about February) and came home covered in sweat and horse hair. So grateful for him.


Day 10/Art:


Julia Cameron wrote, “My feeling is that if you are making art, you are already an artist. Over time you may become a better one, more skilled in your craft, but what do real artists do? They make art. If you’re making art, even beginning art, you’re a real artist—at least today.” By this definition, I’m an artist, because I make art. It’s not art to sell, or even always to share, but I’ve begun sketching, either in pencil or using watercolor, every day for at least five minutes. I’m grateful for this simple way to bring art into my life, as well as the quiet moments spent this way, and the memories brought to mind by looking through my sketchbook pages.

Day 11/Memory:

This photo is of my mom’s house, which used to be my grandparents’ house, in Northern California. It holds many of my happiest childhood memories, including playing card games, and indulging in Grandma’s homemade bread and boysenberry cobbler. Now that my mom lives there, we’re making new memories. I’m grateful for the love, peace, joy, and continuity this house stands for.


Day 15/Gift:
One of the best gifts I was ever given came from my husband. It was near my birthday, and our son was just about to enter elementary school. My husband bought me a cake with our son’s photo on it and the words “Thank you Mommy. You were there when I needed you” written in icing, as well as a beautiful opal necklace. It wasn’t so much the gifts themselves as the sentiment—your contributions to family life are important, and what you do matters—that meant so much to me. When our son was born, I’d left work in our business and become a stay-at-home mom. I wanted this very much, but had found the experience much more difficult that I expected. I was (and am) grateful for the recognition of my work and sacrifices, and felt loved, appreciated, and respected. Photo is of me and Nick at the zoo.

Day 23/Progress:

My motto is “progress, not perfection.” My spirit animal is the tortoise. Ninety percent of the progress I’ve made in writing, riding, sketching, and so on, has come from baby steps. I’m proud and grateful that I’ve continued making progress on goals that are important to me, even though that progress has been slow. I haven’t given up. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” 

What are you grateful for today?

gratitude

Time Out for Thanksgiving

November 23, 2016

Photo courtesy Lutece

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

It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. tomorrow. All over the country, and here in the Catching Happiness household, we’ll be cooking, eating, bickering talking with our families, playing games, watching football, and so on. I’m looking forward to taking time out for thanksgiving. All is currently well in my world, and I’m grateful.

Wishing you and yours a warm and loving Thanksgiving! (If Thanksgiving is not a tradition where you live, then have a very happy Thursday!)

Achievement

Why Positive Thinking Is Holding You Back--and What do Do Instead

November 18, 2016

What could be wrong with positive thinking? Shouldn’t you maintain an optimistic belief in your success when you set out to achieve something? After all, popular culture is full of inspirational quotes like:

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

 “Leap and the net will appear.”

“Wishing makes it so.”

While these quotes may make you feel good, they fall short when it comes to the practicalities of figuring out how to “make it so.” Instead of spending time only visualizing, wishing, or dreaming about achieving a goal, there is a system that can make you more likely to achieve your goals and dreams.

It’s called mental contrasting.


Mental contrasting is a visualization technique developed by researcher and professor Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues, and is discussed at length in the book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

Daydreaming all by itself, according to Oettingen, makes people less likely to realize their dreams and wishes. Why? Because, she writes, “The pleasurable act of dreaming seems to let us fulfill our wishes in our minds, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life.”

We shouldn’t stop dreaming altogether, though. In fact, dreaming is a big part of mental contrasting. However, it goes beyond the simple dreaming stage into more practical waters.

This brings us to the handy little acronym WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. According to woopmylife.org, “WOOP can support all areas of behavior change. It is for people who feel stuck and don’t know what to do. It is also for people whose lives seem just fine but who feel they can do better. And it is for people who face a particular challenge or transition….Use WOOP to excel at work, promote good health, enjoy relationships more, and live a happier life.”

According to woopmylife.org, the four steps of WOOP work like this:

  1. Wish. Choose a wish or goal that is important and challenging for you, but one that also feels doable within the next four weeks.
  2. Outcome. What is the best possible outcome if you were to fulfill your wish? How would you feel? Imagine this as fully as you can.
  3. Obstacle. What is the biggest obstacle within you that stands between you and your wish? Figure out what that is, then take a moment to imagine that fully.
  4. Plan. Once you know what stands in your way, take some time to figure out at least one way you can overcome it. Create an “if/then” plan: “If…, then I will…”

If you want to try WOOP, click here for a template to use for planning purposes. There’s also an app and a “woop kit.” 

Just as The Upside of Stress changed and broadened my thinking about stress, Rethinking Positive Thinking gave me a new way to plan and execute goals and dreams, and I wanted to share it with you. For most people, happiness includes growth and accomplishment. Mental contrasting is one tool likely to help you with that facet of life. All the vision boards in the world will not help you if you do not act. Wishing does not make it so. But WOOPing just might.

For more information, here is a short video explaining the science behind WOOP:


What goal, wish, or dream would you like to “WOOP”?

Carolyn Miller

The World As It Is

November 16, 2016

Photo courtesy Patrick Fore

Introduction by Ted Kooser: It is enough for me as a reader that a poem take from life a single moment and hold it up for me to look at. There need not be anything sensational or unusual or peculiar about that moment, but somehow, by directing my attention to it, our attention to it, the poet bathes it in the light of the remarkable. Here is a poem like this by Carolyn Miller, who lives in San Francisco.

The World as It is

No ladders, no descending angels, no voice
out of the whirlwind, no rending
of the veil, or chariot in the sky—only
water rising and falling in breathing springs
and seeping up through limestone, aquifers filling
and flowing over, russet stands of prairie grass
and dark pupils of black-eyed Susans. Only
the fixed and wandering stars: Orion rising sideways,
Jupiter traversing the southwest like a great firefly,
Venus trembling and faceted in the west—and the moon,
appearing suddenly over your shoulder, brimming
and ovoid, ripe with light, lifting slowly, deliberately,
wobbling slightly, while far below, the faithful sea
rises up and follows.

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 ©2009 by Carolyn Miller, from her most recent book of poems, “Light, Moving,” Sixteen Rivers Press, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Carolyn Miller and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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.

Anniversary

Seven Years and 813 Blog Posts Later...

November 11, 2016


Guess what? Today marks the 7th anniversary of Catching Happiness. That’s a lot of simple pleasures and everyday adventures!

Catching Happiness began as a place for me to explore a more personal form of writing than what I had been doing, writing articles for magazines and web sites. I hoped to sharpen my skills, and, ultimately, see if I had material for a book. As I got into it, I developed a way to look at life and a personal philosophy that I feel comfortable with and that, I think, is a positive addition to cyberspace and the world. Over these past seven years, I’ve also learned to notice more because I want to share things with you.

There have been highs and lows to write about, discoveries of happy little things, Field Trip Friday excursions, and many new online friends. The structure of posting has kept my writing muscles limbered up and ready to go. Now and then I’ve burned out and wondered whether I should shutter Catching Happiness and spend that time pursuing paying writing outlets, and every time I’ve decided not to—Catching Happiness is a labor of love and I’m just not ready to let it go. I just renewed the domain name for another year.

I want to thank each one of you who has taken the time to read my posts, even if you never or rarely comment. I’m grateful you take the time to visit. Your thoughtful comments and encouragement have meant a lot to me for the past seven years.

So as we go forward, I have this to ask you: What would you like to see more of? Less of? What are your favorite types of posts, and what could you live without? Do you have any suggestions or comments to share? I’d love to hear from you.

I believe I wouldn’t have learned as much and had as many adventures without Catching Happiness. I will always be grateful for it, and for you, the reader. Thank you for being a part of the past seven happy years!

Growth

At the Edge of What's Possible

November 09, 2016

Photo courtesy Joshua Earle

“Life is lived best in the place of risk and trust. Things are more thrilling when we are at the edge of what’s possible, beyond what is expected or considered normal. And when we push ourselves to do what we aren’t sure is possible, we grow.”
—Jeff Goins

Bill Murray

Link Love: How Can It Be November Already? Edition

November 04, 2016


I’m not complaining, but how did it get to be November already? It seems like it was January just a few moments ago!

Recently I haven’t spent much time roaming the internet (I’m w-a-a-y behind in reading the blogs I follow), but I do have a few tidbits of interest to share:

“How Living Like a French Woman Helped Me Lose 75 Pounds” is not really about losing weight—it’s about embracing life.

Click here for more ways to live a happier life today. 

This film sounds intriguing. Read an interview with the filmmaker here.

Making a vision board is fun, but you have to actually do something if you want those envisioned dreams to come true. Tonya Leigh writes about the importance of taking action in “Vision Boards Are a Waste of Time. Try This Instead.” 

Whether it’s due to a life-changing illness or simply the natural process of getting older, many of us are questioning and reordering our priorities. Here’s one woman’s take on that: “Priorities: The Art of Letting Go of Things That Don’t Matter.”

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for their World Series win! Here’s Bill Murray, using an, um, unorthodox singing style, performing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch of game 3.


Have you discovered anything interesting online lately?

Natasha Trethewey

We Save What We Can

November 02, 2016

Photo courtesy Gerhard Gellinger

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Beginning writers often tell me their real lives aren't interesting enough to write about, but the mere act of shaping a poem lifts its subject matter above the ordinary. Here’s Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as U. S. Poet Laureate, illustrating just what I’ve described. It’s from her book Domestic Work, from Graywolf Press. Trethewey lives in Georgia

Housekeeping

We mourn the broken things, chair legs
wrenched from their seats, chipped plates,
the threadbare clothes. We work the magic
of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes.
We save what we can, melt small pieces
of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones
for soup. Beating rugs against the house,
we watch dust, lit like stars, spreading
across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw
the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs
out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie.
I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog,
listen for passing cars. All day we watch
for the mail, some news from a distant place.


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 ©2000 by Natasha Trethewey, “Housekeeping,” from Domestic Work, (Graywolf Press, 2000). Poem reprinted by permission of Natasha Trethewey and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge: 2016 Edition

30 Days of Gratitude--Join Me?

October 31, 2016


Gratitude plays a large role in happiness—in fact, gratitude seems to be able to rewire your brain and help you feel happier! Paying attention to the good things in your life is a powerful practice. And with this in mind, for the month of November, I’ll be taking part in Dani DiPirro’s 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge. This is my third year of participating! (You can read about the other two years here and here.) Daily, I’ll follow her prompt and post a photo and reflection about something for which I’m grateful on Instagram and Facebook. At the end of the month, I’ll do a roundup of my favorite prompts here on Catching Happiness. I’d love it if you followed along, or even better, if you join me! You can read about what the challenge entails and see what the prompts are here.

This is always a fun challenge, and this year it will be even better, because…prizes! Dani and her collaborator Caroline from Made Vibrant have a giveaway planned! Every time you post, you’ll be entered to win. 

Come on, let’s be grateful together!

Books

What I've Been Reading

October 28, 2016

The out-of-hand TBR shelf

Let’s talk books, shall we? It’s been months since I’ve written about what I’ve been reading. And you know I’ve been reading…though not quite at the pace of some previous years. I took several books with me on my recent trip, but only finished one of them, my time being taken up with more important things such as beating my mom, aunt, and cousin at Chicken Foot (dominoes) and visiting with the horses next door. A girl must have priorities. 

I’ve been fighting a losing battle with the TBR shelf (see photo above)—this year I’ve bought a ridiculous number of books, and even though I’m mostly reading from my own shelves, I’ve fallen behind again. And while I haven’t been reading as many books, I’ve read some excellent ones. So without further ado, here are some highlights of my recent reading in no particular order:

I started reading H Is for Hawk on the airplane to California. This beautifully written memoir by Helen Macdonald took the book lists by storm in 2015, appearing on 25 Best Books of the Year lists, including that of The New York Times Book Review. Devastated by grief following the death of her father, Macdonald (an experienced falconer) adopted and trained a goshawk and the experience helped her heal. I’ve never thought about what it would take to fly a hawk free, but Macdonald’s description of invisible lines between her and her hawk reminded me of what it takes to work a horse at liberty: trust, respect, and being a safe place for the animal.

Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness, by Sheila Kohler, is a historical novel based on the real life of Lucy Dillon, an 18th century French aristocrat. Using flashbacks, it follows Lucy from her unhappy childhood, to becoming a French Court favorite, fleeing to America with her husband and small children to escape the guillotine, and eventually returning to France once the danger of execution was past.

My mom, also a great reader, handed me The Christie Caper when I was visiting. I started reading it on the plane home. It’s part of a series featuring Annie Darling, owner of mystery bookshop Death on Demand. Annie’s cosponsoring a conference celebrating Agatha Christie, and unbeknownst to her, murder is on the agenda. I love Dame Agatha so I enjoyed the Christie life and book references throughout this book. I’m down to the last 40 or so pages, and I think I know whodunit. We’ll see.

I adored Voracious: A Hungry Ready Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, by Cara Nicoletti. This is a book I wish I’d written. Nicoletti is a butcher, cook, and writer, and Voracious combines stories about books with recipes inspired by them. Great fun.

The Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russell. I have a fascination with reading about the experiences of people living in countries other than the U.S. I’ve traveled some, but the closest I’ve come to living in another country was the couple of months I spent in Israel while working on an archaeological dig as a college student. I’m interested in daily life, systems, and cultures that are not my own. In Year, Russell, a Brit, moved with her husband to Denmark so he could work for Lego (he’s identified throughout the book as “Lego Man”). Using her journalist skills, she interviews everyone from her neighbors and her garbage man, to directors of Danish social agencies to discover why the Danes are consistently some of the happiest people in the world.

So what’s up next?

I’ve read a lot of mysteries this year, making progress on the several series I follow, but now I’m also in the mood for something more substantial, something in which to immerse myself. Perhaps a classic? I have a Wilkie Collins novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son at the ready. Or perhaps just a novel that doesn’t involve finding a dead body?

Choosing the next book to read—one of my favorite simple pleasures!

Have you read anything exceptional lately?

Happiness

You Were Born for Joy

October 26, 2016

Photo courtesy Annie Spratt
“You were born to be open and honest and brave and playful, to laugh often, to love much, to be loved much in return. You were born for joy. Sit. Feast on your life.”
—Martha Beck, The Joy Diet

Family

Happy at Home

October 24, 2016

I came home from my trip to California to see my parents to find the weather here has turned fall-ish! Between that and the rejuvenation of my visit, I feel like a new person.

I indulged in some favorite simple pleasures, such as stopping at Granzella’s for a sandwich and a walk through their gift shop. I practiced yoga twice, and took several walks around my mom’s property, making the acquaintance of some cows and some horses.

How now brown cow?

The ladies next door

One of my favorite things is the way it smells out there. I breathed deeply as I explored the landscape of my childhood summers.




I bought books at Cal’s used bookstore (and had to have them shipped home since they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase). One afternoon, my aunt and cousin came for tea and a cutthroat game of dominoes.

At my dad’s I went shopping with my stepmom, filled up on my dad’s delicious salad, admired the changes they’d made to their home, and loved on their kitty.

Best. Salad. Ever.

Misty

I always become introspective on trips. Somehow the distance from my everyday life lends itself to pondering. This trip was no different. Two main themes developed: consciousness of mortality and gratitude.

I don’t think about dying often but on this trip I realized that continued life is not a guarantee. I’m blessed to have my parents still living, but they are both aging and have health problems (though they’re hanging in there and following doctors’ orders). I can’t help but worry about them and wish I could check in on them in person more frequently. Seeing their challenges makes me want to take better care of myself to give myself the best chance possible to have healthy senior years.

Also, to bring the mortality theme home, while I was in California, a good friend of mine from high school died from an aneurysm. He was just 52.

While I’m sobered, I’m also filled with gratitude. I love my life right now! Overall, things are going the way I want them to go. I have work, friends, family, and animals that I love. I was ready to come home when my trip was done instead of wanting to extend it for more days.

I’m all unpacked and the suitcase is put away. Because of the East Coast/West Coast time difference, I’m still having trouble going to sleep (and staying asleep), but that will pass. I’m back at my Monday morning exercise class today and will likely ride Tank tomorrow. I’m grateful. I’m lucky.

I’m happy at home.

Floyd Skloot

Her Silent Music

October 19, 2016

Photo courtesy Alessandra Carassas

Introduction by Ted Kooser: While many of the poems we feature in this column are written in open forms, that’s not to say I don’t respect good writing done in traditional meter and rhyme. But a number of contemporary poets, knowing how a rigid attachment to form can take charge of the writing and drag the poet along behind, will choose, say, the traditional villanelle form, then relax its restraints through the use of broken rhythm and inexact rhymes. I’d guess that if I weren’t talking about it, you might not notice, reading this poem by Floyd Skloot, that you were reading a sonnet.

Silent Music

My wife wears headphones as she plays
Chopin etudes in the winter light.
Singing random notes, she sways
in and out of shadow while night
settles. The keys she presses make a soft
clack, the bench creaks when her weight shifts,
golden cotton fabric ripples across
her shoulders, and the sustain pedal clicks.
This is the hidden melody I know
so well, her body finding harmony in
the give and take of motion, her lyric
grace of gesture measured against a slow
fall of darkness. Now stillness descends
to signal the end of her silent music.

Reprinted from “Prairie Schooner,” Volume 80, Number 2 (Summer, 2006) by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright © 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press. Floyd Skloot’s most recent book is “The End of Dreams,” 2006, Louisiana State University Press. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Family

Rest, Recharge, Refill

October 14, 2016


Guess where I am? I’m indulging in simple pleasures and everyday adventures in California while I visit my parents. Here, there’s no chorus of projects, laundry, or errands. Time for a break, to enjoy my family, escape the humidity and hurricanes, and recharge.  Time to hear myself think on the airplane and on the drive from the airport to my mom’s house. Time for reading and sketching, drinking tea and playing games. Heaven!

My posting schedule won’t be affected much. I’ve scheduled a poem for next Wednesday as usual, and I hope to be back here next Friday to share my adventures, but until then I’ll have limited email and computer access by choice. I need some recharging and well-refilling.

Whatever your week holds, I hope it’s a happy one!

Kindness

"Do One Act of Kindness. Make One Person Smile."

October 07, 2016

I know it doesn’t seem like there’s much to smile about—hurricanes, contentious presidential elections, and various other distressing events and tragedies grab headline space in print and online. There’s often not much we can do about the darkness in the world…except try to lighten it a little by caring for others, by sharing simple pleasures with others, spreading the ripples of kindness. 

Image courtesy Billy Alexander
Today is World Smile Day, a day its founder Harvey Ball (the artist who designed the original smiley face) envisioned as a day we go out of our way to smile and do kind acts. Its motto is simple: “Do one act of kindness. Make one person smile.”

I find it so easy to become overwhelmed by the troubles in the world and in the lives of those I love, not to mention my own struggles.  I’m ashamed to still need constant reminders to seek for small kindnesses to share with others, but I’m going to keep trying. One act of kindness at a time.

What kind actions made you smile today?

Barbara Crooker

Grief Is a River

October 05, 2016


Introduction by Ted Kooser: Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, has become one of this column's favorite poets. We try to publish work that a broad audience of readers can understand and, we hope, may be moved by, and this particular writer is very good at that. Here's an example from her collection, Gold, from Cascade Books.

Grief

is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
around my ankles, moving downstream
over the flat rocks. I'm not able to lift a foot,
move on. Instead, I'm going to stay here
in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it
like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.
I don't want it to grow up, go to school, get married.
It's mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me
in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet
as a golden Tokay. On the other side,
there are apples, grapes, walnuts,
and the rocks are warm from the sun.
But I'm going to stand here,
growing colder, until every inch
of my skin is numb. I can't cross over.
Then you really will be gone.


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 Barbara Crooker, “Grief” (Gold, Cascade Books, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

Live More Challenge

Treat Yo'self: 25 Simple Pleasures to Brighten Your Day

September 30, 2016


I recently participated in Sarah Jenks’ Live More Challenge. For two weeks, I put more thought into what would make life more delicious, what would feed my life (rather than just my body), and for two weeks I noticed a genuine lightening of my spirits. I looked forward to each day’s challenge. I also learned that living more required planning, and I need to make time for fun every day. (You can see my Live More posts if you follow me on Instagram.)  

While this may sound frivolous in the face of this world’s tragedies, I’ve learned that my being unhappy will not make this world safer or better. My being happy, however, just might rub off on those around me, and help someone else feel better, too. So with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 25 simple pleasures for us to try. Won’t you join me?

1. Instead of a blaring alarm clock, wake up to music, nature sounds, or something else that pleases your ear.

2. Call a friend—or (gasp!) write a letter.

3. Take a nap (I won’t tell). 

4. Crank up some music. Choose music from the time you were happiest for an extra boost. 

5. Clean or declutter a drawer or shelf.

6. Bake something and share with a friend or neighbor.

7. Read, sketch, or simply people watch at a coffee shop. If you’re into pumpkin spice lattes, now’s the time to order one! 

8. Go picking—find an orchard or farm that hosts you pick opportunities and fill a basket or bag with fresh produce.

9. Finish a project. Whether it’s a bathroom update or an art project, fixing something that’s broken, or mending an item of clothing.

10. Buy one perfect treat (cupcake, scone, handmade chocolate, glass of wine, etc.). Consume it without any distractions and enjoy every mouthful.

11. Buy or collect fresh flowers. Find a place to put them where the cat won’t eat them. (Or is this a problem only I have?)

12. Schedule a field trip to explore someplace new. Or revisit a place you love—your choice.

13. Perform an anonymous act of kindness.

14. Look the cashier (or the server, or the librarian) in the eye and smile.

15. You know that pile of magazines you’ve been meaning to read? Grab it and curl up in bed for a couple of hours.

16. Take a walk in your neighborhood with your camera or phone. Take photos of your favorite places and things—anything that grabs your attention. 

17. Sit comfortably for 10 minutes and do nothing. (It’s harder than it sounds.)

18. Take a class, in person or online. Choose something you’ve always wanted to try. Some fun ones I’ve come across: soap making, altered journals, aromatherapy, wine making. Of course, I highly recommend my friend Laure’s art classes.

19. Drink a cold glass of water. You’ll be refreshed and energized—just watch out for brain freeze.

20. Tell someone a joke.

21. Sip a hot cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa.

22. Rewatch your favorite movie. Maybe even eat some popcorn.

23. Sit outside, close your eyes and listen. See if you can identify five different sounds.

24. Groom your dog/cat/rabbit/ferret/horse. Give him or her treats and extra love. I still miss my dog so much, so be sure you enjoy them while you have them. 

25. Put fresh sheets on the bed and get in bed early to read.

So go forth and treat yo’self. Life should be enjoyed, not just endured!

I’ve listed only a few simple pleasures. What can you add to this list?

“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.”
—Dr. Sonya Friedman

Change

Like Flowing Water

September 28, 2016

Photo courtesy Ales Krivec

“If you leave a puddle of water standing for a few days, it will become poisonous and nasty, ridden with algae and bug larvae. On the other hand, you can get fresh, clean drinking water from a spring that has been running for a thousand years. People who refuse to change are stagnant and old by their twenties. People who actually pursue change are guaranteed to die young. They are like flowing water, forever refreshed and refreshing.”
—Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star

Balance

Fall: Time to Harvest, Time to Prepare

September 23, 2016

Photo courtesy Micah H.

Do you feel it? It’s fall. At least according to the calendar (and in the Northern Hemisphere). Many places, central Florida included, still feel like summer, but fall began yesterday, with the fall equinox at 10:21 a.m.

“Equinox,” which comes from Latin, means “equal night.” The fall equinox is one of the two days a year when day and night are equal—and some say the earth is in balance.

Besides balance, other concepts connected to the fall equinox include wholeness, reflection, and pause. Traditionally, it is a time of harvest, and a time of storing up for the winter.

As you know, fall is my favorite season. A time when I eagerly wait for the first cold front of the year to bring in drier, cooler air. While that is still likely a month or more away, the light looks different already—the way it falls, the shadows it casts. And my horse is growing his winter coat.

Fall is a lull between summer and the rush of the holiday season. It’s the perfect time to reflect on how the year has gone so far, and how we wish it to finish up. The perfect time to evaluate the balance of our lives, and our inner harvests.

It’s also a time of storing away for the future. We consider what we can to do prepare for the winter ahead, both literal and figurative. We tweak our habits and create comforting rituals for when times get tough. While we’re feeling good is the time to prepare for times we don’t feel so good.

Of course, we can’t stay balanced perfectly all the time, or we’ll never make progress towards our big dreams. Sometimes one area of life has to suffer in order for another to leap forward or thrive. For me, this year has been about building my freelance business and renovating our master bathroom. Many areas of interest and activity have taken a back seat while I concentrate on these ongoing projects. Even so, I still seek balance between doing and being, between giving and receiving, between thinking and feeling, and between work and play. Striving for the type of balance that feels right brings wholeness.

So while you’re enjoying the change of season, take some time to reflect on how your life is balanced, what the harvest of 2016 will bring, and what will help you best navigate the coming winter.

What is your favorite thing about fall?

Debra Nystrom

Restless

September 21, 2016

Photo courtesy Jamie R. Mink

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Here's a poem by Debra Nystrom about what it feels like to be a schoolgirl in rural America. No loud laughter echoing in the shopping mall for these young women. The poet lives in Virginia and this is from her book, Night Sky Frequencies, from Sheep Meadow Press.

Restless After School

Nothing to do but scuff down
the graveyard road behind the playground,
past the name-stones lined up in rows
beneath their guardian pines,
on out into the long, low waves of plains
that dissolved time. We'd angle off
from fence and telephone line, through
ribbon-grass that closed behind as though
we'd never been, and drift toward the bluff
above the river-bend where the junked pickup
moored with its load of locust-skeletons.
Stretched across the blistered hood, we let
our dresses catch the wind while clouds above
dimmed their pink to purple, then shadow-blue—
So slow, we listened to our own bones grow.

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 ©2016 by Debra Nystrom, “Restless After School,” (Night Sky Frequencies and Selected Poems, Sheep Meadow Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Debra Nystrom and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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.

Evenings

Simple Pleasures Morning and Night: Creating Routines You'll Love

September 16, 2016


Which of these scenarios sounds like a happier way to start the day?

  1. Your alarm rings, you hit snooze because you’re so tired. It rings again and you realize you forgot that you have stop to gas up your car on the way to work, so now you’re already running late. You jump out of bed, into the shower, grab a cup of coffee and rush out the door while your hair is still damp.
  2. Your alarm rings and since you’re eager to start the day and you feel great, you get up right away. After grabbing a cup of coffee, you sit on your front porch for 10 minutes, listening to the birds wake up. After that, you spend a few minutes reviewing what’s on for the day, eat breakfast, shower, and dress.

By creating a couple of routines filled with simple pleasures, your mornings can look more like scenario #2. This post will cover two specific times of day when creating those routines can have a huge impact: when you wake up and before you go to bed.

Let’s start with a morning routine. Even if you’re not a morning person, before hitting work, start your day with something that makes you feel good. It’s as simple as that. You might read something uplifting, educational, or funny, or sit quietly to meditate. Or maybe you’d prefer to start the day with some exercise, a stroll through your garden, or by listening to music, a book, or a podcast. What you don’t want to do is start with something that stresses you or annoys you, such as checking email or reading the news. What you do first thing in the morning sets the tone for your day.

When creating your routine, take into account your personal energy rhythms. Do you enjoy leaping into the day, or do you need to ease into it? Your morning routine is just for you, so make sure it’s centered around what will feed your soul and start your day off in a joyous manner.

During your morning routine is a good time to determine your priorities for the day. What must you do to feel the day is a success?

Your morning routine can be as short or long as you need it to be. Mine (below) takes about an hour. Click here to read about one that takes just 15 minutes.

I actually love waking up in the morning, and part of the reason is my morning routine. I start my day by doing things I love. When I wake up, I grab a cup of coffee (already brewed using my coffeepot with a timer), and usually a homemade mini scone, sit in the rocking chair in my office and spend a half hour or so reading something inspirational or educational.

After that, I set my kitchen timer for 30 minutes and write. My rule is I don’t have to write, but I can’t do anything else. This is about developing the habit of writing first thing. I want it to become second nature, not something I have to think about or force myself to do. I want to learn that when I reach for the words, they’ll be there. What comes next depends on the day, but the first few things are almost always the same: coffee, inspirational reading, writing. I feel like my day is off to a good start when I begin it this way.

Since I work for myself and have to have the discipline to work without supervision, I find that starting my day with a specific routine also gives it needed structure. If you do go to work outside your home, it’s even more important for you to create routines that will ground and feed you. Starting the day in the way you choose, and ending it in a way that soothes and replenishes. If you’re a parent, having some time to yourself before and after the demands of family is also crucial. My morning routine when my son was small was pretty much the same as it is now, only it took place earlier in the morning. On days I didn’t manage to practice my morning routine, I felt off balance and tense all day long.

In order to feel good about waking up in the morning, you need to get enough quality sleep. A pre-bedtime routine can help you get that sleep. At night, the key to creating a nourishing routine is signaling your body and mind that it is time to rest, and let go of the day that’s done. This is another good time to avoid TV, news, and the internet. You might also want to put down your smart phone or other electronic device, since research has indicated that the blue light emitted by these devices can affect production of melatonin, and your cirdadian rhythms. If you still want to use your device, there are various ways you can try to lessen the effects, such as dimming it, or using a program that filters out blue light in the evening.

Some other practices you might want to make part of your evening routine include reading a poem, writing about what went well, or writing about three things you’re grateful for.

At night my routine is quite simple: feed the cat her “second dinner” and put her to bed in my office, check that the doors are locked, brush my teeth, and get in bed and read. Several nights a week, I take a lavender-scented bubble bath and do some stretching and roll on a foam roller.

Our lives are full to the brim of activity and giving to others. Don’t forget to give to yourself by creating routines that support and nourish you. Starting and ending your day with simple pleasures, in a manner you choose, can contribute to your happiness in surprising ways.

If you want to know more, entire books have been written about creating morning routines. I wrote about one of them here.

What are your morning and pre-bedtime routines?

Coming Home to Myself

To Be Who You Are

September 14, 2016

Photo courtesy Manuel Barroso Parejo

“It is easier to try
to be better
than you are
than to be
who you are.”
—Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself

Field Trip Friday

Field Trip Friday: Spice, Spice, Baby

September 09, 2016


I’m a practical cook by necessity. I don’t love cooking, but I do love fresh, homemade, relatively healthy food. Naturally, now and then I get utterly sick of cooking and need either a break or a new source of inspiration.  So when my friend Marianne suggested a trip to Penzeys Spices in Sarasota, FL, I jumped at the chance. Our excuse, if one was needed, was the need to buy a wedding gift for the daughter of a mutual friend.

Marianne was familiar with Penzeys through her in-laws, but she hadn’t been to the store herself. We took our time strolling through the displays of everything from adobo seasoning to zatar (“a Middle-Eastern tabletop blend”). Penzeys had vanilla beans, and freeze dried shallots, and special herb blends for every possible cuisine you could name. Each one had a jar for sniffing and we sniffed. We made two passes through the store, first to choose spices for a gift box for Amanda, then to choose spices for ourselves. I saw many that I wanted to try, but I limited myself to five, including Sicilian Salad Seasoning, Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave. Chicken and Fish Seasoning, and minced ginger. With my purchase, they gave me a slim book filled with product information and recipes. I’m already making a list of more items I want to try. 


Penzeys (no affiliation) might have a store near you. According to the list in their book, they have 66 stores in 28 states, as well as mail/online ordering.

Sometimes a field trip is all about exploring, sometimes it’s a treat, and sometimes I look for inspiration to send me on toward my goals. It’s a lot to ask of a few spices, but I hope they’ll help change cooking from drudgery back into a simple pleasure.

Do you need inspiration? Where could you find some?


Look for my travel writing here