New Year, New Links to Love

January 29, 2016

We’ve nearly made it through the first month of a brand new year. Have you been thinking about your goals and dreams for 2016? I have, and I’ve begun working towards making them reality. Here are a few links that have inspired me so far:

Laura Vanderkam fascinates me. She has four children, and she’s ridiculously productive as a writer and speaker. I do know how she does it, because she writes often about the intricacies of combining work and family on her blog, and has also written a book called I Know How She Does It, (which I haven’t read yet). There are several bits of useful information about making the most of your time in “14 Time Management Strategies From Highly Productive People.” 

Click here for a list of 100 ways to do something nice for someone else. As blogger Dani DiPirro writes, “We all have the power to do something kind for others, to make the world a better place by taking positive action….” 

Laure Ferlita pointed me in the direction of “12 Things I AmToo Wise For.” I liked the author’s use of “wise” rather than “old,” because, as she notes, “Wisdom is affected by your own experiences, preferences and thoughts. You can be wise at any age.” While I’m not young anymore, I don’t feel like I’m old either.  This reminded me a little of “Just (Don’t) Do It.” 

Do you want 2016 to be your most productive year ever? This interview with Spark Planner creator Kate Matsudaira is full of great information. 

Five science-based habits that will make your brain happy. I did the last one this morning!

It’s the end of January and many people are already struggling with their goals and resolutions. In “The Great Myth About Getting in Shape (and Every Other Goal),” David Cain explains why trading quality of life now for quality of life later isn’t sustainable. As he writes, “We’re too interested in keeping our lives enjoyable. You cannot voluntarily make all your days worse for months in the name of optional rewards in the future. A good goal has to improve your life now, and nearly every day between now and the final result. The long-term reward is never going to drive you to keep living a life you don’t like in the short term.”

And just for fun, sing along with Adele as she sings along with the radio (and James Corden).

Happy Friday!


Folding Memory

January 27, 2016

Photo courtesy Ulrike Mai

Introduction by Ted Kooser: This column is more than ten years old and I've finally gotten around to trying a little origami! Here's a poem about that, and about a good deal more than that, by Vanessa Stauffer, who teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.


To crease a sheet of paper is to change
its memory, says the origami
master: what was a field of snow
folded into flake. A crane, erect,
structured from surface. A tree
emerges from a leaf—each form undone

reveals the seams, pressed
with ruler's edge. Some figures take
hundreds to be shaped, crossed
& doubled over, the sheet bound
to its making—a web of scars
that maps a body out of space,

how I fashion memory: idling
at an intersection next to Jack Yates High,
an hour past the bell, I saw a girl
fold herself in half to slip beneath
the busted chain-link, books thrust
ahead, splayed on asphalt broiling

in Houston sun. What memory
will she retain? Her cindered palms,
the scraped shin? Braids brushing
the dirt? The white kite of her homework
taking flight? Finding herself
locked out, or being made

to break herself in.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Vanessa Stauffer, “Lessons,” from third coast, (Winter, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Vanessa Stauffer 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.


The Pleasure of Reading at Random

January 25, 2016

Since I decided not to participate in any reading challenges this year, I’ve been having so much fun! Instead of considering whether or not a book falls into any of my chosen challenge categories, I’m reading almost entirely at whim. Yes, I’m still reading from my own shelves—lest the books completely overtake my closet—but when a book catches my attention, sometimes I immediately request it from my library. Here’s a peek into what I’ve been reading since 2016 began:

Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss novels. I’ve finished Street of the Five Moons and I’m reading Trojan Gold. (I read Borrower of the Night and Silhouette in Scarlet last year.) Even though I know I’ve read these before, I don’t remember anything about them. I’m thoroughly enjoying Vicky’s adventures with that slippery character Sir John Smythe. 

Ngaio Marsh’s Death in Ecstasy. Last year, I bought a handful of Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries at my library’s bookstore. These vintage mysteries are a cut above the average—interesting plots and characters as well as some humor. I’m now developing a literary crush on Roderick Alleyn. 

Last week, I read about How to Blog a Book on Leanne Sowul’s blog. I picked it up from the library this morning, though I haven’t yet had time to open it.

The Cruelest Month is the third book in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. I just discovered these books, and I’m loving them. Oh, to be enjoying the hospitality of Gabri and Olivier in the local bistro. 

How am I keeping track of all these series books? I just learned about from Danielle over at A Work in Progress. FictFact is free, and in addition to keeping track of your series reads, it can also help you with recommendations of other book series, help you connect with readers with similar tastes, and let you know when a new book in your series is about to be released. Sometimes it’s tricky to find out which book comes first, or next, in a series, and now I don’t have to rely on my memory to keep track of where I am in the ones I’m reading.

To round out the month, I borrowed two books that had been on my TBR list for ages: Bridget Jones’s Diary and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life. Bridget was a hoot, and Beatrix Potter is fast becoming one of my heroes.

Even though I loved participating in reading challenges, I’m rediscovering how much simple pleasure can be had when I have no agenda, and no rules to follow. Now let’s see what that Vicky’s up to…

What have you been reading lately?

See what I mean about the books taking over? This is just one shelf.


What Happiness Is Not

January 20, 2016

Photo courtesy Maria Victoria Heredia Reyes

“The absence of unhappiness is not happiness.”
—Peter Jones, How to Do Everything and Be Happy


Go Ahead--Complicate Your Life

January 18, 2016

The start of a new year often finds us resolving to simplify our lives, particularly if we’ve just come through a whirlwind of holiday activity. Magazine articles and blog posts promise to help us purge our belongings, simplify our schedules, and/or cut our wardrobes to 33 items. I feel the pull towards simplifying, especially when I’m cleaning my house or when I’m on the phone for the third time with a large Phone/Internet Company Who Shall Not Be Named trying to get a DVR replaced. The idea of scrapping it all and moving to the woods  becomes almost irresistible. How simple life would be, just me and the trees.

I agree that many times we make our lives overly complicated and stressful, and that there is a real need to slow down, pare down, and simplify.


Some of the best things in life are complicated. Falling in love, having a baby, adopting a puppy, starting a business, buying a house—or a horse. Yes, we can make our lives too stressful and complicated for no good reason—but sometimes we have good reason. Those complications bring us both joy and meaning.

So if you’re contemplating an action you’re sure will bring complication into your life, I say: Go for it! I think what the simplification gurus are really aiming at anyway is this: Simplify some areas of life in order to have the mental and physical capacity to enjoy your complications. The goal is to discover what is the right level—and right type—of complication for you.

For example: Owning a horse is a complication. It’s an expensive and time-consuming hobby, and involves a large and sometimes unpredictable animal. Still, I wouldn’t trade the experience for any amount of simplicity and serenity. Tank is just one of the complications in my life I treasure, so I feel I can offer a little advice about allowing complications into your life. So here goes.
  • Will the complication bring you more joy than stress? Will inconveniences or sacrifices be worth it? In my own case, hearing Tank whinny when he sees me is worth the new shoes I don’t buy or the sleep I’ve lost when he was sick.
  • Simplify your life other areas. At home, plan simple meals, or let cleaning standards slide a little. Other hobbies and interests may have to be put aside for a while. I have several hobbies I’d like to get back to, but I simply don’t have the time to pursue all the things I’m interested in. Right now, Tank is number one because I won’t have him forever.
  • Establish routines to streamline your regular activities, but also become mindful of whether or not “the way I’ve always done it” is still right for you.
  • Ask for help, and make sure you accept it when it’s offered. I find this hard to do, but when I’ve asked for help, my friends and family have willingly pitched in—and I’m so grateful for that.
  • Prepare for the complication as best you can. How big is it, and is it temporary or permanent? Having a baby or starting your own business is more disrupting for a longer period than, say, planning a two-week vacation, and you should prepare accordingly.
  • Finally, take time to really enjoy your complication. If it’s not adding meaning and joy to your life, why are you doing it? Shake off any guilt that might arise. You want this, you’ve prepared for it—now enjoy it.

What are some of your favorite complications? How do you simplify in one area to make time for another?

One of my favorite complications

Patricia Traxler

Whatever the Sky Might Bring

January 13, 2016

Photo courtesy Greg Rakozy

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I’m well into my seventies, and I warm to simple, peaceful scenes. Here’s a fine love poem by Patricia Traxler, a Kansas poet, whose newest book, Naming the Fires, will be out in early 2016.

Weather Man

When it snows, he stands
at the back door or wanders
around the house to each
window in turn and
watches the weather
like a lover. O farm boy,
I waited years
for you to look at me
that way. Now we’re old
enough to stop waiting
for random looks or touches
or words, so I find myself
watching you watching
the weather, and we wait
together to discover
whatever the sky might bring.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Patricia Traxler, “Weather Man.” Poem reprinted by permission of Patricia Traxler. 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.

Baby steps

Dreaming Is Not Enough

January 11, 2016

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose, and my enthusiasm for my “six-year calendar of happiness.” Thrilled to understand myself better, I thought the calendar represented a way to focus my Scanner nature and enjoy and pursue all the things that catch my interest in a tidy and organized fashion.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, at first, it worked pretty well. In 2010, I played with my horse, began learning watercolor, read a couple of classics. In 2011, I did more of the same. However, despite my hopes otherwise, my freelancing sputtered to a halt. I never studied Florida history (2010), did any cross stitch projects (2011), or finished the book I was writing (2012). I had the single word “travel” under 2014, and though I visited my family in California and took a road trip to St. Augustine with a friend that year, that hardly seems like what I’d originally had in mind.

I’m sure Refuse to Choose had advice on making those dreams and goals happen, but I conveniently forgot the part where I had to take action. Here are three mistakes I made:

  1. After writing down the topics I wanted to concentrate on for the next year, I tucked the list away and never looked at it again.
  2. I didn’t break down the larger goals/objectives/dreams into small actions I could take.
  3. I didn’t revise and expand each year’s goals as I went.

This reminds me of the Sidney Harris cartoon of two men standing at a blackboard chalked with equations. Step two of the problem they’re solving is: “Then a miracle occurs.” I kept expecting that miracle to occur! I kept expecting to meet my goals or learn fill-in-the-blank or experience I-don’t-know-what without taking any steps to make it happen.

Writing down goals and dreams is a start, but it’s only a start. Just writing down “travel” didn’t take me where I wanted to go, either literally or figuratively. In 2016, things are starting out differently. After I jotted down some goals for the year, I made a list of things I’m going to do in January to reach those goals. Then I made a list of what I plan to do this week. Then I sent that list of tasks to a friend who has agreed to kindly prod me when I start blowing off the steps that will lead me to my goals. (I’m an Obliger, so this step is important for me.) As the year progresses, I will adjust my goals as I need to, and I still want to jot down a few ideas for future years—true to my Scanner self, I have many things I want to explore that I will not have time or energy to tackle this year.

Why do I share this with you? Why should you care?

First, because I hope to have many more simple pleasures and everyday adventures to share with you here on Catching Happiness. More importantly, I hope if I succeed that I’ll be a positive example to inspire you to live a fuller and more interesting life. (And if I fail, I can be a cautionary tale!)

I want to be happier and I’ll bet you do, too. While doing isn’t always the answer, sometimes it is. I want to do more of the things I say I want to do rather than only dream about them. 

What are your dreams for 2016? How do you plan to make them come true? Please share in the comments below.


What's the Real Aim of Working Toward Goals?

January 06, 2016

“Intentions and goals are tools for liberation. But when we use goal-chasing like a hammer, it can beat up on our self-esteem, relationships, and creativity.

“The foundation of a good relationship with intentions and goals is keeping in mind that the primary aim of setting and working toward them is to feel the way you want to feel.”
—Danielle LaPorte


Welcome, 2016

January 04, 2016

Image courtesy Alexas Fotos
The Christmas tree is packed away, much to Prudy’s disappointment (broken ornament count: 3), and we finally, finally have some cool weather set to stick around for a few days. The sun shines today after a couple of gray, rainy days. It feels like a new year and, for the moment, I feel energized.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be setting goals and intentions for at least the next quarter of the year. Starting with—no reading challenges. I’m passing on them all, because they were starting to feel not-fun. When reading a vintage mystery starts to feel not-fun, then something’s wrong. In 2016, reading is one area I’m leaving entirely to whim. Any reading projects I take on will be ones I set for myself. (But thank you to the lovely folks who set and run reading challenges—it’s not you, it’s me! I may be back next year.)

I’ll be finalizing my word of the year, playing around with this workbook, and generally doing what I can to set myself up for a fantastic year.  

So, welcome 2016. I’ve got a good feeling about you.

Have you made any special plans or set any intentions for 2016?