Choosing Happiness

March 30, 2016

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
—Groucho Marx


Beyond Black Beauty: My Favorite Books Featuring Horses

March 25, 2016

The real-life dream horse
When I was growing up, there seemed to be no chance that I would ever have a horse. Southern California was not the place to own a horse unless you were wealthy, and we were not. I had to content myself with reading about horses, and an occasional trip to the harness races when I visited my dad. Horse books fed my desire for knowledge about horses and gave me details for my daydreams about them. For a very long time, they were my only real connection with horses, and they made a difference in my life for which I’m grateful. 

Here is a list of a few of my favorite books featuring horses. It includes books that kept my childhood dream alive, books I discovered as an adult horse owner (when, astoundingly, my dream had come true), and a few that sound interesting that I haven’t read yet. Even if you’re not a horse lover, these books are fun and/or interesting reads in and of themselves. They might even help you understand why some people, like me, find horses so irresistible.

The Black Stallion series, Walter Farley. I read many of these while growing up, and like many impressionable-but-ignorant, horse-loving little girls, I dreamed of owning an Arab like the Black. I still have my original copy of this book, and I think it’s time to reread it. 

The Bonnie series, Barbara Van Tuyl and Pat Johnson. I adored these books about Sunbonnet and her young owner, Julie Jefferson. The Sweet Running Filly is the first in the series.

A Filly for Joan, and other books by C.W. Anderson. I especially loved the gorgeous illustrations in his books. 

Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Justin Morgan Had a Horse (and many more), Marguerite Henry. Henry wrote a whole series of wonderful books about horses. I haven’t read all of them, but that might have to change.    

Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart. Romance, mystery, and a horse—need I say more?

My Friend Flicka, Mary O’Hara. I just read this within the last year, and was impressed by the quality of writing as well as the story. 

Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley. Of all the books on this list, this one is the most likely, in my opinion, to hold the attention of the non-horse lover. It’s funny and filled with interesting personalities, both human and equine. 

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand. The true story of Seabiscuit and the people surrounding him (I liked the movie, too.)

She Flies Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman’s Soul, Mary D. Midkiff. Using literature, folktales, myth, and the personal experiences of herself and others, Midkiff explores the spiritual connection between women and horses.

Zen and Horses: Lessons From a Year of Riding, Ingrid Soren. A really lovely book in which Soren “captures the essence of what captivates people so about horses—physically, mentally, and spiritually” as she shares what she learned taking riding lessons and studying Zen Buddhism.

Hold Your Horses: Nuggets of Truth for People Who Love Horses…No Matter What, Bonnie Timmons  A sweet and funny celebration of the bond between horses and those who love them.

You may have noticed two glaring omissions from this list: Black Beauty and National Velvet. I read Black Beauty as a child, and have never quite gotten over the cruelty Beauty experienced, so I never read the book again and don’t count it among my favorites. I have National Velvet on my TBR shelf right now. I tried to read it as a child but for some reason it never clicked for me. 

While researching this post, I added the following books to my TBR list:

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman the Horse that Inspired a Nation, Elizabeth Letts. The true story of a horse bound for slaughter, purchased for $80, who grew into a champion show jumper. 

Riding Barranca, Laura Chester. A one-year journal of a horsewoman's adventures with Barranca and other mounts.

Other People’s Horses, Natalie Keller Reinert. How can I resist a book described as “The Black Stallion for adults”? 

Death By Dressage, Carolyn Banks. A mystery in which the murder weapon is a horse! The first in a series.

The Dark Horse, Rumer Godden. Dark Invader, a disgraced racehorse from England, seems poised to win the Viceroy Cup...until he disappears. Will he be found in time to race?

I love it when my horse and book obsessions meet. (This list could easily have been twice as long, but this is me sparing you.) Do you have an obsession with books about a certain topic? Share your favorites in the comments!

Barbara Crooker

Just What We Need

March 23, 2016

Photo courtesy Bianca Mentil

Introduction by Ted Kooser: When we’re feeling sorry for ourselves it can help to make a list of things for which we’re grateful. Here is a fine poem of gratitude by Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, and its images make up just such a list. This is from her book Small Rain from Purple Flag Press.


The sky hangs up its starry pictures: a swan,
a crab, a horse. And even though you’re
three hundred miles away, I know you see
them, too. Right now, my side
of the bed is empty, a clear blue lake
of flannel. The distance yawns and stretches.
It’s hard to remember we swim in an ocean
of great love, so easy to fall into bickering
like little birds at the feeder fighting over proso
and millet, unaware of how large the bag of grain is,
a river of golden seeds, that the harvest was plentiful,
the corn is in the barn, and whenever we’re hungry,
a dipperful of just what we need will be spilled . . .

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 ©2014 by Barbara Crooker, “Sustenance,” from Small Rain, (Purple Flag Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

International Day of Happiness

Link Love to the Rescue

March 18, 2016

Image courtesy Design Feed
After returning from DC last week, I promptly came down with a cold, and Tank developed a hoof abscess that has required hours of soaking, poulticing, and wrapping. Not a lot of writing has taken place here at Catching Happiness headquarters, so Link Love to the rescue! (We are both feeling much better, thank you for asking.) So without further ado:

Tomorrow, March 20, is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. (I’ve written about it here and here.) Download a free happiness guidebook here—and go forth and celebrate!

The focus of this blog is money, but these tips address deeper matters.

We often focus on striving for goals, trying to better ourselves, or fix things we think are wrong with our lives—but what if your life is mostly delightful? Jennifer Louden answers that question in “How to Stay the Course When Your Life Is Truly Delightful.”

One small way to prepare for the bad days that creep into even a delightful life, make yourself a box of happy things. My box would contain a few coloring pages and colored pencils, some individually wrapped chocolate turtles (or similar), and something funny to read—maybe something by P.G. Wodehouse or Bill Bryson. What would you put in yours?

Mistakes give us the chance to exercise our intelligent creativity, writes my friend Laure Ferlita in “The Gateway to Creativity: Mistakes.” Applicable to areas of life other than art, too! 

I dare you not to say awww at least once during this video:

Hand Wash Cold

I Am This Life

March 16, 2016

“When I grow weary of what’s undone or anxious about what’s to come, I remind myself that I am not the maker or the order taker in this life. I am this life, and it is unfinished. Even when it is finished it will be unfinished. And so I take my sweet time. Time is savored when you take it by the hand.”
 —Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold


Catching Happiness Goes to Washington

March 11, 2016

Last week, my husband and I took a quick trip to the Washington, D.C. area to house/pet sit for his sister. We’ve been to DC a couple of times so we were relaxed about our sightseeing plans, mainly looking forward to a break from the normal, to relaxing and being together without worrying about Scout (this is the first trip we’ve taken since we lost her).

The advantage of going at this time of year is that there are fewer tourists. The disadvantage is that some things are closed and there is not much green or blooming, the famous cherry trees still bare branches against the sky. No matter. It was a change of scenery—and cold! (We are so seldom cold in Florida that we like it!) We even got snow our first night. We woke to an exquisitely silent and lovely world. Crocus peeking through the snow, the lamppost wearing a cap of white, trees jacketed with it. My sister-in-law’s neighbors were amused by the crazy Floridian on her knees taking photos. “Pretty, isn’t it?” one of them remarked as she walked by on her way to the metro.

We managed to pack quite a bit into our four full days. Here are some highlights (click to enlarge photos):

The Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. My husband dubbed this “Pizza Cutter With a Fresh Hairdo”:

National Gallery of Art, where we only took in some of the Dutch, Flemish, and Impressionist paintings and I strolled though the extensive and fabulous gift shop. Watched this artist adding to her canvas, and heard her tell another guest she’d already spent 30 hours on it, with perhaps 20 more to go:

Rested our feet and got out of the cold by taking the Circulator bus ($1 for two hours of hop on/hop off travel) down to the MLK Memorial, new since we were last in DC. Striking figure emerging from the granite:

Paid our respects at the Lincoln Memorial:

Saw the pandas at the National Zoo:

Bao Bao eating bamboo
Of course, I had to visit Capitol Hill Books, a used book store just across the street from the Eastern Market (see below)—a completely enchanting warren of rooms packed with books from floor to ceiling. I bought five books and easily could have bought more—only stopping because I didn’t have room in my suitcase.

Explored the Eastern Market near Capitol Hill:

Gaped at the Bonsai exhibit at the National Arboretum. The oldest specimen has been “in training” since 1625:

Explored the streets of Old Town Alexandria, though all the museums were closed because it was Monday (oops):

Thanks to Sally and Ben for giving us the chance for some everyday adventures—we’re happy to pet sit anytime)!

One of our charges, Bunny Hopkins


The Dragonfly

March 09, 2016

Photo courtesy Christian Trick
Introduction by Ted Kooser: Nancy Willard, who lives in New York state, is one of my favorite poets, a writer with a marvelous gift for fresh description and a keen sense for the depths of meaning beneath whatever she describes. Here’s a poem from her newest book.

The Vanity of the Dragonfly

The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell—
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.

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 ©2012 by Nancy Willard from her most recent book of poems, The Sea at Truro, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of Nancy Willard and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2013 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.

Charles Caleb Colton

Taste Happiness Now

March 02, 2016

Photo courtesy Stefan Gustafsson

“Men spend their lives in anticipations, in determining to be vastly happy at some period when they have time. But the present time has one advantage over every other—it is our own. Past opportunities are gone, future have not come. We may lay in a stock of pleasures, as we would lay in a stock of wine; but if we defer the tasting of them too long, we shall find that both are soured by age.”
—Charles Caleb Colton