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


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


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


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 (, 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.


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?


The Color of Forgotten Things

September 07, 2016

Photo courtesy Alex Drahon

Introduction by Ted Kooser: In this poem by New York poet Martin Walls, a common insect is described and made vivid for us through a number of fresh and engaging comparisons. Thus an ordinary insect becomes something remarkable and memorable.

Cicadas at the End of Summer

Whine as though a pine tree is bowing a broken violin,
As though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of
They chime like freight wheels on a Norfolk Southern
slowing into town.

But all you ever see is the silence.
Husks, glued to the underside of maple leaves.
With their nineteen fifties Bakelite lines they’d do
            just as well hanging from the ceiling of a space

What cicadas leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;
The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned

The color of forgotten things: a cold broth of tea & milk
            in the bottom of a mug.
Or skin on an old tin of varnish you have to lift with
            lineman’s pliers.
A fly paper that hung thirty years in Bird Cooper’s pantry
in Brighton.

Reprinted from “Small Human Detail in Care of National Trust,” New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2000, by permission of the author. Poem copyright © by Martin Walls, a 2005 Wittner Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. His latest collection “Commonwealth” is available from March Street 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. American Life in Poetry ©2005 The Poetry Foundation Contact:  This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


Labor (of Love) Day

September 05, 2016

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a day “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” I’ll be spending it caring for my horse, checking in on a vacationing friend’s cats, making a birthday cake for my son, and puttering around the house doing chores that make our lives run smoothly and happily. My husband is grilling chicken and shrimp, my mother-in-law is visiting, and my son will be stopping by later to eat that cake (and probably do some laundry). We spent the first two days of this three-day weekend painting our bathroom and cleaning up after Hurricane Hermine (no damage, just a lot of debris in the yard). This hasn’t been a textbook example of a “relaxing” weekend, but it has been one full of family, food, and many of the simple pleasures that bring me deep satisfaction.

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you joy!

Storm debris: Eleven bags, two trash cans and a branch (not visible)