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!


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?


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


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.


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.


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!


"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.


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.