Alain de Botton

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

August 16, 2017

Photo courtesy Public Co

“We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn (after an argument in a raffia bungalow under an azure sky) that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own either underwrite our joy or condemn us to misery.”
—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel


Life

While I Was Making Other Plans

August 11, 2017

Life happened last week.

Tank hurt himself, doing we know not what, and I’ve been going to the barn twice a day to check on him, and clean and medicate his wounds. (He somehow injured his neck and put a puncture wound in his face—I’ll spare you the photos.)

I had intended to write some extra blog posts for Catching Happiness last week so I could take a little summer vacation.

That didn’t happen.

Life happened.

Tank is fine—it’s not a life-threatening injury, but it does require watching and extra care, and a little babying. Since the “feels like” temperatures are more than 100 degrees right now, these barn trips leave me dripping with sweat and exhausted by the end of the day.

I apologize for not having something new for you, but in the meantime, I’m resurrecting summer reruns. The following post first appeared in December of 2010 (hence the reference to the holiday season), but the message is good any time of year. 

With any luck, next week will be better!

The Gift of Permission

Most of us are thinking of what we and our loved ones would like as gifts this holiday season. Along with the wish lists we generally have, what about a gift we can give ourselves: the gift of permission? Here are three things we should give ourselves permission to do:

Permission to have the life you want
Do you, deep down, believe you deserve the life you want? If you don’t, your dream life will never become real. Women in particular often put others’ needs first, and sacrifice their own goals and dreams in favor of helping others achieve theirs. This is not all bad, of course. Many of us find deep satisfaction in helping others. It becomes a problem when you always sacrifice your own dreams and wishes in favor of others’ and never or rarely have a chance to pursue your own passions and pleasures.

Joy Chudacoff writes in “Smart Women Give Themselves Permission,” “There comes a time when you will begin to feel a calling to create more of what you prefer in your own life. It does not mean that you do not love and care for all of those people who mean so much to you. It’s a signal that the time has come for you to embrace more of who you uniquely are.”

This is definitely an issue for me: why do I “deserve” to have my dreams come true—owning my own horse, working as a freelancer (i.e., often getting paid more in satisfaction than in money), simply having what I have in my life? I feel guilty because I have the time and resources to pursue the life of my dreams, and then I begin to dissipate my energy to such an extent that I no longer do have the time and resources to do what I want. I realize I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me it’s OK to have the life I want. The truth is, I deserve the life I want just as much as—not more than, not less than—any other human being does. And so do you.

Permission to be imperfect
I’m not saying you consciously think you have to be “perfect,” but I’ll bet you think you should be better. We could all be “better” than we are—it’s part of the human condition to be imperfect. If you’re like me, you can probably name 25 things you wish were different about you and your life. Stop worrying over that and feeling guilty about it and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Admit your flaws, then realize that’s just how it is right now. If it’s truly something that must be changed, then commit to changing, but refuse to wallow in the feeling that somehow you should have already overcome this problem and you’re a bad person for not having done so. (Channel Popeye by saying, “I yam what I yam.”)

Permission to try and succeed…or to try and fail
This is one of my biggest issues. When I have a big, hairy goal or project in mind, I often become paralyzed, equally worried about succeeding or failing! If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own. Safer and more comfortable just to do nothing.

And what if trying for your big, hairy goal causes someone in your life discomfort or inconvenience? That may be true. How often does someone else’s important goal cause you discomfort or inconvenience? How do you feel about that? Probably you feel that’s OK, within reason, if the other person’s activity or achievement is important enough to them. (I also refer you back to my first point.)

Regardless of success or failure, you should give yourself permission to try. Either outcome is better than not making the attempt.

So this is what we’re going to do. I give you permission to follow your dreams, to learn something new, to succeed, to do something badly, to be imperfect. And you do the same for me. But truthfully, we don’t really need each other’s permission, do we?

What would you do if you had “permission”?

Seen on a store window in New Orleans

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
--Grace Murray Hopper

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder on Simple Pleasures

August 09, 2017

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness—just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze
when the day is warm.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Writings to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Wisdom and Virtues

Heat

Hot Links to Love

August 04, 2017

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

It’s August. It’s just too hot to do anything except stay inside and surf the ’net, don’t you think? To get you started, I’ve got some hot links for you to love today, so grab a cold drink and let’s get to it!

First up, Marc and Angel’s “50 Ways to Nurture Your Happiness.” We’ve heard most of these suggestions before, but how many of us actually do them consistently?

Check out the YOU-app: “Micro actions” for happier, healthier living, sent right to your phone or email. Perfect for those of us who make progress via baby steps.

I don’t believe adventures have to feel scary—and neither does the author of “Rethinking the Skydiving Mindset.”

Subscribe to the Goodnewspaper. There’s still good news in the world, and this quarterly print publication aims to find and share it. There’s also a free e-newsletter you can sign up for here

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? So do I. This post examines the role we play in our own feelings of overwhelm, and how we can “own” our overwhelm. 

Twenty-six strategies for happiness, backed by research, in a handy infographic. The article itself is long, but packed with information.

This video made me laugh out loud. Kids are kids, whatever the species:



Have a happy (and cool) Friday!

Carew Papritz

Summer

August 02, 2017

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

“Summer, dropping so easily a delicious everything upon your skin and lips. Like a never-ending kiss—taunting, deep, and luscious. The sun. The heat. The thousand echoes of a timelessness before time, when every day seems longer than the next and no day seems likely to ever truly end. Summer.”
—Carew Papritz, The Legacy Letters

Happiness

Rewrite Your Story—Don’t Let Limiting Beliefs Rob You of Happiness

July 28, 2017


Most of us tell ourselves stories. Stories about what kind of people we are, our capabilities, about what other people are like or what they think about us, even about how the world works. Some of these stories are harmless, but many of them keep us stuck in places we don’t want to be, or keep us from doing things we want to do. Sometimes our stories get in the way of our happiness.

These stories are often called limiting beliefs because they limit our lives and our potential.

What does a limiting belief look like?


Limiting beliefs are usually blanket generalizations, and they often start with the words “I can’t,” “I am,” or “I am not.” Here are some common ones:

I am not smart.
I am not athletic.
I am not enough.
I am broken and need fixing.
I can’t do that.
I am not worthy of _____.
I can’t afford that.
I am not lucky.
I am not creative/an artist/a writer.
I am too old to _____.
I am too young to ______.

Where do limiting beliefs come from?

Many limiting beliefs have crept into our subconscious minds and set up camp without our even being aware of them. Sometimes we’ve picked them up in childhood from a careless remark we overheard, experiences that we barely remember, or from what society has drummed into our heads. We’ve all received messages about what makes a good woman or a good man, for example. We’ve probably also had more personal stories woven around us by our families of origin—maybe we were labeled the “klutzy one” or the “goofy one,” and that story has influenced and limited how we think about ourselves even now.

Our stories may have a small element of truth, or they may have been true at one time. Remember, however, that they are almost always generalizations, and make the assumption that things and people are the way they are, and there’s no such thing as change and growth.

How do we rid ourselves of limiting beliefs and rewrite our stories?


First we must become conscious of them. When an opportunity comes into your life, what does your mental chatter sound like? When you really want to go for it, does a voice in your head tell you, you can’t, it won’t happen, so why even bother?

Or maybe that voice is critical, telling you you’ll look ridiculous, or questioning whether or not you deserve this opportunity. Limiting beliefs come in many different guises.

Once we become aware of our limiting beliefs, we can challenge them. Are they really true? Every time? Think about times when they were not true. Push the boundary of that belief. What have you learned or experienced that you can now use to disprove it? (Byron Katie has done some really amazing work challenging thought patterns like this. Click here for an introduction to her teaching.) 

Discard the beliefs that are not true, and replace them with new stories. Start small, or take a giant leap—whatever works for you. “Act as if” your new belief is true. Taking action will help make your new belief real.

I write this article for myself more than for anyone else. I wrestle with many limiting beliefs—“I am not brave,” for example. I feel unsure of myself often, get tongue tied when I should speak up, and cringe while contemplating any number of activities other people don’t think twice about. The desire to live a full life and pursue my dreams has helped me to challenge those limiting beliefs. I am not brave, yet I own and ride a 1,000-pound horse, something that most people can’t say. I am not brave, and yet I wake up every day and do things that scare me (because many, many thing scare me)!

And that’s what it really boils down to. Very often, the underlying emotion behind a limiting belief is fear. Fear of criticism, of looking ridiculous, of failing. I’m sorry to say, these fears are likely to come true. If you’re out there daring to learn something new or live in a way that is out of the ordinary, you will experience failure, looking awkward, and probably someone will criticize you.

I have two little words for you: So What?

We have the choice of allowing our stories to mark out the boundaries of our achievements and our world. We can stay comfortable and hidden and afraid—or we can rewrite our stories and live.

Do your stories (limiting beliefs) keep you from pursuing the things that make you happy? What limiting belief are you willing to challenge?

Kay Ryan

A Pin Hole of Light

July 26, 2017

Photo courtesy Ezgi Platin

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Kay Ryan was our nation’s Poet Laureate at The Library of Congress for the 2008-2010 terms. Her poetry is celebrated for its compression; she can get a great deal into a few words. Here’s an example of a poem swift and accurate as a dart.

Pinhole

We say
pinhole.
A pin hole
of light. We
can’t imagine
how bright
more of it
could be,
the way
this much
defeats night.
It almost
isn’t fair,
whoever
poked this,
with such
a small act
to vanquish
blackness.

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 ©2011 by Kay Ryan, whose most recent book of poems is Odd Blocks, Selected and New Poems, Carcanet Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from Poetry, October 2011, by permission of Kay Ryan and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 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.

Florida

Looking for the Simple Pleasures of Summer

July 21, 2017


I hate summer in Florida. It’s hurricane season, mosquito season, sweat-through-your-T-shirt season, I-wish-I-lived-in-Maine season. All the cheerful articles and blog posts about having summer fun leave me grumpy, since many of their suggestions aren’t practical for our extremely hot and humid climate. My idea of summer fun in Florida is to stay inside as much as possible. Unfortunately, errands still need to be run, horses still need grooming, and household maintenance still requires setting foot outdoors. Now more than ever I need a stock of simple pleasures to look forward to until cooler temperatures arrive (probably sometime in January, if the past couple years have been any indication). I want to savor the summer, and I want to share summer pleasures with you…but I confess my stock of simple pleasure ideas is running low.

So since I’m such a summer grump, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to see what simple pleasures they enjoy during the summertime. Here, in their own words, are some sweet summer pleasures they savor:

“Sitting in matching tree swings with my husband, talking and watching the fireflies. Tubing, also with my husband.”—Maria

“I just love Target in August. It reminds me of my young co-ed days going to college. We had one right next to campus at NAU, and it would be full of all my classmates, dorm mates, sorority sisters, and cute boys. Picking out sheets, towels, and even garbage cans made me feel so adult! Every August at Target still takes me back and this summer I get to do that with my boy!”—Moki

“Camping in the many places by or around Banff. We use a tent.”—Anita

“Really cold watermelon, corn on the cob, Rainier cherries…shared with family and friends; crepe myrtle trees bloom and when the blooms start to drop, they look like colored rain or snowflakes on the breeze; that glorious (peculiar) golden green color we see just before dusk. It’s especially noticeable after a rainstorm. It almost glows.”—Laure

“Tomato sandwich!”—Debbie

“I love grooming and bathing horses and then hand grazing them until they dry. Just spending quiet time with my favorite horses without asking anything from them. Another simple pleasure would have to be picking fresh veggies at work and being allowed to take them home to enjoy with my family.”—Chris

“With school out for the summer, I savor sleeping in!”—Kathy

“Sitting on my front porch between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. reading…when there is still a bit of coolness, but [it’s] not cold. It is refreshing, and so pleasant. T-shirt, shorts, maybe a hoodie. Birds singing, calm, quiet, pleasant.”—Lynn [Lynn lives in Canada—can you tell?]

“Blueberries!”—Kerri

“I love working in my yard. It’s a great way to sweat/get rid of some toxins and it’s good for my health, plus I get some good ole Vitamin D. Then I like sitting in the evening looking at my yard listening to the birds and hopefully catching a glimpse of some birds with something refreshing to drink”—Robin

“My favorite summer pleasure is taking a trip as far north as I can…to get away from the Texas heat.”—Becky [Clearly a woman after my own heart.]

After some additional thought, I came up with a few simple pleasures I plan to savor between now and the end of summer—pleasures like floating in our pool (now that our son is grown, we rarely use it), making homemade ice cream, sharing a margarita with my friend down the street, taking a few days off for a mini staycation, listening to music by candlelight, hosting a game night for visiting friends, and putting together the jigsaw puzzle my friend Mary gave me. Of course, there will still be plenty of reading and hanging out with Tank while he grazes. And perhaps the best thing of all, taking the pressure off myself to “enjoy” summer—or, at least, not worry about enjoying it in ways that other people say I should enjoy it!

What are your favorite summer pleasures to savor? Please share in the comments section!

Tank's favorite summer pleasure

Seize the Pleasure: Nine Happiness Quotes From Jane Austen

July 18, 2017


Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, at age 41. Her novels have had a lasting impact on the world of literature and have inspired countless fans as well as quite a few books about them and her. Since I wrote this piece, we’ve seen even more Austen-inspired books, essays, celebrations, and so on, come into being. (See below for a link to Signature’s “Essential Guide to Jane Austen,” as well as two fun and free printables.)

In remembrance of Miss Austen, here are nine quotes from her books related to happiness:

From Mansfield Park:

“There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.”

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

“There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy.” 

From Sense and Sensibility:

 “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

“What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?” “Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”
“Elinor, for shame!” Said Marianne. “Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it...” 

From Northanger Abbey:

“[I]t is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”

From Emma:

“Why not seize the pleasure at once?—How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”

 “Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common.” 

From Pride and Prejudice:

 “I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.” 

Reading Jane Austen makes me happy—it’s a simple pleasure I haven’t indulged in for quite some time. I might choose Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey to read next, because I’m not as familiar with them as I am with Pride and Prejudice or Emma (my two favorites).

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel?

Signature's free, downloadable “Essential Guide to Jane Austen”
Jane Austen quote printables
Jane Austen-themed printable bookmarks

Inspiration

Wonder Woman Made Me Cry

July 14, 2017

Photo via Freestockphotos.com

A few weeks ago, a good friend and I indulged in the deliciously decadent simple pleasure of going to see Wonder Woman on a Friday afternoon. Our intention was nothing more than being together and having fun while most of the rest of the world was at work.

As we watched the movie, sharing popcorn and sipping from our water bottles, something surprising happened. We both teared up.

Wha--?

We walked out of the theater, both a little stunned by how entertaining and empowering the movie felt, and by our own reactions to it. Since then, I’ve pondered my (our) teary response to the movie. What affected us so much?

And then to my surprise, I found we were not alone in our tears. Many, many women were being affected this way. I found the No Man’s Land scene the most moving, but other women were moved to tears by the scenes of the Amazons training or fighting on their home island, Themiscyra. Each story I’ve read about a woman crying during Wonder Woman has been a little different, but mainly they’ve focused on the concept of representation—having a role model up on screen who is unabashedly feminine and powerful.

The character of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is not a damsel in distress, a sidekick, an afterthought, or a love interest. She’s the main event, and she is inspiring. She’s strong, brave, loving, and purposeful. She doesn’t wait, she acts. She doesn’t waffle, she decides, and when she acts, she does so in the service of others. That’s a pretty darn good role model, and one that is larger than life. One I wish I’d had when I was growing up.

I’m not what I think of as brave, or even assertive. I grew up in a culture that didn’t encourage those qualities in women, and I’m shy by nature. Even though I knew strong and capable women, they tended to stay in the background, not lead the way. Would I have been a more courageous, outgoing person with an example like Diana Prince to emulate? I don’t know, but I agree with the woman who said, “I wish I could go back in time and watch it with 8-year-old me.” Sometimes you have to see the example—to be made aware of the possibility—before you can emulate it.

Now I realize this is all in the context of a fictional superhero movie. I realize our decisions and actions in real life can be more emotionally fraught and tricky to navigate than No Man’s Land, especially when we’re not Amazons equipped with magical shields. Even so, I’ve found myself thinking of Diana more than once when I face problems in my day-to-day life. Would Wonder Woman be fazed by the challenges of redesigning my blog, or by not placing (again) in an essay contest? Somehow I doubt it.

So much to my surprise, I’m adding Wonder Woman to my list of role models. I could do worse.

Do you have any unusual role models you look up to? 

Dirt

Beyond This Work

July 12, 2017

Photo courtesy Kyle Ellefson

Introduction by Ted Kooser: When we’re on all fours in a garden, planting or weeding, we’re as close to our ancient ancestors as we’re going to get. Here, while he works in the dirt, Richard Levine feels the sacred looking over his shoulder.

Believe This

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.

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 © 2010 by Richard Levine, from his most recent book of poetry, “That Country’s Soul,” Finishing Line Press, 2010, by permission of Richard Levine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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.

If We Thirst for Freedom

July 05, 2017

Photo courtesy Samuel Schneider


“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup
of bitterness and hatred.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr

Freedom

Happiness, Freedom, and Letting Go

July 03, 2017


Photo courtesy Ester Marie Doysabas
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.”—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Over the past few days, I’ve been going through each one of the 877 (!) posts on Catching Happiness, to make sure they all transferred properly to the new template. This process has been bittersweet, as I’ve relived highs and lows from the past eight years: milestones in my son’s life; adopting our cat, Prudy; the joyful memories of our dog, Scout, and the deep grief I felt when she died almost two years ago. There have been changes, both longed for and mourned over, dark days of depression and overwhelm, but also days of excitement and exploration. So many simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

I can see how much happier I am when I’m able to let go, to allow these happenings and emotions to flow through my life, rather than cling to them, or try to hurry them along without truly experiencing them. I’m not naturally good at letting go, but I’m getting better with practice. And it’s true—letting go, freedom, happiness—they’re connected in ways I’m just now beginning to understand.

As I get older, I’m having to let go of more and more things I do not want to let go of. I’m not in charge of the world, surprisingly. Some days, I’m barely in charge of myself. But when I do manage to uncurl my fingers and letgoalready, I’m glimpsing a freedom I’ve never experienced before.  It feels good. It feels…happy. And I want more of that.

What have you let go of? What would you like to let go of?

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers!

Blog

Notice Anything Different?

June 30, 2017

Yup, the blog redesign is finally here. I hope you like it.

I’ve done my best to make everything change over smoothly, but you know how that goes. I expect there will be come glitches here and there, so if something doesn’t work for you, please let me know.

Here’s a tour of the new features:

Up at the top, you’ll see a blue bar with some text—for now, there’s a new About page, as well as a Home button. I plan to add more pages in the future. To the right of the text is a little search icon. Click on it, and plug in your search term if you want to look for something specific here on the blog.

On the sidebar to the right, you’ll see:
  • A new profile photo of yours truly (finally!)
  • The blog archive
  • A list of popular posts

You’ll also find a new way to subscribe to posts via email, and when you do, you’ll also be on the mailing list for the brand new Happy Little Thoughts newsletter.  In addition, I have a little gift for anyone who joins my email list: “30 Days of Happy”—a free printable I made just for you listing a month’s worth of simple pleasures and everyday adventures. All you have to do is sign up for email updates. (I promise I will not sell or share your email with anyone else.)

After each post, you’ll see a row of icons linked to social media, as well as one that allows you to leave a comment. If something I’ve written inspires, touches, or motivates you, or even if you disagree with me completely, I want to hear from you. I’d also appreciate it if you’d share my posts with anyone you think might enjoy them—let’s spread the word about simple pleasures and everyday adventures!

Catching Happiness is a labor of love for me, and I hope it will be a place inspiration and happiness for you. So let’s go indulge in many more simple pleasures and everyday adventures together!

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank my friend and partner in adventure, Laure Ferlita, for her help in this redesign. She walked me through a number of the steps, was instrumental in the production of the new header you see above, and patiently listened to my many rants as I picked my way through this process. I couldn’t have done it without her.

David Wagoner

Just for Her

June 28, 2017

Photo courtesy Hannes Wolf

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Here David Wagoner, a distinguished poet living in Washington state, vividly describes a peacock courtship, and though it’s a poem about birds, haven’t you seen the males of other species, including ours, look every bit as puffed up, and observed the females’ hilarious indifference?

Peacock Display

He approaches her, trailing his whole fortune,
Perfectly cocksure, and suddenly spreads
The huge fan of his tail for her amazement.

Each turquoise and purple, black-horned, walleyed quill
Comes quivering forward, an amphitheatric shell
For his most fortunate audience: her alone.

He plumes himself. He shakes his brassily gold
Wings and rump in a dance, lifting his claws
Stiff-legged under the great bulge of his breast.

And she strolls calmly away, pecking and pausing,
Not watching him, astonished to discover
All these seeds spread just for her in the dirt.

Reprinted from “Best of Prairie Schooner: Fiction and Poetry,” University of Nebraska Press, 2001, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is Good Morning and Good Night, University of Illinois Press, 2005. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Reading A Paris Year: “La Vie Est Faite de Petits Bonheurs”*

June 23, 2017

Let’s take a break from the everyday adventure of blog redesign to bask in the simple pleasure of a new book!

I got this little beauty in the mail this week:



I’ve been waiting impatiently for it since I used part of my Mother’s Day gift card to preorder it. I loved Paris Letters, and I’m happy to say A Paris Year, while different in format, is also completely delightful.

MacLeod’s love of Paris shines on every page. It’s the love of a woman who has spent time getting to know her beloved intimately through the year’s seasons, through dark and light, through frustrations and delights. Amazon accurately describes it as a love letter to Paris.

Set up in diary format, each page holds photos or art—or both—as well as wonderful little snippets of information. So far, I’ve learned about the Wallace fountains (page 19), “le macaron” (page 59), the Arago Rose Line (page 61), and salt harvesting (page 75). 

Pretty endpapers


My photos don’t do the book justice, but I wanted you to see a little bit of what’s inside.

This is the type of book I’d love to write. Where each page is a delicious little morsel to enjoy, that satisfies a longing for beauty and inspiration.

I’m doing my best to read just a few pages a day so I can savor the experience, rather than gulping it down in one swallow. Something tells me, though, I’ll be finished soon—maybe I’ll go back and reread it, then reread Paris Letters. Why, yes, I’m in the mood for some escapist reading, why do you ask?

Where are you escaping to this summer?

*“Life is full of small pleasures”

June

On the First Day of Summer

June 21, 2017


“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold
over the grassy hillside.”
—Maud Hart Lovelace

Blog

Finding Happiness in the Messy Middle

June 16, 2017

Photo courtesy Pexels

Yesterday I found myself near tears in the produce section of my local Publix supermarket. No, I don’t have a strange phobia related to cantaloupe and corn on the cob. Let me explain.

For the past 150 years (it seems) I’ve been working on a redesign of Catching Happiness. I’m trying to update its appearance, provide a way for readers to subscribe to posts, and come up with some new goodies for you. These things sound simple, and taken individually they might be, but taken all at once, by me, an impatient, tech-ignorant, semi-perfectionist, they haven’t been simple at all. Just when I think I’ve got one item sorted, some other thing pops up to derail me.

I’m in the messy middle. The messy middle is where you find yourself when the first flush of enthusiasm for a project has drained away, and you can’t quite see the finish line and draw energy from being almost done.

The messy middle is where it gets…messy. Messy with possibilities, both pursued and cast off, messy with decision-making. There is often confusion. Sometimes there is crying. Or cursing. The messy middle is where fear lives.

After taking the afternoon off in favor of grocery shopping and having two cracked teeth repaired at the dentist (if you can call having one’s teeth drilled “taking the afternoon off”), I decided that instead of weeping and tearing my hair out—and writing long, whiny emails to Laure Ferlita—I am going to grit those newly repaired teeth and figure out how to get through the messy middle so I can learn from it, and maybe even find some happiness in it.

Here are some things I came up with to help—maybe they can help you then next time you face the messy middle:

  • Take extra care of my body and mind. While I’m stressed out by uncertainty and frustration, it’s important that I eat healthfully (rather than mainlining cookies), get enough sleep, and continue my regular exercise program. I also need to allow myself some downtime so I don’t let the well run dry
  • Envision the end product. Take a moment to picture what finished looks like, and how it feels. Anyone can persist with what comes easily—how proud will I feel when I stick with it, even though it’s hard?
  • Simplify other areas/streamline. Even though I might be tempted by the next shiny thing, I cannot take on too many different and complex projects right now. I have certain commitments that I’ll keep up with, but I’m not going to undertake any new, major tasks.
  • Seek support. (See: whiny emails to Laure Ferlita.) I don’t have to go it alone. I can ask for help. I stink at this. I hate asking for help, because I know everyone is busy with their own stuff, and I feel like I *should be able to handle this project. However, there is no way around the fact that I can’t handle this project by myself, and I’ve had to reach out for help. And whaddya know? That help has been there.

While I was writing this post, I did a quick Google search of the term “messy middle” because it felt so familiar. I found 72,500 references to the phrase, related to topics like spirituality, management, and creative projects. Apparently the messy middle is A Thing. It’s not just me who struggles during the period between “started” and “done.”

In the past I’ve been guilty of rushing through life to get to the “good parts,” only to find that what I rushed through was the good part. I have a feeling that I’m rushing through this blog redesign just to finish it, rather than taking the opportunity to learn something every step of the way. Laure kept urging me to have fun with the process, and until today, I couldn’t even imagine being able to do that.

So despite the fact that I’ve been talking about and working on blog redesign for 150 years, it’s going to take a bit longer, and I should just get used to it. As Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”

I think it just did.

Are you in the messy middle of anything? How are you coping?

Father and son

Father and Son

June 14, 2017

Photo courtesy swimswim

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Here's a touching father-son poem by Jennifer Gray, who lives in Nebraska. If you're not big enough to push a real mower, well, you make a mower of your own.

Summer Mowing

He has transformed
his Tonka dump truck
into a push mower, using

lumber scraps and duct tape
to construct a handle
on the front end of the dump box.

One brave screw
holds the makeshift
contraption together.

All summer they outline
the edges of these acres,
first Daddy, and then,

behind him
this small echo, each
dodging the same stumps,

pausing to slap a mosquito,
or rest in the shade,
before once again pacing

out into the light,
where first one,
and then the other,

leans forward to guide the mowers
along the bright edges
of this familiar world.


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 ©2015 by Jennifer Gray, “Summer Mowing,” from Plainsongs, (Vol. XXXV, no. 3, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Gray 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.

Happy Father’s Day to my husband, my dad, my father-in-law, and all the other dads out there!

Comfort zones

Take a Bow

June 09, 2017

A few weeks ago during a riding lesson, in front of six other students and a couple of watching parents, I made an “unscheduled dismount” from Tank’s back. We were practicing a combination of two small fences called a “bounce”—so named because the horse jumps the first fence then “bounces” over the second one without taking a stride. We’d never done this before and, it became obvious, hadn’t quite figured it out.

On one of our attempts, Tank didn’t have enough impulsion going in and had to make a big effort to get over the second fence, consequently “bouncing” me out of the saddle, where I clung to his neck like a scarf, making heroic efforts to stay aboard. Kind of like this (but with less success):


Tank stopped obligingly while I struggled to stay on, but eventually I slid to the ground, landing on my feet.

When I related this story to my friend Laure, she asked, “Did you take a bow?”

Laure’s question made me think about how some failures really need some form of positive acknowledgment—like taking a bow. After all, when we fail at something, we’re most likely pushing our comfort zones or trying to master something new. A spectacular failure comes from taking a big chance or going hard for something we want. That should be celebrated, even if the outcome wasn’t quite what we intended.

I’ve written about failure before, but coping with it is a lesson that bears repeating. Failing is important. It means you’re stretching, growing, and learning. Instead of hiding our failures, we can at least acknowledge them, if we can’t quite imagine celebrating them.

So the next time you fail, spectacularly or not, take a bow. Acknowledge that beautiful failure, be grateful for it, and move on.

Bees

Stung

May 31, 2017

Photo courtesy Alexas_Fotos

Introduction by Ted Kooser: The University of Minnesota Press has published a wonderful new collection of bee poems, If Bees Are Few, which may in some small way help the bees and will certainly offer some honey to poetry lovers. Here's just one poem, by Heid Erdrich, who lives in Minnesota. Her most recent book is Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems from the University of Arizona Press.

Stung

She couldn't help but sting my finger,
clinging a moment before I flung her
to the ground. Her gold is true, not the trick
evening light plays on my roses.
She curls into herself, stinger twitching,
gilt wings folded. Her whole life just a few weeks,
and my pain subsided in a moment.
In the cold, she hardly had her wits to buzz.
No warning from either of us:
she sleeping in the richness of those petals,
then the hand, my hand, cupping the bloom
in devastating force, crushing the petals for the scent.
And she mortally threatened, wholly unaware
that I do this daily, alone with the gold last light,
in what seems to me an act of love.

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 Heid Erdrich, “Stung,” from If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems (Univ. of Minnesota Pr., James P. Lenfesty, Ed., 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Heid Erdrich 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.

Happiness

How the Light Gets In

May 24, 2017


“Perfectionism is our denial of two very basic truths of existence: we are not perfect; and we are not, ultimately, in control. When we absorb the law of perfection, we are infected with the virus of self-doubt, which eats away at every area of our lives. The more perfect we are, we believe, the more valid we are as people. But with every advance in one area, we find ourselves wanting in another. We worry that we are not good enough, and, therefore, on some level that we do not deserve love, happiness, or maybe even life itself.

“We fear our imperfections will expose us as failures when actually they show the places we have grown, the markers of our realizations, our unique situation in the sands of time and cycles of nature. In the words of Leonard Cohen, ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’”
—Lucy H. Pearce, “Overcoming Perfectionism in a Culture That Promotes It,” Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, ed. by Lori Deschene

Announcement

Under (Re)construction

May 19, 2017


I’m in the midst of a redesign and update of Catching Happiness, so it might be a little quieter than usual here for the next week or two, depending on how smoothly the transition takes place, and you know how that goes! I’m excited about the changes, and hope you’ll love the new features, which will include a whole new look, a monthly newsletter, and a special sign up bonus for anyone who joins my brand new mailing list.

I’ll be back to sharing simple pleasures and everyday adventures with you soon!

January O'Neil

No Day Is Promised

May 17, 2017

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Here's a celebration of one day in the week, the kids with the father, a brownie for breakfast, everything right with the world. January O’Neil lives in Massachusetts, and this poem first appeared in RATTLE. Her most recent book is Misery Islands (Cavankerry Press, 2014).

Sunday

You are the start of the week
or the end of it, and according
to The Beatles you creep in
like a nun. You're the second
full day the kids have been
away with their father, the second
full day of an empty house.
Sunday, I've missed you. I've been
sitting in the backyard with a glass
of Pinot waiting for your arrival.
Did you know the first Sweet 100s
are turning red in the garden,
but the lettuce has grown
too bitter to eat. I am looking
up at the bluest sky I have ever seen,
cerulean blue, a heaven sky
no one would believe I was under.
You are my witness. No day
is promised. You are absolution.
You are my unwritten to-do list,
my dishes in the sink, my brownie
breakfast, my braless day.

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 January O'Neil, “Sunday,” from Rattle, (No. 41, Fall 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of January O'Neil 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.

Happiness

Happiness Is Wanting What You Have

May 12, 2017


Since it’s already 90+ degrees here, I’ve been thinking wistfully of the cooler, drier air we had on our road trip, how invigorating I found it and how nice it was not to be constantly sticky.

I’ve been admiring Debbie’s beautiful flowers, varieties that generally don’t grow well here in central Florida.

And I’m jealous of another friend’s success growing lavender—it doesn’t thrive here in Florida’s humidity.

Enough.

In all this wishing things were different, I’m forgetting the many simple pleasures that are right under my nose. For instance:
  • A backyard my husband is turning into an oasis, not only for us, but also for butterflies and birds:


  • This little face:



  • And this face, too:


  • Beautiful bird life:



I will always wish for a climate less humid, but I am so grateful I have air conditioning to make life livable. (My Florida-native husband grew up in a home without it!)

I’d love to grow peonies, but I’ll make do with the perennials that grow well in our back yard, and the orchids that thrive on the moist air.

It’s time to practice the adage,  “Happiness is not having what you want. It’s wanting what you have.”

Wanting what I have means paying attention rather than taking for granted. It means appreciating what simple pleasures exist in my own back yard, right under my nose, rather than grumpily refusing to acknowledge them because I’d prefer something different. Wanting what I have. And I have so much.

What simple pleasures do you take for granted?

Attitudes

Happiness Advice From Martha Washington

May 10, 2017


“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.”
—Martha Washington

Michelle Menting

A Frame of Air

May 03, 2017

Photo courtesy Michael Gaida
Introduction by Ted Kooser: Once the carpenter put the sash-weights into the wall next to the window, they were never seen again. Eventually they fell off the ropes and with just one loud outcry fell deeper into the dark. But we propped the windows open with this and that, and forgot about the weights. Here's a poem about those props by Michelle Menting, who lives in Maine, and who was once our assistant at American Life in Poetry. Her forthcoming book is Leaves Surface Like Skin from Dancing Girl Press.

Objects Used to Prop Open a Window

Dog bone, stapler,
cribbage board, garlic press
   because this window is loose—lacks
suction, lacks grip.

Bungee cord, bootstrap,
dog leash, leather belt
   because this window had sash cords.
They frayed. They broke.

Feather duster, thatch of straw, empty
bottle of Elmer's glue
   because this window is loud—its hinges clack
open, clack shut.

Stuffed bear, baby blanket,
single crib newel
   because this window is split. It's dividing
in two.

Velvet moss, sagebrush,
willow branch, robin's wing
   because this window, it's pane-less. It's only
a frame of air.

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 Michelle Menting, “Objects Used to Prop Open a Window,” from Decomp Magazine, (February, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Michelle Menting 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.

Arizona

Pictures of Rocks--the Meander Continues

May 01, 2017


Third and final installment of road trip adventures (see part one here, and part two here).

In addition to the striking scenery, good food, and precious hours spent with a friend, one of the best things about my recent trip was the complete break in routine. Routines can become ruts, where life sort of runs on automatic pilot and I don’t think about what I’m doing. After coming home, I have the choice of picking up my previous routines… or not. That’s one of the things I’m still figuring out, two weeks into my return. I feel like I need to change up how I operate.

But I digress.

Before I continue with the travelogue, I have to share with you the Best. Breakfast. Ever.  We ate at Crema in Cottonwood, Arizona both mornings we were in town. If you’re in the area, do not miss it. (No affiliation.)

Crepes with fresh berries and marscapone cheese

Egg sandwich with arugula and sriracha aioli


After fueling up at Crema, we waddled to our car where we took off for further exploration, including: 

The cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle were home to the Southern Sinagua, and were occupied until the 1400s. Montezuma Castle is one of the best-preserved historic structures of the Southwest. It rises 100 feet above the valley, and consists of five stories and 20 rooms. Early American settlers assumed it was Aztec in origin, so they named it after Montezuma. We walked an easy paved loop trail past the cliff dwellings, down to the river, and back to the visitor’s center.



After the Castle, we stopped by Montezuma Well right at the end of the day, and what a lovely spot it turned out to be! The Well is fed by springs, and more than 1.5 million gallons of water flow into it every day.  The water eventually flows into an irrigation ditch, which has sections that date back over 1,000 years. The Southern Sinagua used water from this well to irrigate crops, and the residents of Rimrock, Arizona currently use it for gardens and livestock. There’s a pretty stiff climb up a hill that leads you to this:



We also climbed down to the water level of the well, and followed a trail along where the water flows out of it. 

In a previous post, I promised striking rock formations, and here they are:



Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, near Sedona, Arizona. We stopped here briefly before sunset, dinner, and heading back to our hotel for the night.

The last place I’ll take you on this road trip is also one of my favorites: Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend is near the Grand Canyon, but not technically part of it. You can take an aerial or land tour, but you can also park and walk to the rim for free. Once there, look down 1,000 feet to the Colorado River as it winds around a 270-degree, horseshoe-shaped bend. This is known as an entrenched meander. Isn’t that a wonderful name?



We visited Horseshoe Bend twice, hoping for some good sunset photos, but it was too hazy each time. That didn’t matter—with or without sunset, Horseshoe Bend is photogenic, and the people watching was also entertaining. Stressed-out parents trying to keep their kids safe but still allow them to see and photograph the scene, couples cautiously creeping to the edge of the canyon to take selfies (or foolhardily marching up to the edge), Kerri trying for the perfect shot without losing her camera and tripod into the abyss. Once I snapped my photos, I sat and soaked up the scene while she experimented with settings and tripod placement, letting my eyes wander over the landscape, feeling the slight breeze on my face.

Scenery around Horseshoe Bend

Yes, we were this close to the edge
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little jaunt into Arizona and New Mexico. It’s not always a pleasure to hear about someone else’s adventures when what you really want is to have your own! (Fair warning: there will probably be at least one future Field Trip Friday post based in the Southwest!)

What is your next adventure?


Look for my travel writing here