Reflection

No Time to Think? Why and How to Make Reflection a Part of Your Life

December 08, 2017



Despite the hoopla surrounding the holiday season, December is a great time to develop the habit of reflection. To reflect is to think deeply or carefully—a practice especially useful as we wrap up an old year and approach a new one.

But reflection is more easily discussed than practiced. The culture in the U.S. is not conducive to reflective thought. Instead, it’s devoted to making us too busy or too distracted by information overload to pause for reflection. (I don’t think it’s just me—but correct me if I’m wrong.)

In addition, reflection is sometimes uncomfortable. It can reveal to us areas of conflict, deep desires that have gone unmet, ways we fall short, things we’re afraid of. I guarantee that if we have a few minutes of thinking time, whatever problem we’re facing will pop up and demand attention.

Even though it can be uncomfortable, if we use our reflection time wisely we may be able to make some progress solving those issues that come to mind, rather than pushing them aside. We should be careful, however, that we don’t turn our reflection time into a way to beat ourselves up for not being and doing enough.

Reflection doesn’t always have to be about problem solving, of course. It can—and should—also be a time simply to think about what’s happening in our lives, what we’re grateful for, that great book we read, or some new thing we recently learned. Reflection gives us the opportunity to pay attention to our lives, rather than just living them.

Taking the time to reflect fosters growth, insight, and wisdom. We make connections between seemingly unrelated things, solve problems, and see new ways of approaching challenges. When we’re especially busy—like while we’re prepping for the holidays—it’s even more important to take time for reflection.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of making time to think, so I’m going to take my own advice and start making reflection a regular habit. If you want to join me, here are some simple tips that should help:

Schedule time for reflection. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, but it should be regular. Say every Sunday night from 8 to 8:30, for example.

Make space for reflection. A comfortable chair in quiet area is ideal. Or, if the weather permits, take a walk and let your thoughts wander with you.

Keep a notebook or journal handy. If you’re like me, you’ll likely have something to jot down.

What should we think about? Anything we want! We can let our thoughts drift, or we can make note of a question we want to ponder. We may want to think through a particular challenge, reflect on an experience, or some new thing we learned.

(One way to jump start your reflections is to use prompt questions. One of my favorite end-of-the-year tools can be found in this post on Sandra Pawula’s blog, Always Well Within.)

Do you have any tips for establishing a habit of reflection? Please share in the comments!

Confucius

The Noblest Way to Learn Wisdom

December 06, 2017

Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
—Confucius


30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge: 2017 Edition

2017 Gratitude Challenge Recap

December 01, 2017

Yesterday was the last day of Positively Present’s 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. I’ve done this challenge four times now, and every year I learn something new about gratitude.

The point of the challenge, for me, is to become more aware of the large and small things I’m grateful for. So many times they get lost in the shuffle of daily living. I’m ashamed to say that I take many things for granted. (I also loved reading other people’s #Gratitude30 entries. We’re all so different, yet somehow the same!)

Here are a few of my favorite 2017 prompts (entries have been slightly edited to remove Instagram-ese):


Day 1 (Beauty): I didn’t have to go far to find today’s prompt… Just out my back door. Thanks to my husband, I have the backyard I’ve always wanted. I’m grateful for his efforts, and for the beautiful flowers that bloom nearly year-round in Florida.


Day 9 (Feelings): I used to be afraid that my feelings would overwhelm me. Then I started taking yoga classes and learning about meditation. I learned I could watch my feelings and thoughts, and that as long as I didn’t cling to them or push them aside they would simply…flow (like the ripples in this photo). Sometimes I write out my feelings, both to figure out what they are, and to help with the flow process. I’m grateful for the peace of knowing this, too, shall pass.


Day 14 (Challenges): Some of the best rewards in life come with a heaping helping of challenge. Like this guy here. Learning how to ride and care for a horse as an adult has been physically, mentally, and financially challenging, but worth every minute. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from him and from all the horse people I’ve met along the way.


Day 17 (Memories): These photos were taken in New Orleans back in 2010, on a trip with Laure Ferlita, and they remind me of “les bon temps” we shared exploring that fascinating city. Oh, how I would love to go back to New Orleans. The food, the music, the people, the architecture…and did I mention the food?

Day 30 (Growth): 2017 has been a challenging year in many ways, and it forced me to grow, even when I’d have preferred to stay in my comfort zone. I hate to admit it (and this is not an invitation to the universe to send me adversity), but I’m grateful for the growth from those challenges. And I intend to keep growing like this little flower, blooming in a crevice between rocks.
What are you most grateful for in 2017?

Books

Happy Birthday, Louisa May Alcott

November 29, 2017

Louisa May Alcott is a heroine of mine—more because of the person she was than because of her writing (though I enjoy that, too). She was born 185 years ago today, and in honor of her birthday, here are two happiness-related quotes attributed to her:

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.”

“One of the sweet things about pain and sorrow is that they show us how well we are loved, how much kindness there is in the world, and how easily we can make others happy in the same way when they need help and sympathy.”

In 2013, my husband and I visited Orchard House, her family home in Concord, MA, pictured below. (I wrote about it briefly here.) 

If you want to know more about Louisa May Alcott, check out Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. I’m currently reading Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology and enjoying it very much.

Are you a Louisa May Alcott fan? Which of her books is your favorite?


Black Friday Link Love

November 24, 2017

Rather than participate in Black Friday, my husband and I are enjoying a short break from the usual routine, and fighting crowds for bargains doesn’t qualify as “a break” in either of our minds. In case you’re off today and have a little time for some web surfing, here are a few fun and thought-provoking tidbits I’ve found online recently—no lines and no waiting:

I loved Positively Present’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide—there’s something for everyone on this list, and I guarantee you no one will return your gift. 

Doing nothing is harder than you think.

I found “How to Go from Discouraged to Empowered in a Scary World,” by Sandra Pawula at Always Well Within an encouraging read.   

Seth Godin on “Full vs. Enough.”  


Do To-Do lists work for you? If they don’t, you might want to try one of the other types of lists described by Gretchen Rubin in “The Surprising Truth About Why Your To-Do List May Be Failing You.” 

Don’t forget Giving Tuesday next week—it’s a good way to share with others, and in some instances, your donation will be matched. Click here to read about how that works.

I don’t think I’ve shared this before, but even if I have, it’s too good not to share again.

Have a happy Friday, Black or otherwise!



G.K. Chesterton

The Critical Thing

November 22, 2017



“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted
or take them with gratitude.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. Wishing you a very happy day, whether or not celebrating Thanksgiving is a part of your tradition!  

Christmas

Already Overwhelmed by the Coming Holidays? Here Are 7 Ways to Find the Holiday Happy

November 17, 2017

Photo by +Simple on Unsplash

Can we postpone Thanksgiving? Maybe until sometime after the New Year?

It’s not that I don’t have plenty to be thankful for, I do—it’s just that I’m feeling overwhelmed. The last three months have been a blur and things don’t seem to be slowing down. Thanksgiving is next week, and then, oh then, here comes Christmas. (That’s right. I said the C word.)

I’m not ready.

This seems to be a theme with me around the holidays—feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I don’t think it’s just me, however. There are many reasons someone might not feel that happy about the upcoming holiday season. Perhaps you’re feeling sorrow over a death in the family, fighting an illness, or you’re overloaded with work or other responsibilities.

Since I don’t want to be the Bah Humbug of the holiday season, I sat down to ponder what I—and anyone else finding him or herself overwhelmed by the prospect of the upcoming holidays—could do to find some Holiday Happy.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Work on your communication skills. Communicate what you need for yourself and what you need from others. If necessary, practice saying what you need to say so that you don’t explode or cry or go silent when you have the chance to speak up.

2. Ask for and—even more important—accept help. Gatherings are more fun for everyone when we all get to contribute. No one wants to see you become a shell of yourself because you spent the entire day cooking a fabulous meal and then it was all over in 10 minutes and WHY DID I EVEN BOTHER, YOU UNGRATEFUL WRETCHES. No, no one wants to see that.

On a related note, cut back and outsource. Don’t try to do everything you’d normally do as well as all the holiday preparations. Pick up dinner at the grocery store, have the gifts professionally wrapped, hire a housecleaner just before your holiday party. See: “former shell of yourself,” above.

3. Don’t expect too much. We often raise our expectations about a number of things during the holidays. How our homes look, how much fancy cooking we do, even how we or others will behave. It’s OK to expect to have some special moments during this festive season. Just try not to expect everything to go perfectly. Don’t expect Uncle Elmo to suddenly become the warm fuzzy of the family when he’s more likely to be the Grinch, or that the cat won’t climb the Christmas tree and break at least one ornament. I speak from experience.

4. Take care of your health. Don’t skimp on sleep, vegetables, or exercise. A few late nights or an extra piece of pie will be much easier to recover from if you maintain your basic health habits. And I’m sorry, but pumpkin pie doesn’t count as a vegetable.

5. Choose one or two special holiday rituals and let the rest go. I know there are tempting experiences around every corner, but you’ll just make yourself crazy if you try to do them all.

6. Focus on what you want to celebrate. Being together? Gratitude? Your personal religious tradition? Your child’s (or grandchild’s) first holiday? The fact that it’s cool outside and you don’t have to run the AC on Thanksgiving Day this year? There is always something to celebrate and something to be grateful for.

7. Develop your sense of humor, and don’t take everything so seriously. It’s not the end of the world when the squirrels eat your holiday pumpkin display on the front porch, for example.



I’m going to try to follow my own advice, and make this a happy—not harried—holiday season. How about you?

What special holiday experiences do you look forward to every year?

Light

Is There Better Than Here?

November 15, 2017

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“So often we imagine that There is more full of gold than Here. It is the same with love and dreams and the work of our lives. We see the light everywhere but where we are, and chase after what we think we lack, only to find, humbly, it was with us all along.”
—Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday--Ghost Ranch

November 10, 2017


One of my favorite things about traveling is discovery—not just discovery of a place, but discovery of people and subject matter I was previously ignorant of. Back in April, on my enchanted meander in Arizona and New Mexico, I went to a place I had previously never heard of that completely, well, enchanted me: Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM.

Ghost Ranch came by its name when cattle rustlers spread the rumor that the area was haunted by evil spirits in order to keep their neighbors from discovering the stolen animals hidden in the canyon next to Kitchen Mesa. The name, “Rancho de los Brujos” (“Ranch of the Witches”) eventually evolved into Ghost Ranch. 

In 1934, painter Georgia O’Keeffe visited Ghost Ranch. At the time, it was a dude ranch owned by Arthur Pack and Carol Stanley. O’Keeffe began spending summers there, renting Pack’s own residence, Rancho de los Burros, so she could have the privacy and isolation she craved. In 1940, Pack sold her the house and seven acres. She returned every year until the last few years of her life. Ghost Ranch’s logo is an adaptation of a sketch O’Keeffe gave to Arthur Pack in the 1930s.

The landscape of Ghost Ranch offered O’Keeffe many subjects to paint. One of her favorites was the flat-topped mountain she saw from her kitchen window, Cerro Pedernal:


Ghost Ranch is now an educational conference center owned by the Presbyterian Church. Visitors can take guided tours, hike the grounds, visit the museums of anthropology and paleontology, take an O’Keeffe-inspired trail ride (I wish we’d had time for that!), or simply soak in the peaceful atmosphere.






Exploring the world, whether on road trips or Field Trip Friday, whether near or far, will always be more than just a simple pleasure for me, or even an everyday adventure. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it feeds my soul. It takes me out of myself and my daily cares and responsibilities, broadens my outlook, helps me feel connected to other people who may (or may not) have those same daily cares and responsibilities. I’ve got several Georgia O’Keeffe-related books on my TBR list now, and I still intend to paint an O’Keeffe inspired watercolor in my sketchbook. (I’m just wrapping up Laure Ferlita’s Imaginary Visit to the American Southwest class, and that should help!)

Where have your everyday adventures taken you lately?

gratitude

Grateful for the Small and Simple Things

November 08, 2017


“Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one's voice.”
—Joseph B. Wirthlin

What are some small, simple things you’re grateful for?

Happy Little Things

Happy Little Things—Planner Madness

November 03, 2017


It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the air is cooler, the days are shorter, and those of us who use paper planners are inundated with possibilities! You might recall, as I wrote in “Paper or Plastic,” I am a paper planner kind of girl. Since I wrote that post, I’ve retired Old Faithful (at least for now), dallied with the Happy Planner (how could I resist given the name?), and finally committed once more to a binder-based system, this time the Franklin Covey “Ava”. (I have no affiliation with any of the brands mentioned.) 

When I was deciding what my next planner would be, I spent a ridiculous amount of time stalking planner binders on eBay, reading planner reviews, and visiting various and sundry stores that carried ones I was interested in. I discovered there’s a whole planner subculture, and spent hours watching videos of true planner addicts going through their planners section by section. Some of those planners were works of art, and while I loved seeing them, I had no desire to work that hard over my planner pages.

This may sound like a whole lot of fuss about nothing, but I use my planner heavily, and would find myself lost without it. It’s one of my most important tools, and it matters to me that my tools be both functional and pretty, given that I use them every day.

Choosing the tools we use on a regular basis can be a simple pleasure—and I take full advantage of that. While also trying not to become obsessed and waste large amounts of time…

So here we are again in Planner Season, and I have a decision to make. The Covey system worked well, but I wish the paper were a little thicker, and last year it took some doing to find a refill with my preferred vertical orientation. I admit I’m tempted by some of the other beautiful brands out there…

Uh-oh. I feel planner madness coming on again!

Do you use a paper planner? Which one is your favorite? Are there any other objects of daily life you obsess over?

30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge: 2017 Edition

30 Days of Practicing Gratitude

November 01, 2017


“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness—it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention, and practicing gratitude.”
—Brene Brown

It’s Gratitude Challenge time again! For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be participating in Dani DiPirro’s 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Starting today, every day in November I’ll be posting on Facebook and Instagram a photo and a few words about the day’s prompt. I love doing this challenge, because it reminds me how much I have to be grateful for—often times things I take for granted or have even forgotten about. If you don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram (and even if you do!), at the end of the month, I’ll do a wrap up on Catching Happiness of my favorite prompts. (Click here for last year’s review post.)

This year, participants can post photos, illustrations, or just words—the point is to share something for which you are grateful. And no need to do it all 30 days. Jump in whenever you feel like it. Use #Gratitude30 so others can see your posts, and visit #Gratitude30 to see all the gratitude goodness. 

Want to play along? Click here for more information.




Guilt

Is It OK to Be Happy?

October 27, 2017

In 2017 we’ve seen terrible stories of loss and suffering. Hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings, a volatile and divisive political climate—and that’s just in the U.S. Every day it seems there’s a story that will break your heart. In the face of all this, I sometimes wonder if it’s OK to be happy. How can I be when so many people are miserable? Do you ever wonder this, too?

I won’t keep you in suspense. The short answer is yes, it’s OK to be happy.

The kind of happiness Catching Happiness is ultimately concerned with is not only the “simple pleasures and everyday adventures” of the tagline, but the deeper waters of joy and contentment. Joy and contentment come from living the best life we can live, doing what we think is right in most situations, appreciating what we have, sharing with others and helping when we can, enjoying and savoring the good in our lives, and learning from our mistakes and tribulations.

Though I personally am not suffering at this moment, suffering happens. It’s happened to me before, and is certain to happen again. I need to embrace the happy times and not waste them or push them away in fear of what the future holds.

It’s much easier to be—and talk about—being unhappy. We bond over complaining, forming instant connections over irritants like traffic jams or the latest crisis in our lives. But when it comes to sharing our happiness, we’re afraid it sounds like bragging. We can be afraid to share the highs with others because we think it will make them feel bad, but is this really true? That probably depends on the audience. It’s possible someone you don’t know very well and who’s not familiar with your life’s ups and downs might think you’re bragging. But if it’s someone who cares about you, he or she will likely be happy for you. Use sensitivity and tact when sharing the good. Sometimes your happiness will be an inspiration and encouragement to others. At least they don’t have to worry about you!

Remember this: Our happiness does not hurt anyone. Our unhappiness doesn’t help anyone.

Also remember: happiness is contagious

So go ahead and be happy. Bring your awareness to what makes you feel happy, and don’t be afraid to share your happiness with others. This world is in desperate need of more good stories and happy adventures.

What is one thing you’re happy about right now?

One of things that makes me happy

April Lindner

A Will Greater Than Its Own

October 25, 2017

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Several years ago I published a children’s book about a bag in the wind, so it’s no wonder I love this poem by April Lindner, who lives in Pennsylvania. Once you start noticing these windblown bags, you see them everywhere. Her most recent book is This Bed Our Bodies Shaped (Able Muse Press, 2012).

Carried Away

One rainy night we sat in traffic
and, overtired in back, you saw
a wind-whipped grocery bag afloat
beyond the clutch of jagged branches,
swept by gusts and whirled in eddies.
A sudden downdraft swooped it earthward,
where it danced till with a whoosh
a current luffed it past the power lines.
Disowned by gravity, small ghost
not yet snagged by twiggy fingers,
it couldn’t reach the earth. Thin-skinned,
it pulsed, translucent jellyfish.
You wept and pled to be let out
into the dark and slanted rain,
somehow to save that desolate thing.
The light turned green and still you begged,
Go back, go back, on its behalf,
caught and held, bossed and tossed
by a will much greater than its own.


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 April Lindner, “Carried Away,” (The Hudson Review, Vol. LXIII, no. 1, Spring 2010). Poem reprinted by permission of April Lindner 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.

Apple Hill

Field Trip Friday--California Dreamin'

October 20, 2017

Northern California was particularly photogenic this month. Instead of telling you about my trip, I’m going to share a few of my favorite photos. (Neither of my parents lives in an area threatened by wildfires—at least right now—though we could smell and see smoke some days.)

One of my favorite things to do when I visit my mom is to walk every morning on the land that I grew up visiting every summer. I snap photos of whatever flora and fauna I come across. (Alas, no horses next door this year.) How fallish it looked (click on photos to make them bigger):



The cows came over to see what I was up to:


Loved this mama and baby:


Nothing much has changed since I was a child. I still drag my mother to see horses. This time, we went to the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown. Interesting place. These are wild ones:





When I visit my dad and step mom, I also get to see my feline “sister”:



This year, we dropped in to see my step mom’s brother, who is the manager of Funderland, an amusement park that’s been open since 1946. He remembers going there when he was a child! The rides were adorable and I want to devote a page in my travel sketchbook to them: 



The day before I came home, we visited a couple of the farms that are part of Apple Hill. In addition to apples, cider, donuts, pies, and lots of other tasty treats, High Hill Farm, where this was taken, had a number of craft booths which were interesting to walk through. You can see the smoke in air in this photo:


 Rainbow Farm had pumpkins and gourds in addition to apples:



I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek into my visit to California. I miss it already. Even though I’ve now lived in Florida longer than I lived in California, since I grew up there it will always feel like home.



Life

The Present Rearranges the Past

October 18, 2017

Photo by SID ZHAO on Unsplash

“Something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks. Something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe. The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.”
—Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Fall

A New Season

October 11, 2017

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

“A new season is blowing up the valley, drifting over the hills, rising up from a cooling earth, a new season with its challenges, its changes, its excitements, and its own particular rhythms and miracles.”
—Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures do you anticipate this fall?

Everyday adventures

Secret Destinations

October 04, 2017

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
—Martin Buber

I’m off to California to visit my parents this week. At least, that’s what my travel documents say. What secret destinations will I discover? I can’t wait to find out.

What secret destinations have you stumbled upon?

Blooming

What an Orchid Can Teach Us About Blooming

September 29, 2017

I’ve been thinking about growing conditions lately.

Orchids started this train of thought. Mine have always seemed to do fine on our covered lanai without much fuss. However, even though all the plants look healthy, only one or two of them ever actually bloomed. I’d love to have more flowers, so I decided to research each orchid variety I have to see what constituted that plant’s ideal growing conditions. Based on what I learned, I moved several to different positions, providing both more sun and more water than they’d been getting.



Lo and behold, two that hadn’t bloomed since I bought them produced flowers and two more sent up flower spikes that should bloom in the next couple of months.

Huh.

A simple tweak in growing conditions nudged them from just getting by to thriving.

Shortly thereafter I stumbled on this passage:

“When a tree is tender and young, first making its roots, a gardener knows to fence it from deer, fertilize it with nutrients, pay loving attention as it gets started. The gardener doesn’t grow the tree; she provides the conditions in which it can thrive. We need to do the same with our souls, hearts, spirits, bodies. We need to provide the conditions in which we can thrive, and those conditions involve other people. We need to put ourselves in circumstances in which we can be seen, heard, and loved for who we are and want to become.

“We are so used to battering ourselves around. To toughing it out. To taking care of everyone else and not looking after ourselves. We are used to throwing the seeds of our lives in soil and not paying them one more minute of attention. In fact, we do the opposite. We stamp on our hearts. We attack and punish ourselves. We don’t trust our fundamental desire to move toward the light….” (Geneen Roth in When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair.)

Roth is specifically writing about how we treat ourselves in relation to food and dieting, but her words apply to everything we do (or don’t do) to nurture ourselves.

Most of us are too used to toughing it out, and to seeing our needs as weaknesses. What would happen if instead of trying to get by on a minimum of sleep, nutrition, downtime, and enjoyment, we tried giving ourselves optimal amounts of the things we need to feel great? Things like healthful, delicious food; sleep; movement that feels good rather than punishing; time to do something just for fun? Are we too busy for that? Does that sound like weakness instead of strength?

How much more beautiful and profuse might our own blooming be if we gave ourselves optimal growing conditions? As I learned from moving orchids around, it might not take much to help us thrive.

Taking steps to nurture ourselves doesn’t mean becoming hothouse flowers that wither in every cold draft or scorching heat wave. When we learn our own ideal growing conditions and make efforts to provide them, we grow stronger and healthier. A strong plant can more easily withstand hardships when they come.

Do you want to do more than survive? To bloom abundantly rather than just put out a few leaves? What are your ideal growing conditions? In the comments below, share some things you can do to bloom more often!

Lois Parker Edstrom

One Person's Trash...

September 27, 2017

Photo courtesy congerdesign

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Lois Parker Edstrom, a retired nurse, lives on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington, and her 2016 book Night Beyond Black, from MoonPath Press, has many accessible and moving poems. Here's just one example.

Doing Dishes

She said she had always wanted to do it;
throw away dirty dishes rather than wash them

and she did, after breakfast, toss the blue, green,
orange, and yellow Fiestaware into the trash.

Transferring from New York to Germany
with her husband and children,

the movers coming that day, she chucked the dishes
in among the banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds,

bits of bacon, paper towels and called it good.
What she could not know is that a young mother

in that very town received a much needed set
of tableware when her husband returned

home from work that evening. Bright dishes
that showed up chipped and grubby

like old friends with egg on their faces.

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 Lois Parker Edstrom, “Doing Dishes,” from Night Beyond Black, (MoonPath Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Lois Parker Edstrom 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.

Feelings

Sunny Skies Today

September 20, 2017

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Don’t let yesterday’s bad times or bad feelings influence today’s thoughts and mood. You shouldn’t choose to dress for yesterday’s rain if there are sunny skies today.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy

Everyday adventures

This Post Brought to You By…Electricity! Or, Post-Irma Reflections

September 18, 2017

I’ve never before considered electricity a simple pleasure, but I certainly do now. Following Hurricane Irma, which roared through Florida Sept. 10-11, we went without power for almost four days. I’ve never been so happy in my life when I came back from the barn last Thursday to see a light on in my house! Since then, I’ve been grateful every time I flipped a light switch or woke up to find coffee ready in the coffee pot.

Really, how did people live before electricity? I’ll tell you how: they labored to produce meals and clean clothes, they lay sweating in their beds at night (or shivering, depending on where they lived), they never got a good look at themselves in a mirror (probably a good thing, judging by my own appearance last week), their thoughts and energy were consumed by mere survival.

The past two weeks have been mostly about getting ready for a major hurricane, riding it out, and putting things back together again once the storm was over. Because Hurricane Harvey was fresh in my mind, I took Irma’s threat seriously, bagging ice from our icemaker and freezing water in every available plastic container. I prepped the house for guests, since my (divorced) in-laws would be staying with us, possibly for an extended time depending on damage and/or power outages at their homes. I counted canned goods and gallons of drinking water, dug out our emergency lanterns and candles, and began a search for extra D batteries to power fans that might keep us cool enough to sleep.

We cleared our yard of things that could become flying missiles, my husband brought home all the computers from his office in case it was destroyed, and I brought all my tack and tools home from the barn in case the tack room blew away. Evacuating 20+ horses wasn’t practical for a number of reasons, so we marked them all with some form of ID in case fence lines were destroyed and they escaped their paddocks.

And more.

And then we waited.

By Sunday, we were huddled in front of the TV watching storm coverage and obsessively checking Irma’s projected track. We suffered hours of fear as the storm approached, especially after we lost power and we had a harder time tracking it. It was terrifying lying in bed that night while the trees groaned and the rain pattered, and we wondered whether a tornado spawned by the storm would wipe us out, and whether Tank would be OK.

What a relief and a joy it was to wake up Monday morning to find the house intact, and after a visit to the barn, my horse in one piece. I think relief must qualify as a simple pleasure.

Irma wasn’t a fun adventure, but it was an adventure. It challenged my planning skills, as well as my commitment to stay positive and not make a bad situation worse. I had to let go of worry and projecting what might happen. I had to believe that whatever happened we would be OK and we would get through it. When my mind skittered ahead to wondering how long we’d be without power, I wrestled it back to the present moment.

We were lucky. We had no damage to our home and we have our power back. We had major clean up to do (see photos below), and lost some food from our refrigerator and freezer. We found some holes in our hurricane preparations that must be addressed. 

This weekend while we collected debris in our yard, we also watched butterflies flit from plant to plant. As I wrote this I heard birds chirping and cicadas shrilling. Things look pretty much the same when I look out the windows. But they don’t feel the same. At least for now, I hold simple pleasures, like electricity, a bath, or light even more dear than I did before after seeing how quickly they can disappear.

Thank you all for your prayers and good thoughts—it means something to know that others are thinking of you when you’re facing a scary situation.

If you want to help the people of Florida who are faced with a much more difficult road to recovery, here are some places you can do that:


Charity Navigator's list of charities providing assistance following Hurricane Irma


41 bags, one trash can, and one tree


Still Here

September 13, 2017


We came through the storm just fine, including Tank. We still don't have electricity,  so I'm writing this from my husband's office. Lots of clean up ahead of us, but we're grateful it wasn't much, much worse. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers!

Driveway

Front walkway

Tank says, "What's the big deal?"


Look for my travel writing here