Art to Self

February Link Love

February 24, 2017

It’s time once again for Link Love, a round up of links I hope you’ll find as entertaining and thought provoking as I did.

Bloggers are an opinionated bunch. We offer stories and advice, hoping to connect with readers and make their lives better. But as Courtney Carver writes in “I Don’t Know What’s Best for You”:

“Use the information you find on the internet, in books and courses, on this site, and anywhere else as pieces of the puzzle, but not as the end all be all. It’s not. No one know what’s best for you but you.”

A skill I need to develop—learning how to be comfortable with other people feeling uncomfortable.

Overwhelm. It happens to the best of us. Here’s one way to stop it from derailing your day. 

I enjoy many of David’s posts on his blog, Raptitude. In this one, he shared “4 Absurdly Easy Things I Do That Make Life Disproportionately Better.” What four things would make your list? One of mine: Put the coffee pot on a timer so it’s ready when we wake up!

I read a lot of non-fiction, but I’m embarrassed to say my memory of what I read is often spotty. I’m thinking of trying Michael Hyatt’s ideas from “How to Make Your Non-fiction Reading More Productive.” 

Just discovered the website Art to Self after hearing a podcast interview with artist Steph Halligan. What a terrific idea! I’ve been back several times. One of my favorite “notes”: “It’s Meant to Fall Away.” 

This made me laugh:

Have a happy weekend!

Gary Whited


February 22, 2017

Photo courtesy Uwe Baumann

Introduction by Ted Kooser: The next time you open your closet, this poem will give you reason to pay a little more attention to what's hanging inside. Gary Whited is from Massachusetts and his most recent book is Having Listened, (Homebound Publications, 2013).

My Blue Shirt

hangs in the closet
of this small room, collar open,
sleeves empty, tail wrinkled.
Nothing fills the shirt but air
and my faint scent. It waits,
all seven buttons undone,
button holes slack,
the soft fabric with its square white pattern,
all of it waiting for a body.
It would take any body, though it knows,
in its shirt way of knowing, only mine
has my shape in its wrinkles,
my bend in the elbows.
Outside this room birds hunt for food,
young leaves drink in morning sunlight,
people pass on their way to breakfast.
Yet here, in this closet,
the blue shirt needs nothing,
expects nothing, knows only its shirt knowledge,
that I am now learning—
how to be private and patient,
how to be unbuttoned,
how to carry the scent of what has worn me,
and to know myself by the wrinkles.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Gary Whited, “My Blue Shirt,” from Having Listened, (Homebound Publications, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Gary Whited 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.

31 Days of Sketching

Don't Break the Chain--or the Jerry Seinfeld Way to Establish a Habit

February 17, 2017

Photo courtesy Doru Lupeanu

Here’s the story as I’ve heard it: many years ago, Brad Isaac was hanging around comedy clubs and doing open mic nights, and had the chance to ask Jerry Seinfeld, who was performing in the same club, for his advice for a young comic. Seinfeld replied that the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes. The way to create better jokes was to write every day. Get yourself a large, year-at-a-glance calendar, Seinfeld advised. Write some new material every day, and when you do, mark the day on the calendar with a big red X. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” 

Don’t break the chain.

Recently, I’ve put this idea into practice, with good results. For years I’ve been saying I want to sketch more, and now I have a compelling reason to hone my skills. I’m preparing to join Laure Ferlita’s Blue Walk tour in England in August, and I want to be able to sketch what I see. Back in January of 2015 I challenged myself to sketch for 31 days straight, and saw a vast improvement, so I decided to try sketching every day again. I started Sept. 26, 2016, and I’m still going.

Of course, you can apply “don’t break the chain” thinking to any habit or practice you’re serious about continuing:
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Meditation
  • Healthy habits like drinking enough water or getting a certain number of hours of sleep a night
  • Writing 500 words a day
  • [Insert your habit here]

It’s a remarkably effective technique, but it can seem a little intimidating to commit to doing something every day. Here are a few things that made the process easier for me:

Make it small

My goal was so small it felt ridiculous not to meet it: five minutes of sketching every day. Most days, I spend more than five minutes, but having such a small, and very, very achievable goal makes me pick up my pencil and sketchbook. Even when I’m tired, distracted or simply “don’t wanna,” five minutes is still doable.

Write it down

Every day in my calendar I’ve written the word “sketch,” so every time I check my to-do list I’m reminded of the habit I’m building.

Make it easy

Place whatever you need for your habit in a prominent place. I store my sketching things next to my favorite chair in our family room, and I carry a small sketch kit in my purse.

Make it visible

Use a visual tracking system so you can see the chain. Mark the calendar day with a big red X, as Seinfeld suggested, or print out this free “Don’t’ Break the Chain” calendar. There are also “Don’t Break the Chain” apps for both Apple and Android.

Keep it interesting

When I tire of sketching items in my family room, I take my sketchbook to the backyard, the barn, or a coffee shop. I’ve sketched from photos and from life. I’ve tried pencil, pen, and watercolor. I’ve worked on larger sketches for more than one day.

Creating helpful and positive habits can make us happier. I know I’m happier when I actually do the things I say I want to do, and the technique of “Don’t Break the Chain” has helped me establish a regular habit of sketching. Not only do my sketches look better, I’m also less afraid to sketch in the first place, since now it’s just something I do.

How about you? What habit could you develop by using the “Don’t Break the Chain” technique?

One of my favorite sketches


Only Love Can Do That

February 15, 2017

Photo courtesy Joshua Hibbert

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.


Happy Little Things: An Introduction to Hygge

February 10, 2017

Photo courtesy Michael and Christa Richert

A couple of Sundays ago, I spent the entire day in my pajamas. It was cold and rainy outside, my husband and son were sick, and it just seemed so much more pleasant to drink tea and read a book than go out. I even baked coconut chocolate chip zucchini bread. Without thinking about it at the time, I was practicing my version of hygge.

Hygge—pronounced approximately “Hoo-gah”—is a Danish concept that has recently been attracting plenty of attention and popularity. While hygge is most often translated as “coziness,” Danish researcher and hygge expert Jeppe Trolle Linnet suggests it would be translated more accurately as “homeyness,” with home being a place to shut out the negativity of the outside world. You can hygge at home, or in a cozy cafĂ©, or even picnicking in the park—it’s the atmosphere that counts the most. Hygge can be used as a noun, a verb or an adjective!

Pia Edberg, writing in The Cozy Life, describes it this way: “the art of creating warmth, comfort, and wellbeing through connection, treasuring the moment, and surrounding yourself with the things you love.” And while many factors go into making the Danes some of the happiest people in the world, hygge surely must be one reason.

In the fullest sense of the word, true hygge is often planned carefully. It usually involves other people you know well or feel comfortable with, and often some element of the homemade, such a bread or cake. Hygge equals people bonding together and helping each other, especially during the cold, dark winter months. To experience hygge, stay off electronic devices and interact with others. Enjoy simple, old-fashioned pleasures like telling stories or reading aloud. Some equate hygge with mindful living and simple pleasures—things like:
  • Candlelight dinners with family or friends
  • Listening to music by candlelight or firelight (or both)
  • Watching the sunset, with or without a glass of wine
  • Soft textures—fleecy throws or pillows, flannel sheets
  • Furry pets
  • Warm, homey scents, such as cinnamon, vanilla, or pine, from candles or essential oils
  • A bonfire with roasting marshmallows
  • Playing cards and games
  • Doing a jigsaw puzzle
  • Making gifts or cards
  • Hand writing a letter

Hygge traditionally involves togetherness, but why not create that cozy feeling even when you’re alone? Slowing down, pausing, relaxing, taking time to think about what you love and value, and making time to enjoy those things is hygge-ligt, or hygge-like.

Prudy is a hygge expert

Hygge is all about simple pleasures, about helping people make it through a cold, dark, and difficult time, such as a Scandinavian winter. I can’t think of a more Catching Happiness-like concept! 

What simple pleasures contribute to a feeling of hygge for you?

If you want to explore hygge in more detail, check out the following books:

The Cozy Life, Pia Edberg

The Formation of Love

February 08, 2017

Photo courtesy markrussellmc

Introduction by Ted Kooser: We constantly compare one thing with another, or attempt to, saying, “Well, you know, love is’s like...well, YOU know what it's like.” Here Bob King, who lives in Colorado, takes an original approach and compares love to the formation of rocks.


I know the origin of rocks, settling
out of water, hatching crystals
from fire, put under pressure
in various designs I gathered
pretty, picnic after picnic.

And I know about love, a little,
igneous lust, the slow affections
of the sedimentary, the pressure
on earth out of sight to rise up
into material, something solid
you can hold, a whole mountain,
for example, or a loose collection
of pebbles you forgot you were keeping.

Reprinted from the Marlboro Review, Issue 16, 2005, by permission of the author. Copyright © 2005 by Robert King, whose prose book, Stepping Twice Into the River: Following Dakota Waters, appeared in 2005 from The University Press of Colorado. 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 manuscripts.


One Simple Definition of Happiness

February 01, 2017

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
—William Butler Yeats