Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

March 31, 2017

Last Friday, I accompanied Laure Ferlita and the Sarasota Urban Sketchers to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. This was my first visit to Selby, and I’ll be back.

The Selby Gardens feature a number of different gardens and habitats, including the Tropical Conservatory, a bromeliad garden, a tidal lagoon and hardwood hammock in the Native Florida section, and edible, fragrance, and butterfly gardens. When she died in 1971, Marie Selby bequeathed the property to the community for the purpose of creating a botanical garden “for the enjoyment of the general public.”

Our instructions were to sketch until 11:30 a.m, then meet to share our work. During this time, I never got farther into the gardens than the Tropical Conservatory, where I might have lost my mind a little after seeing the orchids on display. (My orchids are definitely slacking, and received a good talking-to when I got home.) Because of my mad photo taking and mind-losing, I didn’t finish my sketchbook page, and had to work on it later. (It’s not done yet, but will be soon.)

After sharing our work with the group, Laure and I stayed for lunch, then walked through the rest of the gardens. Laure  took photos for her upcoming class and I took them to use on the blog (Wednesday’s statue photo was taken at Selby) and my own pleasure.

Here are some highlights of the day:

From the Tropical Conservatory:

 Feathered visitors in the Native Florida section:

 The Succulent Garden:

Hindu temple guardian from Bali:

“Faux lavender” (blue salvia), overlooking Sarasota Bay:

The Koi Pond was a favorite spot (and not just because there was shade and benches!): 

Botanical gardens are some of my favorite field trip destinations (see here, here, and here!) for their peaceful surroundings and beauty. Sometimes I take photos, sometimes I sketch, and next time I go, I should try just sitting still and drinking it all in.

Have you taken a field trip lately?

Many thanks to Selby for allowing us to sketch, and to Laure, and the Sarasota Urban Sketchers for letting me tag along.


Life Lessons From the Barn: Look Where You Want to Go

March 27, 2017

So many lessons I’ve learned in riding can be neatly applied to the rest of my life. Take this deceptively simple instruction: Look where you want to go.

In riding, and even when leading a horse, if you’re unsure about where you want to go, or even just not paying attention, the horse can take over. You may or may not want to go where he does, so you’d better stay focused!  Don’t look at the ground (unless you want to meet it, abruptly) or at the horse himself. Look where you want to go. The act of turning your eyes in the direction you want to travel causes tiny changes in body position sending information to your horse, and making it much easier to steer him. (I’ve also heard race car drivers are told never to look at the wall—unless they want to crash into it!)

You can waste a lot of time looking in directions that don’t propel you forward into your desired happy life. Maybe you spend too much time looking back, regretting things you’ve done or opportunities missed. Maybe you stare at the blemishes in your life—the daily irritants, the painful experiences, all the stuff you wish was different. You might even be mesmerized by the things that scare you—afraid to take your eyes from them long enough to move head. I know I’ve turned my eyes in these less-than-helpful directions plenty of times.

So where should you look?

Look for opportunities. Look for someone who has already gone where you want to go—what path did they take? No two paths are identical, but you can often get some hints about where to go next from someone who has walked the path before you.

Look for inspiration, look for humor, look for happy.

Yes, you’ve got to back up your looking with action, but the first step is always—you guessed it—look where you want to go.

Where do you want to go? Are you looking in that direction?


The Trace That Stays

March 22, 2017

Photo courtesy janeb13

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Marge Saiser is a Nebraska poet about whose work I have said that no contemporary poet is better at writing about love. Here's a love poem from her new book, I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, from Backwaters Press.

The Print the Whales Make

You and I on the boat notice
the print the whales leave,
the huge ring their diving draws
for a time on the surface.
Is it like that when we
lose one another? Don't
know, can't. But
I want to believe
when we can no longer
walk across a room
for a hug, can no longer
step into the arms of the other,
there will be this:
some trace that stays
while the great body
remains below out of sight,
dark mammoth shadow
flick of flipper
body of delight
diving deep.

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 Marjorie Saiser, “The Print the Whales Make,” from I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, (Backwaters Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser 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.


Choose Happiness, Spread Happiness

March 20, 2017

Photo courtesy Luiza

Happiness matters.

So much so that in 2012 the United Nations created the International Day of Happiness, and it was celebrated for the first time in 2013. The purpose of this day is to educate and make people aware of the benefits of happiness. As the official website notes, “‘Progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.” 

How can you participate? It’s easy:
  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Spread happiness. Smile and share your happiness with others.

You can also join the movement here

That’s it.

Bring on the happy!

I’m happiest when I’m engaged in work that helps others, when I’m taking care of myself, and when I have enough free time to enjoy my favorite simple pleasures. How about you? How will you choose happiness today? What will you do to spread happiness?

Join in the celebration by sharing your happiness with the world via Twitter or Instagram, using any of the following hashtags: internationaldayofhappiness, #happinessday, #choosehappiness, #createhappiness, or #makeithappy. I’ll be posting my happy little moments on Instagram today.


The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Principle

March 17, 2017

Photo courtesy Jennifer Pallian

Sometimes this world is too much for me. Too many activities. Too much noise. Too many expectations. Too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff in my head. More than once I’ve written about my attempts to banish busy or do less, and yet I still wind up searching for ways to make life more manageable and thus happier. My newest discovery is the principle of “less, but better.”

The phrase less, but better comes from the design philosophy of industrial designer Dieter Rams, but it’s easy to see how we can apply it to our overcrowded lives.


Less seems pretty self-explanatory. Do less, have less, embrace enough and avoid excess. Of course, excess looks different to every person. What is excess to me could be just right for you. I hate being rushed and I get anxious when stretched too thin. To maintain my personal happy balance, I need to commit to doing fewer things, whether that means trimming my to-do list, or saying no to activities I’d like to do but that will put me over the border into Crazytown.

No matter what our personal less/excess level is, we need to be clear in our own minds about what we truly want and need. Less, but better is the way of mindfulness, intention, slowing down to think rather than diving in heedlessly. It’s the way of becoming more thoughtful with time and energy.

Instead of throwing a ton of stuff (activities, food, clothes, possessions) at yourself, ask, what do I need? What do I long for? Would one gourmet dark chocolate sea salt caramel be more satisfying than five grocery store candy bars? The answer is almost always yes.


Getting rid of excess, or not buying into it (or buying it) in the first place, is just the start. Once the excess is pared away, we’ll have time and space, and probably money, to go deeper, to enjoy better. Since deeper is my word of the year, I really appreciate this. When a new something-or-other catches my attention, I remind myself that this is the year I want to go deeper into the things that I love and that I’ve already committed to such as my writing, my horse, and sketching. Instead of reading more books this year, I want to read better books, and absorb more of what I read. I’d rather put my heart into a few things than spatter my attention across a multitude.

I don’t say this is easy. I still find it remarkably hard not to run after the first shiny object that attracts my eye. But I am getting much better at choosing that single dark chocolate sea salt caramel.

What is one area in your life where you can experiment with the principle of less, but better?


If You Want to Be...

March 15, 2017

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

“If you want to be sad, live in the past. If you want to be anxious, live in the future. If you want to be peaceful, live in the now.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy


Spring Cleaning for Your Mind

March 10, 2017

Photo courtesy Suchitra
We’re expecting some family visitors this weekend, so I’ve been sprucing up the house so it looks its best. It’s not quite a full spring clean, but it’s more than I usually do. (Wouldn’t want the family to see how we really live…) I had extra time to think while I cleaned out the fridge, so it occurred to me: while you’re spring cleaning your home, why not take a broom to your brain? Flip on the light, open the windows, sweep out all the dusty corners and grubby nooks. Drop all the thoughts and feelings you no longer wish to entertain into a metaphorical bag and take it to the curb. Out with the negative, in with the positive.

For instance, out with:
  • Negative self-talk (Tell your inner critic to shut up.)
  • Angry thoughts
  • Excuses
  • Fears
  • Resentments
  • Grudges
  • Judgment
  • Criticism
And in with:
  • Affirmations
  • Forgiveness (As Karen Salmansohn wrote in Instant Happy: Happy = “Repeat after me: I forgive myself for not being perfect. And I recognize none of us are perfect, so I am open to forgiving others.”)
  • Gratitude
  • Acceptance
  • Courage
It’s a lot easier to spring clean a kitchen than a brain, but the results of our “brain cleaning” are more likely to bring us lasting happiness. What would you like to sweep out of your life this spring?

Apple blossoms

The Workings of Spring

March 08, 2017

Photo courtesy Thomas B.

Introduction by Ted Kooser: This year’s brutal winter surely calls for a poem such as today’s selection, a peek at the inner workings of spring. Susan Kelly-DeWitt lives and teaches in Sacramento.

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

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 ©2001 by Susan Kelly-DeWitt, whose most recent book of poems is The Fortunate Islands, Marick Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from To a Small Moth, Poet’s Corner Press, 2001, by permission of Susan Kelly-DeWitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2017 by The Poetry Foundationi. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Being present

Life Lessons From the Barn: Presence, Harmony, and Connection

March 03, 2017

Horses, like all animals, live in the moment. They’re in tune with their surroundings—aware of the turkey in the next field, the start up of the truck that brings their hay, or if you’ve got a carrot in your pocket. That presence, harmony and connection is something most of us want more of.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been experimenting with what horsemanship instructor Carolyn Resnick calls the Chair Challenge, “sharing territory” with my horse, Tank. Mostly it involves simply sitting in a chair in his paddock. Some days I read, some days I write in my barn journal. Others, I just sit and listen and look. The theory is that this practice develops a stronger bond between us, by “achieving a companionship experience and connection in the moment in harmony and unity.” We so often only spend time with our horses when we want to do something with them, when we have expectations. Simply hanging out allows us both to relax and become more in tune with each other.

When I first started this practice, my mind scrabbled around like a trapped lizard. I found it almost impossible to sit and do nothing. No matter how much I profess to want a present life, I more often than not careen through my day—racing from checking emails, to working out, to writing a blog post to cleaning the bathroom to running errands.

Tank napping next to my chair
At first, Tank was puzzled. Apparently, he’s absorbed my “we must be doing something all the time” attitude, and my journal entries record that he nudged me, nibbled on my magazine, journal, and pen. He still tries to do this sometimes, especially if he’s bored, and I have to shoo him away. At other times he’s happy to stand in his favorite spot looking out beyond the fence line, or doze in the corner of his shelter. I love it when he stands near me, gives a nice long sigh, and we savor the peace of being together with no agenda.  That’s when I realize one of the most pleasurable of the benefits of this exercise: harmony, living in the moment, the sheer pleasure of sharing space with this beautiful animal.

While I still have to fight my desire to “accomplish something” when I go to the barn, I’ve also started to crave the peaceful togetherness of sharing territory. Of hearing the tap-tapping of a pileated woodpecker, the haunting cry of a hawk. Of seeing sand, sky, puffy white clouds, scrubby woods bordering the paddocks. Of feeling Tank’s muzzle nudging me or resting for a moment on the top of my head. The quiet within the quiet. No one around, no sound of traffic or people.

Yesterday, I even found myself using this technique while waiting for a prescription to be filled. I stopped fidgeting, checking my phone for the time and mentally ticking off the next three items on my to-do list, in favor of sitting calmly, breathing slowly, and observing what was going on around me.

So what does this have to do with you, most likely a non-horse owner? The lesson is: if you want peace, harmony and connection, stop, look, listen, and be. Slow down especially when you feel called upon to rush. Quiet your thoughts, let your body relax. Let the moment draw out as long and smooth as possible.

You don’t need a green plastic chair and an American Quarter Horse. Wherever you are, slow down. Pay attention. Don’t miss the daily simple pleasures that are right there for your enjoyment.


Till It Is Shared

March 01, 2017

Photo courtesy Jenna Beekhuis

“Happiness is a sunbeam which may pass through a thousand bosoms without losing a particle of its original ray; nay, when it strikes on a kindred heart, like the converged light on a mirror, it reflects itself with redoubled brightness. It is not perfected till it is shared.”
—Jane Porter