Friday, June 23, 2017

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

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”

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On the First Day of Summer


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

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Finding Happiness in the Messy Middle

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?

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Father and Son

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!

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Take a Bow

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.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Have You Practiced Today?

Photo courtesy Providence Doucet

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, 
like the violin.”
—John Lubbock

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