The Beat of Ordinary Hours

August 30, 2017

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: In our busy times, the briefest pause to express a little interest in the natural world is praiseworthy. Most of us spend our time thinking about other people, and scarcely any time thinking about other creatures. I recently co-edited an anthology of poems about birds, and we looked through lots of books and magazines, but here is a fine poem we missed, by Tara Bray, who lives in Richmond, Virginia.


I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron
in the pond. He waded a few steps out,
then back, thrusting his beak under water,
pulling it up empty, but only once.
Later I walked the roads for miles, certain
he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,
day after day, his brittle legs rising
from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,
damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.
Every day, the same roads, the sky,
the dust, the barn caving into itself,
the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.
Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy
that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,
and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—
thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—
grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves
earlier each day. The heron stood
stone-still on my spot when I returned.
And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-
blue rhythm of his body into flight.
I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace
of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over
my face: nothing but the heat of fields
and skin. It wasn’t long before the world
began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,
stretching out again beneath the sky.

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 ©2006 by Tara Bray, and reprinted from her most recent book of poems, “Mistaken for Song,” Persea Books, Inc., 2009, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2010 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.


Feeling the Heat

August 25, 2017

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

August has been nothing but “feels like” temperatures over 100 degrees, twice-a-day trips to the barn to doctor a horse who is getting a little fed up with the routine*, buckets of sweat, changing my clothes two and three times a day, and trying to muster enough energy to keep up with the rest of my life. When I think about the past few weeks, I think of the word “heat”—both physical heat, and the “heat” of adversity.

Caring for an injured horse in August in Florida qualifies as adversity in that it’s physically grueling, expensive, worrisome, and the time and energy I’m expending taking care of him is being drawn from other areas of my life. It’s not a devastating situation, but it is challenging.

Life has turned up the heat—and while I may complain about it, heat is not all bad. We cook with it and create beautiful and useful things with it. Heat both softens and hardens. It strengthens and refines.

Heat—adversity—in our lives does the same for us. It distills and purifies our best qualities. It both softens our hearts and hardens our resolve. Sometimes it brings to light our worst qualities so we can acknowledge and work on them. If we never face even the smallest amount of adversity, we’ll be ill-equipped to cope when one of life’s inevitable traumas occurs.

Richelle E. Goodrich wrote in Making Wishes, “If you couldn’t sense heat, you’d not be alive. And if that heat never grew uncomfortable, you would never move. And if you were stagnant—unchallenged by unpredictable flares—you would never grow capable of shielding yourself from harsher flames. So yes, life was meant to drag you straight through the fire.”  

Coping with Tank’s minor injury has forced me to overcome laziness, become more creative, and plan more carefully so I can keep up with other responsibilities. I’ve had to pare away some inessentials because I simply do not have time or energy for them. I’ve had to push myself when I wanted to quit, and I’ve had to lie down and take a nap because I was too tired to do one more thing.

I like adversity about as much as I like August (not much, in case I’ve been unclear). I don’t wish for it, but I also try not to wish it away because I know there’s value in it. I learn, I grow, I become a more refined version of me. One better able to handle whatever adversity life chooses to throw at me next.

What has adversity taught you?

*Turns out, Tank has an abscessed tooth. The facial wound he presented three weeks ago was probably made by rubbing his face to relieve the pressure. The vet lanced the abscess, put him on antibiotics, and I continue to flush the wound twice a day. It’s just as much fun as it sounds.

2017 solar eclipse

Light Returns to the World

August 23, 2017

Photo by laura skinner on Unsplash

Unfortunately, I had to confine my solar eclipse viewing on Monday to NASA live-streaming since I procrastinated on getting eclipse glasses until it was too late. Even so, what an amazing event! I got goosebumps watching the sun reappear after being hidden by the moon.

In honor of Monday’s eclipse, here is a passage from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves that beautifully describes the reappearance of light:

“How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously. Frailly. In thin stripes. It hangs like a glass cage. It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar. There is a spark there. Next moment a flush of dun. Then a vapour as if earth were breathing in and out, once, twice, for the first time. Then under the dullness someone walks with a green light. Then off twists a white wraith. The woods throb blue and green, and gradually the fields drink in red, gold, brown. Suddenly a river snatches a blue light. The earth absorbs colour like a sponge slowly drinking water. It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.”

We can choose to use an event like an eclipse as a marker between one time and another if we’d like to make a new start or shake things up. Or it can simply be an awe-inspiring natural event that adds a little excitement to our ordinary days. One more everyday adventure for the remembering self.

Did you watch the eclipse?

One more thing—at the post office yesterday, I bought these cool stamps. They use heat-sensitive ink to mimic an eclipse:

Isn’t that cool?


The Happy Little Thoughts Newsletter is Coming Soon!

August 18, 2017

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Did you know that the redesigned Catching Happiness includes a new feature: the monthly Happy Little Thoughts newsletter?

The first edition is just about ready, so if you want to receive it, please sign up here. I promise I will not share your email address with anyone else.

Note: If you are already signed up for blog updates (see sidebar at right), you do not need to sign up for the newsletter. You’ll receive it automatically.

Don’t miss out on this Catching Happiness bonus—sign up today!

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


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


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


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