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.


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 (, 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.


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!


Front walkway

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


Want to Be Happier? Become a Tracker

September 08, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little meh. I’ve fallen out of the habit of sketching (again), Tank’s issues have wreaked havoc with my schedule, and I’ve drifted away from my goals. I need a way to regain my enthusiasm and motivation. Just in time for September’s new beginning, last week I happened upon blog posts from two different people who in their own ways extolled the virtue of tracking. The first was Laurie Perry (of Crazy Aunt Purl—now Crazy Tourist—fame) whose cute little stickers and printable charts caught my fancy. The second was this thoughtful post from Raptitude, which is worth a read in its entirety. (Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait here.)

I believe in the power of tracking, and have used it at various times to make changes in my habits. I’ve tracked money in/money out, what I eat, my workouts, and for one week every quarter I keep a time log of what I do all day.  Tracking is great for maintaining habits or making changes. Remember the Jerry Seinfeld Method for establishing a habit? It relies on tracking. 

Why I like tracking
I like the practice of tracking because it gently helps me to become aware of what I’m doing. I often live in my head, distracted, daydreaming, decidedly not present. I’m forever thinking of what’s next rather than paying attention to what’s now. At the end of a busy day, I’m left wondering what I did—and why I didn’t do what I said was important to me.

If you want to give this a shot, too, some things you could track include:
  • What money you spend/make
  • What you eat
  • Your workouts/physical activity
  • Reading/study time
  • Time spent painting or drawing
  • Days you meditated

You can, of course, take tracking to an extreme, as I’ve done in the past. But if you keep it simple and don’t try to track too many things at once, you should be golden.

Methods of tracking
This is where you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. Hint: simple is usually better. You could create a spreadsheet, make a chart you color in or fill with stickers, cross off the date on the calendar. If you want to track your time, this is my favorite time-tracking log.

William Butler Yeats wrote, “Happiness is neither this virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” Tracking is one method of supporting ourselves in our efforts to grow.

So I’m dusting off my workout tracker, and I’m going to print out one of Laurie Perry’s charts to keep track of three areas that are important to me: sketching, exercise, and writing. I’ll get to other areas of importance soon, but right now this is all I feel I can handle, what with everything else going on*.

You can't get much simpler than this.

Have you tried tracking? How did it work for you? What would you like to track now? Please share in the comments!

*Speaking of tracking…we live in central Florida, which at the time of this writing is square in the path of Hurricane Irma. We’re highly likely to be affected by this storm no matter which way it goes, so I may be out of touch for a while after this weekend. 


Happiness Isn’t Pass/Fail

September 06, 2017

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

“Happiness isn’t something to lock down and keep in a cage. It isn’t a distant finish line either. But you can choose it more often than not and you can live in a way that isn’t pass/fail.”
—Danny Gregory, Shut Your Monkey

Essential Oils

Change Your Environment, Change Your Emotions—Three Simple Ways to Support Positive Moods

September 01, 2017

Acoustic guitar music plays low in the background. The ceiling fan spins, the coffee is hot, the paper and pen just right…on a good day, this is how I set the mood when I write. My office walls are painted a certain color, the window blinds are always open during the day, there are shelves filled with books, a glider rocker. I’ve done everything in my power to make this room a happy place.

To energize, calm, inspire, comfort—whatever the emotion we want to feel, there likely is a way to nudge ourselves in that direction by manipulating our surroundings. Whether it’s the music we listen to or the motivational quotes we tack up on our refrigerator, we create the atmosphere in which our moods grow. As Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, wrote, “Much of the stuff we gather about us and the environments we create are there not to send messages about our identities but specifically to manage our emotions and thoughts.” 

Here are three simple environmental factors that can boost—or lower—your mood:


I don’t aspire to Marie Kondo levels of organization, but it does make me feel lighter and happier when I look around at tidy surroundings. I like knowing that if I open the hall closet door, nothing will fall on my head. I’m in an ongoing battle with paper in my office, and books everywhere else, but I make an effort to keep my kitchen cleaned up and I make the bed most days because it makes me happy to see it like that.

I’m also prone to taking on a cleaning or organizing project when I’m frustrated or blocked in my creative pursuits. Some would say I’m avoiding my work, but I choose to think of it as a way to distract the inner critic long enough to sneak some ideas by her. Making progress in one area (a cleaned out hall closet) often leads to progress in another (a completed blog post). 

(Just don’t look in my office right now—eesh!)


The presence or lack of light, especially natural light, makes a huge difference to me. If we have a run of a few days with no sunshine, I feel my mood lowering just like the clouds. Light is essential to the human body, helping to regulate hormones that affect mood and sleep. You’ll almost always find “step outside” on lists of ways to feel happier, and getting some natural light is one of the reasons that’s so effective.  


Essential Oils are Having a Moment. Everywhere you turn, they’re touted as the cure for some malady. So far, my main use for them has been scent. I diffuse oils in the bedroom, kitchen, and my car. I like when things smell good! It’s a bonus when those scents have beneficial effects on my mood, which some research suggests that they do.

According to Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building: “There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact it, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” To be truly happy, we still need to do the inner work, but we can support that work with simple pleasures that make our surroundings more to our taste. So if you find yourself battling sadness, fear, anxiety, stress or other negatively-charged emotions (and who doesn’t?), take a look at your surroundings. Maybe there’s something you can change that will help you feel better.

What is your favorite way to influence your mood by manipulating your environment? Please share in the comments!