Link love

Mindful Link Love

March 22, 2019

I’m not the only one with mindfulness in mind (hee) right now. The word “mindful” seems to be a popular addition to any topic: mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful decluttering, etc. There’s a lovely print magazine simply called Mindful (see below, no affiliation). And when I type the word into Google, I get 82,500,000 results. Here are just a few mindfulness-related links, plus a few more links just for fun:

Mindful magazine’s introduction to mindfulness

Another good introduction to mindfulness, “What Is Mindfulness? (And What Does It Mean to You?)”

One way to become a calmer person: by “observing and allowing” uncomfortable emotional experiences as matter-of-factly as possible.

This guided journal looks intriguing. 

“How to Be Mindful While Reading” was a good reminder for me not to simply hurry through my books. 

I don't think I've ever linked to Susan Branch’s blog in Link Love before. I got a kick out of her recent post, “Stress Make You Fat? Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?” In her own charming way, she makes the case for indulging in simple pleasures as often as possible.

I’ve finally started listening to podcasts now and then. I listened to my first What Should I Read Next? podcast, and ended up adding NINE books to my TBR list. Yikes. Better not do that again in a hurry. 

Laura Vanderkam’s just started a new podcast, Before Breakfast, every weekday morning. Each episode is less than 10 minutes long, and offers a time management strategy to help you make the most of your time at work and at home.

I love a cappella music, and recently discovered The Swingles. Have a listen here:


or here:


Happy Friday!

Books

Catching Happiness Inspiration—Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance

March 18, 2019


In 1995, Sarah Ban Breathnach published Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. I don’t remember how I heard about it, or even if I bought my copy soon after it was published, but I expect I did. Even then, I was attracted to its concepts, and I loved the daybook format, where I could read little bits of inspiration in bite-sized pieces. In 1995, I was a young mother, my son less than a year old, and that first year was tough for many reasons. I can easily see myself turning to a book like this for encouragement.

Her message of appreciating the small and simple joys of life may not seem unusual to you now, but in the 1990s it was almost revolutionary. As Jesse Kornbluth wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post, “In today’s radically different America, we hear this message all the time. Live small. Cook slow. Back then, it was a fire bell in the night—and the start of a new media phenomenon.”

A little about Sarah Ban Breathnach and Simple Abundance:

  • Her name is pronounced “Bon Brannock.”
  • Simple Abundance has sold over five million copies in the US and topped the New York Times Bestsellers list for two years.
  • Simple Abundance is responsible for introducing two concepts—the “Gratitude Journal” and the term “authentic self" into the American conversation.
  • She’s the author of 13 books. In addition to Simple Abundance, she wrote Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity, and she created The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude
  • Ban Breathnach has weathered some serious ups and downs, including failed marriages, an accident that left her bedridden, and losing all the money she made from Simple Abundance

My copy of Simple Abundance boasts faded yellow highlighting on many pages. Here are a few of the highlighted passages:

“Today I want you to become aware that you already possess all the inner wisdom, strength, and creativity needed to make your dreams come true…. When we can’t access our inner resources, we come to the flawed conclusion that happiness and fulfillment come only from external events.” 
(“Simple Abundance: The Inner Journey,” January 3)

“What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love.”
(“How Happy Are You Right Now?” January 7)

“But only we can make sure we will be fulfilled. If we feel empty, no amount of water can fill our well. It has to come from within, from the underground springs and streams.” 
(“Job, Career, or Calling?” September 5)

I had forgotten how many of the suggestions put forth in Simple Abundance I’ve experimented with. For example, I have an “Illustrated Discovery Journal” (January 28), take the occasional “Creative Excursion” (February 1), and have, at times, possessed a “Comfort Drawer” (March 7).

I suspect her influence lurked deep in my heart when I created Catching Happiness with its focus on simple pleasures and everyday adventures. It’s also my secret ambition to write a book similar in format to Simple Abundance—a daybook to which readers could turn for a little inspiration and encouragement. Perhaps it’s time to start writing, and to start mining Catching Happiness for material to be included.

I’ll reread parts of Simple Abundance this year for inspiration. I think Sarah Ban Breathnach would approve.

Have you ever read Simple Abundance, or any of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s work? What did you think? Is there another daybook or author you’ve found inspirational or encouraging?

Castelfranc

Field Trip Friday—Ridiculously Photogenic French Villages Part 1

March 15, 2019

Saint-Cirq Lapopie
Some of us are still shoveling snow, and some of us are already sweating. March has been…wild. How about we all escape to the south of France for a few minutes? You guessed it, it’s time again for Field Trip Friday!

From our base at the enchanting Le Vieux Couvent, our little group of intrepid sketchers explored a few of the stunning villages of the Lot Valley. Today I’ll share just two of them, Saint-Cirq Lapopie and Castelfranc.

Saint-Cirq Lapopie

Saint-Cirq Lapopie perches on a cliff 300 feet above the Lot river, the homes huddled at the feet of the church, dedicated to Saint Cyr and his mother, Saint Juliette. Since we were there in October, many shops and restaurants were closed for the season, but that just gave us more time to walk off our goat cheese while exploring the windy streets and admiring the breathtaking views. The entire village is classed as a historical monument, and many of the homes, built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, are well preserved. It’s also been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, and I couldn’t agree more. It was one of my favorite excursions.











Even the doors and door knockers were fascinating!




We met this fellow when we stopped for lunch:


Castelfranc

Castelfranc is a teensy (434 people) but adorable village where we sketched and picnicked one chilly day. It’s so teensy that I was unable to find out much about it, other than it was founded in the thirteenth century by the Bishop of Cahors. 






I sketched this scarecrow in the “garden of the senses” (jardin des sens):




Also in the jardin des sens

Spacing these blog entries out is proving to be a way to continue to savor the experience of traveling to France long after my suitcase has been unpacked. Thank you so much for coming along for the ride!

If you would like to visit Le Vieux Couvent and explore the Lot Valley with watercolor artist and teacher Laure Ferlita, I have good news. Laure plans a return trip to LVC in September 2019. Click here for more information (no affiliation). 



Balance

Mindful March: Work, Rest, and Healing

March 11, 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

I’ve been playing with my theme of mindfulness these past 10 days—doing simple things like turning off the radio while I drive so I can hear myself think, pausing between tasks to take a breath and notice my surroundings, etc.  A sub-theme has appeared: listening*.

What I’m hearing, especially from my body, is that I need to take better care of myself. In addition to the pulled muscles from the fall from Tank, I’ve been dealing with severe tendonitis in my right (dominant) wrist and forearm. My preferred method of self-care, ignoring discomfort and pain and hoping it goes away, isn’t working. I’m also due for some routine checkups at various healthcare practitioners’ offices. The pain I’ve been having has impacted my exercise habits, which is a problem in itself. It’s time to reevaluate how I take care of my physical health, and devote a little more time and attention to it.

After a season of hard work preparing for my trip to France, and a season of turmoil, stress, and change following my dad’s death and moving Tank, I find I need extra time to care for my body, mind, and heart. I need renewal, nourishing, and to cut myself some slack. I do want to keep building my freelance business, and I have new projects I’m excited to work on, both professionally and personally. But at the same time, I’m trying to be better at responding when my mind cries “enough!” and my body stiffens from sitting at my desk and begs for some movement.

I know I’m lucky to have the flexibility I have—it’s much easier for me to move things around to get the healing and rejuvenation I need than it is for those who work full time for someone else, or who have small children at home. I’ve been in those situations, and I’m grateful for my current life stage…even if it is a bit challenging physically.

I also know that some of the crazy mind pressure I feel is coming from me and no one else. I know it’s important to set and reach goals, and not to waste hour after hour of precious time, but that constant, driving voice that remains impossible to please…that voice needs to stop.

And that’s what mindfulness has revealed so far this month!

How do you find balance when you need to work, but you also need rest and rejuvenation?

*I’ll be writing more about listening in March’s Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, a once-a-month email in which I share unique content, favorite recent reads, and other happy little things—click here to subscribe. 

In other news:

One of my favorite freelance articles ever has just been printed: “An American Quarter Horse in France” (click on the title to read the article). Monica and Bandit’s story is delightful—I hope you’ll check it out!

Mindfulness

Time Renews Itself

March 08, 2019

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash
“Most of us take for granted that time flies, meaning that it passes too quickly. But in the mindful state, time doesn't really pass at all. There is only a single instant of time that keeps renewing itself over and over with infinite variety.”
—Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life


Action for Happiness

Mindful March

March 04, 2019

Though you may not have noticed, I sometimes choose a monthly theme around which I loosely organize my posts on Catching Happiness. For example, February’s was the unimaginative-but-appropriate “Love.” As I was casting around for a theme for March, I happened upon the Action for Happiness March calendar, “Mindful March”—how perfect! (Printable PDF file here.)



I’ve been bemoaning the speed with which life seems to be moving (HOW can it be March already?!) and feel like I’ve been missing my own life. I still feel anxious and stressed, even though things have settled down considerably after the whirlwind that was the last three months of 2018. I could do with a dose of mindfulness. Maybe you could, too? We can all benefit from paying more attention to the present moment.

So this month, I won’t be just writing a few posts related to mindfulness, I’ll be actively trying to practice it.

For me, mindfulness involves paying attention, focusing on the present moment and what I’m doing, thinking, or feeling. It has elements of appreciation and gratitude, because if I’m paying attention, I notice the simple pleasures and everyday adventures that populate my life. My worries fade, and I’m able to see the larger panorama, the ebb and flow of my own life’s experience. No matter what is happening, this, too, shall pass. As James Baraz says, “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

How else might we (I) practice mindfulness this month? Here are a few things I’m going to try:

  • Use the Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar prompts for suggestions
  • Read a book about time. I’m going to check out Why Time Flies, by Alan Burdick
  • Practice mindful eating. I find it supremely difficult to eat and do nothing else—I also want to read, or watch a video online, or…
  • Use a timer to bring me back to myself after I’ve fallen down Internet rabbit holes while researching
  • Schedule time for daydreaming
  • Restart a yoga practice
  • Try meditation using the Headspace app I’ve had on my phone for more than a year

Would you like to explore mindfulness together? What do you do, or avoid doing, in order to become more mindful?

Happiness

Moment By Moment

March 01, 2019



“When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are,
moment by moment.”
―Jon Kabat-Zinn

Expectations

Can You “KonMari” Happiness?

February 25, 2019

Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

Marie Kondo is having a moment. With two books on organization (or “tidying”), The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, under her belt, and a Netflix Original series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, she seems to be everywhere right now. She even attended the 2019 Oscars

I’ve read Kondo's books and gleaned some helpful ideas, and I was charmed by her respectful gentleness in the Netflix series. If you've managed not to hear about Kondo’s way of organizing, called the “KonMari Method,” one of its hallmarks is that as you work through each category of clutter, you hold every individual item to see if it “sparks joy” in you. If it does, it stays. If not, it goes—but not before you take a moment to thank it for its service.

I like the thoughtfulness of her approach, as well as its emphasis on joy. It's freed me to release items I’ve kept “just in case,” as well as to hang on to things which bring me joy for no apparent reason, all without guilt. Sometimes I need to probe a little deeper. Maybe my cell phone charger doesn’t in and of itself spark joy, for example, but I need it to keep my cell phone working. My cell phone brings me joy by helping me stay in touch with people I care about, taking pictures, and all its various useful tasks.

I began to wonder, could we adapt KonMari to other areas of life. For instance, in order to be happier, which areas of our lives should we “tidy up”?

Here's what I came up with:

Relationships. Which people in our lives spark joy? Are we making time to be with those people? Do we have any relationships that drag us down rather than spark joy? Can we spend less time with the people who drain us, or avoid them altogether? We need to look for ways to cherish and deepen our most precious relationships, because they are the single most important component of a happy life.

Attitudes and expectations. Our attitudes and expectations have a huge influence on how happy we are. Replacing negative thoughts and expectations with positive ones will, well, spark joy! Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we can be happy and grateful that we have full lives, for example. It may sound a bit falsely cheerful, but it’s true that how we think determines so much of our happiness.

Home environment. The most obvious category, of course, but one that does make a difference to our happiness. We can manipulate our physical environment to make our lives happier. We may not want or need to do a full KonMari organization, but there may be an area of our home that doesn’t feel joyful. Recently I’ve been working on my home office, which used to be a comfortable haven where I could get creative, but has recently become where stacks of paper and books go to die. 

Just as the point of organizing is not just to have a neater home, the point of “tidying up” our attitudes and relationships is to open us to a better quality of life, where what we have, and what we think spark joy.

Guess I’d better get back to my office…

What sparks joy for you?

Joy

Open to Life, Open to Love

February 22, 2019



“If I have learned anything through the years, it is that, though we discover and experience joy with others, our capacity for joy is carried like a pod of nectar in our very own breast. I now believe that our deepest vocation is to root ourselves enough in this life that we can open our hearts to attract others; in being so thoroughly who we are, an inner fragrance is released that calls others to eat of our nectar. And we are loved, by friends and partners alike.”
—Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Birthdays

A Tank Update

February 18, 2019


Today is my horse Tank’s 24th birthday! As a registered American Quarter Horse, he “officially” turns a year older on Jan. 1, but I still celebrate his actual birthday—or foal date, as it’s known in the horse world.

As you may remember, back in November I moved him to a new boarding barn. This was wrenching for me, and I was worried about how he’d handle the change. We’d been at our old boarding barn for all of our 15 years together. Happily, he’s done very well overall.

The new barn was still under construction when we moved, but it was completed enough for the horses to move in about a week ago. It’s a big, airy space (and smells like new wood). Tank seems to really like his new stall.




Especially the way it tastes. (Face palm.)



We’ve faced a few challenges since the move—he developed a case of hives, and then a painful hoof abscess—both things have happened before and aren’t related to his new home. I’m also still trying to develop a routine of care and exercise for him. Most recently, though, he spooked one day while I was riding him and threw me. I pulled muscles I didn’t know I had trying to stay on, but I wasn’t seriously hurt. (Apparently there were horse-eating monsters in the woods bordering the field in which we were riding!)

Tank’s new schedule will involve being stalled part of the time and being turned out into various paddocks the rest of the time. He’s still getting used to being turned out in different areas with different horses nearby—he makes it clear he DOES NOT like being the first one turned out or brought in!

All this adjustment to different conditions can be hard on a horse, just like change can be hard for most people, myself included. I try to help him by going to see him as often as possible and not making any other changes in his management.

And while it may feel uncomfortable at first, change can also be beneficial. For horses, it can provide new stimulation and learning opportunities. For humans, change helps us be more flexible and creative. And, really, we’d become bored if nothing ever changed.

I’m trying to make the best of the recent changes in my life, and Tank is, too (I assume. He seems like he’s trying to understand what’s happening, and communicate his feelings about it!) Eventually, these changes will become the new normal…and then any further changes may feel uncomfortable! 

What changes have you experienced recently? How have you been coping?

Happiness

Want a Lasting Relationship? Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness

February 15, 2019

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

“The truth is, the way we can show up as our very best and offer the greatest amount of love and support to our partner is to take the complete responsibility for our own happiness, from A to Z. The purpose of a love relationship is not to fill a void, to complete us, or even to be part of the foundation for our happiness. It’s purpose is to help us grow emotionally and spiritually and to enhance an already, full, happy life. This is a key standpoint from which joyful, lasting relationships survive, thrive, and grow.”


Rise

Rise-ing

February 11, 2019

Photo courtesy Andrew Martin via Pixabay 

As I mentioned briefly here, the word of the year that presented itself to me for 2019 is “rise.” And it did present itself—I was minding my own business, going about my normal, everyday life when it popped into my head. And wouldn’t leave.

Some years I’ve had to do exercises or put in time pondering possibilities, but not this year.

Rise scares me a little, as passion did. With its connotation of picking myself up after a fall, rise initially felt like a word that you turn to during hard times. Please, 2019, I beg of you do not to be as emotionally challenging as the end of 2018!

But as I was noodling around with the word, a more gentle, cheerful take appeared: the concept of floating, of lightness, of flying like a balloon.  Rise has an uplifting feel to it, one of upward movement. The sun rises, cream rises to the top, bread and other baked goods rise (becoming tasty and delicious). One “rises to the occasion.”

Rising is gentler than climbing.

To rise, I’ll need to let go of heavy things dragging or holding me down, release attitudes, beliefs, worries, and negativity.

I like it. I have a tendency to be internally dark, heavy, serious, and intense. As light offered me a chance to explore and focus on more happy aspects of living. perhaps rise will offer some of the same benefits. 

I recently came upon this passage in Jon Cohen’s book, Harry's Trees:

“Olive was particularly inspired by dawns like this when she could not see the sun. It gave her strength and comfort to know that it was out there, rising, doing its daily job, unthwarted by clouds, rain or snow. That’s the way she liked to think of herself. Against the impediments and disappointments of life, she was a riser.”

I think I’m a riser, too.

I like a word of the year with some ambiguity to it. It makes for interesting encounters with myself throughout the year. What about you? Do you have a word of the year? If you feel comfortable, please share it and what it means to you in the comments section!

Happiness

Instead of Pursuing Love and Happiness…

February 08, 2019

Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
— Rumi

Food for thought: Substitute the word “happiness” for the word “love.” Do you (I) put up barriers against love and happiness? How can we be more open?



Libraries

Libraries I Have Loved

February 04, 2019

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash 

“What else is a library, but a temple of truth? What other function do books have, the great ones, but to change the reader? Books to comfort. But most of all, books to disturb you forward.”
Harry’s Trees, Jon Cohen

February is Library Lovers’ Month, and today I want to pay tribute to libraries I have loved and sing the praises of an institution that has made my life infinitely better.

The first library I remember is the Pasadena Public Library where I went with my mother and on field trips as a child. Once I remember laughing uncontrollably (but quietly) with my best friend, Julie, when we happened upon the name Wyatt Earp in a book—the name struck us as being hysterically funny. When I wasn’t laughing at names, I was earnestly checking out books from the children’s section, coming home with as many as I could carry.

As an adult working for a magazine for teenagers, I also used the Pasadena library for books to use as references or to fact check articles I was editing. Oh, the days before the Internet!

As a teenager I haunted my public library in Lakewood, spending hours wandering through the books, making discoveries or reading old favorites (Judy Blume, Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie). My mom and I visited regularly together, but sometimes I’d walk there on my own.  I once tried to get a job at that library, but was so shy I couldn’t manage a coherent follow up to my application. (If I weren’t a writer, I’d work in a library. And I don't rule it out in the future!)

My current local library is invaluable to me—even with the Internet at my fingertips, I use books for education, entertainment, inspiration, and research, and I’ve attended free talks and workshops there. I still consider it a miracle that we can borrow books (paper, e-books and audio books), music, magazines, and movies for free. I would go broke if I bought every book I read. Thank you, public library. (Check out “What’s Your Library Worth?” here.) 

In addition to lending books and other media, most public libraries also host educational programs, serve as polling places on Election Day, and provide many more community services. “At the core of public library service is the belief in free access to information—that no one should be denied information because he or she cannot afford the cost of a book, a periodical, a Web site or access to information in any of its various formats,” according to ilovelibraries.org.

The library is one of my happy places, and I want to spend more time there this year. I’ve gotten into the habit of placing holds on books, then just running in and picking them up. On a good day, I’ll spend a few extra minutes in the library bookstore. I miss soaking in the library’s (to me) peaceful-yet-exciting atmosphere. Perhaps I’m due for an afternoon spent wandering the aisles and exploring the shelves—a true simple pleasure.

If you haven’t been to the library recently, why not pay it a visit?

Do you have any favorite memories of libraries?

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday--The Enchanting Le Vieux Couvent

February 01, 2019


Early morning at LVC
It’s Friday, and it’s cold, and it’s February—would you like to escape to an enchanted place, even for a few minutes?

Come with me to Le Vieux Couvent!

W-a-a-a-y back in October, I had the privilege of traveling with Laure Ferlita to her workshop at Le Vieux Couvent, following our stay in Paris.

LVC, as we call it, is in the little village of Frayssinet in southwest rural France, about five hours from Paris. As its name suggests, it is an old convent—17th century—converted into a special event and art retreat center. The hosts, Bill and Corinne, were utterly charming, the gourmet food out of this world (I now have a taste for duck), and the whole experience, hands down, one of the most delightful and extraordinary of my life.

Today’s Field Trip Friday will focus only on LVC and the village of Frayssinet. (I’ll save photos of our explorations of the region for future installments.)

After taking the train from Paris, our group met in the courtyard for aperitif (a delightful practice we repeated during our entire stay at various locations around LVC). Corinne welcomed us, and we eventually dispersed to our various rooms. 







An aperitif--there was always wine, too!
In addition to the main building where the kitchen, dining room, salon, and most of the bedrooms were located, there was also a studio and a house just down the road where Laure and I stayed in separate apartments.

I stayed here, at Joel's house, in a separate building
My neighbor
Everywhere you looked there was an enticing path, something blooming, or an “is this real?” scene. Sketching opportunities everywhere!




Kitchen courtyard


Herbs outside the kitchen door


A small selection of art books at a table at the entrance to the studio
The food, oh the food…

Breakfast
Lunch


Picnic lunch
A first course
A cheese course--look at the grape scissors!
We did a little exploring of the area around LVC, and joined the local community one Friday night at the bar that only opens on Friday night. Everyone was welcome—visitors, dogs, babies… 


Village rooftops

And just next door, was a Little Free Library. I didn’t get any closer than this, unfortunately, to see the books on hand.




View from the studio--original convent building on left

The village church
The staff at LVC were also outstanding, including Corrine and Bill’s hard-working son, Joel, whose talents ranged from serving meals to unclogging showers to rebuilding kitchens. And Bill, who acted as host and tour guide—well, there are no words that do justice to him. He was quite a character.

Using LVC as our base, we explored some of the surrounding villages, including St. Cirque La Popie, Castlefranc, and Sarlat, the Chateau de Beynac, and prehistoric caves at Cougnac. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip to the south of France as much as I enjoyed reviewing my photos and memories. I’ll share more of our experiences in future Field Trip Friday posts. 

Laure is planning another workshop at LVC in September 2019—click here for more information. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime art retreat experience, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.


Look for my travel writing here