Dry

Spring Break Report

May 20, 2019

Zzzzzzzzzz...

My spring break was boring. In a good way.

I was so tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I went blueberry picking. I slept. I read. I took my vitamins every day. I puttered in my house, getting rid of things and putting small messes in order. I visited Tank (who, apparently, is tired, too—see above).

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. After big strides in productivity last year, a once-in-a-lifetime three-week trip to France, followed immediately by sickness and upheaval in my personal life, and trying to keep up and catch up with everything at the same time, I was due for break, if not a breakdown.

While I’ve been keeping up (as well as “keeping up appearances”) as best I can, I have rarely felt so “dry” as a writer. Writing feels like squeezing a lime—a whole lot of effort for a trickle of juice. Understandably, this has made me very unhappy, as writing has always been a solace as well as a way to contribute to our finances. Hoping for inspiration, I’ve been revisiting my favorite writing books, and participating in the shewrites.com #whyshewrites challenge on Instagram.

Despite this dry spell, I do still have the desire to write, so I’m adjusting and readjusting the balance of work and rest—of creative output and creative input, what I call well refilling. I had not been allowing myself enough simple noodling time—time spent letting my thoughts drift and dream. Some of my best ideas come that way, and this is probably at least partly why I’ve been feeling so parched. While I believe in the Maya Angelou quote I posted Friday, I also believe that creativity needs nurturing, and I have not been doing enough of that. 

You’d think I would understand the need for creative rejuvenation by now, but we don’t learn our lessons all at once and for good. We learn, we forget, we remember, we learn more, we learn deeper, hopefully on a continued upward spiral. 

What do you do (or stop doing) when you’re in need of rejuvenation, creative or otherwise?

Busy-ness

Spring Rerun--What's the Rush?

May 13, 2019


I’m still on my own personal spring break right now, doing my best to rest and slow down. Here is a post from 2014 that shows this is an ongoing issue for me. Maybe for you, too?

“Slowness is an option for everyone on the planet, not just a privilege reserved for the very wise or very young or very rich. All of us can decide (and the phrase is a potent one)
to take our time.”
—Christian McEwen, World Enough and Time

For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with deliberately slowing down my actions. I’ve been surprised by how many times I catch myself rushing, as opposed to simply moving efficiently and deliberately. When I take the dog’s medications out of the cupboard, when I get out of the car to go inside, when I unload the dishwasher—I feel an internal push to hurry. (Gretchen Rubin describes this feeling perfectly in Happier at Home: “I always have the feeling that I should be working. I always feel pressed for time, as if someone were shoving a pistol in my back and muttering ‘Move, move, move!’”) I’m already aware that when I hurry I break things and hurt myself, and I really don’t need to hurry every minute of every day, so what gives?

It’s at least partly the familiar and eternal battle between doing and being. No matter how hard I try, it seems that I can’t shake the feeling that if I’m not doing something (or hurrying on to the next something) then I’m not worthy. No matter how much I streamline my do-do list, there’s always more to do than I’ll ever be able to accomplish. Hurry has become a habit. One I’m determined to break.

Even with my new focus on not hurrying, and even though I’ve written several blog posts about the concepts of doing less and slowing down (see “Do Less in More Time” and “One Less Thing,” for example), I still struggle to follow my own advice. Take last Thursday. First, while driving home from the grocery store, I stopped too quickly at a stop sign, spilling my coffee into the cup holder and down the center console. After I cleaned that up and got the groceries unloaded, instead of just chilling for a few minutes, I got caught up on the computer and was late leaving for yoga class. I barely had time to take off my shoes, drop my keys and roll out my mat before it started. I felt flustered, distracted and off balance for at least half the class and the quality of my poses suffered. After lunch, while on the way to run an errand with no timetable, I realized I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I tried to hit every traffic light just right.

Slow down there, girl.

After that, I started reminding myself of a principle Natural Horsemanship practitioner Pat Parelli often refers to: Go slower to go faster. Here’s an example in action: that five seconds I saved by hurrying to go in the house is more than eaten up by the time it takes me to retrieve the mail from beneath the car where I just dropped it. If I’d taken my time in the first place, I’d already be inside (in the air conditioning) rather than crawling on the floor of the garage.  

When I remember to slow down, time does seem to lengthen. I’m able to move more smoothly from one thing to another without feeling internal pressure goading me on. So I’ll continue to pay attention to the speed at which I move. Keep saying no to busy work and rushing. Value the time and space between activities as much as the activities themselves. Seek out activities with a slower pace. And I’ll keep working on taking my time.

What makes you feel rushed? How do you slow down?

No rushing allowed

Creativity

Interesting Things May Develop

May 10, 2019


“Creativity is an awful lot like sex. If it always has to be great, that creates a certain amount of performance anxiety. If, instead, you experiment a little, even when you’re not in the mood and don’t have time for a long candlelight dinner with your muse, interesting things may start to develop. You are married to your creativity, not just out on a first date.”
—Julia Cameron, The Vein of Gold

Artist's dates

Spring Rerun--Picking Blueberries: An Artist's Date

May 06, 2019

I’m on my own personal spring break right now, which included a blueberry-picking excursion yesterday. So I dusted off this post from 2015, a throwback to the first time I went blueberry picking (it took me a shockingly long time to fill my bucket—I’ve improved my average quite a bit since then, even with stopping to take pictures and pick a few unripe berries to paint later, as one does.)

A few minutes from my house, and just down the road from where I keep Tank, there is a blueberry farm that is now open for U-picking. After several weeks of unseasonably hot and humid weather, this weekend was fresh and spring like—the sun shining from a cobalt sky dotted with cottony clouds, so I decided to go blueberry picking for the first time. Here’s what happened:

Acres of blueberry bushes

After I park my car, the farm proprietor ties a white plastic bucket around my waist and tells me which sections were picked for market and which should have berries left. I walk down the grassy road between berry sections and choose my spot. There are other pickers scattered through the rows, a few with children in tow. U-picking with kids is popular, and this is one of the first weekends the farm is open. I see several generations of family members, from grandparents to toddlers, enjoying the experience.

And that’s why I’m here: to enjoy the experience. This is an artist’s date as well as a way to stock my freezer with fresh blueberries.

Once I choose my section, I begin slowly walking between the rows of shoulder- to head-high blueberry bushes. It takes me a few moments for my eyes to adjust to seeing the plump purple berries hidden in the foliage. I drop my first berries in my bucket with a thunk. While I search with my eyes, my ears listen to the sounds around me: the breeze flirting with berry bushes, the lady in the red t-shirt humming along with her iPod, the children calling out excitedly, and even the loud speakers periodically blaring screechy bird sounds to keep away other birds who would eat the berries. My mind is free to wander, but I find it mostly stays quiet, absorbed in the task of looking carefully for the ripe berries. I deliberately pick a few unripe berries to paint because they’re such pretty colors. I also remember and use Laure Ferlita’s advice to look up, look down, look all around.



As in life, in blueberry picking, it pays to go slowly, look carefully, and be gentle (so the fruit doesn’t fall on the ground instead of into your fingers). You need to look at the bushes from several different angles, and sometimes you will find perfect berries missed by others who have worked the same row. This is sort of like the process of creativity—good ideas, ripe for the picking are out there, waiting for the right person to come along.

It takes me about two hours to fill my bucket. I probably could have moved to a section with more berries per bush, but for once I’m not in a hurry. It is a pleasure to be doing one thing and one thing only. Once my bucket is full, I return to the entrance, pay my money, and carry a plastic grocery bag to my car filled with my bounty.


When I get home, I’ll have the work of drying out the berries (they don’t like to be wet), freezing them, and deciding what I want to do with the ones I won’t freeze. Blueberry muffins for my son, and lemon blueberry scones for me, I think.

This artist’s date was a huge success. I not only deeply enjoyed it while it was happening, but I also wrote about it in my journal and in this post, and I painted those berries! So far, I’ve only experimented with different colors for the berries, but I also want to do a full watercolor sketch page of various elements from the day.

What did you do this weekend?

Creativity

Do You Think You're Not Creative?

May 03, 2019


Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

“Even if you never go near the arts, you are creating away like mad every single day, working in the medium of experience itself. Actions, objects, words, gestures—literally anything you influence by your choices becomes part of your creation. Every time you voice your thoughts to a loved one, or cook a meal, or choose a new bar of soap for the dish by your bathtub, you are creating a modification in space or time that would never have existed without you. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you have more power to create your own life than anyone or anything else.”
—Martha Beck, The Joy Diet

Announcement

Goodbye April, Hello May

April 29, 2019


I always hate to see April go. In May we usually start getting summer weather: temps in the 90s and rising humidity. And we all know how much I love summer in Florida. Not.

But it’s not summer yet, and I have happy things to look forward to in May—including a visit from my sisters- and brothers-in-law. Maybe I’ll create a summer fun list or a reading project. I’m also working on plans for a belated anniversary trip with my husband. Time to start planning for simple pleasures and everyday adventures to look forward to during my least favorite time of year.

Speaking of simple pleasures and everyday adventures, I’m planning to take the next couple of weeks for some creative well filling. While I’m gone, I’ve scheduled some “reruns” and quotes so the blog won’t be dark.

Be back soon!

Poetry

Waving

April 26, 2019

Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Stuart Dybek was born in Chicago, where there are at least a couple of hundred hotels a poet might stroll past, looking up at the windows. Here's a poem from his book, Streets in Their Own Ink, from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Curtains
Sometimes they are the only thing beautiful
about a hotel.
Like transients,
come winter they have a way of disappearing,
disguised as dirty light,
limp beside a puttied pane.
Then some April afternoon
a roomer jacks a window open,
 a breeze intrudes,
resuscitates memory,
and suddenly they want to fly,
while men,
looking up from the street,
are deceived a moment
into thinking
a girl in an upper story
is waving.

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 ©2004 by Stuart Dybek, “Curtains,” (Streets in Their Own Ink, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004. Poem reprinted by permission of Stuart Dybek 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 Little Things

Thinking Small

April 22, 2019

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash
If you’ve been reading Catching Happiness for a while, you know I’m big on baby steps and small changes. Small is less intimidating and scary. Like most people, I feel less resistance to small changes and adjustments than to big, sweeping reorganizations. And when I’m feeling resistant to change, or struggling with a big goal or project, one way to break through that resistance is to find the absolute smallest next step and take it.

On days when I find it hard to write, I sneak beneath my resistance radar by tackling one small detail, or setting my timer for 15 minutes and allowing myself to stop writing after it goes off. Instead of reorganizing my whole house, I clean out one drawer. (I love you Marie Kondo, but I can’t do it your way.) I’ve been practicing French with the Duolingo app for months because it takes less than 10 minutes to complete my daily goal. I probably won’t become fluent this way, but I’m learning and having fun, and certainly known more of the language than if I had done nothing at all. (And I know how to say, “There’s a cow in the living room!”* in French, for which I will be forever grateful!)

We sometimes make the mistake of thinking only a big gesture or major commitment will do if we want to make an impact. That’s not always true—often it’s a small thing that makes you stand out. The authors of The Power of Small, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, call it “going the extra inch.” And even an extra inch is something many people just don’t get around to. As Thaler and Koval write, “We often think about taking that extra step. A nagging thought crosses our minds as we’re racing to complete nine other tasks, worrying over how far behind we are on the day’s to-do list. Unfortunately, we don’t heed that inner voice. We forget. Or we get too busy and that mental Post-it note gets lost in the tsunami of other demands.”

There are plenty of tiny steps that will help us reach our goals and make us happier: If we want to give more to charity, start by donating $5. If we want to keep in better touch with friends or family, send a text message that we’re thinking about them. If we want to read more, pick up a collection of short stories or essays we can easily dip into. Don’t try to write a book—write a sentence.

Big dreams and new, improved habits are made up of many tiny steps. A happy life is made up of small, simple pleasures and everyday adventures—the cup of tea, the walk with the dog, the movie night with your spouse or best friend, the work project done well and turned in on time. Thinking small can make a big, big difference.

What small thing can you do today that will make you happier?

*Il y a une vache dans le salon, in case you were wondering…

Beauty

The Beauty of Small

April 19, 2019

“It is in the details of life that beauty is revealed, sustained, and nurtured.”
—Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
 
Here are a few small things I love:


Monarch butterfly caterpillar on milkweed



That nose




Those freckles






What are a few of your favorite small things?


Quotes. Sarah Juniper Rabkin

You Don’t Have to Change the World

April 12, 2019

Photo by 1AmFcS on Unsplash

“I don’t mean that we should sell ourselves short or be cavalier about our potential or responsibilities. But I do think that, misled by self-critical and self-punishing voices, one can easily misconstrue one’s calling. In thinking we need to Change the World, we may miss opportunities to perform the small yet profound acts of which we’re truly capable.”
—Sarah Juniper Rabkin, What I Learned at Bug Camp


Happy Little Things

The Power of Little Things

April 08, 2019


Last week, after a poor night’s sleep, I sat at my desk handling a number of small, irritating-but-necessary tasks. Outside, the sky was gray, threatening rain. I ran into minor problems with a couple of my tasks, and by lunchtime I was feeling frustrated, tired, and as if a heavy weight lay over my head. Nothing terrible had happened, but tell that to my mood. Sometimes it doesn’t take something big to influence your mood—little things add up.

Little bad or irritating things all morning can add up to a grumpy, out-of-sorts afternoon. (As I was typing this sentence, I typed grumply instead of grumpy—and I rather like it! It sounds just like I felt!)

Little good things, on the other hand—simple pleasures or happy little things, whatever you want to call them—can improve an ordinary or even a grumply day.

On the day in question, I treated myself to a cup of good quality hot chocolate, and an afternoon visit to my horse. It helped.

More happy little things I turn to to keep the grumply days at bay:

  • Walking through the yard to see what’s blooming
  • Cuddling with my dog or cat
  • Dropping everything to read for a few minutes
  • A rest—even 10 minutes sitting quietly can be surprisingly refreshing

It also pays to nip small nuisances in the bud whenever possible—replacing the kitchen tool that doesn’t work properly and annoys you every time you use it, or making sure each location that needs it has a set of scissors, a note pad and pen, for example.

In April on Catching Happiness, we’re going to explore how little things, baby steps, and tiny changes can add up to a happier life. I hope you’ll join me!

What are some happy little things that lift your mood? 

Marge Saiser

We Had All Time

April 05, 2019

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Marge Saiser, who lives in Nebraska, is a fine and a very lucky poet. With the passing of each year her poems have gotten stronger and deeper. That's an enviable direction for a writer. This poem was published in The Briar Cliff Review and it looks back wisely and wistfully over a rich life. Saiser's most recent book is The Woman in the Moon from the Backwaters Press.

Weren’t We Beautiful

growing into ourselves
earnest and funny we were
angels of some kind, smiling visitors
the light we lived in was gorgeous
we looked up and into the camera
the ordinary things we did with our hands
or how we turned and walked
or looked back we lifted the child
spooned food into his mouth
the camera held it, stayed it
there we are in our lives as if
we had all time
as if we would stand in that room
and wear that shirt those glasses
as if that light
without end
would shine on us
and from us.

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 ©2018 by Marjorie Saiser, "Weren't We Beautiful," from The Briar Cliff Review, (Vol. 30, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 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.

National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month—No Foolin’

April 01, 2019


Since my romantic youth, I’ve had an interest in poetry. My fantastic creative writing teacher, Marie Tollstrup, taught us to read and write poetry, and a love for the form has stayed with me. I’m not truly “educated” about poetry—but I know what I like! April is National Poetry Month, so what better time to rekindle my love affair with poetry?

Many people are intimidated by poetry, think they don’t like it, or don’t understand it. But if you enjoy listening to music with words, you enjoy poetry! At least one form of it.

If you’d like to explore poetry, here are a few simple ways you might enjoy dipping into this art form:

I’ve been enjoying The Slowdown podcast, by Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. Poet Laureate. During each short (six minutes or less!) episode, Smith “delivers a different way to see the world—through poetry.” Listen while you drink your morning coffee or tea. Smith’s voice is lovely and soothing, and I love how she weaves together everyday life experiences and poems.

I’m going to check out from my library at least one of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets editions. Aren’t they beautiful? 

This is a good explanation of haiku, with examples. (I love haiku!)  

Poetry apps are also a good and quick way to get a bite-sized taste of poetry. You can read, write, or listen to poetry on your phone! See Book Riot’s list of poetry apps here. These were the most intriguing to me:

Poemhunter (Android and iOS) has a library of 1.4 million poems.

Wings—Poems & Poets for the Love of Poetry. Unfortunately for me, Wings doesn’t have an Android version, because it looks like fun. You can read poetry, read about poetry, combine your own photos with poems, etc. 

For Haiku lovers, check out THF Haiku, The Haiku Foundation’s portable library of haiku. 

Hear poetry read by great actors by downloading The Poetry Hour (Android and iOS).

Read previous Catching Happiness posts on National Poetry Month:





I’m sorry to say I’ve gotten away from reading poetry on a regular basis, so I appreciate the reminder of National Poetry Month. I know I have an unread book or two of poetry somewhere on my shelves, and, of course, the library beckons. Reading (and sometimes writing) poetry brings me pleasure, and I encourage you to give it a try if it’s something you’d like to explore. During the month of April, I’ll share a few poems on Fridays, too.

If you enjoy poetry, please share the name of your favorite poem or poet in the comments below!

P.S. If you enjoyed the Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar, click here for Active April

Happiness

The Real Secrets to Happiness

March 29, 2019



“It takes a long time to develop the behavior and habits of mind that contribute to our problems. It takes an equally long time to establish the new habits that bring happiness. There is no getting around these essential ingredients: determination, effort, and time. These are the real secrets to happiness.”
—The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D

Amazing

21 Amazing Things I Take for Granted

March 25, 2019


Yesterday’s Action for Happiness Mindful March calendar prompt was “Make a list of amazing things you take for granted.”

So I did.

Here’s a portion of it, in no particular order:

  1. Libraries
  2. Toilets (our main one was briefly out of commission over the weekend)
  3. Blue skies with puffy clouds
  4. Two-day shipping
  5. Computers
  6. My family
  7. My close friends
  8. My pets, Tank, Prudy, and Luna
  9. Electricity (I don’t take it for granted as much since Hurricane Irma blew through)
  10. Knowing where my next meal is coming from
  11. Not having to grow/butcher my next meal
  12. Smart phones (even with their drawbacks, they’re pretty amazing and useful)
  13. Waking up each morning (think about it!)
  14. Coffee pots on timers
  15. The washing machine (and dryer)
  16. Refrigeration
  17. Ibuprofen
  18. The Internet
  19. Growing things—plants, trees, flowers
  20. Supermarkets
  21. Delivery pizza

We live in a challenging, chaotic, stressful age, but we are also surrounded by amazing things our ancestors couldn’t imagine. While it’s in our natures to want—to be always searching for the next Shiny Thing—now and then, we should stop to appreciate all the amazing-ness we already have access to.

It’s easy just to rattle off a list like this, but if you make one yourself, I encourage you to spend a few moments thinking about each item, how it enriches your life, how many people were and are involved in getting it to you, and so on. For most of us, life is pretty amazing!

What amazing things do you take for granted?

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?


Look for my travel writing here