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?


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


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?


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.”



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!


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 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…


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 October 2020—click here for more information. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime art retreat experience, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.