Labor Day Weekend Link Love

August 30, 2019

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of Hurricane Dorian this weekend. It’s not supposed to reach us until Monday, and as I write this, we don’t yet know where it will make landfall. Some models show it crossing from the Atlantic over us into the Gulf of Mexico, so keep Florida in your thoughts. Other than last-minute hurricane preparations, this weekend we’re expecting a visit from my mother-in-law, celebrating our son’s birthday, and my husband and I are attempting to repair something on my car—wish us luck! I might do some baking—maybe chocolate chip cookies or some type of muffin. We’ll see.

Just in case you have some free time on your hands this weekend (a three-day holiday weekend for most of us in the U.S.), here are a few items of interest I’ve come across recently. Enjoy!

“How to Manage Your Energy to Get More Done” was a timely read for me, as I’ve been dragging lately. Going to pay more attention to renewing my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy.  

Have you ever tried to “Follow Your Jealousy”? As Sheila Devi writes, “Jealousy tells you what you want more of. What if you listened to it?”

Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s “Rom-Com Syllabus” if you’re looking for something fun and light to watch over this long weekend. There are some great additional suggestions in the comments, too.

This long essay by Roy F. Baumeister examines the differences and similarities between happiness and a meaningful life.

I totally understand and identify with “Pet owners share 55 hilarious rules their animals have made.” The animals are clearly in charge.

What do you think about research that shows that trying to be happy can result in feeling less happy? “Quit Doing 1 Thing Today, and Science Says You’ll Feel a Lot Happier (It's Counterintuitive)” is worth a read.

This is an oldie, but still hilarious. My husband showed this to me again this week, so I hunted it up on YouTube for you:

May you have a safe, relaxing, and happy Labor Day weekend!

Fallow time

Fallow Time

August 26, 2019

Photo courtesy Alfred Borchard via FreeImages

Our backyard has grown from oasis to jungle after months of rain and sun. My husband has had his hands full keeping the bird feeders and birdbath cleaned and filled, and collecting all the debris that falls into the yard from the trees (sticks, Spanish moss) and trimming out the most obvious dead stuff. He hasn’t had time for pruning or puttering around for pleasure, and it’s still too hot to plant. Right now, in many ways, we’re holding on, waiting for a change in the season, or at least a lessening of the heat and humidity enough to allow new things to sprout.

In gardening, as in life, there are times for planting, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. There are fallow times.

In the US, I don’t think we allow ourselves enough of this fallow time. Instead, we tend to fill every free minute with noise—whether it’s actual noise from the TV, radio, or a podcast, or “noise” from the written word. We don’t give ourselves time for our own thoughts to wander where they may. At least I know I don’t, because my own thoughts are often full of worry or fear.

I’ve been weeding and pruning and getting rid of the most obvious dead stuff, otherwise known as purging. Pulling books off shelves, throwing away or shredding file folders of outdated papers, sorting through my clothes, putting closets and shelves in order. Taking everything off my desk and cleaning it thoroughly. Getting ready for fall’s cooler temperatures and generally higher energy levels, when I’ll be capable of planting again.

But before that, during this last week of August, I need some fallow time. Maybe only an hour or two here and there, to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, or to rock in my glider rocker while acoustic guitar music plays and I stare out my office window. To sit propped up in bed with my journal and pen in hand.

The past 12 months have brought a lot of changes, new projects, new experiences, sad losses, and one spectacular trip to France. I feel like I haven’t processed half of it. It’s time to allow myself to slow down, even stop, and let all of that sink in. There will be time, soon, for planting, weeding, pruning…the cycle will continue. But first, fallow time.

Do you allow yourself the rest and restoration of fallow time? 


California Hills--Landscape of My Childhood

August 23, 2019

When I read this poem I had to share it, because it so perfectly captures for me the look and feel of the area in which I spent my growing-up summers, an area that I love deeply and find beautiful, in ways that may seem puzzling to those who come from more well-watered areas.

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Let’s hope that by the time this column appears all fires in California have been extinguished. I wanted to offer you a poem that shows us what that beautiful but arid state can look like before it’s caught fire. The poet, Dana Gioia, served as Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and has been a friend to, and advocate for, poetry for many years. This poem appeared in the anthology, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, from Scarlet Tanager Books.

California Hills in August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

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 ©1986 by Dana Gioia, “California Hills in August,” from Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, (Lucille Lang Day and Ruth Nolan, Eds., Scarlet Tanager Books, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Dana Gioia 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.

Alexandra Stoddard

Catching Happiness Inspiration--Alexandra Stoddard

August 19, 2019

Back in March, I wrote about one of the authors who inspired my mindset when I started Catching Happiness. Today I want to introduce you to another: Alexandra Stoddard.

Stoddard began her career as an interior designer, working with Eleanor McMillen Brown. She became a top design professional, and established her own design firm, Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated.  She also became an author, penning 28 books and giving lectures on not only design, but on personal happiness and living a more beautiful life. Her website lists her as “contemporary philosopher, author, interior designer, and speaker.” All this at the age of 77!

Her mantra is “Happiness is the first principle of life. Love & Live Happy.”

Once again, I can’t remember how I originally found her work, but over the years I’ve read probably half of her books. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been remaking her acquaintance by rereading some of my favorites.

As much as I enjoy her books, Stoddard has a more formal approach to living than I do. I’m a California/Florida girl and I’m ultra casual in almost everything. But I aspire to her tranquility and her cheery outlook. I love the idea of making our daily surroundings as pretty and uplifting as we can, as well as her belief that we have a role in creating our own happiness. (She also has no computer or smart phone, and hand writes manuscripts using a fountain pen. I start most of my writing with pen and paper, but couldn’t do my work without both a smart phone and a computer…much as I might like to sometimes.)

A few of my favorite Alexandra Stoddard quotes:

“In my work in interior design, I’ve noticed that many people have a tendency to save up 95 percent of their money and effort to spend on 5 percent of their lives—festive occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, and the special, more public places in the home, such as the living or dining room. Instead, the way to live a beautiful life is to make the daily 95 percent of your life wonderful.”

“Whenever we want to learn to do something well, we have to go into training. Just because we’ve been given eyesight doesn’t mean we know how to use our eyes to look and really see.

“We have to train ourselves to look at all things and see things well. We must not be limited by the familiar but must instead look and look again. Seeing well is a process of opening our mind as well as our eyes. We will be intrigued and curious, but in the beginning we also need to discipline our mind and eyes and discern through practice.”

 “I love the idea that bees gather nectar from flowers and herbs and then go home and make honey. We are like bees in that way. We move about, going from here to there, having thousands of different experiences, and learning how to cultivate our own. We take everything in, then we make our honey, our own dreams come true, our own happiness.”

“When you greet life choice by choice, detail by detail, aware of how much more happiness you can experience, you will be living a good life.”

We live in a frightening, frustrating time—but what era has NOT been frightening and frustrating? There is, there has been, and probably always will be suffering as long as we are humans. Despite, that, we have a choice whether to live our lives in sadness, fear, and discouragement or to embrace what we have, make it better, share it with others. We can try to inspire and encourage rather than tear down, divide, or add to the fear and frustration around us. Even though that’s quite often the larger challenge.

I do it imperfectly, but I choose to seek after and share happiness.

What are some of the little things you do to make your life happier and more beautiful?

For a list of Alexandra Stoddard’s books, click here.


Take Off Your Gloves

August 16, 2019

Photo by Philippe Jausions on Unsplash

“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.

”When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.

”It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”

Comfort zones

Summer Rerun--Three Habits That Trap Us in Our Comfort Zones

August 12, 2019

Now and then I dip into the Catching Happiness archives and share a post from the past. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the balance of comfort and discomfort in the pursuit of happiness. This post from 2016 touches on habits that can trap us in our comfort zones. 

Photo courtesy Martin Wessley

So many times we’re tempted to procrastinate, to quit, or, worse, not to try at all, because something we want to do is complicated or doesn’t come easily. Just once, I’d like to try something new and find it immediately easy, but this has not been my experience with even my favorite activities: horseback riding, sketching, yoga, writing. These activities often push me well outside my comfort zone, but they have given me hours of happiness. I still don’t find them “easy,”—easier, yes, but not easy. Maybe easy is not the point?

Worthwhile pursuits—the ones that give us lasting happiness—often don’t come easy. We have to practice, to put in the time and effort to improve, or else we’ll be frustrated. And how many times do we opt for the easier choice: the TV program, the mindless internet surfing, and so on? What other factors keep us safe in our comfort zones instead of pursuing the very things we say we want to pursue? In my experience, there are three things that contribute to the inertia keeping us from enjoying challenging and happy-making pastimes: comparing ourselves to others; worrying about what others think; and not stopping to appreciate how far we’ve come.

Comparing ourselves with others. When we see someone perform effortlessly (or even just better than we do), we compare ourselves to them. Problem is, we compare our “inside” to their “outside.” We don’t know their lives and experience. We don’t know what’s going on in their heads and hearts, how easy or hard things are for them, how long it has taken for them to make it look effortless. It may feel just as hard to them as it does to us, only we can’t see that. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” according to Theodore Roosevelt. If we must compare, we should compare ourselves to ourselves. (See below.)

Worrying about what others think. If we’ve been comparing ourselves to others and feel we’re falling short, we probably also feel others are looking down on us. If we are new to a pastime or putting our work out there for everyone to see, it’s only natural that we feel worried about others’ responses. The truth? Most people don’t care what we do, or what we look like while doing it. They are too busy worrying about themselves. While they’re otherwise occupied, we can do what we want without fear of what others think.

Not appreciating how far we’ve come. The first time I took a horseback riding lesson, I was scared. Thrilled, but scared. My school horse was big and, to my mind, unpredictable. My body was confused about pretty much everything it was expected to do. Now, many years later, I’ve learned a great deal about horses and riding, and many of my actions on horseback are automatic. But since I’m still learning new things, I do have times when I perform awkwardly, or just plain badly. I could get frustrated by this, but because of my past experiences, I know not to give up if my first attempts are awkward or embarrassing. Compared with how I rode as beginner (sorry, Tank), I’ve come a long way.

Most things, if we keep at them, will become easier. We won’t always feel awkward and embarrassed, we won’t always have to think so hard about every action. Even if we’re trying something for the first time and we’re awful, by stepping outside our comfort zones, we’re miles ahead of all the people who haven’t been brave enough to try in the first place.

What challenging pursuit would you like to begin? What’s holding you back?


Discomfort Opens Windows of Opportunity

August 09, 2019

“…discomfort can open great windows of opportunity. When we were younger we ran from discomfort constantly. We were in search of an easy life, and of course we never found it. We found the opposite.

“Over the years we’ve learned that the best things in life are often the hardest to come by, at least initially. And when you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you miss out on them entirely. For example, mastering a new skill is hard. Healing from grief is hard. Building a business is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Staying healthy is hard. But all are amazing and worth every bit of effort you can muster.

“If you get good at handling discomfort, you can do almost anything you put your mind to in the long run.


August Monday Musings

August 05, 2019

The soupy view from my window

August in Florida features heat, humidity, frequent thunderstorms, and sometimes, hurricanes.

Though I try not to wish the days away, August is a month I mostly just try to get through. I ride Tank very little, if at all. Luna is happy to stop our walks early and come inside. I need a shower after picking up the mail at the mailbox.

But there are still simple pleasures to savor, even in August:

Big books and cold drinks. Salads for dinner. Naps on the couch. Chilled white sangria. So many different kinds of Outshine bars. Watching the light change and knowing we’re drawing closer to my favorite season, fall. Planning a trip with my husband. Tackling organizing/cleaning projects to prepare for my usual fall burst of energy. Lying in bed at night listening to a rainstorm, being grateful for my safety and comfort, in a world where those things are increasingly in question. After the events of this past weekend, I am not complaining about sweating a little lot or any of the other trifling irritations in my life.

What are you grateful for this month?

In other news, I’m very proud that my profile of Paula Francis and her horse “Zack” is the featured cover article in the August-September issue of America’s Horse. Click here to read their inspiring story.