Books

My Reading Year

December 21, 2020


I’ve been reading everyone else’s end-of-the-year favorite book lists, and OF COURSE I have to chime in. Because reading has been, and will always be (I hope and believe) a constant comfort and joy for me, even when real life is kind of a train wreck.

I’m looking at you, 2020.

So let’s talk books, shall we? Settle in, it might take a while.

The Unread Shelf Project

As of this writing, I’ve read 110 books this year! Many of them from my own stash as I participated in Whitney Conard’s The Unread Shelf Project. While I often try to read from my own TBR shelf each year, if only to keep the books from taking over, The Unread Shelf Project made it more of an adventure to read from my own stacks. One of my favorite devices was “Unread Bingo”—genius! It helped me finish the year strong, as well as choose books that I normally might pass by just so I could get a bingo. I’m finishing a book right now that I’m loving—but it has sat on my shelf for FIVE years. I also “unshelved” a few books, after giving them a shot and determining they were not of interest to me anymore. Whitney just unveiled the 2021 Unread Shelf Project, if you’re interested in joining in. 

Monthly favorites and more

Every month in the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter (sign up here), I share my two favorite reads (see below), but of course there have been other books I’ve read that have made an impact that deserve a mention.

I finished Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi, back in September. This was a thick book on difficult subject matter, but also well-written and very interesting. I have a lot to learn about racism and the experience of people who are not white, and this was a good place for me to start. 

The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss. My mother-in-law gave me this book because of the horse connection. What I discovered was a beautifully written, gentle story, and an author I’d like to read more of.

Educated, by Tara Westover. This sometimes-harrowing memoir of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family was one of the most gripping books I read all year. 

The Stranger Inside, Lisa Unger. I’ve read several of Unger’s books, and they are twisty page-turners. I went to hear her speak in Tampa on one of my last public outings before the pandemic changed all our lives. 

I discovered a couple of new-to-me series I want to keep reading: Susan Wittig Albert’s The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. 

For comfort, I reread several of the Anne of Green Gables books, a few Agatha Christie mysteries, and Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod. (I’m surprised I didn’t do more comfort rereading this year.)

Monthly favorites from Happy Little Thoughts:

Jan.: Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman; The Sidetracked Sisters Happiness File, Pam Young and Peggy Jones

Feb.: The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert; The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman

March: This Must Be the Place, Marrie O’Farrell; Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin

April: A Better Man, Louise Penny; Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity, Jan Phillips

May: Venetia, Georgette Heyer; Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path, Erin Loechner

June: The Stranger Diaries, Elly Griffiths; The Muse Is In: An Owner's Manual to Your Creativity, Jill Badonsky

July: Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi; Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, Nnedi Okorafor

August: Love Lettering, Kate Clayborn; L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Leibovitz

Sept.: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Josie Silver; Look Alive Out There, Sloane Crosley

Oct.: All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny; Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett

Nov.: Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry; The Dance of Intimacy: A Womans Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships, Harriet Lerner

As usual, my reading was all over the place, since mostly I read at whim whatever sounds most interesting to me at the time. In 2020, I think that was just the right approach to take.

What did your reading year look like? Did you read more or less than usual? Any books that especially made an impact? Do share in the comments below. Because my TBR list isn’t long enough…

Jayber Crow

Wendell Berry Describes How I’ve Felt During Most of 2020

December 11, 2020

Photo by Karly Santiago on Unsplash

“For a long time then I seemed to live by a slender thread of faith, spun out from within me. From this single thread I spun strands that joined me to the good things of the world. And then I spun more threads that joined all the threads together, making a life. When it was complete, or nearly so, it was shapely and beautiful in the light of day. It endured through the nights, but sometimes it only barely did. It would be tattered and set awry by things that fell or blew or fled or flew. Many of the strands would be broken. Those I would have to spin again in the morning.”
—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Enjoying life

This Is It

December 04, 2020

Photo by Lukas Medvedevas on Unsplash

“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”

Lev Grossman, The Magicians

#Gratitude30

2020 Gratitude Challenge Wrap Up

November 30, 2020

No surprise, this year I found the Gratitude Challenge…challenging. But I managed to post photos on Instagram 15 days, if I include today’s post, which will go up later. It’s not that I don’t have as many things to be grateful for—in reality I have more, including the fact that so far to my knowledge, none of my loved ones has contracted the coronavirus. I think it has more to do with my being mentally exhausted. Some days it was just too much for me to search both my photos and my brain for something meaningful to post. Pandemic brain is A Thing, people.

Once again, thank you to Dani DiPirro of Positively Present for sponsoring this annual challenge. Even though I didn’t post as much this year, I did really appreciate the chance to take an entire month to think about what I’m grateful for. Here are a few highlights from this year’s Gratitude Challenge:


Health

The first prompt in @positivelypresent’s annual Gratitude Challenge is “health.” I'm very grateful that I do have good health overall, and that I have the resources for self-care, including healthful food, easily-accessed exercise options, and the therapeutic benefits of my Sunday lavender bubble bath ritual. Ready for a good night's sleep!


Seasons

My favorite season is autumn/fall (not the “hot-umn” we've been having, though). The first cold front after Florida’s seemingly endless summer, pumpkin spice everything, bright flowers instead of fall leaves. Today, I’m grateful that the high was only 75 degrees. Well see how long that lasts.


Nature

During the past what feels like 150 years of pandemic madness, I’ve maintained what little sanity I have by going to the barn to be with my horse, and walking on our subdivision’s nature trail. Looking at that sky, breathing in the scent of warm horse, and catching deer at breakfast...just a few ways nature has provided balm for my soul. I know how lucky I am to have easy access to nature, and I'm grateful.


Fun

Here’s the poster child for #fun right here, posing with one of her much-loved and chewed-upon toys. She’s been a bright spot during this hard year, and I’m grateful for the many times she’s made me laugh.


Friendship

I’m a day late on the prompts for the Gratitude Challenge, but I can’t let day 9’s, friendship, go by without sharing something. I am truly grateful for the friends who enrich my life with adventure, fun, laughter, shoulders to cry on, and listening ears. I’m grateful for the ones I’ve been able to see safely during the pandemic, and for those I miss SO much (may we be together soon). I’m posting this pic of barn friends Trixie and Jet since I don’t have any recent ones of my human friends!


Creativity

Today’s Gratitude Challenge prompt is creativity. And while I’m unquestionably grateful for it, I myself have not felt very creative for a while. My art journaling practice, which started well this year, has fallen by the wayside. My writing feels dull and uninspired. Even this little wreath project from spring remains unfinished. I’d like to blame The Year That Must Not Be Named for this, and I know that it has affected me. But I don’t want the rest of the year (and beyond) to continue in this same fashion. I’ll be searching for inspiration and ways to support my own creativity more actively, starting now. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the fruits of everyone else’s creativity!
What do you do to nurture creativity?


Kindness

I have the perfect post for today’s #gratitude30 challenge prompt, kindness. When I came out for our walk this morning, I found that a tree from our backyard had fallen over our fence and was blocking our subdivision’s paved trail (thank you, Hurricane Eta). While my friend and I were pondering this situation, a man we frequently run into walking his dog approached us to see what was happening. When he found out the tree was ours, he offered to bring his chainsaw over and cut it so that it would no longer block the trail. I accepted his offer gratefully, and he came over a short while later and made that happen.


Memories

Remember when we used to go places and have fun? When it didn’t feel like a risk to go to the grocery store? Today I’m grateful for the memories of trips to beautiful places (like Maine, pictured here). Looking back at photos like this one reminds me of a happier, freer time—I hope it will come again.


Color

Today’s #gratitude30 prompt is color. One of the things I appreciate most about color is its ability to influence mood. We choose paint colors and clothes and even coffee mugs to feel calmer, more confident, happier. Or is that just me? Case in point: doesn't looking at this colorful little guy make you feel more cheerful?


Curiosity

For today’s gratitude challenge prompt, curiosity, I flipped back through my photos to these pictures of a flowering cactus I saw on a walk a few weeks ago. I’d never seen it before, so I looked it up...and I think it’s called a queen of the night. What a lovely name! I’m grateful for being able to follow my curiosity where it leads.

One more thing…I’m grateful today and every day for you! Thank you for being part of the Catching Happiness family.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Desire

What We Only Hoped For

November 27, 2020


“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

Carl Jung

A Measure of Darkness

November 20, 2020

Photo by Andres F. Uran on Unsplash

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”

—Carl Jung

Kindness

Happy World Kindness Day

November 13, 2020



“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless.”

—Mother Teresa

Today is World Kindness Day, and I can’t think of a time when we needed kindness more. World Kindness Day encourages groups and individuals to go out of their way to be kind to others, by pledging to do at least one intentional act of kindness to benefit someone else. It’s also a day to celebrate and encourage the acts of kindness others are already doing, including simply saying “thank you” to those around you.

If you want to join in, see 7 Ways to Make Kindness the Norm in Your Daily Life” (super simple suggestions), or click here for information on World Kindness Day and some additional simple suggestions for participating. (One of the sweetest examples I read about is to wear a cardigan today in honor of Mr. Rogers!)

As my first act of kindness today, I want to thank YOU for reading Catching Happiness, and for your support, kind comments, and friendship. I know how busy life can be, and it means a lot to me that you would spend a few minutes of your precious time reading my words and sharing your thoughts.

Happy World Kindness Day!



Agatha Christie

Celebrating 100 Years of Agatha Christie

November 11, 2020


“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

― Agatha Christie

This year marks an important anniversary for those who love Agatha Christie’s books: the 100th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring her famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. Remarkably, even now, 44 years after her death, versions of her books are still being adapted for film and television, like Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Death on the Nile or Amazon Prime’s Crooked House. In addition, with the Christie estate’s blessing, author Sophie Hannah has written four “Poirot continuation novels.” (Has anyone read these? I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard good things.) 

Agatha and me

In the mists of my memory, it was my mom who introduced me to “Aggie” as we affectionately called her. I took it from there, devouring her entire collection of novels, including the non-crime books she wrote as Mary Westmacott (I wrote about my favorite of these here) by the time I was in my 20s. I believe I own every mystery novel and American collection of short stories she wrote, or close to it, mostly in secondhand paperbacks, some of which are beginning to show their age. Even though I’ve read all of them, sometimes more than once, I don’t always remember whodunit. 

I often turn to Christie for a comfort read. Her stories are interesting, her characters are memorable, and in general the books move briskly along. Most of the puzzles confound me, but I don’t mind. I just sit back and watch the fun, without trying to solve the crime. Her books don’t trigger anxiety or give me nightmares, so they make good before bed reading. The solutions are satisfyingly tidy, in a world that is unsatisfyingly messy. Somewhat to my surprise, I don’t have a favorite of her novels, possibly because there are so many to choose from!

She was a lover of dogs, food, travel, and an intensely private person. I admire her for her adventurous spirit and incredible imagination and productivity.

The secret notebooks

One of the most interesting books I read was Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making, by John Curran. Curran had access to the 73 surviving notebooks Christie used to jot ideas about plots and characters. As Christie said, “I usually have about half a dozen (notebooks) on hand and I used to make notes in them of ideas that struck me, or about some poison or drug, or a clever little bit of swindling that I had read about in the paper.”

Some of the notebooks, from the endpapers of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks



Curran wrote, “The process of production was…random and haphazard. And yet, this seeming randomness was transformed into an annual bestseller and for many years into more than one bestseller. For over 50 years she delivered the latest ‘Christie for Christmas’ to her agent; for 20 years she presented London’s West End with one box-office success after another; she kept magazine editors busy editing her latest offering. And all of them—novels, short stories and plays—flow with the fluid precision of the Changing of the Guard.”

Curran also noted, “During the height of her powers publication could hardly keep pace with creation—1934 saw the publication of no fewer than four crime titles and a Mary Westmacott, the name under which she wrote six non-crime novels published between 1930 and 1956. And this remarkable output is also a factor in her continuing success. It is possible to read a different Christie title every month for almost seven years; and at that state it is possible to start all over again safe in the knowledge that you will have forgotten the earliest. And it is possible to watch a different Agatha Christie dramatisation every month for two years.”

Here are a few tidbits I found interesting about the woman and her writing (much of the following information came from agathachristie.com, where you can also find quizzes, film recommendations, and much more about Agatha Christie’s life and work):

  • Her father was an American, Frederick Alva Miller, from a wealthy, upper class family.
  • She was educated at home by nurses and governesses and never went to school.
  • She sang and played the piano, and considered becoming either an opera singer or a concert pianist. Her voice was deemed not strong enough for operatic roles, and her crippling stage fright when playing the piano made her temperamentally unsuited to being a concert pianist.

  • She worked in a dispensary during World War I where she learned all about poisons.
  • Her first marriage, to Archie Christie, ended in divorce in 1928. They had one daughter, Rosalind. In 1926 after a quarrel with Archie, Christie vanished for 11 days, eventually turning up at Harrowgate Spa Hotel, registered under the name of Theresa Neale. She claimed amnesia, and never spoke of this time with friends or family.
  • Her second, very happy marriage was to Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who was 14 years younger than she. She once said, “An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”

  • Christie was also a successful playwright. Her play The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. It had been running since 1952 until shut down in March due to the coronavirus. My family and I saw it in London in 1989!
  • That first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was written on a dare from her older sister Madge. It was rejected by six publishers before Bodley Head took it on, and published it in 1920.
  • Christie’s maternal grandmother and her friends inspired the creation of Miss Marple, Christie’s other well-known sleuth.
  • More than two billion Christie books have been published. She’s outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
  • One of Christie’s most popular titles, The A.B.C. Murders, was one of the first books to feature what has become a staple of crime fiction, a serial killer. That phrase did not exist at the time.
  • She wrote her autobiography over a period of 15 years (1950-1965), but it wasn’t published until a year after her death.

And those are just a few of the interesting facts about this remarkable woman! If I’ve piqued your interest, check out agathachristie.com, or one of the books from the list below.

Have you read any of Agatha Christie’s books? Which one is your favorite?

Recommended reading (click on book titles to learn more):

Any of her crime novels (click here for a list) 

The non-crime Mary Westmacott novels  

An Autobiography, Agatha Christie

Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir, Agatha Christie Mallowan

Agatha Christie: A Biography, Janet Morgan. Reading this right now!

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years ofMysteries in the Making, John Curran. Probably too much minutiae for the casual fan, but I enjoyed the peek into Christie’s handwritten notebooks.

The Grand Tour: Around the World With the Queen ofMystery, Agatha Christie. I’ve borrowed this from the library but haven’t started reading it yet.

Agatha Christie At Home, Hilary Macaskill. Photos and information about Christie’s favorite home, Greenway, in Devon.

 

Happiness

How Resilience and Happiness Are Similar

October 30, 2020



 “As a word and a strategy, resilience honors the unromantic reality of who we are and how we are, and so becomes a refreshingly practical compass for the systems and societies we can craft. It’s a shift from wish-based optimism to reality-based hope. It is akin to meaningful, sustained happiness—not dependent on a state of perfection or permanent satisfaction, not an emotional response to circumstances of the moment, but a way of being that can meet the range of emotions and experiences, light and dark, that add up to a life. Resilience is at once proactive, pragmatic, and humble. It knows it needs others. It doesn’t overcome failure so much as transmute it, integrating it into the reality that evolves.

Link love

Mood-Boosting Link Love

October 23, 2020

In the spirit of last week’s post, I thought I’d focus today’s Link Love on mood-boosting topics. Here are a few links I’ve found encouraging, funny, or helpful recently. 

I’ve read some of Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “8 Quick Things You Can Do Right Now to Boost Your Mood” before (“Get outside”), but others were new to me (“Look up”). As she writes, “They’re not going to change the course of your life, but they might change the course of your day.”

The Happiness Break at Borgo Egnazia sounds so amazing. I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of money lying around, but maybe I could cobble together a sort of do-it-myself happiness break?  

Apparently even God can’t please everyone: “One-Star YelpReviews of Heaven.” This made me laugh because haven’t we all met people like this

“What to Do When You Feel Hopeless”—sadly, I think we can all use the tips here, because, you know, 2020. 

I follow Tank’s Good News on Instagram, but there’s also a website. Visit whenever you need to be reminded that there are wonderful people in the world. 

Even in tough times, there is always something to savor. This is important, because savoring the good things that happen is one of THE most important keys to being happy, according to Time’s “The Simple Thing That Makes the Happiest People in the World So Happy.” Too often we’re too busy and distracted to notice.

Supposedly, this video has the ability to reduce anxiety by 65 percent. I don’t know about that, but it is kind of mesmerizing.


Have you come across any mood-boosting links lately? Do share in the comments below!

 

 

Audio books

Friday Favorites

October 16, 2020

My favorite dog


If you subscribe to the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter (and if you don’t, why not?! It’s free, contains material not found elsewhere on Catching Happiness, and I promise I don’t share your email with anyone else! Click here if you want to subscribe.), you’re already hearing about some of my favorites, otherwise known as Happy Little Things.

But you know, once a month isn’t enough for sharing good things. If there was such a thing as a happy IV, we need it now. So from time to time, I’m going to start posting “Friday Favorites”—specific simple pleasures and happy little things that are helping me to survive what passes for life in The Year That Must Not Be Named (2020).

So here goes. Here’s the first edition of Friday Favorites—a few of the happy little things that are boosting my mood right now. Get your thinking caps on, because there will be a homework assignment at the end of this post!

The Goes Wrong Show. My husband and I laughed so hard we cried. My favorite episode was “The Lodge.” Stream on Amazon Prime (no affiliation). 

As You Wish—Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes, on audio book (borrowed from my library). Though I don’t often listen to audio books, I heard this one was a fun listen and The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. Elwes reads it himself, and a few of the other cast members (as well as director Rob Reiner) join in. 

Planting herb seeds. I prefer gardening in Florida in the fall/winter—it’s cooler and less buggy. I started by planting parsley, basil, thyme, cilantro, and lavender—herbs that technically should grow for me this time of year. If my seeds don’t sprout and thrive (which past experience has shown me is likely—but I keep trying), I’ll go to a local nursery for plants. I WILL have an herb garden, one way or another. (Do you hear me, seeds?)

Playoff baseball. First, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Now the Tampa Bay Rays are one game away from going to the World Series.

A real, not in-memory-only, Field Trip Friday. Masked up, I’m going on an outing with a friend to a craft store. I don’t need anything—except inspiration.

Now it’s your turn. What book knocked your socks off, what podcast inspires or entertains you, what movie or TV show helps you escape from your worries? Are you baking something delicious? Painting or quilting or drinking pumpkin spice lattes?  Please (I beg you!) share a simple pleasure, everyday adventure, or happy little thing with us in the comments. If you’re reading this post in your email, hit reply to share a favorite or two. If I get enough responses, I’ll do a round up post of everybody’s favorites. We need all the happy we can get.

Anxiety

Encouraging Words for Unhappy Times

October 12, 2020



I’ve been in a very dark place recently. Even though I avoid click bait and the most outrageous headlines, it’s impossible not to see how much suffering and hardship people are experiencing right now. I’ve been going about my day-to-day life feeling like an elephant is sitting on my head.

In times like these, when I finally pull myself off the floor and hunt for ways to feel better, I often turn to the written word. I have books with tape flags, a stack of 3 x 5 cards inscribed with favorite quotes, and if that’s not enough, I also have the search engines of Internet at my fingertips. Last week, I turned to them all.

Here are a few encouraging words/thoughts/mantras that have been helping me hold on, followed by a few of my own thoughts. I hope you find them encouraging, too. Please feel free to forward and share these with others if you feel they could help.


“If there is a solution to the problem, there is no need to worry. If there is no solution, there is no sense worrying, either.” The Dalai Lama

I’m prone to worry even in the best of times. These words remind me that worrying is a useless exercise. It doesn’t—cannot—solve any problem and only serves to exhaust me mentally and emotionally.


“Remember that things can change for the better.” Action for Happiness Optimistic October 2020 calendar

Huh. Sometimes change is for the better. Sometimes I forget that.

 

“The world is broken. It was broken long before I arrived and will continue to be so long after I’m gone. The only thing I can do is control how bright my own light shines.” A friend

One bad day, I was sharing how emotionally overwhelmed and sad I was feeling with a close friend. These words of her response stood out for me and comforted me. I’m not in charge of the world (thank goodness) but I am in charge of myself.


“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius

So true. It’s not the thing happening causing me pain, it’s my response. Too often my response is worry/anxiety/negativity.


“We tend to look for the whys when bad things happen—why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? But if we can reframe it, we can take back the power—How can I make this better? How is this making me stronger? The answers don’t come immediately, but they will come when you’re ready to hear them.” Susannah Conway

OK, maybe I’m ready to hear them?

Two quotes from Pema Chodron:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Things are certainly falling apart right now. I will try to allow all this to happen, and to remember to leave room for joy also.


“Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal.  It’s becoming critical.  We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here.  It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times.  The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.” 

My new goal: “relate sanely with difficult times.”


And lastly, a wish I saw recently on a bumper sticker:

“I hope something good happens to you today.”

I really DO hope something good happens for you today.


What are some encouraging words that are helping you?

 

 

Alys Fowler

Autumn: My True Love

October 09, 2020

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

“I am made for autumn. Summer and I have a fickle relationship, but everything about autumn is perfect to me. Wooly jumpers, Wellington boots, scarves, thin first, then thick, socks. The low slanting light, the crisp mornings, the chill in my fingers, those last warm sunny days before the rain and the wind. Her moody hues and subdued palette punctuated every now and again by a brilliant orange, scarlet or copper goodbye. She is my true love.”

—Alys Fowler

Link love

It’s a New Month—How About Some Positive Links to Love?

October 02, 2020


Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash


Well, we made it through September. Fall is sort of here. This weekend I expect to be sweeping off our lanai and helping my husband in the yard. I’m doing my best to feel optimistic (see below) in October, and as I mentioned in September’s Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, I’ll also be looking for the small positive actions that can boost my mood and energy. (Didn’t get the newsletter? Click here to subscribe.)

If you have some extra time and feel like reading something inspiring, here are a few links I’ve found interesting and encouraging recently:

Access the (free and printable) Action for Happiness “Optimistic October” calendar here. Today’s action is: “Look for reasons to be hopeful even in difficult times.”

The Positive Lexicography Project combines two things I love: happiness and words. Read more about it in “The Glossary of Happiness.”

I miss traveling a lot—I haven’t felt it was safe or appropriate even to visit my mom(s) in California, or take a road trip with my friend Kerri. In “How to Take a Vacation Without Leaving Home,” Ingrid Fetell Lee offers a few suggestions for adding a little adventure to your staycation.

After 10 years of writing a health and well-being column for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman has learned a few things about happiness. In “Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilledlife,” he shares some of them. For example: “There will always be too much to do—and this realisation is liberating. Today more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume any fit between the demands on your time—a l the things you would like to do, or feel you ought to do—and the amount of time available. Thanks to capitalism, technology and human ambition, these demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed. It follows that the attempt to “get on top of everything” is doomed. (Indeed, it’s worse than that – the more tasks you get done, the more you’ll generate.)”

There’s nothing notably new in the advice found in “10 Waysto Find Stillness in Turbulent Times,”—just good, solid advice for quieting an anxious mind.

And speaking of an anxious mind, according to researchers, elevated stress and worry can actually change brain chemistry. “Coronavirus:the pandemic is changing our brains—here are the remedies” offers some suggestions for coping.

That’s all for now. I’m off to take the dog for a walk before it gets too hot (it’s cooler, but not cool). Have a great weekend!


Dorianne Laux

Perpetual Kindness

September 25, 2020

Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Tolstoy said, “Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” I found this poem by Dorianne Laux in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, published by Grayson Books of West Hartford, CT. The poet, whose most recent book of poetry is Only As The Day Is Long, lives in Maine.


For the Sake of Strangers

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward anothera stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even 
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it mus have once called to them
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

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 ©1994 by Dorianne Laux, “For the Sake of Strangers,” from What We Carry, (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Dorianne Laux and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2020 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. 

000 Buddhas

Field Trip Friday (Memory Lane Edition)—The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

September 18, 2020



Like most people, I’ve been staying close to home this year. I haven’t visited my mom in California, or met up with my friend Kerri for a road trip…and I miss it. 


At home, it’s been too hot to explore outdoors, and it hasn’t felt safe or appropriate to explore anywhere indoors. I’m getting a little stir crazy! So I decided to take Field Trip Friday into the realm of memory—surely there were some places I’ve visited during the past few years that I haven’t fully savored or written about here on Catching Happiness.
 
And indeed there were. The first one I want to share with you is the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the first large Buddhist monastic community in the United States. Kerri and I stopped briefly at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas during our California road trip in 2018. We didn’t have a lot of time there, but the atmosphere made an impression. I had not heard of it before, even though it’s been around since the 1970s, and was officially inaugurated in 1982. Just goes to show how many interesting, out-of-the-way places are out there if we only look. 


The monastic complex lies on 80 acres of a 700-acre property nestled into a valley near Ukiah, California. There are 13 buildings, including the monastery, a dining hall, elementary and secondary schools, a gift and bookstore, a vegetarian restaurant, as well as an organic garden, fields, and woods. 


Here are a few photos:


The Hall of 10,000 Buddhas:






One of the resident peacocks:


I love this peaceful-looking statue:


Under normal circumstances, the monastery offers in-person classes and events, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the complex is temporarily closed to visitors and events are being held online.

 

We only had a short time to wander the peaceful grounds, unfortunately, but it would be an excellent place to sketch, read, or simply relax with your thoughts. 

Since I’m not ready to travel again yet, I am going to take some time to go through my photos from the trips I’ve been fortunate enough to take, and I’m going to pull out my trip journals, too. It’s not a bad thing to have time to reflect on the past travels. It lifts my spirits to relieve happy memories, and even the bumps and inconveniences of travel become funny memories over time. This is one of the (few) gifts of the pandemic: an opportunity to slow down and appreciate what I have without always pushing forward to the next bright, shiny thing.
 
Has the pandemic offered you any unexpected gifts? Please share in the comments below. 






Breaks

Break Away

September 11, 2020

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

“The biggest lies I tell myself are ‘It will just take a minute,” and “I’ll remember that.’

“It’s rare that anything worth doing lasts ‘just a minute’ or that we’ll be finished ‘in a sec’ or that ‘a quick look’ will be enough. We have to break away, turn off, shut down and come back.

“Break away. The work, the dishes, the decluttering, the worries, the to-do lists … they can wait.”
—Courtney Carver

What will you break away from today? What will you do instead?

Eugene Delacroix

We Are Happy When We Believe Ourselves So

September 04, 2020

Eugene Delacroix

“How are you? Are you ruling your imagination? That is the important thing: we are happy when we believe ourselves to be so, and if our minds are set on the opposite extreme all the diversions in the world will not give us any pleasure.”
—Eugene Delacroix, in an 1858 letter to Mme de Forget, The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein: Happiness Is Not an End in Itself

August 28, 2020


 

“I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.”
—Albert Einstein

August

August Progress

August 21, 2020


August.

Or, as I like to call it, “Ugh-ist.”

Never my favorite month. Except for the birthdays of some loved ones (hi, guys!), August is a month I just try to survive, and I have a long history of complaining about it every year here on Catching Happiness.  See “August Monday Musings,” “Feeling the Heat,” or “In Which I Compare Myself to a Horse.” 

But 2020 has been such a strange year, and while this August is…weird to say the least, for me personally, it’s better than the past few years. Last summer, Tank had a serious hoof condition and was lame, and my husband’s truck engine blew. The year before that I was stressed out about moving Tank to a new barn and our son had been forced to move home temporarily.  And the year before that, Tank had an abscessed tooth that required twice-a-day doctoring. This month, fingers crossed, I’m just dealing with ordinary, day-to-day stuff. For which I am very, very grateful.

Despite my typical lack of energy in August, I have been participating in some challenges this month: the KonMari 8-Week Tidy Challenge and Susannah Conway’s #augustbreak2020 Instagram challenge. I’m doing them both imperfectly, and that’s OK. I’ve probably missed more days than I’ve posted on Instagram, but I’m allowing myself to take it easy. (See my posts here.) I’m a bit bogged down with tidying my books (is anyone surprised?), but I’m making progress. Slow, languid, August progress, but progress nonetheless.

In progress...

Tidied

I feel like that’s a lesson I can learn this year: keep trying. Do it imperfectly, but don’t give up. Soften. 

I hope that you have been able to enjoy some of summer’s simple pleasures, and that you’re experiencing August progress. Tell me about what you’ve been up to in the comments!

Happiness

Finding Deeper Happiness

August 14, 2020

Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

“If our happiness is dependent on anything that’s transitory, we must always search for new things to keep us happy.
“For all of us, there’s another form of happiness that isn’t transitory: it is instead sustaining and renewing. It’s the happiness we find when we’re aligned with whatever it is in life that we find personally fulfilling and meaningful. Although other people, possessions, or thoughts can be part of it they are never the origin of this deeper form of internal happiness. Internally rooted happiness simply is.”
—Lynn Ginsburg and Mary Taylor, What Are You Hungry For?


Happiness

Learning the Skill of Happiness

August 07, 2020

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

“Happiness is a state of activity.

“This is a tremendously powerful thought. Thinking of happiness as something we do, as something we actively participate in creating, rather than something we simply feel, can change the way we approach our happiness and our lives.

“This is another big perception shift; happiness is absolutely a feeling and a state of well-being, but the key to happiness is understanding that it is created through action. And learning the skill of happiness helps us to consistently and naturally take the actions to shape and live our happiest, most dynamic life.”
—Kristi Ling, Operation Happiness


Look for my travel writing here