coronavirus

Strange Days

April 06, 2020

A little bit of spring from California a couple of years ago

Life continues to feel surreal. Most of us are down to visiting the grocery store and staring at our own four walls. My big outing of the week is a trip to the barn to take care of Tank. If I happen to run into anyone, we stand at least six feet away from each other and shout pleasantries. Weird.

Nearly everyone I know and the majority of the people I follow on social media or the Internet is relentlessly trying to remain positive and encouraging, and I could not be more grateful. My mother-in-law sent the whole family an email with only these words:

THIS WILL BE OVER
AND
WE WILL BE THE BETTER FOR IT.

I have no idea what life will be like once this is “over.” Will it ever be over? Did someone hit a reset button somewhere?

I’ve been too tired and distracted to do much of anything, and even my reading has suffered. I don’t have a lot of work deadlines right now, but I do have personal writing projects I’d like to pursue, and I can’t seem to motivate myself to do them. I’ve tried breaking them down into smaller and smaller bits, but so far haven’t found a small enough bit to accomplish.

But today is the start of a new week, a week in which I will continue to enjoy simple pleasures and maybe even an everyday adventure or two—for example, I need to pick up a few items at the grocery store today—wish me luck! I will try again to be more productive with my time, whether I use it to clean up a mess (have you noticed the Persistence of Messes even in times of pandemic?), or to write a haiku, or to otherwise play around with words hoping to find the magic combination that resonates in my mind as being something I want to share. 

I will read books from my unread shelf, and library books that have been stranded with me. I will take Luna for walks, and brush Prudy. Tank is scheduled to have his yearly vaccines this week. I will make dinner, and do laundry, and otherwise keep our home a place of safety and comfort. My husband’s business is considered essential, so he is still going to his office, though it is closed to the public and only one other employee is working there with him (the rest are working from home).

I will take it one day at a time. Life goes on, even in these strange days. 

And how are you doing?

While avoiding too much news, I have found some solace online. Here are some links you might find inspiring or helpful:

If you have extra time on your hands, you could do worse than joining Yale University’s “The Science of Well Being” course, available free through Coursera.

“Pandemic Positivity” downloads from Positively Present.

I’m partway through watching this TED Connects video with Elizabeth Gilbert.

And finally, I leave you with this, the best thing I’ve seen online all week (thanks for sharing, Kerri):



Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Love you all!

Carlos Castaneda

Make Yourself Strong

March 27, 2020

Seen on my walk this morning

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong.
The amount of work is the same.”
― Carlos Castaneda

Art

So What Do You DO With Yourself Now?

March 23, 2020


Are we there yet?

With much of the US (and the rest of the world) either “social distancing” or “sheltering in place,” all you extroverts and work-outside-your home folks must be going crazy. While my day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much (I admit I miss the library), I can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of having your schedule turned upside down, and having to fill hours of the day productively rather than stewing and worrying uselessly. Yes, of course, you can binge watch TV or movies, or read, but here are a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures for while you’re sheltering at home:

Bake something. Blow the dust off your bread machine (do people still have those? I do!), mix up a batch of your family’s favorite cookies, or use up the over-ripe bananas in banana bread. I find baking very calming, not to mention yummy.

Take a walk in nature. Obviously, you should only do this if you can do it safely, but there really is something so uplifting about getting some fresh air and sunlight. (Plus, you probably need the exercise—see first suggestion.) 

Take an online art class. Laure Ferlita’s online watercolor classes are fun, accessible, and reasonably priced. She just launched a new one last week, Spring Wreath. (No affiliation except friendship!)

Doodle with Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. Primarily aimed at kids, but still fun for adults! As he says, “You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some art together.”

Watch and listen to the Berlin Philharmonic in their digital concert hall, free for 30 days, if you register by March 31. So soothing.

Participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Stay At Home Book Tour. The first event was today, but there’s one every day this week, and if you can’t join live, there will be replays available. Learn about it here.

Fill your mind with positive, encouraging, and uplifting things, like:

This post, by Dani DiPirro of Positively Present.

This interview with author Rebecca Solnit. Her book A Paradise Built in Hell, “describes how in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters…human beings tend to respond by banding together, not tearing apart.”

No doubt this is a hard and scary time. Let’s get through it together. Share the things that are helping you in the comments below!

free

Serenity Is Contagious

March 20, 2020



“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?”
—Sri S. Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras


coronavirus

Staying Positive in the Face of Coronavirus Fear

March 17, 2020

Luna and I are working at home

Here in the U.S., things are getting weird. Fights are breaking out over toilet paper, businesses and schools are closing, and a new term has entered our vocabulary: social distancing. The COVID-19 coronavirus is wreaking havoc all over the world.

And my library just closed. Now it’s getting serious.

I don’t mean to make light of this situation—it’s the strangest, scariest thing that’s happened in my life, except for 9/11. I’m not especially worried about catching the virus—I work from home and don’t spend much time with people other than my family and close friends—but I do worry about my husband and son, who work with the public, and my older family members, some of whom have health issues. I’m also deeply concerned about what will happen to the economy after this is all over.

Following the news has made me anxious and depressed at times. But I remind myself that living is risky. Virus or no, any one of us could be struck down at any time—we just don’t think about it that often. Our attention turns to the fragility of our way of life, and life itself, when something like this happens.

We always have a choice, however. We can let the coronavirus bring out the worst in us, or the best. This is our chance to work together to reduce the spread of the virus and help each other along the way. As usual, our attitudes are key: can we remain positive in the face of fear and uncertainty? Can we pause and notice the simple pleasures we’re usually too busy to see and savor? Can we use this time to become more thoughtful and real?

While we’re walking this hard road, here are some things we should remember:

  • Follow instructions from authorities regarding social distancing—if we have the virus but don’t realize it, we can spread it.
  • Don’t hoard. Buy only what we need and leave the rest for others.
  • If possible, help those in our community who may be dangerously isolated, especially the elderly.
  • Remember that this won’t last forever.
  • Try to stay in the moment and avoid “awful-izing” about the future.

We can also remember those who are being hurt economically by this shut down: small businesses, authors’ whose book tours have been postponed or cancelled, artists and crafts people who make a portion of their income through teaching or shows, performers who may not be paid when their productions go dark, servers who miss out on tips, parents who can’t afford childcare for kids who are unexpectedly out of school. Keep your eyes and ears open for ways to help if you can.

And take care of our physical and mental health by finding positive ways to release fear and tension. I stress cleaned my closet and dresser this weekend, a job that has needed doing for months. I’m eyeing my office next—it would benefit from a deep clean. And I think working out would be a better way to cope with stress than eating barbecue flavor potato chips, which I don’t really like that much anyway but they’re salty and crunchy and…well, you get it.

When the weather and situation permits, step outside for a breath of fresh air. Wash our hands more than usual (and apply hand cream after!). If we find it’s getting to be too much for us, set limits on checking updates and avoid inflammatory articles. And every time we read something scary, look for a positive story—such as “Coronavirus sparks an epidemic of people helping people in Seattle.” 

While we wait for world to settle down, here are some links you might find helpful:

Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project has some excellent suggestions about how to stay as happy and calm as we can be in this situation here.  


Modern Mrs. Darcy (whose own book tour has been cancelled) is hosting a Stay at Home Book Tour. Sign up for this free series of events, which will take place over the week beginning March 23.

Working at home? Click here to download Jamie Varon’s Work From Home Survival Guide.


How to Touch Your Face Less (since touching your face is one of the main ways you can infect yourself).

And from Catching Happiness:




I sincerely hope you’re all healthy and safe. If you feel like sharing, let me know in the comments (or hit reply if you’re receiving this via email) how you’re coping with coronavirus fears. 

Celebrations

Two Simple Ways to Celebrate Leap Day

February 28, 2020

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

I don’t know why, but I love Leap Day (February 29). Maybe it’s because it’s like being given the gift of an extra day, and who doesn’t wish for one of those now and then? Maybe because Leap Day is a once-every-four-years pause. The usual 28 days of February are done, and March hasn’t started yet. 

This year’s Leap Day sort of snuck up on me while I wasn’t paying attention. I’d like to make it memorable, instead of a typical Saturday of chores and whatnot, so today I’ll have to get my backside in gear so that today’s work doesn’t bleed into tomorrow, as has been known to happen. Or I’ll have to let go of something—or both. Either way, I plan to celebrate Leap Day, but not by making it into a full-blown, drive-myself-nutty holiday, complete with its own to-do list and 10-point plan. Rather, I have two simple suggestions for how to celebrate Leap Day:

1. Be kind to yourself. Sleep in a little, take a walk in nature (if your weather allows this), spend time doing something that feeds your soul. Eat some healthy and delicious food. Give someone a hug. Even when the world feels dark and scary, most of us still have so much to appreciate and enjoy, so many people (and animals) to love. I’m going to try to fill it with simple pleasures—things like starting a jigsaw puzzle, reading (of course), and enjoying our current cooler weather.

2. Be kind to others. Smile, hold a door open, allow another driver to merge into your lane, thank someone, post an uplifting thought on social media. A little kindness sends ripples out into the world—imagine what it would feel like if everyone were kind just for this one day. Maybe at least some of them would continue to be kind the next day, and the next. (Click here to see 10 ways to spread kindness.) 

If we use the pause of Leap Day to recalibrate kindness, to ourselves and to others, we’ll all be a lot happier.

It’s just a suggestion.

How do you celebrate Leap Day?

Artist's dates

Field Trip Friday—Books and Bites with Author Lisa Unger

February 21, 2020

Lisa Unger with yours truly

It’s been far too long since I allowed myself either an artist’s date or a Field Trip Friday, so today I rolled them into one and headed to Tampa for a Friends of the Library event featuring bestselling author Lisa Unger

Unger is the author of 17 novels, her books have been published in 26 languages, and she’s been nominated for multiple awards, notably two Edgars* in 2019, an honor only a few authors can claim. She describes her work as “character-driven psychological suspense,” and I can attest that her books are hard to put down. I've only read a few of them, so I was excited to see how many I have left to enjoy. My next read will be the signed copy of her most recent book, The Stranger Inside, that came home with me! 

After we enjoyed lunch provided by local restaurant La Segunda, Unger shared some of her background and her writing process. Then she took questions. After her talk and the question and answer period, she signed books and chatted with attendees. Her husband kindly took the photo of us together that you see above. 

A few things that I found especially interesting:

Her family moved a lot and Unger was frequently the new kid. “The page was my first home,” she said. (Me, too!)

She’s been a writer all her life (“I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t define myself that way,” she said), though she didn't think she’d be able to write for a living, a belief influenced by her engineer father who didn’t think writing was a job.

She inherited her love of story from her librarian mother, who shared all types of books and movies with her daughter as she was growing up. Of her mother’s bookshelves, Unger said, “If I could reach it, I could read it.”

After attending college in New York, where she studied all kinds of writing from poetry, to screenwriting, to journalism, Unger took a job in book publishing, because it was the closest thing she could find to her dream. She worked in publicity, helping authors with book tours and planning events, and was so good at it that her time available to write kept shrinking.

Eventually, she had an epiphany. “I was in the wrong job and I was with the wrong guy. I wasn’t doing the thing I wanted to do. I’d never even tried.” She decided she could live with failure, but not a “slow fade to nothing.” She kept her job (but broke up with that guy), and started writing every day, making it a priority to work on a novel she’d started at age 19.  One and a half years later, at age 29, she finished.

When Unger completed her novel and went about trying to find an agent for it, she admits she was scared. It wasn’t just her book that was on the line, it was her identity: “Who am I if I am not this?” she said. Fortunately for all of us, that book found an agent, and that agent got Unger a two-book deal. Angel Fire, the first of four books in the Lydia Strong series, was published in 2002. (Miscione is Unger’s maiden name.)

It takes her nine months to a year to complete a first draft, followed by several more drafts, as well as “the second part of the creative process,” which she explained is the discussion and incorporation of notes she receives from her husband, editor, and agent. These help her manuscript to become the best possible book. It takes another year between when the book is first turned in until it’s ready for publishing. She never opens the finished book, because by then there’s nothing she can change about it!

She met her husband at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It was love at first sight, at least on her part, she said. They’ve been married for 20 years, and have a 14-year-old daughter.

On writing books:

A lot of people want to write a book, even make plans to write one. It’s an accomplishment just to finish a manuscript. Whether or not it gets published.

You should do it because you cannot not do it. Getting published is beside the point. It’s always about the work, the writing.

I’ve been feeling very blah about writing lately (witness the lack of entries on this here blog), and while I’ve been making it a point to sit down to write something nearly every day, I’ve definitely been lacking a spark. I’m so glad I took the time to go to this author talk, because not only was Unger herself charming, warm, and easy to approach, she inspired me to come home and sit down in front of my laptop. It’s a start. 

*Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America

To learn more about Lisa Unger and her books, please visit lisaunger.com, or her Amazon author’s page.




free

The Words Guiding Me This Year

January 31, 2020

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Regular readers of Catching Happiness know that I usually choose a Word of the Year to guide me. This year is no different—in fact, I have two words that I will be keeping in the forefront of my mind as I navigate 2020.

This year, I’ve chosen the words free and soften as my words of the year.

Free

Initially, I chose free because I’m going to do something this year that will make me feel more free—I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair.* I got my first gray hair at age 21, and though it took many years for more grays to appear, I’ve been coloring my hair for a good long time now, and I’m tired of the process. After I read about a possible link between breast cancer and permanent hair dye, that was it for me. I’m done. I have an aunt who had breast cancer, and I don’t need any more risk factors.

Thinking about no longer coloring my hair led me to thinking about what else I’d like to be free of. Things like expectations, caring what other people think about how I look and what I do, stories I tell myself that hold me back from having the happy life I want. I want to feel free to explore, expand, give, express my creativity, enjoy my simple pleasures and everyday adventures. 

When I looked up the definitions of free, I found some additional food for thought. The online definitions, from Merriam-Webster, included: enjoying civil and political liberty; enjoying personal freedom; choosing or capable of choosing for oneself; made, done or given voluntarily or spontaneously; relieved from or lacking something, especially something painful or burdensome; not bound or contained by force; having no obligations or commitments; not impeded or obstructed or restricted; capable of moving in any direction; frank/open; overly familiar or forward in action or attitude. As a verb, free means to relieve or rid of what restrains, confines, restricts or embarrasses.

Soften

Soften came to me one day when I was struggling to make something work. When life doesn’t immediately cooperate, my tendency is to tense up, struggle, and use force when I should soften and ease up. Maybe even let go. I’m often reminded of this in yoga class when I have a muscle cramp and must soften my pose or come out of it altogether. Softening—my attitude and my actions—causes me to slow down, and often averts an impending accident

Words working together

I believe that the combination of free and soften indicates to me that I want to explore being more flexible and relaxed. How this plays out in real life, with its work and responsibilities, remains to be seen. How can I have self-discipline but not too much, also remains to be seen.

Did you choose a word of the year this year? What do you think it means for you?

*Apparently, “going gray” is currently A Thing, with books and blogs devoted to the process. While I’m not planning to share much of my own transition publicly, I’ve heard that the process brings up a lot of emotions and beliefs about femininity, aging, etc., so it’s possible that I will eventually write about it. (And, of course, when my hair is fully transformed, I’ll have to post a new profile pic!)

Link love

New Year, New Link Love Volume II

January 10, 2020

Photo by Vika Fleisher on Unsplash

Is it too far into the year to tell you Happy New Year? It feels like 2020 has gotten off to a sleepy start for me, personally. I had one writing assignment to wrap up from the end of 2019, and now that it’s done, I can catch my breath and do some reflecting and planning. I went through my calendar/planner from 2019 and jotted down notable events and thought about the accompanying emotions. It was a full year.

I’d still like to set some new goals, and do some additional fun visualizing stuff—and hopefully, I’ll get to that soon. I’ve been jotting down possibilities, and will fill out my “20 for 2020” list to hang on my bulletin board. (Make your own, or download a free printable, like this one—no affiliation.)

If you’re still in a contemplative mood, here are a few recent Internet discoveries I’ve found thought-provoking or otherwise worthwhile:

While the New Year is already here, you can always decide to get rid of one (or more) of these “8 Things to Get Rid of Before the New Year."

One very simple way to review the old year and approach the new year, from Sandra Pawula’s (Always Well Within) Wild Arisings newsletter:

“I began the 2019 review process informally a few weeks ago by jotting down a heading in my journal called ‘Good Things 2019.’  I placed things on the list as they came to me day-by-day day. I also put in a second heading around the same time called ‘Let Go Of 2019,’ which I approached in a similar fashion.”

I love this quote, from Rainbow Rowell

When you make your list of things to do in the new week/month/year, do you plan for joy, not just work or accomplishment? According to, Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful, we should! In “Planfor Joy, Not Just Goals,” she writes,

“When we’re children, joy seems effortless because someone has planned it for us. As we get older, we can either believe that life has gotten less joyful, or we can take charge of planning it for ourselves.”

She continues later in the post,
Scheduling in joy is making a promise to yourself that it will actually happen. Productivity experts suggest putting everything that matters to you on your calendar. If you schedule business meetings and exercise, you are calling these out as important. So why not also give your joy this same weight by putting game nights or reading before bed into your calendar too?” 

I’ve already started participating in the Unread Shelf Project. Things have Gotten Out of Hand in the purchased-but-not-yet-read yet book department. 

It wouldn’t be Link Love without a post from Raptitude. Check out “How to Go Deeper in 2020.” Deeper was my word of the year in 2017 and I’m tempted to revisit it.  

Just discovered the delightful NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. I hadn’t heard of 99 percent of the musicians represented here, but I’ve enjoyed every tiny concert I’ve listened to.

What are some of your plans for 2020? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Look for my travel writing here