Summer fun list

Summer Fun/Reading List Update

September 17, 2021

Tank on the trail

Only five days until the calendar says it’s fall! It may not feel like fall here in Florida for another month or two, but I’m already contemplating fall simple pleasures and making up a fall fun list. 

But before I do that, let’s review my summer fun list and see how I did.

I was right to make a less-than-ambitious summer fun list, and I was able to do all but one item on it (completed items in red): 

  • Have an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins (many of my happy growing-up memories revolve around B & R, as we fondly called it)
  • Read and/or write at a café (now that I’m vaccinated) [COVID went nuts in Florida, and I chose to try not to expose myself to it]
  • Create and read from a summer reading list (post to come)
  • Get together with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, because, well, you know…

In addition, I also:

  • Traveled to California to visit family and friends (and Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Went trail riding in June!
  • Hosted a couple of small family get-togethers
  • Browsed in my library’s used bookstore, which had been closed since last year
It’s been mostly a quiet summer, and I’m OK with that. I’m hoping as the weather cools off and I get my normal fall energy boost, I’ll start to explore a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

Summer reading update

Summer reading went really well! I read most of the books on my summer reading list, and more:

For my long book, I’m thinking of reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I’m not sure how to describe this one, except that it involves magic and the politics of the Napoleonic wars (?)  People seem to love it or hate it.

Started. Mixed feelings so far. Not loving it. Intrigued enough to keep making my way through for now, but I reserve the right to abandon it. I have my own copy, so I can take my time without worrying about library due dates. 

I’m very interested in Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin for my writer’s biography. I also just received a copy of May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep, which is more of a journal/memoir than a biography. It appeals to me because I loved Journal of a Solitude and The House by the Sea. Of course, I could kill two books with one stone (long book and writer biography) and tackle my still-unread Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (clocking in at more than 600 pages of dense type and footnotes)!

Read: Plant Dreaming Deep (loved it!)

A friend gifted me Tirzah Price’s Pride and Premeditation and we’ll be reading it together. This “clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice…reimagines the iconic settings, characters, and romances in a thrilling and high-stakes whodunit.” Sounds fun!


This year, I’m throwing some poetry into the mix with Arias, by Sharon Olds.

Check again.

I’ve been very slowly rereading Agatha’s Christie’s books in order, so I’ll probably pull The Man in the Brown Suit off my home library shelf to serve as my comfort reread.

Yup. And also The Secret of Chimneys and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I especially enjoyed Chimneys, as my memory of it was hazy. 

I’m undecided on reading a classic. At the moment, I haven’t got one lined up, but that may change. 


I’m in the hold line to read Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me, a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation. Many people are ahead of me, so I hope I get to this one before summer’s end.

Just finished, and it was worth the wait.

In the meantime, I’ll likely pick up another Modern Mrs. Darcy rec that I already had on my radar: Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Different, but good.

Now that summer’s nearly over I’m anticipating fall and all its simple pleasures. I’ll start working on a fall fun list, and maybe even a fall reading list—I’ve never done that before! There are already things to look forward to during my favorite season. But until then, I’ll try to savor the last few days of summer…from my air-conditioned home, of course J.

What were the highlights of your summer?


We Can Build Happiness

September 10, 2021

“We have the capacity to build happiness into our lives with humor, concern for others, and gratitude. Of course, we can’t do it all of the time. That self-expectation would drive us crazy. However, we can develop habits that make it more likely that we will respond in an upbeat manner.

“It’s critical to distinguish between choosing to live lovingly and cheerfully and living a life of denial. One leads to joy, the other to emotional death.”

—Mary Pipher, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age


Suddenly September

September 03, 2021

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

“September days have the warmth of summer in their briefest hours, but in their lengthening evenings a prophetic breath of autumn.”

—Rowland E. Robinson

I’m always happy to turn the calendar page from August to September. Though it’s not quite fall yet, and even if we don’t see the type of season change here in Florida that other places do, there’s still a feeling that fall is coming. My favorite season.

The first thing I notice is a change in the light. We say gleefully, “It looks like fall!” My birthday is in September, as is my mom’s, so that lends the month a bit of a celebratory air. I plan to take full advantage of the freebies businesses offer me during my birth month. I scan the forecast for a drop in high temperature that I won’t see until at least the end of October, but I also know the worst of the heat and humidity is likely behind us.

September makes me think of new school supplies and setting goals. I think about what I can still accomplish and experience before the end of the year. How have I been doing with the goals I set for myself this year? I’ll still have time to reach—or at least make progress on—some of them.

I’m anticipating fall’s simple pleasures—fancy coffee drinks, pumpkins everywhere, and a certain warmth that has nothing to do with the actual temperature. Scarecrows and pots of chrysanthemums appear on front porches. Pomegranates make their first appearance in the produce section.

September is the start of all that. And I’m here for it. What about you?

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures do you anticipate this month?


Something Small or Nothing at All

August 27, 2021

When the world becomes as horrifying and tragic as it feels right now, I tend to despair and retreat. Realistically, what can I possibly do to ease the suffering of people in Haiti or Afghanistan? To comfort the family grieving for someone lost to COVID? I’ve been paralyzed by the scope of need, and by feeling personally burned out to the point where I feel unable to do anything.

My inconveniences and irritations pale in comparison to the genuine suffering around me. It feels almost sacrilegious to seek and write about happiness. But I know the life I have is a gift, and I don’t want to waste it. Here are a few thoughts I’ve been pondering as I try to take in what is happening in the world, and figure out what I can do to help others as well as live my own precious gift of a life to the fullest. Maybe you will find some inspiration or comfort from these words, too.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”—Marie Curie


“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?’”—Shannon L. Alder


“If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?”—Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome


“When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”—Thich Nhat Hahn


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”—Leo Tolstoy

“Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”—Krista Tippett


“Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it's a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives.”—Seth Godin


“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”—Theodore Roosevelt


And finally,

“We think the choice is between doing something big or something small. But really, it’s between doing something small or nothing at all.”—Lorenzo Gravina, “The Value of Doing a Little.” 

(Note: this quote is specifically referring to developing habits, but it’s applicable to many other situations!) 

What small thing can you do today to promote happiness and positivity?


Welcome to the Jungle

August 13, 2021

Photo by Su San Lee on Unsplash

We had our carpets cleaned on Monday.

We prepped for this by moving everything movable out of the rooms to be cleaned—small pieces of furniture, storage boxes, and so on. This is what our family room looked liked:

There was also this:

For the past four months, our house has been in more than its usual state of shambles. We already had our adult son living and working remotely from his childhood bedroom when in February my mother-in-law permanently moved out of her apartment into what was our guest room/exercise space. We’ve scrambled to find places to store things we’d kept in her closet (hurricane supplies and holiday decorations, for example) and furniture we didn’t want to get rid of since we knew our son was with us temporarily. He moved out in June, and before we made over his room into our new guest room/exercise space, we needed to clean his carpet, and, well, why not clean all the carpets in the house?

Bear with me, I do have a point…

While I was staring at the chaos in my family room, I realized it quite beautifully reflects the unsettled nature of my inner world right now. My personal space situation plus some additional family challenges (not to mention the state of the world!) have affected my mood, my creativity, and my outlook on life. Even my office, which used to be a haven, had become a dumping ground of paper, projects, and other things that needed to be read or otherwise dealt with. Projects I started at the beginning of the year when I felt optimistic had been buried by an onslaught of paper and other ephemera of decisions made and unmade to the point where I didn’t even want to go in there anymore. (I was embarrassed to have the carpet cleaning guy see it!)

Does this ever happen to you? Your surroundings or events in your personal life become overwhelming, and you feel unable to focus, or make progress on your goals, or even feel optimistic about the future? That’s how I've been feeling. But now that the carpets are dry, and we’ve moved almost everything where it needs to go, I feel more hopeful. I’ve spent much of this week sifting through the Pit of Despair (formerly known as my office), and I’ve made progress there, too.

The chaos is lifting. And while I slowly sort my way through the remaining mess, I’ve been reflecting on the things that did help with life in the jungle, even though I practiced them imperfectly. And they might help you, too, if you're living in chaos right now:

  • Accept that things are unsettled, and that this is the way it is right now. No use pining for the good old days, or railing against the Universe. It is what it is. “This is the adventure I’m going on next” (thank you, Martha Beck).
  • Find one small area you can put in order and retreat there when it becomes too much. My bathroom remained basically unchanged, and I’ve taken many a relaxing bubble bath over the past months. Maybe your retreat involves listening to music in your car, sipping wine on the front porch, or retiring to bed an hour early in order to read a novel that takes you far, far away. There has to be someplace. Find it and make it yours.
  • Realize that this won’t last forever. Whatever the situation, it WILL change eventually, even if you don’t know how it will change. When our son needed to move home, I knew it would be temporary, and I tried not to be upset about losing the peace of our empty nest. 
  • Don’t let your own dreams completely disappear. Choose something small and doable on the way to a personal desire. And do it! Even so, through everything except quarantine when my husband had COVID-19, I’ve continued to see my horse Tank every day or two, even when we just hang out together. He reminds me that dreams DO come true. 
What are your favorite ways to cope when life gets chaotic?


Mrs. Miniver and the Times in Which We Live

August 06, 2021

Recently I read the 1939 classic novel Mrs. Miniver (Amazon, Bookshop). And while the society we live in has changed a lot since then, I was struck by how spot on some of the passages were to the times in which we live. For instance:

“…Mrs. Miniver was beginning to feel more than a little weary of exchanging ideas (especially political ones) and of hearing other people exchange theirs. It’s all very well, she reflected, when the ideas have had time to flower, or at least to bud, so that we can pick them judiciously, present them with a bow, and watch them unfold in the warmth of each other’s understanding: but there is far too much nowadays of pulling up the wretched little things just to see how they are growing. Half the verbal sprigs we hand each other are nothing but up-ended rootlets, earthy and immature: left longer in the ground they might have some to something, but once they are exposed we seldom manage to replant them. It is largely the fault, no doubt, of the times we life in. Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays, is what passes for conversation.”

Substitute pandemic for war in this section:

“And it oughtn’t to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise. However, it has needed one: which is about the severest criticism our civilization could have.

“I wonder whether it’s too much to hope that afterwards, when all the horrors are over, we shall be able to conjure up again the feelings of these first few weeks, and somehow rebuild our peace-time world so as to preserve everything of war which is worth preserving. What we need is a kind of non-material warm museum, where, instead of gaping at an obsolete uniform in a glass case, we can press a magic button and see a vision of ourselves as we were while this revealing mood was freshly upon us.”

When the pandemic first began, I felt a sense of camaraderie, a spirit of “We’re all in this together.” While there were incidents of stunningly selfish behavior, there were also incidents of kindness, encouragement, and a desire to protect others. Now…not so much. We are all weary from the constant barrage of opinion, science that changes and evolves as health experts learn more about this novel virus, and fear that we or someone we love will become seriously sick or even die.

I wish I had the answers to the problems we’re facing. What I’m trying to do is be the person who makes the situation better (not the person who makes the situation worse), by posting positive and uplifting content, and by trying to be personally responsible in my daily actions. I’m seeking comfort in the words of those who’ve come before, whether in a novel written in the 1930s, or in the words of mental health experts who share ways to cope with our new normal. I’m hoping to offer comfort and encouragement in the words I speak and the words I share here on Catching Happiness.

If you’re feeling discouraged, sad, or worried, my heart goes out to you. If there’s anything you’d like to see on Catching Happiness that would lift your spirits, please share in the comments below or message me privately at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. And go find yourself a copy of Mrs. Miniver—it’s a mood lifter!


It’s Almost August Link Love

July 30, 2021

And you know what that means. Cue the complaints about the weather. Though actually, even though it is currently disgusting outside, I can’t complain much. We had such a nice fall, winter, and spring that I’m just going to put up with summer and keep my mouth shut. (Mostly.)

However, I am spending as much time in the air conditioning as I can—as you will see from the links I’ve collected below:

Have you been practicing your happiness lately? According to “Happiness Requires Practice,” “…achieving happiness is not an actual place or trait—it’s a daily practice that leads you to experience positive feelings about yourself and the world around you. Emerging data suggest that ‘being happy’ is actually much harder than it sounds.” It goes on to say that it’s better to strive to be fulfilled and satisfied with your life than to try to feel “happy,” and that there are skills you can practice daily to help you see your life in a more positive way. Click here to read the whole article, and see what those skills are.

When Joyful author Ingrid Fetell Lee recently asked in her Instagram stories how people were feeling, a full 64 percent of them said “Blah,” despite the loosening of pandemic restrictions and the beginnings of a return to “normal” life. In “What to Do When Everyone Seems Happy Except for You,” Lee describes some things we can do to support our emotional well being without slapping a smile on our faces when we don’t feel happy.

And speaking of normal, the Experience Life article “Another New Normal” addresses ways we can remain adaptable as we continue to figure out how to navigate life during a pandemic.

How’s your summer reading going? If you’re looking for something fun and quick, check out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s “12 Feel-good Fiction Books You Can Read in an Afternoon.” I can personally vouch for What Alice Forgot and The Garden of Small Beginnings.

There may only be two more days left in July, but we can still try the ideas found in “How Are We Already Halfway Through the Year?! Here are 23 Ways to Make the Most of July” during August and beyond. 

Incredibly smart dog, and what a bond she and her person have!

I thought this was amazing:

I hope you go out there and practice some happiness this weekend—and stay healthy! 


Field Trip Friday--Lassen Volcanic National Park

July 23, 2021

I’m home from California and pretty much back into what passes for normal routine again. I loved seeing my family and my friend Kerri (see below), but boy, was it a challenging trip. For instance:

  • It was more than 100 degrees, sometimes a lot more, every day except one.
  • I felt an earthquake
  • A hurricane brushed by my home in Florida while I was in California
  • My stepmother broke her leg shortly before my visit, and I wound up staying alone at her house and going to see her in rehab every day.

On a happier note, I did manage a bonus visit with my friend Kerri who had some free time after her school year ended. She volunteered to meet me at the Sacramento airport and take me to my mom’s house after I struggled to find a reasonably priced rental car! We took a day and a half to explore together before parting ways. Another bonus: Kerri brought her pet Jindo mix, Gustie, a delightful addition to the trip. I’ve started calling him Gustie the Adventure Dog.

But in between coping with heat and broken legs, I enjoyed some lovely simple pleasures and everyday adventures. Today’s post will focus on one of them: a visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen, about three hours northeast of Sacramento, became a national park in 1916. It’s home to more than 30 volcanic domes, and includes all four types of volcanoes. The last volcanic eruptions at Lassen occurred between 1914-1917, with the most major one happening in 1915. It also has hydrothermal features like boiling mudpots, bubbling lakes, and steaming clouds of sulfurous gas. (Sound like a fun day trip?) But wait, there’s more!

The hydrothermal features are just one aspect of the park. It also has nearly 800 plant species and one of the largest old-growth forests in Northern California. Its elevation (5,500-10,500 feet) makes it a cooler place to visit on a hot summer day, and sometimes there’s even snow pack at higher elevations in the summer. We saw very little snow this time because California is experiencing historical drought and heat levels.

Since we had Gustie with us, we confined ourselves to what we could see at stops along the 30-mile highway. Leashed pets are only allowed in developed areas like roadways, parking lots, campgrounds, and picnic areas, because according to park information, dogs leave behind territorial scent that disrupts the behaviors of native animals like the rare Sierra Nevada red fox.

Some highlights:

Sulphur Works—a hydrothermal area right next to the park highway. A short walk on a sidewalk gets you close to this smelly, bubbling pool:

Lassen Peak parking area and viewpoint:

King’s Creek Meadow, at the foot of Lassen Peak:

Emerald Lake—so pretty and peaceful. Vegetation growing in the shallow lake’s waters makes it green:

Wildflowers we saw:

Lassen paintbrush

Shasta lilies

Lassen has something for everyone: 150 miles of hiking and backpacking trails, places to boat and fish, camp sites, and even snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in winter. For a less physically challenging visit, you can enjoy the 30-mile highway with stops at places of interest like we did, or picnic by a lake. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Northern California. 

For more information:


Alison Bechdel

No Pain, No Joy

June 25, 2021

“You can’t be happy unless you can also be sad. If you’re defended against feeling pain, those same defenses shut down your access to joy. You have to let everything in.”

Alison Bechdel, “Alison Bechdel: ‘I've Always Know Physical Exertion and Movement Are Vital Somehow for My Creative Process.’”

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a break from posting on Catching Happiness. I’m finally traveling to California to see my moms  and will have limited computer access. I’m planning to indulge in some of my favorite simple pleasures and everyday adventures! 


Expanding, Contracting

June 18, 2021

For so many months I’ve felt confined to a narrow range of activities. For much of the past year, my world shrank to the few miles between my home, the grocery store, and the barn. And even though that radius has expanded to include the library, my hairdresser and a favorite coffee shop, I still feel my world has narrowed. And I know many people have left their homes even less than I have.

The Year That Must Not Be Named was a year of contracting for most of us. As the pandemic ravaged the world, most of us stayed close to home, limited our activities, and put plans on hold. My thinking undoubtedly became smaller as my day-to-day world shrank. Uncertainty, confusion, and limitations characterized 2020. And while the circumstances were undoubtedly unpleasant, if our reaction was to contract, that was entirely appropriate. In fact, the slower pace of life for many during the pandemic proved beneficial. As Amy Ward Brimmer wrote in “Expanding and Contracting,” “Contraction is an opportunity for mindfulness.”

If we allow it to, that mindfulness can guide us as we start expanding—allowing our thoughts and actions to widen again.

A natural cycle

The process of expanding and contracting is one of life’s natural cycles. Each condition is neither all good nor all bad; each practice serves a purpose. Just as breathing includes both inhalation and exhalation, so we also need times of contraction and expansion. As nature has times of expansion and growth, so it has seasons of loss and letting go.

Here are some examples of expanding and contracting:

Ways we expand:

  • Be open hearted—listen, help, love, give, to the best of our abilities
  • Plan future events and adventures
  • Learn something new, or deepen our understanding
  • Train our bodies for a physical contest, like a 5K or a charity walk; start an exercise program; or bump up one we already have
  • Try to understand another person’s point of view


Ways we contract:

  • Seek safety and comfort in the familiar
  • Take care of ourselves when we’re sick or injured
  • Withdraw to conserve energy, or think something over
  • Rest

Expanding pushes us outside our comfort zones. It can feel exciting—or it can feel scary as we reach beyond our previous limits. Contracting is a natural reaction to danger, threat, and even exhaustion. If we overextend ourselves while expanding, we may need to contract for a while to recover. (While working on this post, I realized that even my word of the year acronym—DARE: Dream, Act, Recharge, Evaluate—contains the concepts of both expansion and contraction.) 

We can also stay in a contracted state too long, fall into using false comforts or overuse real ones, thus stunting our own growth. We can make our world too small. This is where I am right now. I need to begin expanding again, finding inspiration, “filling the well.” I believe I can do this safely and responsibly, but I’m struggling. I shrink back from the very things that will inspire creativity and bring me happiness.

I’m still searching for the flow between expanding and contracting, as I imagine many of you are also. What feels right and safe and appropriate?

Let’s start simply: Take a big breath. Sit up straight. Smile. Now think of one little thing we could do to make our world bigger and brighter. Then do it! And let’s come back and share our experiences in the comments below.

As we begin to move back into more normal life, how can we expand thoughtfully while still being mindful of the benefits and need for contracting?


Bookish Plans for Summer 2021

June 04, 2021

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

My favorite thing about summer is more reading time. It’s too hot and humid to do much outside, so why not put my feet up, have a cold drink, and read a book? I have a lot more fun compiling a summer reading list than I do a summer fun list—all those luscious books waiting to be read! My problem is I always choose too many books to get through. But that’s OK, there’s always fall, and winter, and spring, and NEXT summer!

While my usual and very scientific method of choosing my next read is “it sounds good and I feel like reading it,” for my summer reading lists I sometimes add a couple of specific types of books: a writer’s biography, a classic, a comfort reread, a long book, and so on. I’ve also started mixing in a couple of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide recommendations when I can get my hands on them (click here to get your own free guide). Since I tend to read mostly older books, the Reading Guide helps me stay in better touch with contemporary authors.

My summer reading list is not intended to be hard and fast—it’s just supposed to help me expand my choices a little from what I typically read. A gentle nudge rather than a push, so to speak. Here is a tentative list of books I’m thinking of dipping into this summer (all book titles are links if you’d like to learn more):


For my long book, I’m thinking of reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I’m not sure how to describe this one, except that it involves magic and the politics of the Napoleonic wars (?)  People seem to love it or hate it.

I’m very interested in Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin for my writer’s biography. I also just received a copy of May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep, which is more of a journal/memoir than a biography. It appeals to me because I loved Journal of a Solitude and The House by the Sea. Of course, I could kill two books with one stone (long book and writer biography) and tackle my still-unread Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (clocking in at more than 600 pages of dense type and footnotes)!

A friend gifted me Tirzah Price’s Pride and Premeditation and we’ll be reading it together. This “clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice…reimagines the iconic settings, characters, and romances in a thrilling and high-stakes whodunit.” Sounds fun!

This year, I’m throwing some poetry into the mix with Arias, by Sharon Olds.

I’ve been very slowly rereading Agatha’s Christie’s books in order, so I’ll probably pull The Man in the Brown Suit off my home library shelf to serve as my comfort reread.

I’m undecided on reading a classic. At the moment, I haven’t got one lined up, but that may change. 

I’m in the hold line to read Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me, a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation. Many people are ahead of me, so I hope I get to this one before summer’s end. 

In the meantime, I’ll likely pick up another Modern Mrs. Darcy rec that I already had on my radar: Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Between my own shelves and my excellent local library, I’m spoiled for choice. No matter how hot it gets this summer, my reading chair and a stack of good books will be waiting.

Have you read any of my summer book choices? What are you particularly looking forward to reading this summer? 


Summer Fun 2021

May 28, 2021

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

It’s almost that time of year again. Summer. Some of my favorite bloggers are designing their ideal summers and creating Summer Fun Lists. Most people are looking forward to summer and are eager for the longer, warmer days to arrive.

Bah humbug.

I have mixed emotions about summer and creating a summer fun list. On the one hand, I’m all for planning for fun. On the other, I no longer get a scheduled summer vacation and I live in Florida where summer is one long procession of hot, humid days with the occasional hurricane thrown in for variety…let’s just say that summer is not my favorite.

In addition, historically I’ve had mixed results creating and fulfilling my summer fun list. I think it’s great in theory, but what it has turned into is a list of things that don’t get done that consequently makes me feel like I’m failing at the fun part of life.

I don’t want to give up on the idea altogether, though. The point of having a summer fun list is to have something to look forward to, as well as something to look back on. Too often, we allow life to drift by, filling our hours with work and chores and responsibilities and we forget to have fun.

Since Florida summers prostrate me (see above: heat, humidity, hurricanes), this year I’m going to make a super short and sweet list. Micro fun, if you please.

  • Have an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins (many of my happy growing-up memories revolve around B & R, as we fondly called it)
  • Read and/or write at a café (now that I’m vaccinated)
  • Create and read from a summer reading list (post to come)
  • Get together with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, because, well, you know…

This has got to be one of the most pathetic summer fun lists ever, but I’m hoping that if I loosen my grip on trying to have fun, I’ll actually have more. Who knows? It’s a work in progress.

I think what’s important here is that we do make plans for fun, but we also allow for differences in life stages, personal preferences and situations. Summer, for me, is not the time to push myself too hard. It’s the time to relax, loosen up, do less, lie on the couch and read, and conserve my energy as much as possible.

Do you love summer? Do you make seasonal fun lists? If so, why not share some of your fun plans in the comments below?

Previous summer fun lists can be found here, here, and here.


A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor

Your Own Joy

May 21, 2021

“You will always struggle with not feeling productive until you accept that your own joy can be something you produce. It is not the only thing you will make, nor should it be, but is something valuable and beautiful.”

—Hank Green, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor

Link love

Link Love--May 2021 Edition

May 14, 2021

What a lovely spring we’ve had here in Florida—walks and barn visits are so much more pleasant when I’m not dripping sweat immediately after setting foot outside (TMI?). All good things must end, however, and it’s starting to get hot and humid, so I’m spending more time in the air conditioning—and more time at my computer—than I have for the past few months. Here are a few fun links I’ve discovered recently that you might enjoy. 

I love these “10 Ways to Start the Day on a Joyful Note.” Right now, I’m especially enjoying fresh flowers. I have some in my breakfast nook as well as in my bedroom.

Three words: Funny pet photos.

Since I can’t go to Paris any time soon, I’m bringing Paris to me, via “How to Pretend You’re in Paris at Home.” Starting with eating a Trader Joe’s chocolate croissant for breakfast…

My friend Kerri told me about the free Smile newsletter from, and I’ve really enjoyed having happy news pop up in my in box. Subscribe here (no affiliation).

Many of the ideas in “25 Small Ways to Improve Your Life” resonate with me.

Advice I need: “How to Do Things You Keep Avoiding.” 

More help for doing things rather than putting them off: “7 Habits That Are Scientifically Proven to Help You Beat Procrastination and Tackle Your To-Do List.”  Anyone sense a trend here?

Thirty of country music’s most famous singers released one song together in honor of the 50th anniversary of the annual CMA (Country Music Association) Awards. Read about it here, and watch the music video here.

Watch and be amazed by this high school dance team’s homecoming assembly:

Have a very happy Friday and beyond! What discoveries, online or otherwise, have you made lately?


Finding the Signal

May 07, 2021

Photo courtesy Chiemsee2016 via Pixabay

“Modern society is defined by an excess of opportunity. We have more information, more products, and more options than ever before.

“As a result, curating, filtering, and refining are more important skills than ever before. Those who edit best will find the signal in the noise.”

—James Clear

After a year of pandemic-related slowing down, have you “edited” your life?  What changes would you like to take forward into the future?


Lisel Mueller

Simple Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

April 30, 2021

Reading poetry is a simple pleasure that I don’t indulge in as often as I’d like. Even though I enjoy it, it sometimes feels too “hard.” I know a lot of people feel that way, or they think poetry is boring or confusing. And it certainly can be. But it can also be funny, sweet, thought provoking, and powerful. Witness the furor caused by Amanda Gorman’s poem from this year’s presidential inauguration. 

April is National Poetry Month and in honor of that, I’m sharing a poem below, and a few links to other resources related to National Poetry Month or poetry in general. If you have any favorite poems or poets, please do share in the comments below!  

30 Ways to Celebrate the 25th Annual National Poetry Month at Home or Online


It’s National Poetry Month—No Foolin’

Finding Solace in Poetry

American Life in Poetry has a new editor and a new look, and I still think it’s one of the best ways to get a taste of modern poetry.


Knopf Doubleday offers a free poem-a-day service during the month of April (click here to sign up for next year) and occasional news about the poets they publish.

Today’s poem, with an introduction by Ted Kooser:

It’s not at all unusu­al for a poet who’s been impressed by some­one else’s poem to think, ​“I wish I’d writ­ten THAT!” I’ve nev­er read a poem by the late Lisel Mueller — and I’ve read near­ly all of them — when I didn’t feel just that way. Mueller died at age 96 this past Feb­ru­ary [2020]. Here’s the poem that stands as an epi­graph to her Pulitzer Prize win­ning book, Alive Togeth­er: New and Select­ed Poems, pub­lished by Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty Press.


In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©1996 by Lisel Mueller, “In Passing,” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Poem reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press. Introduction copyright © 2021 by The Poetry Foundation.



Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday—Silver Springs

April 23, 2021

“There’s one!” I pointed.

The rest of the passengers on our glass bottom boat swiveled their heads to the rear of the craft, where a large mass floated beneath the surface: a manatee!

The guide gently reversed and drifted over the creature, and we could see him (her?) grazing on the grasses at the bottom of the river.

Those two blobs are manatees

My heart lifted, as we looked down into the crystal water, or up to the cobalt sky dusted with puff-ball clouds, or to the river’s banks where cypress trees dipped their toes into the turquoise water. Anhingas dried their wings and alligators lounged in the sun. For 90 minutes, we moved slowly up and down the Silver River on a glass bottom boat, while our guide told us about the springs, the wildlife, and the history of the park.  After a year of pandemic precautions, stress, and upheaval, it felt so good to be out exploring in the world.

Sometimes conditions combine to create a situation that is more than the sum of its parts. My recent visit to Silver Springs State Park was one of these experiences.


It started when my friend Kerri, a teacher from Washington State declared she was coming to Florida for her spring break following completion of her Covid-19 vaccinations. We’ve made it a habit to try to see each other once a year, often on her spring breaks, when we meander around the country exploring (and, of course, catching up on what’s been happening in our lives). Because of Covid and other factors, we hadn’t seen each other in three years! That’s a lot of catching up.

We decided this year to meander up central Florida and into the panhandle, where she planned to meet some friends she’d known since high school. I was game, so we set out. Our first destination is the subject of today’s Field Trip Friday.

Silver Springs

Silver Springs was one of the first tourist attractions in Florida—glass bottom boats have plied the 5.4-mile river since the 1870s and the story goes that they were invented here. But once Disney, Sea World and Universal Studios opened theme parks in the Orlando area, visitors began to drop off. The river also suffered from environmental problems associated with fertilizer runoff and septic outflow (eww). In 2013, the Florida Park Service took over control of the attraction, and merged it with the adjacent Silver River State Park, creating the current Silver Springs State Park. The Park Service seems to have done a great job restoring and preserving the river. Hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, camping, and various educational exhibits complete the state park complex.

A glass bottom boat tour is a great way to explore the river (choose from 30- and 90-minute options), but if you prefer, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. No swimming is allowed. Thirty springs make up the Silver Springs group, and the largest one, Mammoth Spring, provides about 45 percent of the flow of water.

Glass bottom boat

But we didn’t come to Silver Springs to look at water. We were hoping to see the animal “trifecta”: alligators, manatees, and believe it or not, monkeys.

We knew there’d be no problem seeing alligators. Here’s one for your viewing pleasure:

Say “cheese”

And as you know from the intro, we were lucky enough to see manatees, too. But monkeys? Why are there even monkeys at the park? Well, it seems that in 1938, entrepreneur Colonel Tooey decided to bring monkeys to Silver Springs to enliven his Jungle Cruise boat ride. He placed his primates on an island in the river, not realizing that the monkeys could swim (apparently he thought he was buying non-swimming squirrel monkeys rather than the rhesus macaques he wound up with). All the monkeys escaped the island, and their descendants swing through the trees along the Silver River, as well as spreading out into the Ocala National Forest and other areas. (The monkeys can be aggressive and some carry a virus harmful to people, so we weren’t tempted to get close to them. This photo was taken with a long camera lens!)

Silver Springs on the silver screen

You may have caught glimpses of Silver Springs on the silver screen. Scenes from Rebel Without a Cause, Moonraker, Creature From the Black Lagoon, six Tarzan movies, and Sea Hunt were all shot here. In fact, you can still see props from several shows in the clear water, including sunken statues used in the 1960s Bill Cosby/Robert Culp show I Spy.

Silver Springs was ideal for getting out of the house during a pandemic. We could be outdoors, soaking in sunlight, walking, talking, taking photos, drifting on a lazy river and still feel safe. Even thought things aren’t “back to normal,” getting outside and seeing a new place is good for the spirit. And I think we all need that right now.

How can you take in inspiration and adventure in this pandemic world? Is there someplace you feel safe visiting as spring days get warmer?


Discovering Happiness

April 16, 2021

“Nothing is so personal as happiness; each soul is fitted for a joy entirely individual; often a whole life is required to discover it.”

—Jeanne de Vietinghoff, The Understanding of Good

What are some things that make you happy? 

One thing that makes me happy—travel/road trips! I just returned from a quick road trip with my friend Kerri (she’s fully vaccinated and I’m halfway there), and there would have been a Field Trip Friday today except that I’ve been wrestling with my computer much of last night and today. First it hid my photos, then it ate my blog post. Twice. So stay tuned—trip adventures and photos to follow. (I took the one above on Panama City beach.)



It’s Been a Year

March 29, 2021

Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

It’s been about a year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. And it’s also been a year, if you know what I mean. In addition to a pandemic, so many other awful things happened—or were revealed—during 2020. I’ve been trying to come up with some thoughts to mark the occasion, but the document for this post has been open on my computer for two weeks! The Year That Must Not Be Named has left me speechless.

Well, almost. Here are a few thoughts…

Surviving, not thriving

Most of us have experienced a year of isolation, confusion, frustration, fear, and sorrow. But if we’ve been lucky, it’s also been a year of small pleasures, slowing down, and deep thankfulness. Pretty much the same as any year, but much more intense. Anyone who lived through 2020 has likely been changed forever in some way. Think about what you were looking forward to at the start of last year, the things that took up much of your attention. How have they changed? What has become more important to you, or less so?

I’m disappointed that I didn’t produce any brilliant work, make sourdough bread, or learn a new skill (I did complete a year of French practice on Duolingo. Je regrette to say I’m nowhere near being skillful, let alone fluent). But I did keep our household stocked with food and other essentials (including toilet paper) and we all survived, even my husband who actually had COVID. For me, 2020 was about surviving. Some seasons of life are just about surviving, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that. 2021 has not been much different yet, but there are signs that things are slowly changing.

A shot in the arm

Last week I got my first dose of vaccine against COVID. My planner is starting to fill up again, with a haircut here, and an outdoors coffee date there. I’m taking a Florida road trip with my friend Kerri. And while I haven’t reserved the ticket yet, I’m tentatively planning a trip to visit my mom in California sometime later this year. Provided it seems relatively safe to do so.

And while last year was mostly a long, slow nightmare, no experience is wasted—even the pandemic ones. As we stumble toward a new normal (should we call it “nermal” with apologies to Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis?), ask yourself, “What have I learned about myself this past year? How has it changed me? Have I made changes I want to bring forward into the future? 

I still feel like I’m picking up the pieces of my life and trying to fit them into a new pattern. Nothing gets put back in without scrutiny. Does it belong here? Or here? Or maybe it doesn’t fit at all anymore. This is going to take some time.

I hope that 2020 brought you some gifts along with all its trauma. I hope that 2021 is objectively a much more positive year. I hope that we don’t forget how at the beginning of all this, we tried so hard to be positive and help each other.

That’s what I’d like to see carry over into the future.